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  1. Marshall Henderson

    Review: Pokemon Conquest

    Developer: Tecmo Koei Publisher: Nintendo Release Date: June 18, 2012 ESRB: E For Everyone Platform: DS Pokemon has always been a series about conquest. Very few games so thoroughly conquered the market as Pokemon Red Version and Pokemon Blue Version did back in the nineties, and even afterwards, the most poorly-received spin-offs sold by the millions. Even in the games themselves, players travel across the lands, punching Pokemon out and becoming the Muhammad Ali of Pokemon. Dungeon-crawling and pinball are nice distractions, but Pokemon as a series has always been about conquering. The commiserate themes make Nobunaga“s Ambition seem a ripe target for absorption into the glorious empire of Pokemon. Unfortunately, Pokemon Conquest is an object lesson in the fact that even the hardest fought battles can win little more than a pyrrhic victory. Pokemon Conquest follows the story of a young, player-named Warlord on the path to unify Ransei and bring about peace, in the only way that anyone of history knows how: violent warfare and taking everyone else“s land. The Warlord and his or her Eevee is joined by a woman named Oichi and her Jigglypuff, and the two of them get to work capturing each area. The biggest threat lies on the horizon, however, as Oda Nobunaga himself seeks to do the same, though as a seemingly more sinister character. For fans of Japanese history (or Omega Force/Koei“s Samurai Warrior), however, Pokemon Conquest offers plenty of familiar faces as the Warlord and Oichi do battle against the biggest names in Japan. It“s all about the Pokemon elements. The most exceptional part of Pokemon Conquest is how well it integrates the themes and feel of Pokemon, even to a fault. The writing has the sort of levity that one would expect from the series, with defeated enemy warlords being as impressed as they are friendly, even after the player kicks them out of their own castle. Everyone seems to have their own convictions and motivations, but they lack any sense of gravitas, seeming as arbitrary and capricious as the story itself. It“s fun, it“s light, but it sweeps the rug out from under the narrative. For the first half of the conquest, what the player is doing doesn“t seem to necessarily contribute to the main plot, and even afterwards, the plot only seems to gain meaningful traction in the last three or four areas out of seventeen. While Pokemon isn“t a series lauded and beloved for its potent storytelling, the primary goals are always present for the player, whereas this isn“t the case here. There“s enough story where it bottlenecks a player into battling against specific enemies at a specific time, but yet is sparse enough where players won“t really be able to really sink their teeth in. Once the player completes the main campaign, other stories, focused around the historical figures, unlock. Unlike the main story, these stories are more consistent and compelling, providing at least a little historical context to events, even if it isn“t in a particularly groundbreaking way. There“s a difficulty curve from one story to the next, so if players don“t find the game challenging, and there are likely many who won“t, then this is a chance to take a few beatings. After all, conquest is about the battles fought, and if there“s any strength that needs to be had, it“s this. Instead of having the four move set-up of the main series games, Pokemon each have one ability, generally one of their base type. Type advantage is still important, though stats are simplified to just Attack and Defense, instead of breaking them up with Special Attack and Special Defense. Different attacks, as expected, have different attack patterns, and require a certain degree of strategy and forcible maneuvering to line things up properly. This can be especially irritating when a Pokemon evolves, changing the attack they use and forcing the player to re-evaluate their strategy, but that isn“t necessarily a bad thing; dynamic strategy being forced on the player is the main way Pokemon Conquest stays challenging, as enemies conform to a fairly predictable pattern. When selecting a Pokemon in battle, the warlord trainers each have their own abilities that they can use on the Pokemon. Usually it“s some sort of stat-boosting ability or a healing ability, and these can really help out in a crunch. The trainer can also use the one item a Pokemon holds, if it is a usable item. This is all done before a command is issued to the Pokemon, so players don“t waste a turn doing this. Each Warlord has affinity with a specific Pokemon, determining how high their “Link” with that Pokemon can go, with a higher link being equitable to leveling up. Each warlord starts with a Pokemon for which they may not necessarily be ideal, but it“s entirely possible to link with other Pokemon. When the player maneuvers a warlord beside an unowned Pokemon, “Link” can be selected, initiating a rhythm-style minigame. The number of successful beats hit increases the link, and if all are hit in the first try, it usually leads to a link. Unfortunately, there“s no way of knowing what Pokemon is perfect for a trainer before going into battle. When a Pokemon is selected in battle, the enemy Pokemon will have an icon of either an X, a bronze circle, silver circle, or gold circle overhead, indicating what degree of link can be made, if any at all. This is very useful once IN the battle, but outside of battle, it isn“t visible at all. When attempting to build the best team possible, this is a huge shortcoming, as a perfect link can evolve both trainer and Pokemon. Hazards and bonuses are spread throughout areas, with things like healing hot springs being in some areas, while poison may be spread across the floor in another. Areas are diverse enough to avoid stagnation, but also not really different enough to make a player feel challenged or surprised, and certainly not enough to blow a player away. Much like with the Beckett-esque Pokemon art, the level designs are familiar, but not stunning. Combat is either “wipe out the enemy” or “capture/hold the banners,” so the level designs act more as strategic roadblocks than strategic boons, making players have to take the long way around something or just eat the effects taking damage or a bad status. There is never a point where the Nobunaga“s Ambition angle feels like it really comes into play. Yes, it“s a strategy game, and yes, it is about Japanese history, but it doesn“t have the careful economic or social micromanagement that goes into the strategy elder. Pokemon Conquest feels like a Pokemon SRPG with a heavily guided narrative and a Japanese backdrop, and neglecting the richness that Nobunaga“s Ambition could have brought seems like a huge misstep. Remixes for Pokemon are iconic, but Pokemon Conquest knows that a merger is necessary for taking this back to the past. While nothing jumps out as strictly an especially iconic Pokemon Jam, the type of music is very faithful to the original compositions, with a classic Japanese sound in the undertone. For any other faults with the game, the music is a statement to what the blend intended to do, but even it can fade into the background after grinding for Links or prowling for Pokemon. Still, when the time is just right, a few major events still bring the heat with some pretty sweet jams. No campaign of conquest is perfect. This is a fact that warriors and generals of all history have learned. There are missteps, losses, and poorly planned gambits, and the Pokemon Empire is familiar with these. Pokemon Conquest, however, snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. It“s a good game, it really is. There is joy to be had here, but it feels as though neither Pokemon nor Nobunaga“s Ambition fully brought their greatest strengths to bear. It is a win, but a win with a cost. Pros: + Combat and the Pokemon are diverse and entertaining + Music blended well between the two source series + Combination of trainers and Pokemon provides an interesting dynamic Cons: - Inconsequential story - Lack of clarity for Perfect Link - Area designs can be cumbersome Overall Score: 6 (Out of 10) Decent Pokemon Conquest is a game that will be fun for Pokemon fans, but less so for anyone else. It is an ambitious idea that never quite made it to shore.