Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 06/18/2012
When Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition was first announced, it caught everyone off guard. It was such a bizarre idea for a crossover that people seemed to hate it or love just based off the announcement. Personally, I was thrilled, my favorite Koei games have always been from the Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms games. Add in the fact that we were getting the first pure Pokémon SRPG out of this and I pretty much had a dream mash-up in this game. However I was skeptical as to whether or not Nintendo would bring this to North America. After all, they stumbled with several JRPGs, they’ve left several Pokémon RPGS, which are guaranteed money in the bank, un-translated and the DS is all but dead over here. Of course we also can’t forget that the big Tecmo Koei/Nintendo crossover, Fatal Frame 4 is never coming stateside (BOO!) and that Spirit Camera was…less than what fans of that franchise wanted to see.
When the game came out in Japan, it received universally positive reviews. Critics loved the mash-up, the gameplay, the blending of Pokémon with a historical Japanese setting, replay value that was through the roof and how Tecmo Koei managed to make one of their historical strategy games (which can be overwhelming even for longtime fans) easily accessible to children. All in all, the game pretty much impressed everyone and won over even the most skeptical of Nobunaga fans. Now under the name Pokémon Conquest, the game has arrived on North American shores. Will it be able to wow gamers the same way it did in Japan? It’s time to find out.
Pokémon Conquest takes place in the same Pokémon world that all the core turn based RPGs do, so this is in continuity with Kanto, Johto and all the other regions you’ve travelled to in the past decade and a half as a Pokémon fan in the same way places like Fiore from the Pokémon Ranger series exist. The new region is named Ransei and it is similar to the feudal Japan that the Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Five Kingdoms games take place in. You’ll also notice that Ransei is shaped like a very familiar legendary Pokémon…
In Ransei, you have Warlords rather than Trainers and each Warlord has a special link to a single species of Pokémon. An interesting quality of Ransei is that human evolve into stronger forms along with their Pokémon through a psychic link between the two. Ransei is made up of seventeen regions, each of which has an affinity for a specific type of Pokémon. The region the game begins in, Primus is home to Normal type Pokémon, while the region of Violight is filled primarily with Electric type Pokémon.
The plot of the game is very similar to titles like Dragon Force, Dark Wizard, Brigandine and Master of Monsters, in which the player and all the CPU controlled Kingdoms are trying to conquer the entire map and unite into a single kingdom. Each primary character has their own motivation for doing so, although you do only ever get one main character in this game unlike the similar games from the 32-Bit era that offered between six and eight choices for a main character. ..at least at first. Through grinding, fulfilling certain conditions and beating the game, you unlock new campaigns to play outside of the core “Lord of Primus” storyline.
You can choose the gender of your main Pokémon, but like the Gamecube Pokémon RPGs, you don’t get to choose your starting Pokémon. Instead, you’re stuck with Eevee, which isn’t a bad thing consider all the different evolutions you can get with one. Considering Zekrom is the Nobunaga’s final Pokémon, you might want to evolve your Eevee into something strong against that like Glaceon, especially if you’re new to the rock/paper/scissors combat stylings of Pokémon. Your job? To stop Nobunaga from ransacking all of Ransei while gaining new warriors and warlords (and thus their Pokémon) to help you out in your endeavor.
The story may sound simple from this description, but it’s actually quite charming and should delight any gamer that picks this up. It oozes the usual Nintendo charm that makes people a wee bit zealous about their games, is true to the Pokémon franchise and is still very much a Tecmo Koei game. If you’re a fan of old school SRPGs like Shining Force or Fire Emblem and also RPGs where you run around conquering the world like in my beloved Dragon Force, you’re going to find the game entertaining on multiple levels.
Story Rating: Good
As Pokémon Conquest is a DS game, it’s obviously not going to compete with the visuals of current consoles or even the modern day handhelds like the Vita and 3DS. That said, the game looks gorgeous, especially for a DS title. Tecmo Koei really squeezed every last bit of graphical power they could out of Nintendo’s decade+ old handheld and the end result is a game that actually looks better than a lot of 3DS titles.
The backgrounds are very well done with far more detail than you normally see in a tactical RPG (Graphics aren’t this genre’s strongpoint.). There are many types of terrain that you’ll encounter and each one has a specific effect on gameplay. I was pretty impressed by however thing looked, especially since it’s a DS game and we’ve spent the past year and a half with the system being neglected.
Character models look great. Human models both in cut scenes and on the battlefield resemble graphics from the Pokémon Ranger series. Like a lot of old school SRPGs, you have various static character portraits to convey emotion and push the story through. The portraits look great and each character has several different ones so you won’t be stuck with the same one throughout the game. All in all, this is one of the better looking RPGs on the DS, especially for the tactical sub-genre. I’d put it a bit above Devil Survivor in this department.
Graphics Rating: Good
Tecmo Koei and Pokémon games had one thing in common going into this title, and that’s that both tend to have incredible soundtracks with their games. Pokémon Conquest continues in that tradition and you’ll find that at least one of the tracks will stick in your head to the point where you will be humming it or whistling it hours later. The other aural aspects of the game are equally great. All the Pokémon in the game have their trademark noises and with roughly 200 cockfighting seizure monsters to collect, that’s a lot of different “voices” to be heard in a SRPG, even if the turn based games have more than double that these days. Sound effects are also exceptionally well done, and you will keep forgetting that you are playing what may be the last DS Exclusive that we’ll see until Black and White 2. Pokémon Conquest‘s is extremely impressive in the audio department and won’t fail to impress or delight you.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
This is by far the strongest area of the game and the actual gameplay of Pokémon Conquest is a nice mix of the “gotta catch ‘em all” aspects of the Pokémon franchise, the kingdom maintenance of Tecmo’s Ambition/Five Kingdoms titles and the grid based combat or SRPGs like Disgaea, Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics. All three of these aspects are scaled down a bit from their original incarnation making the game far more inviting to the average and/or younger gamer. So there won’t be hundreds of hours spent trying to catch one specific Pokémon, deciding how many bushels of rice to send to a territory while also balancing out peace treaties, or trying to get to level 9,999. Instead you’ll be getting a taste of all three, making Pokémon Conquest a gateway game to all three types of games in case you find yourself really liking one of the aspects.
Let’s talk battles first. If you’ve ever played a tactical RPG than you know basically know how to play this game. In a battle each side can have up to six Pokémon fighting for it. This is quite small for a SRPG, but that is because this is a nod to the core Pokémon RPGs. Each battle map has different terrain types, hazards and the like, so you’ll want to make sure you have Pokémon that are best suited for the battle. In addition each Pokémon has only a single attack in the game and it’s the only attack they will ever get, so you know have a second thing to consider. Another strategic aspect is that Pokémon and their Warlords (Trainers) each have a latent ability which passively affects the battle. More importantly, these latent abilities change as the Pokémon and Warlord evolve, so you have to constantly think about what your Pokémon has. For example, perhaps you have a Pokémon that doesn’t do a lot of damage but has an awesome support ability. It might be worth having this defensive oriented Pokémon in instead of an offensive one based on the battle. For example, the main character has a staring latent ability that gives his Pokémon an increased movement range. You could pair him up with an Eevee or Pikachu that has the Pokémon Ability to get a second movement phase if they defeat an opponent. These two abilities would stack letting Pikachu or Eevee really cover the field and be a great flanker.
There’s still other things to consider in combat, such as Pokémon Types which still come into play here and the Pokémon Link, which is unique to Pokémon Conquest. Each Pokémon has a link rating with its trainer. The first number shows the current link, which could be something like 45%. The second number shows maximum link. So if you have a 45%/80%, you not only know that that the Trainer has a ways to go to max out his or her link with that Pokémon, but that they will only ever be 80% effective with that Pokémon. They key is to find/catch Pokémon that provide a Warlord with a 100% maximum link, which is known as a “Best Link.” The higher the link, the more powerful the Pokémon and its Warlord becomes. Hitting a Best Link lets the Warlord evolve, but be careful, as the Pokémon that is best for a Warlord might not be the final evolution of the Pokémon, it might be the first or second stage, so that’s something to consider. As you can see there is a LOT of strategy to the game, but battles go by quite quickly and it’s all pretty instinctive once you start playing.
Now let’s look at the collecting aspect. In Pokémon Conquest, you won’t just be trying to collect Pokémon, but Warlords as well. Collecting one is slightly different from the other though. Warlords are directly collected in battles. To get one you have to perform one of the three actions: Win the battle n four rounds or less, defeat the Warlord’s Pokémon without it inflicting a single point of damage or doing a one hit KO with a super effective move. If one of these is accomplished, the Warlord will join your army…unless there is a story reason why he or she does not. When they offer to join, you are given a rundown of their stats and Pokémon and can decide to accept or decline them.
To get new Pokémon, you’re going to have to go hunting for them. When you are exploring a region rather than battling, you’ll come across wild Pokémon. Each of the Wild Pokémon will have a medal above its head that signifies how good of a match it is for that particular Warlord. Gold is best, Silver is okay, Bronze is not especially good and a red X means you can’t bond with them. To catch them, all you have to do is move your personal Pokémon next to one of the wild ones and choose to link. Then you’ll play a rhythm based mini game. If you succeed (it can take more than one turn), you’ve got a new Pokémon! Legendary Pokémon are caught in a similar manner, but you generally have to fulfill special requirements to find one and even then, you only get one shot at catching a lot of Legends, so make sure to save as soon as the opportunity comes up. For example to get a chance at Registeel, you’ll need 15 Warlords with a 100% Best Link and be in the Steel Nation with all of them. Oy.
Finally, we have the aspect of managing your Kingdom. There are various things you can do like exploring regions for new Pokémon, scouting for new Warlords, buy and trade goods with merchants, giving items to your Pokémon and/or Warlord to equip, attacking an enemy nation (Which they can do in turn on their turn) and dealing with random events like having to give money to conquered Kingdoms, weather events and so on. Again, this is like a VERY light version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but it’s a lot of fun to see all these different elements blended into one game.
Pokémon Conquest is an amazingly designed game. It features many great features from several extremely hardcore RPGs, yet presents them in a way that newcomers, younger gamers and casual players can still enjoy them all without having to spend countless hours grinding. This is perhaps the most inviting SRPG and kingdom management game I’ve encountered in years and I think anyone that picks this up will be blown away by how well done everything is here.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled
The core storyline will only take a dozen or so hours to beat if you’ll well versed in SRPGs. This sounds quite short, but remember it’s an intro SRPG like Rhapsody. However, once you beat the core storyline is when you get a ton of post-game content. There are thirty-three special episodes to unlock, each with varying difficulty levels and special requirements to unlock. These special episodes are a lot of fun, and your play time will be between sixty and a hundred hours based on how good you are at unlocking and completing everything. If that isn’t enough there are currently four DLC episodes that are out for the Japanese game and will eventually make it stateside. Unlike a 99.99% of the DLC on the market these days, all these episodes WILL BE FREE. That’s pretty awesome.
There is so much extra content here that the post-game is actually larger than the core storyline. With the ability to constantly unlock new episodes, legendary Pokémon and more, Pokémon Conquest is going to be a massive time-sink, much like the core turn based RPGs. You’re getting a ton of content for under thirty dollars. Crazy.
Replayability Rating: Great
I found Pokémon Conquest to be really easy, but then a) I’m really good at both Pokémon and SRPGs and b) the last SRPG that I found to be on the easy (Devil Survivor), everyone else seemed to find pretty hard (Mark and Sean still give me crap about that in their podcast every so often), so take that comment of ease with a grain of salt.
I do find that Pokémon Conquest really eases you into all aspects of the game, from type advantage to kingdom maintenance. Even if this is your first Pokémon game, you’ll learn the basics of all the core concepts like evolution quite quickly and even complicated type match battles towards the end of the game will flow smoothly and naturally rather than needed a grid of what is strong/weak against what. Now that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to unlock every extra chapter or catch all the Legendary Pokémon, but it does mean that even someone completely new to SRPGS and/or Pokémon should be able to get through this and feel like they accomplished something once the credits start to roll. It’s not a game that will make you swear or challenge you like a SNK end boss, but it is a game that you’ll have fun playing and will definitely feel you got your money’s worth out of.
Balance Rating: Good
At first you might say, “There have been a ton of Nobunaga AND Pokémon themed games. How is this not just yet another cookie cutter title of each?” Well, that’s a reasonable statement to make if you’re not actually familiar with either franchise. This is the 27th Nobunaga’s Ambition game and the forty-something-ish Pokémon game. However fans of both series will tell you this is something quite different from what we’ve seen from both series and the end result is a SRPG/Grand Strategy hybrid that takes the best of each and them streamlines them for accessibility. As I said earlier in the review the closest games to this that I can think of are Brigandine (which is a turn based conquest game), Dragon Force (Which is a real time game for the most part, but has the ‘catch em all general aspect) or the old Populous spin-off, Power Monger. The end result is something that feels quite familiar, but is still somewhat unique.
This is the first tactical RPG for both the Nobunaga and Pokémon series. Both series are well known for reinventing themselves on an almost constant basis. Dynasty Warriors, for example is a re-invention of the NA series, while Pokémon has deviated so much from the core turn-based JRPG series that those games are now in the minority compared to the Pokémon Ranger action RPGs, Mystery Dungeon roguelikes,Pokémon Rumble beat ‘em ups, several puzzle and pinball games, three different pedometers, a television watching game and a truly terrible PC racing game…and that only included the titles that have made it stateside. Something like Pokémon Conquest definitely stands out from the back not just because it’s the first Pokémon SRPG and not because it’s not the cookie cutter “eight year old travels a region collecting eight gym badges and stops some sort of evil conspiracy along the way,” but because it’s as quality as it is out there and original.
Originality Rating: Good
I’ve always been a big fan of both series. I was playing Nobunaga’s Ambition on my NES before I hit puberty and hell, I loved Pokémon so much I worked for the Japanese branch of The Pokémon Company for six years . As you can imagine this game was like sweet, sweet methadone to me. Not quite the same buzz as either of the originals, but one I was happy to have just the same. I was given the original Japanese version before launch and I played the hell out of that. I then turned around and did the same thing with the US localized version when TPC sent it to me as a “gift.” (This is where I point out that my game that I used for this review is not a review copy from NoA or its PR firm, but from TPC itself, which still gives me free Pokémon stuff for time served with them.) This is a VERY hard game to put down, and I’m looking forward to finally playing the DLC adventures once they hit US shores. Pokémon Conquest has been my go-to game while dealing with pet illness, travel via the metro and pretty much anytime you can think of where I haven’t had to play a game for review purposes or trying to clean out my back log of titles I still need to play. As of right now, Pokémon Conquest is a definite “Game of the Year” contender and oddly enough, I don’t seem to be the only one saying that on either side of the Pacific…
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
Do you like Pokémon at all? Then you will love this game. Do you like Koei’s strategy games? Then you will love this game. Do you like SRPGs like Fire Emblem, Tactics Ogre or Shining Force? Then you will love this game. Hell, even people I know that don’t really care for turn based Pokémon JRPGS are either excited for this game or have it pre-ordered. My friend and sometimes writer for the site Dave? He HATES Pokémon like I hate most first person shooters and he’ll love this thing because he loves the NA series. Guys like our own Mark B.? He really enjoyed the Mystery Dungeon games and a few other of the quirky spin-offs, so this will be up his alley. Guys like Ashe who love Pokémon and Disgaea? Well this is a no-brainer for them to get.
Basically unless you outright hate RPGS and Pokémon across the board, there’s something to enjoy here. It’s very fast paced and low key compared to other SRPGS, but it’s also got a lot of nifty features and ideas other games in that subgenre don’t. If you’ve clicked on this article for whatever reason, take the plunge and purchase it. You’ll thank me for it later as Pokémon Conquest just clicks on every possible level. It’s the game that was supposed to be so out there that critics and gaming insiders weren’t sure who would like it. Now that it can be played it’s more wondering who WOULDN’T.
Appeal Factor: Great
Although there is sure to be debate on whether or not this is the best Pokémon spin-off ever, it is one of the better games of 2012 so far. With a fun core storyline, a ton of unlockable content, FREE DLC and various passwords to collect from all sorts of media, like say 2rz3XFCKmR, you have what just might be the DS’ last great hurrah. For those that have upgraded to the 3DS, fear not, as you can still play this on Nintendo’s current handheld. For thirty dollars (although Gamestop is charging an extra five above the MSRP, so don’t purchase it there), you’re getting one of Tecmo Koei’s best games EVER along with one of the best Pokémon games ever. In my book the TK/Nintendo alliance is now two for three (although most North American and Euro-gamers will never get to play Fatal Frame IV) and I hope that Pokémon Conquest not only gets a sequel, but convinces Tecmo Koei to start localizing the Nobunaga’s Ambition series again. Just go buy this game already.
Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled
Control & Gameplay: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Not only is Pokémon Conquest one of the best tactical RPGs that I have played in some time, but I’m also thrilled to have another Nobunaga’s Ambition title in English – the first since Iron Triangle. Pokémon Conquest is a wonderful blend of the two franchises and the end result is a game unlike any other, although comparisons to games like Dragon Force, Dark Wizard and Brigandine are apt. The game is exceptionally inviting to not only newcomers for both series, but to those new to things like SRPGS and kingdom management strategy games. With a fun core story, a ton of unlockable optional content and free DLC, Pokémon Conquest is a game most people that pick it up with be hooked on.