It seems that strategy titles tend to be rather divisive in terms of gamers. Many gamers simply love them, while others completely despise them. True, there is a middle ground, but it feels like that middle ground isn’t anywhere near as inhabited as the middle ground between those who love and those who despise role-playing games, or instance.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence aims to fully please the fans of the strategy genre, bringing an extremely in-depth title to the PlayStation 3, 4, and PC. Will it succeed in its goal?
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence’s gameplay is extremely robust, and, if I were to describe everything in extreme detail, you’d likely be reading a review at least three times as long as this one. After all, this is a game that players could pump hundreds of hours into and still manage to find new ways to play, thanks to the countless systems and intricacies. Of course, that said, those who haven’t at least dabbled in the genre before may well feel overwhelmed by these systems and intricacies.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence is one of the most in-depth releases that is currently available on the PlayStation 4. You’ll have to take on the role of one of Japan’s historical warlords, including the titular Nobunaga Oda, and proceed to expand your clan’s influence and might to eventually unite all of Japan. You can, of course, also choose to create your own custom ruler, but this will definitely impact your starting game plan, as you will barely have anything to your name. The more famous warlords, on the other hand, tend to have a decent amount of land and resources.
It sounds fairly simple, but the sheer number of options makes it a far more complicated endeavor. Each month, you’ll need to decide what to focus on; Trading, land development, or recruitment. You’ll also need to attempt to send emissaries to neighboring clans in order to either attempt to reach a peace or as a spy to spread dissension amongst the enemy.
After you decide the plan for the month, you advance into the phase during which your plan is carried out. Then the cycle repeats for the next month.
Of course, this sounds rather monotonous, but the game will throw its share of surprises at you. An enemy army may begin marching on your lands, for example, or perhaps a historical event will occur and completely change up the political landscape and force you to adapt your strategies to meet the need. These changes makes it feel as if you truly are navigating through a time of war, forcing you to adapt or fall.
Combat is also something you’ll need to decide on. You could let the AI attempt to repel any opposing forces, but if you truly want to advance, you’ll need to examine your officers’ tactics and utilize them in the best way possible. For instance, an army far larger than yours may advance on one of your castles. In this case, there’s no chance for your army to survive, right? Wrong.
Thanks to the special tactics of each officer, you may have a variety of options. Perhaps one of the most effective would be to utilize one to lure the main forces of the opposing army forward, then send another in to flank and destroy the commanding officer of the opposing army. This strategy, if you utilize the correct forces, should then send the opposing army into disarray, allowing you to ultimately win a battle you may have otherwise lost.
Things won’t be that simple all the time, however, as the opposing armies will occasionally have officers with abilities to counter yours. As a result, you’ll need to be able to change up your strategy on the fly, particularly since the battles are real-time. If you opt to turn the permanent officer death feature on, then battles can become even more hectic as you struggle to not only crush your enemies, but keep your officers alive since they won’t be coming back.
If you dive into a campaign and feel as if it is too difficult, it should be noted that you can edit the settings any way you wish before going into a new campaign. Some examples of options you can tweak include how fast your troop numbers recover, the amount of damage you and your foes dish out in combat, and even how clever the artificial intelligence is. This turns Sphere of Influence into a very customizable release, which can, perhaps, even make it more appealing to gamers who aren’t that big of a fan of the genre.
All of these systems and options may sound extremely daunting, but the game does its best to introduce you to the workings before sending you in. The tutorial campaign teaches you the basics of developing your castle and surrounding lands, and even the fundamentals of combat. In addition, as you go through a campaign for the first time, it will happily throw up numerous information boxes that are sure to be a help for you.
Of course, there’s only so much that text boxes can offer, especially when they are somewhat difficult to read, as in the case of the PlayStation 4 version. This complaint likely isn’t an issue on the PC version, partially because of the fact that we tend to sit closer to our monitors than our television sets. I will also note that I didn’t have as much difficulty reading the text on my 32 inch television that some from other gaming websites have, so your opinion on this one may vary as well.
The story depends on which warlord you decide to follow, or even if you decide to go with your own, customizable one. As a result, we really can’t say much in this section, except to state that it can provide some interesting tidbits of Japanese history for those who are interested (and haven’t already read about it), thanks to the historical events that occur somewhat regularly throughout the game.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence may seem like a bit too much, especially for those who haven’t at least dabbled in other games of the same genre, but it does its best to make up for the shortcomings. Many games have suffered from pacing issues in the past, but this is one area in which Sphere of Influence shines. It starts off a bit slowly, and those who aren’t interested in the genre or history may quickly become bored and leave it, but it picks up when you’ve managed to bring a decent amount of land under your control as you’ll need to make decisions with large ramifications for ally and foe alike.
The sheer amount of options can also be daunting, but honestly, they help cement Sphere of Influence as a rock solid strategy game. With multiple ways to reach your goal, you may find yourself constantly second-guessing your decisions, especially when your plans fall through, but this simply makes it even more rewarding when your plans actually succeed.
If you love strategy games, then Sphere of Influence is definitely a title you’ll want to check out. If you despise them or just haven’t tried one out yet, you may want to dabble with a less complicated game to ensure you’ll appreciate the depth that Sphere of Influence offers, as you’ll be hard pressed to find another title as in-depth as this one currently on Sony’s newest console.
Final Score: 4/5