Game: Pokémon Conquest
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Available on: Nintendo DS Only
When it comes to those lovable Pocket Monsters, the main series’ coloured iterations have always garnered the most attention and critical praise. Sure, when it comes to the likes of Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium, there’s still the pang of nostalgia that emanates from gamers who have fond memories of getting that perfect picture, or defeating that blasted Blaistoise in the arena.
The later spin-offs from the main series, whilst decent in their own right, have never had that same impact that the Nintendo 64 ones did. However, Pokémon Conquest has changed that. It has changed everything. It’s quite simply the best spin-off since those heady days of the late 90s and early 2000s.
STORY: Set in the region of Ransei, Pokémon Conquest pits you as a feudal warlord in control of the kingdom of Aurora. Whilst wet behind the ears in terms of understanding the realities of the world and how you can utilize the 200 Pokémon dotted around, it soon becomes clear that your mission is simple: Conquer the 17 Kingdoms of Ransei (heavily influenced by the lands of Feudal Japan) before Nobunaga (star of the series that Pokémon is colliding with, Nobunaga’s Ambition) can conquer them all and use the Legendary Pokémon to control the lands.
Whilst the main arc does indeed present itself as a “conquer the world to stop the bad guy doing so”, your feudal lord is not quite the dictatorial superhero that he will appear on first glance. Needing a whole host of allies and friends along the way, each of them bringing their own roster of combatants, you really feel like you’re helping.
Even once the main story arc is complete, you’re not finished with the game. After The Legend of Ransei (the main story), there’s a large number of additional scenarios to occupy your time, from Unifying Ransei to collecting 40 Warriors, winning Five Battles first to Conquer the South. With these stories and the additional downloadable ones that are coming to North America (and presumably to us in Europe) later in the year, you can’t accuse the game of lacking depth in story.
GRAPHICS: Taking the relatively unknown (at least to the majority of Western audiences) Nobunaga’s Ambition method of presentation, with a world map that slowly uncovers its mysteries the more castles and kingdoms you conquer, then amalgamate it with an undeniably trademark style that Pokémon games have always possessed, and you’ve got one good looking game. Even with the technical limitations of the DS, the sprite-based graphics and general cheery colour scheme really cleanses the palette, especially when such a game could have taken a dark and dank colour scheme and used it for realism.
SOUND: With a cheery, upbeat accompaniment that wouldn’t be out of place in the main series, Pokémon Conquest has a pleasing, but unoriginal backing to your battles. Whilst the sound quality itself isn’t great (due to the limitations of the DS), it’s still more than adequate to get across the vibe of Pokémon in a genre that could so easily have been dominated by a more ‘gritty’ strategy soundtrack.
GAMEPLAY: A turn-based strategy game, Pokémon Conquest is different to the other Pokémon games you have played, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any lack of familiarities to fans of the series. Even within the grid-based battle system, there are some hallmarks of the series that have crept into the new one. As the various strengths and weaknesses of the various powers of Pokémon played a crucial role, it’s pleasing to see that these have been carried over into Conquest. If a Pokémon is weak to Fire, then a Fire Pokémon will deal extra damage to it on the battlefield. If Fire is weak against a particular Pokémon, the damage it deals is heavily reduced. This adds a bit of strategy into deciding what combinations of Pokémon to deploy in battle in order to defeat the enemy.
Another familiar aspect is the concept of using multiple Pokémon in battle, but the way this manifests itself is rather different to the “colour” games. Instead of the trainer having a roster of Pokémon at their disposal for battle, there is an increased reliance on other people in game. If you beat an enemy in a certain amount of turns, or by using a Pokémon whose elemental strength conquers theirs, then at the end of the battle you can recruit them to the team. Once you’ve recruited them you can then use their Pokémon, and their warrior-specific powers, in battle. However, there are wild Pokémon dotted about the world that you can recruit to the team.
The way you do this (and the way that evolutions work) is tied into the replacement for the levelling and XP system; your “Link”. When in battle with a wild Pokémon, if you get close enough to initiate a link, you have to press the buttons that come up on screen in order to make the link strong. Once you’ve defeated the Pokémon, it will join your warrior. With a set capacity for how many Pokémon each warrior can have, it’s usually handy to make sure you have a wide range of types at your disposal. If you wish to stick with your starter Pokémon for a particular warrior then, as the link between them and the Warrior increases, the Pokémon’s move will get stronger, and many will evolve. For example, after a few successful battles featuring Charmander, he evolved into a much more powerful Charmeleon, with a much stronger attack.
The world map serves as the thread that weaves the battles together and is crucial in the advancement of the story and the game. With each Castle containing a lord to defeat, once you’ve beat them there is an assortment of places within the walls where you can buy items, encounter warriors and wild foes and mine gold.
MULTIPLAYER: With the DS lacking the complicated multiplayer of home consoles, the multiplayer options in Pokémon Conquest are not as extensive as they could be. With downloadable stories coming soon and a multiplayer wireless mode where 2 warriors can do battle, there are some things that improve the experience, but there’s not what you could call a stellar offering included.
LONGEVITY: With a long story mode (totalling about 15-20 hours) and another 30 stories included to complete after you defeat Nobunaga, there’s a lot of things to do in Pokémon Conquest. When you factor in the multiplayer wireless mode if you have a friend who owns the game, along with the fact that there is a large roster of Pokémon available to link with and a number of warriors to recruit, there is plenty of fun to be had in Conquest, and plenty of value for money.
VERDICT: Pokémon Conquest is an excellent game, more than worthy of carrying the name of such a cultural hit. With a refreshing but familiar take on turn-based strategy, combined with just enough depth and strategic nuance required in order to appeal to both strategy fans and newcomers, it’s the perfect introduction to strategy games and an enthralling swansong for the Nintendo DS.