Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Ever since I played Pokémon Red as a boy all those years ago I have been searching for a way to make the Pokémon experience more realistic. Apparently, people don’t take too kindly to Pokémon battles between actual animals, so I have had to restrict myself to the video games that are on offer. In terms of a realistic experience, the main series of Pokémon games peaked with Pokémon Soul Silver. The ability to have your favourite Pokémon follow you around in the game world for all NPCs to see and then to carry them around on your belt for all the IRL NPCs to see with the Pokéwalker was the pinnacle in Pokémon vanity. As both functions were then scrapped in Pokémon Black and White I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many other avenues to explore with all the spin-off Pokémon games. I had dabbled with Pokémon Ranger in the past, but didn’t really enjoy the experience, and Pokémon Coliseum looked good, but renting Pokémon didn’t appeal to my purist needs. Enter Pokémon Conquest.

Pokémon Conquest is a cross-over between Pokémon and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series of games developed by Koei (later to become Tecmo Koei, most famous for the Dynasty Warriors franchise). It keeps elements of Pokémon such as the capture and raising of familiar Pokémon and introduces several new factors such as grid-based strategy battles and area capture. The goal of the game is to gain control of the entire Ransei region through strategic Pokémon battles over various terrains. The main campaign should last upwards of 15 hours, depending on how much time you want to invest in your warriors. There are no difficulty settings on the main campaign, however when you complete it you will gain access to new stories with various degrees of difficulty.

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

There are several tweaks made to familiar elements of the original games in Pokémon Conquest, it is these which most appealed to me whilst on my search for a realistic Pokémon experience:


Evolution

In the main series of Pokémon games it is the case that the most highly evolved Pokémon will be the strongest Pokémon, especially within a particular evolutionary line. For example, a level 100 Blastoise will always be stronger than a level 100 Squirtle. Therefore, even if you much prefer the way Squirtle looks to the way Blastoise looks, you will be at a disadvantage in battle if you do not evolve it. This is not the case in Pokémon Conquest. In PQ, each warrior has one particular Pokémon that they have the potential to create a 100% bond with. This doesn’t mean one particular evolutionary line either, it means one Pokémon within the evolutionary line. Meaning that whereas the warrior has a 100% bond with Squirtle, they may only have a 90 or 80% bond with Blastoise (I discovered this with a great amount of guilt when I evolved Oichi’s Jigglypuff and found that she no longer had a 100% bond with it – I’m sorry again, Oichi!). Therefore in Pokémon Conquest, there is the potential for a Squirtle to be better than a Blastoise, and the need to evolve Pokémon to make them stronger is not so important. The need to evolve Pokémon is further tempered by the fact that some top-level evolutions come with a price, for example, Rhyperior has a strong attack, but he cannot use it two turns in a row.

Bonding
There is a mechanic in the Pokémon games for bonding. Winning battles, feeding certain berries to your Pokémon, having them get massages and haircuts all increase the amount that they like you. The move Return ties into this mechanic, as the more your Pokémon likes you the greater the strength of the move, also certain Pokémon will not evolve unless the bond between you is at maximum level. However, in Pokémon games, it is almost impossible not to have Pokémon like you over time, and the only real effort you need to put in is if you are trying to get them to like you more quickly. In Pokémon Conquest, bonds take centre stage. Instead of raising the level of your Pokémon, you raise the bond percentage between you, this, in turn, raises the Pokémon’s attack and can lead to evolution. However, the fact that each warrior only  has one Pokémon with which they can form a perfect bond makes the whole experience much more personal and therefore rewarding. This one-to-one interaction with a Pokémon as friend and ally, is something I have had to add into the original games with my imagination, but in PQ it takes on physical form, and takes me a step closer to finding a realistic Pokémon experience.

For me, finding a realistic Pokémon experience is about immersion. It’s difficult to get immersed in a handheld Pokémon game compared to a console game. Despite also being a handheld game, Pokémon Conquest has – to a certain extent – taken me further than the original games in experiencing what it would be like to be a Pokémon trainer. Ever since that first game over a decade ago I have been waiting for a console quality Pokémon game that will allow me to truly feel what it would be like to interact with Pokémon. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this game hasn’t been made yet. The new Pokémon games on the 3DS are but a small part in a much wider change in gaming towards more immersive and realistic interaction. Maybe one day we will all know the excitement of actually throwing a Pokéball and waiting to see whether our dream Pokémon has been caught. Until then, I will occupy my time with the handheld games

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Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test

Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test
Bleach the 3rd Phantom

Bleach the 3rd Phantom

I love playing games that belong to frachises. Being able to muck around in a world that I am already familiar with makes these kinds of games so much more immersive to me. If I love the franchise, it usually means that I will view games based in it through rose-tinted glasses. That’s not to say that I don’t know a cash-grab when I see it, and there are plenty of those around, but I will be able to overlook some of the shortcomings that would normally hold me back from enjoying a game. That’s not to say either that just because it’s a franchise game it will automatically mean that it is a bad game. The most obvious example of this are games based on Star Wars like Knights of the Old Republic, Republic Commandos and Jedi Outcast, these are all excellent games. Bleach The 3rd Phantom is not an excellent game, but it is an excellent Bleach game.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bleach, it is a manga written by Tite Kubo that has been adapted into an anime. It follows the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a substitute soul reaper, as he fights against monsters born from the lost souls of humans, called Hollows, and other assorted ‘bad guys’. Soul reapers live in the Spirit World, and it is their job to look after the souls that reside there and also to help assist souls in their transference over to the spirit world. Each of them has a zanpakto, which usually takes the form of a sword. Each soul reaper’s zanpakto is unique and allows its wielder to use different skills, the most powerful of which is their Bankai which is the fully released form of their zanpakto.

Although it is not complex, there is a lot going on in the world of Bleach. There is a fairly large cast of recurrent characters, each with their own baggage and backstories distinct from one another. I don’t think that you would need to know all them in order to play this game, but if you did you would be able to appreciate it on a whole different level.

Bleach The 3rd Phantom is a tactical RPG, similar in design to something like Final Fantasy Tactics, although stripped down. The main differences are that you do not get damage boosts from attacking behind or to the side of enemies like you do in FF Tactics, and in Bleach each time you engage in direct combat the game switches to a 2D fighting style screen – although the characters are not controllable during this. Also, Bleach The Third Phantom uses a system where most characters give a boost to adjacent allies. Usually they assist either with defence or attack, at the selection of which they will pop up in the 2D animated sequences and either bust a move, or block an attack. The map terrains are less challenging than you would find in FF Tactics, however the maps in Bleach The Third Phantom do include lay-lines of reishi, or spirital pressure, that can be drawn into the character by selecting ‘Pressure’. This powers up attack, allows the use of Bankai and other super-moves and even means that you can perform a team attack, which is pretty much two characters that are good friends kicking the butts of the bad guys in unison. Oh yeah, and there is also an affinity mechanic in the game, but more on that later.

The side-on 2D fighting sequences are not the only part of the game where you will be forced to sit back and watch. There are entire chunks of the game where you select various characters to talk to. Whilst these are great for a fan of Bleach – such as myself – I would imagine they could become very tedious for someone who was not acquainted beforehand with the characters featured in them.

In fact, it is precisely my knowledge and love for Bleach that allowed me to enjoy this game so much. As an RPG, you are allowed quite a bit of control over the gameplay elements: you can select which characters you would like to have on your team of eight from over 50 possible characters, and you can choose – to a certain extent – which skills they learn. I say to a certain extent, because the way in which your characters learn skills in this game is by levelling up their zanpakto to a maximum level of 16. Each time a character levels up from battle they earn 5 skill points, but you will need 10 skill points to level up their zanpakto. Each time you level up their zanpakto you are presented with three paths to choose from that teaches techniques of a different variety. The skills available depend on the character, but they are usually things like boosting their Bankai, or teaching kido (basically magical) moves. The level limit means that you will not be able to complete all three of the paths, and at the end of each path there is usually a powerful move, so you have to be careful and check the skill trees when assigning points. Once a zanpakto is maxed out, you can still spend points on boosting stats.

So, for my battles I recruited characters that I liked from the series. It was then fun for me to play the characters as they would normally act in the anime. For example, there is a bald-headed character called Ikkaku who is so secretive about the fact that he has mastered his Bankai, that he will only ever use it when none of his allies are around. Accordingly, Ikkaku, whilst on my team, would never use his Bankai unless he was completely isolated from his allies, even to the point where he would allow himself to be defeated before showing his Bankai to those around him. This is just one example of the kinds of fun that I had with this game, and the type of fun you could only have if you were a Bleach fan already. There are numerous elements of this game – the storyline, for example – that non-fans would likely not get along with.

Taking on the Espada

Taking on the Espada

As a fan of the anime, rather than the manga, I can better tolerate weak storylines thanks to all the filler episodes released – one of the problems when adapting a weekly manga that is still being written is that sometimes your source material runs out and you are forced to make up stories of your own. Even though this game boasts an original storyline by Tite Kubo himself, it’s really not as strong as any of the storylines in the main arcs of the series. At certain points, the story will sort of align itself with the main story of the Arrancar arc of the series, which is nice for myself and other fans of the series, but doesn’t really add anything to the storyline itself. The main character is an underpowered Arrancar called Arturo, recycled from other games in the Bleach series, who we are constantly told is incredibly powerful, although he always seems very easy to beat.

This introduces another down-side of the game. The battles in the main story are really easy. One of the things I love about the series is how every battle comes down the wire, but in this game you can easily breeze through the enemies. I got half-way through the game and thought “Oh no, I’ve put it on the wrong difficulty setting”. So I started up a dummy new game only to find that there are no difficulty settings. Even though once the game is completed you unlock a ‘Battle Tower’ (which supposedly consists of twenty levels, even though I am inexplicably on the thirty-something level now), the game really could have done with the ability to increase the difficulty settings. It’s doubly a shame because this would be a game with good replay value if not for the easy battles, as you are able to choose from two original characters at the start of the game, and then later in the game you also choose the form that your zanpakto will take from three possible designs. On top of that is the ability to make up wholly different teams from the available characters.

As I mentioned before, there is an affinity mechanic to this game which is worth mentioning. Certain characters have pre-set affinities with other characters which usually matches up with the canon of the series. Before going into battle you are able to select certain characters from the ‘friend’s list’ (not the actual term used in-game, by the way, I’ve just got Facebook on the brain) of the guys on your team. This can affect your choice of team members, as certain characters won’t be compatable with others in terms of assists and team attacks. Also, after each battle the affinity of the main character will rise with the other characters on your team – the affinty between characters that are not the main character will not rise, and as far as I know, there is no way of making the affinity level go down. There are also conversations in the ‘free time’ portions of the game that will increase your main characters affinity with other characters – this is also the method by which you can recruit characters to your team, and another factor in the replay value as it is not possible to recruit and befriend all characters within the free time events.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of Bleach. The ability to collect together your favourite characters, govern how they grow and control their actions would please anyone with a love for the characters of the manga or anime. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was not a fairly big fan of Bleach. Even if someone had watched a few episodes of the anime or read a few chapters of the manga and thought that it was okay, I still wouldn’t recommend this game to them. But that is only because I feel that a great deal of the game would be lost on them. To me, this is a game that has been put together by people with a real love for Bleach and would be most enjoyed by someone with a real love for Bleach, like me!

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

It would be really interesting to hear from anyone that has played this game without any prior knowledge of Bleach – if such a person exists. Am I wrong? Can you enjoy this game without liking Bleach first? Leave a reply.