Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence is a grand strategy game, with elements of tactical gameplay, set in the Feudal Japanese Samurai era. It is the 30th anniversary of the series and Sphere of Influence, is hailed as one of the best instalments in the franchise’s history, this extremely intricate, deep, and meticulous strategy game is set against a backdrop of a fragmented nation and asks the player to take up the mantle of a Daimyo, a feudal lord of the Sengoku era. Many new elements have been added: the new clan system, where you show your skill as a leader, the new battle system, where you take charge as a commander, and the historical episode, where you struggle to survive the chaos of the times, and much more.
The game makes good use of Samurai Warrior’s-esque animated cutscenes and character portraits, all of which look functional, and nice enough without ever being anything spectacular. That’s pretty much the same for the whole game as well. The sound is decent, with some nice soundtrack music, although it’s nothing special, it fits nicely and feels like it should be there. A few more tracks would have been nice, but it’s nothing major. The graphics look good, I never really came across any graphical bug or glitches, and the colour palette is consistent. It’s very workmanlike, and with the number of troops you can get onto the battlefield it’s fairly impressive but it’s not really polished or, frankly, good enough, to stick with you for much longer than it takes to play a couple of the historic scenarios.
Speaking of the historic scenarios, they are probably one of the better parts of this game. The developers obviously did a huge amount of research into the different clans, and the political situation at each different point in time. When you select a scenario, you can then choose a clan to play as.
For instance, the Oda, the titular character’s clan, begin as a fairly small force, but have good position and some much weaker neighbours, meaning expansion is quite easy. However, you can also pick a clan which has literally one town, meaning that the game becomes much tougher, especially if you have a big clan for a neighbour. That’s how the game works difficulty, as even on higher difficulty levels, once you reach a certain point in terms of army numbers and provinces, there’s not a great deal that the computer can do to hold you off for very long.
One thing that I really appreciated with this game is the ability to drift in and out of history. There are questlines which stick to history, such as to have two characters besiege a certain town at the same time, which results in those two characters flooding the town. However, if you choose not to do that, or don’t have that officer, or anything like that, there’s no penalty. The game simply skips by it. Also, if you want to take out a bunch of your neighbours that, in reality, your clan never went near, that’s completely fine, and to be honest, with the length of time between some of the quests meaning that it’s expected, if not encouraged. Having said all that, some of the art is nice, there’s good attention to the historical detail, and it’s really interesting to find out some of the things that certain characters got up to.
Another very good thing about Spheres of Influence is that despite the fact that there’s a lot to learn, the game knows this and allows you to put as many or as few of the many, many aspects of the game’s ‘council phase’ as you want. This is where you basically set up your strategy for the turn, prioritising crops over soldiers, beginning diplomatic actions and so 0n. There’s no denying that this game isn’t hugely detailed, in terms of what you can do, and while this makes it a little bit less user friendly than some other games, it all works it’s way into the experience. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that the half hour you put into micro-managing half of Japan a few turns back has paid off, and the game does a really good job of representing that, even if it’s only in a basic way such as through money, food and soldiers.
The different things you can do, such as diplomacy, focusing your efforts on improving a certain resource in a town, building new things in your towns and so on is all very simple. While it’s nice that it is such an easy thing to do, the fact that everything works the same does begin to grate after a while. Literally all you have to do is select what you want to do and where, then pick the character who is responsible for doing it, and then hit OK. This lack of depth seems slightly at odds with the scale of the game, but it still means that there’s a huge amount of possibilities available to you at any given time.
And that continues to the battles. Generally speaking, you don’t have to take any semblance of direct control over them, but occasionally a big, or important fight will come up and your given the option to assume command. These battles, despite working nicely, kind of break the immersion, as the units are literally coloured blocks which you direct around the battle. Total War, this ain’t. That is, unless you accidentally scroll all the way down, something which the game never gives you any indication of, and I never even knew was possible until about 15 minutes before writing this review. The battles are still fairly fun, and there’s a decent amount of room for error, meaning that as long as you don’t fluff it completely, a battle can usually be dragged back from epic defeat to monumental victory. That’s a really good part to the battles, as it empowers you and makes you feel like a tactical genius. This helps to keep you on your toes, and your always looking for the next opportunity.
Generally speaking, this is probably one of the better strategy games in this sort of time period you could get. There are a few flaws, and it’s certainly far from perfect, but even that helps to make the game endearing, and it’s just deep enough that it doesn’t get too dull too quickly. There’s a pretty much limitless amount of replayability, and there’s always something happening within the game, which helps to tide you over while you wait for the next major objective.
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