During the holiday season of 2015, North American audiences were introduced to Yo-kai Watch, an RPG series that’s gained immense popularity in Japan. Developed by Level-5, the company behind Inazuma Eleven and Professor Layton, the first game in the series only sold around 400,000 copies in North America. By the summer of 2016, the Yo-kai Watch following was rooted in the west and continues to grow, even in the face of more popular game series of the same genre. Now, the 2nd installment of this imaginative saga has arrived in two versions: Yo-kai Watch 2:Bony Spirits and Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls!
Despite being a sequel and having separate versions, both versions of Yo-kai Watch 2 are very newcomer friendly and follow the same story structure. Everything from basic gameplay tutorials to character introductions are covered from the start, so even someone who knows nothing of the first game or the anime can enjoy either version as a fresh entry point to the series. Whether you choose to play Bony Spirits or Fleshy Souls is purely up to you.
Story: Yo-kai Watch 2’s story follows Nate Adams or Katie Forester (name and gender based on player choice), who mysteriously loses the Yo-kai Watch and their memories of the events of the first game. After a few minutes of tutorial and exploring the city of Springdale, the main character rediscovers the Yo-kai Watch and their companions and series flagship characters, Whisper and Jibanyan, all over again; starting a whole new adventure with a trip from Springdale to the countryside village of Harrisville, a civil war between Yo-kai of the Bony and Fleshy clans, and travelling through time to learn the origin of the Yo-kai Watch and its creator.
As you might expect from an E10+ rated game, Yo-kai Watch 2‘s plot is simple and easy to follow, but it’s made memorable through the charm and personality that blooms from the game’s characters and bantering personalities; captured very well in the witty dialogue, the talented voices, and well-fitting soundtrack shared with the anime. Yo-kai Watch likes to add a humorous spin to the complications of everyday life in a way that makes even a fantasy like this feel relatable, and that feeling translates across both the anime and the games. All of these elements breathe life into the game, making you feel like you’re playing an interactive movie or season of the Yo-kai Watch anime and exploring this wide world that they’ve been building since 2013.
Gameplay: At it’s core, Yo-kai Watch 2 is a story-driven adventure RPG emphasizing exploration, and battling with a team made from the 300+ Yo-kai obtained throughout your adventure. Even in a world as big and open as Yo-kai Watch, it’s almost impossible to get lost in quests since there is always an arrow pointing to where your immediate objective is and each mandatory quest and side-quest is clearly written out in case you do get lost or forget the objectives from not playing for a long time. The only times your progress would slow down would be when you have to venture off the story quest line and take on some side quests to raise your team’s experience or your overall Watch Rank. Grinding like this may be something typical in RPGs nowadays and labeled as pointless padding, but I never got bored doing these quests and battles since I was always finding new Yo-kai everywhere I went, and every battle was an opportunity to learn and perfect the game’s mechanics.
What’s New?: Along with new places and Yo-kai to find, there are new gameplay features that seek to improve upon what the first game presented to us; including new places to explore outside of Springdale, new mechanics to the battle system, and local and online multiplayer. These new features certainly add to the Yo-kai Watch experience, but how well do they improve the mechanics introduced in the original?
Exploration: Having places from the first game, like the city of Springdale and Mt. Wildwood, serve as central areas again in the sequel may be dismissed as lazily reusing old assets, but I prefer to see it as making a more familiar experience to first game veterans and a fresh introduction to newcomers. Furthermore, there are more places to explore like Harrisville, the port town of San Fantastico, and Springdale sixty years in the past.
Travelling between these places takes a good amount of time at first as you take the city train, which usually takes a good minute of dialogue and/or quick battles in between train stations before reaching these places. While I liked the sort of atmospheric and immersing feeling riding the trains had, I can imagine some finding it annoying and padding the length of the game just to travel. Thankfully, fast travel stations in the form of the Yo-kai Mirapo can easily be opened up upon arriving at each major area, so going back to these places later is made quicker and easier. That said, I found that there weren’t enough of these fast travel points in places there should be, especially when there are so many in present-day Springdale, but not past Springdale despite the latter having a large area to explore.
Combat: The main combat system is fundamentally the same as the original, with every Yo-kai automatically taking turns attacking or defending while you actively manage your team’s health with items, trigger Soultimate Moves to massively damage foes or heal allies, and target specific enemies and weaknesses to potentially turn them into your allies. For a newcomer like I was going into this game, this can feel awkward as you don’t manually control your Yo-kai’s actions like you would in most RPGs, but the game helps explain the system well enough in its tutorials, and after a few battles, I could figure out the kinds of strategies my team needed to take on any battle.
During the story of Yo-kai Watch 2, an item called the Model Zero adds an extra layer to these battle strategies. Setting Yo-kai of the same tribe next to each other grants stat bonuses, a Yo-kai’s unique Soultimate attacks can be powered up at the cost of two allies’ power, and targeting an enemy Yo-kai with the Model Zero system can let you deal additional damage, refill your allies’ Soultimate attack meters, or improve the chance of making that enemy Yo-kai join your team. The most common complaint with the first Yo-kai Watch battle system was the befriending enemy Yo-kai can never be guaranteed, even if you use every possible method to improve the chances. It can be especially frustrating when you try not once, or twice, but potentially a dozen times to get a rare and powerful Yo-kai when some people get it in one try. In all honesty, there still isn’t a solid guarantee in this game. Through dozens of battles and soft-resets, I’ve believed that using the Model Zero system has only helped my chances at getting Yo-kai, but it’s ultimately still an RNG game, albeit more forgiving than the original, that can test the patience of some players.
Multiplayer: While the first Yo-kai Watch was primarily a single-player experience, the sequel opens up a new venue to local and online multiplayer. The new Medal Swap feature allows players to trade any of their Yo-kai locally or online with friends, which comes in handy since some Yo-kai can only be found in one of the two versions. Players can also pit their teams against each other in battles or challenge random opponents online in representing the version they play on. Official rules are put in place for these battles to balance out any Yo-kai team in terms of level and restricting high-rank Yo-kai. Finally, in a mini-game called Yo-kai Watch Blasters, up to 4 local players can team up and actively control Yo-kai in a timed beat-em-up challenge across Springdale, collecting points while fighting together against powerful Oni Yo-kai.
While I haven’t had any time or other people nearby to try out Yo-kai Watch Blasters, I have played a good amount of online battles with friends and random players. Aside from a long wait time finding an opponent sometimes (which I chalk up to my own internet speed not being very fast), every battle I started held up with virtually no lag from beginning to end. Battling online also helped me get a feel for what kinds of Yo-kai other players are putting on their active teams. Not to assume that Yo-kai Watch will be making any major tournaments like Pokemon has, but it appears that these online battles can be very encouraging to players wishing to try it out for a few rounds or fully commit to it. Overall, I’d say that the Yo-kai Watch community can only grow more with these multiplayer features, as fellow players help each other get version-exclusive Yo-kai to complete their Medalliums and discuss teams and battle strategies for friendly competition or being better prepared for post-game challenges.
Replay Value: Even after completing the main story, the adventure continues in the post-game, with new areas to explore, quests to take on, and powerful new Yo-kai to challenge and befriend. From that point on, the game completely opens up for you to take on these new challenges however you want. It took me around 25 hours to finish the main story, and now I’m close to 70 hours of total playtime after almost two weeks of playing since launch, and I’ve only obtained 35% of all the Yo-kai in the game and 17% of the trophies for in-game milestones. It’s really up to the player to determine how far they want to go with the game, but there’s no denying that there is still a huge amount of things to do in Yo-kai Watch 2, even after the ending credits roll.
Struggles: I’ve been praising a lot of Yo-kai Watch 2, but no game is without faults, and this is no different. Getting new Yo-kai is still a game of chance with no guarantees, even with the new additions to try improving those chances, and like most RPGs there is a fair amount of grinding to do and side-questing just to advance the story. On top of that, finding the rarest Yo-kai isn’t made very clear and obvious, at least not in my experience. While I preferred to find most of the game’s secrets on my own, the lack of even a small bit of guidance to where these rare Yo-kai could be found made me either wander aimlessly searching or consult other players and wikis on the internet. Hopefully an official guidebook will be published, like the first game did to help players in this situation, as we don’t all have the patience or Internet access for the alternate solutions that many have already taken to.
Conclusion: Believe me when I say that this is not a game you should rush through or discount as “filler” to hold you until the next Pokémon game. Despite its faults and differences to the games we’re more familiar with, Yo-kai Watch 2 is a truly enjoyable adventure with a charming narrative, engaging gameplay that’s only gotten better compared to its predecessor, and secrets that can’t all be found in a couple of days. The amount of content available from launch without updates or any paid DLC expansion makes this game worth the $40 price to me, and multiplayer opens up new opportunities to meet fellow Yo-kai fans and help the community grow. If you’re at all interested in the Yo-kai Watch series, I’d say this is the game to get started with; as both newcomers and veterans can enjoy a fresh and complete adventure in Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls, available now for Nintendo 3DS.