August 22, 2012

“The Fire” (Pokemon Conquest Edition)

I haven’t wanted to “catch ‘em all” since I was twelve. Now, I literally cannot stop.

“The fire” is a simple concept—in a sentence, it basically means an intense, burning desire to do something; a feeling that consumes you, that you can’t shake until completing a task. In a word, it means motivation.

I’ve been playing Pokemon Conquest for over 90 hours, and I’m slightly passed the halfway point.

Let those numbers digest for a little bit.

How long does it take you to “complete” a game? Do you breeze through the story, pick up the relevant plot points, then put the game down after the credits roll? Or perhaps you play the game ad infinitum, getting every single legendary item or finding every hidden chest and secret area, obtaining 100% completion, and stop once you’ve dominated the game? “Completion”, “finished”, “beat”; these are just words to describe different goals we gamers have, and these goals can change depending on how attached you are to a game. I find that the more I love a game, and the more there is to do in a game, the more I’ll feel compelled to do those things—my goals for considering I’ve beaten a game increase or require more time to be spent as my love for a game increases.

Regarding Conquest, compelled really isn’t a strong enough word…it’s more like, driven. Intensely motivated. Obsessed, even. One might even say that I possess “the fire.”

Gotta catch 'em all.
Personally, I usually land somewhere between the camps of finding out all I can about the story and completing a game to 100%. If I love a game for more than just its story, then I’ll want to get 100%. In case it wasn’t clear, I love Conquest. However, because of all the things to do in this game, I’ll settle for anything upwards of 70%. I want to invest a lot of time, but even with “the fire” I lack sufficient resources to invest all the time I need.

If you wanted to see all of Conquest’s story, then you’ll finish this game in roughly 10-50 hours, depending on what portions of the story you deem relevant. If you want to get 100% completion…well…I’m sorry. Maybe you shouldn’t even play this game. Because if you want that, you’ll probably spend close to 300 hours.

But that’s a rough estimate.

"You got chocolate in my Peanut Butter..."
Pokemon Conquest is the marriage between Pokemon, the franchise, and a smattering of different tactical elements from games like Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, and others. While there are Pokemon, the “trainers” that use them, and a way to capture them in the wild, that’s about where the similarities to other Pokemon games ends. Much like Advance Wars and other tactics games, you control several Pokemon on a grid in which they battle a variety of other Pokemon. Every Pokemon can only use one move (which the game has already decided for you)—a move that is the same among each Pokemon with that name. So, for example, every Pikachu knows the same move, but not every Electric Pokemon knows that same move (like his evolved form, for example). So if you see a wild Pikachu, you know what move it can use, since that move is standard among Pikachus in the game. You can’t teach a Pokemon new moves; it can only use the one it comes with (but that move changes if/when the Pokemon evolves).

Kinda like Advance Wars…but not nearly as awesome as this picture implies. 
Each Pokemon trainer is known as a warlord, and every warlord has the ability to train multiple Pokemon (but can only send one into battle at a time). Not every warlord can capture, or “link with” every Pokemon, as each warlord has a special type that they are proficient with. Knowing how to maximize a warlord/Pokemon combination is one of the ways the game offers complexity…and replay value. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Battles are comprised of up to six warlords and their Pokemon fighting for various Kingdoms. Each warlord also has a special power that can only be used once during the battle. Attacks are super effective if used correctly and not very effective if used in the wrong scenario. Say, for example, you try to use a fire attack on a water Pokemon—it won’t do a lot of damage because water doesn’t (usually) burn. Water on a fire Pokemon, however, is quite effective, and does a lot of damage. This is where the Pokemon aspect of the game shines—knowing how to deal the most damage with your attacks, how to build a team to battle against opponents, and how to avoid taking too much damage all come into play. If you knock out the opposing Pokemon before all of your Pokemon are knocked out, then you win the battle.

Battles normally take place when someone is trying to conquer one of the seventeen kingdoms of the land, each of which corresponds to a type of Pokemon. As you attempt to conquer a kingdom, you will need to fight multiple Pokemon of the kingdom’s type—this means in order to conquer the Ice kingdom, for example, you will need Pokemon that are good against Ice Pokemon. It was this aspect of the game that I loved the most, as it made me play with Pokemon I wouldn’t normally use otherwise—after all, it’s very difficult to defeat every kingdom in the main story with the same six Pokemon. I've had very little use for a Venipede in other Pokemon games, but when fighting the Grass kingdom, I needed his Poison type attack (which was super effective against most my foes there).

I’ve never found a use for him until this game. He’s kinda grown on me since. 
I also love that the kingdoms aren’t from some random land created solely for this game. Taken from a series called Nobunaga’s Ambition (those in the U.S. might recognize that these characters are from the Samurai Warriors series), the game has a healthy dose of historical influence to flesh out the story a bit. You’re a fledgling warrior from the Normal type kingdom trying to unite the seventeen kingdoms and protect the world from destruction at the hands of Nobunaga. As you unite the kingdoms, you gain allies who help you in your quest. Once you unite the seventeen kingdoms, your journey ends and you save the land.

Well, your journey ends if you don’t want to play through the thirty or so side quests and the downloadable content, all of which have stories of their own, half of which require you to unite the seventeen kingdoms again. And again. And again. And once you’re done with all those quests, you get to beat the game with your main hero and reunite the seventeen kingdoms for a final time.

Like I said—90+ hours, just about halfway done.

Even with the massive amount of story related content and side quests, they haven’t been what I’ve spent most of my time on. You see, each warlord has a “best fit” Pokemon—one in which they can achieve their “perfect link” with; i.e., “100% friends”, or something like that. A Pokemon’s strength in this game is relative to a) its warlord’s stats, b) its stats, and c) the link it has with the warlord that partners with it. As the link increases, the strength of the Pokemon increases. This means that a Raichu (the evolved form of Pikachu) can lose to a Pichu (first form of Pikachu) if its link is low. Depending on the fit between warlord and Pokemon, some warlords can only achieve a 30-40% link with a Pokemon. Few combinations lead to a 100% link Pokemon/warlord combination, and it is only when you find this link and nurture it that the warlord evolves and gains new powers and stats.

This is where the “catch ‘em all” nature of Pokemon keeps me coming back for more. I’m obsessed with not only finding the perfect link Pokemon for all of my warlords, but also evolving both the Pokemon and the warlords. However, there are over 100 warlords and about 200 Pokemon, so that…takes some time. Hence the 300+ hour estimate I provided earlier for those of you that want to dominate this game.
Also, this game is just too cute.
So why am I a bit over 50% complete at 90+ hours? Well, I should clarify my original statement—I’m not too obsessed with perfect links for ALL my warlords…just the “famous” ones; i.e., the ones taken directly from the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. Of the 100 or so warlords in the game, about 60 or so are generic, while around 40 are unique characters recognizable from the series. However, for some of these characters, there exist perfect links with legendary Pokemon as well—links that I would also like to obtain, and that my friends, is a significant time investment.

While it might take some time to match the perfect warlord with its perfect Pokemon, developing the link doesn’t take a lot of time. Which is nice, since as soon as you find that link you can build it up to the high 50-60% range quickly (the sweet spot for many evolutions). However, there’s just one problem—every time you start a new quest… the links reset.

All of them.

Oh, you’ll keep the warlord/Pokemon pairs and evolutions you’ve made while playing, but the link levels, they return to the low 10-20% range. Each time you start a new side quest, you need to rebuild the links in order to level up the strength of your Pokemon and get them to evolve. Thankfully, for multiplayer (which is amazing, by the way), you can set a link level that each of your Pokemon start at for the battle, but in single player, it means lots and lots of grinding.

But hey, if you enjoy the work, it’s not really work…now is it?

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