(Note: This review is largely based on the “Fleshy Souls” version of the game “Yo-Kai Watch 2,” which also released alongside the accompanying “Bony Spirits” version. Barring some small differences, the games are largely the same in terms of gameplay and story should you decide to play them.)
“Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” are the sequels to the original “Yo-Kai Watch” video game. When they originally launched in the United States in September 2016, many hoped they would be the games that popularized the franchise as they did in their native Japan. However, while the games do mark a slight improvement over the original game; they still lack the elements of better role-playing games (RPGs) such as the “Pokémon” series and cling to many of the design choices that kept the first game from reaching its full potential.
The games have largely the same basic concept as the original installment: the world is full of bizarre phenomena caused by mythological Japanese creatures known as “yokai”. Essentially, if your home is a mess or your GPS gives you misleading directions, a yokai might be responsible. While these creatures may not be visible to humans, a device known as the titular
Yo-Kai Watch will allow whoever wears it to see them.
If that description sounds similar to the first game, that’s because it is. While the game does introduce several tweaks to the mechanics that help improve the first game’s shortcomings, there are still many problems that keep the sequels from becoming truly great games. Though the graphics are still every bit as bright and colorful as they were in the first game, the visual style still gives off the aura of a low-budget Saturday morning TV series. This is especially proven by the first stretch of the main quest essentially being a role rehearsal of the original game’s events, especially in the early stages of the story. While the fans of the series have often argued that this can serve as a way to get those who haven’t played the first game into the story, this also undercuts a lot of enjoyment of the sequels for those who did play the original “Yo-Kai Watch.” The slow pacing of the early missions in the story doesn’t help either. Those who prefer games that quickly get players into the story probably won’t enjoy this portion.
That said, the games do start to get interesting after the initial hours of the main quest. After a train trip to visit your grandmother in the countryside, you will then able to travel back in time 60 years to complete new challenges alongside a young version of your late grandfather.
There are also new mechanics for the Yo-Kai Watch that were not present in the first game, such as a kind of special move known as an “M-Skill.”
Even so, many of the first game’s flaws are still present. Those who don’t enjoy doing fetch quests in video games probably won’t find anything to change their minds, since much of the main quest revolves around doing them just to advance the story further. Even with new special moves, the combat is still on autopilot. Barring some of the later bosses, the battles lack the challenge of other games such as the “Pokémon” series or Level-5’s own “Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.” It also doesn’t help that the “everyday life with yokai” premise can often be difficult to accept for those who don’t share the specific experiences held by player characters Nathan Adams and Katie Forester. Those who often want to get the latest smartphones probably won’t understand the appeal of a series of mishaps revolving around a gadget called a “Mega Watch.” The yokai also tend to be rendered in a fashion that’s closer to a roadside theme park attraction than what you’d actually see in Japanese folklore.
Beyond all this, however; is how much Nintendo and Level-5 bet on the sequels making the series the mainstream hit it was in its native Japan. When promoting the games at E3 in 2016, series creator Akihiro Hino expected that “Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” would help the franchise “bloom like a flower” in the US. As of this writing: it hasn’t. The sequels have only sold a combined 160,000 copies in North America; well below the sales of 3 million they did in Japan. The games also received mixed reception among critics, and were ultimately overshadowed by more successful RPGs such as “Pokémon Sun and Moon” and “Final Fantasy XV.”
Even though the ending of these games heavily hint at “Yo-Kai Watch 3,” the disappointing reception to the sequels has left the localization of the game as well as its accompanying anime and tie-in merchandise in doubt, even as a third version of these games titled “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters” is scheduled to launch simultaneously in the United States and Europe.
If you are looking for an alternative style of RPG but didn’t play the original “Yo-Kai Watch,” then “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” might be worth considering. However, if you’re looking for a more engaging experience; it might be better to wait for “Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” and “Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.” There are enough tweaks to the gameplay to mark a slight improvement over the original game, but nowhere near enough for Jibanyan to overtake Pikachu as the king of “monster collecting” game icons. Unless “Psychic Specters” manages to sell enough copies to make an impact in the Western world, any chance of seeing “Yo-Kai Watch 3” being localized likely won’t happen. Despite the success of the series in Japan, the flower didn’t bloom as Hino hoped and has become another example of potential success overseas being lost in translation.
Review by Steven Pryor