Pokémon Conquest is interesting. It’s the localization of a crossover between a simplistic child-friendly RPG and a very adult almost-Japanese-only SRPG series. Unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard to get your brain around it at first. At its core, Pokemon Conquest is a strategy RPG featuring characters from Nobunaga’s Ambition with slightly more user-friendly controls and all of the ambition you never would have expected from the monster-catching franchise.
Choosing to be either a boy or a girl, you start out with an Eevee in the land of Aurora, one of 17 kingdoms (representing each Pokémon type), and your goal is to unite the land of Ransei and stop the evil warlord Nobunaga before he carries out his plans to destroy it. To unite the kingdoms, you must challenge and defeat other warlords in battle, thus taking over their respective kingdoms to build up your forces and ultimately challenge Nobonaga (and his legendary Pokémon). The story is fairly short (I completed it in just under 10 hours, and I was taking my time and doing some Pokémon collecting along the way), but there are tons of bonus missions outside of the main story to play, as well as lots of downloadable content (free Wi-Fi stuff, of course) to be released in the coming months.
The way I would describe the gameplay is that it’s kind of like a simplified Fire Emblem or Advance Wars. Armies (with up to six warlords, each having one Pokémon at a time) take turns moving along a grid, attacking each other (each Pokémon only has one attack, but they change and become more powerful each time a Pokemon evolves) in the typical strategy game fashion. In addition to this, many established Poké-tropes return, with there being some types better than others, and stats that usually (yet very roughly) represents a Pokémon’s stats in the regular RPG series. Despite some light monotony after you get used to the combat, the game carries a Nintendo level of polish despite being a Tecmo Koei game, and the gameplay is actually a lot of fun. While the game does include hold items, shops, items, and so on, the largest bonuses come from the Warlords themselves, who can provide stat boosts, health bonuses, and more to your party to give you the edge in the fight.
Since there is very little grinding needed after the halfway point (though there are places to grind at), each of the 17ish required battles feels more like a gym leader match rather than “another grunt to get through”. So despite its length, there is very little filler in this game, giving it an excellent-yet-brisk pace that is only built upon by the game’s natural Pokémon-flavored addictiveness.
After being so positive about the game thus far, I must mention that there are two main gripes I have in Conquest.
The first of which is the difficulty. If you have played a good deal of Fire Emblem in your day, you may want to look elsewhere for a challenging strategy title. The difficulty really only increases in the very last mission, though it seriously ramps up in post-game too. Before that, if you do some light, well-placed grinding early on (which I did simply because I wanted to evolve a few of my Pokémon), almost the entirety of the game is a cake walk. Even without grinding, when I was very evenly matched for the final few battles, the game becomes a matter of traditional Pokémon rock paper scissors. Don’t get me wrong — I love Pokémon and I love the typing aspect of it, but in a game like this where it should feel evenly matched at the start of the battle, it is pretty easy to beat any warlord in the game so long as your team is built around a stronger type (like bringing an electric-type team to the flying-type warlord), even if your team is comfortably underleveled.
My other gripe is the presentation. Although the artwork for the 200 Pokémon and dozens of characters is absolutely beautiful, the in-game graphics are not very good-looking at all, carrying some smudginess well below what the Nintendo DS is capable of. I’m not going to say that this should have been on the 3DS though, because a game like this needs to be on the established handheld for a better shot at success. I really just wanted the graphics (and the uninspired music) to be as polished as the rest of the game is.
Despite this, Pokémon Conquest is a successful experiment that is really good, if being just short of great. The game is fun, the pacing is fantastic, and it acts as a really good vehicle to introduce SRPGs to those unfamiliar. Of course, there are the aforementioned difficulty issues and technical unimpressiveness, but if you really love Pokémon and want something to push you further into a fantastic genre, Pokémon Conquest is it.