A Real Learning Experience
The Nobunaga’s Ambition series has been around for a long time. A long time. We’re talking an NES-era debut here. For over 30 years now, Koei Tecmo’s iconic Feudal Japan-centered simulation war game has been throwing players into midst of a country-wide war, dictating that they quickly learn the ends and outs of not only battle, but skills such as diplomacy, resource management, and fund allocation as well. It’s made those who have stuck with the series into war-hardened veterans who, thanks to the experience gained from their many past attempts at making Feudal Japan their own, are presumably more than ready to take on everything that Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi has to throw at them. Then, there’s me. And do you know what I’ve got? Over 150 hours of Pokémon Conquest experience. I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve pretty much got the entirety of the Ransei region under my thumb. So how difficult could jumping from that to a game like Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi be?
Well, as it turns out, the answer is “very difficult”. Apparently, an historical strategy sim and a Pokémon-themed tactics game aren’t quite in the same league as one another. Who knew? In all seriousness though, no, I didn’t expect my time in Conquest to help me out much with Taishi. I’m not that clueless, sheesh. What did take be by surprise, however, was the brutal difficulty curve that this game throws at you. From the beginning to the end, my time with Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi was essentially one giant learning experience. A learning experience that never stopped, even as I hopped from one successful campaign to the next. It was difficult. It was frustrating. But ultimately, it ended up being a lot of fun once I (finally) figured out what I was doing.
History Repeats Itself
I’m not going to explain the plot of Nobunaga‘s Ambition: Taishi like I normally would in my other reviews, and won’t be doing so for two main reasons. First, it’s literally almost the exact same story that’s been told in every other Nobunaga game. Secondly, I’m bad with history. Very, very bad. Because of that, any attempt to accurately explain the entirety of this time period would most likely involve me metaphorically tripping over myself, and relaying innacurate historical information. So, instead, I’ll leave you with this; Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi takes place during the Sengoku Era of Feudal Japan, the time period in which Nobunaga Oda began his legendary campaign to unify the country, and, should the player choose to accurately simulate things, chronicles the turbulent history of Japan from the mid to late 1500s. Aside from that, the continuation of story rests with both the clan that you side with and the actions that you take.
Although I, as I’ve already stated, am about as far away from being a history buff as one can get, I can absolutely appreciate the historical accuracy to which Taishi, and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series as a whole, clings to. Taishi is very open about the player’s ability to re-create history for themselves, and even goes so far as rewarding them for doing so. Were I knowledgeable of Japanese history I would be estatic at the chance to live out history for myself, and I applaud Koei Tecmo for giving players the chance to do so. It also provides players with an opportunity to learn. Each event within the game is based on an actual part of history. Getting the chance to learn about why things are they way that they are (as opposed to just mindlessly trying to conquer the country without any real context) isn’t just fun, but it also invokes a deeper sense of meaning in both the player and the actions that they take.
On paper, the goal of Taishi is very simple. Regardless of which campaign you pick, there’s really only one thing that you need to do; conquer Japan. Of course, that’s far easier said than done. Before you start your rally through Japan to make all that you touch your own, there’s plenty that you need to do. And all of that begins with picking a character. For those unaware, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi, despite having “Nobunaga” in its name, isn’t all about the big Oda himself (yes, I knew that before going into this game). Rather, its up to you to pick the protagonist. Each campaign features dozens of daimyo to choose from and, like in many games out there, deciding who you’d like to take the mantle of before you begin your conquering spree can be kind of tricky.
There are two major things to consider when picking your daimyo. The first is location. Each daimyo has a pre-determined place on the map, many of which vary in size from one another. Location can be incredibly important, especially later on when war runs rampant, so selecting a strategic starting area is always a good idea. The second thing to consider is the daimyo themselves. Each daimyo possesses a unique set of skills, known collectively as “Resolve”, which can be unlocked by completing certain conditions. Learning how to effectively utilize each character can be a little overwhelming, especially when you’re new, but Koei Tecmo did well with making sure that each character has plenty of capability. So long as you play to your daimyo’s strengths and avoid their weaknesses (which they do have!), you should do just fine.
For the Good of the Nation
So, embarking on a conquest to unite all of Japan is good and all, but emerging victorious from any of Taishi‘s campaigns requires much more of its players than simply sending your troops out to take over enemy territory. Before you can thrive, you first need to survive. And survival… Well, that takes a bit of work. There is, as there has always been, a lot of resource management in this game. Without breaking down things too much, there are four major stats that you should be paying attention to; money, resources (food), soldiers, and popularity. In terms of what everything does, it’s all pretty self-explanatory. Money is needed to pay troops, buy facilities, and so on, resources are needed to keep everyone fed, soldiers are used in combat, and popularity determines how likely your subjects are to riot against you. Simple, right? Of course! But does that mean that managing everything is easy? Of course not!
Truthfully, learning the ins and outs of resource management was the toughest part for me. While the game does its best to explain how to use everything, it ends up being very difficult trying to keep everything together. And the longer the game goes on, the more complicated things ultimately end up getting. If you aren’t paying meticulous attention to your spending, or are even slightly careless with your resource management, you can dip into the negative very quickly — especially if you’re at war with someone else.
Fortunately, Taishi does offer a major saving grace in the form of delegation — a command which allows your country to run certain parts of the economy by itself. By delegating certain tasks, such as farming or investing, you can basically let the CPU handle some the heavy lifting for you, thus making things run a little more smoothly. For those curious, no I didn’t delegate everything. But I did delegate a few things. By splitting the work up between yourself and the CPU, Taishi becomes much more playable for those unsteady on their feet. And, once you feel like you’ve learned the ropes, you can turn delegation off — thus running everything yourself once again. Just be sure to keep an eye on what the CPU is doing during delegation. While delegation normally goes over very well, I couldn’t help but notice that the game tended to make a few strange decisions rather consistently — especially when it comes to hiring soldiers (seriously, it would always go way over budget).
This Clan is Your Clan, This Clan is my Clan
Playing nice with your neighbors (when you aren’t trying to kill them) is another major part of Taishi. And, while not always technically necessary, it can certainly make things a heck of a lot easier in the long run. Buy forming and deepening the bonds with other clans, players are able to gain access to a number of benefits, including an increased number of markets in which to invest, the ability to trade, and the ability to form alliances. In some cases, depending on certain factors such as clan size and disposition, you can even make other clans your vassal — which eventually leads into assimilation (it’s like taking over land without actually having to fight, yay!).
Diplomacy, for better or worse, is fairly easy in Taishi. By sending diplomats to other clans, and by doing things like establishing trade routes and helping them out when they’re at war, other clans are more likely to warm up to you. Consequently, by attacking other clans or cozying up with their enemies, they’re apt to dislike you. Diplomacy is easy to learn, and effective once you manage to pull it off, but I couldn’t help but feel as though it was lacking. The Sengoku Era was, to put it lightly, a pretty intense time to live in, and war wasn’t the only way to get yourself killed. Without any kind of ability to spy on your opponents or conduct internal sabotage, the social component of Taishi left me wanting more.
To Arms, Men!
Resource management is important. As is diplomacy. But we all know that, in the end, nearly every campaign in Taishi will come down to one thing; war. At first glance, battles seem almost deceptively simple. Taking place as an RTS, battles basically consist of sending your units in to attack enemy units on the battlefield. There are two ways to claim victory. The first, and most common, way is to completely overtake your enemy. At the top of the screen during battle, there is a bar which depicts the progress of battle. The bluer it is, the better your doing, the redder it is, the worse. If the battle progresses one way for long enough the bar will eventually completely turn a single color, thus ending the battle. Turning the tide of combat is primarily done by defeating enemy units, although things such as the morale of your clan also help determine how battles will go.
The second way to claim victory is by forcing the leader of the opposing force to retreat. To put things as simply as I can, each unit basically has two kinds of “HP”. The first, the unit morale gauge is a literal bar. When it gets depleted, the unit breaks, and cannot participate in battle for some time. They will, however, join back in after a while. The second kind of “HP” is the number of soldiers in the unit. Depicted as a number above the morale gauge, unit size does not ever increase over time and, when entirely depleted, will cause the unit to permanently retreat. If you can force the opposing leader to retreat (which often times takes quite a bit of work), you can win the battle then and there.
There’s a lot more to winning a war than just charging headfirst into the enemy, though. Well, usually, anyway. Most of the time, winning a battle requires a decent amount of strategy on the player’s behalf. And, while Taishi once again does do its best to try and show players the ropes, the player is ultimately left to deal with the unavoidable trail by fire on their own. Fortunately, becoming (or remaining) competent in battle isn’t a stretch by any means. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s manageable. It’s something, at least in my experience, that slowly — but consistently —improves the more you fight. And, once you do learn how to fight with the best of them, battles become incredibly engaging. The thrill of pulling off a well thought-out plan, or clenching victory from your enemy’s grasp is bound to give you at least a tiny adrenaline rush, and will probably have you wanting to come back for more.
Have War, Want More
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi is not a forgiving game, by any means, and is especially unwelcoming to newbies. It requires that the player pay strict attention to what is going on, and quickly sharpen their conquering skills — lest the be left in the dust with the other daimyo who weren’t up to snuff. For those who can overcome the adversity of the game’s learning curve, however, what you’ll ultimately end up with is a solid — albeit not entirely flaw-free — engaging, and rewarding experience. If you’re a Nobunaga’s Ambition vet, then you’d best pick them up. If you’re a newcomer… Well, it’s still playable. Just expect a lot of learning to come beforehand.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Co., Ltd. ; Koei Tecmo Games Co., Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 5, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 review copy of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.