Does Yo-Kai Watch Have a Future in North America?

The popularity of the Yo-Kai Watch franchise continues to barrel forth in Japan with the force of that one truck that hit Jibanyan. Yo-Kai Watch 3 is coming to Japanese Nintendo 3DS systems on July 16, and it'll be available in two delicious versions: Sushi and Tempura.

That's great news for Japanese fans of the monster-collecting game, but it drags a big question to the forefront of North America's Nintendo 3DS market: Where's our follow-up to the first Yo-Kai Watch? Never mind the third game, we've yet to see a localization of Yo-Kai Watch 2.

Yo-Kai Watch 2: Ganso and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Honke hit Japan in July 2014. There hasn't been much word from Nintendo or Level-5 about a localization effort. That might change when E3 rolls around in mid-June, but given how North America is already far behind in Yo-Kai Watch game releases (the first Yo-Kai Watch was published in July 2013 in Japan versus November 2015 in North America), you'd think Nintendo and Level-5 would be in a bigger rush to catch up.

If Nintendo's not localizing Yo-Kai Watch's follow-up games with any sort of haste, it's not a stretch to assume the first game didn't resonate with North American audiences as much as the company hoped. It's telling that official numbers for Yo-Kai Watch game sales in American territories are hard to come by. Late last year, Level-5 distributed a press release celebrating the sales of 10 million Yo-Kai Watch games. That number covers sales of the first and second Yo-Kai games, as well as Japan-exclusive spin-offs like Yo-Kai Busters. It's not clear what percentage of that number, if any, makes up American sales.

But while the North American iteration of Yo-Kai Watch isn't the Pokémon-level hit Nintendo was hoping for, it's not fair to call it a flop, either. Translated episodes of the anime still airing on Disney XD, where kids can tune in on weekdays at 5 PM. That's a pretty decent time slot, and the anime probably wouldn't have it if kids didn't care about Yo-Kai.

Some games writers have suggested Yo-Kai Watch is too steeped in Japanese culture to be appealing to North American children. It's true that Yo-Kai Watch's core concept is deeply rooted in Japan's lore (Bob Mackey broke down how youkai and other Japanese spirits feature in games), but kids have never shied away from "weird" media. The generation that grew up with the NES had no problem with the idea that a raccoon tail, not wings, is what gives Mario the power of flight. And the generation that followed made friends with some pretty odd-looking Pokémon.

If anything, American kids might not find Yo-Kai weird enough. The spokes-spirit for the Yo-Kai series, a ghost named Whisper, is admittedly plain-looking next to the adorable Pikachu or the ferocious Charizard X. Japan's anime and manga have been wrapped up in our own culture for a long time now, and youngsters are growing up in the shadow of some pretty wicked monsters as a result. Ghost-cats and tengu are fun, but they don't turn heads like they did ten years ago. We live in an interesting creative age.

Then there's the matter of the game itself, the titular Yo-Kai Watch. Bob enjoyed it for its fresh, simpler take on the Pokémon formula, but that's precisely the reason other reviewers didn't enjoy it as much. Pokémon's had years to build up layers of depth, and fans of all ages adore formulating fighting strategies according to tiny status variations. Yo-Kai Watch, however, expects the player to take a somewhat passive position in battle. That's understandably a turn-off for older Pokémon players.

Where, then, are the younger gamers? Why aren't they out there with their Yo-Kai watches and exuberant stories about Yo-Kai that make you fart and make your parents want to divorce each other (unless I just answered my own question)?

It might have to do with the fact Yo-Kai Watch's popularity grew organically in Japan. The first game took off after kids grew fond of the anime, and the series' success snowballed from there. By contrast, Yo-Kai Watch arrived in North America with a marketing blitz that included toys, the anime, and advertising. Children were instructed to " Look over here!", but they didn't. Not in the huge numbers Nintendo was hoping for, anyway.

That doesn't mean Yo-Kai Watch is a total bust with North Americans. There's a fanbase out there, but it looks like it's set to grow in its own good time. Maybe Nintendo will even decide to skip straight to localizing Yo-Kai Watch 3, which takes place in an "American" town with the incredible name of St Peanutsburg.

It'll be interesting to see some American Yo-Kai. I predict most of them are shaped like eagles, guns, and big cars.

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