The Pokémon series of games has flourished for over a decade, with several diversions from the main path which have brought mixed success. Slap the name Pokémon onto a game and as long as you have adorable creatures which have both young and old chasing after them you will have a reasonable chance of selling a truckload irrespective of how the game plays.
One genre which the franchise has yet to dabble in is turn-based strategy, and the surprise here surely is how long it has taken rather than the fact that it has happened. Pokémon are a perfect pairing for a turn-based strategy game, but does Pokémon Conquest live up to the potential?
Pokémon Conquest is actually a crossover with the Japanese game franchise, Nobunaga’s Ambition. It takes place in the land of Ransei, resembling feudal Japan. Warriors and warlords in Ransei possess the unique ability to communicate wordlessly with Pokémon, and through this are able to defend and conquer territories. Legend has it that if a single warrior can conquer all 17 kingdoms of Ransei, the Pokémon that created Ransei will reveal itself. Your main rival Oda Nobunaga, has his heart set on taking over the land and destroying Ransei.
Players of turn-based strategy games will feel much at home in Pokémon Conquest, but there is a frustratingly slow pace in the early stanza as the plot and gameplay mechanics are introduced. At its heart, this is a typical 6 vs. 6 turn-based strategy game involving Pokémon instead of tanks and infantry, but there are other elements intertwined into the experience.
Rather than simply being a case of fighting battle after increasingly hard battle, in Pokémon Conquest you are tasked also with managing the Kingdoms that you conquer. Within each Kingdom you can train up your warriors and Pokémon, as well as shop for items to help in battles or improve your army. Warriors can be assigned to be stationed in your Kingdoms, and can be instructed to perform set duties if you would rather not micromanage each Kingdom. Managing Kingdoms also works on a turn-based system, with each game month allowing only one action, which means players will need to decide how best to use their limited time to benefit their army.
The battles are where most players will focus their attention on though, and will probably be a more satisfying experience than Kingdom management. Pokémon battles have always been turn-based, but now an additional dimension has been added which will require you to consider where Pokémon are placed on the battlefield, as well as the many and varied environmental traps and obstacles designed to both help and hinder in the different unique landscapes that exist in Ransei. Falling rocks, booby traps, dynamic elements such as opening/closing bridges, and shortcuts that transport you to another area of the maps are just some of the many features of the battlefield that you will need to contend with.
As with all games in the Pokémon series, each Pokémon type has a particular elemental type – water-type Pokémon will dominate fire-types, and so on. This is in natural alignment with the rock-paper-scissors mechanic at the heart of turn-based strategry games, and composing the best army of 6 Pokémon for the job is half the battle won. Each Pokémon also has a special move which can be an offensive or defensive weapon, and this too will come into consideration when preparing for battle. Special moves can only be used once per battle, a restriction which also applies to use of items since each Pokémon can only hold a single item.
Most battles are fought “to the death”, but some are “capture the flag” or “survive x number of turn” challenges. Battles can be long, not only because of the scenario itself, but also because attack animations can’t be skipped forward or turned off. Unlike traditional turn-based strategy games battles don’t start of slow as you build up your army in numbers before choosing the most opportune time to strike – here you start with up to 6 Pokémon and can never add to that number.
After winning a battle, the “link” between each Pokémon and its warrior increases, but there are limits on how strong certain Pokémon can link with certain warriors. Die-hard fans will work on perfectly pairing Pokémon with warriors whom can form a “Perfect Link” with them. There isn’t a strong focus on “collect ‘em all” in Conquest, but there are 200 waiting to be caught/linked with by those inclined.
If you leave your Kingdoms unprotected, your foes may choose to invade, but this is uncommon. Therefore most of the time it is simply a case of preparing for battle and then moving forth to attack other Kingdoms and progress through the game. The game has a decent amount of content and should keep players entertained for hours – more for serious Pokémon fans.
Graphically, Pokémon Conquest won’t be winning any awards, but then again Pokémon games have always managed to prove highly successful even in the face of criticism of its looks. Multiplayer is available with other owners of the game (up to 2 players and each requires their own copy of the game), but there is no online WiFi play despite a misleading “Nintendo WiFi connection” logo on the box – that’s simply for downloading occasional additional game content.
Pokémon Conquest is a fun diversion from the usual fare of the series. Pokémon fans who enjoy turn-based strategy will appreciate this crossover title, which should also have a wider appeal to other gamers. The pacing is at times annoyingly slow but ultimately doesn’t detract from a rather solid gaming experience.