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Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2015 (US), Sept. 4, 2015 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of influence'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 31, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Choosing to play either as a historical personality or a uniquely edited character, Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of influence is both a full scale historical simulation and a bona fide strategy title and it offers an extremely wide pallet of choice for the player to shape the world as they please.

Buy Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence

Consoles are home to a lot of genres these days, from shooters to MMOs. One genre that's frequently absent from almost every console is the complex political strategy game. They're a dime a dozen on the PC, but what you'll find on consoles tend to be simplified or designed for fast-paced play. Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence is a welcome addition to the PlayStation 4 that delivers a great experience.

As you might gather from the name, Nobunaga's Ambition follows the story of Nobunaga Oda, the famous Japanese general who fought to unite the war-torn country during the Sengoku era. The game puts players in the role of a daimyo of one of the many clans scattered around Japan during that timeframe and challenges you to create the strongest clan. The game focuses largely on actual historical figures and events rather than the more fanciful Samurai Warriors-style retelling. There's a sense of humor and whimsy in the game, especially in the tutorial, but you're not going to see Nobunaga shoot dark energy blasts or anything like that.

Nobunaga's Ambition is roughly divided into two parts: the simulation phase and the combat phase. Simulation puts you in control of a clan and asks you to manage ... well, just about everything about it. You're given a certain amount of resources and have to figure out how to allocate them. The game starts off simply, but you're quickly tasked with figuring out how to grow your clan. You have to allocate labor, decide how you're going to expand your borders, customize cities, send officers to negotiate with neighboring countries … the list goes on and on. Most of this is done through simple menu interfaces that allow you to choose what you need to do. Once you've set your plan for the year, you'll see it play out, including having the option to pause and make minor adjustments as things change.

The simulation phase is fairly complex. It's not quite as in-depth as some of the deeper management games you'll find on the PC, but it's the most complex game on the PS4. There are tons of little things you have to keep in mind, and they add up. You can devote time to trying to woo enemy officers, but it might be better to use that talented diplomat to form an alliance with a neighboring country. You'll have to decide if it's worth ticking off your neighbors to steal land from them. Perhaps you need more land and crops, or maybe you should be investing in your army.  Each option feeds has consequences that carry out throughout the game. Victory won't be determined by any single great action but by countless small actions.

Eventually, no matter how good at diplomacy you are, you'll need to fight. Combat takes place in real time (though with the option to pause and issue orders if need be) and revolves largely around positioning your units. Each of your named officers lead a squad into combat, and you can manipulate various squads to flank enemies, engage and retreat as necessary. You want to set up things so your armies have the advantage in environment and numbers, especially when you consider that officers have special tactics they can use to dramatically alter the pitch of battle. Use an officer to provoke an enemy force into attacking, and you can use that opportunity to send another flanking force to attack their unprepared side, turning what could have been a brutal fight into a complete rout. However, enemies can do the same, and battles become back-and-forth fights that require you to understand your opponent's strengths and weaknesses.

Combat is the lesser of the two elements of the game. You'll need to have some combat acumen to dominate Japan, but winning and losing in battle is strongly influenced by your success on the diplomatic field. Go into fights with poorly trained troops against superior numbers, and it won't matter how good you are at fighting. As you progress, it also becomes viable to leave the fights to your officers instead of taking manual control. Not every fight needs your guiding hand, and when you have strong forces, it's not always worth it. Combat is customizable, so if you prefers the diplomatic aspect but aren't as fond of the combat, you can tone it down to be more reasonable.

Honestly, Nobunaga's Ambition is too complex to sum up in a single review. Every mechanic feeds into every other mechanic, and while the in-depth tutorial is good, you're not going to master it without putting a lot of hours into the game. This is not a Dynasty Warriors title; it's a slow-paced, number-crunching, historical simulator with more time dedicated to figuring out your crop growth than killing people. Even the in-game tutorial pokes fun at the idea that getting to the fight is the goal when it's merely a small part of the experience. You have to dedicate a lot of time to Nobunaga's Ambition to get a real feel for it, and in doing so, you're going to have a lot of setbacks and confusion. The tutorial only shows you a limited amount, and it doesn't cover certain subjects in enough detail to make it a viable replacement for experience.

Is it worth it? Certainly. There's no other game on the PS4 that offers this level of depth and complexity. If you're looking for a game that lets you spend dozens of hours creating a powerful clan and mastering your finances and resources, you'll enjoy it. This isn't a game for everyone, though. There's no way to play Nobunaga's Ambition casually; it's easy to imagine people getting frustrated with the seemingly endless number-crunching and occasionally archaic interface design long before the first battle. The title caters to a niche audience, but that makes it difficult to recommend if you're a newcomer. It's about as friendly an entry point to the genre as possible, but it's very much an acquired taste.

Visually, Nobunaga's Ambition isn't the most impressive game on the market. The graphics are serviceable but unexceptional. The interface is muddled so there's a learning curve, but it's functional. The PS4 controller also does its job well enough, but there's a reason the genre is so common on PC but rare on consoles. The interface feels designed for a mouse and keyboard instead of a controller, and there's little you can do to customize it for a console. I was found of the soundtrack, which lends extra weight and atmosphere to the game. It's not the most memorable , but it fits nicely.

Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence is easy to recommend on its own merits and not just because it's the only in-depth strategy game available on the PS4. It has some flaws, including a rather lackluster interface and average visuals, but it makes up for that with plenty of in-game depth. It's probably not going to change your mind if you find the complex political strategy games too slow-paced or boring, but for anyone hankering for that often-neglected genre, this is a welcome addition.

Score: 8.0/10

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