Disclaimer: No guns will be “put on” in tonight’s article. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try another game if you wish to put your guns on.
So in their first collaborative pursuit Koei and The Pokemon Company team up to bring us a tactical RPG that combines our favorite Sengoku Musou heroes and our favorite Pokemon. Let’s get hands on with it all.
Pokemon Conquest is the combination of Pokemon into Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition tactical RPG series albeit with a much lighter spin. The game takes place in the land of Ransei, an alternate reality where famous warriors of the sengoku era team up with Pokemon and go to war and not a Pokeball to be seen (Good for Team Plasma I suppose).
Battle isn’t particularly difficult, in fact it’s pretty easy, but the most entertaining. If you know your Pokemon type chart, you’ve basically mastered half of combat. Hardcore fans of Disgaea and other more prolific tactics games won’t find level 9999 or some intricate formula of stats here (ironic when you consider how complex Pokemon gets with the IV system, pro-breeding techniques and other things). In fact, there is very little in-battle bookkeeping to be done. Your Pokemon get only one attack, with one ability, and have to move first and then attack not permitting the other way around. Your warlord has only one power usable once a battle and one item. That said, battle is fun and intuitive, you don’t need to be a genius to play the game, but you don’t need to be a novice to get a kick out of it. Experience players of tactics games and mainline Pokemon will know just what to do and won’t get any hand-holding from the game unless they explicitly ask for it.
The game is simple enough, but it is clever. The major battlefields where you challenge the main enemy warlords are varied and unique. Sometimes you have capture the flag missions instead but the big winner is the environment, which can and will try to kill you. Whether it’s the fierce sandstorm in Takeda Shingen’s ground stage or Tokugawa Ieyasu’s gear maze in the steel stage, the game allows you to be resourceful and take full advantage of the field.
Outside of battle, you can see your Pokemon’s energy level, a constantly fluctuating level that dictates battle performance. Keeping it high by feeding onigiri at the Ponigiri stand helps with the upkeep. Instead of levels, your Pokemon has a link percent. Logically, as your Pokemon performs its link with its warrior partner will rise, the higher the better. In fact, this is how most Pokemon evolve. But not every Pokemon can reach 100% link with every warrior. You will have to manage which warrior gets which Pokemon, in pursuit of pairing your men with the right monsters to get 70%, 90%, or most optimally 100% potential link levels. The link system has you spend lots of time with one Pokemon, which makes evolution something you have to work for, but all more sweeter when you see the awesome power boost from Eevee to one his seven stronger forms. That said, part of me wishes you could transfer Pokemon among your men. It’s kind of a downer when one guy has 100% potential link with that awesome Larvitar in your army but he’s stuck and welded to some nimrod who only has 44% max link with him. Unless you track down a new Larvitar, you’re not getting a Tyranitar in your ranks.
Part of a great crossover is the ability to combine the best of both worlds, and well, the game does combine both worlds. You’re not really supposed to expect much from the plot but I hoped for the characterization of the warlords to be a bit deeper in the game. The game inherits the Pokemon classic of nil amounts of story. Most of the main story dialogue is pre-battle grandstanding “You cannot defeat me HERO NAME. For I, the great Kanatsugu fight for love and justice!” to post-battle whining “Nooo! How could you defeat me?”. Luckily, the game also inherits the Pokemon virtue of having oodles of post-game content and DLC. Thankfully, you get to see a little more personality from your men in their special post-game storylines, like how the aloof and cheery Takenaka Hanbei gets along with the ever grim Kuroda Kanbei. And thankfully, because of the companies we’re talking about here, we have tons of juicy side stories as free DLC coming our way and tons of free Pokemon passwords to bolster your troops. Right at launch, you can download Chosokabe Motochika and Mori Motonari with their powerful Pokemon. The sidequests easily outdo the main quest and will keep you entertained much longer, which is great, since more random variables are introduced like enemy invasions, nation development, and legendary Pokemon battles.
While the plot is on the nonexistent side, the art direction is in full force. Rather than just do something lazy like use the Samurai Warriors 3 renders or something equally as lazy, the artists re-imagined all of the cast as Pokemon trainers. Light Pokemon motifs and new designs for all your favorite characters. Even better is when your warlords “evolve” or “transform” when paired with the right Pokemon, where their outfits become more decorated with designs that complement the Pokemon they resonate most with. It was amusing to use a child version of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and level him up with Chimchar until I finally had a more adult moustachioed version of him commanding a fierce Infernape and (by DLC) Reshiram at the end of his story. The Pokemon also look impressive. Instead of the official art and sprites, each Pokemon has a new piece of art in some dynamic action pose. From an angry-eyebrows Eevee to art of Servine jumping for joy like Snoopy. A very smart touch.
My only real complaint is the very obtuse menu system and difficulty behind mere micromanagement of troops in this game. You will see the moving troops animation more times than you can count, just so you have all your men in all the right places, because once your perform any action like enter battle, get recruited, or even go to the item shop, your warrior is stuck in that nation, taking up one of the six slots until the next in-game month (turn phase). This is really important in post-game because you don’t want to dump all your new recruits and weaker troops in a nation next to an enemy nation because they will invade you.
Items are also a nightmare too. You have to choose a nation, click “info”, scroll through your men one-by-one, exit the info page for that nation, click another nation, click info, and then remember why you even checked equipment in the first place. Simply having a good overview mode or pressing L or R to swap between nations should be simple enough. There will be plenty of times when you ask yourself “Hm, do I have a strong enough ground type” and then you’ll move your cursor from nation to nation looking for one until you remember after the battle that that one dude that you stationed in starter nation had that Sandile that didn’t show up in the “search” function because his currently equipped Pokemon was a Sewaddle.
And of course, you have to scroll through more menus just to see your enemies’ stats in battle when all your really should have to do is hover over them and press a single button without missing a beat of the action. I mean, you’re on the DS, a system that has proven itself to be fantastic for tactics games like Knights in the Nightmare. Moving around your men and managing information should literally be with a flick of the stylus on something reminiscent of the Pokemon PC box, and seeing them should be even easier.
If you can bear with the menu system, Pokemon Conquest is a game you can sink your teeth into right away. Battle is streamlined and intuitive with plenty of surprises in the post-game quest. With about 200 Pokemon from all across the series to pick and over 100 warlords to recruit, you’ll wanna conscript ’em all into your ranks.
Join me next time when I ride a Wailord like a hot air balloon.
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