Pokemon Conquest DS Review- Never Thought I’d Live to See the Day
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: June 18, 2012 (NA)
ESRB: E – Everyone
Over the years, there have been many offshoots of Nintendo and Game Freak’s popular Pokémon series. Some have claimed their own place of honor among video game greats, such as Pokémon Stadium. Others have enjoyed a smaller, but dedicated following, like Pokémon Snap. Several of these have strayed quite a bit from the traditional Pokémon path. But even with the series’s history of branching out and exploring other genres and fresh ideas, I never thought I would be writing a review of a Pokémon-centered turn-based strategy game. Based off of feudal Japan, no less.
At the start of the game, the player assumes the role of a fictional warlord, much like those of the Japanese feudal era. The name and gender of this character are determined by the player at the start of the game. The idea of a warrior using the Pokémon we’ve always been taught were to be treated as respected partners may seem uncharacteristically dark, but in practice this is definitely not the case. The player’s novice warlord of the Aurora kingdom is soon joined by the charismatic Oichi, who assists in driving off an attack by the neighboring kingdom of Ignis and explains to the player that all of the kingdoms in the land of Ransei have been drawn into conflict. She speaks of an old legend that foretells the appearance of a legendary Pokémon to whichever warrior can conquer and unite all of Ransei.
Hoping to facilitate cooperation and bring peace to the warring kingdoms, the player and Oichi set forth to pursue the quest presented in the legend. As they conquer each kingdom, being joined by new warriors from different armies they have faced, the two come closer to a conflict with another warlord, the feared and mysterious Nobunaga. As it becomes clear to Oichi that Nobunaga’s goal is to unite the kingdoms for his own benefit, rather than the good of the world, she persuades the player’s character to beat him to it, providing an endgame for the conflict.
The game’s story is one of the simple but meaningful adventures typical of Eastern lore. The characters (even the bad guys) have a sense of familiarity and nobility that is inevitably endearing to the player. The game and story operate on a simple progression system. As the player conquers all the kingdoms in one area, the next is unlocked. The player must move about the map in a logical progression, from one adjacent kingdom to the next, to fulfill his or her goal. All of the kingdoms, each of which represents a different Pokémon type, also have shops and areas where the player can battle to obtain new allies and partner Pokémon. Wild Pokémon are obtained through “linking,” which bonds the warriors and their partners. This link is increased with experience, and serves as a measure of growth for both the character’s original partner and any other linked Pokémon.
Pokémon Conquest represents a highly successful fusion of the traditional Pokémon game and the expansive combat style unique to the woefully diminishing turn-based tactics/strategy genre. The game also incorporates elements of a role-playing game in several areas, but most notably in the use of item collection and (literal) evolution of the player character. The protagonist can evolve and become stronger after reaching a certain level of experience and link strength with his or her chosen partner. Most of the Pokémon available in the game use a similar system to grow stronger and evolve.
The combat in Pokémon Conquest is elegantly executed, with just the right blend of simplicity and challenge to appeal to any audience. The influence of other Japanese turn-based strategy titles, especially Fire Emblem, is easily recognizable in Conquest‘s gameplay. The player moves his or her Pokémon around the map, using various tactics of attack and defense to achieve a victory. Though most of the battles are won simply by defeating all of the opponent’s Pokémon, some are objective-based and victory is assured as soon as the objective is completed. The moves a Pokémon can use vary greatly and can change with evolution, with fully evolved Pokémon generally having the strongest moves. The game gracefully compensates for this added strength by restricting movement in most cases. A large range of battlefield designs rounds out the gameplay nicely, challenging the player to adapt and use more imaginative tactics.
Though the game’s main story is tauntingly brief, there are half a dozen new storylines that the player can pursue after completing the initial quest. These help to tell the stories of the other warlords, and expand on the culture of Ransei. The rather appalling drawback to this is that the player’s progress in the main story is invalidated, with the new stories basically starting over. Pokémon Conquest‘s overall impression draws heavily from its traditional Pokémon roots. Many elements of the game’s main storyline parallel the usual Pokémon game experience. Even the music is very familiar, clearly inspired by various tracks spanning several generations of games.
Pokémon Conquest may not be an offshoot fans were expecting, but its beautiful storyline, solid gameplay, and classic Pokémon feel ensure that the surprise is far from unwelcome.
+Excellent overall design of story and gameplay
+Wide selection of available Pokémon
+Great use of tactics, abilities, and settings
+Successful integration of RPG, tactics, and traditional Pokémon elements
+Soundtrack that uses both well-known and new, original tracks
-Main storyline is too short
-Subsequent storylines essentially erase prior progress
-Large usage of Generation IV/V Pokémon to appeal to younger fans