When you think of Pokémon crossovers, you have to first turn to the successful ones like Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Puzzle League, and Pokémon Stadium. But it’s hard to get hopes up because the quality and creativity fueling each new game ranges wildly, from great to bland cash-in. With Pokémon Conquest, however, it’s in a whole league of its own.
Fitting together the gameplay of a strategy RPG, the setting of feudal Japan, and the collection of the familiar monsters, Pokémon Conquest blends itself into a truly unique adventure that’s just as addictive and entertaining as the main franchise it stems from.
So if you were one of the many gamers as skeptical as I was when Pokémon Conquest was first announced a Pokémon-themed strategy game, you can finally be at ease. Koei and Nintendo’s first collaboration is a great first attempt, if not a little too simple and straightforward.
The adventure begins with an unnamed hero and his or her Eevee protecting the single, humble kingdom of Aurora. But there’s a legend that one person would arise one day who can unite all seventeen kingdoms in the country of Ransei and gain the power of a legendary Pokémon. Shortly after, players get introduced to Oichi, an adorable girl with a mysterious origin, and Nobunaga, a fierce warrior trying to unite Ransei in his attempt to destroy it. Battling through the seventeen kingdoms is a lengthy, if not an average and fairly slow ordeal. The main story weighs in with a 20+ hour campaign, but like most Pokémon games, it only feels like the beginning with numerous extras afterwards. Like its main series, gamers can get some serious value out of Pokémon Conquest.
Pokémon Conquest plays quite different than anything from its RPG counterpart, with a heavy emphasis on strategic planning for battles. Players begin by recruiting warriors and “linking” with Pokémon. But there’s a big catch. Each individual warrior has a specific Pokémon they link best with, allowing the Pokémon to reach its maximum potential in both stats and move strength. It can be a real pain to hunt down the right critter for any warrior, given there are almost 200 candidates, but I found it ridiculously satisfying when I finally hunted down that perfect combo of warrior and Pokémon, not to mention the tremendous boost to combat it brings.
To add even more depth, each Pokémon has its own stats for strength, defense, speed, movement range, and a single attack to use, which greatly limits any one Pokémon’s effectiveness. And players still have to factor in a warrior’s individual stats and special skill, which gives anything from an attack boost to healing. The players that try to maximize their teams will be sucked in by the possibilities.
Battles take place on a 3D grid system, similar to the one employed by Final Fantasy Tactics, with players taking turns moving Pokémon and attacking. The matches are up to 6v6 and can include wild Pokémon, warriors, or a mix of both. The main goal, as players might expect, is to knockout the opposing team, but there are specific times when there are other objectives, such as capturing enemy flags. After all the team strategies and attack planning, players still have to contend with the unique battlefields and hazards each fight brings. There are certainly deeper strategy games out there, such as Disgaea and Tactics Ogre, but Pokémon Conquest is easily one of the most accessible strategy games I’ve ever played.
The look of Pokémon Conquest isn’t spectacular, but, like every Pokémon game, it manages to find a solid visual style, mixing the vintage look of the series with the 3D battlefields of Nobunaga’s Ambition. The sprites of both Pokémon and warriors are considerably more lively to entertain younger players that have been drawn in by the allure of Pokémon. The Pokémon movement and attack animations are both good, the battlefields are well-detailed, and there are some absolutely great backdrops of the kingdoms. While I find it incredibly odd to look at feudal warlords with such glowing expressions, the visual style is consistent and the whole package fits together pretty well.
The localization job by Nintendo is really well done. The dialogue seems to be a perfect translation and it was a great job to retain the original significance of the content, such as keeping the original names. This keeps the experience intact and as authentic as possible.
Pokémon Conquest’s sound, however, I’m not so pleased with. I really don’t think there are enough songs within the game and, while the overworld tune is catchy at first, its minute-long loop started to drive me nuts by the end of the campaign. The battle sound effects are familiar to fans, but there are far too many recycled attack sounds. Usually I’d let something like that slide, but it just seems lazy in this day and age.
I also would have really liked to have heard some voice acting as well. I can understand Nintendo preferring to preserve the authentic feel of the main Pokémon franchise and force players to use their imaginations, but I think it would really benefit the game in this case. I strongly believe that hearing the lords of each region would have added a grand feel to the experience and would leave a more lasting impression on players.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Pokémon game without the ability to duke it out with friends. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try out the mulitplayer myself because I don’t currently know anyone else with the game and there’s no option to play over the Internet. It’s a bit of a shame I couldn’t try it out, but it’s nice to know the feature is there for the future.
While the DS is quickly dying and the 3DS begins its reign on top of the portable console throne, Pokémon Conquest stands as a great reminder of the fantastic library we’ve seen from the handheld since it was released almost eight years ago. It’s a great, if not slightly flawed, first effort from the partnership of Koei and Nintendo. This is the best Pokémon spinoff game ever.
GO Rating: 4/5