As Pokéfans everywhere wait with bated breath for the new Black and White games to arrive, Pokémon Conquest arrives to awkwardly fill in the remaining time. Much like a cosplayer clad in aluminium foil, at first glance the game looks good. Conquest looks like a completely new spin on the franchise and in the beginning, it is. Unfortunately, as the game drags on, its cardboard armour begins to bend and distort, the foil begins to tear and you wonder if it’s worth riding it out till the end; or calling it a day and playing another costume.
Conquest is a turn-based strategy game that plays like a tabletop war game as opposed to the turn based... wandering-around-in-long-grass games we’re used to. Instead of playing as a child on a quest to beat Gym Leaders and become the greatest trainer in all the lands, you are a Warlord on a quest to defeat Warlords to become the greatest. Instead of catching wild Pokémon, you recruit warriors who have Pokémon with them. While this is ‘technically’ a different scenario, the difference is akin to being slapped by a trout versus a shot upside the head with a delicious bass. With a somewhat uninspiring storyline and a hero whose dialogue takes the form of awkward punctuation(...!?!), it’s difficult to believe this quest is really worthwhile.
Your Warlord starts the game with an Eevee and your companion has a Jigglypuff. To catch other Pokémon, you can to enter a kingdom to ‘train’ and beat/recruit wandering Warriors. You are limited to one Pokémon per warrior per encounter, but you can take up to six warriors at a time. Though this feels different and a little interesting in the first few kingdoms, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realise that you’re making up a standard team of six Pokémon to take into battle like standard Pokémon games.
Each kingdom has a different ‘board’ to play on, with obstacles loosely related to the kingdom’s theme. Pokémon can battle on boards containing obstacles such as water, lava, pools of poison and, for some reason, turnstiles. The obstacles are more frustrating inconvenience than complete battle-changer, but can be used to your advantage. The battle difficulty is low enough that the fights boil down to weight of numbers eventually, and each encounter becomes a slow grind to the finish.
Each Pokémon only has one move, so you can mix and match warriors to make sure you cover your bases, however, you won’t. As you highlight a kingdom, you can see exactly which Pokémon are being used to defend it. The kingdoms are also ‘themed’ so the majority of Pokémon occupying them share a type, so it’s in your best interests to completely tailor an attacking force with super-effective Pokémon to crush your enemies and hear the lamentation of their ekans. However, your Pokémon will need to be stronger than theirs so you will need to develop link ratings to truly experience what is best in life.
Each warrior has a ‘link’ rating with their Pokémon, roughly between 25 - 100. Though the link represents the compatibility rating between the Pokémon and the warrior, in reality, it’s a different way of representing your Charmander’s level. High link ratings are a requirement in Pokémon evolution, so there’s fair reason to try and grind around for a while and make your battles easier.
The problem is that the basic story mode can be knocked off around the 25-hour mark, so trying to hunt down the 100% linkable Pokémon and developing 100% ratings isn’t a particularly appealing tactic. Outside the battles, the game controls are clumsy and frustrating, so looking through kingdoms to check which Pokémon happen to be roaming around and which Warrior ‘might’ have a full link takes significantly longer than fighting the battles themselves.
If you’ve decided to gather a large army of warriors in order to collect more Pokémon, the management of six warriors per kingdom over numerous kingdoms gets incredibly tedious early on. The only difficult challenge I faced was deciding whether to continue my long, drawn out pursuit of catching and evolving every Pokémon available to me, or taking my overpowered Charizard and Darmantian and engulfing the remaining kingdoms with cleansing hellfire.
After the ashes of Ransei had finally cooled, I watched the ending sequences and looked through the post-game content. New quests and Pokémon unlock so you can continue filling out your gallery (not Pokédex), but as the quests put you in control of other Warlords, your current link ratings get reset. After my retinas had reattached following an overzealous rolling of my eyes, I decided I didn’t want to play anymore.
Though Conquest was a great idea which appealed to both my love of nerdy war games and Pokémon, it’s a very clumsy attempt. The game held my obsessive collective concentration for 50 hours before my will broke and I pushed to the end, and it rewarded me by implying I shouldn’t have bothered spending so much time playing it.