IMPRESSIONS: Pokemon Conquest

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

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My ongoing fling with the Strategy game is certainly well documented, but before I even begin with this latest endeavor, here are my Pokemon credentials. I have a complete National Pokedex in Black Version (it’s missing only the three Pokemon not yet released in America), and I have spent anywhere from 20-100 hours with each major spin-off game in the franchise including the handful of “Mystery Dungeon” titles, the two Pokemon Ranger games, and cult classics like Pokemon Snap.

Nintendo is catering to my two most insatiable addictions with the release of Pokemon Conquest, known as Pokemon x Nobunaga’s Ambition in Japan. One could imagine the game being a natural fit for someone like me, despite the absolutely insane premise this crossover tries to sell.

Is it…just insane enough to work?

The easiest way to answer this question is: “Yes, if you have the patience for it.” It irks me to add a conditional statement to what otherwise should be a straightforward answer, but I’m afraid there’s just no way around it. For anyone unfamiliar, allow me a brief summary of the gameplay provided within Pokemon Conquest:

You’ll spend a majority of the game in battle, whether you’re trying to conquer enemy territory or grind in order to meet or exceed an enemy armies’ collective strength. When in battle, it will indeed feel as though you’re playing through a Fire Emblem game at best, and something akin to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance at worst. The player has control over a certain amount of warrior units, and thus a certain amount of individual Pokemon tied to each unit in battle. Each Pokemon can only use one move, and each warrior can only carry one item (or use their special skill once per battle). You’ll notice the common theme in this gameplay explanation is “one”, but worry not—there are 200 unique Warriors / Pokemon to recruit, and the move your Pokemon uses will indeed become stronger over time (especially once evolution occurs).

Your army can also be useful outside of battle as well. One of your six units delegated to any particular castle can shop while another mines for gold. But be mindful, because that only leaves you with a possibility of four units to take into battle in that particular territory as opposed to six. There’s a lot of planning involved, especially when your army reaches a considerable size and you have quite a few castles under your control. The game moves in increments of “months”, where one month is a single turn for your entire army. Whether you want to spend a month battling, shopping, gold mining, or other such tasks remains up to you.

I hope you’re beginning to feel how cumbersome this sort of gameplay can become over time, if only for the amount of explaining I’m having to do to help detail what initially sounds like a simple, intuitive system. Having the game move in increments of months, forcing each individual warrior to only do one thing in a turn, is entirely too restrictive for my tastes, because building your army into something useful takes way more time than is necessary, especially in a game targeted towards children.

But, overly repetitive gameplay is par for the course when it comes to the spin-off games. If an engaging story or an engrossing environment accents repetitive gameplay, the integrity of the game can stay strong. Unfortunately, in the case of Pokemon Conquest, there isn’t much story offered, and the oddball combination of Pokemon & Samurai isn’t nearly as fleshed out as it should be in order to truly capture one’s imagination. I’m thirteen hours into the game so far, and the story has moved at a painfully slow pace, offering extremely minimal character development and no real motivation to continue outside of “conquer this / conquer that before the world is destroyed”.

I kind of want the world to be destroyed—it might offer a little more variance in terms of gameplay and actually give the game’s huge cast something to do besides grind & conquer.

I have some gripes with the battle system as well. The relationship between a Warrior and his or her Pokemon can improve with each battle (and this can potentially lead to a Pokemon evolving), but it can only be fully realized if a Warrior and Pokemon share the same “type” (this is dubbed a Warrior’s ‘Specialty’). Certain warriors, like the main character, are best fitted with “Normal” type Pokemon, and thus the strength of any other Pokemon they meet cannot be fully realized if they are not also the “Normal” type.

This is understandable, until you see a certain warrior that starts out with a relatively strong Pokemon has suddenly reached his maximum possible relationship with the Pokemon he came with, and that Pokemon will never be able to evolve or achieve the best possible stats. Furthermore, several recruited Warriors have Pokemon already present in your main army, so it becomes a task in and of itself to find that Warrior’s ideal Pokemon based on his ideal type… which cannot be seen without going into the third group of sub-menus in the game outside of battle.

Like I said initially—cumbersome and time consuming. This game feels like a chore to play, just as these impressions are beginning to feel like a chore to read. Most of the strategy games I’ve come into contact with offer a sense of reward that correlates with the amount of work you put into the game. Pokemon Conquest, unfortunately, falls short of this. I imagine a lot of people would find this type of gameplay rewarding, but the payoff is virtually non-existent for me, outside of a fun game to take up my time until something like Heroes of Ruin or Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance arrives.

My impressions on this game are long-winded, if only to warn you that Pokemon Conquest itself is a very long-winded game that requires a lot of patience and time to truly master. What the developers have done is taken a simple, intuitive gameplay system and forced players to sit back and take a long, long journey in order to see the fruits of their labors.

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