More than Meets the Eye!
Strategy titles are usually best left for the PC. There’s something about the mouse and keyboard that lends itself to the genre. Typically consoles do much better at FPS and heavy action titles. Remarkably, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power breaks the mold. This game is a historical based strategy simulator for the PS2 that combines deep and varied gameplay elements with simple tools and controls. The resulting fusion of complexity and simplicity makes it a title that stands out from the crowded game store shelves. It’s nice to see that the PS2 still has a lot to offer.
Rise to Power marks the series’ return to the U.S. Koei employed the production services of Kou Shibusawa. Some of you may remember that Mr. Shibusawa was responsible for many other solid history-based Koei titles; namely Romance of the Three Kingdoms and P.T.O. As such, the game’s production values are very high and it shows in a polished title that is very playable.
Set in the 16th century, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power has players take the reins as daimyo of one of the warring Japanese feudal states during the Sengoku period. This era in Japanese history is absolutely perfect for videogames, and Koei has taken advantage of it with this title. Most players will probably choose to be Nobunaga Oda, “The Fool of Owari.” However, you can choose to be any of the minor or major daimyo that were ruling during the era. The initial strength and geographic location of each daimyo will determine just how challenging the scenario will be.
Nobunaga Oda came to power after the death of his father Nobuhide. His control over his lands is precarious and many of his retainers see others within the Oda clan as being more capable and better suited to lead in Nobuhide’s place. As a result, the perils that beset Nobunaga, and subsequently the player, stem from internal ambition and external aggression. The question that remains is: will you have the political savvy to establish yourself as the legitimate leader of the Oda clan in the eyes of your people, your retainers, and your daimyo peers? If you cannot successfully consolidate power, then you will be oft plagued by rebellion and outside forces that encircle your fief like vultures over the sick and wounded.
Luckily, you will have myriad tools at your disposal. You will be tasked with the seasonal management of state affairs. There are eight seasons per year, and you will construct facilities such as garrisons, temples, stables, farms, markets, smithies, and the like that will help to project your power abroad and stabilize the economy and legitimize your authority within the fief. In addition to building facilities, you will also be in charge of the further development of existing structures. Through the commitment of money, time, and resources you will be able to increase the productivity of your lands and the satisfaction of your subjects.
Helping you with the fief’s governance is a retinue of officers. These men are delegated authority by you. Every time you issue a command to them, it will cost you a command point. You have a limited number of command points available each season, so it is important that you use them wisely. These officers have different strengths and weaknesses. Officer statistics and abilities are divided into six categories. Each officer will have ability scores or specific skills and rank in each of the following: politics, leadership, intelligence, charm, skills, and rank. What these scores and abilities determine is how each officer should be used. Some officers are capable political negotiators, while others should be used to lead troops into battle or to handle your domestic affairs. Once you have used an officer in any particular season, they won’t be available to you until the following season. So it is important to play to their strengths.
Your officers will remain loyal to you as long as you reward them either with gold or by bestowing items of value, rank, and titles upon them. In this way, officers can also be educated over time and some of their initial deficiencies can be vastly improved. However, intrigue within your circle of retainers is a way of life during the Sengoku period. As a result, it can at times be very difficult to retain an officer in your employ. Be careful in whom you confide and to whom you reward, as sometimes it can come back to hurt you. If an officer does decide to part ways he will become a Ronin and seek a new lord to serve. Internal intrigue often will frustrate even your best efforts.
Officers aren’t the only way to get results, however. If you maintain low taxation, low crime, and a bustling and vibrant fief you will be able to contract with dealers. Dealers will buy excess foodstuffs from you and provide your armies with guns, cannons, horses, and rare items to improve your chances for success. You can also deal with other daimyos to help solidify your position. When first starting out, you will most likely be a minor daimyo in need of alliances and protection. If you can successfully negotiate with your peers, you will be able to invade your enemies while still covering your six. In fact, if you can get on extremely friendly terms with certain neighbors, you will be able to go on joint invasions to bring your enemies’ lands under your control.
That leads us to combat phases. Combat is fairly simple; in order to be successful you will have to secure three basic resources. These resources are gold, food, and troops. Gold is necessary to build the facilities to equip you armies. Food is imperative to maintaining your militia during long campaigns. After all, you can’t wage a prolonged siege with a ragtag bunch of underfed soldiers. Finally, and most importantly, you will need bodies. Large numbers of troops will prove to be the key to your success. Tactics are important, but human resources are indispensible. The best way to subdue your rivals is to go at them with an overwhelming advantage. This may also entail procuring the help of your allies to provide you with crack reinforcements.
You will be able to wage war on any other fief in Japan as long as there are roads connecting your kingdom to it. Roads and connections are established by the development of your holdings and the fame and culture your empire has. After deciding to go to war, you will have to choose the appropriate officers that will carry out your orders efficiently. Your officers will have varied skills and special abilities. As such, you need to decide what kind of troops each officer should lead, how many they can lead, and how they will be best used in the battle. You can issue orders on the fly or while having the game paused. This makes the RTS battles very manageable and extremely straightforward for the console controls. Battles can be either pitched on the open fields or they may include overwhelming the enemy’s keep. It all depends on the size and confidence of the opposing force.
During battles, morale plays a huge factor in troop performance. It is important to maintain healthy units by resting them, giving them the honor of attacking first, taking out key tower emplacements, etc. All of these elements will factor into the overall ability and performance of your army. Additionally, it is important to use specific troops for specific tasks. Mounted cavalry is great for taking out infantry in a pitched battle, but if you have to siege the enemy stronghold then you’re going to need pikemen that can take down enemy fortifications.
As the game progresses and you become more and more powerful and landed, you will also garner rank, titles, and daimyo classification. The more generous and politically agile you are with the bureaucrats and daimyos of the Japanese archipelago, the more quickly you will gain renown. You will start out as a minor daimyo (assuming you go for the Hard difficulty) and will work your way up the political food chain. The daimyo classifications encompass five total ranks. They are Minor, Major, Warlord, Conqueror, and Unifier. Each successive rank comes with a lot of advantages. For example, Warlords can build up to 20 facilities in their fiefs rather than just the paltry ten allowed to Minor and Major daimyo. Furthermore, Conquerors can participate in Kessen. Kessen are combat showdowns between rival Conquerors. They allow you to essentially go “all in.” You can pit the entirety of your forces and lands against another in order to rapidly expand your power and influence. If you go down however, your defeat will be total. You will lose everything. It is a pretty awesome feature for the betting man and a great way for the developers to bring in the element of honor and risk.
The game covers seven scenarios that represent key historical points during Nobunaga’s ascension and decline. Each period will have a historically accurate quality that brings about new challenges. In order to help you with these challenges, you can create officers to help you in the conquest and unification of Japan. The officer editor is very deep and allows you to modify appearance, abilities, life cycle, and even homeland, father, friends, and enemies.
It is safe to say that the deeply strategic gameplay overshadows the overall presentation. Fortunately, the graphics are now in full 3D, but they definitely feel outdated. There are over a 1000 unique characters to choose from, however, so even if battles are a bit antiquated, the appropriate feel is still communicated to the player. The musical score is very well done, though probably a bit repetitive. Kosuke Yamashita is the man responsible for the composition of the themes, and they are contextually accurate and interesting despite the lack of selection. As I have alluded to earlier, the controls are quite well executed. The mapping of the key functions, the straightforward menu design, and the ability to pause battles makes everything very easy.
If you’re someone who likes strategy and appreciates the Sengoku period of Japanese history, you should love this game. The gameplay in this title combines many different features in order to layer the strategic elements of the title. This game has a lot to offer those who are still ringing every bit of gaming juice out of their PS2. If you are looking for fast paced action, however, this is not the game for you. This is a title for those who are used to strategy games and like to take a methodical approach to interactive entertainment.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
This PS2 title doesn’t shine visually, but the graphics are good enough to maintain the setting and player interest. 4.5 Control
The strategy title controls remarkably well on the PS2 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical score is impressive, but repetitive. The Japanese voiceover work just sounds cool. 4.2 Play Value
There is a lot of content and multi-faceted strategic elements that make this a lot of fun. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.