“Yo-Kai Watch 3” Is Finally Being Localized, But Is It Too late?
After a rather unique localization and distribution history, the following words from our previous review of “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” bear further examination: “Unless [Yo-Kai Watch 2] Psychic Specters manages to sell enough copies to make an impact on the Western world, any chance of seeing Yo-Kai Watch 3 being localized likely won’t happen.”
Now, after the English release of the spinoff title “Yo-Kai Watch Blasters” this past September, “Yo-Kai Watch 3” is finally being localized for English-speaking audiences. It released in Europe on Dec. 7, 2018 and will release in the United States on Feb. 8, 2019. The game was initially released in Japan in July 2016, with the three versions of the game released being named for the foods “Sushi,” “Tempura” and “Sukiyaki.”
The game sees many shakeups to the formula in previous installments. The story sees the player moving to the fictional town of St. Peanutsburg when their family transfers to a new job. The setting is a pastiche of the United States seen through a Japanese-tinted lens, much like the Unova region in “Pokémon Black and White” as well as Eagleland in the cult classic RPG “Earthbound.” The game also sees its combat system redesigned to a more active style that largely downplays the automated battles in previous games. The visual style incorporates elements from everything from space travel to American comic books, albeit with an overt Japanese flavor. All of this is meant to try to appeal to players in the West.
However, this also presents a host of roadblocks; as the game’s UK trailer reveals a handful of potentially extensive changes for the game’s oft-delayed localization. First, the setting has been changed from outright being the United States to the fictional setting of BBQ. This is likely a side effect of the previous games’ setting of Japan being changed to the state of Idaho. Second, an early mission revolving around a language barrier between new neighbors looks to have been rewritten; though to what extent is not currently known. Third, the characters of “Agents Blunder and Folly” were initially outright Mulder and Scully from the hit TV show “The X-Files,” but were changed to avoid legal issues with Fox. This also follows how numerous references to “Ghostbusters” in the spin-off “Yo-Kai Watch Blasters” were modified to avoid legal complaints from Sony (the game was even known as “Yo-Kai Watch Busters” in its native Japan).
Beyond all this, however, is the risk involved in this decision based on what’s already happened. Despite a strong performance in Japan overall, the series hasn’t really met with the same success overseas. What was once being groomed as “the next Pokémon” has not grown as series creator Akihiro Hino expected or hoped. “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters” has only sold 120,000 copies in the US as of this writing; well below the sales of almost 3 million it had in Japan. “Yo-Kai Watch Blasters” also launched in the US and Europe the same day as the PS4 title “Marvel’s Spider-Man.” The wall-crawler then went on to tangle the yokai in his critically-acclaimed and best-selling web. The anime is still airing on Disney XD, but the English dub being recast was met with mixed reception, and ratings remain mediocre. Despite Hasbro promising more merchandise as recently as 2018, the company seems to have quietly moved on to other projects (such as their recent purchase of the long-running “Power Rangers” series).
Though Level-5 is currently developing a fourth “Yo-Kai Watch” game for the Nintendo Switch, it’s clear that “Yo-Kai Watch 3” will have much to prove if it can truly appeal to Western gamers. Given the challenges and competition the series has faced outside Japan so far, however, Hino and Level-5 have an uphill battle on their hands.
Column by Steven Pryor
At a Glance:
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2018 (Europe), Feb. 8, 2019 (US)
(Originally Released in Japan in July 2016)