Across the thirty-five year legacy of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, players have eagerly accepted the strategic quandaries that faced Sengoku-era daimyo. Assuming the role of one the period’s famous feudal lords, they’re overseen everything from food production, economic development, developing diplomatic ties with neighboring territories, to amassing a military force. And when subtlety failed or opportunity became irresistible, they ordered and oversaw troops in battle.
Like most tactical-minded games, the franchise grew increasing complicated, with each successive entry attempting to balance historical verisimilitude with accessibility. The 2015 release of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence undoubtedly leaned toward the former. A light-hearted but laconic tutorial from Oda clan retainer Hirate Masahide imparted the essential, but largely players learned on the job. Likely, they found was that their appointment wasn’t easy, as they struggled with meeting short, medium, and long-term objectives and handling tense situations when your fellow daimyo got power-hungry.
Faced with the trend toward increased intricacy, the team at Koei Tecmo faced a predicament just as thorny as the dream of any daimyo, and chose an assuaged approach. Although the method might not sit well with the franchise’s most faithful fans (this game was met with brutal reviews in Japan), it’s a course of action that was inevitable for the series. Save for a few element, the developers handled the dilemma with prudence
Head into Taishi and you’ll be guided through a tutorial that might lack the charm of Masahide-san’s tutelage, but does a better job at imparting many of the basics needed for governance. From opening trade routes that can pad your coffers, supervising agricultural needs to keep your soldiers fed, managing population, and augmenting your infantry and militia, the interactive lessons explain how to execute the essentials. Unsurprisingly, the overarching strategies aren’t covered in detail, and enjoyment in Nobunaga’s Ambition stems from discovering how to meet those objectives.
Your monthly schedule of tasks is eased by Taishi’s upgraded user interface. Here, you’ll find that access to commands are intuitively organized, shrinking the schism between your aspirations and actual accomplishments. If you’ve ever approached a Nobunaga’s Ambition title and didn’t know how to implement a course of action, you’ll find things much easier here. Pleasingly, there is structure to your regimented duties, as you meet with your council in January, April, July, and October, supervise and strive to increase income, handle harvests, and select stratagems in sequential order. Of course, the difficulty is seeing how these components all fit together and can be used to meet your long-term target of majority control and a war ban.
And while Nobunaga’s Ambition’s end-point is permanent, the events that occur across play are quite varied. From revolts triggered by mismanagement, natural disasters, and even agricultural windfalls, there’s an ample amount of randomization that can transpire. Of course, if your efforts reproduce events, then certain historical events emerge, and it can be entertaining to try to make these occur. Oddly, these occurrences don’t seem to happen quite as often when you opt to delegate, allowing the computer to take over control of elements like agriculture, commerce, or development. Here, you can give as much assistance as you’d like, to the point of effectively removing yourself from the game. While you might expect events to dovetail with history, the game is able to create its own alternate reality that stays true to each character’s temperament.
It’s Taishi’s Resolve system that injects the largest dose of variability into the proceedings, influencing the behavior of daimyo. Delve into the game’s encyclopedic recesses and you’ll uncover the facets of each lord’s personality, which were shaped by actual events. During play, this results in bonuses, which for the powerful, might influence the strength of your militia, or for diplomats, will make trade a bit easier. The system also guides the actions of other daimyo, where an array on invisible stats motivate actions. While the beginning and end of Nobunaga’s Ambition replicate life, play often deviates from history. Here, your allies and rivals behave true to character, taking a realistic amount of risk, or showing compassion following a lapsed bit of allegiance. Obviously, no simulation is faultless (with a bit too much advantage given to characters with technological prowess) but Taishi’s AI is definitely a cut above its predecessors especially when you witness key characters changing their Resolve during different points in time.
As always, Nobunaga’s Ambition delivers the sense of decorum that was present in the feudal age. Try marching your troops into battle without formally declaring war, and watch your challenger’s allies shake their complacency and join them in battle. Much of the fun has always been found in the simulation of the ripple effect, where your actions instigate reaction, which in turn, cause nearly unforeseen actions across the landmass. When it works against you in can be a frustrating learning experience, but when things fall in your favor, Taishi reveals its best dividends.
But the game might peeve stalwart fans- especially with the changes made to combat. Some of the franchise’s late developments, such as naval battles and siege warfare have been simplified in an effort to improve accessibility. In their place, other faucets are present to concern yourself with, from feeding your troops to maintaining a high level of morale. Another large change is the shift away from a pure turn-based approach to battles, with Taishi blending in some light real-time elements.
But on the upside, strategies for conflicts have been upgraded. Now, your officers bring distinct stratagems to the battlefield. Character fond of deception can entice enemies with a decoy, while others can commander a seasoned militia through the forest to flank a foe. Although each tactic has the potential to tip the tide of war, if your ruse is read by the opposition, you’ll likely pay the price. For those who appreciate executing textbook tactical maneuvers, a move toward taking control of smaller unit sizes makes this a realistic option. Alternatively, if you’re confident of victory, you can let the CPU handle the charge of battle and largely it does a complement job.
Visually, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi is thoroughly competent, concisely offering an attractive and informative view of things. Character portraits have always been a personal favorite, with artistry that often captures the disposition of those in the chronicles of Japanese history. More contentious will be the shift away from aesthetic inspired by ancient maps. Now, Japan’s land mass and trade route anachronistically resemble CNN’s brightly hued pictographs. While functional, they neglect to cultivate a sense of old-world charm. But almost all graphical transgressions are forgiven by the inclusion of a Nobunyaga no Yabou option, which turns the game’s characters into cute felines. Koei Tecmo could have charged for this (and I probably would have purchased it), so the free inclusion is an exceedingly kind gesture.
With six storylines culled from forty years of a pivotal period, and a collection of thousands of personalities, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi can feel like a master’s class in Sengoku-era history. At its best, the game reveals the rich tapestry of tensions woven in the era, and the discord emerging from a multitude of daimyo with different desires. Unlike literature which often offers a staid account of the era, Taishi’s hypotheticals are thoroughly engrossing. Sure, it’s not a game for everyone, or even for most people, but those with a passing interest in East Asian history will want to test their leadership skills.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi was played on the PC
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
Developer: Koei Tecmo Games
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: June 5th, 2018
Price: $59.99 via digital download