Developer: Tecmo Koei / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: DS / Price: $34.99 / ESRB: Everyone (Mild Cartoon Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes)
Swap out your pokedex for a katana and get ready for Pokemon Conquest, the newest game in the Pokemon series for the Nintendo DS. A crossover title incorporating the playful cheeriness of Pokemon with the tactical warmongering of Nobunaga’s Ambition, Pokemon Conquest hits all the right notes to deliver a satisfying strategy game for hardcore gamers, Poke-addicts, and newcomers alike. And to answer your question, no, you can’t cut Pikachu up to a bloody mess with twin katanas.
There is a legend in the land of Ransei that says if all 17 kingdoms are united under one banner, a legendary Pokemon that created the land would show himself. This legend has inspired many great warlords to conquer their neighboring kingdoms in hopes of someday ruling the land. No ruler has been as persistent in this goal as the menacing Nobunaga, a warlord of immense strength and power. No ruler until you, that is. As a young warlord gifted with the ability to speak with and form bonds with the Pokemon of the land, you set out on your own quest to put a stop to Nobunaga’s ambition to take over all of Ransei. Along your way you’ll meet dozens of warriors that will join you on your quest as well as those that are aligned with Nobunaga’s lofty aspiration. Making your way through each kingdom and claiming it as your own reveals that there is more to Nobunaga’s goal than simply ruling the land. The story is very basic and straightforward, without any thrills or unexpected events. It fits in nicely with the quality of storytelling found in other Pokemon titles. By that, I mean it’s largely a means to tie everything together and little else.
The best part about Pokemon Conquest is how it smoothly blends the Pokemon series and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. At no point does the game feel too much like a strategy title or too much like a Pokemon game. Instead we get a game that almost transcends the source material through unique and entertaining gameplay.
The core of the game centers around battles. Each battle takes place between one kingdom’s army and another, with the battlefield being limited to just six warriors/Pokemon per side. There are 199 pokemon in the game, all coming from past entries in the series. Each Pokemon can perform one attack that takes advantage of their unique type. For example, the flying pokemon Staraptor uses wing attack to deal flying damage, while bug pokemon Beedrill uses twin needle to poison foes. If you’ve played a Pokemon game before you’ll feel right at home with the rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay.
The rest of the gameplay is more attuned to strategy games. Each Pokemon can only move so many squares on the battlefield per turn. Likewise, they can only attack once per turn, and when you’ve finished moving and attacking, then it is your opponent’s turn. Not content to let the Pokemon steal the show, each warrior has a special ability they can use once per match. One skill can heal each of your pokemon a slight amount, while another skill greatly increases your chance of landing a critical strike.
Winning is usually as simple as defeating all of your opponents, but sometime specific win conditions are given, such as claiming four banners as your own and holding them for five turns. Instead of gaining levels, after a battle the “link” between warrior and pokemon increases by a small percentage, and as the link grows so too does the Pokemon’s strength. Playfields for each fight are drastically different, taking advantage of each kingdom’s uniquely-themed setting. The fighting-based kingdom of Pugilis, for example, is modeled after a boxing ring, complete with a ring and fight bell. The variety of gameplay is spectacular and does a great job of keeping battles fresh.
As with any good tactical strategy game, outside of battle you deal with a good share of micromanaging. Managing your pokemon is very streamlined and easy to do. Each pokemon can equip one item to use during battle. Potions and antidotes will help when you’re in a pinch, while stat boosting stones and other goodies can fine tune your army. When not in battle you can go searching for more pokemon to link with (and subsequently use in battle), as well as more warriors to find and recruit to your army (with 200 totals warriors to be found). There is a ton of replay value in Pokemon Conquest. Even when the game’s 10 hour storyline is finished, a completely new story-based mission mode unlocks that challenges you even further. Couple that with the urge to catch ‘em all (or at least find ‘em all) and you’ve got a game that packs dozens of hours of gameplay.
Music & Visuals
The musical score is a beautiful collection of traditional Japanese music that you might expect to hear when dealing with feudal Japan. Subtle melodies combined with the Japanese koto instrument make for an authentic sounding score that accompanies the intensity of battle well. The music playing during the final battle with Nobunaga is epic and entirely compliments the action. Sound effects are fairly limited though, with the same whips and cracks playing during each attack.
Another highlight for the game are the visuals. The playfulness of Pokemon with the direness of Japan’s feudal era turns out to be great combination. Warriors range in looks from samurai, to kabuki performers, and even to ninjas, each with a distinct anime style. The attention to detail in characters and battlefields (liberal use of colors, unique appearances, variety of backgrounds and kingdoms) makes the game feel polished and complete.
Pokemon Conquest is a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stale Pokemon series. Creating a strategy game that is both accessible for newcomers and deep for veterans is quite a feat, and this game has done just that. There is potential here for a fantastic new spinoff series that can be just as popular as the main franchises. Incredible replay value, satisfying gameplay, and a perfect blend of two gaming worlds, Pokemon Conquest is an easy recommendation to anyone at all familiar with Pokemon or strategy games.