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Yo-kai Watch 2 a big success for Level-5

July 16, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

July 16, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
More: Video

Independent publisher and developer Level-5 (Ni no Kuni, Professor Layton) appears to have hit on its latest phenomenon. The Fukuoka, Japan-based studio last week released Yo-kai Watch 2, a 3DS RPG sequel, to brisk sales.

The game appeared at the top of Japan's weekly sales charts, Famitsu reports. Level-5 cites data from research firm Media Create that pegs its debut week sales at 1.3 million. On that same Famitsu chart, the original Yo-kai Watch is parked at number 4, with cumulative sales of nearly 1.2 million copies.

"What is Yo-kai Watch?" you may be asking yourself. Yo-kai are ghosts or spirits, and the roughly Pokemon-like game features a young protagonist in possession of special watch that allows him or her to see and interact with and battle these spirits. Like the Pokemon franchise it draws inspiration from, Yo-kai Watch 2 is split into two versions.

The success may be chalked up, in part, to its catchy (and very, very silly) theme song, which gave rise to the mesmerizing commercial embedded above this text.

The original Yo-kai Watch game became a gradual success over the course of the last year in Japan, a phenomenon which is not new for the company. In a 2009 GDC talk which you can read about here, Level-5 president and CEO Akihiro Hino described how he turned franchises such as Inazuma Eleven into hits by embedding carefully chosen elements into his games to extend player interest in them.

In answer to the question "How can we make our game catchier?" he said, "We use the 'communication gimmick', to get people to talk about the game longer. The 'extension gimmick' -- a trigger so players would like to play the game for a longer period."

Like Inazuma Eleven, Yo-Kai Watch's success is also a result of the company's aggressive transmedia strategy, which sees animation and comics as an integral part of marketing its games.

The success of the game also proves that while the Japanese market is heavily pivoting to mobile titles, console games can still make strong commercial debuts.

Level-5 is best known in the West for Ni no Kuni, a PlayStation 3 RPG the studio developed in collaboration with Academy Award-winning animation studio Studio Ghibli and the Professor Layton series, which Nintendo publishes in North America and Europe.

Level-5 International America has not yet announced plans for a Western release of the franchise. It self-publishes games digitally while working with other publishers for physical releases. It has, however, polled its fans on Twitter to gauge interest in a U.S. and European release for the franchise.

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