Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence (PC) Review

By Ian Soltes 07.10.2015

Review for Nobunaga

When hearing the word "Koei," strategy games aren't normally the first thing that springs to mind. Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, maybe. Turn-based strategy? No. With Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence, though, it's a break from the norm for the Japanese corporation. How well did it turn out? Read on to find out how the PC version fares.

Developed and published by noted action game creator Koei Tecmo Games, upon hearing that they have attempted to release a grand strategy game in the vein of the Total War franchise, scepticism would be a very understandable conclusion. After all, will the tender loving care needed to grow a city's crop production be suddenly interrupted with cries of 'Nobunaga is at the gates?' Would the careful battlefield strategy be thrown to the wind as one major general cuts through any foe that dared to stand in their path? It seemed like a pairing ripe for disaster.

It succeeded wonderfully. Nobunaga's Ambition not only sat down and did its homework to become a great turn-based strategy game but, in some ways, it surpasses even the current reigning champion Total War and, were it not for one key shortcoming, might have taken the title from it. It does a lot of things right. Nice and detailed city building, worthwhile diplomacy, solid intrigue, overarching plot to which the player is not bound, and generally… almost everything fits perfectly. Almost.

Screenshot for Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence on PC

As to be expected with this type of game, how it functions is both seemingly simple while simultaneously holding a lot of depth. With turns consisting of one month with a 'council session' marking the start of every month, it seems straightforward. Go throughout each town, assign production to crops, crafts, or conscripts, and end the turn. Except it's not that simple at all. For example, crops will boost the maximum number of troops that can be fielded and lacking them means that, no matter how many military districts the city has, they can only have a few troops. However, crops provide no direct income or troops on their own, only raise the troop cap and increase population.

Crafts bring in the money, which is great for an economic focus, but aside from buying horses and guns, have no direct impact on troop numbers. Conscripts increase the number of troops that can be fielded but, outside of the military, hold no use at all. Then come in the districts. Each city has a limited number of districts, one for each, that increases the number of crops, crafts, and troops that can be developed as well as coming with a building, potentially specialized, to further distinguish the district. Some affect adjacent districts while others provide direct bonuses elsewhere, and then there is upgrading the castle, improving the roads, scouting, trading with foreigners, and that's just the economic aspect!

Screenshot for Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence on PC

That's not to mention that each city is drastically enhanced by having an overseer manage the work instead of letting them flounder about. However, each overseer is also a general and can only do one thing a month, so not only can it potentially hurt the active military but there is a limit as to what can and cannot be done meaning that even bad generals might be desired simply to ensure that multiple tasks can be carried out. That's not to even touch upon the diplomacy situation where forging alliances both with other clans as well as the smaller tribes in return for alliances and to call upon them in times of need is important, as is trying to make enemy generals discontent and defect, trying to curry favour with the imperial court, and trying to take over all of Japan! Of course, this isn't going to be easy! The sheer level of detail, control, and options is simply staggering, however, and is not only wonderful but outright beautiful. It can be daunting and a bit convoluted at times but, ultimately, is a shimmering and glowing gem that trounces the vast majority of strategy games out there.

However, then the game's major weak point comes along. Ironically it's probably the one point where Koei would have excelled: Battles. The game opts for field battles similar to the Total War franchise, but whereas that game has detailed battles hinging on strategy that could easily last for half an hour if not longer, Nobunaga's Ambition has most of its battles automated unless the player catches them in action and fights on the field. Even then the battles are small, usually only fought by comparatively tiny numbers of squads, and lacking in overall options as a result. This would have been the perfect place to let the players control a character on the battlefield to rampage through the enemy forces and meet with enemy generals in battle. Instead it's just a weak copy of Total War with less strategy. This becomes apparent in castle sieges.

Screenshot for Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence on PC

Namely, a castle cannot be sieged unless a certain number of troops are present. While having allies send in their own armies, fresher, and potentially larger, armies can be a major boon (yes - diplomacy matters!). Ultimately, the siege devolves into just sitting around or risking an assault/raze. This may have been fine in Crusader Kings II, but with a developer well known for its battlefield action games the distinct lack of such an option is a major let-down.

Arguably the games single greatest upside, however, is the option to let the player build both their own custom units and clans. Create intentionally overpowered, balanced, or weak units? Make a clan of all-female ninjas to see how well they last in the warring states? Both are distinct possibilities and it's a welcome addition sorely lacking elsewhere. To top it all off there is a built-in editor as well as the option to create custom difficulties by tweaking various settings to find just the right one.

There is so much that could be said about Nobunaga's Ambition. From its attention to detail, freedom of customization, and general all-around enjoyment to the simple happiness of surviving the Warring States with a clan consisting entirely of friends the game is simply satisfying.

Screenshot for Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

For the uninitiated into the grand strategy genre this might be a daunting order, but for those who are it's a wonderful entry that shines. Both full of detail and freedom and simple enjoyment. Its faults are few, though frustrating when they rear their heads, and it's much easier to find enjoyable, happy things in it than anything bad. A delight to play.

Developer

Koei Tecmo

Publisher

Koei Tecmo

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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