|Dev: Tecmo Koei/The Pokemon Company|
|Release: June 18, 2012|
|Players: 1 + Wireless Multiplayer Battles|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Cartoon Violence|
The battle, collection, and character development systems combine to create that elusive "one more turn" feeling that one finds from the most enjoyable strategy games. There's plenty to collect here, with an assortment of 200 well-chosen Pokémon like Pikachu, Eevee (the player character's best match), and Charmander. Some favorites like Bulbasaur and Turtwig are missing, but there's also no Mr. Mime or Nosepass, so we'll call it even. Collecting warlords, seeking out their best-matched Pokémon, then growing and evolving the creatures is also a rewarding activity.
The battles are relatively quick, and every castle has different environmental hazards and gimmicks to keep things fresh. Tecmo Koei specializes in this kind of game, and the result can be seen in the quality design and polish that make this title fun. The only complaint I have about the gameplay is that moving between town management and troop management is a bit awkward. It would have been nice to be able to access the troop information and inventory screens from inside a town instead of just from the world map.
Speaking of polish, Pokémon Conquest is one of the nicest-looking Nintendo DS games I've seen. Most of the visuals are hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites, and the world and character designs are lush and beautiful. Little animated details like sparkling crystals and banners flapping in the wind add interest to the samurai castles, each themed after the kinds of Pokémon found in their domain. Things are a bit more pixellated in battle, but the Pokémon sprites have been given a lot of personality for their size, from the Joltiks that leap around the battlefield to the sad smooshed look that a Pokémon sprite gets when it's suffering from a negative status effect. On top of this, the interface is the most attractive I've seen in a portable tactical game. It's both colorful and very readable, which is a revelation compared to the gray monstrosities most tactical RPG fans suffer through in portable titles.
The music isn't bad, either—it's nothing particularly special, but it's clear and sounds appropriate for a fantasy version of feudal Japan. As for the sound effects, I'm beginning to wonder if the Gameboy bleeps and bloops from the original Pokémon games are protected under the Japanese National Heritage Act. The Pokémon make the same sounds they always have, so early generation Pokés sound awful, while those from the later games sound more like actual creatures. There's no voice acting in the game, but it honestly doesn't need any, since the written text has plenty of personality and charm as it is.
What's particularly impressive about Pokémon Conquest is the sheer amount of gameplay included. The main campaign takes about 15-20 hours to complete, but it can hardly even be called the main campaign. It's more of an introduction to the world of Pokémon conquest, which opens up after the credits roll. After receiving a clear save, the player can choose to play through campaigns starring the various colorful warlords who were introduced during the player character's journey. These aren't short side stories, but complete campaigns that ramp up the difficulty of uniting Ransei. Advanced game mechanics are available in these campaigns, such as developing the seventeen kingdoms in order to access more powerful Pokémon and better equipment. Enemies are more aggressive as well, requiring the player to make sure that all vulnerable castles are well-protected at all times. Between these additional campaigns and free extra episodes that will be available for Wi-Fi download soon, there's enough here to keep gamers busy for months.
Pokémon Conquest comes out at just the right time, as it looks like the perfect summer vacation game. It's portable and breezy, yet has enough depth to keep gamers interested over the long run. In addition, it looks great even compared to a number of DS games, so DS owners won't feel like they're playing a game from the previous generation. This game is a breath of fresh air for the Pokémon series, and is perfect for series fans who want to do something new and different. It's also accessible to a wide audience, from strategy newbies to all but the hardest-core tactical gamers, who may find it a bit too easy, especially at first. For everyone else, this is a must-add to any portable gaming collection.
Date: June 19, 2012