I’m the first to admit that strategy games aren’t really my cup of tea. Especially ones with such an insanely steep learning curve as this one. So steep in fact, it’s nearly vertical. I struggled for a good many hours to even figure out how I was supposed to play and what I was supposed to do and I very nearly quit on several occasions. Not just quit, rage quit, with violent intent.
But I persevered and I’m glad I did, because in the end I was rewarded with a rich, deep and challenging gaming experience. One that I’ve not experienced before and one that’s opened my eyes to a world beyond the average, crowd pleasing AAA experience.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is definitely not for everybody. In fact it’s almost aggressively for a niche player. Set during the Sengoku Era, players will watch and influence the fracturing of Japan as clans rise and fall, shoguns come to power and war is a near constant. On starting a new game the game throws mountains of text, dozens of ideas, mechanics and loads of jargon at you. It’s overwhelming. It took me a good few hours before I even realised that I was able to command my very own soldier into battle. In the Evolved Battle mode, playing as a single solider I was drowning. Moving in real-time and at a decent pace, I lost hundreds of men while trying to figure out just how to control them.
As with everything else in Nobunaga’s Ambition trial and error proved the only way I could learn. The tutorials do get you some way, but there’s only so much you can learn from a wall of text and even then the ideas don’t really translate all that well until you start to mess about with everything. And I mean everything. I spent most of my time building up my province, playing politics and appeasing my citizens. The number of activities, missions and quests you can engage in is staggering. Everything from drawing more water for your farms to fending off an invading force or conspiring with a neighbour is available to you, and that’s just the beginning.
Playing Nobunaga’s Ambition is often a test of patience as much as it is skill. The pace is deliberate and quite slow at times and gameplay certainly asks you to focus on the minuscule. Although, I found that when I did spend more time attending to all of the little, seemingly pointless tasks, I fared much, much better during battle with my neighbours or when trying to convince a rival to join my cause. Everything has a purpose, even it it doesn’t seem like it does and once I learned this, things started to flow.
That’s not to say I am any good. Honestly, I am terrible. I failed nearly every historical mission I was given and missed opportunity after opportunity because I was focusing on the wrong part of my province or simply because I made stupid choices. I’m glad I wasn’t asked to be a ruler at any point in history, because my society would be doomed. I was ok at the battles as they shifted from turn-based to real-time, but only after defeat after humiliating defeat. There’s something to it though. Something that made me keep coming back for more and something that sunk it’s claws deep into the base of my brain, curled up and made itself at home. I found myself plotting, planning moves and wondering how I could gain the upper hand on my enemies while I was at work, at the gym and even playing other games. Nobunaga’s Ambition is dangerously addictive.
A massive, hard strategy game, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension is a hard sell for anyone other than the devoted strategy fan. They’re going to lap this up and probably spend the next 12-18 months taking over Japan and loving every second of it. If you’re at all curious, I’d recommend checking out some Let’s Play videos or even last year’s release. There’s a lot to love, but it takes a long time to find a way to do so.