Nobunaga’s Ambition never took off stateside (what with it being an in-depth war sim about feudal Japan) but it’s an accomplished series in Japan with installments on many systems ranging from the NES to the Playstation 2. Even with that kind of success, combining the series with Pokemon seems like an odd choice. It’s like combining Age of Empires with Digimon: not necessarily a bad idea, but still bizarre. Despite all this, Pokemon Conquest (literally called Pokemon + Nobunaga’s Ambition in Japan) does an excellent job of blending the simple fighting and training gameplay of a Pokemon game with the deeper mechanics of a war sim, even if it’s sometimes more complex than it needs to be.
The story is set in a region called Ransei, which strongly resembles feudal Japan and has 17 kingdoms all based on different Pokemon types. You play as a warlord, and like all warlords in this country you can link with Pokemon and deploy them to fight and conquer in your battles. There’s a legend that says if any one warlord can unite all of the kingdoms under his or her rule, that warlord will encounter the legendary Pokemon that created Ransei. Every warlord is trying to fulfill this legend, including Nobunaga, who has been conquering Ransei himself and has shady plans for the country.
The gameplay starts simply but adds on layers of complexity as it goes. You start in simple turn-based battles where you only move and fight. As you progress, you learn how to use Pokemon and warrior abilities, as well as how to recruit new warriors and link to new Pokemon. Other systems and tactics are added on as you go. While it never gets as complicated as some actual war sims, there’s definitely enough here to satisfy anyone looking for a deep tactical game. That doesn’t mean this is just a dry simulation, though: you still level up Pokemon and use their abilities, but in a more personal way. Instead of catching a multitude, each warrior links up with a few Pokemon. By battling and doing different actions like shopping and digging for gold, warlords level up the link between their Pokemon, making them stronger and able to evolve. Warlords can link to a higher percentage with Pokemon that match their type, and certain Pokemon can reach a 100% link with certain warlords. Levelling up the connection with Pokemon rather than just the Pokemon themselves and searching for the right Pokemon for each warrior puts more of an emphasis on getting to know Pokemon rather than just catching a ton and using the best ones. I found myself really liking this focus. In this world Pokemon feel even more like pets and allies rather than just weapons with personalities.
The graphics and sound design are both very charming as well. The main map, cities and battle maps all look classic with enough modern flair to make it interesting and seem like it’s in the same world as the other Pokemon games. I especially liked the still pictures used for the dialogue scenes, where the warlords act out their emotions, with some even mirrored by their Pokemon counterparts. It’s so great to see your Eevee leaping in joy with you after a victory. As for the soundtrack, I love it to death. The songs have an ancient Japanese flair with some modern style, and some are very memorable. Plus, the Pokemon do their classic cries as they enter the battle, which is a nice touch.
The only bad point I would put against Conquest is that it gets bogged down with systems and items at times. For example, you can apparently boost your Pokemon’s energy before a battle by buying a certain kind of food. I never saw any use for either the energy or the food, so to me it just seemed to be something extra that did nothing but bloat an otherwise streamlined game. Things like delegation and certain items aren’t necessarily clear as to their benefit or exact effect either. This is just a nitpick on a great game, though, and it doesn’t detract from the core gameplay.
Overall, I say wholeheartedly that this is a spin-off game worthy of its own series and good enough to be considered alongside the proper Pokemon games. Whether you want a deep tactical game or just a fun Pokemon experience, pick Conquest up.
SCORE: 5 NIGHTS SPENT PLAYING CONQUEST INSTEAD OF SLEEPING OUT OF 5