[Editor's note: This review is based on Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits, which is functionally the same game as the Fleshy Souls edition, outside of the fact that each version has its own exclusive yo-kai. For the sake of simplicity, this review will just refer to the game as "Yo-kai Watch 2."]
A few minutes into Yo-kai Watch 2, I experienced a sensation I hadn't felt since I first played Mega Man Battle Network 2 nearly 15 years ago. Namely, that unshakable feeling that someone had mistakenly placed a copy of the first game into the sequel's package.
While Yo-kai Watch 2 eventually moves on to new territory after its extended first act, it's easy to get the sense that developer Level-5 didn't want to tamper too much with their cash cow; though the mania over Yo-kai Watch has cooled down a bit in Japan, this sequel originally released at the height of the series' popularity in 2014. Granted, this follow-up makes some much-needed tweaks to the first game's formula, but the underlying tedium that did much to sink original's charming atmosphere hasn't budged an inch. With how effectively Yo-kai Watch 2 eliminates the debut's minor annoyances, it's more than surprising to see the major ones go completely unaddressed.
If you didn't play the first game, Yo-kai Watch 2 follows the debut's approach by focusing on the world of yo-kai: spirits invisible to the human eye that cause life's everyday problems. With the titular Yo-kai Watch, though, our unnamed hero (that you name) can see and interact with said spirits, and more importantly, capture them—this is a collecting-focused RPG, after all. Yo-kai Watch presents a whimsically spooky world, where the monsters look more like Japanese takes on Garbage Pail Kids than your typical cuddly Pokemon, though part two retains the original's goody-goody moralizing. This is a series, after all, that tosses you into a super-hard boss fight if you fail to cross a specific street before the "walk" signal lights up, and immediately lectures you about traffic safety after you fall in battle. (Maybe Yo-kai Watch not explicitly meant for 30-something game reviewers.)
Yo-kai Watch's automated combat makes a return in part two, and it's basically identical to what came before. You essentially stick six yo-kai of your choice into a wheel, which you can then turn in real-time during battles to rotate your choice of three adjacent characters in and out of combat. While yo-kai attack on their own, each one comes equipped with a meter that charges a super-powered "Soultimate" move which must be activated manually by playing a seconds-long mini-game. Though Yo-kai Watch 2 brings some new additions, the majority of said mini-games are carried over from the first game: popping bubbles, tracing patterns, swirling your stylus, etc.
Yo-kai Watch's battle system is definitely geared towards RPG beginners, but your creatures aren't completely on auto-pilot. Occasionally, you'll have to rotate them out of battle when they're low on HP, or affected with a status ailment which can only be healed by means of a mini-game. You can also control which enemy the yo-kai focus their attacks on by tossing pins into the battlefield, which really comes in handy when you notice an opponent on the verge of using a powerful attack. These pins can also be chucked at random orbs floating by in the heat of battle, which provide various bonuses. Even though Yo-kai Watch's battle system may be a little too passive for some, it at least demands some management on your part—though watching those same Soultimate moves play out over and over can get a little tiresome.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
While Yo-kai Watch 2's battle system remains unchanged from the first game, it at least manages to overhaul one major issue from the series debut: the map. Like the first game, Yo-kai Watch 2 goes for a quest-based experience, but this time around the map does its best to actually help you find necessary locations. Better yet, Yo-Kai Watch 2 allows you to access the world map simply by touching on an on-screen icon, rather than diving through multiple menus. All told, Yo-kai Watch 2 puts forth a much better effort to make questing basics more manageable: So many times in the original, trying to figure out which of the dozens of nearly identical houses held an important quest-giver often had me throwing up my hands in frustration.
Unfortunately, many of the quests in Yo-kai Watch 2 aren't that great. As an RPG fan, I'm inured to fetch quests at this point, but Level-5 has a way of making them even more annoying. Often, a character will ask you to bring them something, and you'll haul ass all over the world to find said thing, only to have them ask you to bring them some other stuff before the quest will actually end. For the most part, Yo-Kai Watch 2's quests involve a lot of joyless backtracking—much of it over environments ripped directly from the first game—which can't help but feel like padding. It also doesn't help that your character can only run for a brief few seconds before having to charge up their stamina once again—a system that only makes sense during a specific nighttime hour, when you're tasked with running away from dangerous yo-kai.
Outside of their work on the Dragon Quest series, I've always found that Level-5's RPGs contain an unnecessary degree of tedium, and this issue hasn't been resolved in Yo-kai Watch 2. For a series geared around collecting monsters, it's such a massive pain in the ass to actually catch them—even in the game's earliest hours. In order to have a yo-kai join your team, you first need to feed them one of frankly too many food items they prefer during battle, then hope they'll make you an offer after they're defeated. Figuring out what food they like requires a lot of trial and error, and you're not even guaranteed to catch them if you pick the correct grub. An early quest sent me out to catch a specific monster, and the quest-giver was friendly enough to tell me the yo-kai loves candy. Ultimately, it took nine battles (and eight wasted items) to have said yo-kai join my party, which strikes me as a major design problem. (And god help you if you set out to "catch 'em all.")
Though I've been a bit negative about Yo-kai Watch 2 throughout this review, I honestly want to love it. Despite its kid-focused moralizing, I genuinely enjoy its cast of out-there monsters, and had a fun time staring at Level-5's always great presentation. But for as much as I love games where you have to work for your achievements, so much of the work I did in Yo-kai watch 2 felt like absolutely unnecessary padding. To be fair, we're still one game behind Japan—Yo-kai Watch 3 released there this summer—so Yo-kai Watch could very well have become the experience I want it to be. With its first sequel, though, Yo-kai Watch comes off as more than a little baffling: Its designers recognized and addressed the minor annoyances, but barely touched the major ones. And, unfortunately, many of these annoyances seem essential to make Yo-kai Watch 2 a meaty, RPG-length experience. I like the core idea so much that I haven't washed my hands of the series entirely, but for now, Yo-kai Watch remains far from its true potential.
The UI looks great, but some basic actions—like equipping your yo-kai with items—take an unnecessary amount of steps.
There's definitely a lot of RPG content to dig into, but whether or not you can tolerate Yo-kai Watch's tedium is another story altogether.
Though the soundtrack may be too saccharine for some, it certainly is catchy.
As always, Level-5 excels in presentation. Despite the relatively underpowered 3DS hardware, Yokai Watch 2 delivers a convincingly cartoony world.
Yo-kai Watch has a great degree of potential, so it's tragic to see Level-5 squander it over fears of upsetting their massive cash cow. (In Japan, anyway.) This sequel carries the same sense of spooky whimsy as the first game, but unfortunately doesn't lose the underlying tedium. If you're looking for an alternative to Pokemon, you might want to see if the next game fixes Yo-kai Watch's woes—if it gets localized, that is.