I—fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whether or not you are my parents’ wallet —was part of the target demographic during the height of the Pokémon craze.  Trading cards, TV shows, video games; I consumed all of it, including the many offshoots from the traditional Pokémon RPG.  From Pokémon Puzzle League to the fantastic Pokémon Snap, I played these titles regardless of quality, and every now and then one would surprise with its quality.  The Pokémon brand is quite the versatile one, and though I have not played every venture into a new genre, Pokémon Conquest’s smart take on strategy delivers not just a strong spinoff but an enjoyable title regardless of a player’s love for Pokémon.

The region of Ransei is new to the Pokémon world, a land divided into 17 kingdoms.  Proceedings run a bit differently than in places to which we have previously ventured.  A warlord, who commands his own army of warriors, runs each of the type-specific kingdoms.  Warriors battle with Pokémon, but they don’t capture them in small red and white balls.  Instead, they each form a “link” with the creature of their choice and do battle with up to four others in the party.  As legend goes, if a warrior can become warlord and unite all 17 kingdoms, then the creator of the land will reveal itself to him or her.  This tale has inspired hundreds of warriors to fight in the hopes of bringing together the entire land, but Ransei is anything if not fractured.  With that in mind, your unnamed hero or heroine journeys out into the world, amassing warriors and dominating kingdoms in search of the mythical creator.

Conquest may commence in a familiar way – the game asks if the player is a boy or a girl – but either way the character will be linked with an Eevee to start things off.  From here, the game’s vast wealth of content and options begin to unfurl.  From your home kingdom of Aurora, you’ll want to train your chosen Pokémon and challenge other kingdoms for ownership.  Of course, you are not the only warrior with such lofty ambitions.  The presence of Nobunaga looms in the north, threatening to take over Ransei and destroy it in the process.

Using the right elemental types can be the key to victory.

Though developed by the team behind the storied series, Nobunaga’s Ambition, Conquest fits well into the universe, but has a style and sensibility all its own.  Small touches like the more traditional, feudal Japan-inspired garb of Ransei’s lively and personable denizens create a unique but sensible experience.  The mash-up certainly could have gone awry, but none of the personalities or locations feels out of place from the original franchise.

Though still turn-based, make no mistake that Conquest is a tactical strategy game akin to the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars franchises.  Each time you challenge warriors and/or wild Pokémon to battle, you’ll be transported to a battlefield, generally small in size.  Players will move their creature and those of the warriors in their party around the warzone and either defeat the enemy Pokémon or accomplish a small task such as claiming banners.  For fans of the genre, adapting to the aesthetic is simple, but the younger-skewing brand does not detract from each battle.  And for fans of Pokémon who buy anything with that name attached, the gameplay adapts to the staples of the franchise’s battle system and is accessible enough for them to jump into the fray.  This balance is both the game’s strongest and weakest aspect – the battle system is not overly complex to satiate strategy fans, but the change in style may throw off some of the more casual players.

The pacing is obviously slower when compared to the direct battles of the main games of the Pokémon franchise, and while that may turn off some, it allows for players to explore the many options available to them.  Each monster has one attack and every warrior can employ an ability, such as restoring hit points, once per battle.  These abilities can turn the tides in a battle, and knowing when to use them most effectively adds to the variation that comes with each skirmish.

Ransei is home to 17 diverse kingdoms, all of which you'll want to conquer.

Also helping to spice things up are the numerous battlefields.  Each kingdom has its own unique landscape on which to fight, and they add an extra layer to the intricacy of Conquest.  Depending on the elemental type of a realm, battles might include trapdoors that warp Pokémon to other locations or wind that will knock creatures off of towers, damaging them in the process.  Players will need to contend with the forces of nature and man, forcing them to never become complacent with the strategy that worked in the previous kingdom.

The problem comes with once you can learn how to cope with these hazards.  After the first few kingdoms, I found myself largely holding to the same core group of four warrior-Pokémon teams, with the other two in my team rotating out to whatever Pokémon for which the situation called.  If players are aware of what elements work best against another – which the game will inform you of these weaknesses if prior Pokémon games have eluded players – then it simply becomes a matter of tracking down the proper types.  This does not prevent Conquest from being fun, but for all the layers involved in combat, in the end it can come down to operating within the rock-paper-scissors gameplay.

While this may turn off those looking for a deep battle system, there is plenty of content to keep everyone entertained.  The main campaign will likely last 10 – 12 hours, but there’s a host of options to extend that experience.  Want to train multiple teams and construct a thriving set of kingdoms?  Then the calendar system in place offers just that – each warrior can only be used once per month, so proper deployment is essential to success.  Warriors take up a month by either battling, purchasing or selling at a shop, or choosing from several other options.  At first, there may not appear to be a consequence to this system, but enemy kingdoms can invade those you conquer, so making sure the proper defenses are in place is all part of the game.

Some battlefields will require creative maneuvering to reach your enemy's pocket monsters.

That campaign length can also be extended by the game’s adaption of the mantra “Gotta catch’em all” that has been a pervasive part of many a childhood.  There are 200 warriors and 200 Pokémon to bring under your control, and each of those warriors has a creature who is his or her perfect link. Players can hunt down what are essentially soulmates and form the strongest teams in Ransei.  Add to that 30 missions–battles with special goals–and multiplayer battles, and there is quite a bit to keep players entrenched in the world.

Pokémon Conquest could have been a failure.  The battle system associated with the pocket monsters is a staple of the franchise, and to mess with that formula may have caused serious problems.  Instead, Conquest is a fully realized spinoff that I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of in the future.  The gameplay is solid and open to those who have never touched a strategy game, though it may prove too simple for those steeped in the genre.  With the number of options available, I would have liked to see more of them matter in the end, but traveling from kingdom to kingdom proved entertaining nonetheless.  If the wait for Pokémon Black and White 2 is too much to handle, Pokémon Conquest delivers more than enough to keep Pokémon and strategy fans occupied and collecting for hours.

Here’s the Rundown:

+Fits perfectly into the Pokémon universe.
+Combat is accessible but deep enough to enjoy.
+Tons of content and you’ll want to explore it all.
Though deep, combat can become too routine and predictable.
-Calendar and other systems aren’t used to their fullest effect.

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

Pokemon Conquest was developed by Tecmo Koei and published by Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.  It was released on June 18 for the Nintendo DS at the MSRP of $29.99.  A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for purposes of the review.