Nobunaga's Ambition is a strategy simulation series developed by Koei. Despite the fact that thirteen titles in series have been released already, Nobunaga's Ambition didn't get much attention from players in general, especially because only a few of these titles made it to the west. With the release of the fourteenth title in the series, Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence, Koei hopes to deliver another amazing experience for players that enjoy strategy games.
For those that don't know who (Oda) Nobunaga is, he was a powerful samurai daimyo (feudal ruler) of Japan who nearly managed to unite all of Japan under the rule of the Oda clan in the late 16th century. In Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence, the player is tasked with such an objective, the unification of Japan, by diplomacy and/or war. However, it's not mandatory to choose play as Oda Nobunaga, as the player will have the option to play as other regional daimyos of the time.
Like any other strategy titles, Sphere of Influence is one of those titles that will require a lot of careful planning and time, since there's a lot going on, a lot of options and a lot of outcomes for every decision you make. Before starting the campaign, players are offered with the option to play the tutorial, which easily takes over an hour to complete. Here is where the basics of managing a land, diplomacy and combat are learned, however, just like I said, it's just the basics. Even these basics might be a bit "hard" to learn, as there's so much text and information, that's almost guaranteed that the player won't catch everything, and could also easily put off players not used to the genre.
To start off, the key to start building your empire is development. Players will need to start by investing on things like agriculture and crops, which will turn increase your population, as well as your army. From here, it will be necessary to earn some profit, which can then be used in a great variety of ways, such as further expanding your population and army, increase the size of your towns, create structures, strengthen your castles and strongholds, build roads, offering gifts to a nearby daimyo, and so on. There are several options, and one bad decision could be the start of your defeat.
All these tasks are left in the care of your officers. Picking the most suitable officer can also be the difference between fail and success, as each officer has its own special traits that will make him/her the better option for a certain task. This is really important when the player uses diplomacy, as a more suited officer can built up the another clan's confidence much more quickly, which will make things easier in case players need call on them for reinforcements or forge an alliance. Diplomacy can even go beyond just having the trust of another clan, as you can also use it in other ways, such as turning enemy officers to your side or gain the trust of tribes that on your land.
Once you have developed your land, created an army and gathered allies, if diplomacy doesn't work when it wants to expand your territory, that's when you jump to war. Here is where the fruits of the strategy so far come to fruition. When your army engages in battle with the enemy, you will have two options: let the battles play out automatically and the winner will be the army with better stats and numbers, or you can control your units and engage the enemy yourself. Although controlling the army yourself might seem pointless at first, there's really some depth to it, as you can engage the enemy in numerous way. For example, you can engage a large enemy battalion by putting one of your army units in front of that battalion and another unit on the back, which gives you the advantage considering the fact that the enemy can only attack in one direction.
Once you manage to defeat the enemy army, all that's left for you is to conquer their castle/fortress. There are occasions where, in this desperate situation, the enemy will surrender and wants to become your servants, but the option is entirely to the player. As you become more powerful, other enemy clans won't just stand around and waiting quietly. Just like the player, other clans are developing, creating armies and alliances, defeating enemy clans and expand their territory, and before you realize it, your enemies have grown as strong as you.
As the player's land grows bigger and bigger, the more time it will have to spend managing it, which might be a drag for some. Fortunately, the game features the option to let the AI officers do the job themselves, and even though it most likely won't make the same decisions as the player would, this represents a far better option than the player making the decisions itself. Ultimately, and depending on the difficulty the player is playing, conquering everything is most likely going to take a few dozen hours, so players can expect to invest a lot of time in the game, but it rewards players for that time invested. This might seem interesting for veteran players, but those that just want a quick experience that can be completed in a couple of hours will be disappointed.
From a presentation perspective, the game does its job alright. The game's visuals are just what you expect from a strategy game, the world scenario isn't that detailed, and aside from the castles and fortress that the clans posses, it fells empty. At least the same can't be said during conversations, as we get to see some very detailed characters and scenario. The game's soundtrack is the strongest point of its presentation, featuring music that manages to immerse the player into what's going on. It also fits perfectly with each situation, for example, while you are managing your land you often get to listen to a more calm and relaxing music, while in combat you will probably be listening that a music that's more fast-paced and intense.
Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence is definitely one of those titles that it's meant for fans of the genre. Even so, if those that are new to the genre manage to overcome the "hard part" of overcoming the lengthy tutorial and learn how the gameplay works, players will find an enjoyable experience with tons of decisions that will keep them busy for a long time, and it will reward them for it. Even though there are a few things that hold the game back, Sphere of Influence is without a doubt a great strategy game and a welcomed addition for western fans of the series.
|Enough content to keep players occupied for dozens or even hundreds of hours.|
|Enormous variety of options on how you start, manage your land and approach situations.|
|Great soundtrack that fits the mood perfectly.|
|The tutorial fails to do a good job and takes too long.|
|A bit too overwhelming, especially for new players to the genre.|
|The game's controls are a bit buggy and frustrating at times.|