Game Review: Pokemon Conquest

Here’s the other game I was talking about in that June article. I’ve been playing this since it launched down under on the 21st, alongside Gravity Rush.

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Platform:
DS
Developer:
Tecmo Koei
Rating: G
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Just… I mean, where did this come from?

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Uh, what?
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That just might be your response to seeing Pokemon Conquest on store shelves, just as it was mine to finding out that it was getting a western release. The portable curiosity combines the money-printing worldwide popularity of the Pokemon series with the previously Japan-exclusive turn-based strategy franchise Nobunaga’s Ambition. The result of this unlikely marriage isn’t for everyone, but it represents a pretty bright future for crossover games of this kind.

THE SET-UP

Turn-based strategy games are a dime a dozen in the land of the rising sun, but over here we don’t have too many to compare Conquest to. The best option is probably Final Fantasy Tactics, or perhaps Advance Wars or Fire Emblem if they were presented isometrically. The game is set in the kingdom of Ransei, a feudal Japan-inspired land where Pokemon are not kept in Poke Balls but instead accompany fierce warriors onto the battlefield. Countries change hands with alarming frequency. You play a gifted, nameable warrior who brings his Eevee with him on a ruthless journey for conquest, backed by vaguely justifiable motives.

WHAT YOU DO

The battlefields of Pokemon Conquest feature a fresh spin on the type match-up system that defines the core Pokemon franchise, as it is applied to an environment where spacial positioning is of great importance. You move each Pokemon in your six-strong army once per turn, attacking when possible and trying to score super-effective hits on your opponents. Each Pokemon has its own stats for how far it can move in one turn, how much damage it can do, how much it can take, etc, as well as a single attack with a pre-determined range and one of three passive abilities that can change the way you use the Pokemon.

Grassy!

Yep, these are high quality screenshots.

Each Pokemon is “linked” to a warrior who decides its movements and can use a special power to assist it in battle. Though any warrior can link with just about any Pokemon, each warrior has one “perfect link” Pokemon with which he or she can reach maximum potential and power. Finding this link can be a very satisfying task, especially since there are 200 Pokemon and 200 warriors in the game. Pokemon get stronger and in most cases evolve as they gain experience and “link percentage” with their warriors, and in an interesting twist, some warriors even evolve alongside their Pokemon!

In between battles you manage the territory you control via your “castles”. You can only station six warriors in each castle so it pays to control several nations if your ranks are overflowing, but by the same token if an enemy army attacks one of your areas you need warriors there to defend it. The system is an interesting way to keep things from getting too monotonous.

WHAT YOU SEE

Though Pokemon Conquest is a game made for the regular old DS as opposed to its 3D successor, its graphics manage to impress anyway. Even when played in slightly distorted or miniscule resolution on a 3DS, the game’s confident colour palette and superb sprite work shine right through. Each Pokemon appears in surprising detail and each treacherous battlefield is unique in an instantly recognisable way. Volcano stages feel hot, dark swamps feel unpleasant and hedged gardens assault the eyes with a flurry of greens.

Firey!

The colours pop and the animations charm.

Just as impressive are the move animations, which add greatly to the charm that makes the game so approachable. Less wonderful is the game’s story, which is predictably silly. Not that anyone should be expecting a modern classic from such an insane crossover project, but throughout Ransei there certainly seem to be a lot of casual reactions to losing one’s kingdom.

WHAT YOU HEAR

Conquest has some pretty satisfying sound effects to go along with its attack animations and in some cases they even trump the main series. However, the game’s music is where the sound output really shines. Upbeat and varying battle tracks with a distinctly feudal Japanese flavour go right along with the inspired visuals to add momentum to your battling sessions. It’s even easier to get lost in a strategy game like this when the music not only fails to irritate, but ends up as an additional reason to keep playing.

! ! !

Do it now!

WILL YOU GO BACK?

Replay value is definitely one of Pokemon Conquest‘s strong points. Notwithstanding the sheer amount of time it takes to max out all 200 perfect links, or even just to see every fully evolved and legendary Pokemon, developer Tecmo Koei offers regular mission downloads via Wi-Fi. The game also takes an interesting approach to endgame content that keeps things feeling fresh.

It took me 14 hours of gameplay to beat what I thought was the main story, while friends of mine finished it in half that time. I did a fair bit of grinding to get that number, but I couldn’t help thinking about how unnecessary that was the whole way through. I was quite disappointed by how little challenge the game served up. So it was a shock when the game told me that what I had achieved essentially amounted to about 5% of the total story content.

A host of new scenarios greeted me, each focusing on the perspective of one of the game’s main warlords. Diving into one of these was somewhat of a rude awakening, as the enemy AI was much more aggressive on the world map, moving for my best territories and forcing me to spread out and dilute my armies as a result. Extra layers of gameplay were also added, such as the ability to spend money to upgrade castle landmarks and participate in random item-gaining battle events. It’s just such a shame that these gameplay improvements come so late in the piece, because many players may be turned off the game earlier on.

So much power.

Watch out, we got a badass over here.

Then there’s the multiplayer. There were no real head-to-head multiplayer options in any of the Final Fantasy Tactics games, so the ability to play a friend with my best six warriors came as a bit of a novelty to me when I tried it out. Pleasingly, Conquest delivers exactly the kind of solid versus play that it logically should. It’s as simple as choosing an arena, picking whether to attack or defend and then throwing together a team. You can also set a link percentage threshold, which basically decides whether you want to disadvantage players who lack perfect link partners on their army’s register. It really is a robust mode that puts the cherry on top of a deliciously long-lasting cake.

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THE VERDICT

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Good: Charming graphics, cool music, addictive gameplay, plenty of content and replay value
Bad:
Takes a long time to become challenging
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515/110A M A Z I N G

2 responses to this post.

  1. I never heard about this game. US only release?

    Reply

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