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Pokémon Conquest

September 6, 2012

Firstly, I’m a sucker for Pokémon games so getting this was more or less a given. Secondly, it has come out at a most opportune time, before the pre-Christmas release avalanche has had chance to snowball.

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Pokémon Conquest is a spin-off of the main Pokémon game series. Instead of travelling regions, catching Pokémon and battling trainers to become a Pokémon master, you play as a warlord in a feudal era Japan-like country. Warlords, and warriors, have an empathic link with Pokémon and use them in battle against other warlords. With your host of warriors and Pokémon, your goal is to unite the 17 kingdoms of Ransei under one banner.

Though recognisable to fans of the main series, the gameplay is quite removed from the usual Pokémon mould. Instead, it more closely resembles Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a high quality TRPG* from a while back. Battles are played out on a small isometric field, with up to six warriors, one Pokémon each, on each side. Play is turn-based but you can move Pokémon in whatever order you wish. Because of the layout, it’s possible to gang up on enemies to really lay in the boot. Conversely, you might have the strongest Pokémon in the world but can’t do anything with it because it can’t move very far in a turn.

Most warriors start out with one Pokémon but you can soon acquire more. This is by means of forming an emotional link with a Pokémon during a battle with wild Pokémon. This involves a short mini-game of pressing A in time to a sequence. Deciding who to link with is an issue. Different warriors will reach a maximum link strength with different Pokémon so you can get the most out of linking with a Pokémon your warrior is going to get along with.

With a myriad of warriors scattered throughout the kingdoms, the cast list easily runs into the hundreds. Even restricted to the main cast (Who I define as have more than one line of personable dialogue), there are more than two dozen different characters. The plots are fairly weak. After completing the first story, several other stories are unlocked, focussing on a different warlord each time. They have different goals (Conquer Ransei, collect 100 Pokémon, take over some of Ransei, et cetera) but it’s not like you can do anything else so the motivation is largely irrelevant.

Then again, plot has never been a major part of Pokémon games. They rarely get much further than pointing you in a direction and leaving you to it, despite how much the writers try otherwise.

The music is naturally repetitive but is charming enough and of such quality that it doesn’t grate too much on your sanity. The artwork is pleasingly vibrant and well-drawn. Beyond the major characters, most warrior sprites are re-used often but they are not hopelessly generic. Unlike the excesses of Pokémon Black and White, the endless information pages do not overwhelm you with statistics.

With so many warriors and Pokémon about, a large part of the game is micromanagement which can get rather tedious. Despite my usual obsessive nature, I’ve no desire to link with however many Pokémon there are in Ransei and towards the end of a story, I’ve amassed so many warriors that, aside from the dozen or so regulars, most just sit on their hands in my conquered kingdoms. The different stories, with their varying goals, do keep it from going too stale and offers a real sense of replay value.

With little connection (other than the Pokémon) to the main series, this is a game that would be accessible for everyone. However, some people may not like the heavy focus on tactical and managerial play. However, if you played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, or maybe Advance Wars or Fire Emblem, the gameplay will be quite welcoming.For me at least, this engaging and lengthy diversion will tide me over nicely, and settle the shakes, until October 12th when Pokémon Black and White 2 are released.

*- Tactical Role-Playing Game (But you already knew that)

EDIT: I’ve finally completed the game, finishing the chapters for each warlord. While they do add variety, there is little in the way of pay-off. Other than a different ending credits sequence, there was no marker or reward for the 130 hours that I had poured into this game. A bit of a shame but more fool me. Even the final chapter, with supposedly difficult AI, was straightforward. The only challenge this game provides is the sheer volume of missions to accomplish (for the sake of accomplishing them).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2012 2:04 pm

    In the days of Diamond & Pearl, I remember fantasizing about Pokémon going in a direction similar to this and how interesting I thought it could be. I am glad to see that they are experimenting with other kinds of RPG systems/mechanic, and if it works out for them I can imagine this being a successful spin-off series like Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d say that this could benefit from a more in-depth story, but I think it’s unfair to criticize Pokémon games in that category now. It looks light-hearted, fun, and a fresh take on the franchise, so I might check this out.

    Thanks for the article.

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