If you’ve been following Press X Or Die from the early days, you’ll know however that I have a penchant for putting forward less-obvious games as my personal Game Of The Year. I do this as a means to give these games a fair shine of the spotlight, since everyone already knows and expects the big guns like Assassin’s Creed 3, Halo 4 and Borderlands 2 to be in contention, and everyone loves an underdog story, right? This year’s no different, as I put forward another unlikely candidate forward.
And that unlikely candidate is Pokémon Conquest for the Nintendo DS.
Yes, Conquest. Not Black/White Version 2. I know what you’re thinking, and that’s “Why nominate one of those awful sidegames from the franchise when one of the main entries came out in the same year?”. And I’ll answer that with “It’s bloody good, that’s why!”. Pokémon Conquest was released this summer and developed by Tecmo-Koei, which probably goes a long way into explaining how this game escapes the generally-negative stigma of other Pokémon spin-offs like Ranger or Mystery Dungeon. It’s a crossover between Pokemon and Koei’s own series of games titled Nobunaga’s Ambition.
Much like that series, the game tells the story of how the titular Nobunaga wants to unite the feudal lands of Ransei under one leader — himself. Unlike the other games in the series, where you assume the role of the man himself, he plays the role of antagonist, opposite your own character. You’re told that he plans to destroy Ransei once he has it united under his rule, and are tasked with uniting it yourself to try to save it and stop the endless wars. The game plays similar to turn-based strategy titles like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics, with each Warrior character controlling a different Pokémon on the battlefield. Each Pokémon has a different attack and each Warrior has a different special ability that they can call upon to help in battles.
Altogether, it retains a certain faithfulness to the Pokémon universe, with Pokémon preserving characteristics and abilities from the main game (bigger Pokémon like Rhydon and Steelix will be slower, so can move less spaces per turn than smaller speedsters like Eevee or Shinx, for example). The only downside I can think of, is that all Pokémon only have one move, instead of the series’ usual 4. When you take into consideration how this would have an impact on selecting your team going into a battle, however, it makes sense that you’ll want to have a good mix of characters with close-quarters moves like Wing Attack or Vine Whip along with ranged moves like Water Gun and Fire Blast.
It doesn’t take long to get used to the gameplay, and there’s plenty of it to keep you going, much like the main games. The main quest outlined earlier took me about 30 hours to complete, but there’s plenty of additional New Game Plus content to keep you busy long after that’s completed. It’s perhaps a bit more simplistic than the standard games, at least if you’re more oriented to the competition-level side of things, but it has plenty of its own ways to entertain the players looking to go for a perfect game.
In short, this is the Pokémon game I never realised I wanted until I actually sat down and played it. Its style of play suits the Pokémon universe almost too well, and while a lot of elements that make the core Pokémon experience have changed, they’ve changed in a way that makes sense in its own world. It’s a pretty meaty game for those willing to wring it for everything its got, while not alienating players who just want to pick it up for a few quick battles on the bus either. For me, that makes it a perfect fit for my Game Of The Year.