You’re team Sanada? Gross. I’ll own you like musketmen at Nagashino, bro.
I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make for you guys. Here I was, expecting to have long, sleep-filled nights, filled with getting up early and all the comforts of home, and then this happens. A bombshell drops on my lap, my sleep is gone, and I’m drafted into war.
And hours later, I’m just wondering when the hell I’m going to get resources that aren’t iron sand, because there’s only so much you can do with it (and I’ve built far too many gunsmiths and armories than is probably healthy).
So. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension. Where do I even start?
I guess I’ll start with the obvious: Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is the latest in Koei’s long-running Nobunaga franchise, following up from where 2014’s Sphere of Influence left off. It builds on top of Sphere of Influence’s groundwork, adding new features and streamlining others in a way that makes it feel like its own unique game, rather than an expansion pack or a rehash (even if it does re-use the same over-the-top music, profile pictures, and some of the dialogue).
Specifically, this is because of how the game presents itself. Unlike other games in the series, that focused on your standing on an ivory tower, staring down at your legions of soldiers as you micromanage troop amounts and send them off to war, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension allows you to start from the bottom and work your way up. Instead of beginning your dreams as, say, a Daimyo in charge of various cities and fortresses as you navigate alliances while planning to stab them all in the back, you can begin as a simple retainer, building up your hometown to be the most productive in Japan. As you work your way up the ranks, your influence increases, not only giving you more to do, but giving you time to learn the interface and mechanics as you go along.
Rising through the ranks in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is presented differently than in, say, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII. While both games have your lord assign various assignments that you’re expected to complete, ROTK XIII‘s usually amounted to: “Capture this city and make your city’s stats go up to this number.” In Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension, you are assigned missions that you can undertake if you fulfill certain requirements, usually leading to a large-scale battle once all of them are completed. This can range from “Have enough population to have X soldiers” to “have X resource and send it to your daimyo”. Doing these missions nets you honor, which can help you get to the next rank, though you don’t have to worry too much about doing all the missions at once, or letting a few other vassals take some of the glory. Instead, going turn-by-turn and building up your territory is sometimes the smarter option, which is thankfully far easier than it was in Sphere of Influence.
Much like any other strategy game, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension allows you to build up your resources and territory by building facilities in your domain. However, this differs from the previous game in how you’re able to do this. Sphere of Influence required you to group certain buildings together based on building type, and you could only build certain specialties based on which facilities were around the tile you wanted to work on. In Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension, facilities are affected by the terrain, which makes city planning a bit more logical. Build armories and gunsmiths next to areas rich in iron, build trading posts next to roads, and farms or paddies near areas that are either irrigated or rich in water. As you rise through the ranks, you might find yourself competing with other people in your own clan for advantageous spots on the map, so your castles can benefit from the rich resources located nearby. You unlock specialty buildings for each castle by researching, which then boost up the buildings you already have, and it all becomes this addictive cluster cookie that I admittedly had far too much fun with for my own good.
I must have thought about arranging resources more than troop movements, which in this game says a lot.
So, on that note, what about battles? You know, that thing that Nobunaga’s Ambition is all about?
Well…it’s a mixed bag.
On one hand, battles have picked up the pace and become much more intimate in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension, as you can not only guide the troops from high atop your ivory tower, but control your unit much more closely by using the game’s ‘view’ system. You can release arrows as an enemy gets close, guard against specific attack types in response to an opponent, and quickly adjust your strategy depending on the situation and what the enemy is doing. Sieges are fast-paced and satisfying, and require quick thinking and planning, rather than just throwing your strongest units at the wall until everything breaks.
Unfortunately, movement can get sluggish when in officer view, and lining up your units the way you want them to can be an extremely frustrating affair. It never got controller-breakingly annoying, or led me to ragequit a battle, but close-range battles can be a lot more costly than they need to be because of these controls. Switching between views quickly is a good alternative, but it’s too easy to get caught up in the frantic pace of most battles and not pay close enough attention to your troops.
That aside, taking over forts and having long, grueling campaigns across the Japanese countryside feel as satisfying as ever, and you can find yourself glued to the screen, whispering “one more battle” between clenched teeth as you find your supplies dwindling and the night hours creeping slowly into the morning. It’s a rush to take over an enemy clan and crush them into dust, and with controls and an interface that are far more user-friendly than Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is a far more accessible experience than the latter, and far better for strategy fans who desperately want some kingdom-conquering fun on their PS4 or PC.
Still, being more user-friendly doesn’t make the in-game tutorial any less bare-bones. For fans of the series, it’s a good jumping-on point to learn the new mechanics and what’s changed, but for new fans, it won’t be enough. Much like Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, your best bet (if you’re a new fan) is to either get a strategy guide, find a friend who is a fan, or watch some tutorials online, because with the sometimes spotty translation, skimming of extremely important information, and short length, the tutorial isn’t going to cut it. The digital instruction manual can help to some degree, but the writing isn’t as clear as it could be, and it could end up confusing some people.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is a hell of a game built upon an already solid framework. This blows the already great Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII out of the water, and is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoys complex strategy games, or has a passing interest in Japanese history.
Seriously, pick it up. It’s not a perfect game, but it will suck out your soul and keep you glued to the screen for hours.
Well, that, and you might start thinking about troop movements and resources at work.
(Guilty as charged.)
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), PC; Developer / Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games; Players: 1; Released: October 25, 2016
Full Disclosure: This review was made possible by a review copy provided by the publisher.