Yokai Watch, Level 5’s popular spirit collecting game, is still going strong, with the game remaining in Japan’s video game sales top 10 list for nearly a year. There’s no catching lightning in a bottle like with Pokémon, but according to developer Level 5, if you really try, you can get pretty close.
“We’ve created a lot of different IPs, and I figured it was about time that we made something like Doraemon, that could be loved by many people over a long period of time. That was the start of it.” Level 5 top man Akihiro Hino said in an interview with Weekly Famitsu. Ever since last year, Hino had stated that he’d wanted to make a Doraemon for the current generation. “I researched what would give something appeal and longevity, and pondered what would be relatable to people and developed the open world RPG that children could play, Yokai Watch. I think title’s popularity is the fruits of trial and error.”
While the original game came out last year, its real popularity came after the tie-in anime started airing in January. Hino himself is well aware of the influence of having a hit TV show and indeed, a great deal was put into making the anime both entertaining and relatable to its audience. “Anime is content that is offered for free, and I strongly promote its use. The [Yokai Watch] anime focuses on problems that modern children face and is made so that the audience can laugh off such problems and be entertained as well.”
The main character of the Yokai Watch anime is the young boy Keita. Unlike the protagonists of most children’s anime who tend to be paragons of moral fortitude, Keita was designed as a more human character with flaws and vices. “Keita isn’t a child who always does the right thing, but has his own flaws as well, like trying to watch naughty TV shows late at night or making fun of people. Keita’s actions are depicting what is ‘normal’ for modern children. He’s not a good boy, but someone who says what he thinks. I believe that character setting made him very relatable to people.” Explained Hino.
Another hit factor is the trope of the cute mascot character. With Yokai Watch, the twin-tailed cat, Shiba-nyan, and the runaway cat, Koma-san, are the most popular characters, but Hino also notes that mixing things up can give a title more appeal. “I’m working on bringing out a third yokai that is different from those 2. It’s like with a variety show — you don’t continue with the same members all the time, but switch them out every now and then to change the atmosphere. That’s what makes a show last longer. I believe that Yokai Watch needs such a device.”
The latest game, Yokai Watch 2, has been released as 2 separate versions, the Ganso (元祖 Original) version and the Honke (本家 Main family) version. This was something that was planned even before the first game was released. “When planning the first Yokai Watch, I already thought to release the sequel as 2 different versions.” Hino explained. “Children like having things that other people don’t have, so from a marketing perspective, having 2 versions is a good idea. Also, a lot of people play Yokai Watch with their parents. Where people would have some hesitation about getting 2 copies of the same game, if you have different versions, it’s a lot easier for them to buy both.”
The original Yokai Watch has sold over a million copies. It’s not exactly chump change, but other games that were released later have sold better. Even so, Yokai Watch remains a strong phenomenon in Japan, mostly because of the other forms of media and merchandise that has been released. A calculated strategy on the part of Hino. “The key for a long-lasting hit piece of entertainment is whether the business side like merchandise, games, and movies is successful. That’s why you develop commercial goods necessary for cutting edge entertainment and include the latest features in your games.” Hino stated.
Yokai Watch and Yokai Watch 2 are currently out in Japan, with international expansion “in consideration in a big way.” The Yokai Watch anime is currently airing in Japan and the Yokai Watch manga series is ongoing in the kids manga magazine, CoroCoro Comic. A Yokai Watch movie is scheduled to hit theatres in Japan in December.