Pokémon Conquest (DS) review
"The realm of Ransei is on the verge of destruction. Its people live for only two things: war and Pokemon. There are countless warriors roaming the land with their trusted animal companions, each seeking the glory and authority rewarded to the victors. Legends say that if a single warlord were to conquer all 17 kingdoms in Ransei, the creator of the world will return and bestow its powers upon the chosen one. As a result, the various nations are locked in eternal conflict, each vying for the slig..."
The realm of Ransei is on the verge of destruction. Its people live for only two things: war and Pokemon. There are countless warriors roaming the land with their trusted animal companions, each seeking the glory and authority rewarded to the victors. Legends say that if a single warlord were to conquer all 17 kingdoms in Ransei, the creator of the world will return and bestow its powers upon the chosen one. As a result, the various nations are locked in eternal conflict, each vying for the slightest chance of an advantage. In the North, Oda Nobunaga has begun a destructive conquest that will engulf the entire continent. As a newly-appointed leader of the Aurora kingdom, it’s up to you to rally enough forces to stop him and bring peace to your war-torn country.
At first glance, the story actually looks interesting. Having the huge casts of Samurai Warriors and Nobunaga’s Ambition allying with Pokemon mascots seems just crazy enough to work. But once you get over the initial surprise, the sheer ridiculousness of the plot starts to sink in. Why are the fates of nations being determined by Pokemon battles? Will thousands of lives be lost if you forget to bring a Full Restore? Why does everyone assume that the Legend of Ransei is real? Even if you ignore the numerous lapses in logic and common sense, the story still fails provide anything meaningful. The real Sengoku period was an era rife with bloodshed, political intrigue, and dynamic individuals. Pokemon Conquest has none of that; the characters are given only a few text-based lines of dialogue with little development. The player never gets to know any of the cast beyond what kind of Pokemon they have and what kingdom they’re from. The rich history and struggles of these people are reduced to brief, one-dimensional exchanges. Nobunaga is designated as your ultimate foe, but only because the game tells you he’s some kind of dark conqueror. As a result, there’s no tension or drama to be had; the usually iconic and memorable warriors are completely flat and dull.
That goes for the combat as well. Much like the main Pokemon games, the battles are turn-based fights between the monsters. You command your creature to use an elementally-based move, and hopefully its target will lose enough health and keel over. Everything is strong or weak to certain attacks, which makes creating balanced teams absolutely vital. That’s where the similarities end, though. Rather than facing your enemies one-on-one, you’re thrust onto a grid-based battlefield and have to move your Pokemon into strategic positions. The design is straightforward; some Pokemon can only hit enemies who are positioned right next to them, at a limited range, within a line of sight, etc. It is the strategy RPG genre in its simplest form…and nothing else. Normally, you can only attack or wait. There are no extensive features for defense, countering, gear, advanced party building, or anything else that you’d expect from a modern tactics game. Even older titles like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Tactics Ogre had more to do. The biggest appeals of these games are all numerous options and freedom to approach the battles in your own way. The most you’re given are the special abilities inherent to the individual Pokemon and their warlords; some get stat-based bonuses and items, while others focus more on increasing movement or health restoration. Each stage also comes with a gimmick, like moveable obstacles or platforms to leap upon. They add some depth to an otherwise bland combat system.
Every aspect of the game is similarly limited. Rather than building a team of six Pokemon under your command, each warrior can use a single monster per battle. The flawed design becomes especially apparent when you start recruiting wild Pokemon. After completing a simple mini-game, you’ll gain the critter’s trust…but you can’t have both it and your original partner fight alongside each other. If one of your minions befriends a particularly useful beast, there’s no way to exchange it with one of your own. Also, the Pokemon themselves are horribly stunted; in the main series, any given monster can have up to four attacks in its move set. This time, they’re limited to one. One.Your party is can do a mere six moves at a time. In the main series, half the fun of raising a Pokemon is seeing what it can learn and gradually honing it into a killing machine via training and stat manipulation. The only variety you’ll get here is if your Pokemon evolves; their ranges and abilities can change, potentially forcing you to abandon whatever strategies or techniques you were using beforehand. Considering that the DS can handle a port of Disgaea – one of the deepest and most extensive SRPGs on the PS2 – the shallow design is disappointing.
Not that it’ll matter, though. The AI can be quite inept in battle; adversaries tend to ignore strategic options in favor of direct brawls. They rarely make good use of battlefield hazards or clever unit placement. Since the combat mechanics are based on the elemental types of the Pokemon universe, victory is just a matter of having the right kind of highly-leveled monster with you. Before you lay siege to an enemy castle, you can view a listing of the opposing warlords and their Pokemon. Since you know what weaknesses to exploit, it’s easy to wander around and recruit anyone with the corresponding strengths. There’s a risk of an adjacent enemy nation invading, but they’ll typically give you enough time to find more warriors and create a powerful team. Things get slightly more interesting in post-game scenarios when the opposing lineups have randomized types and invade more frequently. But as long as you keep your empire’s borders well stocked with strong teams, invasions are easy to handle. It’s pretty straightforward until you’re juggling a dozen kingdoms at once. Since you can only have six characters in battle, it gets tedious when there’s an enemy weak to a specific element and you have to search the troops for the right type. Only a limited number of warlords can stay in one nation at a time, resulting in the hassle of shuffling things around just get a balanced party into the fray. There’s a reason why the main Pokemon series uses a storage box system; it’s far easier to organize hundreds of creatures when everything is done through a centralized hub. is nowhere near as streamlined, making the whole experience more of a chore.
That’s especially ironic given how little attention the other aspects are given. Despite being based partly on the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, the game barely utilizes the ideas featured within them. Those games were also about warfare, but focused far more on building empires and maintaining them for maximum effectiveness. They let you manage the country’s funds and taxes to balance the economy, focus on productive output of rice and supplies, bolster morale to avoid uprisings, and craft an unbeatable army. The concept was way before its time and difficult to learn, but it felt rewarding and well thought-out. Pokemon Conquest is nowhere near as extensive. After you’ve defeated an enemy kingdom and taken its castle, you can buy health restoratives and other items at a store, visit the local areas for random battles, go mining for gold, and invest money towards upgrading the area. You can delegate people to keep things running, but the results aren’t nearly as impressive as your own efforts. There’s also the Ponigiri Shop, which somehow increases your Pokemon’s energy. The more your monster fights or eats ponigiri, the stronger its link with you becomes. The stronger the link, the deadlier the Pokemon’s attacks and inflicted status effects become. The link is represented by a percentage that increases after every battle. Like several other features, however, the linking mechanic and its effects on the gameplay are never fully explained or fleshed out. The link is essentially a replacement for the leveling up mechanics of the Pokemon games, but does it affect any of the monsters’ other abilities? If so, how does the player view and tweak them? If not, then why is it limited to the attack stat? Is there any way to use it to customize a Pokemon’s growth, or are such things strictly determined by items? How are the post-battle percentages calculated and distributed? Given how such information would let you get the most out of your army, you’d think the game would provide it. A little better conveyance would have worked wonders.
The extra content doesn’t make up for it, either. As with any Pokemon title, there’s a strong emphasis on collecting. With hundreds of warriors and monsters to meet, completionists will have quite a time filling up the character profile gallery. To the game’s credit, there are also some surprisingly lengthy post-story challenges, which include reconquering several areas, meeting new enemies, and finding more recruits. The AI invades more aggressively, and the randomized enemies add a bit more challenge. Since you have to rebuild your entire army every time, you won’t be able to crush everything as easily. It’ll take you dozens of hours to finish everything. Given the flawed nature of the gameplay, however, it probably won’t be appealing. New Pokemon and bonus events are available via passwords and WiFi downloads respectively. These are all decent ideas, but they fail to fully utilize the DS’s capabilities. The Pokemon series has always thrived on its multiplayer features, but they’re virtually ignored here. Online functionality would have been a godsend for this game; random players could test the might of their armies on larger scales, trade Pokemon and items, combine forces to take on greater threats, and develop strategies. Instead, you’re limited to local wireless battles and nothing else. In a game riddled with missed opportunities, the lack of an online multiplayer is arguably the biggest one.
It’s a shame. Pokemon Conquest reeks of wasted potential. The combination of two great franchises might be unusual, but it could have produced one of the greatest handheld tactics games in recent memory. Instead, it’s nothing more than an oversimplified strategy title with a bunch of mascots. Not only does it lack personality, but depth as well. The combat mechanics provide little more than the barest essentials of tactical gameplay, with only a few special powers and battlefield gimmicks to spice things up. The Pokemon are horrendously limited in usefulness, and organizing your forces can prove tedious. The game doesn’t have nearly the amount of options as its predecessors, and poorly explains and implements what little it does have. So if you’re looking for a good SRPG for the DS, do yourself a favor and pick up Disgaea. Or Valkyrie Profile Or even Final Fantasy Tactics A2. Anything but this.
Community review by disco (July 01, 2012)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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