Nintendo TWLPVPYT Pokemon Conquest for Nintendo DS
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Pokemon Conquest, however, is the one iteration I never expected to see release in America, primarily because of its deep roots in Japanese history and peculiar play style, which is typically more popular in Japanese markets. I even made a bet that this game would never see an English release, and I still owe someone an Ash Ketchum hat over it. Still, I'm glad I was wrong, because this game was definitely worth my time.
WHAT I LIKED:
- The gameplay: Pokemon Conquest is, appropriately, a game about conquering. You'll manage armies of Warriors and their accompanying Pokemon, as you attempt to conquer the Ransei region. Between battles, you'll move units around the map to fortify your positions, get into fights with wild Pokemon to add them to your arsenal, purchase items like potions or evolutionary stones, and carefully battle your way from from kingdom to kingdom in order to conquer the entire region.
Combat shares a lot of common ties with the main Pokemon series - you select up to six Pokemon to bring into battle with you. Each one has a 'type', which grants it strengths and weaknesses against other types, as well as an ability that can change the way it interacts with the playing field or with other Pokemon. Each Pokemon only knows a single attack, and it seems like nearly all these attack draw from existing attacks in other Pokemon games, even having identical functionality in some cases. Pokemon can also evolve if certain conditions are met, making them more powerful and often replacing their existing attack with a new, more powerful one.
There are some large differences, though. Combat takes place on large grid-based maps, each with unique features such as trap doors or pools of lava that lead to constantly-evolving strategies. Rather than two opposing Pokemon taking shots at each other one at time, all the Pokemon on a team act in tandem, so planning how two Pokemon will work together is essential to victory. Especially since each Pokemon only has a single attack, and the range/area of the attack can affect both your Pokemon and your opponent's, coordinating the different members of your team to work efficiently together can be a rewarding challenge. If you've played games like Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Fire Emblem, you can expect a similar experience.
The game's storytelling is split up into over 30 different episodes, each starting you off with a different warlord and giving you an objective, like 'Conquer all of Ransei' or 'Link with 100 Pokemon', and your objective is to beat all these episodes to access the game's true ending. Because you're constantly changing which characters you control, and because the link percentages of all the Pokemon reset with each episode, the traditional Pokemon concept of having 'your own team' that you've been training and leveling is out the window here. For some, this may be a turnoff, but I ultimately find that it helps make each new campaign challenging.
- The universe: As a region, Ransei is great. Each of the Warlords (main characters) in the game has their own personality, motivations, and relationships, many of them based off of the very historical figures they're named after, though sometimes in more exaggerated or fictional forms. For example, Hideyoshi, the fire warlord, is a loyal lieutenant to dragon warlord and primary protagonist Nobunaga, just as his namesake historically was. The character's costumes are also very vibrant and eye-catching - their outfits are based both on traditional Japanese garb and the Pokemon with which each character has a 'best link,' giving them a unique sense of flair.
Each of the different episodes in the game offers a brief amount of insight into each characters' motivations and personality, though admittedly if you're looking for a deep and complex story, you might want more than the game is willing to give. For the most part, the characters are all motivated by the desire to conquer Ransei, which is pretty two-dimensional, but taking into consideration that these games are largely for children, I didn't expect anything all that complex. Mostly these episodes serve to remix the gameplay and keep it fresh, and to that extent I think they succeed.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
- Lack of guidance: In the interest of full disclosure, I had stopped playing this game for a long time after I first got it, and here's why. When you start the game, you're put onto a world map with kingdoms on it, and these kingdoms have a lot of elements to them - item shops, Ponigiri stands (rice balls for Pokemon), gold mines, etc., all with the ability to be upgraded. Especially when you're doing the first episode of the game, which is pretty easy, these features seem largely unnecessary, and because they weren't well explained in-game, they only serve to confuse you when you're just starting out, so you just ignore them and move on. Eventually, thinking there wasn't much depth to the experience, I put the game down.
Then I started playing again, and discovered that these various little shops and locations actually add a fair amount of depth to the gameplay, as they help you link with more Pokemon, but if you don't sit down and actually take the time to figure them out, it's easy to undervalue them or just write them off altogether. I would've preferred that perhaps the game had 3 introductory episodes rather than just, with each slowly acclimating you to the idea that managing your kingdoms is an important part of progressing and ultimately winning the game.
- Minor balance issues: This I feel is a lesser issue with the game, but one worth bringing up because it caused me a fair amount of frustration. There's one character in particular, named Ranmaru, who is a dragon warlord and one of Nobunaga's lieutenants. This warlord, as an NPC, always starts with a Dratini, which knows the Dragon Rage attack. Much like in the main Pokemon games, Dragon Rage always does 40 damage, regardless of Dratini's level. I came to hate Ranmaru and his Dratini with a burning passion.
The reason for my frustration was that, at the very start of the game when everyone's link percentage is very low and Pokemon don't have much health to speak of, Dratini's Dragon Rage can usually obliterate your Pokemon in a single hit, making it incredibly difficult to deal with early on, doubly so because the kinds of Pokemon you usually start with aren't very effective against a Dragon-type. There's a whole series of shorter episodes that involve Ranmaru as an opponent, and I dreaded doing each one, all because of that Dratini. The frustration I experienced at the receiving end of that one attack is one of the most prominent experiences that comes to mind when I think about this game. Aside from Dragon Rage, I think most of the game is pretty fair, and because of the insane challenge I found that my victories over Ranmaru were all the more satisfying.
Pokemon Conquest is a good game. It's not a five-star game for certain - I can't imagine myself being willing to put down a 5-star game like I did with this one - but it still has a lot of merits and is worth the dozens of hours I put into it. I feel like the game could've gotten a lot more play time out of me if I'd had someone to have multiplayer battles with, but the lack of online play or other people with copies of the game made that impossible for me. Overall, any complaints I have about the game can't outweigh the overall positive experience I had, so I definitely recommend this one for Pokemon fans and turn-based tactics fans alike.