Five years ago today, Pokémon Conquest was released in the United States.
Pokémon Conquest was a unique game that was a crossover between Pokémon and the Samurai Warriors franchise. There is as of right now no game like it. I can remember the game quite fondly, as I bought the last copy of it in my county and delved into a world that I still adore fondly to this day. There are many aspects of this game that make it such a hidden gem when it comes to the Pokémon franchise. Much like Pokkén, it is vastly different from any other game that is in the Pokémon franchise. However, Pokémon Conquest did not strike the level of popularity that Pokkén has achieved. In fact, despite having great reviews over all from critics, the game did not sell very well at all according to released statistics. That is a shame because it was such a unique game with hours of replay-ability.
So what exactly made this game so special? Well there are several aspects that combine to make it what it is, which I will cover in this article to show you why Pokémon Conquest is my favorite video game to date.
One of the key aspects of a video game that makes many people respect or fall in love is the soundtrack. It is often the main part of a game that can make it salvageable for players. Pokémon Conquest, while having a relatively small soundtrack, does its best to ensure players will feel like each battle holds a unique importance in some way. Each kingdom in the region of Ransei has its own battle theme. Each theme incorporating not only the element that the kingdom possesses, but also some obvious Japanese musical influences from the time. From calm demeanor in the themes of Fontaine and Greenleaf, to the obvious ninja influences in Viperia and Yaksha, to the intense feeling of the final battle overflowing in the Dragnor and Arceus battle themes. Pokémon Conquest ensures that you never forget which kingdom you’re fighting for every time you go to war, and that you never forget what is at stake as soon as you set foot on the battlefield.
A common complaint when it comes to Pokémon games, especially the spin off series, is the lack of replay-ability. Other than the varying battle resorts at the end of the main series games or the dungeon crawling at the end of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon franchise, there is not much to do once you have beaten the main story. Sure, you can try to complete the Pokédex, chase after Shinies, or breed your competitive team, but there is no real story following the first time you see the credits. This could not be further from the truth in Pokémon Conquest.
When you see the credits roll in Pokémon Conquest for the first time, that is not the end for your story, rather, it is the beginning for many more. Pokémon Conquest provides you with a total of thirty-three more episodes, plus three more wi-fi distribution episodes, detailing the stories of conquest, rivalry, and quests of the various other warlords, junior warlords, and characters around the region of Ransei. Each story centers around a different main character that you encountered in your initial story, and whether it be conquering the whole of Ransei, defeating nearby rivals, or acquiring a certain number of allies, none of the stories are quite the same. While you may be thinking that you cannot fully embrace the entirety of Pokémon Conquest because of the three DLC episodes that can no longer be accessed due to Nintendo cutting off wi-fi capabilities for the game, never fear! Players from around the world have generated passwords that can be entered into your game that allow you to access not only these three episodes, but other DLC items such as Pokémon encounters and warlord recruitment.
So how many hours of replay-ability does this game have? Well, I can’t say for sure, but with thirty-seven total episodes, plus several other aspects of the game that are required for the average completionist, I can say this will easily take over two hundred hours to complete. For comparison, the copy of this game I got back in 2012, I have spent my time beating all the episodes as quickly as a could, and while I am still about nine episodes short of beating all the episodes, I have already over one-hundred and thirty hours. I also recently picked up an emulator version of Pokémon Conquest, in which I have been taking my time in hopes of getting every single little detail needed to become a completionist when it comes to this game. I am currently working my way through episode ten. How many hours have I spent on it so far? Almost one-hundred and five. Therefore, I can firmly say, this game will keep you busy for a long time to come.
Of course, we cannot praise any game as one of the best hidden gems unless it has great gameplay, and I am here to assure you. Pokémon Conquest has some of the most unique gameplay among the franchise. Showing some similarities to that of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Pokémon Conquest is often compared to Fire Emblem when it comes to the gameplay mechanics.
In the game, you are a warlord and your main objective often requires you to conquer, develop, and utilize other kingdoms around you to achieve whatever the goal of the particular episode you are playing. You are also able to recruit up to six warriors per kingdom and only allowed to challenge a kingdom with six warriors, much like how a trainer is only allowed to have six Pokémon in his team in a battle. Each battlefield is different as well. While the training grounds, such as Farms or Ravines, all have the same objective: defeat the opposing Pokémon,. The battlefields you encounter while working your way through Ransei vary greatly. There are a variety of hazards that you can encounter, from ice to falling boulders. Each of these battlefields use these hazards in order to best deter invaders from either collecting all the banners on the field or defeating all the opposing Pokémon. While certain battlefields, like Illusio or Valora, are notorious for having some of the most infuriating hazards and mechanics when it comes to battling, the training grounds do their best to help you learn how to utilize these hazards to the best of your ability.
In addition, not only are you able to conquer neighboring kingdoms, but other kingdoms can attack your own! If you don’t have enough strong warriors to protect the kingdoms, you could lose against the invaders. In a franchise that has taught its players that they can never truly be challenged, it is interesting to see what strategies you must put in place each month in order to ensure you don’t lose a kingdom you just conquered.
Pokémon Conquest also introduces various new mechanics, including energy, warrior abilities, links, investments, delegating and more. Each of these various mechanics factors into how a battle may go, as something as simple as increasing your range with a warrior ability or having a higher link with your partner could make or break a battle that wins or saves you a kingdom. There’s also the fact that you can save mid-battle too, which is a nice feature for on the go play, when you might need to stop playing at any given time.
The final aspect that makes Pokémon Conquest such a great game is its historical references. This game definitely takes after the Samurai Warriors side of the parentage when it comes to this detail, but many people fail to realize how deeply these references go.
To start, other than the player hero character, every character that is named, from the warlords to the generic warriors, are named after true Japanese warriors that lived during the time. Bulbapedia does a great job in listing off many of the connections between the warriors and their real life counterparts, but Pokémon Conquest is a great place to discover many of the basics of the Japanese relations during the time.
Starting with Oichi, pictured above, you discover at the end of the first episode that she is Nobunaga Oda’s sister. Not only is this a true historical reference, but also, if you are playing as the main male hero character, the design for your character is actually based on Oichi’s real life husband. Sadly, in order to have your character beat Nobunaga, Pokémon Conquest did stray slightly from historical accuracy. But it wouldn’t be fun if you were guaranteed to lose every time, now would it?
But the references do not stop there. Pokémon Conquest makes subtle nods to history throughout every aspect of the gameplay. Looking at the thirty-seven episodes that are playable, some make heavy references to real actions in Japanese history. Three of the best examples are the warlords Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide, and Ranmaru. For Mitsuhide and Hideyoshi, two of the first episodes that you are able to play after the main story, their episodes are simple, conquer all of Ransei before Nobunaga does. However, anyone who has read about the downfall of Nobunaga knows that this is more than just a simple game. In fact, it was actually Hideyoshi and Mitsuhide, two of Nobunaga’s allies, that resulted in his own downfall. Not only is this shown in game, which Hideyoshi and Mitsuhide siding with Nobunaga in your main story, but also through their episodes where they must conquer all of Ransei before he does. In addition, Hideyoshi’s references go a step further, with him being the only warrior able of achieving a Rank III status other than the hero character. This is a big deal as it represents what high standing Hideyoshi holds in Japanese history. Taking this even further, in Hideyoshi’s perfect links we can see other references not only to his opposition with Nobunaga, but also to some of the subtle jokes within Japanese history. Hideyoshi’s perfect links within Pokémon Conquest are Monferno, Infernape, and Reshiram. The reason for Reshiram’s selection is another nod to his high standing in Japanese history and opposition to Nobunaga, as one of Nobunaga’s perfect links is Zekrom. However, anyone who is unaware of animal symbolism in Japanese history may not be aware that the selection of Monferno and Infernape, two monkey Pokémon, was no random pick either.
See, within Japanese history, various warlords and important figures are often represented as animals, and can you guess what animal Hideyoshi is also portrayed as? That’s right! A monkey! So having him paired with monkey Pokémon only seems like a natural choice. Even more, Hideyoshi’s actions during the main story portray his historical character very well, as at one point he flees to the kingdom of Viperia, run by the warlord Nene. According to Japanese history, Nene was actually Hideyoshi’s wife! So it only makes sense that after you take over his kingdom that he would flee to his wife’s kingdom.
Moving on to Ranmaru, this character is portrayed especially well, just as accurately as Hideyoshi if not more so. Ranmaru is well known for being the most loyal warrior to Nobunaga at the time of his reign, but he was also infamous for one other trait, a very feminine appearance. Pokémon Conquest does well in portraying this. When I first played Pokémon Conquest, I mistook Ranmaru for a woman until I started delving into the history behind the game. This was no simple design choice, this is something very well documented in Japanese history. Therefore, including Ranmaru in the series of beauty contest episodes only emphasizes this further. In fact, in Ranmaru’s special episode, Ranmaru discusses his wish to no longer be mistaken for a woman, but participates anyway to gain the approval of Nobunaga.
However, the references do not stop at Japanese history, as there are also subtle nods to Samurai Warriors contained within Pokémon Conquest. The best example comes from the warlord of Yaksha, Kotaro, whose perfect link is Zorua. In Pokémon Conquest, the way to obtain Zorua is to go into a battlefield with Kotaro in your active party, and if there is one more pokémon present than was logged when you initially examined the field, then you know that Zorua has disguised itself as one of your opponents. This is a neat nod to how Kotaro is obtained in Samurai Warriors, as similarly to Zorua, Kotaro will not appear on the log when you examine the field from the overview menu. He will only appear once you enter the battlefield.
So while the game may not be perfect, its graphics are not the best and the lack of Pokémon is a major flaw, Pokémon Conquest is definitely one of the best games to come out of the Pokémon franchise in years. It has a variety of unique stories, each stemming from historic events with roots that you would never expect unless you looked them up. But overall, with a great soundtrack, interesting and unique gameplay, plus a strong historic basis, Pokémon Conquest is a fantastic game overall, and it is always saddening to me to know that most people have never played or even heard of this game. I am always excited when I have met another person who has played this game, as even just playing part of the first story shows you just how great this game can be.
So on this five year anniversary, I hope you have learned something new about Pokémon Conquest, and while you may never play the game yourself, I hope you have at least gained a new respect for the detail and effort that went into this game to make it the masterpiece that it is.