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Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Turns Out Being A Daimyo Is Hard

EDITORS' RATING : 7 / 10
Pros
  • Engrossing strategy gameplay that invites you to weigh options like a ruler
  • Delivers interesting tidbits of Japanese history
  • Throws you in the deep end
Cons
  • Switch controls aren't the best for this type of game
  • No Japanese audio in a Japanese setting
  • Throws you in the deep end

A Nintendo Switch code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" will launch on July 20, 2023, for PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

The ruler of the neighboring territory has been gathering his forces on your border in a blatant insult to your power. In addition, your retainers bring word that a skilled ronin wants to join your cause. Your men are bursting with loyalty, ready to lay down their lives for the glory of your cause. The time to attack is now! Right after you spend a month farming crops, promoting officers, and weighing civil policies, that is.

"Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" presents the idea of an epic strategy game. One where you step into the armor of Oda Nobunaga and play out historical battles that led to his near-unification of Japan during its Warring States period. And while a good portion of a campaign is spent positioning forces and conquering castles, even more time is spent managing the minutiae of your domain. In this way, it's closer to "Civilization" than it is to "XCOM" or "Total War."

War waits for no man, but it does wait for farming

The tutorial scenario throws just about every mechanic at you right away. "Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" does have the courtesy to introduce its core gameplay elements one by one, and it makes it so gold spending isn't counted during your first game, but there's a lot to take in. Within an hour, advisors have explained how to farm land, earn gold, treaty with other daimyo rulers, enact policy, build structures, honor retainers with promotions, muster soldiers to march, play out a battle, and much more. This will understandably be too much for some, although strategy enthusiasts might enjoy having all the tools from the start.

To the game's credit, it is easy to get sucked in once you understand how each decision shapes your domain. The presence of so many options goes a long way towards creating the illusion of being a daimyo in the time of warring clans. Making sure your borders are safe while bringing in steady income and keeping all your vassals loyal requires constant map awareness mixed with a solid plan for the future. The "future" part is very important, as tasks take as long as one would expect from the time period. Representatives can take weeks to ride to allied territories for negotiations, and even the simple task of tax collection will take a month to bear profit.

This makes it very foolish to just jump in and treat "Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" as a combat sim. Even when battle does break out, units fight on their own. Tiny samurai clash while chipping away at each battalion's numbers until someone hits zero or retreats. The player can do little to actively affect the skirmish, so victory must instead come from preplanned maneuvers like flanking or choosing the officer with the right skill. With the emphasis being on sowing plans and reaping the benefits later, it's engrossing in the same "one more turn" way "Civilization" games are.

PC Power

One thing that becomes quickly apparent is that "Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" is best suited as a PC game. The Nintendo Switch version provided for review ran perfectly fine. The music is suitable for an epic war game, filled with the kind of booming orchestral tunes one would expect. The visuals of little armies on a giant map of Japan aren't the prettiest, although the character portraits are expressive. Where the game shows its true PC colors, however, is the menus.

There are four main things to look at during a campaign: the top left where basic stats and the time tracker are kept, the top right where a toolbar holds collapsible options, the mid-left where the action queue lives, and the map itself where your cursor controls all. Pushing Y brings up a wheel of commonly used inputs like marching armies and calling upon retainers. The tutorial says to push R + Y to shift through all the other toolbars and queues. One very useful option lives on that top right toolbar: the ability to zoom in and out on the main map.

All that to say that it's a pain to access a function that would probably just be tied to the mouse wheel on PC. You can also get to the toolbar by pressing select, although that's not told in the tutorial. There was a tangible effort to map other crucial commands to the various Joy-Con buttons, but it just can't stack up to mouse-and-keyboard. The ability to rapidly change perspectives and menus is necessary in a game like this.

Another strange absence in the Switch version is Japanese language support. The Steam page lists English, Chinese, and Japanese subtitles with full audio for English and Japanese. Switch players are limited to English only, a bizarre choice for a game about Japanese history.

History And Fan Fiction Collide

"Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" is meant to be a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the series. As such, it boasts over 2,200 individual officer units to add to your ranks and the ability to create your own. This impressive wealth of characters gives you the freedom to recreate history or branch off into your own timeline.

One very enjoyable aspect of the push for historical accuracy is the inclusion of documented events big and small. This happens in-game as your officers delivering reports, triggering optional cutscenes. These range from fascinating to tragic to downright hilarious. Knowing that Nobunaga had to discipline his adulterous cousin doesn't affect any battle, but it's a fun aside for history buffs. Or, you can ignore all of these cutscenes and take over Japan as your silly custom character instead.

"Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening" opens a portal to feudal Japan that strategy fans and history enthusiasts will want to jump into. There's a lot to manage, and a good deal of time is spent waiting for payoffs, but conquering all of Japan is a mighty goal worthy of sinking your time into. Yet cramming all of Japan into a Nintendo Switch isn't the best idea, so opt for PC if you have the option.

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