The first instalment of the Yo-Kai Watch franchise debuted in Europe only recently. As mentioned in our review, Nintendo was hesitant to bring the Japanese hit overseas due to the fact that yokai are a huge part of Japanese folklore, but they're rather unknown outside of Japan. However, introducing us to the Pokémon-esque game proved successful enough for part two to make its way to our shores.
There isn't an exact translation for the Japanese term yokai, and the closest is probably 'spirits'. According to Japanese folklore, yokai come in various shapes and sizes. Invisible to humans, yokai often play harmless pranks, but some may have evil intentions.
Similar to Pokémon, you can train and fight the peculiar creatures that inhabit the game. The first difference between the two franchises is easily noticeable from the start: whereas pocket monsters in general look like animals, yokai have an entirely different look. Granted, some do look like animals, for example one of the main characters Jibanyan, who is to Yokai Watch what Pikachu is to Pokémon. However, Yo-Kai Watch has far stranger creatures. There are inanimate objects who are turned into yokai, and creatures who look like something even Doctor Frankenstein wouldn't touch. For example, early in the game we were introduced to a creature with the body of a dog and the head of an old man. There is even a yokai who represents a grandmother, which, admittedly, may feel a bit strange to use in battle.
Another huge difference between the two games is that all yokai can talk. Creatures who can say more than constantly shouting their own name already gives an entirely different feel than Pokémon, firmly setting the two franchises apart.
Yo-Kai Watch 2 offers two different versions to choose from: Fleshy Souls and Bony Spirits. We played Fleshy Souls, but there isn't much difference between the two versions other than version-exclusive monsters. Story-wise, you will get the same experience from both.
Whereas Pokémon may be more accessible for all ages, Yo-Kai Watch is mainly aimed at a younger target audience. Granted, it does touch a few serious subjects such as death, but overall Yo-Kai Watch aims for laughter and doesn't take itself too seriously. Where Pokémon deals with evil organisations trying to take over the world, the main plot in Yo-Kai Watch 2 simply revolves around an argument over doughnuts. It's up to you to settle the feud and bring peace back to the world of yokai, which arguably may be a more befitting and realistic task for a child rather than saving the entire world. Of course, this silliness could still be a fun experience for adults, were it not for the fact that the game feels no different from its predecessor.
Yo-Kai Watch 2 uses the same setting and the same characters as Yo-Kai Watch. After picking either the girl or boy, the game opens with a cinematic of two mischievous yokai stealing your yokai watch - the device that allows you to spot yokai otherwise invisible to human eyes. Following this event, your character also forgets everything about the world of yokai, including the whole adventure in the first instalment. You must start from zero, learning about the world of yokai all over again. Whereas this convenient case of amnesia is probably meant to introduce new players to the game, for those who played the first game it's an almost entirely similar experience. Yo-Kai Watch 1 and 2 have been released relatively shortly after each other in Europe, and with the first instalment still fresh in our minds this introduction felt like a long, repetitive replay.
When your adventure finally starts, you get to explore the town of Springdale once again. For the sequel new areas are added, as well as a new transportation system: trains. However, taking the train in Yo-Kai Watch 2 is almost as much of a painful experience as taking the train in real life. Not being able to get around smoothly is a shame, as the bubbly town certainly offers some visually appealing spots worth visiting.
Rather than capturing creatures, Yo-Kai Watch only lets you befriend them. Using your watch to detect yokai and your stylus pen to scope out areas to find them, you can try to befriend yokai by simply providing them with snacks, or, much like real life, just talk to become friends. However, the most successful way to become friends seems to be when you first beat the yokai to a pulp, after which it will offer friendship. The defeated yokai will offer you a medal which you collect in your Medallium. With this medal, you can summon yokai whenever you need their aid. You can select up to six yokai to summon at a time. Rather than enclosing creatures in balls or storing them in cyberspace, yokai remain roaming free until you call upon them. After they have completed your commands, they once again return to their dwelling.
The battle system remains unchanged, and regretfully so. Unlike Pokémon, yokai do not follow demands but move entirely on their own. The only thing you can do is slightly enhance their chances of winning by tapping 'Soultimate', which releases the inner power of the selected yokai. When tapping Soultimate, you are prompted to do a mini-game such as popping bubbles, which after successful completion will allow the yokai to use its special move. Even though the minigames are short and quick, you may often find the battle is already over before you completed a minigame.
Whilst this battle-system is certainly unique and very different from Pokémon, it feels a lot less exciting to be a mere bystander. Prompting Soultimate moves may enhance your chances of winning, but it's often not necessary - without pressing a single button you will easily win battles.
New to Yo-Kai Watch 2 is time-travelling, a feature you need to complete the main quest in this instalment. This, along with the quirky writing, slightly helps us forget the tedious, all too familiar side-quests that make up the majority of the game. The main plot doesn't get addressed for a long time, leaving less exciting content for players already familiar with Yo-Kai Watch 1. Don't expect an epic battle when the main plot finally unfolds - similar to all other battles in Yo-Kai Watch 2, it's fast and easily won.
The sequel also offers online multiplayer battles. Whilst a long overdue feature, the problem of feeling like a passive bystander remains. Since there is little to no excitement to be found here either, this feature was easily forgotten.
The core elements of the game are the same, which isn't necessarily a problem - when a concept is successful, it won't need much changing. Pokémon focuses on capturing and training monsters - the setting and evil organisations you save the world from may change, but the core stays the same.
This is likely why Yo-Kai Watch 2 feels no different from its predecessor: the core elements are presented in the same setting with the same characters and largely even the exact same gameplay across both games. With a passive battle-system, tedious travel system and a questline that starts slow and ends before you know it, we found it hard to grasp where the hype had come from.
In 2014 Fleshy Souls and Bony Spirits outsold Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Pokémon Omega Red in Japan. Whilst this is again likely due to yokai being a huge part of Japan history and folklore, it could also be due to the fact part 1 and 2 were not released as close to each other, making the game feel less repetitive. The anime series and tons of Yo-Kai Watch merchandise, ranging from toys, cards, to even Yo-Kai Watch creature-shaped cupcakes sold by bakeries in Tokyo, will certainly have aided in its massive popularity.
We can definitely see alluring aspects of the game too: the humorous writing, outright whacky creatures, and the happy town of Springdale, all are fun for young and old players alike. Adding online battles is certainly a step in the right direction, however there is still much room for improvement. Perhaps Yo-Kai Watch 3, set to release in Japan on December 15, 2016, will provide a better experience if and when it gets released in Europe.