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Video Game Review of Pokemon Conquest

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Posted by: Lawrence Napoli, Staff Writer
created 06/29/2012 - 2:13pm, updated 06/29/2012 - 3:57pm

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Pokémon with a Purpose

A Video Game review of Pokémon Conquest

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

            I am not a mobile gamer.  The only handheld system I ever owned was the original Gameboy and I only had a couple of games for it a million years ago.  When I get my game on, I like a nice big screen, a comfy seat and either the room to myself or an attentive audience to soak in the experience.  I used to be a rabid fan of RPGs, particularly JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) because of their focus on turn based strategy, party building mechanics and exploration.  [Side note #1: Final Fantasy VIII was the game that made me walk away from the franchise forever]  However, doing a little thrifty shopping at your local big box retailer can occasionally offer deals that might alter one’s preferences.

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Are you ready to beat some ass with Mewtwo?  Good luck finding him.

I recently picked up a Pokémon White DSI bundle on clearance for $70 (that’s the game, a white DSI and a case) and I must say, the game was very entertaining considering the fact that every expansion to the original Red and Blue hasn’t exactly reflected the exponential evolutionary rate of the gaming industry during the past 10 years.  Pokémon White got me back into the franchise a bit, but there’s still no purpose to the never ending capturing of critters and battles with random people who jump out of tall grass only to tell you some random soliloquy after you’ve beaten their ass.  If only they could take the Pokémon franchise into a game production that had a reasonable story, dynamic game format and an actual purpose while retaining the patented collectability and cast of characters.  To this I say to you all: Look no further than Pokémon Conquest!

Setup

            Pokémon Conquest is an isometric, turn based strategy RPG developed by Tecmo Koei that was published and distributed by Nintendo for the DS (which can also be played on the DSI and 3DS).  The game puts the player in the role of a generic male or female general in the fictional world of Nobunaga’s Ambition.  What’s unique about this game is that instead of recruiting and allocating resources to amass armies, the player is rounding up Pokémon to do the actual fighting on the field of battle.  Different scenarios within Pokémon Conquest have various map sizes and difficulties, but the name of the game is still making parties of Pokémon strong enough to invade enemy castles, defend said castles and continue your campaign until you own the field.  This game is the perfect lovechild between Ogre Battle for the SNES and Lords of the Realm II for the PC.  If you like castle conquest games and Pokémon, or either as individuals, this is a must-own game for you. 

2069 2070 <-------- Can you see the resemblance?

Left = Conquest

Right = Ogre Battle

                 

 

  

Story

            Like all Pokémon games, there really isn’t much of a plot at work here.  There’s no rhyme or reason to all the warring factions in the Ransei Region, but they all seem to have the same motive for defeating everyone else: peace.  [Side note #2: peace obtained by obliterating everyone else is not really peace and is perhaps the most common plot device used in video game history] Very little is revealed about the player’s main character other than he or she develops a special bond with an Evee at childhood which eventually becomes the player’s marquee starting Pokémon and perhaps most balanced unit in the game.  Through the course of various campaigns, the player will be introduced to other signature warlords who each have their preferences to the type of armies they feature (much like gym leaders in standard Pokémon games), but the big bad of this game is Nobunaga himself who wants to destroy the region in addition to the unnamed Legendary Pokémon that supposedly created said region in the first place. 

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This is the manner in which most of the "story" plays out.

Basics

            The overall structure of this game involves a turn based series of activities from army assembly, training, castle maintenance and strategic attack that all involve the deployment of the player’s trainers/warlords that happen to be at their disposal.  Each turn represents the passing of 1 month’s time.  In order to do anything, the player must assign someone to do it and each personality can only do one activity per turn/month.  The number of personalities a player has recruited is directly proportional to the amount of activities a player can complete in one turn.  Each personality can be sent to the training grounds to fight or capture wild Pokémon, purchase items at the local shop, use gold at the local bank to upgrade locations within a particular kingdom (yielding better items at the shop and better Pokémon on the field), mine for gold or go to the local grocery to feed Pokémon that have a low energy rating (the higher a Pokémon’s energy, the more effective they are on the field).  For these activities to be completed successfully, the player can assign more than one personality to work as a team (highly recommended for recruiting/training/invading), but beware, only 6 personalities can occupy each castle under the player’s control so there are limits as to how many Pokémon can fight at once, mine for gold, etc.  (And no, you cannot send multiple armies of fully filled squads against single enemy locations – there will never be more than 12 Pokémon on the field at once) 

Pokémon and Warlords

            Pokémon aren’t exactly “captured” with Poke Balls in this game.  Trainers/warlords “link” with them in the same manner they would fight them on the field, but instead of destroying them, they befriend them.  Thankfully, multiple Pokémon can be attached to single personalities which allows for some level of adaptability, but Pokémon cannot be swapped in and out of active battles and only active Pokémon gain experience.  The player must reassign the Pokémon each trainer will feature prior to any engagement if a change is desired, so if you’re wondering what happened to that wild Charmander you just captured, it’s not gone, you just have to assign it under the “Information” option at the castle icon.  From that menu, the player can view each warlord’s type preference in addition to the stats of each Pokémon in their possession.  This is vital in seeking ideal Pokémon for the player’s warlords as there are seemingly infinite individuals to recruit each having a so called “perfect link.”

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Not every link is "perfect."

            Pokémon also do not “level” they way they have in standard games as their strength and evolution is tracked by the “link percentage” each has achieved with their respective warlord.  The higher the link percentage, the stronger the Pokémon and when certain percentages are reached, the Pokémon will evolve.  Most trainers the player recruits will not have ideal Pokémon on them already so the maximum link percentage is usually capped at around 30-50%.  This means if a warlord has a Charmeleon with a link capped at 42% and it evolves to the next form at 50%, there’s no way that warlord will see Charizard.  Warlords that find their “perfect links” can achieve 100% synergy with that Pokémon and will eventually see their ultimate forms, that is, for Pokémon that don’t require items to evolve (yeah that annoying mechanic carried over from the standard games as well).  I’ve put at least 25 hours into this game and have only discovered a few perfect links.      

            So how come the Pokémon do all the work?  Well, the warlords themselves can contribute by using their unique special ability for their respective Pokémon once per battle.  These effects range from healing individuals/groups, higher accuracy, greater damage, increased movement range, curing status ailments and so on and so forth.  I really like this element of the battles because it not only makes the type of Pokémon that is battling important, it also makes whoever is controlling them actually relevant.  

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You see? Warlords can contribute once in a while.

Gameplay and Battles

             Pokémon Conquest is not a game that requires any degree of dexterity as real time is simply not a factor.  The game is testing your mind and knowledge of Pokémon to form a strategy to achieve victory, given certain limitations.  As such, most of the “play” involves navigating through several menus out of battle while managing the field in battle by commanding where Pokémon move and who to attack.  In fact, the only modest challenge to this game is the timing mini-game that prompts every time the player attempts to link with a new Pokémon.  Only young children and people with zero hand-eye coordination should fear this.

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Get used to this screen.  You'll be making plenty of party alterations.

            The battles in Pokémon Conquest are without question, the most fun and dynamic expression of this fictional experience to date.  The animations are very approrpiate for the kind of attacks we're used to seeing in the standard games.  Each Pokémon have various movement ranges to simulate the burden of bulk.  Heavy tanks will move only a few spots at a time while light flyers can move across the whole field in a turn or two.  It’s not just the movement, but the placement of your units that is step 1 in achieving victory.  Sure, it might sound good fielding a squad of light flyers that pelt your opposition from a distance, but their damage output per turn is much lower than tanks and if one gets close enough, it can wipe out your whole party.

            I also enjoy all of the different fields of battle because the environment can have a huge impact on the outcome of a confrontation.  Larger fields that have lots of obstacles will favor some Pokémon while smaller ones will favor others.  It doesn’t end there.  Some fields are more than static as some parts can be interacted with to discover items while hitting switches can set traps for enemy Pokémon (or your own if you don’t learn the field) that could allow a party of weaker Pokémon to defeat a stronger one.  Some fields also change the landscape around you periodically which forces the player to change strategy on the fly.

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The blue designates the movement range of your Evee on crack.

Still, simply having stronger Pokémon will always be a winning strategy in every confrontation but knowing how they attack must also be taken into consideration.  Pokémon attacks have various ranges and patterns so it’s not as simple as running up to the closest enemy and punching it in the face.  Some can hit multiple targets while others can strike only one.  Some attacks result in the enemy being moved while others actually move yours. 

“Duh, Winning” Strategies

            It might seem like a lot has to be thought about while playing this game, but believe me, it all becomes second nature with a little trial and error.  Control, however, is an element of this game that favors the player over the AI.  You can save at any point during this game whether it is in between turns while managing castles or during actual battles.  But be warned, this could act like a double-edged sword as saving in the middle of a battle could have you committed to a fight you really can’t win and there’s only 1 save slot.  As a result, I never suggest saving during battles while saving like a madman on the management screen.

            In order to raise an army of epic Pokémon warriors, the player needs to recruit unaffiliated trainers/warlords.  There’s no negotiation or bribery involved in this game.  To get their services, the player must defeat these trainers in battle in convincing fashion, using as little turns as possible to KO their Pokémon.  This isn’t too difficult at the beginning of the main game as the player’s Evee is much more powerful than the common trainers you encounter early on.  The type of trainers and the Pokémon they use is randomly generated turn by turn (or they may not appear at all) so consider saving before ending a turn if you keep encountering weak or redundant Pokémon/trainers so as to reload and perhaps get something better when you end the turn once again.

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Pikachu is neither weak, nor redundant.

            Do your Pokémon a favor and give them items because the AI will use them against you.  Yes, even common potions are expensive seeing how items can only be used by the Pokémon that equip them prior too battle and most of them evaporate when they are used once, but if you have no warlords that have healing abilities you might be up the creek without a paddle.  Always consider healing items as a safety net for your Pokémon, but don’t be compelled to use them every battle because Pokémon don’t actually “die” (it is a kid friendly franchise, after all).  They just get KO’d and will be revived to full health after every battle, regardless of the outcome.  Unless you have a team of Pokémon mining gold every turn (and you can auto-delegate your trainers/warlords to do so every turn if you wish) you aren’t going to be earning a ton of gold as a result of battles and the really good items like rare equipment could suck your coffers dry in one shot.  Knowing what to buy and how much to buy is a strategy in and of itself.

            Recruit dragon type Pokémon at the beginning of every campaign!  This may be outside of the player’s control because region and randomness determine the trainers that are available to be recruited, but if dragons appear, you must get them.  Even the weakest dragon types like Dratini and Axew use the “dragon rage” attack that always does 40 points of damage to any Pokémon it hits, regardless of type.  Most Pokémon don’t have 40 health points in the first year’s worth of turns so this amounts to a one hit kill despite its occasional inaccuracy.  It also happens to be a ranged attack that melts anything two spots directly in front of the dragon so you could wipe out two enemies, with one shot, from one Pokémon, in one turn.  Watch out though.  To recruit or link with these dragons early on is risky as the Pokémon you currently have probably don’t have durability or exceptional damage dealing on their side.

            Use alpha strikes!  (I.E. everyone attacking the same enemy on the same turn) It is the single most important strategy I can recommend to the player for victory in battles.  Early on in any campaign, few Pokémon are strong enough to KO enemies with one hit, so concentrating your team’s attacks on one target eliminates threats methodically, but effectively.  It also counters the AI’s rampant use of healing items/abilities, especially in more difficult campaigns.  Even if you have a numbers advantage in a battle, sending two Pokémon to deal with one enemy might not be enough while the enemy heals the party on its next turn, thus negating whatever progress you just made.

Conclusion

            This is a very fun game for fans of turn based RPGs.  However, even fans of Pokémon might be turned off by the time commitment to complete not just the main story, but all the unique campaigns that unlock after.  This could mean total hours spent playing this game well over 50, give or take 10 based on the player’s skill.  Still, it’s a nice experience even for those with limited attention spans because of the “save any time” option so theoretically one could pick it up and play anywhere for any amount of time.  This game was a huge surprise for me and I never would have considered it had I not gotten back into handheld gaming.  Well done Tecmo Koei!  You have proven that great games that aren’t “Pokémon” can be made using Pokémon.  Now let’s see if a brave developer exists that could produce an MMO based on this franchise because it seems like a “perfect link” to me and Nintendo sure doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to be risky with its single most important IP next to Mario.

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