Unlike its spiritual forebear, the long-running Pokémon franchise, Level-5’s Yo-kai Watch is not always at the forefront of my family’s collective gaming consciousness. Indeed, sometimes we’ll go for weeks without even mentioning those titular mischievous specters. This is always short-lived, though, as inevitably, one of us will make a passing reference to the adorable Jibanyan, comical Cheeksqueek, or one-eyed Insomni, and we’re right back in the thick of it.
And when a new Yo-kai Watch game hits? Well, then we’re all champing at the proverbial bit for more madcap adventures with Nate and his supernatural supporting cast.
This week, Yo-kai Watch 3 arrives on American shores, and it is easily the series’ strongest title yet.
New to the world of Yo-kai? Check out our primer for the original Yo-kai Watch and learn more about its spectacular 2016 sequel. For those who want to jump right in on this chapter, there’s even a helpful video to get you caught up on the story so far.
Born in the
The Yo-kai Watch series does a lot of things well, but one place where it truly shines is in its level design. Towns, cities, and surrounding areas are massive, multi-level constructions where players can roam where they may, collecting bugs, fish, and new Yo-kai all the way. Yo-kai Watch 3 transports much of the action to BBQ, an in-game analog of the good ol’ US of A.
This opens up many interesting locales in and around St. Peanutsburg, the new home of longtime protagonist Nate Adams and his family. Forests, farms, waterways, and suburban streets await, each positively resplendent with both returning ghosts and brand new Yo-kai to battle and befriend.
The first order of business, however, is learning to parse St. Peanutsburg’s peculiar regional accent. (It’s somewhere between the cowboy twang of West Texas and the marble-mouthed mechanics of my own Deep South drawl.) Thankfully, there’s a Yo-kai for that.
The ‘Merican Way
For the uninitiated, Yo-kai are supernatural beings of traditional Japanese legend and folklore that reflect both timeless elements of the natural world or more contemporary cultural memes. They can make you bold or meek, put you to sleep or keep you awake. They can make you have to pee—really, really bad! Yo-kai Watch 3 puts a new slant on the old formula with the introduction of ‘Merican (not a typo) Yo-kai.
Lionguist, your first ‘Merican Yo-kai ally, is an expert polyglot, and he’s more than happy to help you overcome the St. Peanutsburg language barrier. Other new additions include Yo-kai meant to personify abstract concepts like confusion (Runsure, Cornfused), technology (Hack King) and social media (Treetter), and an ample selection of regional variations/fusions of fan-favorite Yo-kai like Jibanyan and Komasan.
That said, some of these new spirits are ‘Merican to their very core, with inspirations as wonderfully western as Christmas and baseball. Unsurprisingly, considering the name of this new nation, a lot seem to be themed around food—most specifically meat. Of course, it’s a little hard to dislike playful apparitions that look like anthropomorphic bacon strips and cheeseburgers.
A Tale of Two Cities
While Nate enjoys the culinary delights of St. Peanutsburg—not to mention making new friends and becoming involved in the obligatory supernatural shenanigans—back in his old stomping ground of Springdale, joint protagonist and anime fangirl extraordinaire Hailey Anne discovers a Yo-kai Watch of her own. She immediately teams up with Usapyon, a spacefaring ‘Merican Yo-kai with his own tragic backstory.
Early in the game, her story arc largely concerns interacting with Usapyon: building a rocket, attempting to reunite him with a mysterious scientist from his past, and unraveling their own Yo-kai-related mysteries. The action seamlessly shifts at-will between Hailey and Nate via the game’s Eyepo save points, with each having their own missions, objectives, and encountered Yo-kai, eventually resolving into a single plot to solve the mystery of a downed UFO (with the help of BBQ native Buck).
Line ‘Em Up
An expanded story environment (with more than 600 available Yo-kai) isn’t the only new thing that Yo-kai Watch 3 offers for fans of the franchise. While you’ll still summon allied creatures with acquired Medals and complete touchscreen activities—quick time-style events like connecting dots, slicing chains, or twirling growing energy vortexes—to unleash their powerful Soultimate Moves and Purify Inspirited allies, the rotating six-position combat wheel of old has been replaced.
Yo-kai Medals are now placed on a Tactics Board, a three-by-three grid where you can position—and reposition—your active Yo-kai. This adds a new layer of strategy, as you can easily shield weaker Yo-kai behind stronger units, line up Yo-kai of the same type to boost attack power, and even move their corresponding Medals to grab helpful items that appear on unoccupied squares in the grid.
A cool-down period between movements rewards tactical thinking and keeps the focus on the action, and this new grid-based approach to combat also means a well-placed Yo-kai can unleash a Soultimate Move as a devastating area-effect attack.
The Truth Is Out There
Yo-kai Watch 3 starts with an appropriately American sci-fi pastiche, an X-Files parody that introduces FBY agents Blunder and Folly searching for answers regarding the aforementioned UFO crash. This sets the stage for a Yo-kai adventure that is bigger and better than those that came before. It’s a wider world full of even more silly spirits, with even more humor and heart.
In addition to the massive core gameplay experience, Blasters and Terror Time mini-games again make an appearance—with the latter also supplemented by an all-new Zombie Night variant. But even the regular task of hunting down Yo-kai has been revamped to make the process feel more active; instead of idly chasing around ghostly forms with your search reticle, you now shadow their movements on the touchscreen while firing weakening energy at your quarry using the shoulder buttons. Like most of the game’s tweaks, it’s a minor adjustment that leads to a much more rewarding pay-off.
Most importantly, though, Yo-kai Watch 3 still delivers on all fronts as fans have come to expect. The gameplay is tight, varied (especially in its myriad of mini-games and button-mashing prompts), and always accessible. Level-5’s gorgeous animation shines in 2D and 3D, and its enchanting soundtrack is nearly worth the purchase price all on its own.
Yo-kai Watch has long been a series focused not only on adventure, but on friendship and purpose as well. Yo-kai Watch 3 perfectly exemplifies this, making it more than just an RPG-lite for bored youngsters. It’s an engaging title that can draw in players of any age, making them a part of a world where the magic and the mundane go hand in hand. It likewise proves that, even in a marketplace where the Nintendo Switch reigns supreme, there are still reasons to keep your old, reliable 3DS charged and at the ready.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. For the record, I am only slightly offended that I wasn’t called in by the localization team to serve as a special rural accent consultant.