When I first heard about this game, I thought “oh great, another Pokemon spinoff” and quickly forgot about it. The next I heard about it one of my coworkers at GameStop was describing it to a customer as, “a Pokemon game where instead of fighting gym leaders you fight warlords in an attempt to conquer the region.” My interest was immediately piqued, and as it turns out, that description was spot on. Pokemon Conquest is a great title by Tecmo Koei that gives you a reason to dust off your DS one last time. It’s an excellent mix between Pokemon and Nobunaga’s Ambition (hence why it’s called Pokemon + Nobunaga’s Ambition in Japan) that plays out like Final Fantasy Tactics.
The gameplay is where this game really shines. All the standard Pokemon type advantages and disadvantages are still there, but the combination of “catching” not only Pokemon, but the warlords and warriors as well adds another level that is refreshing. You start off as an unknown warlord of a fairly small kingdom that is out to prove they are the very best, like no one ever was. Sound familiar? In the game, legend has it that whoever can conquer all 17 kingdoms will meet the Pokemon that created Ransei, the region this game takes place in. So now you have a goal, but as with any goal, there will be others trying to achieve it, and who more perfect to be your rival, than Nobunaga himself. The game quickly gets you started on your goal by having the neighboring kingdom invade you, attempting to stop you before you even have a chance to start. Now obviously being your first battle, this one is a cinch, but what’s a game without a tutorial? Battles take a top-down perspective, putting you in command of your warlord and their army of other recruited warriors. As in any Pokemon game, no human actually fights, instead sending their Pokemon to do all the dirty work. But that doesn’t mean the warriors sit around twiddling their thumbs. Each warrior has a special ability they can do once per battle, like increasing attack and defense, or healing lost health. The battles take place on a gridded map that you move around on. Each Pokemon can move a certain amount of squares on this grid, depending on their speed and the type of terrain. You can move and attack once per turn. The goal of each battle is to win, obviously, and this can usually be done by defeating all of the opposing warriors’ Pokemon. Each battle has some mechanic that adds to the strategy though, whether it be lava that only fire type Pokemon can pass through, water, which can only be passed through by water type Pokemon, pokemari, which I can only describe as Pokemon croquet, or just plain old flags, which need to be captured and defended, otherwise you can lose the battle without losing all your Pokemon. Conquering the kingdoms isn’t as easy as just walking in and laying claim, you must first drive out the warlord inside, but with each conquered kingdom comes extra space to hold all your warriors, which you can recruit in one of 3 ways: Defeating them within 4 turns (each turn consists of all of the Pokemon on the map moving and attacking once), defeating them with a super-effective attack, or defeating them without any of your Pokemon taking damage from that particular warrior’s Pokemon.
My favorite part of any RPG is of course, the leveling up, and while this game does away with that in the traditional sense, you still get stronger through the link a warrior forms with their Pokemon. After each battle, the link is strengthened depending in the participation of that particular Pokemon. That of course is not the only way to increase the link between warrior and Pokemon. Each kingdom has a few things you can do in them, like mining for gold (used to shop), eating ponigiri (which I can only assume is catnip for Pokemon that increases their energy, a stat that effects a Pokémon’s effectiveness in battle that is constantly going down) battle other Pokemon (to form links with or “catch” them) or other warriors, and shopping for items like potions and gear, all of which strengthens the link between warrior and Pokemon. Not every warrior can form a link with every Pokemon, nor would they want to. Each warrior only has a few Pokemon they can reach 100% link with, which is the only way to reach their full potential.
My least favorite part of this game is the touch controls. While I find myself using the stylus for everything, when it comes to selecting the square you want to move to, I often select the wrong square, and after a minute of trying to select the correct square with no success, I am forced to use the D-pad. Although this is a minor annoyance, it’s just enough to bring me out of the game.
The sound in Pokemon Conquest is to be expected of a Pokemon game on the DS, but it has a very feudal Japan feel (at least what I would expect you’d hear all the time if you were living back then) and it really immerses you in the game. As well, the graphics are to be expected, but I found myself falling in love with the little Pokemon sprites moving around the battlefield, and the backgrounds are beautiful. Shortly after starting the game, I realized that each castle the ruling warlord of a kingdom lives in (at least until I kick him out) looks like the warlord themselves. It’s touches like these that make me smile and appreciate the effort that Tecmo Koei put into this game.
All in all, Pokemon Conquest is a fantastic game, with a refreshingly new take on the Pokemon series that I hope inspires sequels in the years to come. It’s a perfect blend between the classic Pokemon series, and Final Fantasy Tactics. Despite the minor control issues, I find myself suggesting this game to anyone who will listen, and even those who won’t.
Value : Purchase @ $35