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Pokémon Conquest (DS) artwork

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.

disco's avatar
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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Roto13 posted July 02, 2012:

Things like this lead me to believe you haven't played beyond the opening tutorial story:

The AI is so passive that you shouldn’t have trouble conquering everything. Adversaries tend to ignore strategic options in favor of direct brawls

In The Legend of Ransei, kingdoms are pretty passive. For the other 90 hours of the game, they're much, much more aggressive. You'll probably be invaded multiple times per month, as opposed to one or twice ever in the opening.

Stuff like this doesn't help, either:

The stronger the link, the deadlier the Pokemon becomes. At least, that’s what the game says. Like several other features, the linking mechanic and its effects on the gameplay are never fully explained; you’re just given a meaningless percentage and told to keep fighting. A little better conveyance would have worked wonders.

Link % is just another word for level. It's pretty simple. The higher your link % with a Pokemon, the higher their stats, and some Pokemon evolve once they reach a certain link %.
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zippdementia posted July 04, 2012:

Harsh words, Roto! I can actually see where Disco's coming from. I was surprised to see the game get a 5 when most every other review has praised it highly for being innovative and fun. But comparing Disco's experience to those described by others and gameplay videos doesn't reveal so much a skewed opinion as an opinion not enamored with the basic concept which, admittedly, is the main innovation of the title. The combat hasn't looked to be particularly life-changing or genre-challenging. It's a fairly straightforward tactics title, with some of the more esoteric elements edited out.

Not that I would probably give it such a low score myself (though, all things considered, it's not that low a score); the game looks fun to me. But I can totally understand how someone could easily come away with Disco's opinion.
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Roto13 posted July 04, 2012:

I don't see how anyone could come away with those factual inaccuracies and misunderstanding of basic concepts of the game, though. Basically saying "It's so simple and shallow and I don't understand it."
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bbbmoney posted July 04, 2012:

Maybe he's just really good at the game?
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zippdementia posted July 04, 2012:

I suppose, unless Disco never comes along to defend himself, we'll never really know!
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disco posted July 06, 2012:

Whoa. I should’ve checked back sooner.

Actually, I’ll be passing the 30 hour mark later today. I’m currently playing through Ieyasu’s campaign, and I’m still fuming over how I lost my Glaceon and the rest of my unstoppable army. I had little interest in continuing, but I’ve received enough complaints to make me reconsider. I’ve got nothing new to play until The Last Story arrives, so this should keep me occupied.

Okay, first thing: I’ll admit that my phrasing was too ambiguous. The part about the passive AI isn’t about the invasions, but during combat itself. Let’s take some examples from my own playthrough:

*Spoilers Ahoy!*

I reached Dragnor and finally faced Nobunaga. I had acquired Glaceon just to counter him, but I had done very little additional leveling. I approached the battle as a kind of test as to see what Nobunaga could do, and change my strategy accordingly. The battle took place in this long hallway lined with colored statues that dished out elemental damage and status ailments to whoever stood in the squares next to them. Rather than using clever unit placement and attempting to force my troops into hazards or corners, the AI simply went for whatever opponent happened to be closest. You’d think it would focus on my Glaceon, given how it posed the greatest threat. Rather than doing any of that, however, Nobunaga commanded his Zekrom into a hazard, let it become paralyzed, and watched helplessly as I quickly slaughtered it and the rest of his party. That’s right, the supposedly fearsome tactician fell into his own level trap without me having to manipulate him whatsoever.

It was both the funniest and saddest moment in the game.

The second time I faced Nobunaga, he had that this awesome black Rayquaza and a bunch of his most powerful warlords. There were a few instances in which he had an easy chance to kill some of my units, but he inexplicably backed off. That bit him in the ass shortly afterward when I rallied the troops and took him down. Similar things still happen even in post-game. Those missions that involve capturing the banners have been particularly easy because the enemies waste too much time fighting me instead of completing the objective. The AI doesn’t utilize the battlefield hazards well, either; a few decisive victories ended with me throwing logs and rolling boulders at enemies too stupid to avoid them. Oichi just made almost the identical mistake as her brother. Unit placement in general seems to be an issue as well. Controlling bottlenecks, cornering foes with push-back attacks, and type-based teamwork have yet to be used to their logical extent. I’m hoping that things drastically improve in the last few chapters. I’m still waiting for this game to surprise me.

Oh, and invasions are indeed more frequent in the post-game, but they’re only problematic if your kingdoms are not defended well. I’ve noticed how the enemy teams have more randomized types, so I spend a lot of time organizing my troops into multi-type teams and leaving them to level up in kingdoms adjacent to enemy nations. Since much of the combat mechanics rely on the elemental type weaknesses of the Pokemon games, I’ve yet to run into any serious issues. In fact, I intentionally let one of my kingdoms get captured – I left only an Abra and a Magikarp as its only defense – just to see what would happen. Maybe I missed something, but there doesn’t seem to be any lasting consequences aside from having to battle to reclaim it. Try comparing that with the Fire Emblem series; now *those* games know how to make you feel guilty for screwing up. They give you a chance to learn more about the individual units and incorporate them into your strategies as effectively as possible. They feel relevant and necessary on your team, which makes losing them hurt that much more. Here…well, not so much.

Second thing: Okay, I phrased that whole Link section poorly. That’s entirely my fault for writing half asleep and rushing just to get the review finished in one sitting. It’ll be edited this weekend. I get that the higher the percentage represents the Pokemon’s overall level and attack strength, but what I meant to say was that there are some unanswered questions or features that could have better implemented. So:

-Does the Link percentage *only* affect a Pokemon’s overall attack strength and chances of inflicting status ailments? If so, then why is it limited to those two aspects and not the rest of the Pokemon’s stats? If not, is there any way to manipulate a Pokemon’s stats to round out their capabilities? The main Pokemon games let you keep close track of each individual monster’s growth in every aspect, thus giving you tons of leeway with how to develop them. What if I want to balance my team beyond just the type advantages? It’s fine having a 80%+ Link Pokemon that can one-shot everything, but what if I want it to specialize in speed and evasion, or more resistant to status effects? Are these things limited to equipment and items, and if so, why? Shouldn’t the Link have a more direct impact on those stats?

-After every battle, the Pokemon are awarded percentage points that add to their overall Link rating. How are those points calculated and distributed? How does a Pokemon’s performance in battle impact it? Is it determined by the elemental types of enemies being fought? The number of kills or links with wild Pokemon? The amount of spaces, turns, or super effective attacks used? Surviving status effects? What makes the difference? I’m asking this because I’ve had several battles where the percentage points are rewarded in unlikely ways; one Pokemon who spent the entire time stuck on the sidelines got more reward than the Pokemon who dealt the killing blow to the last enemy and ended the battle. So, what are the criteria, and how can I use them to best develop my forces?

These kinds of things are important to me. If there’s so much emphasis placed on these link percentages, then why don’t they impact the game in more complex ways? Maybe it’s something obvious, and I’m just blindly dominating this game out of sheer luck. Maybe I just overlooked a menu option or skipped something in the tutorial. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but I like knowing the ins and outs of how everything works. The more you know, the better you can control your army. If I can get nothing else from this game, a little more insight all I want.

Anyway, sorry if we didn’t agree. I’d rather not have this topic turn into some long debate, so I won’t bother posting again. I just wanted to like Pokemon Conquest and get the most out of it. I still do. So, I’ll keep playing and hope it improves.
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zippdementia posted July 08, 2012:

Good response, Disco. I'm glad you dropped by to clarify!

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