"Pokémon Conquest is a new way to experience two universes, and it seems to offer something new for veteran SRPG fans as well."
Pokémon Conquest is almost so bizarre as to be passed over by the gods of localization. This strategy RPG tosses 200 Pokémon in a blender with feudal Japan and the warlords of Nobunaga's Ambition. In addition to the unlikely combination, Conquest comes curiously late in the life of the DS, so the localization is even more unusual. Thankfully, the appeal of Pokémon is great enough in the U.S. for an English version, and fans of either of the combined franchises as well as SRPG veterans will all find a deep, challenging, and lengthy experience in Pokémon Conquest.
Conquest combines kingdom and party management with traditional turn-based strategy RPG combat. Gameplay follows the player's accomplishments as a warlord over the months of his campaign of conquest. Managing individual warriors and their Pokémon looks to be quite the task, but a fun one with plenty of reward. Matching each warrior with an appropriate Pokémon ensures a high "Link" rating, which replaces traditional levels. This number, rendered as a percentage, gives a general idea of the effectiveness of any given Pokémon when paired with a particular warrior. Both Pokémon and warriors must be amassed and strengthened for victory.
Each warrior can be used for a single "action" each month, and that includes everything from shopping to resource gathering to combat. Once used, they can't be accessed again until the cogs of time spin and a new month arrives. This lends a neat time/resource management aspect to an already robust game. Choosing whether to send a character to the mines to fill the kingdom's coffers or to take him into battle is one of the many decisions awaiting players each month. Such decisions are made more complex by various parameters that determine the effectiveness of warriors at each task. The strongest characters might mine more gold, but if they're sent to the mines, they won't be available for the next challenging battle.
The major goal of Conquest's first episode (there are 36 in total) is to conquer each of nearly twenty castles held by enemy forces with the ultimate ambition of claiming the region's legendary Pokémon. Capturing castles requires brave warriors to take even braver Pokémon into battle. In later episodes, events occur during certain months, and the enemy can actually advance on the player, prompting more battles. Combat plays out like most SRPGs, and the trademark Pokémon strength/weakness system is surely the crux of strategy here.
During my time with the game, I previewed two battles. The first was a low-stakes foray on a sort of practice field. This was a straightforward "slay all enemy Pokémon" affair, although I had the option of recruiting the warrior I defeated. Recruiting Pokémon is also important to victory, and that can be done in similar arenas after the player completes a rhythm-based mini-game. More warriors and Pokémon contribute to a stronger kingdom.
The second battle involved capturing an enemy castle. In a race to capture three flags placed on towers, I had to balance beating away enemy Pokémon with marching forth to claim flags. Frequent dust storms could toss Pokémon off the tower tops as well, thwarting victory, but these thankfully affected both sides. In stark contrast to other Pokémon games, each Pokémon has only one attack, which makes me wonder how much vitality the combat will have. Hopefully varying objectives, passive abilities, Pokémon evolution, and frequent swapping can help keep battles fresh.
There are plenty of features not readily apparent or explicable during my brief time with the game, and fortunately we don't have much longer to wait before we can discover them completely. There's a password system for rare wild Pokémon, local PvP, and the promise of downloadable content in the future. Pokémon Conquest is a new way to experience two universes, and it seems to offer something new for veteran SRPG fans as well. Look for our review soon.