When I came to Japan for the first time, Yokai Watch had already taken over. I saw it everywhere. Some people even thought it would overtake Pokemon as the go-to monster catching game for kids. Things didn’t end up panning out that way in the following years, but at least they managed to pull me back in (for whatever that’s worth) with Yokai Watch 4.
My history with the series is pretty limited. I didn’t watch the anime or see the movies, and the sequels to the breakout hit passed me by. I did import the first game all those years ago to see what the buzz was about though. This will be important later because we didn’t get a whole lot of Yokai Watch in the west, despite the games enjoying some critical acclaim. Alright, I’ve laid the groundwork, but there’s a lot I want to cover so let’s get started.
Setting and Story
The Yokai Watch universe has grown a lot over the past few years since the first title. There have been 5 movies, a follow-up anime series called Yokai Watch Shadowside, which follows the events of the fourth movie in the series, and tons of spinoffs. The Shadowside content is especially important because it’s a bit of a reimagining of the series and takes place 30 years after the original games.
The series follows Keita (Nate in the English games)’s daugher Natsume and her friends Touma and Akinori. They are part of the Yokai Investigation Squad and go around solving Yokai mysteries. They also end up saving the world in the fourth movie. And if that wasn’t enough, it also introduced Shadowside Yokai which are a little more edgy and scary than the cute little guys we’re used to.
Then there’s the 5th movie in the series, Yokai Watch: Forever Friends. It takes place 60 years before the original game and features a character named Shin and his friends who run around having more Yokai themed adventures..?Sorry. Haven’t seen it :]
Mashing Everything Together
You might be thinking, ‘Hey… That’s a lot of stuff. Sounds like I missed a lot and none of this is going make sense.’ Luckily that’s not the case! There’s a brief mention of the events in the Shadowside movie which brings about what’s happening in Yokai Watch 4, but I think the game explained everything I needed to know which honestly wasn’t a lot. I didn’t even know that other stuff existed until I looked it up to write this post.
TLDR: They are bringing the Yokai Watch universe together in a time traveling adventure that sees all the main characters from the various shows and games teaming up and fighting muscular demons.
And it Works?
For the most part, yes. Not just the graphic style, but the pacing, story beats, and loads of dialogue make it feel like playing through a kids anime. All of these scenes do a great job of familiarizing you with the all the characters and letting you know what they’re about. As for where it fits in the timeline, it’s kind of hard for me to place.
You meet the Yokai Investigation Squad from the future early on and they bring you up to speed by letting you play through a flashback. I think this sequence takes place after the movie and during the anime series, but I’m not sure how interwoven they are. Then you meet Shin (the kid from the past) before they’ve really started doing Yokai stuff, so in their time it probably takes place before the 5th movie.
It’s time travel. Cut me some slack.
Oh, and the Gameplay is Totally Different
Let’s start with combat. The first Yokai Watch title was pretty passive. I felt more like a Yokai manager than an actual participant in battle. But not anymore! Now you’re running around the battle field dodge rolling, firing off energy blasts, and using the Yokai Watch to suck the game’s mana, YP, from enemies. You also need to manage your stamina to sprint and use dodge rolls because once an enemy or two are after you, things can get ugly.
There’s a Stop Watch mode where you freeze time and can take a moment to do things like use items or swap characters and Yokai. Each character is little different and have their special moments. Some situations may call for Natsume’s heal ability and others might need Touma’s brute force approach. You can also use the skill tree to customize your characters further.
Between all of that and actually managing your Yokai by triggering special abilities, boosting morale with cheers, and swapping members in an out, there’s a lot going on. I actually didn’t feel like I had a decent grasp of everything until a few hours in. I don’t want to dig too deep into the details, but long story short, it’s a lot of fun.
Getting Yo-kai to join your team is also different this time around. You will get quite a few through story progression, but now it’s more like crafting. During battle, a Yokai will sometimes enter a state where you can use the Yokai Watch to suck out their soul orb. There are different variants for each Yokai’s orb and a combination of these orbs will need to be combined in order to get ‘matched’ with the Yokai. These orbs can also be combined or split which makes it easier to get the spread you need to get matched with a Yokai.
It’s a neat system that required more input from the player than past games, but I actually haven’t had the orbs to match with many Y-kai at this point. The matching is done by a bartending Monkey though, so that’s pretty sweet.
Roaming the World
Let me just start by saying this a great looking world. It’s like anime Japan without all the power lines. And you’re free to move the camera and inspect all of the details. I even ran behind a flower shop and saw the two air conditioning units sitting outside.That’s not all that changed though. Now you aren’t looking under cars and whatnot in search of Yokai. Instead, watch mode gives you an over the shoulder view to reveal quest related Yokai.
Unless you’re in a dungeon area, you aren’t actually encountering many Yokai in the wild. Sometimes a quest will task you with searching for one, but there aren’t tons of Yokai in the overworld to seek out and battle as you please. I’ve done a little bit of searching and happened to find a Yokai in front of a shrine to battle, but this has been mostly relegated to the dungeon areas. Like the first game, Yokai are freely walking around in the dungeons waiting for someone to pick a fight with them. This may be hit or miss for some, but I like the change. I didn’t really enjoy the searching and tapping on the touchscreen aspect of the 3DS title.
More About Searching
While Yokai aren’t really as plentiful out in the wild as before, there are still some out there so I wanted to touch on how to find them. There are spots scattered about the world that are like energy pollution (basically purple blobs) that are invisible unless you happen to find them while searching. Finding them leads to a little timing based event that will turn the pollution into either a Yokai or an item of some sort. You can also press the right stick to send a little search wave that marks where you should search. Overall, it’s more streamlined than Yokai Watch on 3DS, but doesn’t feel like an integral part of the game.
Unfortunately, here’s where I have to voice my biggest complaint. When running around the overworld, and even in some cutscenes, the frame rate gets pretty choppy. It’s not a problem during combat and I don’t think it’s a deal breaker, but I even noticed how choppy it was during the first scene.
The Japanese Factor
This is Game in Japanese so I have to at least touch on this, right? There’s a hearty amount of dialogue in Yokai Watch 4 so if you’re new to Japanese it might not be the best place to start. But if you go into it with that in mind and are armed with a trusty dictionary, it could be a great study tool. There’s furigana and most of the difficult kanji are used for enemy names and such. Going through all the text may really hinder your progression if you’re actually looking to get through the game though.
Let’s Wrap This Thing Up
Hopefully I didn’t get out of control and bog everyone down with too many details. There’s more I’d like to cover, but I think this hits the big points. Overall, I’m having a great time with this game and would recommend it anyone that enjoys a lighthearted RPG. Newcomers have a great game to play and series diehards get the ultimate series mashup. What’s not to like? Anyway, feel free to leave a comment if you have any further questions!
The ‘Let Me Introduce You to’ series now features Yokai Watch! Get some Japanese reading practice with side-by-side English and Japanese of dialogue from the game starting with Let Me Introduce You to Springdale!