Yo-Kai Watch, the incredibly popular series of 3DS games developed by famed JRPG developer Level-5, is confirmed to be coming to the west. No confirmation of what and when exactly, Nintendo just wants to let us know that it is indeed going to be a thing. If you’ve never heard of Yo-Kai Watch, you’d better learn, because this game is going to take over the U.S. and Europe real quick. In Japan, Yo-Kai Watch is experiencing hype levels not seen since the 1990’s era Pokémon games.
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) April 7, 2015
If you’re at least in your late-teens or early 20s you should remember the craze that was “Pokémania.” When Pokémon Red and Blue was released way back in 1996, the U.S. and the western world went completely batshit crazy. Whether it was through the video games, trading cards, cartoon series, movies, toys, Pokémon had a monopoly over the hearts of children for a solid couple of years. This level of craze didn’t last forever, but it was able to survive its fad status and find longterm success, while becoming what is essentially now the blueprint for Japanese cartoon and video game marketing in the west.
Before volcanos erupt, they generally let volcanologists know via recognizable telltale signs. In that same vein, Yo-Kai Watch is showing all the signs of another Pokemania craze right now in Japan. Batten down the hatches, because like it or not, it’s coming.
Let’s jot down some of the similarities shall we? Yo-Kai Watch, like Pokémon, is a game centered on addictively collecting creatures to make them battle each other. Its most recent entry, Yo-Kai Watch 2, has two versions just like Pokémon Red and Blue did. The series has sold over 7 million games, and Yo-Kai Watch 2 sold 1.3 million copies in its first week. The Yo-Kai Watch games also has the added benefit of being created by one of the most respected and established JRPG developers of all time in Level-5.
Yo-Kai Watch has its own series of toys and products outside of games and according to Nintendo, all of it totals up to over $1 billion in sales. Also, Yo-Kai Watch has its own manga and anime series.
Like a hurricane building up strength in the ocean first before crashing into the shores, Yo-Kai Watch has taken its sweet time. Opting to build up massive hype in Japan before unleashing itself to the west. Yep, just as Pokémon did all those years ago.
There have been many games accused of being Pokémon copycats before, but it can be argued that enough time has passed for that complaint to lose its sting. The Digimons of the world have come and gone, and Pokémon still is, and will remain in a class of its own, regardless of Yo-Kai Watch’s success. What I’m trying to say is that there’s room at the top alongside Pokémon that didn’t exist before, and Yo-Kai Watch seems to be following that successful Pokémania blueprint almost exactly.
I can’t blame you if this all just sounds like another Pokémon rip off that will flare up and fizzle out like many others have done before. It’s possible that it might, but what it has going for it is a story and art style that is so wonderfully charming, and has Level-5 written all over it. Here’s the plot according to its entry on Wikipedia:
One day, whilst searching for bugs in the woods in Sakura New Town (based on Tsukuba, Ibaraki), a boy named Keita Amano (or in the video games a girl named Fumika Kodama is also an option) comes across a peculiar capsule machine next to a sacred tree. When he opens one of the capsules up, it brings forth a Yo-Kai named Whisper, who gives Keita a device known as the Yo-Kai Watch. Using this, Keita is able to identify and see various different Yo-Kai that are haunting people and causing mischief. Joined by the cat Yo-Kai Jibanyan, Keita and Whisper start making friends with all sorts of Yo-Kai, which he can summon to battle against more ill-intentioned Yo-Kai that happen to live in his town, haunting the residents and causing terrible trouble.
Similar to Pokémon? Sure! But it still has enough of its own flavor to feel different, whilst hanging onto the addictive creature-collecting elements that have made Pokémon so popular over the years.
Enough speculation though, Nintendo and Level-5 has made it clear that the time is nigh. We’ll find out if Yo-Kai Watch has what it takes to join Pokémon at the top when it eventually makes its way to the west on the 3DS, sometime in the not too distant future.