You may not be able to guarantee global success, but you can certainly maximise your chances of creating a phenomenon. Level-5 president Akihiro Hino would be the first to admit that Yo-Kai Watch is a calculated tilt at a huge audience, designed from the outset to be a game, an anime and a merchandising opportunity. In Japan, it might seem cynical, but for westerners it’s a chance to engage with a rose-tinted view of contemporary Japanese life, realised with a charm that recalls Kaz Ayabe’s delightful Attack Of The Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale. That may be more than a happy accident: it was, after all, published by Level-5.
It’s a world of ofuda and matsutake; of talismans, temples and tatami floors, before which shoes are instantaneously removed. “Work hard,” the young protagonist is told, “and one day you might be able to work in a nice building like this.” It’s such a convincing representation of Japanese life and its social mores that it’s hard to know exactly how much its ideas and themes will resonate with its target audience. Many of the Yo-Kai belong to fables that have passed into Japan’s cultural lexicon, but will be unfamiliar overseas.
Still, plenty of youngsters will identify with the rebellious spirit of the Yo-Kai, their tendency to loaf around the very antithesis of the traditional Japanese work ethic. You’ll find them using the eponymous watch, a lens revealing the beasts as long as you keep the reticle trained upon them. Then it’s into battle, with your recruits automatically using physical and spiritual moves to assault rivals. If they’re prone to slacking off, you’ll have to put the effort in on their behalf; during regular battles you’ll be more focused on finding the right food to woo monsters into joining your team, but bosses prove a much tougher test. With a cooldown timer preventing you from spamming restorative items, you’ll need to rotate your six-strong squad, purifying possessed Yo-Kai by completing touchscreen minigames and waiting for their special attack gauges to refill. Positioning is key, with stat boosts for frontline pairings or trios from the same tribe, while floating orbs release goodies when pricked by a pin.
The battles are the most distinctive element of a game that otherwise plays things by the familiar JRPG handbook, with dozens of disposable side-quests and a gentle gating mechanic that withholds access to powerful critters until your watch is sufficiently upgraded. There’s nothing revelatory here, but there’s surprisingly little to complain about, either. Thanks to a thoughtful, witty localisation, Yo-Kai Watch proves to be a kids’ game that’s capable of winning over adult players, too.
Arrows lead you to your endpoint, but you’re encouraged to get more familiar with Springdale: you’ll be given the location for certain Yo-Kai, but until you’ve spent time exploring, you may not know where that is