Review: Pokémon Conquest

By Paul Hunter

Having grown up playing the Nobunaga's Ambition series of turn-based strategy simulation video games, I spent countless hours as a wee lad unifying the feudal states Japan with my legions of riflemen, cavalry and infantry. It was the closest I had come to learning about Japan's Sengoku ("Warring States") period, a time during the 16th century marked with tremendous war and the unification of Japan's many fiefdoms.

Fast forward to present day, and before me is a copy of Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS, perhaps the most unlikely crossover title ever created, one that mixes the strategic elements of Nobunaga's Ambition with, you got it, Pokémon. Suspending my love for Japanese historical simulations, I put the cartridge into my Nintendo DS convinced this wacky crossover idea simply couldn't work. It took less than thirty minutes before I realized that not only does the concept work, it's quite possibly the most entertaining Pokémon spinoff ever created.

Pokémon Conquest begins with the ruthless Oda Nobunaga attempting to take over all 17 kingdoms of the fictional land of Ransei. Legend has it that the warrior who unites Ransei will be given the chance to control the Legendary Pokémon Arceus, the strongest Pokémon in the Pokéverse. Feeling that Nobunaga's intentions are for the ill of the country, a young warrior, whom you control, sets out to oppose Nobunaga's ruthless regime in hopes of ensuring peace is maintained on Ransei.

Aside from including Nobunaga, practically nothing within Pokémon Conquest can be considered remotely historical accurate. The story, environments and characters are purely fictional, and feel much more like what you'd encounter in a Pokémon game. As such, in order to enjoy Pokémon Conquest you have to focus on the core essence of Nobunaga's Ambition that made it so fun to play - the highly strategic turn-base combat - and let go of all the tedious elements such as micromanagement of your fiefdoms. Pokémon Conquest is so straightforward and simple, it's tempting to initially think the game is a watered down shell of a strategy game. However, as you ease into the game, a surprising amount of strategic depth presents itself and continues for the bulk of the 30+ hour campaign.

Your main character, Warlord recruits, and enemy Warlords, all possess the unique ability of forming strong links with the wild Pokémon that inhabit Ransei. There are over 200 Pokémon to be found in the game, including many from the recent Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version, as well as 200 individual Warlords to recruit. Each battle takes place on a kingdom battleground, with the two opposing sides able to select up to six Pokémon each to fight on their behalf. While the Warlords don't directly fight, they each have a unique Warrior Skill that can used once during battle and can have a range of effects from healing, to temporarily boosting attack power or defense. Each character also has a Pokémon in which they can acquire a Perfect Link with, which significantly increases the maximum power the Pokémon can achieve.

The base gameplay during battle sequences is what you'd expect, turn-based combat in which Pokémon can move a finite number of squares on the map and are able to attack once per turn. The strategy you take prior to battle is very important, since attack and defense is based largely on the traditional Pokémon series rock-paper-scissors formula, so for example if your enemies are Fire Type it's best to bring your Ice Type Pokémon to battle. Usually victory is obtained through eliminating your enemies, however there are variants such securing four banners and maintaining possession for five rounds.

With a lengthy campaign that opens up even more content after finally defeating Nobunaga, the amount of playable content in Pokémon Conquest is staggering. This game is perhaps the most fully fleshed out and coherent Pokémon spin-off title in the history of this 16-year old franchise. I was so engrossed playing Pokémon Conquest that I didn't care about egregious it was that I was plotting the downfall of Nobunaga using Pokémon. This game is fantastic and I highly recommend it to Pokémon fans and strategy buffs alike.

Pokémon Conquest is out now for Nintendo DS, and is also playable on Nintendo 3DS in 2D mode. The game was developed by Tecmo Koei and published by Nintendo.

Pokémon Conquest is rated E for Everyone.

[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]