Why I Loved Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence (Review Retrospective)

In September my review of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence was published on Rice Digital. You can find it here if you want to read that first. I wrote after spending a couple of intense weeks with the game, and after covering it reasonably extensively during the pre-release period. I got deep into it. And I kind of loved it, despite it having some flaws. I recommend it to a lot of people, and I feel it probably got overlooked due to a few reasons. People now know me as the guy that likes Nobunaga’s Ambition. That’s a thing. So, I wanted to look back on it a couple of months on.

When I first saw this one I was a little dismissive at first. Strategy games have never really been my thing. Mostly because I am terrible at them. It’s the time investment. Sure, I loved Heroes of Might & Magic III when I was younger, and me and my cousins would spend a weekend playing hot seat, but later in life I’ve found it hard to push through the learning curve of Total War or Crusader Kings II alone in my room.

large Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence

I’d been aware of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series for a while, knowing the series is a big deal when it comes to grand strategy but not exactly why. Ogasawara-san’s (the game’s producer) presentation on the game at Gamescom sealed the deal – his enthusiasm was infectious, and his showcase of the extensive detail and historical accuracy seemed genuinely interesting. I knew I was going to have to check it out.

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Ogasawara-san (right) cosplaying Nobunaga himself.

A side note about Kenichi Ogasawara, though, as I absolutely love this little bit of information about him. The guy is an absolutely massive fan of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. It’s very obvious when you see him talking about the series. It’s not exactly a secret, but I’m relatively new to the industry in the grand scheme of things, so was less aware of it. The third Nobunaga’s Ambition was the game that got him into video games and made him want to work for Koei Tecmo, with the dream of one day working on a Nobunaga’s Ambition title. He joined the company in 1993, and this is the first Nobunaga’s Ambition he’s worked on, the fourteenth game in the series. It’s very cool that he got to live out his dream, and it shows — Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence definitely feels like it’s come from loving hands.

The game takes place in the entirety of Japan during the Sengoku era, and tasks the player with replicating Nobunaga Oda’s unification of Japan (though in reality he actually died a little bit before it could happen). You don’t have to play as Nobunaga, you can play as any clan or even make one up yourself. There are quests that push you into making sure things happen when they’re supposed to in history, and early on these help teach some of the mechanics. This was my favourite aspect of the game, as I do like some guidance in games to help me feel like I’m following it through properly. However, it turned out that it was too easy for these quests to not show up due to AI killing each other “too early” and that sort of thing.

It’s a moreish game, and the way it progresses from managing minute aspects of your small towns to having to delegate everything and focus on expansion felt very satisfying. The range of types of strategy was also great – it’s often not the best choice to crush everything with a big army, but to also make sure you’re sweet talking and forming alliances to help you gain control of the country. I also liked how you don’t actually have to take charge of any battles directly if you don’t want to, as I am rubbish at that.

The game might not fare so well repeating it over and over, but you’ll have those stand out campaigns that will stick with you — when you waited until just the right moment before forging that alliance, swaying your hold over an entire region of Japan. You did that. Be be proud. Going back to Ogasawara-san to wrap up, he seemed visibly a bit worried about bringing the game to Europe and the west. He kept saying about how historically accurate it was, and how if you knew the Japanese history you would know this, and was worried it might not translate so well to those of us who don’t. But, the real life history events made me a lot more interested in the era. It’s a two way street, and just by playing the game you learn a lot about the history just from immersing yourself in that way. Though of course in real history it wasn’t me out there absolutely dominating everyone, but such is the life of a pro gamer and master strategist as myself.

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I’m not sure how well it performed, it might have been a difficult sell to some people. But it’s a very robust game, and one that feels very much polished. And, one that feels welcoming once you give it a go, and I think that’s very important. If it’s not this title that takes off with strategy players in the west, then I hope the next one will — either the next Nobunaga’s Ambition or its sister series Romance of the Three Kingdoms. They deserve to, as I really think they offer a great experience that really shows what the Koei Tecmo Historical Series has to offer.

They really should have brought it over to PlayStation Vita in the west though. I want nothing more than to unify Japan while on the go. Next time, please?

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