By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
The Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise is not a recognized one in the States, especially compared to the strategy games that Koei has put out over the past thirty years. The Three Kingdoms games are less confusing and frustrating, again, compared to the NA franchise. However I do love Grand Strategy/turn-based strategy games, and NA: Sphere of Influence – Ascension, which I will just call NA: Ascension from here on out, fits the bill perfectly. But what is NA: Ascension? Nobunaga’s Ascension: Sphere of Influence was terrific, and Ascension is a sort of expansion on that idea. What’s the goal? To unite Japan under one lord, and that’s yours. Or you, if you’re the Daimyo. Ascension advertised the one thing I really wanted though: Officer mode. RTK perfected the Officer Mode back in RTK8, where you can join a lord, and ride across the land, performing deeds, or just affecting events as you see fit. Is it quite the same as that? Not exactly… In fact, this isn’t what I was hoping for in that at all.
The way it works is that you work for a Lord, and start with a small fiefdom before performing the same task every single time. Every. Single. Time. When I started a scenario (and there’s several of them) I was an officer with the goal of Clear the Land. You need to perform this task to expand the fiefdom and fulfill a certain list of conditions. Gather X Gold, X Wood, X Iron. Not to mention your fellow officers will start working on these tasks to gather honor for themselves. That’s your reward: Honor. The more honor you have, the higher you will climb on the social ladder. So now you have to figure out how the hell to do this before them! You don’t want someone else to have your honor, do you? The game will do a fairly good job to teach you how to expand your fiefdom, learning new concepts in a manner similar to Civilization [upgrading your cities’ culture to add new buildings, et cetera]. Temples, Gunnery, Merchants, more Rice Paddies, an assortment of upgrades.
One of the most gratifying things though, is watching your created character rise to his own destiny and gain power. It is of the utmost importance to build relationships, and establish loyalty with other officers and lords, learn new skills, and gain honor. Honor is the most important thing to a man who servers under a lord. But as your rank grows, and your fiefdom/territory grows, the peasants who serve under you will give you resources, items, and in general make life better for you. And it’s not like there isn’t replayability; I mean, there are 2000 characters in this game, not to mention any custom ones you make! Goodness. A handful will sound familiar from Samurai Warriors more than likely, but there will always be something new to see and do.
When you start a new game it also gives you suggestions, if you can’t decide what to do. It will give four options, from Daimyo to Officer, in a series of historic settings and tells you a little about the character. You can refresh these to try other suggestions, or tell the game to never do it again.
But your goal is to rise through the ranks and make it to the top of the food chain. Here’s where my problem started to arise. The moment you climb higher, even a little bit, in the ranks, you start doing the same shit you did in NA: Sphere of Influence. I was expecting something far more than what I received. It’s back to roads, tribes, and upgrading plots of land. The higher your rank, I feel like the more it’s like Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence and a lot less of an officer experience. Now you do get to play as your custom character if you’d like, or a real historic officer, but the higher your rank, the greater your pile of work there is to do. At the end of the day, this is still Sphere of Influence. There is not a huge amount of changes that come with this. However reality is the name of the game here. It’s a franchise built on historic accuracy. You’re going to see a ton of event screens, not animated, not voiced, but definitely a series of screens that depict historic events, whether it’s a marriage, betrayal, if a Daimyo rises to power. . .But if you’ve played Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, you’ve played this. Thankfully if the decision making gets to be too much, you can tell your subordinates to make choices for you.
NA: Ascension is not a game that you’re going to play for a half hour and then put it down again. This is a game that demands time, care and attention. When you’re getting ready to go to battle you have to consider what formations you can utilize, what types of armaments you are bringing, food and troop numbers. I’m glad it seems to not focus on troop training too, but morale is still here and still incredibly important. I do love the ability of being able to have a zoomed out battle, or zoom down to officer mode, which will feel more like Total War – manually controlling units, officers, using abilities and tactics. Some of the early skirmishes are incredibly easy, letting you get used to how the combat and the game itself plays.
But remember where I said this game is historically accurate? It’s not kidding. If a battle historically speaking, is one that a Daimyo or Lord lost, you’re probably going to lose it too without a lot of luck and tactical brilliance. This is not a game that’s going to hold your hand, and make things easy on you just because you picked a lord that is weak, has no global presence, or is surrounded by much more powerful lords in a particular situation. However, all is not lost, because you can adjust quite a few of the settings, and while the Easy difficulty is still not mind-numbingly so, you can certainly set up three “adjustable” difficulty settings, turning things down or up as you please. This is a feature I absolutely adore because sometimes I want to hate myself, and sometimes I simply want to get my historical fix and try to change the outcome of something important, like the Sekigahara battles. Turning a couple nobs makes this an endeavor that won’t keep me up all night planning for.
One of the excellent things about this game though, is the character creation suite. You can do just about anything with a custom character, make them as strong or as weak as you please. If you really want, you can make all of your stats 100s, and give yourself the strongest abilities in the game without any issues. Who will judge you? Me, probably. Beyond that, the customization doesn’t end! You can also create custom events for the game!
Yes, you can make a moment occur during one of these historic settings, give it a name, write a description for it, and set the events that unfold. Want to make Mitsuhide Akechi betray Nobunaga a few years earlier? Want to make a group of OP custom characters betray the Shogunate and strike out on their own in 1588, and cause nothing but havoc in an already chaotic time? You can absolutely make that happen for your game! Or if you’re a real villain, you can set these up for a friend if you hang out and play games like this as a group! You can set the game up to give you items, betrayals, and a whole slew of ways you can affect the game. However, it does warn you that it can ruin current events in a game, or stop you from getting Trophies/Achievements.
My Destiny Has Not Come
The downside to this game is that if you already own Sphere of Influence, and aren’t a die-hard Nobunaga’s Ambition fan, you are likely not to get this game. It’s fun, and it’s a fantastic strategy game, but there are some flaws. I played on the Playstation 4, and oh my God, they use the same font for the PC version, and most of the windows/text is very small. I sit a fair distance from my TV and it was pretty rough to read. I had to sit closer to make sure I didn’t experience eye strain after a while. There is some repetition in this game that vexes me, like the dialogue every single turn. It Drives. Me. Nuts. Combat is terrific as always. The sheer amount of stuff you can do every game month is phenomenal, but to be totally honest, this is not what I was hoping for when they said you can play as an officer. You’re an officer, but you just have so much lordly stuff to do! I was hoping to explore the tumultuous land at my leisure and perform great acts for my lord. Not… make sure roads are connected, build rice patties, and convince tribes of outsiders to join my cause. Not to mention the time I was rushing to gather 1500 gold so Tadakatsu Honda didn’t get it first and get 70 honor (that really hurt my feelings). But it’s an incredibly solid game that will give strategy fans the long-term play they are vying for.
- Thousands of historically accurate characters to choose from, and a pile of scenarios to pick from, giving so many different choices.
- Don’t like your lord? Strike out on your own!
- Officer Mode: Serve under your Daimyo and help him create a whole new ambition.
- Officer mode was not exactly what I hoped for.
- Virtually no voiced dialogue; the parts that are, are repetitive.
- I didn’t encounter a single duel. Duels would make combat way more intense.