If I was my 10-year-old self right now, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits/Fleshy Souls would probably keep me busy for years.
Everything about it reminds me of how I used to play games, guarding a precious handful of cartridges and plucking away at them over weekends and vacations. There are countless quests to complete in Yo-kai Watch 2, collectibles and secrets to gather, and like a certain other popular monster-battling franchise the urge to catch and collect every yo-kai you come across is very real. But a checklist was never enough to keep me interested as a child, nor it is enough now. There needs to be more there, and thankfully the world of Yo-Kai Watch 2 is different enough from what we usually get in our RPGs to justify lingering there.
Yo-kai Watch 2’s routine will be familiar to those who played its predecessor. The bulk of the game remains in its questing (in the form of completing one-off Requests and repeatable Favors for others) and battling your yo-kai, which are spirits that embody various feelings or aspects of life.
The series’ battle system remains unique. Instead of selecting every action your team of yo-kai executes in battle, you play the role of a manager. Player control is limited to actions that are mostly supportive; you pick who’s out on the front lines, dole out healing items, purify them when enemies inspirit (curse) them, suggest targets and trigger special attacks when the relevant meter has been filled. While none of that is new, a key change to this system in Yo-kai Watch 2 allows you to use the energy of adjacent yo-kai to fuel ultra-powerful "Moxie" versions of a yo-kai’s special attack, as well as poke yo-kai who are loafing around instead of pulling their weight in a battle. In tough fights it’s an entertaining challenge to manage all of these moving parts without that traditional turn-by-turn structure, though in easier encounters I was quick to reach for the Fast Forward button.
Much as the fundamentals of playing remain with a few fresh embellishments, so too does the world. While the first game limited you to the boundaries of your character’s home town, Yo-kai Watch 2 adds a train line that carries you to neighbouring towns and areas as well as the ability to hop back in time to much older (and much different) versions of the game’s key locations.
there’s a lot going on in this game, and it assumes a level of familiarity with the source material
As I mentioned earlier there’s a lot going on in this game, and it does certainly assume a level of familiarity with the source material. You’re not going to be completely lost if you skipped the first game or haven’t kept up with the anime, but there are a lot of little things that are obfuscated.
Take for example the Attitudes assigned to your yo-kai. These attitudes change the way a yo-kai fights and emphasize the development of certain stats over others. Grouchy yo-kai are more likely to attack opponents directly for instance, and receive a bonus to their strength and HP. I know this not because I put about 40 hours into the game, but because I currently have the Yo-kai Watch Wiki open on the page that explains what every Attitude does — as was the case basically every single time I played. It would be wonderful if this information was included in the descriptions of the items that are used to alter a yo-kai’s personality, but it’s not, which left me reaching for the browser to remind myself of the differences between synonymously named attitudes like Helpful, Gentle, Tender and Caring.
I had a similar problem with the yo-kai themselves. Early on I got in the habit of naming my team members, which became a particular problem when I needed to look up a yo-kai’s original name to see their evolutions or fusions. Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to find a yo-kai’s name once you rename it and, let me tell you, I have never felt more like "an old" in my entire life than I did while helplessly Google searching the vague physical characteristics of various yo-kai. In games where I have this missing piece — the overlap between knowledge and enthusiasm — I’ve never even considered it an issue. I don’t care that Pokémon assumes that I know how to evolve my Eevee, because… Well, I do. Until it gets in your way, it’s incredibly easy to never consider these things at all.
The presumption of knowledge you may not have is a hindrance to playing, but it’s one that, in the age of wikis and very patient Google searching, never quite spoiled the rest of the game for me. I’ll put up with feeling old and out-of-touch if I’m having a good time, and even at its most obscure Yo-kai Watch 2 always does one very big thing very right.
It makes its world feel like home.
Yo-Kai Watch 2 gives its territories personality, and just as importantly it gives you a connection to them. It shows you the village where your grandfather grew up. It shows you where your dad works. It shows you the candy store your school friends loiter beside. It makes these places mean something beyond the fetch quests and battles you might find there. As a result the map feels less like a flat backdrop behind the action than it does a fully realized setting, vibrant and alive even within its limitations. It might even be more accurate to compare it to Persona than to Pokémon, albeit with a much more kid-friendly spin.
The developers at Level-5 are notoriously good at evoking this kind of coziness, nostalgia and sense of place in their work. You can see the evidence of it in the little details, things easily overlooked like the way the player character’s shoes disappear from the mat by the door as he or she runs outside only to reappear neatly beside their mother’s when they run back in. You can see it in the more obvious moments too, like the rhythm-based minigames devoted to eating family meals. Then there are the bigger sequences where this approach really shines.
One of my favorite experiences in Yo-kai Watch 2 is when you take the train to stay with your grandmother in a nearby town. You walk to the train station, buy a ticket, wait on the platform for the correct train, transfer from one line to another, then wait for the right stop before disembarking. You then take the bus from the train station to the village proper, where your grandmother is waiting at the stop alongside an unpaved road to meet you. From there she leads you on a meandering route back to her home. She stops to introduce you to one of her friends who naturally says how nice and well behaved you are. She stops again at the local store, buying you a can of Soul Tea as a treat for your patience.
There is no yo-kai battling to break all this up, nothing that would take you out of it for even a moment. At most your companions make pleasant conversation with you on the train, while occasional chimes and station announcements sound over the speakers. This could have easily been tedious, but at that point in the game it felt new and exciting. It evoked the experience of taking a train for the first time perfectly, with the same blend of curiosity and vigilance, eyes glued to the map of the various lines and the marquee announcing the next stop.
It’s moments like this one that make Yo-Kai Watch 2 feel special. It doesn’t just gesture at sentimentality in passing between boss fights and level grinds, but pauses the action and confidently gives that sentimentality room to breathe.
Yo-kai Watch 2 keeps you busy without becoming tedious
If Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Spirits/Bony Souls aspired to do nothing more than keep the player busy, it wouldn’t be anything special. It would be one more video game world, one more endless stream of shallow quests and grindy battles and collectible checkboxes, one more way to kill a weekend or keep the kids quiet. But there is more here. There’s a world with charm and careful detail, more than a collection of paths, obstacles and objectives. It’s a place worth occupying, even if you may sometimes, occasionally, feel a little lost while you’re there.
Yo-kai Watch 2 was reviewed using retail copies provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews