Strategy in video games has taken many forms over the years. Fans can enjoy RTS titles like the legendary StarCraft franchise, or take a more methodical approach with a slower-paced game like Civilization. Tactical RPGs like Fire Emblem even blend strategy elements with the character and stat-focused gameplay of traditional RPGs. Whether you want sci-fi, fantasy, or history, odds are there’s some sort of strategy game for you. Nobunaga’s Ambition, released by Koei in 1986, is one such strategy game. This historical title follows the power struggles of Sengoku-era Japan. It also serves as one of the earliest examples of the venerable strategy genre. While it might not be as recognizable as Civilization or Total War, Nobunaga’s Ambition is still a significant title, and worth looking at today.
Nobunaga’s Ambition Premise
Nobunaga’s Ambition follows the actions of Oda Nobunaga. He was a powerful feudal lord who is today regarded as one of the “Great Unifiers” of Japan. In the game, you play through military campaigns as Oda or any of the other feudal lords on offer. True to form, your task is to unify Japan under one ruler. There are four scenarios to play through, illustrating your lord’s rise to power from 1560 to 1582. The game takes place on a grand scale, making you oversee all the territories under your control. In battle, however, things happen on a much smaller scale, and turns take place over days instead of seasons.
Despite its age, Nobunaga’s Ambition features a surprisingly robust offering of decisions. You need to take steps to keep your military well-supported. However, you also need to maintain healthy infrastructure for your civilians as they expand into newly-conquered territory. Even battles can play out in different ways. You can force a retreat, kill the enemy commander, or starve out the opposing army in a siege. Keeping track of your fiefdoms and making sure your troops are well-distributed is key to success.
Nobunaga’s Ambition Main Characters
Despite the title, Nobunaga’s Ambition is not wholly centered on Oda Nobunaga. The legendary daimyo is only one of the historical figures you can use in your quest to unify Japan. These characters each have a fascinating and complex history that goes well beyond their roles in this game. Here are the ancient feudal lords you can use to forge a new future for Japan in Nobunaga’s Ambition.
- Oda Nobunaga: The titular Oda Nobunanaga is a legendary figure whose legacy in Japan is larger than life. The Great Unifier’s campaign combined military conquest with shrewd political machinations to bring about the end of the Sengoku period and usher in a new historical epoch for the nation.
- Tokugawa Ieyasu: Tokugawa served as one of Oda’s retainers and aided him in his campaign. When Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed and killed Oda, Tokugawa helped finish what he started, unifying Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
- Uesugi Kenshin: Uesugi Kenshin was another powerful lord of the era, nicknamed the Dragon of Echigo for his military prowess. While he initially maintained an alliance with Oda, he eventually challenged the legendary daimyo.
- Date Masamune: This legendary one-eyed warrior is responsible for founding the city of Sendai. His ambition marked him as a skilled military leader and a dangerous foe, and while he served Tokugawa during the latter’s shogunate, the ruler never trusted him completely.
- Akechi Mitsuhide: Mitsuhide Akechi was a samurai and general who served under Oda Nobunaga during the latter’s unification campaign. For reasons unclear, however, he eventually betrayed the legendary daimyo and assassinated him.
- Mori Motonari: Motonari was a warlord and ruler of the Mori clan. He was a shrewd political strategist who fiercely opposed Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku period and allied with other warlords to combat his expansion.
- Yagyu Munenori: Munenori was a legendary swordsman and martial artist who founded and perfected one of the oldest schools of Japanese swordsmanship. He served in the Tokugawa shogunate.
- Ii Naotora: A rare female daimyo, Naotora took control of her clan following the death of her father, Ii Naomori. Her efforts to keep her struggling clan together in the midst of the open warfare of the Sengoku period earned her considerable historical acclaim and the title “Female Landlord.”
- Takeda Shingen: Takeda Shingen was one of the most powerful daimyo of the Sengoku Period, and his military prowess earned him the title “Tiger of Kai.” He was known for opposing Nobunaga Oda’s reign and for a bitter rivalry with Uesugi Kenshin.
- Todo Takatora: Todo was a retainer who changed masters many times during the Sengoku period. In the end, however, he came to serve Tokugawa Ieyasu, and loyally served the Tokugawa shogunate.
Nobunaga’s Ambition Titles in the Series
Even though the franchise would come to be known overall as Nobunaga’s Ambition, the 1986 game actually wasn’t the first entry. A text-based game called Nobunaga no Yabō, which translates to the same title as its sequel, came out in Japan in 1983. The entry we’ve been discussing today was the first game to get an English release, and is, therefore, more widely known than the series’ true predecessor. Also of note in the franchise’s history is Pokémon Conquest. This 2012 spinoff combined the lovable creatures of the Pokémon franchise with the tactical gameplay of Nobunaga’s Ambition. Here’s a full list of Nobunaga’s Ambition games.
- Nobunaga no Yabō (1983)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition (1986)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition II (1988)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Lord of Darkness (1990)
- Inindo: Way of the Ninja (1991)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Haōden (1992)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Tenshōki (1994)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Shōseiroku (1997)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Reppūden (1999)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Ranseiki (2001)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Sōtenroku (2002)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power (2003)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Iron Triangle (2005)
- Nobunaga no Yabō: Tendō (2009)
- Pokémon Conquest (2012)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence (2013)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi (2017)
- Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening (2022)
Nobunaga’s Ambition Cheat Codes
Unfortunately, there aren’t really any cheat codes to speak of for Nobunaga’s Ambition. The game places a heavy emphasis on historical accuracy and realism, and to that end, breaking the experience with cheats would be a significant detraction to the experience. That being said, in any system this complex, there’s bound to be exploits you can take advantage of. One particularly useful trick in Nobunaga’s Ambition was discovered by user eddiemunster on GameFAQs. If you empty all troops out of a fief you control that doesn’t border any enemy territory, you can then raise taxes to 100%. Without a troop presence, the peasants in that state will not rebel over their exorbitant tax rate, and you stand to gain a lot of money that you can then use to help your more vulnerable fiefs on the border.
Nobunaga’s Ambition Cheats FAQ
Is Nobunaga’s Ambition still available? Whenever you discover an older game like Nobunaga’s Ambition, there’s always a question of how you might be able to play it. A lot of games from the NES era are unavailable through official channels, since the technology is no longer receiving active support. Nowadays, you can emulate many of the games from that time period. However, this is a legally dubious method that carries certain risks to your computer. Nobunaga’s Ambition has been ported to Steam by Koei Tecmo, but there’s a catch. The game does not support English, and is available only in the original Japanese. Tactics fans who want to experience this vintage strategy experience will need to know the language to give it a try.
What is the most recent Nobunaga’s Ambition game? The most recent game in the franchise is Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening, which came out in Japan in 2022. It got a global release the following year, which developer Koei Tecmo used to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the franchise as a whole. It’s available now for PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Title screen from Nobunaga's Ambition.