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'Pokémon Conquest' is a Strategy/Role-Playing Game that was published by Nintendo and released in July 2012. Not that it will matter to most of you, but this game is officially a crossover title between the Pokémon franchise and a lesser known, Japan-exclusive series known as 'Nobunaga's Ambition' that has in fact been around since 1983. Set in Feudal Japan, this time around you're collecting and training Pokémon...to fight against fellow samurai trainers to conquer Japan.
Sounds peculiar? Well, it surprised me that such a niche premise of a game managed to get itself released outside the Land of the Rising Sun, although this is mostly because of the 'Pokémon' brand name attached to it. Nevertheless, when I heard about this game's European release I was ecstatic; I love Pokémon, I love strategy role-playing games and I don't mind the time period- a the perfect combination! So I bought the game a few days after release and got stuck straight into it!
You play the role of a young samurai warlord (boy or girl) in Ransei, Feudal Japan, with an Eevee. In this alternative Japan samurai warriors and Pokémon communicate to each other through a 'link', allowing the former to give orders and develop friendships with the latter.
Unfortunately Ransei is not a peaceful place. A legend has said that if all the 16 nations of Ransei are united under one warlord, the legendary Pokémon Arceus (essentially a god Pokémon for those unfamiliar with the franchise) will appear before them. As a result, warlords are fighting against each other to try and conquer the whole of the area and see Arceus for themselves. At the start of the game you begin as warlord of one kingdom and, with the help of your new friend Oichi, aim to conquer all the kingdoms of Ransei to bring peace once and for all.
The story isn't anything special. Your main character is a blank sheet of paper and most of your actions are suggested by Oichi, who acts as a mouthpiece/advisor and is your typical female best friend you'd have in any other game like this. The warlords of the other kingdoms however have slightly more interesting personalities. Furthermore they are all based on real samurai warlords of Feudal Japan, including Date Masamune, Tokugawa Ieyasu and, most famous of all, Oda Nobunaga, who ends up as the final boss (well, sort of...) and your biggest rival for power. Save for one minor twist however, the story is very straightforward and not at all the game's biggest strength.
As outlined earlier, your main aim is to conquer Ransei's 15 other regions by sending out armies of Pokémon, who are linked to an individual warrior. There you will fight the enemy kingdom's army of Pokémon on the battlefield. Defeat them, and the kingdom is yours to control. In each kingdom, there are locations where you can defeat both warriors with Pokémon and/or just wild Pokémon, and add them to your party if they are vanquished under certain conditions. It's very typical of a strategy role-playing game, but 'Pokémon Conquest' does have its own little tweaks to gameplay to try and make it stand out.
Rather than the usual EXP/Level Up system, strengthening your Pokémon armies means increasing the link between the warrior and Pokémon; the higher the link percentage, the better their strength, so it's a sort of Experience Points Meter. At a certain point they may even evolve and get a more powerful move for battle. Increasing link is done by winning battles with Pokémon and doing certain actions within kingdoms such as mining for gold, raising your energy (gives you stat boosts in battle) or even just buying items in the shop. However, each Pokémon has a percentage cap depending on how compatible their type is with the trainer, ranging from about 40%-100%. This really irritated me later in the game, because most warriors who wanted to join me came with a totally random Pokémon who wasn't compatible with them at all and were already maxed out at the link cap, so no amount of training could get them stronger. An example of this would be a warrior who was most proficient with, say, Fighting and Water Pokémon somehow saddled with a Ralts (Psychic-type) stuck at 42%. On the other hands, it adds a bit more strategy to the game overall, because you have to keep an eye out on which warriors will become the most powerful in the long-term.
Thankfully if you find a wild Pokémon in battle that could be more compatible with your warriors you can attempt to start a Link by moving your Pokémon next to them, selecting 'Link' and then play a rhythm mini-game of pressing A when glowing orbs enter a circle. If you're lucky the Pokémon your warrior connects with might even have the Perfect Link potential of 100%. For those who enjoy the 'Gotta Catch 'Em All' aspect of the 'Pokémon' series, this is the most rewarding bit as you try and find what each warrior's ideal Pokémon is.
The combat/battlefield parts of the game are sadly the most disappointing. First of all, you can only bring out six warriors and Pokémon at a time. Even if a warrior has more than one Pokémon linked to them, only the one currently 'selected' is deployed. Secondly, each Pokémon only has one move! In the proper games you have a maximum of four, so this is a major step down. Evolving only changes the move, and depending on the damage and square radius maybe less useful than the move you had before (e.g. if your new move attacks every square around your Pokémon it will be less useful if your allies are close enough by to be caught and damaged). These make battles frustratingly basic and lacking the depth of customization and options you find in other games of this genre. As for the AI though, it seems to be good. In battle enemy Pokémon are competent to exploit your type weaknesses and try to frustrate your objectives. On the kingdom map enemy kingdoms will attack your weaker kingdoms after a certain period of time with an overwhelming enough army, keeping you on your toes.
The game's graphics are suitable enough for the Nintendo DS, but they don't stretch the console beyond its capabilities. The human and Pokémon characters in cutscenes and non-gameplay art are drawn very well in a typical anime style. The Ransei and menus are very bright and colourful and add to the light-hearted tone of the game compared to the real history- this is a 'Pokémon' game after all! The battlefields don't have as much attention to detail to although there is that "2D on 3D" feel of the map. I did notice moments of lag, especially when turns end and Pokémon pick up treasures chests on the map, but that's nothing that seriously affects gameplay.
==---Sound and Music---==
The background music is pretty good in 'Pokémon Conquest', with my favourite tune being the overhead Map one as it's suitably grandiose of a warlord setting out to conquer everything. The kingdom battle maps have specific songs which I find suit the terrain you're fighting on.
Completing the main story game only takes 15 hours, which is pretty weak for a RPG. You'll be pleasantly surprised however, in that once you've finished that you have to take on various scenarios playing as the other various warlords you encountered in the story. These scenarios vary in difficulty and objective. One mission will be to just conquer the few surrounding kingdoms, another is to link 100 Pokémon to your warriors before rival kingdoms do, a third is to conquer seven kingdoms using only certain types of Pokémon, and so on. Not only do these scenarios add much needed variety and challenge, but apparently once you've finished all of these you will go back to a final scenario where you take control of your main character. I've been unable to complete all the missions so far as some are quite cumbersome to tackle and I keep putting them off! That said, depending on good you are at finishing these expect another 50 hours of gameplay added on here, making this well worth playing past the main story.
'Pokémon Conquest' is certainly a DS game for consideration as the console gets down to its last legs, but it has some flaws and misses out on aspects that I expected so much more from. 'Pokémon' fans may be frustrated by the simplistic gameplay compared to the main games, while strategy and role-playing fans won't be pleased with a lack of out-of-battle customization. That said, I'm a fan of both and do enjoy playing this game. Gameplay aspects like the Link system make it standout from other games like it and the Feudal Japan setting works surprisingly well as a premise, not to mention the game's longevity. It seems to be one of the better 'Pokémon' spinoffs in recent years and you ought to see it for yourself.
You can pick up 'Pokemon Conquest' brand new for a respectable £22.99 at most retail websites.