Some might say it's a good thing that Pokémon is finally getting some real competition in the form of Yo-Kai Watch, that maybe once it has someone really duking it out with them in the gaming scene, GameFreak will step their game up.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it's already been stepping its game up, and it's not pretty, boys and girls.
The funny thing is that despite how people are all up in arms about Yo-Kai Watch right now, many people don't realize that for years now, Level-5 has slowly been trying to make its claim in the youth media market with these "trans-media franchises," and it took them burning through two of the things before they finally got a winner.
It makes sense. The series is apparently losing appeal with kids and only hanging onto its older fanbase. They've admitted the loss of casual fans is why features like the Battle Frontier haven't come back, and even series like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider are supposedly experiencing slowly dropping ratings with every year.
Sure, one could logically assume the continuing toy sales means maybe ratings just aren't the way to tell these things anymore, but what do I know?
Point is, Level-5's out for blood, and now they may have finally gotten it with Yo-Kai Watch. The really scary thing here is that even if Yo-Kai Watch eventually fades away, like their previous series LBX and Inazuma Eleven seem to have, it's already left a pretty significant mark on the industry.
See, despite having existed for only just a few years, it's already been more influential to parts of the industry than fan favorite Pokémon "rival" Digimon ever seems like it was. Perhaps, though, it's Level-5 and their persistence through different games as a whole that's had this influence and finally led to them being the ones imitated.
... then again, it's probably the other thing.
Now to start this grand comparison thing off, let's take a look at what Pokémon was up to before Yo-Kai Watch came to town. That means we need to go look at the best generation:
That's right, kiddos, we're about to look at the Gym Leader designs from the fifth generation of the Pokémon games. The best ones. For reals.
Seems pretty standard Pokémon stuff, right? Keeping in mind that this region was based off of America and all, the designs, quirky as they may be, still keep that Pokémon charm while maybe throwing some cilture in there... and then the Ice gym leader is doing his thing because we're a melting pot and all that.
More importantly, let's look at the fifth generation's friend-slash-rival characters.
Again, Cheren and Bianca here look pretty standard, but at the same time, nothing... weird about them either, right? They look normal. Sure, normal for the Gym Leaders isn't exactly "normal," but there's at least some common ground it seems they share with previous ones, right?I- I'm not crazy, right?
W-Whatever, let's just look at the heroes!
Oh, wow, look at that. They actually look almost... capable. Like they know what they're doing, even. At least like they're prepared to go walking around outside for lengths of time. They also look very, well, Pokémon. Sure, the fifth generation tried the whole "we're more mature" thing, but it tried in a way that was still very Pokémon.
Say what you will about the monster designs this gen, the people designs are pretty spot on, I think. Especially considering the fourth generation...
... managed to stick Ronald McDonald in the Elite Four and still pull it off.
As for villains, well, while there's still the whole token evil team thing going on, the fifth generation was going for a more serious story, and in my opinion, they pulled it off quite nicely with these designs.
N, both rival and villain of the first game of the fifth generation, is used very well, and he really just looks like he could be another player character. The first generation of Team Plasma tries for a look that meshes well with being villains that claim to be doing good, and some even believing they're doing good, while the second generation makes things more clear.
All in all, not a far cry from the pirates of Team Aqua as far as the first generation goes, and either group could fit in with Team Galactic and Rocket as well.
The point is, ultimately, with Black and White, and seemingly Black 2 and White 2, the series was still moving along smoothly. As I've said before, I personally feel Black and White were the highest points of the series in terms of progress and an enjoyable single player campaign, though the sequels were at least fairly solid.
However, the sequels were the last games to be released before Yo-Kai Watch entered the picture, and also before Level-5 began to go after the 3DS like a cat after a mouse.
To bring it home before we move on, let's look at the second group of fifth generation protagonists, who were introduced in Black 2 and White 2 in June 2012, which, as it just so happens, was just one month before Level-5 brought its second kid-oriented franchise onto Nintendo consoles.
Yeah, it took three freaking years for us to get the first 3DS LBX games, guys. More to the point though? Level-5 beat them to the punch to the 3DS, and taking a look at the designs of the protagonists of this game...
... to be fair, it probably doesn't show much yet.
However, consider the more serious, adventure ready looking designs of the first Black and White games. The more "mature" tone in general. While Black 2 and White 2 are great followups, these designs don't quite capture that same feeling, do they? They're not bad, and after the heroine of Heart Gold and Soul Silver, still not awful, but there's something... just something about them compared to the previous pair, isn't there?
If I were to throw out a bit of biased speculation, I would say that might be because the fifth generation showed a lot of growing up for Pokémon, growing up that some might say it sorely needed, but unfortunately, it was also growing up it promptly went back on come the sixth generation. This regression might have been starting to seep in already, as great as these sequels were, but one can't say for sure.
It could simply be that, perhaps, Level-5's continued presence and increasing dominance on Nintendo consoles forced their hand.
People may not realize this as most of us didn't start hearing about it until later on after it started enjoying its success, but Yo-Kai Watch actually beat Pokémon to launching onto the 3DS. Back in the anctient times of 2013, it was on the console for a whole few months prior to the launch of X and Y.
No, it clearly hadn't caught on yet, so no one paid it much attention, but the seed was there. Level-5 were busy preparing for further Yo-Kai developments as well as closing out LBX. Two LBX games, the port of W to 3DS and WARS, were on the way, and they still had the final LBX anime running as they prepared to launch the Yo-Kai Watch one.
That anime launch would set it straight towards the seat of power that it's now currently enjoying, but more on that later.
Since moving LBX to the 3DS, Level-5 has been unleashing a stream of their games targeting the same demographic onto Nintendo consoles even more than before, and they already had Inazuma Eleven on them.
If you haven't been counting, even setting aside version nonsense, they've still put out three LBX games, three Inazuma Eleven GO games, and two and a half Yo-Kai Watch games all on the 3DS while Pokémon only managed to get its feet on the ground just after the first Yo-Kai Watch games released.
And that's not counting spinoffs, like Yo-Kai Watch Busters, Yo-Kai Watch Dance, or Inazuma Eleven GO's outing on the Wii. They're way behind here, guys!
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Level-5 is a company out for blood, though to be fair, they have to be.
These franchises are huge money sinks. If they don't take off, you've put together an anime, a toyline, and a game series and now have all of this stuff on the air and on shelves and no one cares.
When Marvelous and Comcept came together once upon a time to try to do something similar with Kaio, it was still kind of unique to do it all at once (when Pocket Monsters did it, it was still technically just adapting something rather than part of one big thing). Since then? Level-5 has now been through three of these, has a new one on the way in The Snack World, and they're not even the only company that's been doing it!
It sounds insane, but it works. It works really well, in fact, but only when it actually works.
When it doesn't, well... You probably will never hear of those guys again.
These perfect storms of media, merchandise, and games exist as such because they are perfect storms.
People say that having TV shows doesn't matter, but history speaks for itself. Digimon's continued remembered presence as Pokémon's biggest "rival" here in the West is likely almost exclusively thanks to its presence on TV, and even Pokémon itself owes a lot to merchandising and the cartoon to getting to be both where it is now and was then.
To tell the truth, I first saw Blastoise, Blastoise being the first Pokemon I had ever seen, not on a box for the game or even an advertisement for it...
But on a toy.
The fact is, Yo-Kai Watch only even took off thanks to the show, and it wasn't even the first.
Most people only likely remember Medabots because of the cartoon, few realizing it's had games as long as Pokémon has, and while Monster Rancher had plenty of localized games, many only just remember that M-M-M-M-MONSTERS RULE.
And now that it's clear that Level-5 was growing in power, it's finally time to look at what players were greeted with in the first 3DS Pokémon games.
These three characters, taking the place of Black and White's Cheren and Bianca, look like they walked straight out of a Level-5 project. It's not that it's bad that there's a fat kid, a little kid, and a little black girl, not at all.
The fact that it's happening after years of Level-5 doing this sort of thing naturally, and that the designs themselves look like Level-5's designs, on the other hand? In combination with everything else going on with X and Y?
It's like Grampa saying "Look at me! I'm cool too! Really!"
In fairness to GameFreak, I left Team Flare's designs out, because gaudy as they are, I can see some of the old GameFreak logic there. I wasn't a fan of them, at least not compared to others, when all was said and done, but I can see what they were going for, at least.
What I can't see is the huge step back in their and the story's relevance to the game as a whole compared to in the fifth and even fourth generation. Frankly, it's a huge step back even compared to the third generation for that matter...
... unless I consider the possibility that GameFreak is grasping for the "nostalgia" audience with a "back to basics" story and giving "the kids" something simple, since all them mobile games don't have time for that kind of thing. A move that goes for both the mobile audience and the "genwunners," as it were.
It's undeniable that X and Y were full of bits and pieces that were essentially shoutouts for and even outright pandering to fans of the first few generations of games. Dual Megas of Mewtwo and Charizard, being handed a Kanto starter by the professor, why, there's even a copy of Viridian Forest in 3D!
Why even bother with a new legendary trio when they can just use the first generation's again? New creatures at all, for that matter? Nah, just give 'em old ones! People love the old ones!
... and so on and so forth, etcetera and etcetera.
Recent interviews with Pokémon's creators have been really worrying as well. They want to simplify a series that is most often criticized for how simple it already is. They want cut back on moves, cut back on items, cut back on the few things that make it both simple and still complex and fun.
Combine this with cutting out features like the Battle Frontier because not enough people like it, customization and Secret Bases because they only "belong" in certain regions, and it really makes the series' future look incredibly bleak.
That's not even adding into consideration its increased reliance on spinoffs (one of which seems to now be vaporware, unless Pikachu's detective career took off while no one was looking), free to play games, and mobile games.
As a longtime fan of Pokémon, from where I'm sitting, it really looks like Level-5 has already shaken things up for GameFreak, but the unfortunate thing is that, at least as of right now and a fairly disappointing sixth generation, it might not have been for the best at all.
At least there's some alternatives we can play while this blows over, right?
Admittedly, while it's perhaps not exclusively a result of Level-5's presence in the arena, their influence is there.
Remember guys, the audience they want to get by using this friendlier, simpler approach to things is the same audience that Level-5 has been gunning for, and may well even have a better grasp of.
... at least in Japan anyway. They may have screwed the pooch here in the US, but then, that's a whole other topic. As far as this topic goes, there's been another game released since X and Y, but I doubt the resemblance to Level-5 was nearly as
... Sooooo, you might remember how I talked about the whole influencing the rest of the industry thing a while back, right?
Let's talk these "trans-media" franchises for a moment here, as Yo-Kai Watch is perhaps the most successful one yet, or at least of recent years anyway.
Besides for Level-5's now seemingly deceased LBX and Inazuma Eleven, in the past, we've also had Square Enix's Gyrozetter and Capcom's Gaist Crusher, among other even lesser known attempts at the concept. And I'd be willing to bet very few of you had even heard of Gyrozetter until I posted a picture of it earlier in this very blog.
None of these were seemingly influenced by Level-5, except perhaps in that they also wanted a piece of the same "TV-game-and more!" pie they were going after. Unfortunately, mistakes were made, and neither really took off, though Gaist Crusher did apparently warrant a second game, if I remember correctly.
Gyrozetter, despite its awesome anime... Not so much.
One could even argue Digimon, having given up on going after Pokémon (was it ever really going after it, though?) might have tried something akin to this with Digimon Xros Wars, as it launched with a toy line of transforming figures and unlike past seasons, the designs were heavily influenced by the capabilities of the toys.
So, now that we've established that Japanese product developers want in on this whole concept, where does Level-5's evil scary influence come in?
Believe it or not, a lot of you are already really excited for one of the two things in question, and you don't even know it yet.
So let's talk about the one you probably haven't heard of instead!
The developers of a mobile game called Monster Strike recently announced they're pulling a Puzzle & Dragons and bringing their game to 3DS. Puzzle & Dragons Z on 3DS featured a cute little RPG campaign, but was still all in all still Puzzle & Dragons at its core.
Similarly, Monster Strike is also going to be featuring an RPG aspect added... except unlike PADZ, Monster Strike is going all the way here. Seen above, they've added a cute, totally not Jibanyan-like mascot character for the game, which incidentally looks just like a Level-5 game, and did I mention they've already announced an anime for it?
I mean... I'll be honest, I recently started playing this game on my phone, and I'm actually hooked on it and really hoping this comes over, because Zetta want, but this is still wearing the Level-5 influences on its sleeve as blatantly as Robopon's first entry was showing off its Pokémon tattoos to everyone it passed on the street.
Whether or not Monster Strike goes anywhere is anyone's guess. I'd never even heard of it before this stuff was announced.
The fact that it's decided Level-5, and Yo-Kai Watch, is the thing to imitate, though? That's something really noteworthy. I realize most people right now still think of Yo-Kai Watch as a Pokémon clone, but the amazing thing is this so-called Pokémon is already getting clones of its own.
And personally, I wholeheartedly support that. Genres and concepts shouldn't be dominated by single games like we let monster taming and monster hunting be.
Regardless, there's still one more game we need to talk about before I bring this disaster of a blog to a close, so let's get to it, eh?
Yup. That's Monster Hunter Stories, a spinoff to a series that's already a titan in its own right.
Why would Capcom, or Monster Hunter, need a smaller company's influence? Yo-Kai Watch is successful, but it's not Monster Hunter successful.
Maybe I'm just seeing things here, and I may well be, but on the other hand...
Looking an awfully lot like Jibanyan there, aren't ya?
I admit that I might be grasping at straws with that one, but between the sudden jump for the youth market just as Yo-Kai Watch proves more than one series can take it and be successful? And with how Monster Hunter Stories got an anime adaptation announced before it launched? It's looking like it's gunning to pull off something similar. What's more, it's got a grown up franchise ready and waiting for the kids for when they grow up.
Which brings us back to Pokémon, what could truly be considered the granddaddy of all of this, which seems, despite the numbers, to be starting to struggle, bit by bit.
All of that series' issues could be a symptom of Nintendo's desire with seemingly many of their franchises to simplify everything, or perhaps it's just a result of talent starting to get older or just lose touch. Perhaps that former bit of speculation is a result of their wanting to reach out to new audiences that only like mobile games. Who knows? Maybe, if Tembo is any hint, Pokémon's team wants out, wants to do new things, and maybe even wants to kill their franchise from within so they can escape, and giving Pokémon a touch of Level-5 in the meantime is simply a way to make some money as they watch things crumble.
Perhaps it's none of that. It could very well be that, like a certain pair of franchises I talked about in my last blog, Pokémon too feels it should change with the times, and we're just experiencing a potentially grim era right now. Likewise, I think I've probably done a lot of "fan acting like they have any idea what they're talking about" that I criticized people for doing in that last blog as well, so hey, I'll own that here too, briefly. Them's and here's my observerations, make of 'em what you will as I break out into dance.
For now, we can only observe as Level-5's influence spreads more and more.
Make no mistake, though.
Yo-Kai Watch may appear as though it's trying to be the next king, in the process, while everyone else has given up on the throne, the position Yo-Kai Watch is now in? Well, that position has become one that looks much, much more reasonable, and far more attainable than the one Pokémon is in.
Pokémon is a twenty year old beast, a deity even. Yo-Kai Watch is only a few years old and already competing with it.
Is it any wonder developers see Yo-Kai Watch, rather than Pokémon, as the one to imitate?
Yo-Kai Watch, regardless of whatever its future holds, has already become the next Pokémon. If it crashes and burns, it may still be what imitators and hopefuls choose as an example, because it was still able to rise despite Pokémon existing.
For now, however, we can only watch and wait as the release date of the first date approaches here in the West.
Time will tell if Level-5 has the follow through to see this thing through.
Hope you have a watch so you can keep track of it all.