Nobunaga’s Ambition (NES)

Nobunaga’s Ambition (NES) Box Art

Nobunaga’s Ambition

System: NES

Release Date: June 1989

Developer: Koei

Publisher: Koei

Genre: Grand Strategy

Nobunaga’s Ambition is the first grand strategy title we get on the home consoles and it is a doozy! Set in the Sengoku Period of Japan, your goal is to take control of a local daimyo and unite Japan under your banner. In order to do that, you have to build up your fief and expand. In setting up the game, you can choose to play a truncated game with only 17 fiefs, or truly conquer all of Japan in a 50 fief game. Then you can choose 1 to 8 players to play with. Finally, you choose which fief you take over. Each fief you can choose from has its own daimyo who you take control of. The daimyos are of different ages and the fiefs all have different starting stats.

Like all games designed by Kou Shibusawa, Nobunaga’s Ambition is very stats heavy and overly complicated when you start playing. Reading the instruction manual gives you a little bit of an idea what you should do, but you will die, quickly, a lot. It’s possible you can be attacked and wiped off the map before you even get a turn. Just look at Rokkaku… I don’t think he ever makes it out of 1560.

The meat of the game are the battles. You can either attack other fiefs in order to take them over for yourself, or you will defend your fief against enemy attacks. You have five units that you can place on the map. Unit 1 is your command unit, if this unit falls, you will lose the battle. Unit 2 is your cavalry, stronger than infantry. Unit 3 are your rifles, this is your strongest unit, if you set them up in a good defensive position, you can chip away at the enemy army as they approach. Units 4 and 5 are normal infantry, the weakest of them all. The Castle and Hills are good for defense, while the plains and town aren’t.

You don’t want to go into battle with too few men if you can at all help it. But in order to hire men, you need gold. I lost several times before I figured out how to make money. I immediately pumped up the tax rate to 60, then built the town up as best I could. Fall would roll in and I’d get my tax revenue and rice harvest. If I could sell rice to the merchant, who isn’t always in your fief and has varying prices, I would. Otherwise, I’d donate my gold to the peasants. The manual says that the Town, Wealth, and Loyalty attributes are what contribute to your gold collection.

If you don’t find yourself having much luck with the battles, you can hire a Ninja to do your dirty work. They can do a number of different jobs from arson to inciting revolt. The best job, however, is assassination. If this succeeds, you can flat out buy the murdered daimyo’s fief. This is why you want to stash the gold. My best game was uniting Shikoku, but then I got wiped as I was building my fiefs. Then I realized finishing the game would take about 20 hours and I decided that I’ll see this title again on different systems in the future, so to just give up.

Graphics: 2.0

Graphics are plain, but I like the little animations that show up for everything.

Sound: 1.0

There are two songs, the map theme and battle theme. Both loop after ten to fifteen seconds and get annoying.

Gameplay: 3.0

After a couple attempts, you get the controls down and then it’s just learning what everything does.

Difficulty: 3.0

Nobunaga’s Ambition is hard and long. It can be incredibly unfair, which knocks this rating down, but I can only imagine the satisfaction you’d get from uniting Japan.

Fun Factor: 3.0

I was having a lot of fun, I just don’t want to spend another 20 hours trying to win a game.

Overall Grade: 2.4

Nobunaga’s Ambition earns a C+. I got a kick out of playing this for the few hours I spent. I look forward to the other titles in the same lineage, as well as the future consoles.

Nobunaga’s Ambition (NES) Video Review on YouTube