Pokémon Conquest comes out at an odd time, when the DS has mostly been left abandoned in favor of the new 3DS system and during the usual summer draught where good games are few and far between. While it’s not a 3DS game per say, the 3DS still holds it’s backwards compatibility so anyone with a Nintendo handheld system made in the last 8 years has something that should be able to play this though you won’t get any of the advantages from owning a brand new shiny system here. Now the question begs, is it worth getting a game made for last generation hardware in the era of 3D or does Pokemon Conquest have a big enough bag of tricks for you jump in anyway.
The story within Pokémon Conquest is rather simple so before delving into the meat of the game i’ll take a minute to explain the general story. You’re a Warlord in a region known as Ransei and you have a single kingdom in an area with 17 distinct kingdoms. There’s a legend passed around that if anyone captures all 17 kingdoms then the Pokémon that created the region will appear to the Warlord who conquers Ransei (I really don’t know how a Pokémon could have created a region but i’ll just roll with it). Course you’re not the only one trying to find this legendary Pokémon, there’s another evil warlord who just happens to be from the opposite side of Ransei who wants to conquer the region for his own evil purposes of destroying it. The story isn’t very riveting but the game more than makes up for it with it’s addictive gameplay.
Pokémon Conquest is the latest in a long line of spin-off games to the Pokémon franchise including Pokémon Rumble (an hack and slash game) and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon (where you are turned from a human into a Pokémon). This time around the Pokémon franchise has entered the realm of the turn based strategy game, fighting within battlefields and still using RPG style mechanics. For those who have played games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics then they will feel right at home with Conquest which uses a similar system. While I usually find turn based strategy games pretty fun to play, what makes this all the better is all the traits borrowed from the main series Pokémon games that anyone that’s played any of them will instantly feel at home. Some of the recreated traits are using the same weaknesses and strengths that you’d have worry about in other Pokémon games. You need to plan your team before a big attack on a opposing kingdom much like you would for a Gym battle where you must come up with the best team of six to battle against the opposing team. Even the individual attacks you’re already familiar with have been transferred over to the turn based strategy battlefield such as Double Slap with Jigglypuff or Double Chop with Machop just to name two examples. A change though is now some of these attacks can only be done from a distance while others when you’re directly next to the opposing Pokémon which opens up some interesting strategies. With your Pokémon you could for instance have some tanks block the progress of the enemy Pokémon as another attacks from behind the tank who soaks up most of the damage. That’s just one of many strategies that makes this different from your run of the mill Pokémon game. Each battle is different since every battlefield is different. Each battlefield have different in-arena weapons or different objectives like holding onto banners you capture for a certain amount of turns. Pokémon still act as you’d expect evolving when the time is right and acting in general how a Pokémon should making fans of the series feel right at home.
This familiarity is what makes this game so compelling and takes away the barrier of entry for those people who have never played an turn based strategy game before. The game also has a tutorial in the first hour or two into the game explaining the basic gameplay in case anyone needs it. You can even still gain new Pokémon though instead of capturing them within a Pokéball, by creating a “link” with a trainer on your side convincing the Pokémon to stay of their own free will which is an odd but harmless change. You can also recruit new trainers and have them bring their Pokémon aboard your team. Regardless of how you do it, each Pokémon has a certain compatibility with an individual trainer where only one Pokémon is the perfect match and that trainer can only bring that Pokémon to it’s full potential making a cool mechanic finding the right mix of trainer/Pokémon for the strongest team possible. All the recruitment is done in the fields you already own where each kingdom has their own field with certain types of Pokémon appearing depending on what king of kingdom it was. As with most turn based strategy games each trainer on your team gets one move a turn, where you can choose directly how it’s done or delegate tasks to the AI. This is also done in the world map when choosing activities for each trainer. The reason for the turn based mechanic is between turns the AI can attack your kingdoms that are adjacent them on the map if they so choose. Finally the best part of Pokémon has been retained where you can still take the team you’ve been spending hours building up and battle against your friend retaining one of the most fun parts of Pokémon games.
The one part that the game falls a little short is the graphical presentation, even if I consider this is a game for the original DS system, the graphics don’t really wow me after playing games like Chinatown Wars or even sticking with the Pokémon series looking at the latest Black and White games on the DS. The visuals are rather basic side where the Pokémon are all probably on the blurry side and environments just look like globs of color rather than looking like any detailed textures are being used. The world map and every kingdom you visit are just static bitmaps where you can’t really explore what in the artwork looks like breathtaking kingdoms in 3D. This leaves me to wonder why since the environments are all static there’s couldn’t have been more focus on visuals during the actual battles. The music and sound are both pretty good though it left me wishing that it sounded more Pokémon themed game, where instead they went with a more generic soundtrack sounding like something heard from ancient Japan which sorta fits the game but I feel like it betrays the Pokémon series that it does such a good job of recreating faithfully.
Pokémon Conquest is a surprise at the near absolute death of the DS handheld. Where the only big release left for the system is the sequels to Black & White this is a fun stop on the DS going away tour. I’d wouldn’t be apposed with any Pokémon fan picking this up game as this breaths a fresh new twist in this weathered franchise. If you need a good introduction to the turn based strategy genre then I can’t think of a better one than Pokémon Conquest.