“Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence” proves a daunting, yet rewarding task
BY STEPHEN BROWN
System: PC, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rated: Teen
Genre: Strategy, Simulation
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Many games have a learning curve, then there are games like “Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence” that have something more akin to a learning cliff. This strategy game that launched on Sept. 1 from developer and publisher Koei Tecmo is the 14th successor to the 1983 game, “Nobunaga no Yabo,” and it is infinitely more complicated.
The game intricately balances careful governance of the player’s chosen clan with managing military campaigns in an effort to unify Japan and end the “age of chaos.” The game has a council phase where the player decides the actions for the following month. From here, they can pursue diplomatic relationships, develop their means of production, build facilities, improve their lands and manage specific officers of their clans. After the first play-through, players still might not know what some of the stats and terms mean. As one may find out later in the game, much to their frustration, this phase can be entirely or partially automated.
The second phase is the military phase, where players watch the decisions made during council unfold and are given full control of their armies. Players can deploy soldiers to conquer other clans while keeping a close eye on their troop counts and provisions. Then, players can decide whether they want to let the unit fight or take direct control of an army in a battle. In battles, the player can move units around the battlefield and give specific commands like charging or setting up a volley to make a difference in the battle result. By directly intervening, the battle is less up to chance. and troop counts may be better preserved.
This title is significantly more complex than other titles in the genre. Upon entering the game, players will be overwhelmed by the options available and sheer amount of data on screen. Many will think that learning the game itself will be as challenging as beating it, but that is not necessarily true. Hours in, the game will start making sense and stop sounding as foreign as the game’s setting, which is in the warring states period of Japan. The game can get so complex and addicting, players will find themselves constantly asking how they found themselves in such unenviable positions well beyond the time usually designated for sleep.
The game does have ways to offset the difficulty, primarily by using the in-game editor, which is a cool feature considering not many strategy games include one. The editor turns off in-game achievements, or “feats” as they are referred to in the game, which not only unlocks characters and scenarios, but also bragging rights, so there is incentive to not use it.
The game stands firm as one of the most complex and engaging strategy games available. The game’s depth of management and warfare may be engaging, but it lacks the nation building experience of other strategy titles, so when a player’s clan reaches its greatest heights, there is less of a sense of accomplishment. “Nobunaga’s Ambition’s” biggest shortcoming is that the payoffs for success feel underwhelming.
The game’s greatest success is its remarkable depth and difficulty. Seasoned strategy game veterans should definitely check this game out, as it will keep them hooked for hours on end, losing track of reality.