Review

Pokémon Conquest

Nobunaga, I Choose You!

Pokémon Conquest pairs Pikachu with ancient Japanese warlords.

By Gus Mastrapa • June 19, 2012

Will Wright, the genius game designer behind SimCity, once said that he played one round of the strategy game Advance Wars every morning just to kickstart his brain. It makes sense that a person who made a career of playing with simulated people like pawns should like the chessmaster’s view of a battlefield. But there’s something more to such diversions than tactical maneuvering. Such games can also transport us to strange, new places and put us in the shoes of leaders who wear heavy crowns.

Pokémon Conquest imagines a land inspired by feudal Japan where warlords battle with magical creatures, like the famed Pikachu and Jigglypuff, at their sides. The leap isn’t all that crazy if you consider that the phenomenally popular Pokémon games are about kids who leave home to wander the earth like ronin samurai, honing skills and gathering cute, powerful allies as they explore their world.

Pokémon Conquest

Here there’s a goal more pressing than merely catching them all and being the best there ever was. Power-hungry conqueror Nobunaga, a stern, mustachioed warrior with a jet-black topknot, aims to invade and unite the 17 kingdoms under his iron fist. And legend has it that a legendary Pokémon will reveal itself to the warrior who accomplishes this feat. That’s where the player steps in―to beat Nobunaga at his own game.

Technically, Nobunaga’s game is the obscure (in America) but respected battlefield simulator Nobunaga’s Ambition―a Japanese series that has popped up on more than a dozen different consoles since the original game was released in 1983. Pokémon Conquest isn’t quite so complex or fiddly. Like Advance Wars, this amiable war game plays like an easygoing gateway to strategy. When it is time to fight, players field an army of warlords and their Pokémon buddies. The warriors may find themselves on islands floating in the sky or atop a frozen lake. The fight unspools turn-by-turn as the player maneuvers Pokémon across the treacherous terrain, trading blows with opponents.

Pokémon Conquest

Pokémon Conquest isn’t just about battle. It is also about preparing for battle. Every conquered castle is encompassed by hunting grounds where new Pokémon and warlord allies can be recruited. Armies are amassed and trained, jockeyed into position, and then deployed when the time feels right. Eventually, the player oversees a horde of human warriors and Pokémon so vast that it becomes necessary to delegate orders to each kingdom and let the warlords go about the business of training and recruiting on their own.

That’s right, where the wandering hero of your typical Pokémon adventure wrangles a pocketful of pets, the tactician playing Pokémon Conquest lords over kingdoms. The lesson here is that the single-minded Nobunaga has abstracted all humanity away from his pawns. Our young hero, an upstart who looks a mite underfed in traditional Japanese armor, still understands the joys and sorrows of battle from the ground. We share those sensations every time a hard-fought battle is won.

That’s because the rewards for these victories are many. Every win sees new warriors joining your ranks and treasures added to the arsenal. These colorful warriors are each sketched in handsome anime style, with ornate costumes, and their personalities are drawn by way of emotional battle chatter. The style is economic and effective, making each warlord-Pokémon pair feel like more than tin soldiers on a miniature battlefield.

Pokémon Conquest

The best moments, of course, revolve around Pokémon. Hunting these creatures down and convincing them to become allies is satisfying, despite the fact that there’s nary a Pokéball in sight. And when the creatures evolve after a battle, transforming into a stronger form, it is difficult not to beam with the pride of a parent.

It’s a little disappointing, after investing time in the game, to discover that there’s no continued conquest after the plot has reached its climax. Once the main story has concluded, players who crave more are left to scrap in stand-alone brawls, which tell the stories of the warlords you’ve encountered on the way to victory. Learning to love your pawns is well and good, but letting go of Pokémon Conquest’s spoils is bittersweet.

Pokémon Conquest
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Price: $30
Rating: E

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    It is absurd that this exists. It is absurd that it was localized, especially 3 months after the Japanese release. It is absurd that it’s supposedly 1 of the series’ best entries.  I like Nobunaga’s Ambition well enough to play but not to import, but I want to reward Nintendo for its ridiculousness.  Maybe we’ll get Pokemon Snap 2 out of it.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deceleration.waltz Deceleration Waltz

      I am also frankly shocked that this game saw the light of day on our shores. I may have to go pick it up.

      Also, +1 for Pokemon Snap 2.

      • George_Liquor

         I’m surprised Nintendo’s still cranking out games for the DS when there’s such a dearth of new releases for the 3DS.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Indeed.  There were screwing over Trade And Battle Card Hero and Pocket Monstes Trading Card Game 2 as recently as the Game Boy Color, but they’ve been really good otherwise.

          If only the game was called PokeMother 3, we might have gotten a localization of 1+2 and 3.

        • DS

          the only way that i can justify getting a 3DS is if there’s a new Advance Wars released for it. i think part of the reason Ninty is releasing games on the DS carts is coz folks have seen through that 3D mirage. plus, the installed base of the DS is nothing to scoff at.

          also, thanx for reminding me to get Nobunaga’s Pokemon Tactics. still need to finish my first run through Devil Survivor 2 though.

    • caspiancomic

       If the Wii U wasn’t designed from the ground up in order to create the perfect console to accommodate Pokemon Snap 2, then I just don’t know what it’s for.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        My guess is that the Wii U was designed for the next 3D Mario game. Think about it: first Super Mario World, then Super Mario Galaxy, and then Super Mario Universe. Geddit?

        But yeah, using the Wii U gamepad as a camera sounds pretty nifty.

        • Asinus

          Well smarted!

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        We didn’t get F-0 or Star Fox on the Wii despite the obvious applications, and Pikmin had to wait until the Wii U.  Never overestimate Nintendo!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Oh my lord, I want a new F Zero game so hard. Probably my favorite racing series. F Zero or Burnout, though Burnout doesn’t seem to really have much quality control the third one was absolutely perfect. So probably F Zero wins. I WANT MORE.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

         I like the idea of a Nintendo Executive designing an entire console around the idea that there is ONE and ONLY one game he wants for it. Why does he care if it works for other games? He’s already rich, probably.

        • http://www.onelinetaxcode.com/ root (1ltc)

          They did this already.

          The system was the Nintendo 64. The game was Super Mario 64.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Absurd that this exists; yeah, by even the lax standards applied to Japanese concept design, this is a bizarre mash-up. But as for localization, I figured anything with the Pokemon name in it is rubber-stamped for as many regions as can be exported to.
         Are there any Pokemon games, no matter how tangential that haven’t been brought stateside?

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Yeah, holy shit. I had no idea it was coming here. I remember being jealous when I saw that it was a thing at all. Tactical RPGs are my fucking jam, and Pokemon are pretty alright with me. I’m thinking I’ll even be able to convince my friends to pick it up too. There is multiplayer, right?

  • HobbesMkii

    As I understand it, the Sengoku period was one Japan’s bloodiest, and Oda Nobunaga was one of its most effective battlefield tacticians.

    I’ve always wondered if Pokemon kill people. In the TV shows and games, they always talk about how dangerous they are, but you never really see anyone get killed by one.

    So, if Pokemon are dangerous, I can see how having an army of pets to do your fighting for you would be extremely useful.

    • Swadian Knight

      Pokémon should be available units in the next Total War: Shogun.

      • HobbesMkii

        That would be the best Shogun mod ever. It’d be a great balancing act, too, thanks to all the various type strengths and weaknesses, a lot like the current Archers/Katana/Spear/Cavalry balance that goes on now.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

         Yeah, they really should have placed it during the Heian period, which is well known to be Japan’s cutest period.  Sushi was perfected as eating was considered base and ugly, everyone was writing precious poetry, and all the Court women were painting their teeth black and redrawing their eyebrows on halfway up their foreheads.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I just put cowboy hats on Japan-specific Pokemon during Contests and pretend I’m in the Bakumatsu.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Hey Nintendo, make a 3D open-world Pokémon RPG, à la New Vegas or Skyrim, and I will fucking buy that shit. I’ll actually buy a Nintendo console, just so that I can play that shit.

    • HobbesMkii

      Oh man, that would be crazy awesome.

    • Aaron Riccio

      If it’s like Fallout, and I can shoot 3D versions of the various Pokemon — “Gotta kill ‘em all” — then I’m sold. Otherwise, not so much for me, though as it’s been said elsewhere in the comments, I’d be game for Pokemon Snap 2; sure, I’m not *really* shooting them, but it’s a video game. I can always pretend it’s actually Big Bulbasaur Hunter. 

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        When I was gullible young lad, a friend of mine convinced me that there was a game called Pokémon Sniper where you could shoot Lugia in the face and watch its head explode in slow-motion. I don’t know why I ever believed that there was an M-rated Pokémon game.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

           Because you were a young lad, that’s why. We’ve all believed obviously fake rumors as a boy. I heard a ton about super-secret locals in Super Mario RPG. And we all knew that guy whose dad worked for Nintendo and knew the next Zelda would be on [rival console of choice].

    • BarbleBapkins

      NARRATOR: “Wartortle…. Wartortle never changes”

      *Wartortle is evolving!*

      NARRATOR: “Never mind then…”

    • Asinus

      I’ve never played a Chimpokomon or seen the show, but I’ve picked up enough to know what it is and the names of several of them (my favorite is Shoe). That being said, I looooove using Pikachu in Super Smash Brothers Brawl in fights and in the Sub Space Emissary. There is something really cool about a hyper-cute, yellow chinchilla calling down lightning to destroy her (right?) enemies. “PIKA!”

      So, yeah, I think I’d even play a game like that as long as it was cell-shaded, colorful, and violent.

  • Enkidum

    Guess I know what I’m buying my son to keep his ass quiet on vacation! He’s currently obsessed with Pokemon Rumble Blast, which is really not a very good game, but it’s got Pokemon in it and so qualifies as interesting for him. But I’d rather steer him towards something with some actual originality/quality.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I feel like a bad parent for thinking this, but I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough for video games, just so I’ll be able to nap in the car.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Look, you need to train him to be a man.  Mystery Dungeon dungeon crawlers.  He’ll be drawing tile-by-tile maps by 7 and going on about the history of the roguelike by 9.  *sheds tear*

      • Enkidum

        He’s already 9! It’s too late!

        He also has a real aversion towards difficulty in games – if he ever sees me playing something on hard difficulty, he always points out that I could do it much easier on easy…

    • Shain Eighmey

      You’re a good parent, looking out for the quality of the games your son plays. My own father was the same way, buying me SimCity 2000 and TIE-Fighter instead of the crappy games I asked for.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    And yet, for all of Nobunaga’s ambition, the one thing he couldn’t conquer was his uncontrollable case of “Dagwood Hair”.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    So… Pokemon Fantasy Tactics?

  • Shain Eighmey

    Looks like an interesting change of pace for Pokemon! I may even have to pick this up, since I have a DS and no interest in a 3DS, and I’ve been wanting a Pokemon game that goes beyond the standard Pokemon formula.