For those reading one of my DS review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
The DS is one of the greatest consoles ever, and it had a massive games library. Despite playing a lot of DS games a huge number of great under-appreciated games flew under the radar. This series attempts to review those game and see if they should have had more time in the spotlight.
Without further ado, here is:
Genre: Tactical RPG.
Developer: Tecmo Koei.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.
In a marriage between one of the most well-known franchises in the world and a franchise that is so niche, that only a handful of its many iterations were ever localized west, Pokemon Conquest is a weird fusion indeed.
Of course, the Pokemon in the title betrays the first franchise in this fusion, but the Conquest moniker can come from anywhere. In this instance, the Koei Tecmo influence might clue you in about the involvement of the much-liked strategy franchise, Nobunaga's Ambition, which is set in the Sengoku era of Japanese history where several warlords vied for the conquest of Japan.
If you re surprised by such a spin-off then you are not alone. Basically, the result is a Tactical RPG where you control 6 Pokemon is a turn-based tactical battle. Against all odds, the gameplay works and the game justifies its existence well. Yet, beyond the basics of its premise, the game fails to reach the potential of its unlikely partnership, hurting what could have been a truly legendary game.
"So the legends were true. But legends can be overcome. With an army mighty enough..."
The central premise of the game's universe is that the Warlords of the Sengoku era somehow all exist in this fictional continent of Ransei, which is more like a Pokemon region than a historical place. In this world, these warriors have the ability to link with Pokemon and wage their wars utilizing these amazingly dangerous creatures. A legend goes around that whoever unites the land will uncover the legendary Pokemon God.
As one character-named Warlord, you basically work to unite the land to stop Lord Nobunaga from doing the same, as it is hinted he is up to evil things. In the process, you basically fight most of the famous warlords of the Sengoku era in their Samurai Warriors interpretation rather than the more historically accurate Nobunaga's Ambition design. The list includes famous warriors such as Ieyasu Tokugawa and Masamune Date among others.
Here is where the game's biggest misstep happens.
One of the very few lines Shingen say all day
Nothing interesting happens between you and these characters, or between the characters themselves. Going from kingdom to kingdom, you get two or three lines from each warlord showcasing one dimension of their personality, and that's it. There is no story development, no dialogue beyond the initial exchanges, no plot to speak off.
Here are some of the most interesting people in Japanese history, and they have nothing to do in this Pokemon world. Consequently, the main story is a straightforward romp with no personality. This even more obvious in the sub-stories that you unlock at the end of the game, with each story featuring one Warlord but offering no meaningful story or narrative push.
More than anything, this is a huge opportunity missed for injecting much-needed personality to the game's narrative.
Missed Opportunity to Use the Characters: -3
Weak Story: -3
" I shall not tolerate anyone who attempts to stand in my way. Even if they are my own flesh and blood..."
Since this is a fusion of an RPG and a strategy game, the genre that has elements of both is clearly the Tactical RPG genre. Battles are set in an isometric grid-divided field with two opposing parties of 6 warrior-pokemon combinations. In each turn, the player can control the actions of all their units. Warriors provide passive bonuses to their pokemon as well as a one-time-use special ability. Each pokemon have a single attack of a single type.
Attacks vary from single target to area of effect moves, and the well-known Pokemon type advantage rules all apply here. Of course, this is pre-Fairy type, so the pokemon, Spiritomb is an annoying devil because he has no weaknesses. Bloody Hanzo.
Always satisfying to read those words
With a variety of stages, each with their own unique twists, the battle system is almost always engaging, as long as your level is closely matched to your enemy. If that's not the case, then battles are either too easy or impossible to win, but in the main campaign, that is not much of a concern.
As you battle, you can level-up your Pokemon. Be careful though, as you may lose a previously useful move type and get a type already covered by another pokemon. A rule of thumb is that a pokemon of two types usually switches the type of their attack when they evolve.
Due to the variety of pokemon and stages, I think the battle system is consistently engaging, and the collection angle of getting more pokemon and more warriors, as well as trying to link warrior to their favored pokemon is all pleasantly addictive.
Good Battle System: +3
Addictive Collection Loop: +2
"So less arguing and more batteling. All right!?"
If you are wondering if the grand strategy elements of Nobunaga's Ambition is at all present, then you may be disappointed a little with the final product. The main campaign is divided into several cities, each controlled by a warlord. As you conquer more cities, you may think you can develop them, or attempt to defend them from other warlords.
In the main campaign, the computer would rarely attack, and you cannot develop your cities.
While this may initially be disappointing, it turns out to be for the best. You see, once you finish the main campaign you unlock several episodes, which end up unlocking several episodes as well. In those episodes, the rule of the game slightly change.
That's your starting city
In these episodes, you can develop your cities, which make it easier to level-up your army and steamroll through the AI. That is unless the AI ate through half of the map and became an unstoppable force.
Honestly, this game mode is not so bad, but it would have detracted from the focus main campaign and the great battle system.
What should have been the case is for this mode to be available from the start for those willing to engage with it early on. Also, when it comes to these many episodes, it appears as if its just the same game with a different main character. They provide very little extra story or characterization and are just content for the sake of more content.
A lot of content: +3
Most of it is inconsequential:-2
Grand Strategy Game Mode is not Bad: +1
"The short life of man is nothing compared to the age of this world. It but a fleeting dream, an illusion..."
It is not difficult to make a Pokemon game look good. Their iconic designs are well-known and there is at least a decade's worth of influence to take from.
As such, it is no surprise that the game looks great. The pokemon look great both in their 2D art and the in-battle sprites are very good (although some do not represent their 2D design well). One thing that is disappointing is the limited number of designs for the Warriors. Each Warlord (The famous historical characters) have their own unique and colorful design. However, the generic warriors, or which there around 200 of them, all share maybe ten or fourteen designs.
The sprites are gorgoeus
On the soundscape, the tracks are a nice fusion of modern and Japanese influence. However, I don't hear any remixes of that style with some of the more famous Pokemon tunes. That's not a bad soundtrack, but there are missed opportunities. Of course, the pokemon sounds are all the well-known screeches that we started hearing since the late '90s.
Very Good Graphics: +3
Cool Sprites: +2
For an idea that probably shouldn't work, Pokemon Conquest is a great game. It is a proof of a concept that could work and works really well. The battle system is great, and there is a lot of potential here.
Maybe because it was such a weird concept, it distracted Koei fro developing the game's narrative or utilizing the amazing potential of its characters. It also distracted Koei fro putting more substance to the game, with a lot of repetitive tasks and a hope that addictive collection loop will distract the player long enough.
By the end of my time with the game, I simply realized that while the main battles I fought were fun, about 60% of my time in the game was doing repetitive mundane tasks with no pay-off. This could be a stepping stone to a much greater game, and I hope that proves to be the case (although that seems unlikely now).
A darker version of the game's poster
Looking Back at Destructoid's Review:
I guess it was natural for a Koei enthusiast like Jim Sterling to review the game, and he enjoyed it more than I did, giving it an 8, concluding: "Pokemon Conquest could have been a cheap tie-in with a terrible gimmick, but instead it's managed to be a fun and rewarding little strategy game with its heart in the right place. It's not going to tax your mind and it's not going to provide anything too complex, but it will more than like suck up hours of your time while you gladly let it, because it's just too satisfying to grab as many Pokemon as possible and see what they can do."
Thankfully, the comments section was not nuked for this review:
Long-time Dtoid contributor, PhilKen Sebben actually bought this as his first Pokemon game:
"Bought. My first pokemon game! Yay!
@TSP: A BREAK? You don't take breaks from survivor. Survivor breaks you."
I wonder if ShadeOfLight actually ended up buying the game:
"Wow, that sounds much better than I ever would've given it credit for. Must check this out ASAP!"
And BoominEchoes enjoyed the in-depth Sterling review:
"Thanks Jim. Was looking into this for not only myself, but for a relative and this is really the first in-depth look I've been able to find.. Even Nintendo's videos of the game are horribly vague. Now I know for sure that I'll at least like it, and that there's a chance the relative *may* if they've really grown to be the gamer I hope they have.
I can't really believe this got localized, but I figure that just about anything with the Pokemon name is going to sell them some games in the long term. I expect the choice to localize this had something to do with Nintendo feeling last years pinch and saying "okay, we need something that we can bank on""
That thunder strike won't be super effective on Ghastly there
I am generally not interested in the sales of the games I like, and I don't measure my penis size through the success of games I like. However, sales data is interesting in studying market trends, people's general interest, marketing strategy, genre effect, and other factors. Which is why I am going to check the sales data of every modern game I review (Gen 4 and beyond).
I don't doubt that this is one of the lowest selling Pokemon spin-off games, with only a Million games sold, which comfortably puts it above any other Nobunaga's Ambition game. As such, this was obviously a success for Koei even if it wasn't as big for Nintendo.
1- Keep your energy high for best performance.
2- When Pokemon evolve, they may actually switch the type of their attack, so be careful.
3- Make sure to link different types of Pokemon to your warlord and to Oichi.
4- Each warrior has their own best Pokemon link.
5- In the episodes, you can upgrade mines and wild areas for more gold and better Pokemon respectively.
6- To upgrade Warlords, basically have them link with their favored Pokemon at 60% or more.
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