Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power «

When I was assigned to review Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power, I didn’t understand why so many people felt sorry for me. After I started it, though, I realized exactly why: The sheer complexity is enough to turn even most strategy enthusiasts away. This is one of the few games that will make you want to read the instruction booklet. After you finish that, you’ll probably want to play through the multipart tutorial, and after that, you’ll probably still want to pause the game and read through all the in-game instructions. However, for someone like me — who spends hours reading complex rules for table-top games — Rise to Power presses all the right buttons and creates an experience that can suck days from the lives of hardcore strategy fans.

[Click the image above to check out all Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power screens.]

Rise to Power takes place in feudal Japan when Nobunaga Oda sought to unite the land under his rule. Players can play seven scenarios, all of which take place in different parts of the 16th century. The main difference in the scenarios is the current state of Japan — in the earliest scenario, many daimyo are still left, but the later ones mostly have large warlords because the little realms have been taken over. You can play as the title character, Nobunaga — assuming you pick a scenario where he is still alive — or any of the other daimyo. It really comes down to how hard you want to work to take over Japan; if you choose Nobunaga when he only has one fief under control, you’ll have your work cut out for you. If you pick a rival warlord who already controls a large portion of land, you’ll have a much easier time. The replay value is immense; you must change your strategies each time you pick a different daimyo.

When most people think of strategy games, they think of titles like StarCraft or Company of Heroes — games that focus on combat. Rise to Power does have a combat element (more on that later), but the bulk of the game’s strategy revolves around maintaining your territories. You can manage territories on a case-by-case basis, or you can let all but one govern themselves — it all depends on how much time you want to put into it. Players use their daimyo and officers to issue commands, which are used to build up your land, make war, negotiate, send ninjas out to spy, etc. This part of the game is turn-based, which is great because it allows you to relax and take time to ponder your strategy. Moreover, the turn-based element adds a level of complexity reminiscent of chess; you always have to think ahead because many of the actions you take won’t have tangible results for multiple turns.

[Click the image above to check out all Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power screens.]

Combat is probably the only disappointing aspect of Rise to Power — it’s serviceable, to be sure, but its simple nature feels out of place with the complexity of the turn-based portions of the game. You control regiments, running them around and mashing them into other regiments. In the end, it often feels like the only way to win is to just round up a horde of units and then hope your horde engages another that’s smaller than yours. Officers do have special powers, but I rarely got a chance to use them because my morale would be too low. If the battles aren’t your thing — or they bore you like they did me — you can always turn on the autoresolve feature, allowing you to focus all your time on managing your lands rather than commanding troops.

Real-time battles aside, Rise to Power is a surprisingly good strategy game for the PS2. Its extremely steep learning curve will limit its appeal, but it’s a rewarding experience for those with the patience to learn the game’s nuances. And with the sheer amount of replayability it offers, you get a lot of bang for your buck.


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