In the land of Ransei, Warriors partner up with Pokémon in a process called Linking, and together, theyfight against other Warriors. Of these Warriors, the leaders—the men and women who stand over an entire nation—are called Warlords.
Ransei is a tumultuous land, with every Warlord trying to conquer all other 16 nations. Their goal is to rule over the entire continent.
According to legend, only then will the mysterious Pokémon who created Ransei reveal himself.
The game starts with the main character, a resident of the Aurora, the land of the Normal-type Pokémon, suddenly bumping into a girl with her Jigglypuff. Before introductions are properly made, two Warriors from the neighboring country of Ignis suddenly attack. Luckily, they’re extremely weak, so they make for the perfect tutorial battle.
This hardly comes as a surprise, but Pokémon Conquest plays very much like the regular Pokémon RPGs. Many concepts run similar, such as Pokémon abilities and type advantages, but perhaps what reminds me most of the mainline Pokémon games is the seemingly simple game hiding an absurdly detailed metagame. Having not read through the manual or any of the online walkthroughs for the game beforehand, I was in for a surprise when I dove into the game and discovered myself swamped with the sheer number of things I had to keep track of. Pokémon Conquest managed to frazzle my mind since I bit off more than I could chew at a time.
The actual battling is really simple. You choose a Pokémon, you choose a place to move the Pokémon that’s within its Speed range, and then you choose whether to Wait or Fight. If you want, you can use an item—each Warrior can equip one—or a Warrior Skill, which can be used once per battle. These Skills range from raising Defense for three turns to curing all surrounding Pokémon of status ailments like Burn or Poison. The Pokémon themselves have skills (each species has two or three) that activate automatically in battle.
Each species of Pokémon has their own distinct attack, so they don’t learn any new ones as they grow stronger. For example, Tepig and Charmander can only attack a square two spots away. Piplup can only attack a two-square row in one direction. Eevee can only attack the square next to it. There are quite a few more complex move ranges, so choosing which Pokémon to use based not just on type and strength but also on species is very important.
Choosing which Warrior to fight with is also very important. There are a set number of types of Warriors (they all use the same art), and these generally come with the same Warrior Skill. However, they come paired with different Pokémon, so choosing the right combination of Warrior and Pokémon is key.
However, you can’t swap Pokémon partners around in Pokémon Conquest. What you can do, though, is recruit more Warriors and hope you find the right combination or have a Warrior Link with another Pokémon. To recruit Warriors, you have to fulfill one of several conditions, the first and easiest being, “Defeat the opponent in less than 4 turns.” This really isn’t a hard condition to fulfill, so I had hordes of Warriors join my army (which is why I had so much on my plate, to be honest).
To Link with Pokémon, you just have your unit stand next to another Pokémon and choose to Link with it. You’ll be brought to a rhythm minigame that, upon completion, automatically nets you the Pokémon. This means you can now have this Warrior swap between Pokémon from the world map screen. Warriors aren’t always compatible with every Pokémon, though, and their compatibility is shown in a medal above the Pokémon’s head (Yet another reason to choose your Warriors wisely).
Links are basically what replace levels in this game, and it grows stronger with every battle. Unlike in other SRPGs, the Pokémon don’t have to defeat an enemy to gain experience, which is a godsend. The opponents number so few in wild battles and Warrior battles, and experience growth is so slow I think I might send my DS through the window if that were the case!
Instead, I get to stick Magikarp in the back of battle and have it avoid any confrontation while still gaining some Link points. Nevertheless, grinding can still grow tedious since each battle only adds a few decimal points to your Link (which is measured as a percentage).
Warlords (not Warriors) can also evolve once they’ve reached a certain Link with their most compatible Pokémon. This is almost always the Pokémon they come partnered with. In the main character’s case, that would be Eevee. Upon evolving (which is done with flashing lights and over the same background as Pokémon evolution, amusingly enough), the Warlord’s skills change and he can have higher Link with his Pokémon.
Managing and matching Pokémon to Warrior caught me off-guard because there really is quite a number of both Pokémon and Warriors to choose from. Having to keep track of both and who is partnered with whom became quite a task when there are more than 30 units involved. I mean, you can’t just have your main party of 6 and maybe some backup. You should have enough to cover your weaknesses and to occupy nations you’ve left empty so other nations can’t invade you in the meantime!
My favorite battles are the Warlord battles. Not only are they a story requirement, but they’re more than just “defeat all opponents within x number of turns,” like the usual Pokémon or Warrior battles. Instead, you may have to play Capture the Flag with 3 or 4 banners, or you may have to fight on a lightning field where you can press switches scattered across the arena to sabotage your opponent. I definitely had the most fun during these battles, even when the opponent had a Rhyperior shooting Rock Wrecker at my Eevee.
At times, Pokémon Conquest does feel like a Pokémon game dressed up in SRPG clothes with a smattering of Nobunaga’s Ambition. Admittedly, I’d been hoping for something more different and with a more solid plot, but on the other hand, the game feels so distinctly Pokémon that I can’t dislike it for its faithfulness. Besides, any game with Pokémon that introduces new ways to interact with the Pokémon themselves and does so well is a definite plus for me.
Food for Thought:
1. The Pokémon art for this game is by far the best I’ve seen in any Pokémon game thus far. I love it. I want to draw it. It’s too bad only 200 Pokémon get to be shown with this art style.
2. You can look forward to passwords to activate special episodes that unlock stories behind different characters, as well as swarms of rare Pokémon for you to link with.
3. With no levels, Pokémon evolve by stat gain as their Link increases. This also means that, once the Link’s been maxed out, your Pokémon can’t get any stronger, so finding compatible Warrior and Pokémon is really important in the long run.