Thursday, August 22, 2013

Graduated Gamer Reviews Pokémon Conquest

Pokémon is one of those series you just know will be spoken of for years to come as one of the greats. Not only did it addict an entire generation to collecting all 150 151 of those pocket creatures from the original games back in 1996, but it single-handedly made handheld gaming a legitimate medium for gamers around the world. Since then, Pokémon has grown to so much more than a simple yet difficult RPG and a Saturday morning anime show – it has truly  become an icon of video gaming with the likes of Sonic, Mario, and Donkey Kong.

I was one of millions of people swept away in the original Poké-mania (Squirtle all the way!), however,  I  found that the gameplay of the series soon became repetitive and a bit dull over time. Sure the new Pokémon that came out with each version were cool (even though nothing will ever replace the original 151 in my mind), but the strategy remained the same no matter how deep the gameplay and story line got. It was because of this that I took a very large hiatus from playing Pokémon between Gold and White, and then after playing White I felt let down. I had to face the facts: Pokémon had become stale for me and I would have only Blue and Red to hold on to…that is, until I discovered Pokémon Conquest.

I'll admit, it's hard to feel like a bad ass with an Eevee.

I picked up Pokémon Conquest on a whim while on vacation. I would be away from my consoles for a week and like a junky I needed a gaming fix to hold me over. I was heavily considering Animal Crossing, but since New Leaf for the 3DS had just been released, I decided to go with a more solo adventure. Admittedly, I was a bit leery given my recent meh experience with Pokémon White, but Conquest isn’t your father’s Pokémon (trust me, this will be a saying one day in the near future, and it will be regarding you and Red/Blue when Pokémon Adamantium releases for the Nintendo Brain-Chip).

Don’t let my previous complaints about the Pokémon series fool you – I’m a big fan of those cute and powerful pocket monsters, and I still respect the series for revolutionizing RPGs and pumping new life into handheld gaming. I’m also a fan of strategic gameplay, whether it be RTS, turn-based, or something with a mix of either. Thus, I was optimistic and wanted Pokémon Conquest to be a good game (otherwise I’d be making another trip to the local gaming store). As soon as the game started, it didn’t disappoint. The premise is simple enough: you’re a Warrior, a unique individual with the ability to communicate with Pokémon via a “Link”. You hail from the kingdom of Ransei where neighboring castles have been warring for centuries. Your goal is to unite all 17 kingdoms under one banner in order to prompt a legendary Pokémon to reveal itself and Link to the ruler of Ransei (aka - you). This is your quest. Sounds simple enough, right?

Major bonus points if you can correctly guess "Who's that Pokémon?". 

Not so fast, my friend! There’s a warlord already on the same path to unite the 17 kingdoms, but in typical crazy antagonist fashion he wishes to use the legendary Pokémon to destroy the world. Time to get conquering, buddy! You begin with nothing but a few other Warriors at your side, and from there the choice is yours as to which neighboring kingdoms to start invading. The game limits your area of expansion to a few kingdoms at a time so you don’t overstep your strength and get destroyed by a much more powerful warlord. Each kingdom is themed, with the majority of the Pokémon having a specific  type (e.g. – Ignis is the fire kingdom, so you can bet you’ll find a Tepig, a Chimchar, and a Charmander ready to smoke your grass types).

Strengths and weaknesses follow the same pattern as they have in every Pokémon series before Conquest, so strategy is the name of the game when forming your invasion party. Since each kingdom is themed, it’s pretty easy to prepare for domination by loading up on Warriors with Pokémon that have an advantage over the kingdom’s type. What isn’t easy is actually building your repertoire of Warriors and Pokémon. Like I said, this isn’t a typical Pokémon game. You don’t keep them in Pokéballs, and you don’t capture Pokémon either. This means there’s no more stalking through tall grass (HUZZAH!), but it also means you’ll have to do a little bit of grinding. Every kingdom has a place where wild Pokémon and roving Warriors will appear. You can enter these areas to form Links with wild Pokémon, or recruit Warriors by defeating them in a set number of turns.

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

Forming Links is an easy affair consisting of “hitting A at a certain time enough times in a row”, but not every Pokémon is a good Link with you or your Warriors, as each has a specialty type they prefer. Even then there’s no guarantee an electric-type Warrior will form a perfect Link with that Mareep. Luckily you don’t need a perfect Link to have a strong bond, and I found myself not caring to find them. Links are further strengthened by winning battles or performing tasks like training or digging for gold (you gotta fund that war somehow). The higher the Link, the stronger your attacks become.

Speaking of attacks, this is one area where Conquest feels a bit cheap. You know how certain Pokémon get more awesome moves with experience, and how they would eventually allow more diversity of type-based moves? Well they threw this out the window for Conquest. If you fight with Eevee, you only have one attack from now until the end of the game, and it’s the same for every Eevee in the game. The only ways to get new moves is to Link with new Pokémon and/or evolve your Pokémon (which can be done with special items, reaching a certain Link level with your Pokémon, or performing certain tasks). However, this does give more incentive for diversifying the Pokémon you Link with, which is essential if you’re going to unite the realm.

The game runs on a month-based time system. Each month passes once all Warriors have made a “move” whether it’s training, battling, or other tasks. The good thing about Conquest is that you don’t have to micro-manage your army. You can set 6 Warriors to guard Greenleaf against invasion, and tell them to dig for gold every month to fund your main fighting force. This was a great way to not only build your army but also stay focused on the task at hand. Pokémon also have energy levels which can be affected by the month, so you can use that in your strategy and take time to increase their energy in preparation for an upcoming battle so your Pokémon will be at 100%.

Pokémon + Turn-Based Strategy = Super Effective!

Overall, the main story took me about 15 hours to beat, and it likely would have taken me less time had I not taken the time to Link with more diverse Pokémon for the fun of it. However, if 15 hours isn’t enough time to entice you, beating the main story is just the beginning. Once that’s done, the game opens up multiple other story quests to dive into, each based on a Warrior encountered during the main quest. The more Warriors you recruit in the main storyline, the more side quests you unlock. This added depth was a great way to extend the life of the game, and the different difficulties and lengths of each new quest kept me coming back for more. In total, Pokémon Conquest is easily a 30+ hour game when all is said and done.

So there you have it: a Pokémon game for a new generation, mixing in elements that made the franchise famous while also cleverly incorporating turn-based strategy gameplay. It does a lot of things right, and apart from the occasional grind to achieve victory in the next battle, this game is damn near perfect. If you’re a fan of either Pokémon or strategy games, you can’t go wrong with Conquest. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

We at Graduated Gamer value your feedback and comments (see our comment policy linked at the bottom of the blog). Just remember - have fun and be a decent human being.