Another day, another Pokémon spin-off
In case you didn’t know, Pokémon happens to still be one of my favorite RPG franchises to date due to the success of the traditional titles released every year. A series that I grew up playing in middle school has seen progression over the years and improved its mechanics with each iteration. Thus, needless to say, I’ve just about loved every version of Pokémon since the originals. As for spin-offs, however, there’s another story entirely. Typically, I’ve played spin-offs in the past but over the years, I’ve come to fret the release of a Pokémon spin-off. Sure, there are a few good titles here or there but the majority tend to lack the mass appeal that the RPGs have so embraced over the years.
Nonetheless, it’s amazing to me how a simple gimmick can at least lead to interest, no matter how bizarre of an idea it is. In comes Pokémon Conquest, a game that ties Pokémon with Koei’s Japanese feudal war franchise, Nobunga’s Ambition. And as bizarre as this combination initially sounded, the idea of a Pokémon tactics RPG whetted my appetite for some additional strategy to the typically in-depth battling system involved in the Pokémon series. Could this title overcome the strangeness of concept and provide an experience worthy of the Pokémon nametag or was it doomed to be yet another mediocre Pokémon spin-off?
Complex Castle Management
Pokémon Conquest begins following the life of a warrior that you are given the luxury of naming and choosing their gender. In this bizarre crossover world called Ransei, there are 17 kingdoms, each of which is looking to capture the others for eternal glory. According to legend, if one can capture all 17 kingdoms, the creator of Ransei will appear. Thus, warlords use their Pokémon companions as tools of war in their quest to rule the land.
With little emphasis on quality story (I found myself breezing through the dialog in an attempt to get to the next segment of gameplay), the meat of the game is split into two major portions: battles and kingdom management. As you move around the map conquering kingdoms, you’ll amass an army of warriors and Pokémon at your disposal with all sorts of combinations of skill sets to use for optimal efficiency within the battles. Thus, it is important but not necessary to utilize all of your options and warriors each turn throughout the kingdom to maximize success.
At the beginning of the game, you have only two warriors at your disposal, each “linked” with their own Pokémon and in order to gain access to more warriors, you must conquer other kingdoms. After a kingdom is conquered, you can then enter its boundaries and perform a number of actions that can help to advance your economy, Pokémon’s stats, or number of warriors. For instance, if you stop by a cave or grove within the walls of one of your kingdoms, you can encounter wild Pokémon as well as trainers to recruit based upon your performance in the battle (if you can defeat the warriors within 4 turns).
As for linking different Pokémon with your warriors, each begins with one Pokémon but can link with a few more to increase tactical options for the warriors. The bond between a warrior and a specific type of Pokémon also comes into play so it is crucial to find Pokémon that are greatly compatible with you warriors in order to improve their performance in combat. This is especially helpful with the two main characters since they must be a part of every castle siege and thus having type diversity for each of them is a must.
Other management options include building up the different parts of the castles, buying items at the shop, and improving the link between a Pokémon and its warrior. Each kingdom can only have up to 6 warriors stationed at a time so if the maximum limit is reached, new recruits must be sent to neighboring cities. As you improve the structures within the castle, their overall effectiveness improves. Thus, leveling up the shop will yield better items or leveling up the Pokémon dwellings will improve the quality of Pokémon and Warriors you’ll find.
It’s easy to get lost in the micromanagement of your kingdoms but in all reality, the battles are the most important part of the game, along with planning which Pokémon to take into each battle. Thus, as long as you recruit a large number of warriors at your disposal (and level them up if necessary), you should have all you need to progress through the fairly easy campaign.
Battles between Pokémon follow the same ideas set forth in the traditional RPGs, only this time around it’s a tactics RPG style melee. Up to 6 Pokémon can enter the battle from each team. The battlefields are varied dependent upon the area you’re located and units must traverse a small tactics style battlefield. Each Pokémon has specific stats to determine their effectiveness in battle but these stats have been narrowed down to HP, Attack, Defense, and Speed, each of which is self-explanatory. Pokémon types hold true as well making basic type tactics an important thing to consider.
This time around, however, each Pokémon only has one specific move at its disposal. Each move has its own characteristics from type to firing distance and strength. For instance, Jigglypuff’s DoubleSlap hits an opponent within one square 2-5 times whereas Darumaka’s Flame Wheel causes him to run forward a space and attack an opponent two spaces away. There are a number of different attacks to go with each Pokémon so this only adds to the amount of strategy involved with team building. And, to make things even more complicated, each of the Pokémon have different abilities and can even have different abilities than other of the same Pokémon.
Adding to the complexity is the skills of the trainers. First of all, each trainer has his/her own stats, Power, Wisdom, Charisma, and Capacity. The first three stats mirror those of the Pokémon’s Attack, Defense, and Speed, thus increasing the overall amount of damage, how little the Pokémon is hurt by attacks, and increasing the accuracy and evasiveness of the Pokémon respectively. Capacity refers to the amount of Pokémon that can be linked with the trainer. Also, each trainer has one or more specialty types that indicate how likely he/she is to be compatible with a Pokémon of the same type.
Finally, each warrior has his/her own Warrior Skill, which is a unique move that can be performed once per battle. Examples of these include increasing the movement of a Pokémon for one turn, raising a single stat of the Pokémon’s for some period of time, and even bolstering nearby Pokémon or all Pokémon within the party. Overall, the game does a great job of mimicking the overall amount of complexity from the traditional RPGs while maintaining a simplistic battle style after all of the tactical considerations are in place. And, like the traditional games, only a basic understanding of each of the concepts is necessary to complete the game though mastery is important if battling other human opponents via local wireless multiplayer.