As the thirteenth game in a series with 40 years of history, there can be some high expectations for Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening. It definitely delivers on a lot of fronts, providing an enjoyable yet challenging strategy game experience. There are tons of options for how to start a playthrough, and even more options for how you go about unifying Japan. It’s a great way to put your strategizing skills to the test, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. Even the overarching story elements are interesting and change depending on which clan you’re playing as. But it comes with a handful of not-so-great elements.
To start off with, you’re put through a rather information-heavy tutorial. But for as much as you’re taught in such a short time, much of it is straightforward enough to feel easy to get the hang of. It’s mostly the political stuff, such as retainers’ traits and alliances, that gets confusing, especially if you’re new to strategy games. Much of that is stuff you only really start to figure out by playing, though, and it does start to make more sense over time.
Where the Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening tutorial really feels odd is that there’s a fair few things that feel glossed over or not touched on at all. Sadly, most of these are the political aspects—which is part of why they take a bit to learn. Things like the intricacies of alliances and how political marriages work are left for you to figure out all on your own, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the nature of the game, but getting some sort of explanation of how these things work would have been very helpful. Excluding simple things like the shop from the tutorial is fine, they don’t need explainers, but leaving out some of the elements that make the game so complex strikes me as odd.
Once you’re let loose, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening is a very fun game. Its three major systems all work in conjunction while also requiring their own style of management. First, there’s maintaining your territory, which includes things like supplementing your monthly income and bolstering your defenses. Then, there’s politicking through things like alliances, everything involving your retainers such as promoting them and bestowing land, and establishing policies for how your territory is governed. Lastly, there’s battle, where you take over other daimyo’s counties and storm their castles. All of it is very well connected, with each element affecting the other two in ways that make sense and don’t feel forced. The need to stay on top of everything instead of just being able to focus on one or two aspects is perfect for a strategy game like this.
In the early game especially, you really need to flex your strategy chops. This is when your territory is at its smallest, so you have to take extra care in how you build things up and who you make friends with—and enemies of. In order to expand, you need to amass your army and attack other castles, but one wrong move and you could find yourself on the bad side of a daimyo with an army ten times the size of yours. Your resources are also at their most limited and your options at their most extensive, so taking the time to ensure you’re making the best moves is paramount.
As a result, however, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening can feel like you’re doing a lot of waiting. At the start, it’s difficult to do much beyond building up your territory, and nothing you do is done instantly. Every time you build something or covertly sabotage an enemy or even start to form an alliance, it all takes time to complete. Which makes sense! But when all you can feasibly do is develop your (small) territory, there’s a lot of thumb twiddling to be done before you’re ready to do any expansion.
The other major issue I ran into was that it sometimes felt like there was too much going on all at once. Trying to keep up with all the territory improvements and political goings-on while also preparing (and attempting) to take over new territories is no simple task. It all more than fits the context of the game so it’s not bad that there’s so much, but it can very quickly become disorienting. That goes double for when you’re playing on a controller. There are so many menus to move between and options to pick from that it’s all but impossible to map the buttons in a way that doesn’t pose a challenge all its own. It feels like the game was designed for use with a keyboard and mouse, which I’m certain would have vastly improved playability.
There’s a lot to like about Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening. It’s an overall solid strategy game where all your tactical decisions really feel like they have an impact, good or bad. The systems feel smooth and the connections between them feel natural. It really makes you feel like you have to stretch your brain, especially in the early stages. But there’s almost too much going on, which can get very confusing, especially when more urgent matters come up. And with so much to do, a controller is a suboptimal input device. Fortunately, there’s no real punishment for taking some time to get to the menu you want to be in, but figuring out how to get there can be frustrating.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam.