This comparison is not completely unfounded, due to both games' basic monster-collecting formulae, but after playing through several battles during an early mission, what I was most reminded of was the demon-bargaining of the Shin Megami Tensei series, as well as developer Level-5's own Ni no Kuni.
These influences are most visible in the battle system. The basic premise of Yo-Kai Watch involves kid hero Nate traversing his hometown in search of spirits, which wreak havoc by inhabiting human hosts and forcing them to do things they normally wouldn't. One Yo-Kai for example, Tattletell, causes people to say whatever's on their minds when they otherwise wouldn't. In order to return things to their normal state, Nate uses his trusty titular watch to locate and then take on the Yo-Kai, which either join him or disappear after defeat.
Battles are three-on-three, while players have the option to rotate through a selection of six of their Yo-Kai at will. The demons fight each other automatically, but players can execute special moves called Soultimate attacks to inflict higher damage -- as well as watch a character-revealing animation. These moves are activated through various touchscreen interactions. Sometimes, you will be required to tap energy balls that move across the screen in order to charge up your Soultimate. Another possible preemptive move that must be completed before moving forward could be spinning a bubble surrounding your chosen Yo-Kai as quickly as possible, or tracing a symbol in order to unleash the move.
That last element draws an immediate comparison to Ni no Kuni, as does the ability to rotate through a set of monsters at will. A co-production with Studio Ghibli, the PS3 and Nintendo DS RPG involved inflicting magic and other attacks through the drawing of specific symbols, as well as using fantastical creatures in battle. The anime-esque art style of the two games is also similar, with Yo-Kai Watch's designs borrowed directly from its cartoon counterpart.
Its the collection of these creatures that recalls Shin Megami Tensei, however, which focuses heavily on bartering with demons in order to add them to your team. Having three fighters on each side at once is another similar feature. In that sense, the game operates as a more accessible, kid-friendly version of that franchise.
Yo-Kai Watch is not purely derivative. It does a great job of distinguishing itself through its strong sense of humor and colorful, modern real-world setting. The localization is strong, preserving the traditional Japanese aspects of the original game — Nate takes his shoes off when entering his house automatically, and many character names remain unchanged — while injecting it with a vibrant sense of humor that is distinct and entertaining for both kids and older players.
While the depth of the battle system remains to be seen, and the rigid linearity could be a turn-off to more experienced players, Yo-Kai Watch is charming at first blush with enough style to leave an impression.
Check out our gameplay preview below.