Review by capgamer

"Solid game with a unique concept and some annoyances"

Pokemon Conquest is an odd duck. It seeks to marry the monster collecting aspect of Pokemon with the silly interpretation of Japanese history present in the Samurai Warriors games. All of this is loosely based on an old strategy series known as "Nobunaga's Ambition," which I have never played. It's a strange concoction, but it works surprisingly well. The basic plot-line is that there is a world called Ransei where Warriors battle each other for supremacy using creatures called Pokemon. If a warrior is able to unite all of Ransei they will awaken a legendary Pokemon that will grant them their desires. A caricature of Oda Nobunaga serves as the primary antagonist as he wishes to forcefully unite the world so that he can wish to destroy all humans.

Conquest has a couple of layers to its gameplay. On the surface, it's a highly simplified turn-based strategy game where you manage your nations on a global scale. You can delegate tasks to your armies such as training themselves up, recruiting new warriors and Pokemon, or simply earning you more money. You could call this layer "Baby's First Civilization." It's not terribly complex but it offers some options to you and forces you to use at least some strategy. During the course of the game one of your goals will be to recruit more warriors to help you fight your battles. Good warriors are a valuable resource and since any given Warrior can only perform one task per turn you don't want to leave yourself vulnerable. You'll be asking yourself whether you can get away with conquering a nearby nation without sacrificing your defenses.

During battle, the type of gameplay shifts. It turns into a turn-based strategy RPG that plays like a simplified version of Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Fire Emblem. Your team of Pokemon faces off against the other team in a three dimensional grid. Each team takes turns moving all of their Pokemon, trying to kill the other team off and perhaps capture certain objectives in the stage. Pokemon themselves only have access to one of their moves from the games, all of which have different properties. A Charmander, for instance, will start with the "Ember" skill which will allow it to attack one square away from itself using fire damage. Upon evolving to Charmeleon, its move will change to a more powerful skill that has different properties.

You can bring a maximum of 6 warriors to a given battle. Each warrior can only use one Pokemon in that battle, though they can "link" with (capture) more Pokemon and switch between them appropriately before a given battle. The Warriors have powers they can use once per battle to give their Pokemon an edge. These would be things like healing for a certain amount, increasing attack, or healing status effects. The Pokemon themselves follow similar rules to how they function in the main games of the series. Fire Pokemon are weak to water for instance and typically deal fire damage that has a chance to cause the "burn" status effect with their attacks. Instead of having levels similar to the main games, the power of a Pokemon in Conquest is measured by the "link" they have with their warriors. A Charmander with 30% link with Hideyoshi will be stronger than a charmander with 10% link with Oichi. Link raises similar to "experience" in the main games and is gained upon victory (or defeat) in a battle.

Hopefully I have given you some idea of what to expect from Pokemon Conquest. I will now elaborate on where I feel its strengths and weaknesses lie.

Graphics- 8/10, Great
Graphics in Pokemon Conquest are about on par with other quality DS games. I never felt wowed by them, but they got the job done. Each character in the game has some fairly detailed artwork which shows their emotions in any given conversation. The in-battle graphics are simple and unobtrusive with appropriately detailed animations for attacking, status effects, and movement. Cutscenes are clear still images of artwork with the Samurai Warriors characters and Pokemon.

Sound and Music- 5/10, Average
Sound was entirely average and did not really improve or hinder the experience for me. Most attacks sound pretty similar. Music was decent, but not especially catchy. After awhile I started playing with the sound off. Not because it annoyed me but because it was kind of generic and I liked to listen to the TV or something as I played. It's not bad, but I can't say I found it memorable.

Control- 10/10, Amazing
This is one area in which I have no complaints, period. The developers did a nice job making the touch screen of the DS entirely optional to the experience which allows me to play the game in a more relaxed way than many other DS games. It takes a little while to get used to the controls because it's kind of odd that they have an entire button for ending your turn (X), but at the end of the day this was a positive feature that made things go by a little quicker. I found the controls to be elegant and effective at getting me through the game.

Story- 4/10, Below Average
The story present in the game is below average for an RPG. I must confess I've never really been a huge fan of the sort of anime-style cliches present in the Samurai Warriors franchise. I guess I'm not really that interested in ancient Japan and I'm especially not interested in ancient Japan with anime cliche silliness injected into it. I will say that the presence of Pokemon is handled fairly well and I didn't find that they added any more "cheese factor" to an already cheesy franchise of games. It's passable, but not really enjoyable. I should mention that as there are multiple playable campaigns there are multiple stories in the game. They are all pretty boring! Most of the campaign stories boil down to "there's some guys over there, go conquer them." That's all it really needs, I guess. Don't buy this game expecting a good story.

Gameplay- 7/10, Good
I really like this game, but... There's a lot of things I don't like about it. A lot of frustrations that would have been easy for them to fix which make the game significantly less enjoyable when added up. It's still a very fun game. Firstly, I would like to say that I'm surprised they made this concept work as well as they did. A Pokemon strategy RPG seems iffy enough on its own, so for them to get that working is a testament to a talented team of designers. The nation management strategy layer on top adds some much desired depth to the game that I wish other strategy RPGs like Fire Emblem would learn from. The systems present in the game are simple enough that they can be learned by playing it but complex enough that it leads to some tricky decisions, especially in the unlockable campaigns.They did a good job giving the battlefields in the game variety both in objectives and in terrain. There's one battlefield for the fighting Pokemon nation that takes place in a big boxing ring where your mission is sort of a "king of the hill." You have to capture four points and hold them for five straight turns to win. Pokemon can knock each other out of the ring so it's a scramble to keep the flags captured for your team without letting the CPU take them back and interrupt your streak. Other levels have gimmicks such as rocks you can send rolling down hills to damage the enemy team or tunnels you can send your Pokemon through to take shortcuts through the map to reach your objectives.

There are some issues with execution though. One of the great annoyances is that the game doesn't flat out tell you which sort of Pokemon your warriors would be best with. You have to look it up online or hope you get lucky, basically. When your warrior goes to make a new friend and link with them in battle you can see a little medal above the Pokemon's head which helps you to know which Warrior it would go best with. Of course, it's fully possible you wouldn't bring any compatible warriors to that battle meaning nobody can link with the Pokemon and you're out of luck. Every time I have to disrupt my gaming to look something up in a guide it annoys me. You're not really given a choice in this game. It's either get lucky, deal with sub-par Pokemon, or look it up. Bad design.

The fact that Pokemon can only use one move at any given time with no opportunity to switch is also annoying. It's possible that by evolving a Pokemon you can get a new move which is less desirable than the previous one. This happened to me more than once where I evolved a Pokemon only to get a new move which was poor in comparison to the old one. You'll find yourself going from an electric move that has nearly perfect accuracy and hits multiple squares to one that does slightly more damage, but only hits one square and has worse accuracy. It's very frustrating when this happens and there's no way to go back to the old move or de-evolve your Pokemon. You have to link with a new one and choose not to evolve it, resetting your power and sending you back to square 1. Bad design.

Those gimmicks in the stages which I talked about earlier though usually very entertaining take a lot of time to execute.You can't skip the animations for them either. This leads to a couple of stages that are exhausting to go through because every turn you have to watch a million little widgets move around the screen. It's nice that they took the time to include animations for statues moving around and bridges rolling out and rolling up but it takes so long waiting for the animations to finish. It's very frustrating and slows down the pace of the game a lot. Bad design.

The links you develop between Pokemon and warriors are reset whenever you enter a new campaign. This means that if you didn't fully evolve a Pokemon by bringing its link high enough in the current campaign you'll have to start from scratch in the next one. You can't go back to a campaign once you've beaten it. This leads to some additional frustration as it forces you to grind or risk losing your progress. This is another frustration that the game could have alleviated by allowing you to go back to an old campaign. Bad design.

I found the game very enjoyable overall, but I hope that if they make a Dynasty Warriors sequel or something that they address these issues. It drags the game down having to deal with them.

Length/Replayability- 10/10, Amazing
The initial campaign (more of a tutorial than anything else) took me 7 and a half hours to beat. There are over 30 campaigns. Granted, some of them are shorter than others. A couple of them only took me half an hour to complete while others took me several hours. This game has a lot of content if you find you enjoy it. I don't think you're going to be disappointed here if you choose to purchase it.

Difficulty- no score, Uneven
The difficulty of the initial campaign is very easy to overcome. The opposing nations aren't very aggressive which means you can brute force your way through the battles without having to worry about them fighting back. The unlockable campaigns though can range anywhere from stupidly easy to ridiculously hard. They're each rated from 1 to 5 stars based on how difficult the campaign is supposed to be. The funny thing is though that if you're like me you'll have more trouble with some of the one star missions than the ones that are supposed to be more difficult. It's uneven and depends on some random factors such as what types of warlords and Pokemon show up and whether you were able to evolve Pokemon on previous campaigns. I ran into a one star campaign that I had to quit because I couldn't figure out how to beat a certain Pokemon one of the rival warlords was using. Difficulty is not very well balanced, especially in the unlockable campaigns.

Overall- 8/10, Great
I realize I've done some complaining in this review but at the end of the day I'm glad I purchased Pokemon Conquest. It's a solid game with a unique concept that is worth playing.

Rent? Buy? Trash it?
Buy. If you like Strategy RPGs it's a good game for your DS collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/25/12

Game Release: Pokemon Conquest (US, 06/18/12)

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