It's one of those strange ideas that makes more sense the longer you consider it. Dropping one of the most famous videogame franchises of all time into a niche genre like the strategy role-playing game seems at first like madness, not least because it results in feudal-era warlords sending platoons of fluffy animals into battle as they fight over the 17 kingdoms that form the region of Ransei.
The more kingdoms you conquer, the more of the world map will be revealed.
But if you think of each warlord as a trainer and each kingdom as a sort of gym, you will find that it all neatly begins to slot together rather neatly. After all, what is Pokemon if not a turn-based RPG with a strong tactical focus? To unite the land, you first need to amass an army of warriors, each with their own Pokemon and a special ability which can be used once per skirmish. Though warriors can possess a number of monsters, they're only able to take one into battle with them, and the Pokemon themselves are limited to one single attack and one special ability. Thankfully, you can command up to six warriors at a time, which offers you a range of tactical possibilities. The idea is to try to maintain a balanced team, though for much of the game you simply need to use Pokemon that are strong against the elemental type of the kingdom you're about to invade. Pretty basic stuff for any Pokefan, and the earlier stages are very very straightforward, even by Pokemon's standards.
Adding to your army is a simple case of defeating a rival warrior while fulfilling an additional battle condition, like ensuring the finishing blow is a super-effective move or winning within just four turns. It's worth recruiting regularly, as you can leave warriors at each kingdom to defend it while you're away conquering more distant lands. They can also be set to train Pokemon, or mine to swell the war coffers, enabling you to spend money feeding your Pokemon to raise their energy levels, and also your warriors' affinity with them - the closer the link, the more potent the pairing.
I may have to take you up on that offer, Terumoto
You can also directly recruit Pokemon during battle, by moving your own monster next to them and completing a rudimentary minigame. There are more than 200 in all, spread across all five generations, including some rather special Pokemon that are unlocked through passcodes. Catching them all doesn't really have the same compulsion here, not least because your time is spent forging strong links with a smaller number of Pokemon rather than spreading the love too thinly.
Indeed, many of the minor systems in the game feel extraneous: you won't need to leave many warriors at home because your kingdoms rarely get attacked, and it seems slightly unnecessary to have warriors in the first place - why not have players command six Pokemon directly? It would seem like a more logical arrangement.
Still, if there's a little too much faffing about between battles, once you're in the heat of conflict it's a lot more fun. It's particularly interesting to see how certain moves translate to a grid-based setup - I found that area attacks can be particularly devastating, while if you can cajole your enemy into a line, moves like Flamethrower can rip through the entire row. While the monsters all move and attack in ways that are entirely consistent to the Pokemon RPGs, it's sensitive to the game's historical figures, too. Many of the warlords possess monsters and abilities that fit the real-life generals they're based on: a minor detail perhaps, but one that says much about Koei's efforts to make this unlikely crossover work. Best of all, there's plenty here to sink your teeth into.
Though the main campaign shouldn't extend too far north of 10 hours, completing it unlocks more than 30 sidequests with an extra secret campaign available once you've beaten them all. With further downloadable episodes promised, Pokemon Conquest should keep you busy if Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 feel a little too 'been there, done that'. It may be one of the most unlikely Pokemon spin-offs, but happily it's also one of the very best.