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Pokemon Conquest Review

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Pokemon Conquest

Pokemon Conquest

Image © Nintendo
The main entries in the Pokemon gamesPokemon Red/Blue, HeartGold/SoulSilver, etc.—are role-playing adventures that are packed with fantastic creatures and fun. Most Pokemon spin-off games, however, aren't nearly as solid. Well, get ready for a big surprise: Pokemon Conquest for the Nintendo DS is a spin-off that combines the Pokemon universe with the strategy genre. The end product should delight Pokemon fans, and even non-fans will like it.

Developer: Tecmo-Koei
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E
Genre: Strategy
Compatible With:
Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo DSi
Nintendo DSi XL
Nintendo DS Lite
Original Style Nintendo DS

The Basics: Pokemon at War

Interestingly, Pokemon Conquest is meant to be an entry in Tecmo-Koei’s long-running Nobunga’s Ambition series of turn-based strategy games. The Nobunaga’s Ambition titles all follow the saga of Oda Nobunaga, a warlord who sought to conquer and unify feudal Japan in the 1500’s. While several entries in the Nobunaga’s Ambition series have made it to North America, the majority have seen release exclusively in Japan.

It’s moot, because you don’t need to know a thing about Nobunaga’s Ambition to enjoy Pokemon Conquest. Mind, it’s fun to discover the parallels on your own: each Pokemon trainer/warlord is named after a real figure from Japan’s history, and you begin the game with a clear understanding of why you’re fighting to conquer kingdoms in a land where everybody wears clothing inspired by Japan’s feudal era.

Nevertheless, Pokemon Conquest has a pretty basic story, and you should be able to enter it cold. Here’s all you need to know: the Ransei Region (the land wherein the game takes place) carries a legend about how the godlike Pokemon Arceus will show itself to the warlord who manages to conquer and unite Ransei’s 17 kingdoms. Thus, Ransei’s kingdoms are constantly at war, with each warlord hoping to dominate all the others and thus win an encounter with Arceus.

You play as a warlord, too (male or female), and begin your own journey to meet Arceus. However, you discover quickly that the warlord Nobunaga wants to use Arceus’s power to raze Ransei to the ground. You decide you must unify the land and meet Arceus before he does.

Pokemon Conquest is a turn-based strategy game. You can take up to six Pokemon out onto each battlefield, and command them to move and/or attack. When you’ve used up all your moves or otherwise end your turn, your opponent makes his or her moves. Generally, your goal is to defeat every rival Pokemon on the field, though you must occasionally meet other goals to win the day.

Whenever you invade a kingdom and defeat its warlord in a Pokemon battle, you are typically given the chance to recruit rival warlords and their Pokemon. This is your main means of growing your army and striking the elemental balance that’s crucial to winning battles. You can also “link” with wild Pokemon in between full-scale battles with warlords. If the Pokemon grow to trust you, they’ll fight on your side.

Winning at Pokemon Conquest requires you to think strategically, especially since each Pokemon only has one active move at its disposal, as well as one passive move. You must also think about how you should move across the varying types of terrain that you encounter in each kingdom. Finally, every warlord has an ability that can help his or her Pokemon out of tough spots, and familiar items from the traditional Pokemon games—Potions, burn heals, paralyze heals, and whatnot—are available for purchase at shops.

The Good

There’s lots to do -- Pokemon Conquest isn’t just about conquering the world through Pokemon (though that’s a big part of it, of course). Strategy applies off the battlefield, too. Each warlord under your command can only move once a month, so you need to think about dividing your troops in the most efficient ways possible. That’s because you need to find and recruit freelance warlords, buy supplies, feed your Pokemon to boost their spirits, delegate generals to take care of your conquered kingdoms while you’re gone, and much more. You can technically plow through Pokemon Conquest, but it’s a lot more fun (and fulfilling) to take your time and move carefully.

The localization is good -- Nintendo always localizes its games with care, and Pokemon Conquest is no exception. The story is very G-rated for obvious reasons (despite being a game about war and conquest), but the characters are still interesting and funny, and the story is worth following.

Pokemon fans should like the change of pace -- Pokemon Conquest is a testament to the longevity and strength of the Pokemon franchise. Even though Conquest is a strategy game, the mechanics and powers that drive the Pokemon themselves are all familiar, and work wonderfully in their new environment. Established fans of the traditional Pokemon games will like the change of pace, but they won’t feel homesick, either.

Non-fans will come to appreciate Pokemon in a new light -- On the flipside, if there are certain elements that turn you off about traditional Pokemon games—say, random encounters, a thin story, etc.—then Pokemon Conquest is a great way to check out the series from a brand new angle. You might like what you see.

The game is challenging without being frustrating -- Pokemon Conquest won’t coddle you, but it’s still a very accessible turn-based strategy game. If you lose, the penalties aren’t nearly as severe as they are in other strategy titles, like Fire Emblem.

The Bad

The graphics are dull -- Pokemon games are pleasant to look at for the most part, but are rarely mind-blowing on a visual level. This is true for Pokemon Conquest, too. The Pokemon sprites are small and sparsely animated, and the battlefields can feel restricted and confined. The character art is well done, however.

Lesser warlord portraits repeat a lot -- Major warlords get their own portraits, but their minions—most of whom can also be recruited—tend to share character portraits, meaning you can wind up with an army of look-alikes. It gets confusing!

Conclusion: Pokemon Can Still Conquer All

Pokemon Conquest is one of this year’s nicest surprises for the Nintendo DS and 3DS. It’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s engaging, and it combines two popular properties with relative ease. If you’re tired of slogging through regular Pokemon battles, maybe it’s time for you to take your favorite critters out for a walk on a real battlefield.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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