Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (and by extension Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits as the only difference between the two versions are a few obtainable Yo-kai and minor story details) is the sequel to the mildly successful first game in the series simply titled Yo-kai Watch. In Japan Yo-kai Watch is a huge phenomenon with lots of games, a big anime following and even a few big screen films. Yo-kai Watch 2 actually came out over 2 years ago in it’s home country so now that the title has received an international release, how does this monster centric RPG hold up today?
As soon as you boot up the game, watch the opening animated rap video (yes, rap, it’s no DK 64 rap but it’s pretty fun) and then proceed to the title screen you can already tell what kind of game this is going to be. Those initial impressions of Saturday morning cartoon hi-jinks are not misleading, as the story begins with two evil looking cronies stealing the Yo-kai Watch and the main characters memories. It’s not long before you regain these though and are reunited with Whisper and Jibanyan who remain by your side for most of the game.
As someone who never played the first game I had no trouble getting into the narrative here as apart from a few early flashbacks, it seems the first game is never referenced at all. The story is well presented, using voiced cutscenes and classic RPG text dialogue, all accompanied by animation that acts out the text.The story is a bit slow to start off with the first few hours really failing to grip me outside of meeting the Yo-kai, but once it starts going into the origins of the Yo-kai watch and time travel sections it becomes much more intriguing.
The Yo-kai are definitely the stars of this game as the main character and most other humans are about as anime cookie cutter as you can get. Yo-kai however all have their own look, personalities and way of speaking that normally results in a good laugh or neat concept. From the whimsical Casper looking Whisper to Swelton, a fat sweaty Yo-kai who will break your heart as he explains how he has no friends and will just sweat all alone in the sewer, each Yo-kai you meet has a positive impact on your adventure. The idea that most negative feelings are associated with a Yo-kai haunting you is an interesting one and I always liked when the story played that up.
My big issue with the narrative is that you can’t just run through the story at your leisure. Whether it was simply to pad the game length or give you away to acquire more Yo-kai, the game forces you to complete mostly unrelated ‘key quests’ after every major story point before you unlock more story. This design choice is a strange one that not only hurts the games pacing and players freedom to progress as they would like, but also the game overall as I’ll explain in the following section.
Yo-kai Watch 2 has three main facets of gameplay, running around town completing quests, collecting Yo-kai and battling Yo-kai. The quests are easily the downfall of this title and unfortunately, makes up the largest chunk of your gameplay time outside of battles. It’s not that the map in Yo-kai Watch 2 is small or repetitive. In fact it’s quite the opposite as Springdale and it’s surroundings is actually a large, interesting metropolis full of life and secrets to uncover. It’s that most of your time is simply spent running between places. There is little variety in these quests with the majority being simple fetch quest that involve even more running, or having to take part in an average mini game like catching bugs or fish.
All this running is made worse by the near pointless stamina bar, that only seems to exists to hinder you. You do unlock a bike, warp points and a train system as you progress, but these do little to help. The train actually makes the problem worse, as it doesn’t act as fast travel but instead moves in real time. Have fun waiting 10 plus minutes if you want to get across the map on the train with little to nothing happening during that time.
Catching Yo-kai is another issue. There are multiple ways to get Yo-kai and most of them are completely fine. Yo-kai that join from quests or you get from a capsule machine are a great reward for your trouble, ones from quest especially as you get a nice story that accompanies them. You can even fuse Yo-kai and items later on to make all new Yo-kai.
Befriending Yo-kai in encounters is the big problem here. Unlike Pokemon for example, you don’t have a specific way to recruit Yo-kai. Instead, gaming’s best prolonging friend RNG is here. So first you have to find a Yo-kai, some of which are fairly rare, then you can try feeding Yo-kai a food item to increase there chance of you joining (there is no indication of what food a Yo-kai will like so this is all trial and error), then even if they loved the food you gave them, you just have to hope that at the end of the battle they decide to join you. This process was just a pain and I basically gave up trying to befriend any Yo-kai this way, making do with whatever Yo-kai I received in the story.
Lastly there are battles, which apart from the Yo-kai themselves are easily the best part of this game. The battle system in Yo-kai Watch 2 is based around management and strategy (with the emphasis on management). You manage up to 6 Yo-kai at a time while they automatically battle for you, however battles are from passive. Players have to actively manage targets, buffs and debuffs, health, Yo-kai placement, use items and more. Early in the game it may be possible to just let your Yo-kai do there thing with little input, but you definitely won’t get through with that strategy in later stages where monitoring both screens carefully is the key to success. This is a fun and involved experience that makes great use of the games best aspect, the Yo-kai, who to add to the strategy behind battles all have their own special skills, equipment slots, type bonuses and stats as well as the ability to level up.
My only issue with the battle system are the Soultimate attacks. These are moves you can trigger when your Yo-kai’s soul gauge is full and are basically the only way to get your Yo-kai to initiate an attack on your own command. So what’s the problem with this you may ask. They are really repetitive. From the touchscreen mini game you have to play to activate them (thankfully there are a few variations) to the identical animation that plays each time, these get old really fast. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were less frequent, but they just always seem to be available and as they are your most powerful attacks damage or effect wise, not using them rarely makes sense.
I must also praise Yo-kai Watch 2’s many game modes and post game content which is far from limited to simply trying to ‘catch em all’. You can battle online and locally with your strongest teams, trade Yo-kai online or locally, play Yo-kai busters (with up to 4 players in local co-op) which is it’s own decent mini game that can get you rare items, collect trophies, challenge the very difficult end game dungeons and more. Meaningful content is a non-issue in Yo-kai Watch 2.
Yo-kai Watch 2 graphics really impress. All the polish and care taken here with the games bright and colourful graphics really shines through here. Even small details like the main character taking off their shoes before entering a home or how actual events take place with animation instead of just text, it adds to the experience and just makes everything feel like a living, complete world. From the bustling metropolis of Springdale and beyond to battles and the Yo-kai designs and models, the whole game is really just a complete visual charm.
The map on the bottom screen is essential for navigation and the UI during battle is intuitive and simple to understand. I honestly can’t find a single flaw in the visual departments. I never experienced any notable frame rate drops and I even found myself using 3D fairly just because it was implemented so well here. I’m definitely a bigger Pokemon fan but Game Freak could stand to learn a lot from Level-5 and what they have done with the presentation of Yo-kai Watch 2.
Just as impressive as the graphics is the energetic soundtrack. A ‘ghastly’ influence that is present in almost every song ties in with the Yo-kai/ghost/spirits concept of Yo-kai Watch 2 to deliver a very strong and thematic soundtrack. Each background song is just fun and perfect for the moment. The intro and closing credits song are excellent and make good use of the Yo-kai in ways I won’t spoil here.
Outside of the music, all the games sound effects are on point, from menu sounds to status effects and attacks. Lastly for sound, all the voice actors perform their roles outstandingly here and no one sounds out of place. Every actor feels like they are giving 100% with lots of energy and enthusiasm. The quality of the sound can’t be flawed and everything sounded excellent and loud coming through my headphones.
The world of Yo-kai is a fun and charming one and Yo-kai Watch 2 features perhaps the best audio visual presentation I have ever seen on the Nintendo 3DS. Unfortunately the gameplay outside of battles just failed to interest me and I had little desire to complete the mostly boring missions that infuriatingly lock off the main story, which itself suffers from a slow start. Yo-kai Watch 2 seems perfectly suited to younger audiences however there is merit for the older crowd to try it, particularly in the enjoyable battle system that requires good knowledge, preparation and management skills. The main issue will be if those gamers can be bothered to slog through the tediousness to get to the fun parts.