DSGotta Link ‘Em All – Pokemon Conquest Review
This game was reviewed on Nintendo DS
The smash hit series, Pokémon, continues to grow with the recent release of the spin-off title: Pokémon Conquest. A mash up between Pokémon and the Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise, this game focuses more on economics and team strategy than one-on-one battles for gym badges. Is this new title a great step for the series, or is it simply just another excuse to make a buck? Grab your favorite Pokémon (I call dibs on Kabutops) and let’s go on an adventure to find out!
Pokémon Conquest takes the series in a considerably different direction than other games in the franchise, turning back the clock to feature a region called Ransei, which is based on feudal Japan instead of another modern setting. In Ransei, a legend foretells that if a Warlord were to conquer and unite every kingdom under his or her banner, the Pokémon who created the region will appear. This fable has driven Warlords from across the land to be in a state of everlasting war, battling for control of the lands, with no end in sight. Enter the protagonist, who can be either male or female, and is named by the player. A fresh-faced Warlord, gamers start the title taking their first steps towards greatness. Among your travels to take over the 17 kingdoms, you’ll learn of another ambitious Warlord (Nobunaga) who seeks to use the creator-Pokémon to destroy Ransei, and must prevent him from doing so… Sound a little familiar? That would be because this is an old and considerably overdone scenario in gaming, which makes Pokémon Conquest’s story one of the most cliché experiences a player can find in a title. Not only do you have the stereotypical rookie hero who overcomes impossible odds and veteran enemies in one shot, and an archetypical antagonist who wants to see the lands burn, just because; but the actual narrative never fully develops, giving the sense of standing still no matter how far from the start you travel.
A lot of this is down to characters, which are about as formulaic as they can get. You have your shy-yet-reassuring sidekick, arrogant jocks that end up being terribly weak, snarky and overconfident knights who constantly speak of honor, and worst of all a strong-and-silent-type protagonist whose catchphrase is “…?!” While this type of hero might allow some players to imagine the character any way they want, he or she is supposed to be the savior of Ransei. Instead, they’re just this walking blank-slate with zero depth. Pokémon Conquest took a step outside of the series’ comfort zone, and had every opportunity to create a deep and unique story-driven Pokémon experience – yet instead the developers chose to feature a narrative that just about everyone has heard in one form or another. A considerable shame, as there was a lot of potential here.
Thankfully though, from here on out the title delivers with all the ferocity of a level 99 Charizard – with a particular emphasis on gameplay. If you’ve played the classic Nobunaga’s Ambition before, you’ll be right at home. Gameplay takes place in two main forms: combat and economy – both of which are turn-based. Outside of battle, players will find themselves at the world map, with the many kingdoms of Ransei laid in front of them. As mentioned earlier, the main goal is to have control of all 17 kingdoms at once. This is done by sending Warlords from controlled kingdoms into hostile territory, thus starting a skirmish for control of the castle and the land.
Combat is simple enough to be understood by an age group, but diverse enough to keep each battle varied with an emphasis on strategy. Each side’s Warlords take turns moving and attacking with their Pokémon, with up to six per team. The overall goal is simple: defeat all the opposing team’s Pokémon while defending your own – and the last team standing wins. As a bit of an anti-grieving feature, there is also a turn limit. When it’s up, the attacking team loses the round. This way, even if you’re overpowered you still have a chance to hold out – as well as making sure rounds don’t go on for too long, leading to well-balanced and fair play.
Of course, a big part of Pokémon battling is types, which play a large part in any title in the series. Every Pokémon has at least one type, such as grass, fire, electric, normal, ghost, and dragon (just to name a few); and each type has strengths and weaknesses to others, usually making sense from a logical standpoint. For example: electric-type Pokémon are weak against ground, but are powerful against water. This system makes for fairly diverse gameplay, praising gamers for using real-world logic instead of remembering simple opposing elements.
The depth doesn’t stop there though, as the battlefields themselves also sport attributes. In total there are 17 kingdoms in Ransei, and coincidently there are 17 Pokémon types across all species. This means (as you may have guessed) that each battlefield has its own theme, which is reflected not only in the general aesthetics of the map but in numerous functions as well. Various parts of a battlefield are designed to favour the shared type, such as the fire kingdom using lava-ways that can only be accessed by fire types, or opening/closing sluice-gates in the water kingdom to prevent non-water Pokémon from progressing. Knowing just what Pokémon types to bring into battle, when to use what part of the level, and an overall sound strategy are all crucial to victory.
As with just about every game in the Pokémon universe, humans simply sit safely on the sidelines shouting suggestions like a sissy, only taking a few simple roles in combat. First, Warlords can equip a single item before battle, and use it without consequence during their army’s turn. Second, each Warlord has a special ability that can be triggered on his/her turn, such as increasing movement range or defensive power. All Pokémon have similar skills as well, but are used only when certain conditions are met, like Jigglypuff using Lullaby when two or more enemies are within range to put them to sleep. While it’s weird to have an armoured Warlord not actually fight in combat, Pokémon Conquest has done a fantastic job of making a battle system that is not only easily accessible to its younger audience, but complex enough to keep older gamers interested as well.
Pokémon Conquest also handles Pokémon progression a little differently, choosing to augment Pokémon by Linking them with their Warlord instead of traditional experience points and numerical levels. As Warlords win battles, their Link percentage goes up with that Pokémon, increasing stats at certain points. Players may also mix and match Pokémon with different Warlords, to get the best out of each other’s personal skills. What’s great about the Link system is that it is completely automatic, handling all stat progression for you. While that may seem like a detriment to some gamers, when you have an army of over 40 Warlords, character progression could have gotten a little dizzy on top of formulating attack and defense strategies.
After completing a battle, players are returned to the world map where they can choose to partake in actions like scouting kingdoms for new Warlords, training their Pokémon to increase Link percentages, and even mine for gold. Should this seem like too much work, gamers may also leave instructions for the Warlords in specific kingdoms to automatically carry out while you focus your attention elsewhere, which is a very welcome feature, as there is already a lot to worry about in-game.
Once all of your Warlords have taken an action, or you decide to end your turn manually, it’s now the enemy’s turn. The AI may make an attempt to seize back control of kingdoms, so players need to really consider their defensive structure before finishing. Overall, gameplay in Pokémon Conquest is fantastically conceived, making for an extremely fun and entertaining experience for fans of all ages.
In terms of graphics, Conquest may not be a powerhouse, but makes up for it in art direction. In typical SRPG fashion, 2D sprites are used on a 3D background for battle scenes; while cutscenes are done with hand drawn anime characters overtop a general background depicting the area. What really makes the title, however, is the art style, which is highly reminiscent of feudal Japan.
Warlords usually wear armour which resemble that of the samurai, but sometimes also mimic the physical features of their original bonded Pokémon (such as horned gauntlets, scaled chestplates, or ear-like headpieces). Battlefields also follow suit, such as the electric kingdom appearing to be built in a generator, featuring beams of electricity and lightning rods; or the grass field that uses shifting vine bridges and hidden passages to give an otherwise standard courtyard some extra life. On the whole, the title’s visuals are simple but beautiful, and are sure to be enjoyed by all.
Carrying on the feudal theme is the game’s soundtrack, which completes the package. Players will hear quick, pentatonic melodies on flutes; backed by taiko-styled drumming and accompanying strings. Combat music focuses a little less on oriental melodies, and more on creating tense, dissonant atmospheres; using sharp, high-pitched flute sounds to give a sense of violence and chaos. Like many other Pokémon titles, Conquest’s soundtrack delivers in strides, helping to create an authentic feudal experience.
When the war finally ends, players of all ages will enjoy playing Pokémon Conquest an immense deal. With gameplay that is both deep, yet simple to understand, and making great use of the Pokémon type system, you’re sure to find hours upon hours of entertainment here. Just don’t expect to sit through a blockbuster story though, as you’ll only find a horribly cliché experience – this is definitely a title you play for gameplay.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0 and a visit from the creator Pokémon.
About This Post