Have you ever wanted to be good at something, but never had the chance or motivation to try it out? I’ve known about Nobunaga’s Ambition and games like it for a while, but I’ve never given them a serious try before. They’ve always sounded interesting, promising tons of depth and options as you make complex decisions to decide of the fate of feudal Japan. For my first foray into the genre I tried the newest entry in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, in order to see how easily I could pick up on the games mechanics, and hopefully, awaken my inner daimyo.
Immediately, things looked pretty intimidating. Almost all of the in-game text is very tiny and there are tons of menu options that just open up more menus. Rather than poke around aimlessly, I figured the best way to learn would be to start with the tutorial campaign.
You’re taken through sets of options one at a time, with tons of text explaining how to do things like building structures or delegate with rival clans. While not the most exciting thing in the world, the tutorial keeps things moving about as fast as you could expect from a game with so much going on. Things were progressing slowly but surely, when tragedy struck.
I had just started the good stuff, the combat section. The perspective of the game changes during these sections in order to giving you a closer look at all of the tiny dot people action. It seemed like a straightforward battle: I had two groups of soldiers attacking one powerful enemy group. It was explained that I should have the advantage because I can attack from multiple directions. I placed my units accordingly, and I watched as the tiny dot people began their assault.
The enemy army activated a skill that allowed them to charge into my units and do massive damage. The tutorial let me know that I could have my units use their own skills to counter the enemy’s, but the explanation wasn’t extremely clear as to how I would do that. I couldn’t find a skill with the same name that the tutorial suggested, so instead I activated one that sounded similar. I must have activated the skills at the wrong times, my positions were bad, or I was using the wrong skill altogether, because my forces failed to stop the attacker and I had to retreat.
Upon suffering defeat, my tactician decided that he was done helping me out and left looking for candy. This gave me a game over, and rather than getting any option to retry, I was sent back to the main menu. I never thought to save my game, so despite putting a lot of time into the tutorial already, my only option was to start all over again. With my soul slightly crushed, I decided that I would just start up a real game and see what happens. While I didn’t reach the end of the tutorial, I figured I had probably learned the basics.
Given how extensive the tutorial seemed, I was expecting things to be a lot more hands-off in the main game, but that’s not exactly the case. Every one of the clans you can play as has their own historical scenarios attached to them, and this helps guide your process. To keep things historically accurate, you’re given a list of objectives to complete when starting the game. Whether or not you complete them is entirely up to you, but if you’re like me and have little idea what you’re doing, it’s nice to have some direction.
Beyond that, whenever you pick an option for the first time, the game gives you a couple of text boxes explaining what the action does and how to control it. You also get advice from a person near the top of the screen suggesting actions you should take, like focusing on promoting agriculture over crafts to build your economy. There’s definitively a lot of guidance, it doesn’t strike me as effective guidance. It reminded me of how fighting games usually give you extensive modes dedicated to teaching combos, but most don’t get into any of the actual strategy involved that you need to know in order to be successful. Nothing in any of the tutorial material I had gone through, both in the tutorial campaign and the actual game, seemed to adequately prepare me for making my own strategic decisions.
Likely, it’s just a matter of time commitment. As you play the game and experiment, you can eventually see the results and figure out what works. However, for a beginning player, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting much feedback on your decisions. At least, you don’t get the feedback until way later. You can go through dozens of turns building up your economy or defenses, but you won’t know how successful your efforts have really been until sometimes hours after you’ve made your decisions.
Nevertheless, after about 4 or 5 hours into the game, I just felt like I wasn’t making much progress. I had built up my forces and tried to form alliances with as many people as I could, but I found it difficult to maintain my resources and was constantly unsure of my decisions. I ended up just starting some fights with hostile clans for about an hour before giving up. I probably started more wars than I could possibly win, so I think if I play again I’ll be starting from scratch.
While it’s true I had a rough time picking the game up, there’s plenty I found interesting. It’s easy to tell that there’s a lot to play around with. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence has a fascinating system of relationships that you can choose to pursue, allowing you to befriend enemy territories or breed discontent and take in possible defectors. Just like in real world conflicts, there are a wide variety of ways you can tackle your problems, from promoting unity to bloody battles.
Even after spending hours trying to learn Sphere of Influence, it was too much for me to take in. But that complexity is also what I find so interesting about the game. The complexity feels necessary because you’re given so much freedom in how you can choose to solve your problems. While I’m defeated for now, I’m glad I got to try Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, because I’m now more interested in getting into the genre than ever.