I’ve been a violently enthusiastic fan of the main series of Pokémon games since the birth of the concept in generation one of the games, and though this enthusiasm waned somewhat with each generation that passed, it returned once again with the most recent games of the fifth generation, Pokémon Black and White version 2. The wildly simple turn-based system of gameplay and the seemingly endless catalogue of creatures to collect and use in your adventure seems to be a winning combination, and I have always been a firm believer that I would not be able to enjoy the Pokémon franchise in any other form. Pokémon Conquest of course bears all the marks and seals of the Pokémon brand, only this time it appears to be spliced with the gameplay style of Nobunga’s Ambition, a turn-based RPG in which contains feudal principles of war and person-on-person battles. The two game styles appear about as soluble as oil in water. My scepticism about this attempted marriage of the two genres led me to playing Pokémon Conquest with view to jotting down a few of my thoughts about it; it was nothing less than extensively surprised at the result.
Honourable and Enjoyable
Set in a brand new Pokémon region called ‘Ransei’, the ultimate goal of the game is to engage in battle across the seventeen kingdoms within the region with view to unification, and all this achieved not through bloodshed or heated conflict with shield and sword, but through the much more socially acceptable and child-friendly medium of the Pokémon battle that conforms with the age rating of the game (apparently, the Pokémon is mightier than the sword). Each kingdom corresponds with one of the 17 Pokémon types, and the end result of unifying these kingdoms appears to be the awakening of the Pokémon that created the region in the first place, Arceus, as well as the unlocking of 32 challenges that takes place after the completion of the main storyline.
Honour and Battle: The opening throws of the game
As far as the gameplay goes, you’ll find yourself wandering around each kingdom, befriending Pokémon as you go by engaging wild creatures with your Pokémon and completing an obligatory mini-game-like task. You move around the environment as you would in any Pokémon game, and you can have up to six Pokémon in active duty at any one time. The game retains the turn-based style that has been indicative of the main-series Pokémon games from the get-go, though the format of the battle is slightly different as you are able to send your Pokémon into any active zone (indicated by a textured surface on the ground) and step up to the opposing Pokémon of your choosing in order to engage in your attack. Turns are taken to use the Pokémon’s one and only move, after which you must stand by and watch your Pokémon take a hit as the opponent takes their turn. Defeating trainers allows you to then recruit them into your army, meaning that your overall strength and likelihood of success increases with every victory over your trainer opposition.
Essence Remains in the face of Change
The success of the main-series games rested upon the smaller elements that are unique to the Pokémon franchise; I was extremely pleased, therefore, to see these core elements of Pokémon remain steadfast in the face of the format change. Elements such as passive abilities (‘levitate’ making you immune to ground, ‘sturdy’ giving you protection against an immediate KO etc.) are still present, as well as levelling up your Pokémon through battling in the usual manner and most importantly, the type-matchups still apply. The carrying of items still remain, such as replenishing potions and items beneficial to your Pokémon’s health/performance.
Disappointingly, the strengths and weaknesses of the Pokémon according to their particular types play less of a role in battles than I would have liked to have seen. Though this by no means sullies the whole experience, the type matchups are an extremely important part of the main Pokémon games, and their movement from the foreground to being somewhat in the background of the gameplay disappointed me somewhat. That said, if you attempt a casual invading of a water-type kingdom with fire-type Pokémon, you’re going to have a bad time!
Features more specific to Pokémon Conquest gameplay are also present, such as the trainers having a unique, single-use ‘Warrior Skill’ in each battle that allows them to perform actions like increasing Pokémon’s speed or defense (a bit like the equivalent of using X-defend or X-Speed during battle in the main series of games, though you are restricted to one skill use per battle)
Though the foundation of the gameplay relies upon the turn-based Pokémon encounters that we have come to love over the years, there is also an element of strategy that is extrinsic to the Pokémon norm. Preparation for battles is an essential part of the game, so you must be careful not to underestimate the importance of purchasing items, building up your team by befriending Pokémon and defeating trainers, and the placement of your team across the kingdoms in the most effective manner.
Strategy during battle is also essential, and besides the usual factors of your Pokémon’s level and type, you must consider the fight’s limitations such as the number of turns permitted in each encounter (bonuses are awarded for the swift defeat of your enemies). The passage of time in the game flows on a monthly basis, and the actions of your warriors in the conquering aspect of the game is limited to one per month. This puts an emphasis not only on strategically choosing your kingdom-development actions, but on choosing a correct timescale for them. The game is as much about strategic thinking as it is all-out Pokémon battles, with careful thinking required when going about the kingdom-building elements of the gameplay.
Strategy: Turn-based and medium-paced
Those fans familiar with the elements of the game that borrow heavily from Pokémon’s gameplay will feel right at home in the battles themselves, with much of the battle relying on the little creature’s strength, type and experience. Those who aren’t familiar or well-versed in the strategic, kingdom-conquering RPG genre will be treading on unknown ground. I found myself suffering from extreme unfamiliarity with the elements involving building your own kingdom and managing its expansion from kingdom to kingdom, since it just isn’t something that I enjoy, regardless of how objectively good or well-executed this strategic element is; I simply just cannot bring myself to enjoy the kingdom-wide aspects of the game.
The training and development of Pokémon is the only element I can truly say I enjoy, but unfortunately, there are other factors to take into consideration. The placement of your creatures on the terrain, the use of altitude to your advantage, the geometric characteristics of the landscape, the obligatory grinding for gold, and the incessant need for foresight and preparation for future battles on a month-by-month basis: I simply cannot bring myself to be excited about these elements, no matter how many fans of Nobunga’s Ambition may feel differently.
Neither One nor the Other
I’m extremely aware that there are a multitude of fans out there – fans of both the Pokémon franchise and the Nobunga’s Ambition-style RPG spectacular – that will derive nothing but unadulterated enjoyment from Pokémon Conquest’s amalgamation of the two styles of gameplay, with their shared similarity in turn-based format and stark differences in story and sentiment being glossed over in one epic, Pokémon-dipped, kingdom-conquering adventure. The unusual mix of cute, cuddly creatures and grand-scale conquering of kingdoms is likely to appeal to people on both sides of the fence that divides the genres. This is probably one of the reasons that the game’s release was to an extent met with the critical acclaim that most Pokémon spin-offs simply fail to garner from fans and critics alike.
Though I managed to squeeze a little enjoyment out of the game by amassing an army of warriors here and a collection of Pokémon there, I still found that the experience failed to produce any genuine excitement about the game in general. In its attempt to fuse the two styles of gameplay, it feels like – in terms of the Pokémon side of things at least – the magic of Pokémon is lost, and that the finished product is just a lacklustre dilution of the two genres that tries a little too hard to push the two together, and ends up losing what made both of them fun in the first place. In truth, I couldn’t help but feel that Pokémon conquest, in spite of its more-than-competent deliverance of the RPG format, the battles, the use of Pokémon within said battles and the thought-provoking building of your army/kingdom , is simply an adulterated version of Pokémon that lacks the elements which make the main-series so fun to play. Pokémon Conquest does what it does remarkably well; it just failed to strike a chord with me, in spite of its ability to hit a few pleasing notes.