Yo-Kai Watch

3DS

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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

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