Pokemon has had an interesting history. Aside from the ever popular main line of games, of which we actually have a new set coming later this year, the franchise has had the misfortune of having potentially more spin-offs than any other series in history, and most of them failing to live up to the popularity of the series’ roots. There have been puzzle games, adventure games aimed more towards children, platformers and dungeon crawlers. So imagine the mixed feelings of fans worldwide when Pokemon Conquest was announced, a game taking the ever-popular Pocket Monsters and placing them into a strategy RPG.
The result, as I was incredibly pleased to find out, works better than you’d expect.
Pokemon Conquest is the amalgamation of Pokemon and Nobunaga’s Ambition, a line of turn-based strategy RPGs that have never really been a big deal in North America. For the sake of comparing it to something that most of us probably have played, compare the gameplay to something like that of Advance Wars, but set in the era of Feudal Japan rather than the semi-Present military. You and an opponent send troops onto a battlefield and take turns moving your units and attacking enemies.
Each battle works roughly the same way. You and your opponents begin a match by releasing up to six Pokemon on the battlefield. Each Pokemon has their own abilities in terms of movement, offensive and defensive capabilities. Each Pokemon only knows one attack, and each attack has their own set effect area. For example, Eevee’s Quick Attack hits only opponents standing directly in front of you, but Gyrados’ Aqua Tail hits the three spaces in front of him/her, with the added effect of knocking opponents back one space, if possible.
But of course, strategy is the name of the game here, (well…not literally of course…) so there are many factors to constantly take in with each round. Each map usually has some sort of environmental hazard, like random falling fireballs in the blazing kingdom of Ignis, the thin ice patches in the frozen kingdom of Nixtorm or the electrified floors in the thunderous kingdom of Violight. Each of the 17 kingdoms bring with them an entirely new strategy in terms of Pokemon you should bring, and not just because each kingdom usually follows the hilarious tradition of being stocked almost entirely with Pokemon of the same weakness, so you can stroll into Fontaine, the water kingdom, with a team full of grass types and win in just a few turns.
Believe it or not, the warlord behind each Pokemon is almost as important as the Pokemon itself. Each warlord, of which you can recruit if you manage to defeat them under certain conditions, has their own special abilities in battle, and can form a perfect link with one Pokemon. This link is the new form of catching Pokemon. You no longer have to chip away at the health of a Pokemon before cramming them into a tiny ball. Here, you simply need to form a link with them on the battlefield, regardless of health or status.
The ultimate goal for each match, ideally, is to either defeat all the opponents on a given map, or claim all the banners on the map at the same time, before the predetermined amount of turns are up. Think Battlefield‘s Conquest match type.
Once a kingdom is yours, you can search areas for new soldiers and Pokemon, of which there are a total of 200 each to collect, mine for gold in order to buy items from the store, or visit the ponigiri shop to get delicious treats for your Pocket Monsters in order to raise their energy. Don’t worry if any of this sounds boring, as you can delegate kingdoms you own to perform these tasks automatically if you so desire, although they usually aren’t nearly as successful if you don’t go in yourself.
There are so many aspects here to think about before, during and after entering into a battle. What I love most about the game is the accessibility to newcomers of an SRPG. I’m not terribly experiences with the genre myself, although the game was easy for me to pick up and understand. Which will undoubtedly be a huge plus for a big number of players out there.
Your ultimate goal is to conquer all 17 kingdoms in the land of Ransei. You play as a young warlord, (of which you name yourself. I named mine RED for nostalgia purposes,) who rules over the Aurora kingdom at the start of the game. Legend has it that anyone that should ever conquer all 17 kingdoms will come into contact with “the legendary Pokemon.” Your warlord finds that Nobunaga, an evil warlord from northern Ransei, plans to use the legendary Pokemon in order to destroy Ransei. Being a young person in the military, you don’t know any better than to take it upon yourself to thwart evil and save the day.
What I love most about the story is the characters. There are personalities from all walks of serious, powerful or hilarious that are incredibly memorable. Terrera’s Shingen is a personal favorite. All of them fit right into the vibe of a Pokemon game. In fact, I’m in love with much of the design of the game in general. Even the sprites, which I was concerned would look sort of dated, fit right in with the SRPG aesthetic. The music and architecture of the Feudal Japan setting are a great break from the hustle and bustle of towns and semi-futuristic tech that the franchise is known for.
And of course, after the credits roll, there are more stories to do as the individual warlords encountered through the game, although a bit harder than the main story itself. It’s easy to spend dozens upon dozens of hours maintaining your army, building your kingdoms, capturing Pokemon and recruiting soldiers.
Pokemon Conquest is a game that will have fans teetering on the edge of whether or not they should actually look into it, and I say they should. Not only is it the greatest Pokemon spin-off since Pokemon Snap, but Conquest sustains itself in a way that it could totally become its own franchise. Heck, were there some kind of reversal and Pokemon Conquest had been out for years and the main line games were the spin-off, I’d probably be acting the same way as I am now. It’s that good. Go play it.
Pokemon Conquest deserves the attention of veterans and newcomers to the Pocket Monsters alike. It's the greatest Pokemon spin-off yet.