Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Players: Single Player
This is a review coupled with a video review. You can watch the video review above, or read a transcript of the video below.
I am not the most familiar fan of Koei’s two long-running strategy game series. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, which released in 2015 was the first game in the Nobunaga’s franchise I played, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 was also the first in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series I played.
So I was not able to compare them to previous games in their franchise and just looked at the games themselves for what they were. Needless to say, I loved them both, though for someone like me who as a fascination with Chinese and Japanese history that dates back to my days in elementary school, it was to be expected. To be honest, I am a very recent fan of Koei Tecmo in general, with the only franchise of theirs that I ever played being Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive from Team Ninja.
It was some time at the beginning of the year when I heard that Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence’s expansion titled “Sengoku Risshiden” in Japan, would be getting a standalone western release under the title of “Ascension.”
At first, I was not happy when I heard that the expansion would be standalone, and saw it as a money grab, and while I still think it is a shame that people such as myself who already own the original Sphere of Influence would have to buy the game again, I would be lying if I were to call this a simple expansion.
Koei has practically rebuilt the game from the ground up, adding an insane amount of depth that was unfortunately lacking from vanilla experience. When I first played Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, I said that it was a great stepping stone for new strategy game fans, who felt that Civilization V was too shallow, but think that games like Europa Universalis or Hearts of Iron were too complex. I believed that it was the perfect stepping stone strategy game, and with the new expansion, that statement has been made all the more true.
Nobunaga’s Ambition does not really have a story, but instead acts as a template for an overarching experience. When you are setting up your game, you have the choice of twenty different scenarios to play in, several of which are new in the ‘expansion’, including the historically significant Siege of Osaka. Eighteen of these are historical, while two are fictional.
Depending which one of these scenario you choose, it will determine which clans will exist and what historical stories and quests will be available for you. The earliest the player can start is in 1534 with the birth of Oda Nobunaga, and the latest they can start is 1614 with the Siege of Osaka, also known the last real battle of unification.
After you choose the scenario you want to play and select which Clan you want to represent, you will run into the first major change that comes to the series. For the first time ever, you have the ability to play as a simple officer, rather than the clan itself. You will be able to choose from several different officers, including any created officers that you’ve assigned to be a part of that clan.
Who you choose to play as will determine your standing within the Clan. You can choose to simply start as the Daimyo himself and start out with complete control over your domain just as you could in the vanilla game, or you can opt to start out as a simple retainer with only a small field to your name.
If you choose to play as a retainer, your Daimyo will lay out a list of objectives to complete in order to reach an overarching goal. So for example, you will be given a list of seven things to accomplish ranging from “Perform a raid on this Clan’s rice field with at least 800 men” to “Provide us with 800 Iron”. When all of these objectives are finished, you will then be asked to aid in the attack of another clan.
The more objectives you can accomplish and the better you perform in battle will increase the amount of Honor you obtain. As you gain more Honor, you will be given promotions; some of these are simple military promotions that allow you to field more troops or command more units, while other promotions will give you more actual political power and a larger domain to control.
Finally, just like before, as you play through the game there are quests that you will be given to complete. These lack depth in comparison to the new objectives list given by your Daimyo – but once they are finished, historically significant quests will trigger cutscenes that will tell you about a moment in history that relates to the event. Perfect for those who are interested in Japanese Sengoku Era history.
Gameplay is hard to talk about without going in several pages of detail explaining, so instead I will state simply that the game is split into two sections. Half of the gameplay is focused on map management, called Council Mode, wherein you must enact policies and build the infrastructure of your territory. The second half of the gameplay is Military Mode, where you can choose to allow fights to resolve themselves in the overworld map, or your can go into the battle and personally control your unit(s) and fight your enemies in the fields or castles of Japan.
Actual combat has been greatly improved with several layers of depth added to it. Units now have several stances they can switch between, and swapping between these stances (depending on their actual troop make up) will give them three abilities that they can use to defeat their foes. Your enemies can also do the same, which will require you to know when to use which stance or ability to maximize your defense and offense.
Battles can’t be won simply by throwing a larger number of troops at your enemy anymore, though it still helps. Along with a retool of the game’s combat, Koei has brought over the castle sieges and naval battles that were present in Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13, which function more or less the same way.
While combat feels more engaging, there are times where units will struggle to maintain a proper formation, or will decide to look in another direction instead of at the target I told them to. This doesn’t happen for me when I’m playing on PC, but has been an issue when I’m playing on Playstation 4, which is unfortunate, because that is my preferred platform to play these games on.
Just like I said with my review of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ascension is a beautiful game. As before, the portraits are beautifully detailed, especially the most recent ones that appeared specifically in Sphere of Influence. The map, also just like before is beautifully detailed, and allows you to zoom in down to near street levels, and also zoom out to see the entire map and gaze upon your mighty realm, or even to observe your allies and enemies as they, too, engage in war.
The only issue that I take with the game graphically, is that in combat you can now observe the battles from the position of the general, meaning you’re right there on the ground, similar to the camera from the Total War series. Unfortunately, at least on Playstation 4, the animations of your units leave a lot to be desired. They are choppy and very basic; however, it does not really take away from the experience. Taking down a castle, defeating a general, executing an enemy Daimyo, who refused to bend the kneel to your authority. It’s all still as satisfying as you’d imagine.
The one thing that I think works against Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence — Ascension is the title. It’s far too long and may confuse people as to what exactly they are getting. Now while I fully understand that this is simply an expansion and not a new title in the franchise, there is so much added and changed here that it almost feels like a completely new game.
Koei went out of their way to listen to fan concerns and criticism of the vanilla game and provide the player with an amazing, worthwhile experience; which is why I am completely comfortable with recommending this game to anyone who’s fan of strategy games or Japanese history. On top of everything else, Koei Tecmo continues to show that strategy games work on consoles, and my PS4 version is my preferred way to play.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a digital copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- A ton of new content which adds a massive amount of depth
- The ability to start off as a simple retainer and work your way to the top is amazing and satisfying
- New scenarios allow for new adventures into history
- As always, the artwork put in my Koei’s artists in phenomenal, I can’t say enough how much I love it.
- There is enough here to warrant a purchase as a standalone experience.
- Some of the changes at times can feel extremely confusing, and even with the tutorial, it doesn’t always feel clear what I’m trying to do
- Combat at times can feel cheap and unfair, as there are moments where my units can use their special attacks because they can’t see the enemy commanders.
- Combat controls on Playstation 4 can sometimes leave you at a disadvantage, and have even cost me battles.
- The Title is needlessly long and could lead to confusion