Koei Tecmo likes to focus on some very specific time periods in their games: chief among these are the Three Kingdoms period of China and the Sengoku Period of Japan. Many of their titles are set in either of these oft-examined times full of war and Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence - Ascension is no different. The 14th title in the long-running series, players are once again thrust back into feudal Japan as they attempt to take over the island country.
Nobunaga's Ambition is a massive turn-based strategy/simulation game, leading players through periods of feudal Japan's history. The game focuses on nine main campaign scenarios (chief among them Nobunaga's life story) with the ultimate goal of uniting Japan under a single ruler. This process is done through shrewd diplomacy, careful planning and management, and swift application of force against anyone that stands in your way.
Some of the game's appeal comes from its managing of your towns, territories and more. The large draw for me, however, was the ability to control my unit regiments during combat very reminiscent of a mixture of both real-time and turn-based strategy games. However, before quite reaching any of those points, I needed some time in the tutorial to fully grasp the depth of the game. When I attempted to quickly jump in and go, I was overwhelmed in the first few turns and honestly just felt lost. A quick glance at the controls and settings does not make it possible to "get in and go," and I do not recommend learning on the job as you work towards becoming ruler of Japan. There's literally series after series of screens and information that are going to require at least a little bit of foreknowledge for you to become a successful ruler. It's weird to say, but the game does require some homework on the player's part, i.e. the tutorial is a must.
The game's intensity comes from the massive amount of micromanaging, carefully watching over and building up your towns and territories while working your way up the political chain to gain more power. As you grow in power, it's possible to assign your confidants and others under your control to manage in your stead, providing you offer them a set direction. However, I'm a fan of handling things as much as I can myself when allowed, especially since in this management portion I found myself getting caught up in trying to make my towns the best possible places to be. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to go that route, so understanding the needs of your people versus your appointed leader's abilities is vital to ensuring they rule appropriately in your stead. Otherwise, you're likely to come back to a mess or two. The more effort that goes into maximizing your towns outputs, the more you potentially increase in honor as a leader which in turn provides opportunities politically.
Feudal Japan was an era of many great political moves; from marrying off daughters to forging alliances to simply building a massive army and taking another daimyo's territory. Building and working political alliances is a great way to build rapport and friendship with neighboring nations, leaders within your clan, and more. However, it's also a great to create enemies, forcing you to maintain some semblance of an army to keep the peace.
Combat itself isn't some huge event, but it was always fun enough for me that I enjoyed just getting into a skirmish now and then when the opportunity arose. It's possible to control battles from both a tactical view and from a "unit view." Each have their advantages; tactical provides an overview of everything occurring on the battlefield that you can accurately see, while unit view provides you direct control over a regiment of soldiers. There's not much diversity in the units themselves, but taking over allows you to set formations, enact actions that grant bonuses, and more. Combat boils down to generally having more troops and causing attrition, but there's at least some strategy on how you set up everyone. Additionally, there are castle siege maps where you'll be forced to snake your way through a (sometimes) heavily defended castle and walls. It adds some much-needed variety, but like I stated the combat was one of the bigger draws for me.
While all of this is going on, depending on your campaign choice, you'll be greeted with a series of historically relevant conversations and one-offs. While they're nothing more than comic book-esque animated conversations, they at least break up some of the tedium of the game. Aside from these, most of the game is a series of management screens or a map of your town/territory/Japan/insert location it feels like.
Nobunaga is not going to be for everyone. The game is large, tedious, and only engages you if you're a fan of numbers, information, and managing every possible aspect you can. That being said, it's got some charm, and it's one of the better management, simulation, and lite-strategy games out there. With the tutorial under my belt and some missteps along the way, I was able to get into the game and enjoy it. And as an added benefit here is if you missed out on 2015's standard Sphere of Influence, then Sphere of Influence - Ascension's update may be worth checking out.
Note: The Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence - Ascension review is based on a digital PS4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.