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Holy crap, this is the TWELFTH Nobunaga's Ambition, and yet not a whole lot has really changed since the old NES days. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on how much you fervently love the series. And with a series as focused on a specific audience as this is, you either maniacally tent your fingers at the prospect of another entry, or their brain wanders away at “Nobu-”
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan, so let’s get into the new stuff. The Iron Triangle in the title refers to the three elements: technology, governance, and military might. The new part is the increased emphasis on technology. You have to build enough academies in order to research increasingly advanced tech, and you can only research one tech at a time. However, you can negotiate to have another clan teach you their tech as well, and this becomes a cool dynamic where you exchange tech, or buy and sell tech with other clans, being careful not to give potential future enemies an advantage.
Another big new feature is the Active (real-time) phase, where once you’ve deployed your officers and/or troops, you “unpause” the action and events occur naturally. You can zoom in (partially) and rotate the 3D map, and battles occur in real-time as well, adding a nice sense of urgency when you see enemy armies bearing down on your castle. At the normal game speed, time passes at a leisurely pace, and if you happen to pick a starting province with only a few officers (like we did), literally thirty seconds at a time can pass where you do nothing but wait. Luckily you can speed up the game at any time in the options, and if you start with a few more officers, you’ll be juggling duties every moment in no time.
If you like this type of game, with its layers upon layers of menus, crazy levels of complexity, and don’t mind the distinct lack of “real” battle that’s found in a traditional RTS, the gameplay in Nobunaga's Ambition: Iron Triangle is massively satisfying. In fact, we used to think we couldn’t like a game this menu heavy, but Iron Triangle turned that right around. Something about watching your tiny nation grow and your troops massing for an invasion is compelling on a “Muhahahah” level.
There’s one thing that drags Iron Triangle down, and it’s the way it dumps you into a sea of complexity with a tutorial that forgets some of the most important basics, and even after we stumbled through and got the grasp of almost everything, we still lost battles without any clue why. The in-game help and the manual flesh out details not obvious in surface menus, but nothing really explained why our force of 19,000 troops lost to a force of 3,000, and in a matter of seconds. It’s not like we didn’t understand other factors – food, troop types, tech, and leadership were all considered. We sent our best officer, with our most highly upgraded unit, against a way smaller force and lost horribly. Oh, and this was on EASY mode.
For the most part the game does a decent job providing feedback for your actions, and it’s too bad that the battles aren’t clear in their outcomes. Naturally, this is a game that asks a huge time investment (and the audience knows this and wants it), so it shouldn’t deter Nobunaga fans. It also works perfectly for the PS2 – next-gen graphics would do next to nothing to make the game better, for obvious reasons. We were amazed at how much time the game swallowed, meaning time was flying, meaning, well, we all know what that means.
Jan 28, 2009
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