A Look At: Nobunaga’s Ambition Souzou (a.k.a Nobunaga 14)

Nobu14 LauncherIt’s the 30th anniversary of Nobunaga’s Ambition, the game which started KOEI on the track to become the company they are today. While some may argue that they’ve lost sight of their origins in an endless “milking” of the “Warriors” franchise, KOEI has decided to take it upon themselves to release a brand new game to celebrate the event!

Nobunaga’s Ambition: Souzou (translates to “Creation”) is the 14th game in a long-running series of Grand Scale Strategy games. How does it hold up? Let’s take a look…

Nobu14 Loading ScreenThe first thing you’ll notice about the game is its top-notch aesthetics. KOEI’s art style and portrayal of Sengoku era generals is fantastic and tends towards a more realistic feel, avoiding a lot of over-the-top tropes that other games like Sengoku Basara or even KOEI’s own Samurai Warriors does. Music’s great too, so no one’s probably going to score it bad marks in this regard

Nobu14 MainOn the gameplay level though, the game is a mixed bag. On several review sites such as Amazon, the game has a wildly differing reception which ends up averaging to around the mid point. People seem to either love or hate this game, and I’m going to attempt to try to see if I can figure this mystery out.

One thing about the NA series of games is that it doesn’t really make incremental jumps in quality between each game. Instead, it just randomly throws in new mechanics, spins off in wildly different directions. It’s really Final Fantasy-ish in that regard.

Souzou mixes turn-based and real-time strategy, with more of focus on the former, rather than the latter. Each turn starts off with the Council phrase, where you assign your officers to execute various tasks such as construction, diplomatic efforts and information gathering.

Once it is done, the game enters the real time phrase, which simulates a month’s worth of time and actions. This is also the time where you can deploy troops for warfare. If you’re worried about Starcraft-style RTS battles and fear for your weak reflex skills, no worries, because this “real-time” segment is pretty slow-paced. It’s more “Valkyria Chronicles” than “Blizzard RTS.”

Nobu14 Month

Looking over the decisions made with the game mechanics, the dual goals of the game seem to be

1) To simplify a lot of factors so as to attract new players to the series.
2) To move towards macro-management rather than micro-management – including the removal of aspects like “oops, gotta check everyone’s loyalty every turn and remember to pay them so that it’s always at 100”

It does seem to have mostly succeeded at that, although I do think it’s probably on the wrong end of the simplicity/complexity scale: too simple to satisfy the “hardcore” gamers and yet still not simple enough for a coffee-break strategy game.

You can see this philosophy with how warfare is implemented in the game: standing armies are tied to their own castle and cannot be “shifted” around like in most KOEI strategy games. To win battles against bigger/stronger armies, you have to lure them into your fortified positions and flank them with multiple armies from many differing angles.

This is done on a “map” scale level, rather than automatically entering a localized “tactical battle” system that most NA games use. Now, NA does have an option for that if you want…

Nobu14 BattleHowever, individual Battles are by far the weakest aspect of the game due to its over-simplicity. Do you see those 8 buttons in the screenshot there? Those are your ONLY commands that you can make in battle.

1) The first three allows you to change your formation, which has a Rock-Paper-Scissors kind of effect.
2) The next three is a setting for your army to either advance/retreat or stand their ground.
3) The 3rd is simply two special abilties: Volley and Charge, which uses up a “Special Meter” gauge for extra damage.

Basically, the two opposing armies are just portrayed as huge blobs rather than individual army divisions and there’s a little bit of back-and-forth tug of war game but there’s no real sense of tactical or strategic combat that I would expect from an NA game. How disappointing! I truly hope this area is expanded upon in an upcoming Power-Up Kit (KOEI’s term for their expansion packs)

Nobu14 OfficersThere are some cool “quality of life” features in this game due to it being the 30th Anniversary game. For example, the Officer library shows you the names of each officer in Hiragana because not everyone remembers ancient Japanese Kanji names (would have been more helpful if it was accessible IN-GAME, but oh well!) and also has the different portraits of the characters in each game that he appears in, allowing you to appreciate the art evolution the series has gone through.

Nobu14 Movie

Overall, I don’t think NA14 is good enough to deserve to be the “30th Anniversary Game” in its current state and it was probably overhyped in that regard. In terms of accessibility, I would still give the honor to the spinoff game Kunitori Zunou Battle. Or maybe even Sengoku Rance as another contender for best balance between playability, complexity and fun.

Still, I can’t deny that this is technically one of the easier NA games to get into, and it’s a relaxing way to past a lazy afternoon or two. Look it up if you’re interested.

Related Links:
Scholars of Shen Zhou forum thread – Has an ongoing NA14 translation project. Currently, the entire manual is translated, which is a very helpful resource for learning/playing the game!

Edit: Against all odds, this game has been officially localized by KOEI on Steam! It’s also on consoles like the PS4 if you prefer that kind of thing

In addition, this English version is supposedly the updated release of the game which contains the expansion.

Some of the content in this post may thus be considered outdated depending on the changes and improvements made.

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2 Responses to A Look At: Nobunaga’s Ambition Souzou (a.k.a Nobunaga 14)

  1. Rod Al says:

    I personally think that for those who say so, if you’re gonna criticize Koei for “Milking” the “Warriors” set of games these days, you can’t do that without saying the same about their sims back in the day, which was about 95% of their gameplay choice before DW came along and they tried a new style. That’s just my opinion though.

    • Davzz says:

      Hmm, kind of true, and I do think that they “forced” their Grand Scale Simulation style on scenarios that don’t actually make sense back in the past (e.g I like Bandit Kings of Ancient China, but I don’t think the 108 heroes actually split into multiple warring factions, and man is it a lot harder to take down the corrupt government when your own rebel force aren’t even united.)

      I think KOEI had a wider variety of settings and gameplay in the past though, like the aforementioned Water Margin setting game, games where you play as Napoleon or Genghis Khan, and even outside of the Grand Scale strategy games, there were RPGs like Inindo and Uncharted Waters (which took place during the Age of Exploration.) Heck I think they even made a horse racing simulation game (!). Even not taking Warriors into account, I don’t think they do much outside of the Sengoku or Three Kingdoms era nowadays, which is kind of tragic.

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