The Yo-kai phenomenon (in video games, that is) has been around for a while, and the first title - developed by Level-5, like this game and its spin-off for the DS - was created to rival Pokémon, Game Freak's long-running monster catching epic that continues to get heaps of praise and set new sales records even to this day.
It was created for the Japanese market, but it didn't take too long for it to make it further afield. Well, it did take some time actually, because in the west we're approximately two years late for each title, which means that Yo-kai Watch 3 has arrived late in the lifetime of the 3DS, a console which still has some strength even if it's showing signs of exhaustion.
Yo-kai Watch 3 may not be a revolution, but it does implement enough new features so as to justify its existence, mostly from those who are looking for an easy, fast, and familiar game, or even an introduction to the RPG genre, no matter what their age. Still, its excessive linearity and very low difficulty may take its toll on more experienced players.
It was born - like the rest of the games in the franchise - as a double title (like Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! And Let's Go, Eevee!). For its arrival in the west, these third games have been merged into one, and we can only say thank you for that. Even though the game has a good community, the developer has taken the decision of mixing Tempura and Sushi's stories (the names of these two editions in Japan) and the result was better than expected, with a story that swaps between characters and locations smoothly.
For the first time in a core title, we leave Springdale (Nathan's hometown) and travel to the USA due to work issues regarding his father. Nathan, his family, Jibanyan, and Whisper move to the city of Peanutsburg where, naturally, there are also some troubling Yo-kai. Just in case you don't know about Yo-kai (or Yōkai) they are monsters that come from Japanese folklore and sometimes interact with humans and interfere with their lives, although there are some who help to create harmony and do good deeds. Level-5 has delivered more than 600 creatures of all shapes and sizes, and here we have to make friends with them, not catch them. This new continent is home to Yo-kai Merican, which are very similar to their eastern namesakes and they simply change their appearance a little bit. This, however, is not the only change in Nathan's life, as now he has to go to a new school with new classmates in a brand new area.
Additionally, we have the biggest change in the main series until now in the form of a new combat system. Forget about the roulette, as now we have a board divided into a three by three grid, through which our Yo-kai will move as they pick up life or energy orbs and even spectators' items. As in the previous titles, attacking is automatic, but you can intervene to launch a powerful special attack, although before that you will have to complete a short mini-game. These are still limited in number, so they will repeat themselves constantly, but at least some of them are a little tricky. Something similar happens when you disenchant a spirited Yo-kai (they will laze around and fall asleep), giving us new ways to heal our friends.
On the other hand (or better said, on the other side of the globe) we have Hailey Anne Thomas, the new main character who lives in Springdale and receives a new and universal Yo-kai Watch. This lets her see these ghosts, no matter the continent they're from, and as you may have guessed this will lead to both stories converging.
Hailey replaces - in some ways, at least - Katie, the main character who was with Nathan in previous games. We say "in some ways", because we can't choose the gender of our avatar anymore, but we play with one and the other character. Furthermore, each one will have their own Yo-kai team, which will be a pain in the neck as we have to always keep track of both.
Nathan's story is the more traditional one, with more Yo-kai and tasks that require you to be an errand boy. However, Hailey's story is way more original. It's not only that she is more cheerful and absent-minded than any existing Level-5 character until now (her personality is a big plus for the experience), but now we will have to deal with aliens and all other interesting things. Of the two, Hailey's story is probably better.
During our time in Peanutsburg, you will have to investigate the new city and its surroundings properly, either by going out on foot or by exploring on a bike. Here we discover that, like Springdale, the new city hides a lot of details and secrets for you to find, but still we think that exploration is not rewarding enough.
You can find Yo-kai in wooded areas, under cars, by the water, or hidden inside fire hydrants (these places appear with more frequency than they should), as well as mystery boxes in alleys, closed doors that will only be opened if you're at the right level, mystic portals with challenges (battles) inside, fishing and bug hunting zones, or sometimes even the sudden nightmare zones you can get sucked into (in them we have to find a key and not get discovered while escaping). As you can see, there's plenty of variety in Yo-kai Watch 3, which also helps the two main characters. This is a series made for players of all ages and therefore the play is constantly guided (apart from a few occasions when it's unreasonably difficult).
Speaking about variety, this game even includes so-called expeditions, which will be familiar to you if you played Yo-kai Watch: Blasters (any edition). It's a mode that, like the subseries on which it's based, allows us to go through diverse dungeons with a very different style compared to what we are used to, as now the combat is in real time and we control Yo-kai directly, without any trainer leading them.
This is just one of the many details that show the love that Level-5 has poured into this title. This is also obvious when we look at the title from a technical perspective; Yo-kai Watch 3 is perfect for portable consoles, and it's only matched by some Square Enix or Capcom games, at least in terms of visuals. The cities are full of detail and nothing is random either. Each person you see will have something to say (and translation and dub work is remarkably good). And, we're pleased to say, the double meanings of certain Yo-kai names didn't get lost in translation.
Regarding the sound, with its melodies and sound effects, it's still in line with its prequels. This is due to a great degree of quality, but on the other hand, it's not so good since it reuses songs and FX. It's something that will have to change sooner or later, and we can only hope that the future Nintendo Switch version won't do the same and takes some risks in this department.
All told we're looking at Nathan's (and Hailey's) best adventure. It's the most diverse, the biggest, and the one with the best combat system. With regards to technical quality, it hasn't evolved too much over the years, but it didn't really need to either. Things have changed in terms of gameplay though, with a new combat system that will make you pay more attention to the touchscreen. We wish we could say the same about the search mode, which is as repetitive as always.
It has the most original story - which admittedly isn't told as well as it could have been - and a new main character who will earn your affection in mere minutes. The swapping of characters could have been handled better, but then again it made us grateful for the gameplay variety we experienced as we played. It'll take hours to get through your travels in Peanustburg and Springsdale (again) and, if you do, you will always be able to have fun with the Blaster mode or in online or local battles, so there's a lot to like even if there are little niggles in there too.