Pokemon Conquest Review

When I first heard about Pokemon Conquest, then called Pokemon+Nobunaga’s Ambition, I had two thoughts, “What is this Japanese exclusive strategy series doing with my precious Pocket Monsters?”  And, “Well, this isn’t coming to the states, that’s for sure.  If Nintendo’s previous experiments with Xenoblade and The Last Story taught them anything, it’s that you need to start a petition to outsell every other region the game launched in.”  But, much to my surprise, Nintendo actually released it, probably because they didn’t want to get another Mother 3.  So in the early summer I devoted over 70 hours into this little game, and finally beat the first of over 7 stories.  But was that a well spent 70 hours?  Read and find out!

Pokemon Conquest Review
Release Date: 18/6/2012
Platform: DS
Price I Paid: $29.99

The game opens with a trailer that is intended to explain what is going on in this new region of Ransei, stating that a man named Nobunaga is trying to take over the country, and you need to take over the country before he can.  After flipping a coin to decide our character’s sex, or maybe that’s just me, you are greeted by a series of odd people who have ellipsis to say.  From this very clumsy first step, the game tries and fails to explain its mechanics, so I’ll try to do a better job than they did.  The game revolves around you running a country of up to 102 warlords.  Warlords are the equivalent to Pokemon Trainers, but they really only should use one Pokemon, and they only get to the maximum level with one certain type of Pokemon.  In order to capture Pokemon, you need to find them in the wild and link with them.  Linking is done via a rhythm minigame, but certain Warlords can only link with certain Pokemon, with their type preferences given in their Bio, and the rough maximum level is given via an emblem over their heads.  But you can only get to the maximum link level, this game’s version of levels, but the scaling is different.  But you should not wander around with every Warlord, since by having a preference of a Water/Electric type, can mean that they want a Blitzle.  Do not focus on that aspect, since every Warlord’s perfect link can be found here.  I recommend making a spreadsheet to keep all your Warlord’s necessary links in check, since you will have dozens of them by the end.  Now is your cue to walk away if you wanted to buy this for a trip, because you’d just need to use a notebook then.

Since the Warlord is just a holder for the Pokemon, they lack any real meaning, other than about two or three minor things, but I’ll get to that.  Once you have all your Warlords set and they have their links, you can then go into battles with up to six Warlords against up to a dozen Pokemon, but it is normally two to five.  The actual battling is basically Fire Emblem, but with a Final Fantasy Tactics appearance.  A turn and grid based strategy title where you raise up units, but none of them have permadeath, saving me many a reload.  Every Pokemon can move a certain number of spaces.  There is terrain like water that can only be floated over to accessed by Water types. and poison ooze that inflicts poison into any Pokemon who isn’t Poison or Steel type, and elevated areas that can sometimes prevent attacks, or increase their power.  It provides some complexity, but things like giant balls and traps, which only appear once and twice through the game respectively.  There are actually a good amount of maps to be had, or there would be if they let you fight on the maps that other Warlords battle you on for land more than once.  There are rival Warlords who are maintaining one of the 17 type based and gym-esc kingdoms in Ransei, and have their own map that you can never battle wild Pokemon, or traveling Warlords on.  Travelling Warlords, or Warriors as I like to call them, can be recruited into your army by defeated in 4 turns, by knocking them out with a super effective hit, or by a Pokemon who they did not attack.  But there are some Warriors who have a yellow bit around their name, these are proper Warlords, who need to have one of the conditions for recruiting Warriors happen to them, but with another Warlord’s Pokemon.  And if you think the whole Warlord/Warrior bit is confusing, the game does it far worse, trust me.  I think that it may be a translation thing, but I think Tecmo-Koei is just bad at tutorials, since I was confused for the first 10 hours.

Every Pokemon also only has a single move that they can do, which, along with the fact that every move has a certain range that they hit, makes Beedrill, Lilligant, and Ciccino all beasts, but Rhyperior, Amorphous, and Forretress all hard to use.  It is annoying to have an inaccurate attack, but one that you need to be two squares away to use?  Speaking of the actual Pokemon, there are only 199, since it would be cocky to think that Tecmo-Koei would create sprites for all 649 of the little buggers.  The most prevalent of the 199 is Eevee, who is your starter, ala Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness.  Except you do not get a stone before you get more than a party assembled, and is introduced when you reach the halfway mark, or when a random special merchant comes in, and over my 71 hours, I only met two.  Oh, and placing Glaceon in the area before the final encounter of the game, why would you do that, other than the fact that the final area is filled with Dragons?

You also have energy, which provides minor buffs and debuffs to your Pokemon’s health and attack.  However, you need to have them rest if you want them to continue, and since the game is divided into months.  Every Warlord can only battle, shop with prices determined by the Warrior’s charisma, mine for gold based on the Warrior’s strength, or eat some energy restoring Ponigiri.  The whole Energy bit just feels like meaningless busy work, just like needing to raise every single Pokemon, when there is a train option.  Forgive me for liking numbers, but in a game where I like to make spreadsheets, I prefer to actually see the numbers that are being done onto my Pokemon when they are auto-training.  Because of this, I ended up fighting every wild Pokemon in every kingdom, every month, or the 73 I spent.  Yeah, it took me roughly a month per hour!  Accounting for the taking over of kingdoms, and the fact that the first year is basically a tutorial, it took me about 80 or so minutes to just get through a month!  All because I wanted to get my Pokemon to their highest level before the game reset all my leveling after I beat the main story.  And while the after stories are a new game+, it would have been nice for the game to flash a message that told me to try and level up all of my Pokemon, so that they could evolve, instead of having a Dewott get sent back to a very early level, two months worth of experience before it would have become a Samurwott

Past all these many odd design decisions for a Pokemon game, the game series that I was playing since I was 5.  The game can be a lot of fun, but I felt a lot like an accountant near the end, and since that will probably be my future career, the game ends up feeling like work when you are trying to be as efficient as possible.  This might be because I was Role-playing as a reincarnation of Mars from The World God Only Knows, since my coin landed on tails, and who better to be a master Warlord that the Goddess of War.  But I discovered that, at its heart, war is like doing your taxes, unless you are the one who is actually fighting.  And since a game should try and make the most efficient way to play it also the most enjoyable, this gets a bit of a poop sticker, and maybe another for lasting too damn long.

Moving back to the story, it is not a lot more complicated that, you are going to capture all kingdoms, and the summon a Legendary Pokemon, and while you do meet colorful characters, they’re dry in terms of actual character, since aside from a page or two of text, they never say anything.  And this may be a stupid thing to add, but there were many opportunities for Tangential Learning, since I think the game is based on Japanese mythology, but I cannot tell if the designers are just pulling things out of their bums.  Especially when everyone’s design and the very repetitious soundtrack seems to imply that, but then again, these are the people who made Dynasty Warriors.  And not that the soundtrack is bad, but whenever I hear a song a lot, I get annoyed by it, and since I was on the overworld map, maintaining my troops ad nauseum, I heard the beginning a couple hundred times, but maybe it is due to the higher and more irritating pitch.

One thing that I was not really expecting from this game, was the amount of artwork and care placed into the actual visuals, from the 4 different directions that every Pokemon is visible, the original portraits of every Pokemon, and the very nice looking areas, all make the game’s visuals look pretty top-notch, even though the Warriors could use a few more models to differentiate them, since they are just one frame.  And I am a bit shocked at how well the Pokemon actually fit in with the Warlords, when I would think that a crossover like this would have the characters look out of place next to the Pokemon, but they probably just gave them an anime -esque makeover so they would fit in.  And while the actual quality may be a bit blurry, that’s a technical limitation, and the game still looks great.

But after all of that, my description of the game seems invalid for after I played one of the side stories, where you are set in a New Game+ environment, but starting with a new team of Pokemon, and recruiting more as you explore.  But unlike the main game, where the other Kingdoms have a level you must reach before you can fight them, they all start out very weak, and you need to expand and take control of them as quickly as you can.  It also removes the necessity to have your Eevee and a Wigglytuff in every battle for a kingdom.  And the sensation from going to one poorly equipped kingdom, to a massive empire that controls over half the country over the course of a month, that is a sense of empowerment that cannot be obtained by any fun and frantic action title.  It is a shame that they put the far better part of the game at the end, since who the hell plays a strategy game for anything but a semi-random game of intense planning, and figuring out the most efficient use of every unit, and how to obtain funds while expanding your influence?  

As a whole, Pokemon Conquest is ripe with potential, and does indeed feel like work at times, but so is taking over the world.  And that’s what you are doing, growing in power in order to conquer an island country, while gaining more and more power.  Saying that something gets better later is a fairly flimsy excuse, but Pokemon Conquest most certainly improves as you go on, hits a dip, and then goes right back up again in what is a bunch of mildly different scenarios.  And while some of those areas where stupidly blocked from the game, punishing anyone who dares to not buy this game before the end of 2012, the game is just filled with a bunch of little bits of sheer satisfaction.  Getting the perfect link, or making it through a kingdom battle in 5 rounds, cornering Nobunaga, one of the final bosses, and hitting him with a not very effective hydro pump.  Those are what I call organic gameplay moments, and they are what you remember when playing a game.  I remember nearly falling off mountains in Skyrim, only to see my horse fly into a tree and die from a broken spine.  I remember the satisfaction of pounding every Big Daddy in Bioshock, and purifying the little sisters.  And I remember the sheer joy that a well executed move in Pokemon Conquest can bring me.

An impressive product, won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws, but is very enjoyable and worth a purchase.

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