Pokemon Conquest preview - Feudal Japanese strategy meets adorable pocket monsters

What is it? In spite of all the genres out there that Pokemon have dominated (fighting games, pinball, photography) one of the oldest and most hardcore has been left untouched. Until now, Pokemon have never appeared in a traditional strategy title. Made in the style of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, after spending some time with the game, the niche genre seems quite fitting for the pocket monsters.

Who is the developer? Though Nintendo and/or Game Freak has handled the majority of Pokemon games, this spin-off is being done by the unlikely companion of Tecmo Koei, the company behind Dynasty Warriors and Ninja Gaiden. Why? Because the game is a recreation of Koei’s decades old series Nobunaga’s Ambition, a strategy franchise set in feudal Japan. This time around the long dead generals of Japan are teaming up with pocket monsters for some interesting results.

How does it look? Conquest embraces Pokemon’s colorful visuals and cute animal designs head-on, as you’re soon teaming up with iconic Pokemon like Pikachu and Jigglypuff. The setting technically isn’t feudal Japan, but we won’t fault you for mistaking it in the screenshots. The game takes place in the land of Ransei, an area split up into 17 different regions, one representing each type of Pokemon (ice, grass, so on). After choosing between a boy or girl for the main character, you and your Eevee have to quickly defend your realm from the invading fire forces.

We teamed with Oichi and her Jigglypuff to defend ourselves from Hideyoshi’s fiery troops on the grid-based map. The vibrant graphics worked well with the isometric perspective and each Pokemon on screen looks great from every angle, on par with what we’ve seen in classic strategy RPGs. And though the game won’t feature every beast in the Pokedex, a good percentage will be included.

How does it play? The Nobunaga series was one of the pioneers of the strategy RPG genre and Pokemon Conquest continues that tradition of gameplay. It plays like a mix of Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem, as your team of up to six Pokemon move around the board multiple turns, fighting enemies and completing objectives. What makes it distinct are the touches from the Pokemon series, like the inclusion of the diligently balanced type weaknesses, only now you also have to worry about which direction your unit is facing too.

Outside of the battles things get a bit more complicated, as Koei has brought their own spin to tactics games, with emphasis on economy and troop deployment. You have to be careful which officers you assign to fortify a kingdom after you conquer it, lest it be overtaken, and each town you control offers a different variety of shops to purchase items that increase your bond with you Pokemon. The kingdoms also feature areas to hunt for new Pokemon and team members in, each that have their own powers, specialties, and type affinities. A varied team is the key to beating Nobunaga and stopping him from conquering all of Ransei.

There’s also a timeline to deal with, as "months" pass throughout your playthrough, though the campaign is also separated into episodes. Additionally, your Pokemon don’t level in the standard way, instead growing stronger as your bond with them increases, which is helped along consumable items like Ponigiri (a play on traditional Japanese snack onigiri). Though we expected Pokemon’s approach to tactics games to be simplified, this is one of the more complicated strategy RPGs we’ve seen on the DS, though we think when we play the final game we’ll settle into these concepts gradually and come to truly understand them.

When is it out? Pokemon Conquest is out for DS on June 18 in North America (no European release date has been revealed yet).

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.