Developer Tecmo Koei might have designed Pokémon Conquest to be a way to introduce kids to strategy games, but I think it’s actually ideal for jaded fans of the series. This spinoff for the Nintendo DS is more about raising an army and conquering kingdoms than trying to “catch ‘em all.” And for former Pokémaniacs like me who are a bit tired of the kid-friendly franchise these days, Pokémon Conquest is the perfect way to fall back into it.
The player assumes the role of an aspiring warlord who recruits other warriors and their Pokémon allies to take over and unite the 17 kingdoms of the Ransei region of Japan in the 1500s. The main antagonist, Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, and his followers seek to do the same. Most of the game involves moving squads around to defend territories and throwing down in six-on-six Pokémon rumbles on small, grid-based maps.
It’s a refreshing change of pace from the typical flow of the other core games in the series: A kid from a small town travels across the land to catch all of the Pokémon, beat eight gym leaders, and become the league champion.
Conquest doesn’t ask players to participate in the various silly tasks featured in those titles, like breeding, berry collecting, and beauty pageants. Plus, since it’s primarily a solo campaign affair, Pokémon Conquest doesn't make me feel like I’m missing out on anything for not trading with others (who, in the past, rarely seemed to be both open about playing and my age as an adult).
The fresh vibe in this game is due to the fact that it’s really an installment in the long-running, turn-based-strategy series Nobunaga’s Ambition that features Pokémon. Thankfully, Tecmo Koei uses the license to great effect.
Anyone who’s played a Pokémon game should get the gist of the element-based, rocks-paper-scissors battle mechanics: fire beats grass, grass beats water, etc. If they then try out Conquest, they should instantly understand the relationship between all of the different creatures (around 200 in total) and the warriors’ similar affinities.
Whether or not the Pokémon look familiar to the player doesn’t matter since the game focuses on the link between them and each respective owner. As long as that bond is strong, every beast has the capacity to become competitively competent.
The way that Conquest further simplifies the Pokémon elements (one move per fighter, catching one is a matter of playing a rhythm minigame, and so forth) frees up fans to simply concentrate on the fighting and strategy. Best of all: no random battles. That means players don’t have to navigate any dungeon mazes swarming with Zubats.
Essentially, people who enjoy games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem and were perhaps a fan of the Pokémon series at some point in time should be able to appreciate the wonderful synthesis that Pokémon Conquest is.