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Pokémon Conquest (DS) Review

/ Jul 18th, 2012 No Comments

Pokémon Conquest (NDS) Box art
Pokémon Conquest (NDS) Box art

Pokémon Conquest (NDS) Box art

Pokémon Conquest is a turn-based strategy RPG for the Nintendo DS. Tecmo Koei developed the title while Nintendo and the Pokémon Company published it. The game combines the Pokémon franchise with gameplay elements from the Nobunaga’s Ambition series that Koei first released back in 1983. Nobunaga’s Ambition is a series that has spanned decades and console generations and yet the franchise might be unfamiliar to gamers, but the target demographic of the game will definitely have no clue about it unless they happen to be a well read, hip and worldly ten-year old. Regardless if Nobunaga’s Ambition is familiar or not is irrelevant, but if the cultural behemoth Pokémon is familiar, then that is all that matters. While at first the idea of a strategy RPG based on the Pokémon franchise seems weird, it actually makes quite a bit of sense. The strategy RPG genre is built around the idea of recruiting warriors to the player’s cause; amassing a large and diverse army being the key to defeating the opposing army or the big bad that is likely threatening the continuation of the world. Therefore, adding the catchin’-em-all-ness of Pokémon to the genre is quite a clever move. In addition, it serves a way to bring younger gamers into a genre that occupies a typically hardcore niche.

Story

Pokémon Conquest screenshot 2: Electric Boogaloo

Pokémon Conquest screenshot 2: Electric Boogaloo

Pokémon Conquest does not take place in any of the established regions or continents in the Pokémon universe nor does it really take place in the same time (even if there is a tongue-in-cheek reference to some weird  land where people keep Pokémon in balls made early on in the game). The game is set in the Ransei region during a feudal period where different castles are warring against each other. In the Ransei region, there are special warriors who can form a link and use Pokémon in battle. There is a prophecy believed by these warriors that if one warrior can conquer all 17 regions in Ransei then the Pokémon who created Ransei will reveal itself. Now what that really means and what that entails is anyone’s guess. Yet these warriors believe this prophecy, so they battle for control of all the kingdoms! It is not as simple as that though, there is a rival warlord, Nobunaga, who is power hungry and out to claim Ransei for himself. He wants to capture the legendary Pokémon to destroy Ransei. Necessarily, the main character cannot let this happen, so he/she and his/her number two, Oichi, wants to capture the legendary Pokémon to save Ransei. There are some curve balls thrown into the mix, but they are nothing novel or amazing.

As far as stories go, it is standard fare. The powerful and imposing ‘big bad’ is set up at the beginning as being this nearly unstoppable force with his ultimate goal to bring destruction and chaos to the world. On the other side is the protagonist, the player, who wants peace. This protagonist’s methods and values differ greatly from the big bad. He/she is on the opposite side of the spectrum: gentle yet bold, brave yet reluctant (at first) and strong yet untested. It is the journey of the protagonist to get stronger in this case leveling up his/her Pokémon, capturing new ones and recruiting new allies to his/her cause. The protagonist must achieve this goal while remaining true to his/her basic nature, but by the end, there has to be some sort of realization/change that allows him/her to overcome the big bad. Thus by the end the protagonist succeeds, good triumphs, peace can spread and prosperity reins. Most games follow this logic, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. What can elevate a tired story is compelling characters, honesty and emotions that connect with the player, reader, viewer, etc. Unfortunately, none of that is present here. The story is by the numbers, transfer the characters to another RPG set in another time-period and nothing is lost. There is an interesting way to explore why there is a need for conquest, imperialism and colonialism with Pokémon and how that would affect the people living in these castles. Of course, the story does not explore that because this is a game aimed at everyone, but there are things that could elevate what is a rote story.

Gameplay

Pokémon Conquest screenshot

Pokémon Conquest screenshot

The real star of Pokémon Conquest is the gameplay. At the beginning of the game, the player only has the option to battle a few castles. Once victory over the first castle happens then the player is free to enter occupied castles and do a variety of actions. Each action is a turn and each warrior at a castle (only six per castle max) can perform an action. Actions range from training to level up Pokémon, capturing new Pokémon, recruiting new Warriors, buying items at the shop, refilling energy, mining for gold, etc. Once the player has performed all the actions they must move forward a month. On the next month, they can perform more actions. Each month new Warriors or Pokémon appear in the castles.

Much like most strategy RPGs, the action takes place on a grid. Each Warrior’s Pokémon can move a certain number of squares based on their range. After moving, the player can attack if an enemy is in range of their move or if not then they can wait until the next turn. Once the player orients to battle, they can use a Warrior Skill or item before they move. A Warrior Skill is a status buff that is unique to the Pokémon’s warrior. The player can only use the skill once during the match, so picking a smart moment to use it is often necessary.  As with all Pokémon games the different types matter with each type having its own unique weaknesses and strengths. Taking advantage of these weaknesses and strengths are important to winning battles later in the game.

To capture a wild Pokémon, the player needs to be next to it. Then they have the option to Link with it. When the player selects Link, a screen comes up with a number of yellow lights that zoom by. Timing is key here because the better the timing is when hitting the lights results in a more effective Link. Once the Link meter fills up then the Pokémon goes with the Warrior after winning the match. Certain Pokémon are better suited for certain Warriors, a symbol appears above wild Pokémon (a red x, grey, bronze or gold) indicating the level of match present. This is relevant when leveling and evolving Pokémon because only good matches can level up high and only perfect matches being able to reach 100% link (link is how a Pokémon levels up). Thus, the goal for each Warrior recruited is to find its perfect link, this happens by looking at the trainer’s type and going to regions with that type.

For whatever reason the pure rush of catchin’-em-all is still present here and that is the clear draw of the game (as with all games in the franchise). However, there should be no mistakes made, this is a rather simplified strategy RPG. Each Pokémon only has one move and they can only attack or use an item/Warrior Skill. They cannot heal allies nor have special moves. While different areas and terrains have different effects, they are for the most part negligible until later in the game. Whatever depth the gameplay has comes from the Pokémon-ness of the game where the strategy RPG elements seem done in a way to make the game more accessible (obviously, this is the point, but it still bears mentioning). In the end, the gameplay is fun and addicting.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are of a comparable quality to the of the recent Nintendo DS Pokémon titles done in a 2.5D sprite style. The sprites for each Pokémon have a charm and solid animations. On the other side, the Warriors have an animated look that has good detail and vibrancy for the various Warriors that are recruitable. The world map has a similar sprite based graphic style. When the player’s Warriors travel long distances on the map, there are charming animations like giant dirigibles to transport Warriors around. The game is full of Midi compositions that evoke the whole conquest vibe well by being grand and symphonic in places. Some of the tunes are quite catchy and good for the level of grinding that is present in this type of game. It is not the best that the franchise has offered, but delightful enough to catch Pokémon by.

Nostalgia

There is this weird cyclical nature to the Pokémon franchise. It has been around for a long time and it is one of those games that young kids get addicted on and latch onto for whatever reason. It may be due to the idea of children want to own monsters or the desire to collect something or because at the age they discover it their imagination and sense of whimsy is craving it. Despite the reason, the age at which the games bore their way into the collective consciousness of children is about eight to eleven, give or take a few years. Then adolescents and puberty happens. The children who continue to play games put away their Pokeballs and childish things to pick up M16s and steal cars. The game becomes social poison and a way to ostracize. Those teenagers forget about Pokémon for years. Then something happens when they enter college (or not), but around the age of twenty, Pokémon becomes cool and hip again. Who can say why that is? Maybe it is because they have gone out there and lived life. They went out into the world: found love and got their heart’s broken, experienced loss and regret, made new friends and lost old ones, drank all night until they could not stand or see and vomited in their friend’s sink, or spent their nights in 7-11 parking lots with friends talking about slurpees, films and the meaning of it all while wishing they could reclaim something they misplaced a long time ago. The thing they are craving is that innocence they lost in the field where they got their first kiss under the oak tree during the summah before high school. Pokémon for older gamers represents something new yet old. It is a familiar feeling but different at the same time. Popping in the new cartridge releases this euphoria and a sense of the past. At this point, the game becomes a way to purchase nostalgia and relive a part of childhood.

Overall

Pokémon Conquest, despite some of the gripes mentioned above, is an addictive and fun game that will suck the gamer in after the first battle. In terms of length, the game gives the gamer a good thirty to forty hours with the main story. That is not even mentioning the insane replay value with Post-game extras and the quest to capture-em-all. The gameplay even if it is simplified has all the intrigue that comes with strategy RPGs without being too punishing for newer gamers to the genre. Its graphics are charming and pleasing to the eyes. Moreover, there is nothing more satisfying than capturing Pokémon; it is a crazy endorphin rush.  Yet independent of all its strengths and weaknesses, this game is so bizarre in its own distinct way that it is worth playing because it actually exists.

Overall Ratings – Pokémon Conquest (DS)

Gameplay:

8/10

Sound:

8/10

Graphics:

8/10

Replay Value:

10/10

OVERALL SCORE:

85%

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. Currently, he lives in Tustin, California. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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