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Before we go any further into this review, please answer the following questions:
Do you enjoy unit and micromanagement-heavy, PC-style realtime strategy games? Would you prefer a realistic, historical setting over the usual sci-fi and fantasy establishments common to the genre? Do you get excited at the thought of sifting through hundreds of non-English terms, place names, and character names?
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, then odds are that Nobunaga's Ambition won't be your cup of tea, and you can stop reading right here.
If all of that sounded intriguing, however, read on.
Nobunaga's Ambition is one of Koei's longest-running strategy game series. Based on the warring states period of Japanese history, the game see you living in the time of Oda Nobunaga, a real-life figure who almost succeeded in unifying a war-torn Japan. Your goal, naturally, is to try to either re-enact or change history by uniting the whole of Japan, be it by influence and sweet-talking or by sword.
You'll need to juggle many things in Nobunaga's Ambition in order to succeed. You'll first need to develop fiefdoms under your control and strive to keep the populace complacent, Simcity-style. You'll then need to manage your troops by placing them strategically, making sure they have enough supplies, and ensuring that your officers are both well-trained and loyal. Only then will you be able to worry about subjugating the territory of others. You can do this with bribes and negotiations with other land-rulers (with the occasional ninja spy aiding in your planning), or you can conquer via the good old-fashioned way of rallying your troops and kicking ass.
The battles are conducted in real-time, with multiple troops running about the field and you issuing commands to attack, retreat, team up, or even execute special skills certain officers have. It is here that one becomes aware what might be Nobunaga's biggest problem: the controls. This game simply does not feel like it should be played with a PS2 controller. Analog sticks simply lack the precision of a mouse when trying to highlight things on the maps, and the many button-mapped commands are easy to confuse and sometimes difficult to use in the thick of battle. While you can pause the game and make precision adjustments if need be, this disrupts the flow of combat. No doubt about it, Nobunaga would play far better with a PC-style setup. Unfortunately, there are no options for using a USB mouse or keyboard with the game, so it's pad-play or nothing.
Battle graphics are also pretty lackluster; this is hardly a genre known for its stunning visuals, but Nobunaga's Ambition came out in Japan four years ago, and it shows. However, the music is fantastic, with beautiful orchestral scores flowing and changing over the course of fights and adding a great deal to the atmosphere. Dialogue is also a lot of fun, with the various personalities on the battlefield gleefully taunting and gloating over each other as they gain and lose ground. The battles really are the highlight of the game, and when you see all of your careful planning come together in a spectacular victory for you and your allies, it feels immensely satisfying.
There's really no middle ground when it games to games like Nobunaga, either you love this sort of thing or you don't. While it's certainly not bad, it's got a very limited appeal outside of a certain core audience. But, at the very least, it fills a niche that the PS2 has been severely lacking in for almost its entire lifespan - and pretty well, at that.
Feb 29, 2008