When Pokemon Conquest was first announced in Japan as Pokemon + Nobunaga’s Ambition, I was immediately intrigued. Seeing Japanese historical figures paired with Pokemon may seem odd at first, but adapting a strategy RPG to Pokemon works in the same way that Final Fantasy did when it became Final Fantasy Tactics. And while most Pokemon spin-offs range in quality from terrible to above average, it felt like there was something special about this one. After playing Pokemon Conquest for the past week, there’s no doubt in my mind that it is one of the best Pokemon spin-offs ever released.
The game is set in the new region of Ransei which has been separated into seventeen areas, each ruled over by a different Warlord. It is said that if a Warlord is able to unite all of Ransei under his rule, then he would be greeted by the Pokemon who created Ransei. With this goal in mind, the player character sets out to bring Ransei under his rule, but soon discovers that the legendary Warlord Nobunaga plans to do the same. However, if he gains control, Nobunaga will use this legendary Pokemon to destroy all of Ransei. Like most Pokemon games, the plot isn’t the game’s strong suit, but it doesn’t need to be. It quickly sets up how the world of Ransei works, why Warriors battle with Pokemon, and why your character wants to conquer the entire region. It never goes any deeper than that, but the story never becomes so intrusive that you get sick of it.
While Strategy RPGs can seem complex to some players, Pokemon Conquest eases newcomers into the mechanics of the genre. It is like Nobunaga’s Ambition in that the player operates based out of his castle which acts as the seat of power for a given area. From there players can train their Pokemon, recruit new Warriors, and visit shops. When they feel ready for combat, the action switches from the map to a battle grid. The combat system is similar to most other Strategy RPGs in that both sides take turn moving their Pokemon until the other side is defeated. Unlike the core Pokemon games, players will have to take into account how far their monsters can move and what kind of terrain they are fighting in. For example, Fire Pokemon can walk over lava pools but cannot enter deep water. The opposite is true for Water types. There are more complex examples though with the gradual introduction of shortcuts, traps, and hazards. Unlike traditional Pokemon battles, the fights in Conquest are much more mobile and require more thought than just determining which move to use.
In fact, every Pokemon in the game is limited to a single attack. While this does feel limiting at first, it helps provide a sense of uniqueness amongst the Pokemon. The game encourages players to try out every Pokemon they come across in order to find out which matches their play style. However, battles are not as simple as throwing attacks until one side wins. Each Pokemon can be given an item to hold which can recover health, heal status effects, or improve their basic stats. The Pokemon also have different passive abilities similar to the ones found in the core games that come into play once certain conditions are fulfilled. Finally, the Pokemon’s Warrior partner has a special ability which can be used once per battle ranging from increasing stats to making opponents more susceptible to status changes. It’s definitely not the most complex of Strategy RPGs, but it’s a great introduction for newcomers.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Pokemon game if it didn’t encourage the desire to catch them all. 200 of the 649 Pokemon are represented within the game and while not all of the popular ones made the cut, it is an even mixture of all five generations. However, Pokemon aren’t the only things to collect in Conquest. There are 200 Warriors that can be recruited to your cause, each with their own unique abilities. While there doesn’t seem to be as much of a reason to find all of the Warriors at first, the game provides one with the introduction of the Link system. Rather than catching Pokemon in Pokeballs, Warriors form a Link with the Pokemon instead. This bond is the key to Pokemon growing stronger since a traditional leveling system doesn’t exist. The Link is represented as a percentage: the closer it is to 100%, the stronger that Pokemon can become and that includes evolutions, which provides new attacks and abilities. Conquest stresses this by making each Warrior only able to achieve a 100% Link with specific Pokemon. In other words, there is a reason there are 200 Warriors to match 200 Pokemon.
Pokemon Conquest may be one of the best looking games in the series. Appealing artwork of both the Warriors and their Pokemon help bring this world to life while the spritework of the battles is clean and easy to track. The game is full of color and each of the areas standout from another. Though the battle arenas tend to be small, there are over twenty in the game and help keep the fighting fresh. The graphics may not blow anyone away, but they never become cluttered as the arenas and battles grow more complex.
The music is perhaps the weakest aspect of the game though in no way is it bad. It’s kept low-key enough to not become intrusive and mainly sticks to variations of Japanese war music. Unfortunately, no Pokemon themes found their way into the game which is a bit of a shame considering that the series typically has rousing battle music. Still, it fits the setting perfectly and never becomes grating.
There are so many more elements of Pokemon Conquest that I could mention, but I believe it’s best to leave some surprises for you to find. The main campaign can be completed in about twelve hours but there’s a ton of post-game content to play as well as discovering all 200 Pokemon. Though the combat will seem too simplistic to veterans of Strategy RPGS, it’s perfect for those just discovering the genre. In fact, I hope this introduces the younger generation of Pokemon fans to more games in the genre in the same way that the original games introduced kids to RPGs. But beyond anything else, Pokemon Conquest is just plain fun.
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Genre: , Strategy
Release: June 18, 2012
Available On: Nintendo DS