Yo-Kai Watch – Japan’s latest cultural phenomenon – deserves more attention than we are currently giving it. Early detractors passed it off as a Pokemon clone, and whilst similarities are certainly there – especially with this latest third iteration of the second game – it’s a series all of its own, with enough character, charm and unique gameplay to stand toe to toe with Nintendo’s other monster-catching giant.
If you played either version of Yokai Watch 2 already – be it Fleshy Souls or Bony Spirits – be warned: Psychic Spectres is an addendum to that saga rather than an entirely new game. The time-jumping, train-riding storyline remains almost unchanged. Instead, Psychic Spectres aims to bring together the disparate features of both of its predecessors and add some new stuff into the mix to make for a definitive package, and it succeeds – should this be your first foray into Yo-Kai Watch 2, you need only pick up Psychic Spectres to be up to speed.
The game still starts off with the infuriating amnesia trope that irked me the first time round, essentially asking you to play through a sped-up version of the events of the original Yo-Kai Watch before being allowed to begin its tale proper. Once you’re off the leash, however, the game picks up, expanding wonderfully from the scope of the original and introducing loads of new towns and locales (along with some new ones added by Psychic Spectres). It’s a charming game full of endearing characters, the mischievous Yo-Kai that you must battle, capture and complete quests for.
The core gameplay of Yo-Kai Watch remains unchanged: To advance through the main storyline you must hunt down powerful Yo-Kai – supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore – and battle them, hoping to befriend them in an effort to add them to your team. You can level them up, evolve them, or mash them together and hope you get something cool. It’s an addictive gameplay loop that is fun and engaging for Psychic Spectres’ lengthy runtime, and it’s a testament to just how well put together this core is that I was eagerly fusing and catching new Yo-Kai long after I’d finished the main story.
The creatures themselves are wild, mostly child-friendly takes on a concept that is often anything but. River demons, two-tailed cats, living walls and embodiments of mischief and sin can all be found and befriended – with Psychic Spirits bumping this number considerably. Getting every medallion – a trophy that you’ve befriended a certain Yo-Kai – is a massive commitment, and one I’m slowly working my way towards.
Psychic Spectres’ seeks to plump up Yo-Kai Watch 2’s already generous offerings, including new quests, locations and even a new tribe of Yo-Kai to get to know The biggest addition comes in the form of the Hexpress – a new train that takes you to a myriad of never-before seen locales, and is even a feature-packed experience in itself. The trains were a great inclusion in the previous iterations of Yo-Kai Watch 2, allowing you to talk to locals and Yo-Kai alike, and get some battling done whilst you made your way to a new location, and the Hexpress might just be the best amongst them.
Battling and capturing Yo-Kai is wildly different to the game’s obvious contemporary counterpart. Your Yo-Kai friends will battle on their own without input from you, should you leave them to it, but you can issue commands and activate Soultimate moves on the fly – flashy, screen filling big-hitters that are usually pretty fun – so you act kind of like a Yo-Kai manager most of the time. This hands-off nature of play also extends to the games capture mechanics, which sees you impressing or befriending enemy Yo-Kai with gifts of food in the hopes that, once the dust settles, they’ll want to join your team. I’m a little frustrated by this mechanic, as many rare Yo-Kai have escaped my grasp thanks to uncontrollable variables and – worst of all – luck, but Yo-Kai Watch 2 improved this system and its reliability. Here’s hoping that Yo-Kai Watch 3 does away with it entirely for something a bit more concrete.
Yo-Kai Watch constantly nails a sense of scale, one that made me feel like a kid playing these games. Adhering to traffic laws, kicking cans, hunting for bugs and taking trips on your own or with friends really set a great sense of time and place – something this game messes with a lot in its story – and as far as virtual trips to other countries, Yo-Kai Watch is up there with the best of them. Not only did I feel like I was exploring rural towns in the Japanese countryside, but it also transported me there as a kid, one who’s sense of wonder and comprehension of the world is personified by the wacky friends he meets.
The good looking visuals are matched with a soundtrack that also encapsulates that lazy summer-day feel, replete with the shrill of Cicada in the background. When it’s not letting its rural themes lull you into the games lackadaisical pace, its producing some weird and wacky otherworldly-twang, and these Yo-Kai inspired, spooky pieces are just as fun as their calmer counterparts.
“Yokai-Watch 2” was a brilliant representation of Japan’s supernatural folklore – a treat we rarely get to see in the West – as well as their down to earth day to day life behind it all. Psychic Spectres is a robust ‘definitive edition’ of the two games that preceded it, fat with extra goodies that Yo-Kai fans will go nuts for. Newcomers should also start here, as it’s an overly-generous introduction to the world of Yo-Kai Watch that even makes up for the fact that you might not have played the original.
Yo-Kai Watch is something truly special, and deserves our attention despite a couple of stumbles along the way.