Developer: Tecmo Koei
I’m not sure who had the idea to toss together Tecmo Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition in with Pokémon, but it’s actually made for a surprisingly good fit. When it was announced I literally had no idea how this would work out, but having played through the game now I’m happy to say that it makes for a really entertaining SRPG that manages to make use of both licenses quite well.
As the game begins you’re tasked with command over a single kingdom in the Ransei Region, set in a similar time period to classic Nobunaga Ambition titles. Pokémon are apparently abundant here, and there’s a legend that says if all the kingdoms in Ransei are united, the legendary Pokémon that created Ransei will appear. That’s the driving ambition for the cast of the game, which sees you battling it out against opposing nations, taking them over, and then using their Pokémon and resident Warlords as your own. If you take a step back and really think about the concept, it’s actually kind of jacked up in a war mongering sort of way for any kid-themed Pokémon title, but it never gets to be overtly serious or tries to explore any moral quandaries associated with the concept, so you’re better off not giving it a whole lot of thought.
The first four kingdoms you’ll take over work a bit like an extended introduction to the game, and at the onset Pokémon Conquest tends to hold your hand a little too long, which is a common issue with a lot of modern games, and more so for games that are meant to be kid friendly. If you’ve ever played any kind of strategy RPG before, like Final Fantasy Tactics or more appropriately Nobunaga’s Ambition itself, you’ll pick up on what to do in Pokémon Conquest after about 15 minutes of play. So the fact that you’re stuck with training wheels for about an hour and a half is kind of a bummer, and makes for a slow burn.
But once you start getting into the swing of things with conquering neighboring countries, Pokémon Conquest starts to step things up a bit. It never gets to be incredibly difficult, and if you’re having any trouble with beating a particular Warlord you can grind your way to victory by trying to max out your links with Pokémon, but it’s not so much the challenge that keeps you coming back for more. Instead, it’s the smart use of Pokémon’s rock/paper/scissors style of gameplay mixed in with the battlefields of strategy RPG’s, along with the random encounters that’ll grant you exceptionally rare Pokémon to check out and try. There’s a feeling of just one more battle that you’ll find yourself needing to participate in right when you think you’re ready to put down the DS, and it becomes a pretty addictive experience quickly.
As you expand past the four initial kingdoms, you’ll gain additional functions to make use of throughout the game. One of these involves assigning recruited Warlords tasks to perform in between stages, which can involve improving resident Pokémon, recruiting more Warlords for your cause, or searching for gold which can then be used to buy various items.
You’ll also need to think about whom you station where and why, as you can come under attack by neighboring countries on occasion, and being caught unawares can lead to you losing a location or two. This is less of an issue throughout the initial campaign, but optional end-game content makes better use of this possibility and at times it can feel like an intense game of cat and mouse with a few rambunctious neighbors.
Along with this, you’ll also gain the ability to recruit and add wild Pokémon that aren’t attached to un-recruited Warlords. You characters can all have control of a number of Pokémon at a time, and making an eclectic mix for some of the late-game fights you’ll get into is definitely a good idea. And since you’ll surely want to level up, and evolve those Pokémon, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time with the game if you’re at all interested in seeing everything the game has to offer.
The core campaign can be kind of short if you just blaze through the content, but there’s so much end-game and post-game stuff to see that you’ll find a surprising amount of stuff past just the initial campaign. So while this might not have the legs that a typical Pokémon RPG from Nintendo tends to have, it’s still pretty robust.
Visually the game isn’t what I’d call outstanding, and I’d definitely say that something like Pokémon Black and White, or their upcoming sequels, has a better overall design and look to it than conquest. I’m not a huge fan of the animations in conquest, and art style is a little too generic for me to really enjoy. The stage designs that you’ll fight in do get a little inventive though, especially when invading a new location, so that’s nice to see.
Pokémon Conquest is definitely one of the best spin-off Pokémon titles I’ve ever played, and has enough meat to it, along with some standard Pokémon trappings, that fans of the traditional series will find a lot to like here. And if you’re more of a strategy RPG fan than you are a Pokémon fan, you’ll still get a lot of enjoyment out of this. It’s not the most challenging experience out there, but the sheer amount of content available makes this worth checking out.