Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – PC Game Review
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence. PC Game Review. Published by Koei Tecmo Games Co., Ltd. Steam Price $59.99
Passed Inspection: Amazing playability. Training modes. Extremely immersive. Fantastic graphics, sound effects and back ground music.
Failed Basic: Some of the commands are a little confusing even after reading the manual. The manual seems to have references to incorrect pages. Doesn’t hold screen size settings which must be reset with each play. Facebook feature doesn’t work yet.
First of all let me say how difficult it is to drag myself away from playing this game in order to write the review! That pretty much says it all!
Koei is a venerable name in the computer and console simulations arena. They had their start back in 1978 designing business applications for the Japanese market but then hit it big in 1983 when they released their first computer game version of Nobunaga’s Ambition. Other hits followed including Romance of the Three Kingdoms which focused on ancient China, a game series focused on Genghis Khan and explorations of the American Revolutionary War with Liberty or Death, Napoleonics with L’Empereur and even several World War II titles focusing on the Pacific and European Theater of Operations (P.T.O. and Operation Europe). Their games were available for many systems including the Nintendo, Sega and PlayStation as well as for computers such the Commodore Amiga (my all time favorite computer system) and the PC platform. The driving force behind Koei is Yōichi Erikawa (also known as Kou Shibusawa) and Keiko Erikawa who have been charting the direction of Koei’s simulations for almost 40 years.
Nobunaga’s Ambition is a strategy simulation of the events leading to the unification of Japan during and slightly after the “Sengoku Jidai” which was the age of Japanese civil war which lasted from roughly 1477 to 1576. With the great age of the Shoguns, military rulers who held nearly absolute power and ruled in the name of the Emporer of Japan, held by the weak Ashikaga family, the individual Daimyos (provincial lords) vied for power which often resulted in two or more Daimyos engaging in military campaigns against each other. In to this age rose numerous highly motivated and strategically wise Daimyos whose names would become legends – Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin aka Kegetora the “Dragon of Echigo” and Oda Nobunaga. One things sets Nobunaga apart from the others – he actually managed to succeed in his goal of unification of most of Japan. Nobunaga was the son of a peasant who rose through military success to be the Shogun in all but name. He could actually not hold the rank due to his peasant lineage. His successors were Toyatomi Hideyoshi who did hold power after Nobunaga’s death and Tokugawa Ieyasu whose family hailed from the Minamoto clan of Shoguns. Tokugawa acted as a loyal follower to both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi but then, after Hideyoshi’s death, defeated the supporters of Hideyoshi’s young son at the Battle of Sekigahara and took the title of Shogun. He brought several hundred years of peace to Japan in a time period generally referred to as the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
This newest edition of Nobunaga’s Ambition is subtitled “Sphere of Influence” and takes full advantage of the newest Windows systems and graphics cards. It is, simply put, stunning to behold!
Calling Nobunaga’s Ambition – Sphere of Influence a game is like calling a Maserati a “horseless carriage”. It may be a correct description but it certainly “aint” accurate. Nobunaga’s Ambition – Sphere of Influence is a complete and complex simulation of the Sengoku Period of Japanese history. Not only do you control great armies of Samurai and other warriors but you also control almost all strategic aspects of the provinces you control including internal and external policies and expansions.
A fully illustrated PDF manual is included with the simulation and it can also be ported over to your smart phone for reading while on the road. The manual is logically laid out and covers almost all aspects of the game in any easy to understand form. I only wish that it offered a few examples of some of the more complex commands in the simulation – things such as the Infrastructure command “Add” needed examples to fully illustrate its use. Even after playing for weeks, I still stumble through the “Add” commands. In addition there are a few incorrect page references in the manual which seems to be from a previous edition for example the text block on page 11 which is titled “Increasing the Population”.
Upon starting the program the user can set up graphics preferences if different from the default. One problem I had with this was the screen size which I set to “Full Screen”. Each time I started the program I had to reset the screen size to “Full” again. The program didn’t seem to hold the selection. This was a minor annoyance but an annoyance none-the-less.
The player can chose from 7 difficulty levels when starting a new game and can also pick from having your chosen advisor take care of the more menial tasks of running your province (that means having the computer take care of the strategic options such as building or expanding or trading) while you just control the battles or the player can do it all. For this review, I ran the whole shooting match! Call me Daimyo Rick! You are offered 11 different starting campaigns which range from the years 1551 to 1615. The fascinating 1551 campaign is a tutorial and focuses on Oda Nobunaga’s father. There is even a campaign that focuses on the Battle of Sekigahara!
As a Daimyo, you will have access to many individuals during the course of your simulation. There are other Daimyo, wandering samurai called “ronin”, various retainers as well as princesses and traders. Each character is fully detailed with many characteristics and each one is rated for their loyalty to you as well as to other Daimyo and clans in the country. The player can even create their own generals and retainers if they so chose.
When the player takes control of a province, they have many, many options; too many, in fact, to go in to during the course of this review. Just a few of the options are: conduct diplomacy with other Daimyo and clans, build or expand cities, roads and castles, conduct espionage, raise troops, send survey teams out to scout the land, spy on enemy held areas, attempt to sway enemy generals to your side, etc. etc. The mind boggles with the options – it really can be like running a real life province.
When the time comes for war, you can pick and chose how many troops you send in to a given area. You can pick the detail of the control you have over the Samurai and other troops in your command. If you trust your generals, give them sweeping orders and they will try their best to carry them out (if they are loyal to you that is) or you can jump in and get your hands dirty and your sword bloody by controlling the troops directly. Castles can be laid siege to when the time is right as well. As the years go by, you can even replace your archers’ bows with guns purchased from the Portuguese! As the years go by, you can expand your fiefdom and try and unify Japan under your rule.
Once reading the manual and playing through the tutorial, you can find yourself fully immersed in playing this amazing simulation. The programmers have even detailed the weather as, in this new version of Nobunaga’s Ambition, each turn is one month instead of each turn being one season. When the winds of winter blow, you can almost feel the chill. In addition to weather problems, you may find blight causing problems with your rice crops which can lead to revolts of the populace. There is just so much to this simulation!
Another nice feature is that the programmers have provided plenty of save game slots so save often especially before embarking on a risky battle.
Something else to be aware of is to always track the loyalty of your Generals, Samurai and retainers. If need be, give a wavering retainer a gift such as an antique sword or marry one of your daughters or other high ranking women in the court off to him. Remember, there are other ways of winning control of Japan then just riding off to battle.
The graphics are first rate as are the sound affects and the back ground score!
The program promises a feature that allows the player to post animated updates on their campaigns to Facebook from within the program but this feature is not working at the present time. Koei does promise to have this feature up and running very soon.
The few flaws aside, Nobunaga’s Ambition – Sphere of Influence, is a wonderful simulation and is definitely worth the effort to learn. It truly is a classic computer game!
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!