While it’s never quite reached the levels of superstardom enjoyed by Pokémon and other Japanese-centric monster-collecting RPGs (well, not consistently anyway), the Yo-Kai Watch series has remained one of the best handheld franchises to ever grace the seemingly immortal Nintendo 3DS. Of course, we western fans have always had to wait a little bit longer than our counterparts in the East – a good two-and-a-half years in this case – but the wait has always been worth it, and Yo-Kai Watch 3 is no exception.
Combining the three versions released in Japan in 2016 – Tempura, Sushi and Sukiyaki – this complete iteration of the game gathers all of the exclusive Yo-Kai together into one tasty package, as well as adding in a special 'Blasters' mode you could only access in the Sukiyaki version. When you mix in an improved battle system, the inclusion of a second hero and storyline and all manner of new Yo-Kai, the end result is a triumphant last hurrah for one of the platform’s most beloved series.
If you’ve played any of the games before, that core mix of exploration, automated battles and mini-games are here, all coated in that familiar cutesy aesthetic that makes it so popular with players of all ages. You’ll explore a variety of new locales – including the Japanese-inspired Springdale and the American-esque St. Peanutsburg (complete with its own ‘Merican Yo-Kai) – from a top-down perspective, collect said monsters and level them up as you go. On the other hand, if you love that moreish Pokémon formula but have yet to give the Yo-Kai franchise a go, this is a perfect entry with which to start.
So let’s talk some of the big changes Level-5 has introduced to spice things up this time around. First up, the new battle system. Combat, when initiated, is still an automated affair where your squad of Yo-Kai will unleash basic attacks under their own volition until they or their opponents collapse from exhaustion. However, now there’s a Tactics Medal Board on the bottom screen. As well as requiring you to have your Yo-Kai lined up so they’re facing an opponent in each channel of the grid, formations now have a significant impact on the course of each battle.
Having two friendly Yo-Kai next to one another will link them up, which will buff their stats and make them stronger as a team as a result. Stacking them behind one another will not provide any sort of boost, but it will enable you to shield the monster at the back from damage (at the cost of reducing the XP the protected creature earns). It’s a mechanic that adds some much-needed extra agency to each battle, and constantly requires you to think one move or more ahead like a slightly violent game of chess. Enemies will also drop orbs of various kinds, so you can periodically move your monsters around to collect them.
Level-5 has clearly listened to fan feedback from Yo-Kai Watch and Yo-Kai Watch 2 and included plenty of extra mini-games and ways to keep you involved in the action. For instance, when you press ‘Y’ and enter Search mode when a Yo-Kai is nearby, you’ll need to press ‘L’ and ‘R’ to fire bursts of energy to drain a health bar to zero (while shooting down projectiles flung in your direction). It’s a fun way to earn an advantage in the battle to come, and a stark reminder of just how uninvolved combat was in those first two games.
For the first time, the series also introduces a second hero to the mix. With long-time protagonist Nate moving to the United States when his dad gets a new job, we’re then whisked back to Japan to follow the exploits of one Hailey-Anne, an otaku girl who stumbles upon space-faring Yo-Kai, Usapyon. She finds her own Yo-Kai Watch and the duo go on to form their very own Detective Pikachu-aping agency. You can swap between the two stories at any save point, and having a new hero not only makes the game noticeably longer, but it gives you the chance to build two very different squads of Yo-Kai.
While the battle system has been given a much-needed makeover, the overworld exploration template remains mostly intact, and the same-old repetition in mission design does start to creep in. Despite the top-notch writing (including the introduction of agents Blunder and Folly from the FBY, who are attempting to solve cases from the oddly familiar Y-Files), you are still running from one area to another, battling Yo-Kai and collecting items. Of course, the same criticism could be laid at the feet of Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu!/Let’s Go Eevee!, so it all depends on how addictive you find the classic RPG-lite formula these games rely so heavily upon.
Even if you do start to find the exploration a little tedious at times, there are just so many extra activities to do, both new and old. There are mini-games at every corner, ranging from QTE-driven meal sessions to unique moments that make each of Yo-Kai Watch 3’s over-the-top boss battles a riot to play. It’s a game that’s determined to keep you constantly entertained – there's the aforementioned Blasters mode and a zombie-themed take on Terror Time thrown in for good measure. Even the cutscenes that showcase everything from activating new medals to mid boss-fight tangents are filled with musical numbers and wacky performances. There’s also support for online and local multiplayer battles, and the option to link to both versions of Yo-Kai Watch 2 and Yo-Kai Watch Blasters to import even more monsters.
With Yo-Kai Watch 4 in development for Nintendo Switch, the series is now bidding farewell to the platform it first called home. Thankfully, it’s doing so with the best version the franchise has offered yet in Yo-Kai Watch 3, throwing in every extra monster and mode into the one portable package. With a more nuanced battle system, larger sandboxes to explore, even more Yo-Kai to battle and add to your Medallium, this two-and-a-half-year-old game is a fresh as the day it first launched in Japan, and has given western 3DS owners one of console's best RPGs in the twilight of its years.