Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters 3DS Review
Yo-kai Watch is a cartoon of recent years in the same vein as Pokemon and the likes, where we follow the journey of a young protagonist as they enlist on an adventure to battle and ybefriend all manner of mish-mashed magical creature. In this world the beings are called ‘yo-kai’. They are basically ghosts that can can only be seen by wearers of the yo-kai watch and often ‘inspirit’ people and objects to different effects. Everything, including hunger and marital disputes, is blamed on being inspirited by particular yo-kai in this world, to the point that one side quest had two inspirited people arguing because the yo-kai that had inspirited them were then inspirited themselves by another, more malicious one, causing them all to fall out (I’m not sure how long this chain can go or if there have ever been cases of an ‘inspirit circle’). This kind of silliness is indicative of the game’s theme and humour, mostly. What starts out as juvenile, however, surprisingly develops into something much more interesting by the end, involving time travel to save champion yo-kai before they were lost forever to a powerful curse and culminating in working with both sides of warring factions to take down the big bad.
In fact, the gameplay is quite like that too – for the most part it pretty much runs itself and is, to put it plainly, boring – until the end, that is. It’s about the fifteen hour mark where the game transforms from constant fetch quests and mindless-combat to a much deeper story with intricate, challenging battles. That makes it quite difficult to accurately score because I can say quite fairly that I didn’t like this title for most of my playtime but when it ramped up it became so much fun I couldn’t put it down. Is that much time investment early on worth it though? For kids, perhaps – they might have a good time searching trees for bugs or running in circles fighting the same yo-kai in hopes that they ask to be your friend (this is how you mostly acquire new allies) but that filler stuff, I felt, was entirely tedious busywork. All I had was the combat, which for the most part doesn’t even include the player.
Before the battle mechanics even play a part, the battle logistics work like this – your party consists of six Yo-kai that are placed around a circular dial (the titular watch) so that only three are in combat at once whilst the other three rest. The dial can be rotated so that to swap out which allies are currently engaging in combat – perhaps because they are more defensive and you’re about to take a hit from a special attack. However, the dial can also be rotated so that just one character is replaced – moving one ally away from combat in an anti-clockwise fashion as you rotate in a different ally in from the right. This makes placing your team, as well as just choosing them, a strategic move. It’s imperative to allow for a balance in combat between your magic/physical attackers and your healing/buff supports no matter how you rotate the team members because those end-game battles get hard. Not only that but each yo-kai has a type and special effects are granted for the same types being placed next to each other. These are not your standard elements like fire and water though, these ones are a little more eccentric. They contain such types as ‘eerie’, ‘shady’, ‘heartful’, and ‘slippery’ (no, I’m not joking), which makes understanding their weaknesses and strengths much less obvious.
Once in combat, the three forward yo-kai do whatever they feel is best by either using one of their few attacks/support moves or inspiriting an ally (buffing them) or foe (debuffing them), whilst the characters in the back do nothing. There is no player interaction here and my God I can’t count the times I just needed one of them to attack to end the battle but they kept casting spells and inspiriting each other. What the player does do, when needed, is use items; for healing/reviving etc, activate special abilities; which require a mini-game to be completed such as spinning a spiral or tracing symbols, saving allies that have been inspirited by an enemy; also requiring a mini-game, and obviously rotating teammates in and out depending on the situation. Not only that but the player can also ‘pin’ particular enemies to have their yo-kai focus a single target and ‘poke’ inspirited foes to gain a small advantage. It may sound simple, but I can honestly say that managing it all in the middle of a heated battle is immensely absorbing and can get seriously difficult. It is the shining diamond, hidden in the rough of the game’s many less compelling features that, when combined with the more interesting boss fights, makes for one of the most unique battle systems out there.
Sadly though, for most of the game just entering the conflict and having your party do their thing on their own is enough to win and this is where the experience fails. The game feels like child’s play for a long time – never really giving the player a chance to improve their skills and then out of nowhere you get decimated by an awesome double boss fight and the game shoots up to eleven. Actually, the first fifteen hours of the game feels like an incredibly drawn-out tutorial on all the different things the player can do in the game – from basic side missions, to finding criminal yo-kai, and further on into the online modes for battling, trading, and playing Blasters – a mini game based around sneaking around a gigantic enemy yo-kai. Throughout the game the yo-kai watch is upgraded to allow stronger spirits to be encountered and the movement speed upgrade (obviously a bicycle) isn’t unlocked until the fifteen hour mark either, making getting around a real pain until then, even with the option to fast travel between particular locations. One might as well wait until then before doing any of the side stuff or exploring, in order to get the most out of it and faster.
Whilst the game is densely packed with a ton of stuff to do, I still believe most of it is much too easy or repetitive – resulting in it feeling mostly like constant fetch quests. The parts I did love came significantly late into the experience and left me wanting more due to their brevity. It’s fair to say there’s something for everyone but that also makes it feel uneven. Up until the late game all the player does is run back and forth, switching between different times, battling with no interaction, and riding those damn trains that actually make stops like a 10-minute loading screen. I wasn’t really hooked by the bad attempts at humour or the weird little jingles that yo-kai types have, either, but I would still play a future Yo-kai game in hopes that the combat gets the lime-light it deserves. Until then, though, I can only recommend the title to a much younger demographic who could get the full experience, but probably still need their older sibling to help with those tougher fights.