信長の野望・革新/Nobunaga no Yabou – Kakushin (Nobunaga’s Ambition – Kakushin/Reform) is the latest in the series of Sengoku Jidai grand strategy games which made Koei, and since it was relatively recently updated with the パワーアップキット/Power-up Kit, I will provide a review. Please note that this is the sequel to the recently released (in English) Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power, an otherwise quite different game. The Power-up Kit (PK) provides some fairly significant changes, so I will restrict this review to the game with the PK.
Since the setting is quite historically accurate, an understanding of the period is all that is really needed to make sense of the game setting. The game allows you take control of any daimyo (as well as the various monks) and attempt to carve your way into history, though naturally some factions are more interesting than others.
The game really goads you into trying your hand at replicating Nobunaga’s rise as the house of Oda (very difficult in the early scenarios, but rewarding) or the historical rise of the Tokugawa, but there is nothing stopping you from attempting to bring the Ashikaga or Hojo back to power. Beginners are advised to start with a faction tucked away in a relatively safe corner of Kyushu, such as the Shimazu, or to start as a larger faction in a later scenario.
The historical accuracy is generally very good, though liberties are naturally taken from time to time. A variety of special events can be triggered to replicate the historical events of the period; Oda and Tokugawa have some very good ones. A variety of very interesting historical starting scenarios are provided, with the apex and nadir of the reigns of all the crucial figure encompassed, so you can start from nothing with house Oda in the 1560’s, or pick up the pieces of Nobunaga’s rise with Toyotomi, or finish things at Sekigahara.
The basic format of the game is hybrid realtime/turn based gameplay. Years are divided into seasons, and levies and harvests take place seasonally. Armies, diplomacy, trade, espionage, building, technology, etc, all take place in real time, with the speed of your armies and the travelling time and skill of your emissaries being a limiting factor.
Most actions need to be conducted by a retainer, or your daimyo, of which there are hundreds, each with their own stats and relationships with other historical personages. Naturally you can level them up, equip them with special items, give them castles, titles, brides, money, etc. Personnel management is a big part of the game, but it feels more like stat management than managing actual personalities.
Armies themselves come in a variety of forms, ashigaru, cavalry, arquebusiers, etc, with each having a tech tree, special attacks and the like. Equipping them tends to be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as keeping them in the field. They follow a rock/scissors/paper design familiar to anyone who plays this kind of game. Soldiers themselves are levied a few times a year at the cost of upsetting your peasants and thus risking revolt.
The combat is moderately uninteresting, at least to me, and sieges are onerous, but perhaps as a long time player of the Total War series I have been spoilt with regards to this area. Generals naturally play a huge role, with each having particular affinities for certain troop types, as well as varying in levels of tactical competence, elan and guile – in particular, cunning opens up a variety of extremely potent tactics such as ambushes, disinformation, etc.
The economic aspect of the game is based on building up towns around your provincial castles. There are various types of town centre you can build, monasteries, farming villages, tradesmen’s towns, European factories, etc, limited by the size and nature of the province. You then build your desired buildings around the appropriate town centre.
Rice, money and technology are the main elements of this – in particular you will be perpetually short of rice with which to provision your armies, but you can buy it with money. Best is to build plenty of paddies near rivers for a massive boost in productivity, but rivers and plains are in short supply in Japan… Be sure to turn off typhoons, as otherwise you will spend half the game rebuilding cities. The economic and urban management aspect of the game is carried off quite well, and has a fair degree of subtlety and forethought involved.
Diplomacy goes hand in hand with the personnel system, a nice touch, so that if two figures get along well they will likely negotiate well. You can negotiate with gold, tech, items, princesses, hostages, prisoners, military support and the like – all interesting and flexible though a little hard to arrange at times.
Espionage is also a major element, and mainly involves military support actions or bribing retainers to your side – it feels a little detached but is probably true to history in focussing on military objectives rather than grisly assassinations.
A new trade system based on regional products (swords, lacquerware, gold, etc) was added with the PK, and trading with it can be interesting if unfair to the AI. The main use of the trade system is dealing with the newly added European powers (as well as the Ming), who can grant various interesting tech through trade. The influence of Christianity sadly has almost no look in – religious conversion would have been a n interesting feature.
The final aspect of diplomacy was also added with the PK – regional powers now confer a variety of advantages, but their favour must be curried, and they each have their own antagonisms, so certain social factions in a region must be favoured to the exclusion of others.
Alliances with shinobi give a huge boost to espionage, merchants allow trade, sea lords will attack enemies at sea, the common people will cause and stave off rebellions, etc. You can bribe these powers with goods or gold, or simply subjugate them forcefully. This aspect is quite interesting, but it can be frustrating trying to get past their bonuses to other houses without simply allying with them to negate their bonus and gain it yourself.
The AI is quite challenging – it is more than sufficiently aggressive, though higher difficulty levels result in huge bonuses rather than better AI. The more aggressive AI on higher levels is also extremely tedious to deal with, as it will effectively spam you with espionage attempts, which means more micromanagement. By the time you have got to grips with the game, the AI will likely cease to be overly formidable.
Each aspect of the game is well put together, though I would not say that any individual aspect is perfect. As a whole, however, the game comes together extremely cohesively, and becomes absolutely engrossing, if at times highly intensive to micromanage. The main problem with the game is the level of micromanagement involved – it can get excessive, especially when large dominions are involved. There is also a severe balance issue with the levying system, so that if a game drags on there will come to be literally millions of soldiers mobilised – rather damaging to historical accuracy. It also has a steep learning curve, although soon becomes rewarding.
The 3D graphics are functional, but the stable of artists Koei has developed in their various strategy titles makes sure illustrations (particularly character portraits and the various items and the like) are gorgeously executed, and there are certainly a lot of them. The interface is dense – I can’t imagine playing it without a mouse in a low resolution is very enjoyable.
As you might expect from a game with a historical Japanese setting there are plenty of beautiful historical illustrations and designs. Overall, it does possess good looks, if mainly 2D. Probably players interested in such complex games are likely to be forgiving of these cosmetic shortcomings.
Sound is basic – just some basic flute background music and a variety of bland sound effects, and some very partial voicing. I suggest you get something to listen to in the background.
Since this is an older game, few systems will be troubled by it. You can play it online but time consuming strategy games hardly lend themselves to this. The main requirement likely to cause trouble is Japanese language ability: since the interface is unchanging, this is not so much a problem, but reading the documentation will require some ability.
Most conspicuously, the profusion of historical names of people and places means even Japanese are going to struggle if they lack good historical knowledge. The readings are provided tucked away in the info screens, but frankly I just relied on recognising personalities from their distinctive portraits, and places from their position on the map – there are far too many to remember.
You can see the various versions available here – there have been some PK releases for PS2 and Wii recently, so quite a wide audience can now enjoy the game.
Nobunaga’s Ambition is a long running and popular series of games, and this game certainly lives up to that legacy, even if it is far from perfect. For those with patience for learning a complex game system and a love of grand strategy games, or an interest in the period, it is a game which should not be overlooked, but I suspect even for these people it will at times provide a mixed experience. For others, it may very well be only an averagely rewarding game – but still worth a chance, for it may prove to be very engrossing and enjoyable, if unwieldy.