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.
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:
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.
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