I’m The Pokéking Of The World
At some point, every Pokémon fan has pondered what would happen if their favorite pocket monsters were allowed to do something beyond battle in gymnasiums for league championships. Perhaps using them to conquer a major region in Sixteenth Century Japan wasn’t the exact scenario that came to mind, but one has to admit that the idea behind Pokémon Conquest is quite appealing.
Developed in conjunction with The Pokémon Company and Samurai Warriors creator Tecmo Koei, Pokémon Conquest is a Poké-themed version of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, which is not well-known in North America. The series is based on an actual historical period in Japan in which warlords fought constant battles for dominance until one man, Oda Nobunaga, united much of the nation under his rule. Pokémon Conquest pays homage to the series, naming every character after an actual historical figure from the time, without being bound by historical accuracy… unless somehow I missed Japan’s possession of magic crystals and transport blimps in 1560.
Pokémon Conquest’s fictional land is a region called Ransei that was created by a legendary Pokémon. Warriors there have the ability to communicate with Pokémon, partnering with them and leading them to battle. There’s a legend that whoever manages to unite Ransei under one ruler will be able to meet its legendary creator, and thus warlords have been locked in an eternal battle, each trying to become strong enough to rule them all. The player takes on the role of a young male or female warlord with that very desire, which soon becomes a quest to usurp an apparently evil Nobunaga, who desires to use the legendary Pokémon to destroy Ransei.
This journey involves conquering seventeen castles in Ransei via turn-based strategy battles on gridded fields, similar to other tactical RPGs like Disgaea or Fire Emblem. Up to six Pokémon per side face off against each other, with warriors (normal characters) and warlords (special, powerful characters) providing tactical support via abilities that buff and heal the Pokémon. The tactical system in the game is simple but addictive. Each species of Pokémon has a single attack, and different attacks affect areas of different sizes and shapes on the field. More powerful attacks often have drawbacks, such as only being usable every other turn or having a large field of effect that requires the player to be careful not to hit friendly troops. Of course, attack damage is governed by Pokémon’s complex “type” strengths and weaknesses, requiring the player to carefully choose which Pokémon to take into battle. After the first few castles, the player will face armies with mixed strengths and weaknesses, requiring good planning and strategy. Fortunately, there’s an attack type chart included in the unusually beefy manual.
Beyond the immediate concerns of battle, Pokémon Conquest features its own version of the collection mechanic that keeps Pokémon fans coming back to the series. The player must amass an army by defeating warriors and warlords, thus impressing them and recruiting them to the cause. Normal warriors can be recruited by defeating them within the first four turns of a battle or with a super effective attack. Warlords must be personally defeated by the player character, on top of the previous requirements, and some warlords can only be acquired in the post-game.
Once a warrior or warlord has been recruited, the player must pay attention to its “link level” with its Pokémon partner. Links symbolize the growing partnership between warrior and Pokémon, and serve as the game’s character development mechanism. As the link percentage grows towards 100%, the Pokémon becomes stronger, and most Pokémon evolve into stronger forms by reaching a particular link percentage or statistic level (such as 55 strength), which is obtained by gaining a stronger link level. Links are enhanced through battle and other activities such as using various castle facilities or consumable items. Not all Pokémon and warrior combinations can reach 100% link with each other, however. Every human character has a perfect match with a particular Pokémon species, so the player will want to search out that partner for as many warriors as possible.
The battle, collection, and character development systems combine to create that elusive “one more turn” feeling that one finds from the most enjoyable strategy games. There’s plenty to collect here, with an assortment of 200 well-chosen Pokémon like Pikachu, Eevee (the player character’s best match), and Charmander. Some favorites like Bulbasaur and Turtwig are missing, but there’s also no Mr. Mime or Nosepass, so we’ll call it even. Collecting warlords, seeking out their best-matched Pokémon, then growing and evolving the creatures is also a rewarding activity.
The battles are relatively quick, and every castle has different environmental hazards and gimmicks to keep things fresh. Tecmo Koei specializes in this kind of game, and the result can be seen in the quality design and polish that make this title fun. The only complaint I have about the gameplay is that moving between town management and troop management is a bit awkward. It would have been nice to be able to access the troop information and inventory screens from inside a town instead of just from the world map.
Speaking of polish, Pokémon Conquest is one of the nicest-looking Nintendo DS games I’ve seen. Most of the visuals are hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites, and the world and character designs are lush and beautiful. Little animated details like sparkling crystals and banners flapping in the wind add interest to the samurai castles, each themed after the kinds of Pokémon found in their domain. Things are a bit more pixellated in battle, but the Pokémon sprites have been given a lot of personality for their size, from the Joltiks that leap around the battlefield to the sad smooshed look that a Pokémon sprite gets when it’s suffering from a negative status effect. On top of this, the interface is the most attractive I’ve seen in a portable tactical game. It’s both colorful and very readable, which is a revelation compared to the gray monstrosities most tactical RPG fans suffer through in portable titles.
The music isn’t bad, either—it’s nothing particularly special, but it’s clear and sounds appropriate for a fantasy version of feudal Japan. As for the sound effects, I’m beginning to wonder if the Gameboy bleeps and bloops from the original Pokémon games are protected under the Japanese National Heritage Act. The Pokémon make the same sounds they always have, so early generation Pokés sound awful, while those from the later games sound more like actual creatures. There’s no voice acting in the game, but it honestly doesn’t need any, since the written text has plenty of personality and charm as it is.
What’s particularly impressive about Pokémon Conquest is the sheer amount of gameplay included. The main campaign takes about 15-20 hours to complete, but it can hardly even be called the main campaign. It’s more of an introduction to the world of Pokémon conquest, which opens up after the credits roll. After receiving a clear save, the player can choose to play through campaigns starring the various colorful warlords who were introduced during the player character’s journey. These aren’t short side stories, but complete campaigns that ramp up the difficulty of uniting Ransei. Advanced game mechanics are available in these campaigns, such as developing the seventeen kingdoms in order to access more powerful Pokémon and better equipment. Enemies are more aggressive as well, requiring the player to make sure that all vulnerable castles are well-protected at all times. Between these additional campaigns and free extra episodes that will be available for Wi-Fi download soon, there’s enough here to keep gamers busy for months.
Pokémon Conquest comes out at just the right time, as it looks like the perfect summer vacation game. It’s portable and breezy, yet has enough depth to keep gamers interested over the long run. In addition, it looks great even compared to a number of DS games, so DS owners won’t feel like they’re playing a game from the previous generation. This game is a breath of fresh air for the Pokémon series, and is perfect for series fans who want to do something new and different. It’s also accessible to a wide audience, from strategy newbies to all but the hardest-core tactical gamers, who may find it a bit too easy, especially at first. For everyone else, this is a must-add to any portable gaming collection.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
From the still graphics to the sprites to the well-made interface, Conquest has some of the nicest graphics I’ve seen on the DS. 4.3 Control
The tactical battles are simple but satisfying, with the only complaint being minor interface issues. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is appropriate to the setting, but the sounds are the same effects we’ve heard in Pokémon for ages. 5.0 Play Value
The many campaigns available after completion of the first storyline give Conquest tremendous play value. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|