by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
The Koei Historical Simulation Series is famous for two main series of games: Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition. Each is known for their own mechanics and merits, alongside the historical accuracy of both franchises. However, the Nobunaga games are also known for being considerably more difficult based on the sheer number of things to keep track of and micromanage. This has been amped up even more, if that were even possible, in Nobunaga’s Ambition – Taishi, the latest in the Warring States strategy series.
This version of Nobunaga’s Ambition has a new mechanic, the “Resolve System”, which gives each officer their own set of ambitions and goals, that will guide a character through various situations as the scenarios progress. This could lead to officers defecting and joining you (or vice versa), factions surrendering and joining your cause for protection, and so much more. It really gives a fascinating insight into the turbulent nature of the Warring States/Sengoku Jidai era that ultimately led to the unification of Japan. Before I get started, can I just say that I love that you can use the “Samurai Cats” manga/anime art for the major characters of the game? It really takes the sting out of some of the more sober, heartbreaking moments, but I adore that art and will keep using them.
Taishi revolves around a particular forty years of Japanese history, beginning in 1545 with a scenario entitled “Kawagoe Night Raid” that revolves around the Siege of Kawagoe Castle. It ends at 1582 with “Like a Dream”, which is the year the “Incident at Honno-ji”, with Akechi Mitsuhide’s betrayal of Nobunaga Oda. Each of the six storylines takes place in a different year, with factions changing, growing or shrinking as they did in real life. Another thing that changes in some of these scenarios are the feudal lords “Resolves”. Everyone from the lord you play to his officers has a Resolve, as explained earlier. Daimyo/Lords, however, have special effects that let them fulfill this Resolve. As their situation changes across scenarios, so too might these. An example is Nobunaga Oda, who, in early scenarios has “Fool’s World” as his Resolve and later scenarios he has “Armed Unification”. Officer resolves are similar to that of a Daimyo, but they do not seem to offer any bonus stats or abilities, just goals to aspire to.
These Resolves have up to three traits, and the second/third traits have to be unlocked via events/quests in the game. The menu will display what you need to do, however. Sometimes, these come with negative side effects that cannot be avoided, so find a spot in Japan that works for you with a lord that meets your needs. It’s also important to note that you cannot play as a custom Lord, so no making a max-stat monster and dominating the land. That might be added later, but as of right now, you can make custom officers, but you cannot play “as” them, only add them to your force. Many of your major officers will also feature quests to see them grow as a person and an officer in your force. These Resolves do not always change on every Daimyo though, only as necessary. Completing those quests will unlock cutscenes that offer backstory and history lessons on the officer in question, and it’s honestly helpful for people who want to be as historically accurate as possible. These can help guide your actions towards unifying Japan. You can always check your progress in the notifications menu, and it’s probably my favorite addition to the game thus far.
The ultimate goal is not to conquer the entire land, but simply to control over half of the bases in Japan and lay down a ban on war. It doesn’t matter if you conquer lands or secure them as vassals; subjugation is subjugation. I found in my gameplay, as I grew and conquered more and more provinces, weaker lords that were not programmed to fight me until the end were more likely to offer their territory up to me in exchange for protection. Just because they surrender to you doesn’t mean you can ignore them – this adds even more stuff for you to do because now you have to send military forces there, help them develop, and hope they will continue to stand fast and defend your borders. This is not a game where you simply draft troops, train troops, and send them off to war – there are lots of political games to be played. You cannot march an army out without declaring war, and the moment you do, their allies may decide to stand against you, and your own allies may or may not decide to do the same. Those forces who stand with you will probably send troops, armaments, horses, food to you, but you can expect the same on the other side. It’s very important to consider every single action you take in Nobunaga’s Ambition, and Taishi is no exception to that. I honestly spent very little time in actual combat, and more time doing the day-to-day micromanaging of my force. The bigger the force, the more time you have to spend figuring stuff out.
Time spent in battle is also important to be aware of because there have been some changes. You have two goals in battle. Either 1. Defeat the enemy leader or 2. Make the entire Combat Gauge blue. It will fill as advantageous things happen for you (defeating units, raising morale, tactics going off successfully). You will have two phases to battle: the Order Phase, where you move units and pick what strategies and tactics they will use, and the Action Phase, where it all plays out. It’s also important to note that you will not be able to necessarily see the enemy units, so you will want to think tactically to figure out where they might be hiding. You can come upon them and surprise enemy units, so be smart and be bold. Keeping the battle in your favor helps that gauge fill, so make sure to use plenty of Pincer Attacks when you can (flank a unit with multiple other units), Ambushes from cover, and keep on them when their morale starts to break. If you’re confident that your units and officers are better, you can let it auto-play the battle for you but it’s safer to just do it yourself. When I have an overwhelming advantage and don’t really feel like bothering, I will auto-fight, but for anything important, I have to take the reigns myself.
It’s also important to know what your officers can do in battle, from “Tactics” and “Plans”. These are the abilities that make battles swing into your favor. Tactics range from having bonuses in naval battles and being strong in the face of greater numbers, or not fearing death in the face of adversity. Plans are more focused around the tactical aspects of battle – Rush the Main Camp, the “Ten-Side Ambush”, utilizing Iron Ships in naval battles, or a “Five-Color Brigade”, with each unit having their own particular role (Is this where Super Sentai really came from?). Battles feel far more tactical and rewarding, and in Taishi, you have two main types of troops, equipment notwithstanding. When you are drafting troops in a city, you have the option of drafting Militia or Infantry. Drafting more Militiamen means you have a lower harvest, as it’s taking away farmers from the fields. Infantry, however, are essentially mercenaries. The longer you’re paying them, the longer they fight. Infantry takes away from refugees instead of farmers. Infantry is more expensive to maintain, but it’s worth it to have a strong fighting force. Then, of course, you can equip with muskets or horses, and use them all to your advantage. I am however grateful that you don’t have to spend six months to a year training them; all you do is hire them and let your officers lead the way. Battle is important, but the real nitty-gritty to me is all of the work you do when you aren’t in battle. The devil is in the details, as they say.
I enjoy battle in Nobunaga’s Ambition – Taishi. It’s really the most relaxing part of the game, which is really saying something. The most daunting part of Nobunaga’s Ambition is the turn-by-turn running of the proverbial ship. There are so many buttons and icons during the Strategy Phase of the game. That’s when you set your Agrilcutural Plans (Once a season), set up Commerce, Develop your provinces various functions and bases, Declare War, as well as Internal and External Politics. Gratefully, this game has a very robust tutorial system no matter which scenario you choose, so it will guide you through each step of a system as you come upon it. You can turn them off if you want, but for your first game or so, I highly recommend them. The most challenging part to me was the Agricutural Seasons. The greater your territory, the more of it you need to manage, determining which town needs to plant, sow, which needs to take time off of planting to let the soil rest/make the farmers happier, et cetera. If you just plant, plant, plant everywhere, every turn, you’ll wear down the soil and ruin your crops for the long-term, so it’s all about considering what you’ve done/what you intend to do. Crop Rotation is important, but it grew tedious very quickly.
The other fairly complex part is the Develop command. It could definitely frustrate newcomers to the Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise, but it’s imperative to learn how it works. Each city comes with a set of territories, blocked off areas that you can build on. Each of these territories across the whole map of Japan has certain things that will succeed or perform well there, so you have to really go over what you’re placing where. There are also strategy concerns, such as making sure your ninja villages are near potential aggressive targets, having forts near provinces you’re considering attacking/being attacked from, and so much more. Then you must consider the structures that increase your characters stats, and place important/necessary people there so that they can grow. It sounds like a lot to take in – and it is, but it gets easier the more you do it. The downside is doing lots of turns back-to-back with a massive force can get really tiresome, and you might start neglecting your duties (I have – I skipped entire seasons waiting for a battle, and forgot to continue building/improving my territories). Gratefully, you can delegate this stuff, if it’s tedious to you. I prefer to let my officers control Agriculture, Trade, and Commerce, while I focus on the Council, Recruiting, Posting, and other Military matters. Delegate is found under the “Daimyo” list during the Strategy Phase, so don’t ignore it if you get run down!
Every Season, you’ll also have a Council Session. When Council shows up, you will have six officers, each who are suggesting a plan of action, that will either grant a bonus to the type of Policy (Agriculture, Commerce, Military, Rhetoric), shown at the top of the screen. You will select three that suit your needs and move on. This does not direct what course of action you will take, but instead will lead to a “Policy” screen, which looks sort of like a talent board/Sphere Grid ala Final Fantasy X. Depending on the “Policy Power”, tabs will unlock here, and you can activate those Policies. Think of these like passive buffs to your overall faction. They can make your units move faster, increase overall commerce, the chances that your officers will come to you with suggestions and so much more. I consider this more than I consider “who” is making the suggestion. I look at what tree I need to focus on and look for suggestions that have the highest points in that particular Policy. After you select three Policies, there’s also a chance that an officer will come to you and make a suggestion, which will unlock another talent on that board. Typically, they’re very far away and you have to slowly unlock your way across the Policy Board. You use those Policy Points from the Council session to unlock these passives, so you might not always have enough points to unlock all of the policies you have available. I honestly hated the older systems of “This year/season our goal is to defeat Motonori” or whatever you would suggest. The council system feels more rewarding and more long-term/farsighted. It’s definitely an overall improvement to the game and makes it seem like your choices matter far more.
Demon King of the Sixth Heaven: 3.5/5
Nobunaga’s Ambition – Taishi is a far more historical presentation than previous games and I sincerely enjoy that. There is a lot to learn; even if you’re familiar with the series, there’s still stuff to master that did not appear in previous games. I appreciate the little things, like events and major battles getting set up without the player having to know they exist. In some of the previous Koei titles, you could completely miss major/important historic moments simply because you did not know they were there, catering to more of an audience who was already “in the know”. Nobunaga’s Ambition – Taishi rectifies that and offers a lot of cutscenes that simply pop up when it is their time, teaching as well as offering a sound tactical challenge. You can turn off a few features, such as the quests, if they aren’t your cup of tea, adjust the difficulty, create broken, powerful officers and put them in your faction, turn off historic deaths, et cetera. The actual list of settings you can change is brief but useful. Nobunaga’s Ambition is a lot of fun, but it can feel tedious if you get wrapped up too much in the micromanaging (unless that’s your sort of fun, then you have it in spades).
I love that you really have to consider your officers, their goals and how they coincide with yours. You can wage a war of fire and destruction, or play safer and smarter, and slowly chew up your weaker neighbors with politics, it’s really up to you. I wasn’t really sold on Taishi at first, being pretty frustrated at how much I had to be aware of, but once I learned I could delegate a bit, it let me focus on what I wanted to focus on at that time, and then un-delegate if I wished. I do wish you could create a custom, fictional force, create scenarios and things of that nature – perhaps that will come in the Power-up Kit. Nobunaga’s Ambition – Taishi has a lot to offer and is a satisfying addition to the franchise for their 35th anniversary. It’s appropriate somehow, that for this anniversary they created such a historically significant title. Veterans and beginners alike have a lot they can learn and as always, there’s tons of replayability with tons of factions across the scenarios.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.