Review by kirbychamp

Reviewed: 08/17/12

It's such a great idea, I just don't know how it turned out this poorly

Pokemon Conquest is great on paper: a reimagining of Pokemon battling as turn-based tactics/strategy with a feudal Japanese flair drawn from the Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise. Each Pokemon has a signature move from the Pokemon games, with different areas of effect on the combat grid, and as Pokemon and warriors (trainers) battle and grow together, they both evolve and gain new abilities. The player begins with just two warriors in one of seventeen nations (one for each type) but can recruit new warriors by impressing them in combat with a swift defeat or a super-effective attack, and warriors can link with (capture) wild Pokemon that match their preferred types, each with one or two species that s/he can form the strongest link with. Unfortunately, the execution of even these core concepts falters at many times throughout the game, not to mention the antiquated feel from an inexplicable lack of established features for the genre.

Honestly, the game is pretty fun for the first fifteen hours or so; that’s how long the main story takes. The objective: Unite all seventeen regions to prevent Nobunaga from obtaining Arceus, who legend says will reveal itself once the region is united. The difficulty ramps up nicely, adding new mechanics and characters at a healthy pace, and fighting each region on a battlefield suited to the enemy types rewards good long-term planning of Pokemon team composition, balancing the opponent’s beneficial field effects with narrow ranges of types that are easy to build a team against. Plus, the story is pretty enjoyable, not very deep but not overbearing and with a healthy variety of characters.

After the main game, there is a massive flood of content: A new side story is added for each unique warrior in the game, raising the playtime to upwards of 200 hours without adding any true depth. Each story still involves uniting some or all of the regions (or other goals that are most easily met by uniting all of the regions), but with more randomized selections of enemies in each region. All warriors that are used in the main story and any side stories are saved with their most recent Pokemon team, balanced for level in the new story, and the strongest Pokemon are saved for multiplayer play; this works nicely for any completionists out there, giving plenty of opportunities to find the best Pokemon for every single warrior, but it’s extremely time-consuming and repetitive to try to level-up each Pokemon to a perfect link.

Also, the game isn’t actually very challenging, with its hit-and-miss AI really only succeeding when unbalanced stage design works in its favor. Too large of a handful of the stages reduce to a random number, and with stages that randomly remove a Pokemon from the battlefield or rearrange the environment every time (to mention just a couple), dumb-luck losses and unsatisfying victories happen far too often. Alternatively, battles at times become near-impossible in the side stories, when, for instance, starting over at low levels make the random two dragon-types on the enemy army with Dragon Rage able to sweep the player’s team in a single turn; then, when the battle is won, those dragon-types get replaced by whatever Pokemon the warriors had in the main story, so there is hardly any benefit in recruiting them.

On top of all of that is the terrible interface: The menus have too much wasted space, half of the top screen is completely useless, it takes five button presses just to get info on what ability a warrior has or what its Pokemon’s attack does, there’s no way to see what spaces an enemy threatens…and much more. Plus, a lot of information is simply not presented, such as how terrain height affects damage dealt (which I still don’t know) or how status ailments affect damage dealt and taken (which I’m still unsure of), turning off both the strategy game regulars looking to plan out each move precisely and the unacquainted newbies trying to learn exactly what’s going on.

Despite all of the shortcomings, though, I’m still playing this game. It’s almost addicting, with that just-right lack of any concrete goals and definite breakpoints that makes it hard to put down. Maybe I’m just enamored, or maybe I’m working towards the perfect team composition for that one time I might play multiplayer with someone, or maybe I’m a closet completionist. I still wouldn’t recommend the game to anyone but the most die-hard Pokemon fans; it’s too easy and too random for strategy fans, and it’s inaccessible and clunky for everyone else. I do hope a sequel/follow-up comes out at some point because of how great Conquest could have been, but if the existing mechanics aren’t extensively overhauled, I wouldn’t even bother getting it.

Short version:
Story- 8/10; It’s pleasantly simple, and the characters are likeable.
Gameplay- 5/10; Disappointingly shallow, repetitive, and lacking in expected features, and the interface is pretty bad. It may be worth playing for the main story, but then the game is too short.
Graphics- 7/10; The character art is very nice, but the in-game environments are lackluster and the Pokemon sprites outdated.
Sound- 7/10; Generally good with nice Japanese flair, but the music gets pretty repetitive.
Replayability/Lifetime- 8/10; If you really want to play this game for as long as possible, look forward to upwards of 150 hours of gameplay. Don’t expect anything new after the story, though.
Overall- 6/10; Conquest should be fantastic, and I don’t know who approved all of the design flaws that make it barely acceptable.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Pokemon Conquest (US, 06/18/12)

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