Yokai Watch 2 was just announced for North American release and the most talked about part of the news is that it will release in 2 separate games just like Pokémon versions. The Yokai Watch brand was born in the shadow of its predecessor and is rightfully compared to a lot of the clearly influenced parts of its structure and overall gimmick. But as a long-time Pokémon fan who played Yokai Watch during the long wait between Pokémon games, I found that Yokai is not only its own game, but it honestly does a lot of things better.
Let’s start with the obvious—catching them all. Pokémon is about the variety of creatures with a variety of types and a variety of abilities to be used in a variety of situations. You could spend all your time trying to collect them all, or just building your own specialized team for any challenge that may come your way. Yokai Watch simplifies that and says, “Sure there are many types, but pick the ones you want,” and then that’s it. There’s no drive to collect them all unless you have that kind of compulsion inherently (I do). And you don’t get anything special for collecting them all either. That’s because Yokai Watch has more to sell you on than just its critters. It has personality.
The difference between Pikachu and Jibanyan is that one is a mascot that can do cool stuff and the other is an actual talking, feeling, and funny companion who gets into its own trouble and you get to interact with it on a social level. And that goes for all of the Yokai, really. Each one is so specifically geared toward its purpose in affecting the world that the very premise of the game would fall apart without them. Pokémon are animals just like ours in real life, but Yokai are spirits who possess and influence everything around us. Feeling kind of sick? It’s probably a Yokai. Don’t want to do anything? That’s a Yokai too. There’s even a Yokai that gives you gas! How could you not interact and build stories around those kinds of specialties? With Pokémon it’s simple—catch them and make them fight until you’re the champ. With Yokai, there’s no champion to beat or trainers to go against. It’s just you and your Yokai friends that you’ve made so far versus any other Yokai that may be messing with you that day. There’s an overarching story, sure, but there are more sidequests and Yokai to explore that there’s never really a push to keep focus. Pokémon has only one true narrative and most of the sidequests are at the end, after you’ve battled a zillion people and Zubats to get there.
And the battles are the biggest difference of all. Pokémon allows 6 critters and so does Yokai, but in Pokémon you have to use one at a time unless you’re doing a specialty battle of doubles of triples. With Yokai the battles always use 3 at a time and it’s active not turn-based. Enemies are always attacking as soon as they can and so are your Yokai, but if you want them to do special abilities then you have to be constantly engaged. The lower screen shows your energy gauges and when they fill up on a Yokai you can perform mini games that allow them to show off their strength. It’s randomized between tracing a series of lines, popping some bubbles, or spinning a wheel. Each of which needs to be done quickly in order to be effective. Another aspect is that you can rotate your Yokai out of battle at any time with a swipe of your stylus instead of having to wait a whole turn to switch in and out with a turn loss penalty like Pokémon. And if you run into random encounters that you don’t care about there’s a fast forward button that allows you to speed up the fight so you can just move on. You and your enemies will high speed slap each other until one of you loses and you’re on your way back to whatever you were focused on. That’s what I love most about Yokai—it demands engagement when it’s necessary and doesn’t punish you when you disregard it for the sake of personal preferences at the time.
Pokémon may be the forerunner here in terms of collectible critters, but honestly I felt the games were vastly different. A Pokémon game has a linear story with a few silly comments while Yokai Watch gave me a really funny story with parts all over the place and hilarious characters at every turn. It never tried to be anything like Pokémon and amidst all the comparisons that’s worth noting. Yokai Watch may be launching with two different versions, but unlike Pokémon you still can’t trade Yokai to another player. Pokémon was able to capitalize on the social aspect of their games with trading, but Level-5 doesn’t seem to be focused on that kind of model at all.
If you’re a fan of Pokémon, then you’re probably going to love the variety of critters and the more engaged battle system. But don’t go in thinking that it’s going to be the same. Yokai will introduce you to far more interesting characters and it will never take itself seriously enough for you to feel like you should over-invest your time and energy. For me, it was everything I needed to quell my Poké-Fever between games and I ended up enjoying it probably far more than a Pokémon game anyway. It’s not a competitive romp or a deep rolling thriller–It’s just a fun time with some cool spirits. So enjoy!