Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What happens when you take an already excellent strategy title, tweaking the little things while adding a new layer of depth? You wind up with an outstanding game that is more of an enhanced game than a true sequel, but no matter what you call it Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is an excellent strategy game that once again proves that they can exist on consoles as well as PC’s.
Having been a fan of the old school Koei games on the NES a million years or so ago, I actually cut my teeth on Nobunaga’s Ambition and then Romance of the Three Kingdoms. These two titles were my first forays into the strategy genre, and they both made lasting impressions on me, even decades later. The two games are very similar at first glance, but for my money, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series was always the better of the two. There are aspects of both settings that appeal to me in different ways, but the Nobunaga series has always felt like more of a macro experience. Certainly I took ownership of a particular Daimyo, but the journey was almost more about the expansion of their province more than the person.
The most recent release in the series, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence once again managed to capture that sense of fiefdoms at war with one another, and the ability to command armies and govern cities worked very well from my standpoint, even with a controller in hand instead of a keyboard and mouse. If you happened to play last year’s title, you have a pretty good idea of the overall gameplay systems and mechanics. Admittedly the controller is not an ideal input for a strategy game, but the UI has been tweaked and improved upon and the experience is certainly a playable one. Other small but smart changes to the overall game should make it more accessible to those who were worried that the incredibly deep strategy elements might be too high of a hurdle.
Where Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is different is in its willingness to make it a more personal experience. The new Officer Play allows you to zoom in on events from a more micro level, making the experience a far more personal one as your officer advances from the lowly rank of retainer into a character of considerably greater power. Since a great deal of time can pass in a single game (as well as of course, poor fate), your character can die. This gives you the option to allow an heir or retainer to carry on your good work, allowing you to jump to a new character and try to complete the daunting task facing your character. This adds some fiction to the mix that is otherwise missing in the original game. Of course you do not have to approach the game from this angle, but all of this serves to create a new level of ownership over the direction of the game’s events and was something that greatly appealed to me.
Some other nice quality of life improvements are worth noting as you can develop your areas with far greater detail than before. This level of micromanagement could have created some slog in an already deep game, but kudos to Koei Tecmo for managing the new systems intelligently and with a solid user interface. Getting to decide how you want to build out your territory in greater detail is in some ways similar to the Officer Play in that you have more control over the outcome of events and a greater sense of control over how things develop.
Perhaps where Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension makes its great strides however, is in the combat. Battles can spawn objectives / quests that make them more interesting and unique. Some improvements were made with how control of the armies works as well, with units not requiring the same level of hand-holding as the release last year required. Visually the battles are much improved as well with combat taking place in locations more representative of the actual areas. New formations and troop combinations add an extra layer of strategy to the combat, which is also welcome.
I already touched on the controller issues, and admittedly Ascension feels as though it was designed for a computer and the controller interface was bolted on after the fact. Additionally, there is a ton of text here, so make sure you are sitting close enough to your television to easily read it all. The game is also incredibly deep – casual gamers might find it too daunting to get into initially and even veteran strategy fans might find everything to be quite different than other games they are used to. Fans of the historical Koei Tecmo titles should feel right at home here, but if you spend time with titles like Civilization usually, then just know that while Nobunaga’s Ambition is a strategy game, there will be a learning curve at play here as well.
From a presentation standpoint, the sound effects and music are fine. They certainly fit the theme and time period, even if the soundtrack is not particularly memorable. The visuals are a bit more of a mixed bag as there are times the landscape and character portraits look really nice, but sometimes the PlayStation 4 hardware seems to be struggling to keep up with maps that have a lot of activity taking place all at once.