When Yo-kai Watch arrived in the West (initially North America) in November 2015, it charmed us with its dense and detailed world, frantic touchscreen battle system and off-kilter personality. Although the similarities to Pokemon were overt, Yo-kai Watch still managed to carve out a unique identity and take us on a surprisingly fresh RPG adventure. It wasn’t without shortcomings, but it was an auspicious debut that suggested even better things were on the horizon. Now the sequel, Yo-kai Watch 2, is here, and sadly it struggles to build upon the promising formula of its predecessor. Can its sturdy foundation withstand the weight of familiarity and a couple of sizeable missteps without crumbling to the ground?

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Yo-kai Watch 2 is set primarily in the city of Springdale. You fill the shoes of either a boy or girl of elementary school age as you investigate a paranormal presence in town. Sound familiar? It should – if you’re fluent in Yo-kai, you’ve been here and done this before. When the mysterious witch-like spirits Kin and Gin steal the titular Yo-kai Watch and wipe your memory, you embark on a series of quests that mirror the opening hours of the first game. You’ll meet Whisper and Jibanyan all over again. You’ll investigate why your parents are fighting over trivial matters. You’ll be reintroduced to the Yo-kai Watch, complete tasks to upgrade it, learn about the game’s core and supporting systems, and unlock areas of town that you explored fully the first time around. The intentional dose of déjà vu is overwhelming, and it’s responsible for a bloated, rote, and tepid introduction to the game.

Springdale, which makes up the bulk of the world, returns largely as we left it, but two new areas – the easygoing seaside town of San Fantastico and the rural Harrisville – have been connected by way of train. Problem is, riding the train is an utter nuisance. Whether you like it or not, the train makes at least three stops between major destinations; each of these stops consists of nothing more than a passenger boarding zone (there’s no city or small town attached), so there’s rarely a reason to exit the train when you’re presented with the option. And between each stop you’ll have to endure random and repetitive events – such as Yo-kai battles and NPC cutscenes – which extend the length of an already inconvenient train ride. The train’s execution is quite possibly the game’s greatest misstep, as it brings progress to a crawl whenever it comes into play.

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When fast-travel mirrors eventually make their debut, the train can usually be bypassed. The catch is that these mirrors must be found and activated manually before you can use them, a step that feels like unnecessary busywork in a game that often allows its fragmented world and sluggish methods of traversal to obscure its best attributes. To further complicate matters, time travel is a key component of this entry (allowing you to wind the clock back 60 years), and for the majority of the story you can only venture through time from one location – the Harrisville Station Plaza. This means, if you need to travel to a specific destination in the past, there’s a multipart process: You have to ride the train or fast travel to Harrisville Station, enter the time-travel mirror, ride the train or fast travel into town, and then physically make your way to your objective. It’s a process, certainly, one that puts a damper on your enthusiasm while travelling to these beautiful new areas.

On a positive note, the navigational assistance we so desperately longed for during our original Springdale adventure has been added. Selecting a quest from your log now provides an arrow on the touchscreen map that ensures you never have to scour your surroundings to find the next objective. While the quests themselves could use more dungeon-crawling and fewer fetch-based errands, this helpful improvement goes a long way to ensure you aren’t discouraged from completing a task due to ambiguity. It’s not enough to offset the aforementioned shortcomings, but it is conducive to both progress and enjoyment during moments of adversity.

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The polarizing battle system, which sees your Yo-kai party attacking autonomously while you contribute in a variety of ways on the touchscreen, remains largely the same. It’s still fun to frantically rotate your lineup, dispense heath and buffs, and enact special Soultimate attacks, but the lack of any meaningful structural changes is certainly felt; the few new Soultimate minigames don’t outshine the returning minigames, and the new M Skills – which can be best described as “one mega Soultimate attack for the price of three” – feel tacked on and aren’t essential to success. It’s also worth mentioning that slowdown rears its ugly head on occasion, and it can lead to a touchscreen that’s not as responsive as it should be. So while duelling still offers its fair share of thrills, it’s not perfect, and the novelty is starting to wear thin.

That brings us to the true stars of the show: The Yo-kai. There are purportedly 350+ of these ghostly troublemakers lurking about, over 100 of which are new, and they’re equipped with distinct personalities and plenty of amusing quirks. Yes, they’re ludicrously named and designed, but that’s a major part of the appeal; fun trumps believability in the world of Yo-kai Watch, and the experience is better for it. There’s still not enough communication when it comes to determining which edibles will entice which tribes of Yo-kai to offer their friendship, but we did befriend Yo-kai at a noticeably higher rate this time around. Having a deeper pool of options to choose from led to a more robust party, more dynamic battles and, ultimately, greater satisfaction.

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Whether via internet or local wireless, the ability to face off against other players is a wonderful way to test the mettle of your starting lineup. Casual matches will reward you with nothing more than bragging rights, but participating in Official Battles nets currency to spend on useful items. In the latter, Yo-kai levels will automatically default to 60 so the match is as fair as possible, but there are other stats and factors that can give you an edge on the competition. We’ve struggled to find opponents at certain hours of the day, so it’s worth keeping in mind that this feature may not have much longevity. But if you’re desperate for human interaction, you could always coerce a friend to hop online by offering up a snazzy Yo-kai for trade. That’s now something you can do online, not just locally.

Then there’s Blasters mode, which allows four friends to unite through a local wireless connection to participate in a multiplayer version of the returning single-player event, Terror Time. Each player takes control of their Yo-kai of choice, running around town and working together with teammates to collect items, avoid or beat up baddies, and reach the exit before getting KO’d. This unfolds from a top-down view – no touchscreen battles here. The mechanics aren’t exactly riveting, as attacks are sluggish, and brief cool-down periods don’t make things any snappier. Some people will be able to milk hours of entertainment out of this mode, but most, like us, will likely find it underwhelming and not worth much time.

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Speaking of time, if there’s one area where Yo-Kai Watch 2 truly excels, its value. There was already a lot to do in the previous game, but this one takes things to another level. If you have a proclivity for collecting, not only are there a whopping 350+ Yo-kai to befriend, there are also 198 critters to catch, at least 87 music tracks to purchase, 80 trophies to unlock, and more. Plus, there are now challenge rooms hidden around the world, and completing these eventually unlocks even greater challenges. All of this is in addition to the surplus of quests and surprises that remain post credits. Whether or not these activities will offer enough substance to deserve your attention will depend on personal preferences, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s a heck of a lot to do, even after the 30-ish hour story is concluded.

Like its predecessor, narrative is an area where Yo-kai Watch 2 misses the mark. Learning about the origin of the Yo-kai Watch is neat, and getting more backstory on Jibanyan’s history is particularly touching, but the rest of the plot beats failed to leave an impression on us. This could be because it took so long – nearly two-thirds of the game – for the primary conflict and central antagonist to be clearly asserted. Or maybe it’s because the main questline is unfocused and diluted with deviations and distracting activities. Whatever the reason, Yo-kai Watch has a problem with plot, and it needs to be addressed in future instalments.

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Surprisingly, we extracted the most enjoyment out of Yo-kai Watch 2 after the story was wrapped up. By that point the train wasn’t much of an issue since we’d activated enough fast-travel points to get around as painlessly as possible, which allowed us to interact with the world and its offbeat inhabitants, appreciate the stunning presentation, and dive into the many optional activities with minimum interference. This is one of those odd cases where, even though a few major complications and poor choices can turn chunks of the game into a chore, there’s so much content, so much polish, and so much personality to go around that it lessens the blow significantly. That doesn’t excuse this sequel for dropping the ball, but it ensures that there is an audience that will be able to get what they seek from this instalment regardless of its flaws. That definitely counts for something.

Note: Following in the footsteps of the Pokemon series, Yo-kai Watch 2 comes in two flavours: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls. We spent ample time with both versions, but Bony Spirits we saw through to the end of the story and beyond. Outside of a small number of exclusive Yo-kai, we weren’t able to detect any obvious differences between the two. If you’re unsure which version you want to go with, we recommend perusing Wikis to determine which group of exclusive Yo-kai best aligns with your tastes.

Conclusion

Instead of evolving, Yo-kai Watch 2 plays it safe by fusing new content – some good, some trivial, and some bad – onto a recycled frame, and the result is what we refer to as a sophomore slump. There’s still a lot here to like, but we can’t help but feel that this is an entry only diehard Yo-kai fans will be comfortable purchasing at full price. Some players will love it despite its issues, while others will feel cheated by the flagrant and numerous similarities to its predecessor, as well as become frustrated by its traversal-related blunders. Whichever is the case, it’s obvious that this sequel could have been so much more. Now we wait and hope that Yo-kai Watch 3, which is already out in Japan and looks to feature drastic changes, gets localized and steers this incredibly promising series back on track.



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