Review by DjSkittles
"Epic, enormous and dull"
Micromanagement is something missing from most console games. Probably due to the ease of the mouse and keyboard, the PC is the place to be if you want to deal with various elements, resources and other things that simpler games gloss over. This is what makes Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power stand out. Not only does it feature many nitpicky factors that need to be accounted for, but it isn't even out for the PC. This war-time simulation is only for the PlayStation 2. It's certainly enough to make Rise to Power intriguing, but that doesn't necessarily make it great.
By my unscientific calculations, there have been more video games released in the States featuring famous Japanese unifier Oda Nobunaga than another great unifier, George Washington. This doesn't even include the previous entries in the Nobunaga's Ambition series that never made it out of Japan. To be fair, feudal Japan is a pretty exciting place. Nobunaga or any other feudal leaders in charge of various fiefs can be chosen to play as through four different campaigns, although they're very similar despite each taking place a years after each other. There isn't much of a storyline aside from some background details, and the rare scenes are pretty dull since they only contain static portraits and dreary dialogue. No matter what campaign is chosen, the goal remains the same in each: unite all of a Japan. For a relatively small island, this is a daunting task.
There are dozens of fiefs that need to be conquered, and it won't be easy since the other clans won't just give them up. That is why it's important to build up your own fiefs (which are essentially cities) first. Numerous things need to be taken care of. Are the people happy? If not, don't expect much money or food from them. Taxing them can net you some of this, but the peons obviously won't be happy. Buildings need to be constructed in order to gain commerce, food or even rifles. Officers, who give out the orders, are even more fickle than the peasants. They get jealous when someone is promoted to governor over them, and their loyalty often needs to be regained by paying them off or giving them gifts.
With all of these things that need to be managed, it's fortunate that the game is effectively broken down into eight seasons (turns) in every year. Each fief has up to four orders to give in each season, depending on who the governor is, and once all the orders are exhausted, then the next season can be advanced. In between each season, a map of all the fiefs in Japan is shown and different events unfold. Officers are promoted, blizzards prevent orders from being carried out and the feudal leaders have new children. Most importantly, opposing fiefs attack each other. All of these events seem to play out in random, one of which was extremely frustrating during my campaign. Even though the people of my fiefs were happy and there were was a high level of order, a number of them rebelled and I had to fight to get them back. If my people were pissed, then I could understand this, but it happened out of nowhere and it took a lot of work to get them back.
Fighting is the only way to get anywhere, but before the battle, various options are available. Ninjas can be sent into enemy territory to gather information about army sizes. They can also sabotage buildings and spread mistrust among the rival officers. Diplomacy and alliances are also essential. By sending an officer with a high charm rating, opposing clans can be convinced to join in attacks against mutual rivals or be threatened into serving your own clan. There's only so much that ninja tactics and diplomacy can do, so eventually there will battles. Lots of them.
When the target is selected, the officers and their troops need to be chosen. Different officers are allowed a greater amount of troops. This is an important thing to note because battles can often be decided on sheer numbers. Also, some have special skills pertaining to the different classes, which include archers, cavalry, pikes, rifles and the extremely rare cannons. The game can automatically choose which officers to use, but it often doesn't pick the best ones, so doing it manually is the way to go in the tougher battles. Once this is all selected, the enemy will either meet you in an open field or near their castle, which is a last-ditch effort to fend off the invasion. There is a time limit for each battle, so even if you're absolutely dominating, the troops will retreat after this time period because they are then out of food.
Those expecting a visually intense battle rivaling the excellent music will be disappointed. Even a unit of two-thousand troops is represented by a handful of character models. While it's easy to overlook the graphics when building the fiefs since most of those portions involve wading through many menus, here it's much more obvious. Some other flaws also hold back these epic clashes. Each side is granted bases that can be conquered by the other side. The problem is that troops can be placed in friendly bases and their numbers magically regenerate. While they don't replenish themselves fully, it is pretty silly to have a squad nearly defeated and then they enter the base. The base is attacked, and suddenly the enemies appear again a second later with considerably more troops than they once had. Another problem is the A.I. When a joint attack is issued, the other troops simply attack on their and often get themselves slaughtered for trying to take down a base on their own. There are some minor path finding issues when attacked with many units, but at least the game can be paused if things became too chaotic and the commands can be issued at a leisurely pace.
I would be lying if I didn't say it was fun to absolutely crush an enemy and take over their castle. The problem is that his doesn't remain interesting since there are dozens and dozens of fiefs that need to be conquered. When more and more fiefs are conquered, the leader gains new abilities that make conquering easier, but there's so much going on that it becomes too much to manage. Thankfully, fiefs can be taken care of automatically by the A.I. Still, it's hard to keep track of all the officers since there are so many and their authentic Japanese names aren't particularly memorable. An interesting feature is the ability to create officers, but it must be noted not to rely on one officer too much. After all, this game spans many years and everyone eventually passes away. The amount of time it takes to complete just one of the four campaigns is well over 20 hours, and while that's certainly a lot of bang for your buck, things become tiresome less than halfway through each of the epic campaigns. Even little tasks, such as assigning new officers to freshly conquered fiefs become annoying. Running an empire is no easy task, and I didn't find it particularly appealing in Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 03/18/08
Game Release: Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power (US, 02/05/08)
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