Pokemon is no stranger to spin-off games. From the Mystery Dungeon games to the Ranger trilogy, from Stadium to Pokken Tournament, this franchise has dipped its toes into just about any genre of game you can think of. That’s one of the largest points behind its success.
But there’s one spin-off game that got swept under the rug. Even back when it came out, it didn’t make nearly as much impact as it deserved. And that game is Pokemon Conquest.
This game is insanely dope! It’s one of the most open-ended and enjoyable strategy games on the market, right up there with Final Fantasy Tactics and the best of Fire Emblem! Not to mention how rich it is with content; I’ve played this game more times than I could count as a kid and I still never saw all it had to offer!
Mostly because all it has to offer can be brutally difficult sometimes.
As you’d expect from a Pokemon game, the plot isn’t super complicated. You’re the Lord/Lady of a small nation in Pokemon-style Feudal Japan. The other nations want to conquer you, so you need to conquer them first and unify the land. How?
By sending your Pokemon and their trainers into the brutal crusade of war!
It’s not a complicated plot. You’re the good guy, there are the bad guys, build an army so you can defeat them. It’s a Pokemon story but everyone is wearing samurai armor.
What makes it cool is that there isn’t just the one story. Once you beat the main campaign, you unlock a series of other stories wherein you play as the characters you met before. Using them and their limited resources, you need to conquer a set portion of the map, be it a small corner of the land or the entire continent. It isn’t just one or two extra stories, either; there are dozens of these!
And some of them are so hard that I haven’t beaten them to this day. That, or I’m just embarrassingly bad at video games. For the sake of my dignity, I’m gonna pretend that it’s the former.
Stylistically, this game still holds up. It’s got that classic DS charm through and through. Plus, something about Pokemon surrounded by classic Japanese architecture just works.
It works so well that Legends: Arceus just stole it and pretended it did it first.
The character designs are the easy highlight here. Every single character in this game looks fantastic! From the goofy to the cool to those that walk the line between them, all the designs in this game are some of the best in the franchise! When they stand beside their Pokemon, be it their starter or their designated main legendary, they just look so cool!
Even the soundtrack is killer! Rather than remixing classic Pokemon tunes, they made a full-on classic Japanese orchestral score (at least, as much of one as they could manage on the DS). The main theme is backed by a shamisen, several tracks are accompanied by taiko drums, and don’t even get me started on the flutes! Even if you never play this game, you ought to give the OST a listen!
But really. You should play this game.
Pokemon Conquest is a turn-based tactical RPG. Your team of up to six Warlords and their Pokemon go up against the enemy team to either invade or defend territory. Conquer all the territory on the continent, or however much the game wants you to take for that story, and you win.
Upon first glance, Conquest is incredibly simple. Each Warlord has two abilities that they can use to bolster your team in combat, such as a healing item or a special power, and each Pokemon has one or two attack options. Reading it like that, you’d think the game would be your typical RPG fare of ‘get bigger numbers and become invincible.’
Not so. See, it isn’t just your team and the enemy you need to consider. You’ve also got to take the environment into consideration. Take the high ground to give yourself an advantage. Corner your enemy in a rough part of the map. To succeed, you’ll need to make full use of the stage as well as your team.
There are even unique stages with special traps and mechanics. Snow stages have snowballs you can launch into your enemies for free damage. Poison stages have hazards that inflict debilitating status effects depending on where you stand. Electric stages have powerful traps you can use to zap your enemies. Some stages have tunnels or teleports you can use to flank your foes or escape from a dangerous situation.
All of this together turns Conquest’s combat into an incredibly fun – and often wildly difficult – series of puzzles. How do you get around the enemy’s use of the stage hazards? How do you use the level to overpower a stronger Pokemon? When you carefully construct a plan of attack and execute it to perfection, this game makes you feel like a tactical genius!
Or it’ll all backfire and fall apart immediately. Damn you, RNG!
One detail I absolutely love is this game’s stamina system. See, you don’t immediately heal back to full health after a battle. Any damage you take carries over unless you take precious turns to heal. As such, if you’re left weakened by a battle, the enemy might take that as an opportunity to attack you and steal back some territory. You can’t just attack relentlessly; you’ve got to give your army time to rest.
You can do this by making use of the territories you conquer. See, they aren’t just markers for your progress. Each zone you take has facilities that offer you helpful things, such as item shops, healing springs, or fields where you can grind or capture new Pokemon or Warlords. You can’t just take territory and ignore it forever; you’ve got to work the land to further your war effort!
Of course, if you lose that territory, that makes for more land for the enemy to work. And if they work it better than you did… well… just hope they don’t do that.
One of the biggest problems with Conquest is its difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge. But when you fall behind in this game, it can feel straight-up impossible to catch back up. While you only get weaker, the enemy only gets stronger. Sieze land and they’ll take it right back. It can get so bad that your only real option is to restart whatever campaign you’re playing and try again.
Worse, some enemies have really annoying AI. If you’re winning, they may resort to running away and letting the clock run out on you. Which can get really annoying depending on the circumstances.
Also, again: RNG is a bitch. It never feels good for your master strategy to fall apart simply because fate decided you didn’t look nice enough that day.
If you’ve got the patience to deal with those issues, however, then Pokemon Conquest will be well-worth your time. It’s easily one of the most fun and content-rich Pokemon spin-offs ever made! If you can manage to find a copy for cheap – or if you’re willing to hoist the pirate flag – then I’d highly encourage you to pick it up and give it a shot!
Alas, even if you do, this game is doomed to exist in obscurity. Any chances we have of getting a sequel at this point are slim to none. Which is just a total shame.
Although, given how Scarlet/Violet functioned upon release, maybe that’s for the best…