Man, it's really not long until Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire come out, is it?
A while ago, in one of my many ponderings, I thought about how horrible war would be in the world of Pokemon – my apologies for the lack of accent. This, among other things, led to a novel project, but it also led to getting the Pokemon game that ostensibly might address this idea: Pokemon Conquest.
I'll grant, it's not the only time the problem has been looked at. A major part of the plot of Pokemon X and Y is a war that took place in the distant past, in which Pokemon were drafted into combat. But Pokemon Conquest is a game all about that. Sort of.
I say sort of because it's actually a crossover with another long-running game series, the Nobunaga's Ambition games, which may well be better known for their crossover with the Dynasty Warriors games, Samurai Warriors. To give some brief background, the Nobunaga's Ambition games are historical turn-based strategy games set in the Sengoku era of Japanese history, a period in which various warlords, including Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu (or the three great unifiers) had divided Japan up into various territories and were consistently warring and politicking to expand them. It's a time of political strife and conflict that eventually ended with Nobunaga betrayed and killed at Honnou-ji, Hideyoshi exhausting his armies and political influence in a fruitless war against Korea, and Ieyasu becoming shogun.
That's a vast simplification, but it's an era that looms large in the cultural memories of the Japanese, in much the same way that the War of the Roses is very prominent in the cultural memory of the British, or the American Civil War for Americans. Nobunaga is particularly prominent, in large part because he was such a character, a liberal modernist who was both mercurial and bellicose, prone to fits of both great joy and great fury, who deeply desired peace, religious freedom, the arts and economic prosperity, but who found himself born in an era that often required brutality of him.
In Pokemon Conquest, the characters of Nobunaga's Ambition – who are fairly cartoonish, caricaturish versions of the historical figures in question - are residents of the Pokemon region of Ransei, an island divided into seventeen territories, each based on one Pokemon type. This was before Fairy-types were introduced. You play a young warlord, picking your gender and your name, who rules over Aurora, the Normal-type kingdom with your Eevee. Approached by Oichi, or Ichihime, Nobunaga's sister, she urges you to conquer all seventeen of Ransei's regions and meet the legendary Pokemon who will descend to whoever does so: A Pokemon that Nobunaga claims he will kill.
So you set out to conquer all of those regions, subjugating historical figures beneath your adorable perky heel as you go.
|Why is Date Masamune twelve? Nobody knows.|
So, let's talk about gameplay. Every month of the game, your warriors (one human and one Pokemon) get one action – which you usually use entering a battle, but can use to buy items or to mine. You can have six warriors stationed at any one castle you control, and six in any battle. In battles to take a castle, or on the extremely rare occasion one of your castles will be attacked, you'll be fighting a team of warriors. Otherwise, it'll usually be wild Pokemon with one or two warriors sprinkled in.
Battles work as thus: You're on an isometric board, often with obstacles. Your warriors can move a certain number of spaces, depending on what Pokemon they are – more agile Pokemon can move further each turn, less agile fewer. Each Pokemon has a single attack, with variable range: Eevee, for example, which you start off with, can only attack a single square immediately adjacent to itself, but when I eventually evolved it, it could attack three squares one square away and adjacent to itself. So on, so forth, I ended up with warriors like Takatora with a Charizard who could attack for three squares in any adjacent direction, and Shingen with Rhyperior who could attack one square, three squares away, in any adjacent direction.
Elemental weaknesses, immunities and strengths are also at play, and each of your warriors also has one 'warrior ability' – in Oichi's case, it was healing the entire party, in the hero's case, it's increasing his Pokemon's range for a single turn, et cetera. Warrior abilities can be used once per battle. They can also carry one item.
Defeat a warrior in less than four turns and you'll usually be able to recruit them, and there's a short minigame for catching compatible wild Pokemon.
It's gameplay which isn't difficult to pick up at all, but it's quite deep, especially given the range of arenas – my first battle for a castle, for example, was in Ignis, ruled by Hideyoshi, which was a relatively simple flat plain with some magma pools as obstacles, but my second to last was in Nixtorm, ruled by Akechi Mitsuhide (best known in history for betraying Nobunaga to his death and then being stabbed to death by a peasant spearman a week later), where the entire middle of the field is covered with ice that will cause any non-ice or non-flying Pokemon to slide in whatever direction you move them in until an obstacle or another Pokemon stops them, making it a disorienting and complicated game of trying to line my Pokemon up to serve as obstacles to each other to actually get them in range of the enemy. Add to that that several kingdoms have variations on Capture the Flag, forcing you to think tactically – my first loss was in Pugilis, where I foolishly tried to treat it like a normal battle, not realising that the way to go was to shove all the enemy's Pokemon off the platform, capture the banners, and then defend the tiny one square wide path to them like my life depended on it – to win.
|The guy in the background is Akechi Mitsuhide, and so|
presumably planning to stab that girl in the back.
Where I found myself wishing for more deepness was outside the battles. It's a fairly simple affair, really. You can mine. You can buy items. You can delegate castles you're not occupying to recruit warriors, develop the economy, or train to increase their power. But you can't really do anything else. I would have liked to see some kind of system where you could use the positioning of your castles to essentially besiege another one by surrounding it and maybe devoting a turn to 'siege', decreasing the strength of the army in it by an amount that depends on how many castles you hold near it.
Alternately, although it was frustrating when it did happen, I would have liked to see more attempts to invade my castles. It happened only twice during the game, and one of those times was a scripted event.
It's a game I couldn't play for long periods of time, but I played it often, clocking in about ten hours over three days. I was glad when it was over, though. The gameplay, while interesting, was somewhat wearing out its welcome with me.
|I have no idea what's even going on in this picture.|
The game's characters are, as mentioned before, more cartoonish caricatures of their historical counterparts than anything, but there are some nice touches. Hideyoshi, a man whose favoured tactic was to burn people to death in their castles, is the warlord of the fire kingdom Ignis, for example, and probably only not darker than that because there is no such thing as a crucifixion-type Pokemon. Ginchiyo, a woman who in history was the daughter of a man who survived a lightning strike and survived, rules over the Thunder-type kingdom of Violight. Ranmaru, Nobunaga's boyfriend, makes an appearance as his – well, still his boyfriend, to be honest, although the game is never explicit about it.
The plot is pretty bare bones. Obviously, this was never going to be the dark and thoughtful meditation on the nature of war that I think some people expected it to be, as it is in fact a children's game, for children, but that's not why the plot is simple. The plot is simple because, in short, it doesn't need to be complicated. Your goal is set out clearly at the beginning. It's on the other end of the map. Go get it. Nothing more needed.
It's a game I'd recommend, but I got it as a rental, and that's probably how I'd recommend it in general. It's a fun game, and a good side game in the Pokemon series, but it's not especially meaty compared to the main series games, either in length or in gameplay. One last thing I will say, though, is that some of the artwork, which I've sprinkled throughout this post, is really quite beautiful.
|Idk who the dude is here, but look! Tepig!|
Also, I'm bitter the game wouldn't let me force Hideyoshi to commit seppuku. I hate Hideyoshi. I hate him so much.