Quite a good game, if
you manage to survive the first few turns, that is.
The GoodNobunaga's Ambition
has several elements that make it an interesting game. First there's the setting; the game simulates the struggle for power in feudal Japan. I find this setting a lot more interesting than for example medieval fantasy. Koei
games have traditionally been about portraying history fairly accurate; most of the daimyos in the game are real historical figures. While I didn't know the majority of them, I recognized some of them from Akira Kurosawa movies. Moreover, there aren't that many strategy-games around which deal with this subject (Shogun: Total War
and Sword of the Samurai
come to mind). Reading the manual will give you some extra background info on the time period and some of the personalities. It makes the game more interesting.
The graphics aren't spectacular, but they fit the theme. Whenever you give a command, a small animation is shown on the bottom part of the screen, a nice touch. The graphics mode is CGA however. I think CGA graphics were already outdated in 1988.
The addition of RPG aspects is an interesting move. You play the role of a character, not one side of a conflict or a country. If your character dies the game is over, so take care of his health and be patient. If another daimyo dies you may be able to claim his land. Different daimyos have different statistics and each of them has his own fief (some of them are easy to defend, others difficult). The difficulty of the game varies with your daimyo-selection.
I've never been a fan of those turn-based strategy games in which battles are fought out on a hex grid, but I'm glad this feature is in the game. Serious war-gamers will probably find this mode too simplistic, but it does add some more strategic thinking. You can use the terrain (hills, towers) to gain an advantage in battle or gain an advantage by attacking the infantry with your cavalry. When you destroy the enemy's command unit, you kill the opposing general and the battle is over instantly. The command unit should be your first target.
Plenty of things to do; manage armies, states (upgrade towns, prevent flood damage, raise taxes) diplomacy (let another daimyo marry your daughter; survival requires personal sacrifices :->), hire ninjas (they spread nasty rumors, set cities on fire, destroy dams or, when you are lucky, assassinate other daimyos), bribe enemy soldiers. Fortunately, the manual explains all the different actions and which actions influence certain variables (like peasant loyalty). Unfortunately the manual does not explain the amount of change of the variables. If I spend 64 gold on upgrading the town, how large will the increase in tax revenues be? It remains unclear; but then again, tax revenues depend on several variables.
Of course Nobunaga's Ambition
doesn't have mouse support. You use the numbers on the keyboard to enter commands. This works pretty well. You'll have to learn the shortcut keys but it's a direct method of giving orders. Most of the time the menu structure tree isn't too deep. However if you want to hire 5 ninjas to spread rumors to decrease population loyalty in fief 11, this is the required series of input commands:Lord what are your orders?10
[Enter]Recruit soldiers or ninjas?2
[Enter]How many ninjas do you want to hire (xx is maximum)?5
[Enter]Which fief do you want to send them against?11
[Enter]What will be their mission?1
This process can become tiresome if you want to give certain commands several times or you have many fiefs. I don't know how this could have been solved. The one thing I do miss: right-clicking on an object to get extra info (for instance about the status of a fief).
A game can be over very quick. I've played games that lasted two turns, and I played on the easiest level of difficulty. The computer cheats and it’s very obvious. One of the computer daimyos will attack you in the first or the second season while it’s impossible for a human player to raise an army AND buy weapons AND attack another a fief (remember you can only give one order per season). And if you manage to survive the first attack, another daimyo will crush your weakened forces or the plaque will kill half of them. If you're lucky enough to survive the first few rounds and if you’re patient you have a serious chance of winning the game (Nobunaga's ambition
is comparable to Risk
, once you have several countries you become very powerful. A lot of fiefs => a lot of production power => a lot gold => a lot of soldiers => even more countries).
A.I. isn't brilliant, it certainly knows when to finish a weakened opponent but I don't think it ever outsmarted me on the hex battlefield. I haven't played the game on the toughest level but I have the impression the game just changes the odds more and more in favor of the computer daimyos. When two comparable units clash your unit is most likely the one that loses half its soldiers, the other daimyos start with better equipped troops, more typhoons & plaques etc.
Since you can do only one thing per turn, the game will test your patience. For instance: it takes one turn to hire new soldiers, another turn to give them some basic training, if you want to raise their loyalty it will cost you another turn. Buying weapons will take another turn. A year has passed before you launch your attack.
Some other complaints:
- Diplomacy isn't complete. You can make a pact with another daimyo and they won't stab you in the back immediately (in the end all conflicts are solved with the sword). But you can't make a deal to attack a common enemy.
- You can't change the order of your commands (to your units) on the hex grid. First you'll have to give an order to unit 1, then unit 2 etc. Sometimes you want to move your riflemen before you move your command unit, but that isn't possible.
- Annoying save/load interface. There are only two save slots (that's probably a disk-space issue), the program only saves your game at the end of a season. When you're playing a game and want to load a saved game or want to start a new game you have to exit to DOS and start the program again.
- Although the manual does provide background info, the game lacks a real storyline.
- Sound effects are almost non-existent. The best thing about the sound? You can turn it off.
The Bottom Line
Not perfect, but still an enjoyable war/strategy/RPG hybrid. Not as complex/deep as some other Koei
games (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms
), since you manage your fiefs directly instead of appointing generals. Recommended to anyone with an interest in empire management or (Japanese) history. Be warned however: the game is addictive; I recently played the game till 3 o'clock in the morning (shame on me!).