Could there be a way back for what franchise
that almost beat Pokémon?
After 'The Rise & Fall of Yo-Kai Watch' blew up, relatively speaking for I wracked my brain for Yo-Kai Watch related posts that wasn't a review. When the world gives you lemons you make lemonade, right? Whatever happened to Yo-Kai Watch 4 was what popped into my brain? It was announced to come to the West but it never did. And what does this say about the future of Yo-Kai Watch?
Well, that's why you're all here no? Without further ado, let's dive in!
A waning franchise
2018 wasn't the best year for Yo-Kai Watch. The franchise had entered a very tricky phase. It had lost its initial momentum and now the franchise was trying to adapt. In its native Japan, its domination of the market was long over. The sales numbers of the games and merchandise were down and the original anime series ended its run early in the year. Outside of Japan, the situation was even less rose-coloured. Yo-Kai Watch 2 (all of its versions) failed to live up to expectations and the merchandise, the toys, had already been discontinued in the US and it wouldn't take much longer for the same to happen in Europe and Latin America.
It needed to reinvent itself and, thankfully, Level-5 did have multiple projects in the pipeline that could give the franchise that much needed boost. A new, more sinister and mature, anime series was launching to replace the original and a new movie was in the works as well. For the West, Yo-Kai Watch 3 was coming and with how much it was tailored to appeal to a Western audience it was feasible it could outsell its predecessor. The piece de resistance? Yo-Kai Watch 4, a brand new entry that was set to be the biggest yet with a more open-world feel, combining the different timelines of the anime series and movies for the very popular Nintendo Switch. With the Switch effect on its side, games selling much better suddenly on the Switch than before, how could it not sell well?
Well, it could. And did. While the game was the best selling title of the week during its release it ended up with the worst sales for the series. The enhanced version, Yo-Kai Watch 4++, released for both the Switch and PS4 did so poorly it might as well have bombed. The game was never even released in the West even though a localization was announced. The cause of that might not have solely been due to the game's own failings, however.
|The Switch allowed Yo-Kai Watch to expand itself beyond the constraints of the 3DS.|
Level-5 winding down its operations
Late last year, gameindustry.biz reported that Level-5 had all but shut down its operations outside of Japan. According to their sources, both Level-5 International America and the company's spin-off office, Level-5 Abby, began winding down operations in the middle of 2019. As of today, both offices seems to have shut down completely and Level-5 seems to have no plans to release any titles outside of Japan. No reason was given but my money is on the flagging sales of Yo-Kai Watch and other Level-5 titles as well as some other setbacks.
The continuation of the Professor Layton
series, the sequel/spin-off/fresh start Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and
the Millionaires' Conspiracy failed to live up to its predecessors. Inazuma
Eleven didn't have a new game since 2017 with Inazuma Eleven: Great Road of
Heroes stuck in development hell to this day. So yeah, all across the board
Level-5 wasn't doing so hot. Shuttering operations outside of its native Japan
makes sense in that context. A shame though as I, and many others, quite like
Is Yo-Kai Watch 4 still the future?
So where does that leave us? Is there a way back for Yo-Kai Watch? Let's be real here: the chances of Yo-Kai Watch rising from its own ashes is very slim. Yo-Kai Watch 4++ bombed in Japan and now that Level-5 isn't publishing any games outside of Japan anymore it's all but over for the franchise. But we can still speculate, right?
First off: Yo-Kai Watch is making a bit of a comeback in Japan. Yo-kai Watch Jam: Yo-kai Academy Y – Waiwai Gakuen Seikatsu, a spin-off of sorts, was released in 2020. It got good reviews and while not starting of all that strong it has managed to sell 42 thousand copies on the Switch before the year was out. I wouldn't be surprised that, together with the sales of the PS4 version, it could have gotten to the half-million mark. Not a bad number as far as I'm aware. If handled right, Level-5 could use this to try and give the franchise some momentum. And perhaps they are doing just that. Level-5 put out a hiring call in July for a new RPG project. It's most likely going to be a Mobile title, but still.
|With a different art style, gameplay elements and characters Yo-Kai Watch Jam could also be marketed as reboot of the series rather than the spin-off I believe it was envisioned as.|
The most feasible scenario I see before me for the West, which is still not at all likely, is a digital-only release of either Yo-Kai Watch 4++ or Yo-Kai Watch Jam. Even if the franchise is, by and large, 'dead' there's still fan demand for it. The best example of this is that in March of this year #SaveYoKaiWatch trended for about a day on Twitter. An interesting feat to say the least.
Nintendo was a big partner of Level-5 with their Yo-Kai Watch endeavour. With the exception of that Yo-Kai Watch 4++ PS4 version, they did ever only come out on Nintendo consoles. Depending on the localization effort needed and the demand for these two games it could become economically viable for Nintendo to finish the localization and release it on the Switch digitally. In the case of Yo-Kai Watch 4, you can give the current fans what they've been wanting. For Yo-Kai Watch Jam they could see if its modest success translates over to the West.
The wind that blew Yo-Kai Watch sailes to incredible heights in the early 2010s has been long gone. The series failed to appeal to a wide audience in the West and faded away in its native Japan as well. As a result of this and its developer Level-5 going through a bit of a rut, closing down its overseas offices, a return for the series seems unlikely.
However, there is still some demand for Yo-Kai Watch in both territories. A localized digital-only release of Yo-Kai Watch 4 or Yo-Kai Watch Jam, or both, could be a good litmus test to see if this demand could lead to more.