Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review

Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening by developer Koei Tecmo and publisher Koei Tecmo GamesSony PlayStation 4 review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening is the latest entry in the Koei Tecmo family of historical simulations. This title is a repackaging of the release on PC from last summer, and while the premise will provide little new to fans of the series, this is a deeply engrossing war strategy that I found very difficult to put down.

So, a bit about me to explain why I am pretty much the target audience for these titles. I’ve been hooked on these games since I first played the original Nobunaga's Ambition on the NES back in the late 80’s. This series has been around for a long time now, and I’ve played the majority of the releases that have landed here in North America. The series has seen numerous changes over the years, adding customization, shifting from turn-based combat to a more RTS style and plenty more. Often times this series is mentally handcuffed to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games that Koei Tecmo has been releasing for decades as well (which I last played in 2021 and it had an expansion pack - I reviewed it in 2021 here).

This means I’m by no means a new user to the series, and can find my way around pretty well. I am familiar with the major players, much of the history and despite the tweaks and changes that come with each iteration, I am very comfortable with the series as a whole. The game attempts to hold your hand when you start playing, but these are dense games as a rule and Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening is no exception. The first hour or two is largely spent going through menus, with gobs of text thrown your way. After the first half dozen or so, an impatient gamer might start mashing the button to move forward without fully digesting the content, but I would very strongly advise against doing so. Sure, you can learn quite a bit about the nuances of the title through ‘doing’, but there will be a lot of trial and error, with numerous errors if you do so.

At its heart, you are tasked with unifying Japan through economic, diplomatic and war-like means. Much of this is done through micromanagement, though some of that heavy lifting that used to be so time-consuming in older versions of the game is offloaded onto your subordinates. It helps that there are a lot of options available at the start of the game, from various difficulty settings like AI aggression, resource availability and how historically accurate you want things to be (like female generals or shaking up where generals start). There’s also a ton of jumping-in points. You can start at the beginning, but you can also find numerous spots in the timeline that revolve around big events and serve as alternate entry points.

Once you move past the growing pains of numerous settings and introductory segments, Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening really starts to move along nicely. It helps that while the game was released on PC first, Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening handles really well with a controller. That is not always the case (you can look to my recent Strategic Mind review for an example of where an unintuitive interface and control scheme can be major hurdles). This is a very menu-heavy game, but once I got used to navigating them, issuing commands became a very smooth process.

One of the most interesting aspects of Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening is the wide cast of characters. The leaders take center stage (the game is named for one, after all), but the numerous subordinates can become leaders. They have a loyalty stat that can cause them to switch sides or stand with a leader through trying times. Obviously more talented individuals will draw greater interest – and help turn the tides. They can gather greater resources, help an area develop more quickly, sway others during negotiations and of course during the all-important wars, these generals often make more of a difference in the results than just the sheer number of ‘regular’ troops assigned to them. Therefore, gaining and retaining talented generals is paramount. A nice feature found in Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening is the ability to create your own subordinate characters that can be encountered while playing as well, and it’s a deep customization process.

From a presentation standpoint, Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening is excellent. I appreciate that the series has English voice acting for its many engaging cutscenes that occur. Even though I prefer having English voice acting, some past releases had both English and Japanese, but the Japanese voice pack is curiously missing and might be off-putting for some people. The maps look quite attractive from a high view and also when you drill down into villages or battles up close and personal. It’s a smooth framerate, though I could grumble a bit about how it’s been designed for PS4 and not PS5 and as a result lacks some of the horsepower to push a higher resolution. It can be a smidge challenging to make out visual details during combat, but it gets the job done well enough. On the audio side, the aforementioned voice acting is generally pretty solid and I thoroughly enjoyed the music.

One of the aspects of Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening that could be divisive is how the subordinates handle so much of the little stuff. I could see veterans of the series preferring the heavy micromanagement that came with Sphere of Influence. It was a longer, deeper but also slower process. I for one appreciate the attempt to try and add some automation in there to simplify life. Is it better? I don’t know – personally I can see both sides of the debate, but appreciate the quality of life improvements that the game provides – including this aspect.

Admittedly, I am the target audience for Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening, which could be a niche title for many. I love the setting and appreciate how well the team has adapted what was a PC release for the PS4. The controls feel good and the menus while numerous, are certainly manageable. There is still plenty of deep strategy to be found here, but streamlined gameplay means you will spend more time seeing the results of your decisions and less time tinkering with each and every little detail behind the scenes. The overall presentation is good, though the lacking Japanese voice talent and somewhat muddled combat visuals do take a bit of the shine off. Overall I highly recommend Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening for strategy fans, as it is a great example of how to do strategy gaming on a console.

Score: 8.5 / 10



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