Yo-kai Watch Blasters (3DS) Review
The Yo-kai Watch franchise has had a bit of a mixed reception in the West, but it’s one that I’ve fallen in love with due to its mix of weirdness and heart. It’s a series that has the confidence to pull you away from saving the world in order to catch the train to your grandma’s house or go on a Goonies-style treasure hunt with friends. A series that goes right off the deep end with its monster designs, sporting things like an elephant that makes you need to wee or a monster that’s just a big, sweaty guy. Yo-kai Watch Blasters puts a new spin on the yo-kai world, but unfortunately, it’s one that pales in comparison to the regular Yo-kai Watch games.
In Yo-kai Watch Blasters you’re not playing as a human who teams up with yo-kai, you’re playing as the yo-kai themselves. If you’ve played Yo-kai Watch 2 then you may be familiar with the core mechanics of Blasters already because it’s the Blasters side mode from YW2 fleshed out into a full game. You form a team of four yo-kai and head out on missions where you’ll need to collect items, defeat a certain number of enemies or take on a challenging boss fight. Unlike the main games in the series, Blasters has real-time combat as you roam around each level. Each yo-kai has a few different abilities you can activate, like slashing with a weapon or debuffing an enemy’s stats. It might sound like it would be more engaging than the regular Yo-kai Watch combat, but it gets dull really fast.
The game is designed around a grindy gameplay loop that makes you slog through repetitive content over and over again. There’s one, single currency in the game which you’re rewarded with for defeating yo-kai and clearing missions. This currency is used for just about everything in the game – buying and upgrading equipment, levelling up your yo-kai, creating new items… you name it. This means you can spend all that time doing a mission and only be able to level up a yo-kai a couple of levels OR upgrade their equipment, rather than levelling up with experience and then having currency to purchase upgrades like in most RPGs. You end up having to play a lot of missions in order to make all the improvements to your party that you want, and it’s annoying. You can get by most of the main story without grinding too much, but there are a few difficulty spikes at which points you have to drudge through enough missions to keep up.
This structure isn’t necessarily an issue in of itself – there’s plenty of grindy loot games that have huge followings after all – but unfortunately the mechanics and content of Blasters make it a huge turn off. You’re stuck wandering the same overworld maps you’ve probably already explored to death in past Yo-kai Watch games performing menial objectives like fetching X items or defeating Y of the exact same yo-kai. Then there’s the fact that there’s really no skill or involvement required for the majority of the combat. There’s all sorts of debuffs and status effects and similar mechanics you can make use of but none of it’s necessary. To take out common enemies which you spend most of your time fighting you just make sure you’re a close enough level and then mash an attack button. There’s no involvement to the attacks or advanced mechanics like blocking or parries, you’re just pressing a button to trigger abilities and that’s it.
Things do get a bit more interesting in the boss battles, however. They play out in two phases – first, the boss roams around the regular map like other enemies do. Fighting them is more involved than with basic enemies because they have differing attack patterns which you can actually avoid. The boss’ attacks are more powerful than regular attacks but the ground will light up red to signpost the area of effect, allowing you to manoeuvre yourself around to dodge them. You’ve got something to actually do during the fight which makes it more engaging. Once you’ve defeated them here they’ll retreat off the map into a 3D battle arena, and you can pursue them to trigger the second phase of the fight.
This is where things get really good. The bosses’ attacks get much more involved, and environmental gimmicks get added to the stage which you can usually exploit to get an advantage over the boss. For example, one boss is a humanoid pig who lives in a hot spring who throws soap around. If you get hit by his soap you’ll start sliding around the arena uncontrollably. He can also jump into the hot springs to heal, and you have to turn on taps scattered around the place in order to cool the springs down and stop him. The boss fights require more of the player and make better use of the 3D space, so it’s where the combat really shines. I’d have enjoyed the game more if they’d doubled down on these and made them the sole focus of the game.
Recruiting new yo-kai for your squad is a grind as well. Yo-kai Watch is already infamous for how difficult and random the yo-kai recruiting process is, and Blasters makes the process even more annoying by removing some of the easily available tools for boosting your recruitment chances in the beginning. The chances of actually getting a new yo-kai are ridiculously low – I think I recruited about five or six yo-kai during missions throughout the entire storyline, and then earned a handful more from random rewards. On top of this, there’s yo-kai tied to random gacha unlocks, yo-kai you can only get my linking to Yo-kai Watch 2 and yo-kai you can only get by playing with specific versions of Blasters (the game is available in two versions, Red Cat Corps and White Dog Squad). As a monster collection game it’s frustrating that the actual act of monster collection is so difficulty, and as a grindy loot game it’s annoying that it’s so hard to get new movesets for some variety.
The area of Blasters that probably disappointed me the most is the writing. Previous games, as well as the Yo-kai Watch anime, have a great sense of wit and some really strong heartfelt moments. The story and quests in Blasters are just here to justify giving you more things to do. I rarely laughed or smiled and the experience falls flat. The parts that do stand out are the Ghostbusters references, even if they have been reeled back a bit in the Western release. The best part is that your squad’s headquarters is a firehouse (fit with a fireman’s pole and snarky receptionist) and you speed out into each mission in an Ecto-1 ripoff that wails its siren.
Yo-kai Watch Blasters was very disappointing for me as a Yo-kai Watch fan because it just doesn’t carry the charm of the mainline games. It’s dull to play and that signature wit and wholesomeness was missing from the writing. While there’s plenty to do in the game, even after you’ve completed the story, it didn’t keep my attention long enough to see it all through. It might be worth checking out if you’re desperate to play something with friends, but otherwise you can treat this one like the yo-kai Dimmy and ignore it completely.
+ Exciting boss battes
+ AI partners and online multiplayer mean you’re not stuck playing alone this time around
+ You can slide down the pole in the Yo-kai Blasters firehouse
- Dull gameplay loop
- AI partners are quite dumb
- Quests aren’t interesting or cute