In an era marked by escalating game budgets and an aversion to risk, the crossover title has become increasingly fashionable. While the concept isn’t new- the idea dates back to 1990’s Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, a rash of recent mashups such as Cross Edge, Tekken X Street Fighter, and the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games have demonstrated publishers pooling their safeguarded intellectual properties in an effort to court a collective audience. At worst, these combinations come across as unabashed cross-promotions, exhibited when Ezio’s (of Assassin’s Creed fame) costume showed up as Final Fantasy XIII-2 DLC. Yet, a far more virtuous example of this intermingling can be found in the recent release of Pokémon Conquest , which deftly merges aspects of Nintendo’s monster training title with strategic elements culled from Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise. Although the two games seem fated to produce little more than an eccentric curio, in execution Conquest competes very favorably against the best entries from both franchises.
Set in the realm of Ransei, a congregation of 17 domains which loosely resemble Sengoku-era Japan, players assume the role of an apprentice warlord. With popular belief positing that a warrior who conquers the collection of lands will awaken the legendary Pokémon Arceus, the malevolent Nobunaga appears destined for takeover. Utilizing an ever-growing congregation of combatants of pocket monsters, it’s up to gamers to beat the steadfast commander.
Inevitably, Pokémon Conquest abandons many of the rudiments of Game Freak’s beloved franchise. Instead of leveling up, each of the 200 creatures which inhabit Ransei develop a bond with their owners. Both success in battle as well as a compatible temperament push the team of Pokémon and warrior toward the goal of ‘perfect link’. Essentially, this means that each monster has a suitable companion to be found in the game world, reducing the amount of ineffective monsters, and encouraging players to search for unflawed unions. Fortunately, evolution returns- allowing vigilantly nurtured creature to morph into new forms.
Likewise, the game’s collection of 200 complementary warriors can be developed, with training that endows characters with a nice stat bonus. The Pokémon franchise can consistently succeeded at conveying the connection between human and monster, and Conquest is no different- the game wastes few opportunities to articulate the symbiotic nature of these relationships. Drawing from the Nobunaga series, a myriad of other duties vie for a player’s attention. From item creation, kingdom management, and opportunities to battle and recruit special warriors, options abound, promoting a pleasing sense of autonomy. Mercifully, Pokémon Conquest never engulfs the player in tutorial text, offering short, concise guidance on the game’s mass of mechanics.
Complementing creature cultivation is Conquest’s intriguing battle system which offers a nice advancement over Pokémon’s simple combat. Although rock-paper-scissors-like elemental system allows for say, water monster to have a distinct advantage over their fire-based counterparts, nuance is embedded in the title’s frequent fracases. Recalling games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem, movement and attack ranges must be monitored, as well as each battlefield’s unique attributes. Smartly, the developers at Temco Koei prohibited encounters from being too complicated. From limiting the number of units involved in each scuffle, clearly exhibiting movement ranges, to providing an indicator to show which combatants have moved, many of the impediments which accompany tactical role-playing titles have been reduced. Although savvy strategists won’t find Conquest puts up too much of a fight, they’ll be pleased to know that there’s a certain spontaneity in many of the game’s engagements. Once players beat the game’s 20 hour main campaign, there’s supplementary scenarios which manage to keep combat interesting.
Visually, both pocket monsters and warriors are drawn with care, exhibiting as much charismatic detail as the aging DS hardware can muster. Inexplicably, the customary Pokédex was been renamed as a nondescript “Gallery”, yet it still reveals the powers and particulars for both creature and commander. As Conquest’s battles can take upwards of half an hour, the game allows players to save at any time- even in the midst of a conflict.
More than just a curious off-shoot, Pokémon Conquest is the rare crossover which offers a synergistic intermingling of franchises. Merging the modest role-playing elements of Game Freak’s beloved series with a breezy version of Nobunaga’s Ambition thoughtful features turned out to be an inspired decision. While some might bemoan the absence of catching monsters, Poké-addicts should adore the gratification this adaptation brings.