Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power

  • Release: February 5, 2008
  • Developer: KOEI
  • Publisher: KOEI
  • Genre:

Killer Ambition

Nobunaga's Ambition is finally returning to the States. Hands-on with a near-finished version.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: December 19, 2007
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One of the toughest things a game developer must have to juggle is just how much control a player should have over a game world's progress. In action games, it's probably not all that difficult (at least not in previous generations), but with strategy games, the delicate balance of offering the player just the right amount of say in how things play out is absolutely crucial.

KOEI has long been a staple of bringing absolutely ridiculous levels of depth and involvement into their strategy games. The Nobunaga's Ambition series dates all the way back to the NES days, where menus were multiple levels deep and the visuals... well, they were more to give whatever you did in the menus a little ocular pop.

But US shores haven't seen Nobunaga in quite a few years -- not since the SNES days if we remember right -- though for console strategy junkies, the name still carries a considerable amount of heft in their minds, and for good reason: unlike, say, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Nobunaga's Ambition always seemed to tread that deep-but-not-too-deep line perfectly. Now that we've finally been able to spend hours (and we do mean hours) digesting Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power, the US' first NA game in years, we're more than happy to report back with praise.

First, though, let's plumb the depths of just how involved Rise to Power actually is. Situated firmly between the Romance games previously mentioned and the light strategy bits that were brilliantly incorporated into some of the Samurai Warriors: Empires games, the series lets you drill down to the level of controlling an initial fief (it's dependent on what ruler of a particular part of Japan's Warring States period you choose), and then the gradual expansion of things.

What's particularly interesting about Rise to Power is how it handles history. Originally, it was of course Nobunaga Oda that eventually united all of the disparate parts of Japan under one rule, but the game will happily allow you to rewrite history if you so choose. Even better, at certain points during the game's history, you can actually choose to change the course of historical events. For instance, right from the start, you can pick whether Nobunaga appears at his father's funeral in traditional garb or without it (as was the case originally). This in turn will stir support from others at the funeral and completely change allegiances right from the get-go. It also changes how mentors and retainers -- ambassadors, if you will -- react to rule.

What we've been impressed with so far is just how pervasive some of these moves are. Because no single action can be taken without ripples that eventually bounce back in some form, nearly every single thing you do in the game will have repercussions -- good or ill -- later on down the line. This can extend to the short term, like setting up a checkpoint for your fief that heads off spying and insurrection stirred up by ninja from other territories but limits trade for your merchants, or it can become policy, like marrying off someone from your clan to stave off an invasion.

The latter part is something that is a key part of the game, as one has to balance developing both an army (best defense and all that) and maintaining a presence on a country-wide scale through threats, gifts and alliances. These are the things that govern (quite literally) the balance between neighboring parts of Japan, and because you are not an island unto yourself, alliances brokered spider out and criss-cross with other factions all over Japan. Just this one part alone can be intoxicating, because commanding a particular clan outside of a normal family's area creates rivalries, destroys or enhances relationships with other clans and again, just creates ripples that will eventually come back to haunt or aid a chosen ruler.
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