I remember playing Nobunaga’s Ambition on the Super Nintendo when I was a kid. A friend warned me of the game’s complexity, but I refused to listen. I played and enjoyed it even though I could not grasp all of it. Between then and now, I did not have as much contact with the series as I wanted to, so naturally my first thought when booting up Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence was “Wow, the series has really come a long way!” As this thought rushed through my head, I had this notion in my mind that a Nobunaga’s Ambition game in this day and age would be easier to learn and appreciate now that I’m older. I mean, game design has come a long way, right?
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence takes place during the Sengoku Era in Feudal Japan. In this 14th entry in the series, the player gets to choose one of many clans to control. The Daimyo of a clan has one goal: Become Shogun and rule over Japan. Getting there is not easy, however. You will have to govern your land through your officers. Overseeing your bases, upgrading roads, and building defensive outposts are a few of the many tasks they can dabble in. You will also have to choose clan policies that can alter the direction you take through the game politically, create alliances with other clans, and befriend smaller tribes that can help you in battle or send you resources. It might sound easy, but it’s far more complicated than one might think.
In Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, numbers and menus are strewn over the screen ruthlessly. Tutorials pop up and explain everything in big chunks as you haplessly investigate the buttons on the screen. To make matters worse, the tutorial scenario tries to be funny with dry humor, while not even touching on any more than the basics of the game. More than once did I ask myself “What have I gotten myself into?” After many hours of trial and error and reading the in-game help menu, as well as the digital instruction manual, I finally started to understand what I was doing. My bases and armies grew, I gained more money than I lost every in-game month, and my people were happy.
Fighting with my army was one thing that I thought the tutorial had actually taught me, but I could not have been more wrong. It’s easy to give the units commands in battle; they go where you tell them to go and attack whichever enemy unit you tell them to attack. There are, however, abilities — called Strategies — that can be used to turn the battle in your favor. If used correctly, these can change the complexion of a battle completely, and the computer controlled clans will, without a doubt, show you how it’s done within the first fifteen battles or so. It’s all one big trial and error fest! More than once will you realize that units do nothing if no orders are sent their way — I initially lost countless battles thanks to this.
All of these are just a handful of the mechanics that you will have to learn while playing Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence. There is so much to learn that the tutorials keep popping up even after a few hours into the game. Luckily enough, the controls are near perfect, and gameplay feels really solid on the PS4. The action can always be paused no matter if you’re in or out of battle, allowing you to dish out orders to every unit that might need your attention. It certainly helps you climb that steep learning curve.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence also conveys a story based on the scenario and clan that the player chooses when starting a new game. This is done through story sequences and quests that appear at certain dates in the game. They really deepens the experience to a certain extent, giving the player that extra incentive needed to push through the game’s initiation hours, while providing some nice art to look at.
When all of the pieces of the puzzle slowly started coming together in my head one by one, I realized where the true value of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence was. The game started to grow on me when I finally knew how to make my bases prosper with purpose instead of luck. I felt like a true warlord when I finally used all of the strategies as they were meant to be used during battle. The short but sweet ending sequence I got when I finally finished the first scenario felt like the greatest reward ever.
It is also nice that the game continues to give, even after you have finished a scenario. You can create your own officers and put them into any clan you wish in any scenario you wish. There’s tons of customization when it comes to the difficulty level, and by playing as different clans, other stories in the chosen scenario might unfold themselves. Even the options menu feels fleshed out, with the ability to change to a bigger font, camera behavior, and so on. For being a multi-platform title, the game looks pretty good too. Japan is accurately represented, seasons change the landscape’s color scheme, and you can see your cities grow in a convincing fashion. It looks a bit more rough in battles but that is acceptable, considering that the flow of battle should be the focus of this game.
At the end of the day, it was not as easy to get into Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence as I hoped it would be. This is the 14th game in the series and my mind still struggled to understand the games intricate mechanics. At times it even felt really slow and outright boring to play it. My first scenario took almost one week to complete! During this time, I encountered some core issues within the game.
I noticed that when sending my units toward the enemies units, they would always clump together, standing in line to get slaughtered. The only solution I found to this was to give each individual unit move orders. One would think that if 25 units stand in line, at least one of them could take a side road, flanking the enemy without me telling every unit exactly how to move. I also had some frame rate issues when there were plenty of units moving about on the map at once, which is kind of weird, considering the game looks all right but is not a technical marvel by any means. Both of these might seem like petty complaints, but it really grinded my gears when I was trying to learn how to play the game at the same time.
When all is said and done, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence may not be a game for everyone, but Koei-Tecmo has really put a lot of effort into this 30th-anniversary entry to the series. It is a shame that the few problems it has takes so much away from it.
If you want a deep strategy game on console, maybe you should give this one a try. You might like it.
A PS4 code of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere Of Influence was provided by Koei Tecmo for this review