- Sprawling open-world RPG
- Run smoothly on the 3DS
- The jazzy soundtrack is light and comfy
- Some surprisingly good writing under the hood
- The tutorials are a mess and go on too long
- Takes about twenty hours to really get going
- Nintendo's attempt to westernize this game falls apart on its face
- Very few people are going to play this unless it gets ported elsewhere
Despite some issues, Yo-kai Watch 3 is a lot of fun. It was worth the seventy-five hours I spent with it, and is probably worth more if you get swept up in all of the side content.
BURSTING AT THE SEAMS
I went into Yo-kai Watch 3 without knowing much about the series. What little I knew, I got from reviewing Yo-kai Watch Blasters last year and watching a couple of videos here and there. My intention was to approach this review differently than I do most of my content, by diving into the series from a relatively fresh perspective. While experts of the Yo-kai Watch series will undoubtedly have their say, it’s also important to see what a relative newcomer might have to bring to the table. Now that the experiment is over, my overall impression is that I enjoyed this game a lot. I was completely overwhelmed at first, but once I managed to get that under control, I came away mostly impressed.
Yo-kai Watch 3 is nothing if not ambitious. It introduces so many systems so quickly, that it’s not an exaggeration to say that the first twenty hours are full of tutorial and explanation. This pacing allowed me to acclimate to the game’s mechanics at a good speed, but the game has so much to teach, it has trouble metering out the lessons in a logical way. At one point the game pushes the protagonist to get to the top of a suspicious bell tower for story purposes, but partway up grinds everything to a halt as it starts a tutorial for trading and battling Yo-kai online. Though the game tries to work this moment into the story, I was left wondering why this information wasn’t saved until I was ready to explore those options on my own.
It’s not just tutorials inserted at inappropriate moments though. It can also be hard to understand the difference between what’s being explained because it’s in the game, and what the game expects from the player in the moment-to-moment gameplay. Between the spinners, lotteries, dailies, and rhythm minigames that get introduced early on, the point gets muddled. I eventually latched onto the options that drew my interest, like sidequests, and completed as many as I could. Some of my favorites involve following an NPC with a giant bucket of popcorn around and stealing some every time they fall over, and helping an internet author find his muse again. However, it took me a lot of time to find these moments because I had to wade through the five different ideas the game wanted to explain to me first.
One thing that kept me hooked is the big focus on story for such a huge open-world RPG. There are two major paths to follow. One is about series protagonist Nate Adams, who at the beginning of the game moves to a new region called BBQ. As he adjusts to life in St. Peanutsburg, he’s comes to terms with culture shock, meets new friends and gets involved with a lot of quirky alien conspiracy hijinks. Meanwhile, the other path follows Hailey Thomas back in Springdale, the setting of the first two games, as she gets her first Yo-kai Watch. Though she’s never met Nate, she essentially takes over his job of helping people and Yo-kai alike with their problems, eventually opening up a detective agency despite being in elementary school. Switching between these two stories ends up being a lot of fun, especially as the game shows how actions in one part of the world affects events elsewhere.
Despite juggling two ongoing stories, the game finds the time to work on character development, too. Some of the best writing in the game comes from showing how a familiar character like Nate reacts to new surroundings and how Hailey can look at familiar locations with new eyes. I was particularly struck by the care that went into shaping Nate’s relationship with his new friend Buck, who’s always up for building rafts, exploring caves, and adventuring for treasure. The two become close very quickly – but, of course, the game also makes sure to work Katie Forester, Nate’s not-so-secret crush (and the optional female protagonist of the first two games), into the plot to make sure players know there’s that side of him, too.
Beyond the character development, the localization is consistent and wonderful on a micro level. There’s a lot of puns and cultural jabs that are made better thanks to the English script. From outright calling the region’s Yo-kai “‘Merican Yo-kai” to having Nate and Buck followed around by two FBY agents named Blunder and Folly, Level-5 is clear that BBQ is supposed to be a lampoon on America, full stop.
The problem is, in Japan BBQ literally is the USA. This is a story primed for international appeal. Nate moves from Japan to America, and Hailey stays behind in Japan to do her work – the best of both worlds for two major audiences. However, because Nintendo decided to westernize Yo-kai Watch when they began localizing the series, they’ve created a dilemma. With Springdale already set in a vague part of America, they need to make Nate’s move to BBQ seem significant enough to warrant the cultural shock, but not significant enough that it takes him out of the country. Their solution? Making BBQ the South.
As we’ve learned from the Jake Hunter series, this approach never really works. On a script level, Nintendo’s masking job is effective, turning the scene where the ‘Merican Yo-kai Lionguist helps Nate learn English into a comical scene where he learns to speak with a Southern drawl. Zoom out just a bit further though, and it falls apart. Some game mechanics are designed around the significant timezone difference – when it’s daytime in BBQ, it’s night in Springdale. Springdale has a maid cafe, and near St. Peanutsburg is a Wild West-themed town called Dukesville. Hailey relies on the elaborate train system to travel around, and Nate usually walks. I know Nintendo is sticking to their guns with prior localization decisions, but it’s not convincing. All Nintendo has accomplished here is putting a dent in their own localization that makes me enjoy the game less because I see right through it.
Yo-kai Watch 3 has enough content to rival modern console games. It has dialogue and a sense of humor that’s witty and surprisingly deep. It runs smooth, the music is pleasant, and the scale and ambition with all of its different systems reveal a game that’s using the 3DS to its fullest extent. Exploring two different parts of the world simultaneously is a novel concept, and even after the credits roll there’s still plenty of stuff to do. There’s traffic laws, a handful of fully 3D environments, alternate realities, spaceships, zombies, ancient civilizations, and the return of the Blasters T crew in a separate campaign hidden somewhere in the overworld. Somehow, the game makes all of this work together without feeling like a jumbled mess. It’s a remarkable feat of programming, and also a sign of just how large the fanbase for this series was in Japan at that time. There are just a couple of issues that make me wish I could enjoy it more than I already do.
The thing is, it’s 2019 and Yo-kai Watch 3 is a 3DS exclusive. One that, in Japan, released in three different versions: Sushi, Tempura, and Sukiyaki. Nintendo made the right move in releasing one version based on the definitive Sukiyaki edition, but does it matter? My review is several months late, experiment or no, and while I’m happy to add to the criticism of the game from this perspective, I’m just glad I got to play it at all. It’s bittersweet, because there’s the sense the audience for Yo-kai Watch 3 is out there, if only it released on more popular hardware. If you still have a 3DS and love large RPGs, this is worth your time, but it’s a dead console now. I don’t blame you if you’ve already moved on.
Platform: 3DS | Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Level-5
Release Date: 2/8/19 | Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and Up)
This review was conducted on a New 3DS XL using a physical copy of Yo-kai Watch 3 I purchased on launch day. It is exclusive to the 3DS. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter. You can also reach me via email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com but please, be respectful with whatever you send.