Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence Review – Fighting Legacy (PS4)

Nobunaga’s Ambition is a long-standing video game series. Its first entry was in 1983 on PCs, and it was written entirely in the BASIC language. Sphere of Influence is the 14th entry, and has been ported to the West after having released in Japan in December 2013. Read our review to see if this historical simulation is worth your time and money.

Hardcore Micro-Management

First, it should be said that if simulation games are not your thing, then this game will do nothing for you. Nobunaga’s Ambition is all about managing resources such as agriculture, commerce, and military forces, all while remaining active in politics, espionage, and more. Micro-management is the name of the game, and boy, is there a lot of it.

Where do I start? First, for each village, you have an advisor, who suggests what resource to focus on for the coming month – crops, crafts, or conscripts (soldiers). Next, you can decide to add a facility to a village, such as a blacksmith, market, or another that changes the attributes of the village it’s placed in. If you have the labor available, you can also beef up your castle(s) by adding or upgrading walls and other defenses. You can send messengers to start colluding with neighboring conscripts who are unsatisfied with treatment by their current daimyō, or to establish trust with another clan.

Every action that you assign to a person will be accomplished or started during the Active phase of the game. Sphere of Influence is ultimately turn-based; at the start of each turn, you have a council, which summarizes what occurred in the last month. Once you start the Active phase, you can watch your villages being built and upgraded, only pausing occasionally for updates on political events or battles. Much like in the Sim series of games, you can make time move as slowly or as quickly as you like during this phase.

Clunky Combat

One area that felt like a missed opportunity would be the combat. When you battle a neighboring clan, the camera zooms in to the battlefield, at which point military units are represented by Tetris-like pieces, which is a common occurrence in Samurai Warriors’ cutscenes. Even though the rest of the game is turn-based, combat in Sphere of Influence is inexplicably performed in real-time. This can make for some frantic, even frustrating battles when the cursor is constantly fighting you about which unit is selected.

To make matters worse, if you’re running through the tutorial and fail at the first battle, you have to restart the entire tutorial, which takes the better part of an hour to properly go through. While I understand that the game is not meant to be fast-paced, an option to enable Samurai Warriors-like combat would have made the game more appealing to gamers who might not play simulation games all the time. We’re at the stage in console development where there are enough computer resources at a developer’s disposal to make this a reality.

Graphically, the PlayStation 4 doesn’t feel very hard-pressed to render the game. The world looks alright, but kind of bland. You can quickly zoom out to look at a country-wide view of Japan, and then zoom in to any spot without any lag, which is impressive, but even at its closest zoom level people appear as little more than ants. It would have been nice to see higher-resolution textures and a deeper zoom level, but it’s serviceable as-is for the simulation genre.

PC Legacy

Nobunaga’s Ambition started out as a PC game, and that legacy is clearly evident in Sphere of Influence. Throughout every menu, and even the story’s “cutscenes,” the text is much too small to be read on all but the closest of television sets. Granted, I was playing on a 32″ screen that sits a little too far from me in a new, big room, but even when I stood up and got to a comfortable distance from my television, the font was still much too small to be comfortable. If you’re on a gaming computer, this is likely not much of an issue as we tend to sit much closer to a computer monitor than a TV. The interface is also designed for navigation with a mouse, but you can thankfully easily navigate the menus with the system that Koei devised. Problem is, you just can’t read anything very easily.

Strategy gamers rejoice! There is finally a game worthy of your time on the PlayStation 4. Everyone else, you’ll probably want to take a pass on Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence. This is a hardcore simulation game that requires you to sink several dozen hours to even get the basics down properly. That’s not a knock against it, just something you have to be aware of going into playing the game. The graphics aren’t exactly pretty, battles can be cumbersome, and even the tutorial is brutally unforgiving. But underneath the rough edges lies an undeniably competent game, one that will challenge you first and foremost, but also a game that will reward you for putting in the hours that it requires.

Review copy was provided by the publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.

7.0Bronze Trohpy
  • Incredible depth
  • Historically accurate
  • Challenging upper levels
  • Unforgiving tutorial
  • Ridiculously small interface
  • Uninspired graphics