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Enormous Ambition: Two Steps Forwards, One Step Backwards. Still Very Fun Though.

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    SiegvonWal
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    Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    Enormous Ambition: Two Steps Forwards, One Step Backwards. Still Very Fun Though.

    The Japanese name of this game "Taishi" apparently translate as "Enormous Ambition"–at least according to anon from Wikipedia. And this game is about "Enormous Ambitions", more so than the previous games thanks to the new "Resolve System", which could have been better translated as the "Ambition System" given it uses the Kanji for Ambition (according to the translators of Samurai Warriors 2: Empires at least) and I think that would have better matched the game’s title. But that’s nit-picking, there’s 2 steps forwards to be praised and a step backwards to be criticized.

    But first, for the unfamiliar;

    SETTING

    The setting is Japan in the late Warring States Period (1467-1603, focused on 1545-1582 -without DLC, that is) and during this time a hot and cold civil war had been ranging since the fall of the old Minamoto Shogunate and their Hojo enforcers, as the then-current Ashikaga Shogunate had failed to stabilize their new system which sought to have the old civil nobility compete with the new military aristocracy–a system that had effectively destroyed the old and peaceful system where nobles and commoners co-existed in effective harmony (the old deal being basically "I’ll protect your lands and keep the peace in exchange for tax money") and replaced it with an oppressive system where might made right and legitimacy was but an excuse for the new warlords to declare war and expand their own power. The result was the total division of Japan into hundreds of little states warring for one reason or another. More on that when describing the new "Resolve" system which gives explicit purpose to the actions of the various warlords.

    The rule of law was as dictated by the new warlords, and not all warlords were created equal as some were fair and just while others only used the law for their own benefit. The Imperial Law, or the Ashikaga Law, were effectively abandoned as few of the warlords respected the Ashikaga and mostly just pretended to respect the Emperor.

    However that’s not to say this was an era of constant war. A constant fear or threat of war, yes. But for the most part it was an endless staring contest and exchange of hate mail until somebody crossed some line and bothered to do something about it.

    And the most important somebody, at least from 1551-1582, was Nobunaga Oda; the namesake of the series.

    Nobunaga basically rose up from a pretty warlord from under his father, grandfather, and ancestors’ time to the supreme ruler of a third of Japan and in the process established a coherent and enforced rule of law that might have transformed Japan into an early-modern Nation-State. However, he was cut down in his prime and his ambition had fallen onto Hideyoshi Hashiba who did his own thing and then when he died Japan was once again at war until the one and only Ieyasu Tokugawa ended it and brought about the new Tokugawa Shogunate that gave Japan 300 years of peace, stability, and cultural growth.

    But enough of that. It’s up to you if you want to repeat history or make it up yourself, as you can very much attempt to recreate history or do your own thing and attempt to establish your own rulership over Japan.

    GOAL

    The goal of this game is simple: end Japan’s Warring States Era.

    And there are 3 ways of doing that;

    #1: Take every city on the map. All 250+ of them!

    #2: Take over 35 out of 71 provincial capitals–including Nijo Palace–and then issue a War Ban

    #3: Take over 35 out of 71 provincial capitals–including or not including Nijo Palace–and then ally with all the remaining clans and then issue a War Ban.

    As you might imagine, #2 is the easiest and the fastest.

    You could also be the vassal-clan of someone who does one of the above, you don’t need to do it yourself…

    PLAYLENGTH

    Highly depends on what you chose to do.

    Should you play as Nobunaga in his prime and aim for Ending #2, probably 10-15 hours, 10-15 in-game years. Not that long, for this kind of game.

    Should you play as some nobody and aim to unite all Japan (Ending #1) it could take you dozens of hours, about a week and a half if you spend about 3-5 hours a day playing. So, 30-50 hours, 50+ in-game years. Quite long.

    Should you play as a somebody who isn’t super-duper but not a crapper, and aim for Ending #3 it’d probably be about 15-25 hours, about 15-25 in-game years. A decent length.

    GAMEPLAY: WARFARE

    In order to get anywhere, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Or at least look like you’re willing to.

    War itself has two main phases: the overworld where you move your armies across the country to attack or defend, and the battles themselves.

    The overworld management begins with organizing your troops; either from letting the game select for you up to 9 units, or by picking and arranging them either through a list of your castles or by clicking on them on the map. You can determine who leads the units, which affects their power and executable techniques, how many troops from the city they lead, and whether they’re armed with Spears, Spears & Muskets, Spears & Horses, or Muskets & Horses (assuming you have the necessary tech to form them, as they’re quite hard to get without having a specific officer).

    Once you’ve organized your armies and sent them, they will be traversing various counties which have varying terrain and battlefield limits that affect how many troops can battle and whether one side or the other will have an advantage based on the existence of nearby facilities. As a rule; open plains allow for large numbers of troops, mountains and passes for small numbers. The county also affects the battle phase, as each county has its own rendered battlefield and depending on the battlefield it can either be flat and smooth, good for muskets and large armies, mountainous and rough, good for horses and placing units to surprise incoming enemies, forested and wet–which is bad for muskets and horses alike–or a mix of these things. You can get an up close view of a given battlefield by zooming right in on the map.

    Battles themselves are conducted after a war council to determine the formation which affects various buffs and whether some unit or another will have a special trick and after determining where your units go on the formation.

    Battles themselves are not to the death but rather to the destruction of one party or another’s morale. Like real life, battles are essentially won when one party loses the will to fight and runs for the hills. Therefore, combined with the above information taken into account, a small army can exploit geography and good tactical sense to destroy the morale of a large army and send them packing.

    Tactically, you move squares of units which have varying strength and morale bars (think a soft health bar–once it’s reduced, the unit cannot be controlled for a few turns) and depending on the quality of the troops (determined by both your clan’s enacted policies and troop type; Professional paid Infantry or tax-exempt Peasant Militia; and also by the quality of a unit leader. More on that later) you can deal more or less damage and take more or less damage. Muskets give units the ability to wreck enemy morale from up close or a distance (plus good damage of course) while Horses massively increase the speed of a unit and how far it can move on a given turn (plus do cavalry charges for great damage).

    Although battles are turn based, it is executed in real time. Don’t think of this like an old-school checker-board-style game as it’s more of a fusion of realism (as realistically a commander has to wait to give or cancel a given order) and real time strategy.

    GAMEPLAY: Domestics and Diplomacy

    Normally, these things would get their own separate sections. However, in Taishi, these are interconnected aspects of the game.

    Money, which is necessary to pay for Infantry (quality troops), Gear (Muskets/Horses), Facilities (which range from generating Horses/Muskets to affecting battlefield conditions and boosting the stats of your officers), and as leverage in making deals with other clans. Money is to be gotten from trade zones you’ve expanded into. Normally you’re limited to the trade zones within your state. Once you’ve allied with other clans, you can expand into theirs and they can expand into yours, which grows the trade zones for the both of you and makes them more profitable. Having lots of friends helps your back account massively, however it can also affect your strategic interests and plans as you don’t profit from trade zones belonging to a clan enemy. Once at war, the profits between you two ends. Also, should that clan have friends, those friends will also be your enemy and should you have had money invested into them you’ll no longer be collecting money from them. Thus, you should plan in advance who you want to attack and consider who their friends are and try to separate them from who you want to befriend and make money with.

    Food is a lot simpler. Once per season you can give out orders to increase your food production. The details of how this works isn’t necessary to describe as it’s not exactly a complicated thing or a real selling point. Basically it’s just a matter of giving out orders and collecting it every year.

    However, food management is another story.

    Militia are farmers that you are exempting from half of their food taxes (thus getting only half what you’d normally get per militiaman). Having a large militia army (which is a lot easier to get than a large Infantry army) will massively cut into your food production–plus you’ll have to feed them in war, and chances are it’ll take a few years to stockpile enough food to feed them. However Militia is cheap and in large numbers can compensate for being weaker than Infantry by being more numerous (thus effectively having a higher health bar and resilience). You could keep a smaller Militia army, which I consider a better idea as they aren’t that weaker than Infantry so long as you upgrade them through policies. But they can eat up a lot of food and cut into food production if you overdo it.

    Infantry costs money per turn. Perhaps your biggest regular expense. However they are significantly stronger than Militia and early to mid game can be much, much stronger if upgraded early via policies. Having a large amount of them is tough early to mid-game (not once you’re ruler of half of Japan, but that’s WAY down the road) so if you’re gonna focus on having a professional army then you ought to keep it small so you remain in the black and be friendly so you aren’t forced to have it be in two places at once.

    Lastly, there are policies.

    Every mid-season, you’ll host a council with your advisors and after you’ve picked 3 out of 6 ideas to execute (which provides a 3-month buff to you or debuff to war-enemies) you’ll have a chance to enact policies. You can enact them with Policy Points, and they’re accrued over time as a result of picking advisors who give them every season. By default the policies you can enact are restricted based on your ruler’s Resolve, and expanded based on the expertise of your officers. Having a lot of gun-lovers, for example, opens up the possibility of enacting policies that make them more effective. Policies affect all aspects of the game and range from buffing your troops, making more money and resources, expanding the lifespans of your officers, insurances against natural disasters, and more.

    TWO STEPS FORWARD #1: RESOLVE

    Now this is the major step forward this game has to offer. RESOLVE.

    Basically, a Resolve is the mindset and ideals of a given ruler. Most characters have one of 5 common Resolves while about 30 have their own unique Resolves. A Resolve affects the A.I. of an NPC Clan as well as what buffs and debuffs they have. Territorial Expansion, a common Resolve, makes it easier to grow your economy and take cities in exchange for taking a significant hit to officer loyalty whenever they lose a city and also increasing the costs of making investments. A.I. with Territorial Expansion are generally aggressive and unlikely to submit as vassal-clans unless they’re really humbled. Clan Longevity, another common Resolve, makes it easier to make friends and greatly preserves the lives of soldiers after a battle in exchange for taking massive Aggression hits (Aggression being the morale of the clans waging war on the over-world, which is impacted by wins and losses in war and Aggression primarily affects whether armies are buffed/debuffed and the likelihood of one side or the other calling it quits and what demands they might have before agreeing to it) whenever they lose a battle. A.I. with Clan Longevity are generally pacifistic and will submit readily if they’re small and someone else is large.

    Unique Resolves like Nobunaga’s Armed Unification make it much easier to recruit Infantry and make Musketeers significantly stronger. It also provides an increase to the passive development of all expanded into trade zones. In exchange, Militia demand more in their tax break and Nobunaga can’t monopolize trade zones. Because he is rewarded for hiring Infantry and shunning Militia, he will have an unusually large amount of Infantry and few Militia, making him a pound-for-pound deadlier opponent than most. Also, his Resolve affects his A.I. so that he will attempt to recreate history and change it so that he actually unites Japan successfully. Other unique Resolves also affect a clan’s willingness to recreate/defy history and also fine tune their preferences in Infantry vs. Militia, armaments, civil development, forging alliances, etc. etc.

    TWO STEPS FORWARD #2: GRAND STRATEGY & DIPLOMACY

    I mentioned above how diplomacy and war works (in brief), but I will repeat it here as I consider it a major step forward. Not only does it matter more than ever who is friends with who, the geography actually plays a large role in how many troops can fit on a battlefield and the battles themselves are impacted based on the terrain and all the pre-battle decisions you made on how they’re made up, armed, and lead.

    Allies will back whomever was aggressed against first, so if you’re allied with someone (like say, Azai) and they’re allied with your target, and you are the first to initiate war, they will side against you. Keep this in mind as you can lose a lot of friends if you aren’t careful, and you can check the aggression of some neighboring clans if you can "net them" in a web of alliances.

    The way war, economics, and foreign relations intertwine makes the game all the more realistic and challenging. I suspect new players especially will have a good challenge, while veterans like myself will have a welcome curve ball thrown at them.

    Oh, I might as well mention the weather: snow, rain, and fog all prevent muskets from being used as well as reduce how much units can see in battles. Spring and Winter are particularly dangerous seasons for musket-wielding clans and snowfall has the added affect of increasing the rate morale is reduced on both sides. Keep that in mind when scheduling your wars!

    There is also "war fatigue" which accumulates as wars drag (beginning to accumulate after 6 months) which affects the public order and by extension productivity of your towns. It can be counteracted by being a peaceful area; although people will grow tiered and weary of war, they won’t mind much if they aren’t directly affected by it. Meanwhile recently taken cities and front line castle towns will be very sore and prone to revolt (and thus not produce food or allow their existing troop counts to be adjusted). Lots of little things to keep in mind!

    But, not all is good.

    ONE STEP BACKWARD: LESS GENERATIONS AND LACK OF COVERT OPERATIONS

    Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, in its American release (which was the original Japanese game plus its major expansion–which is regularly referred to as a "PUK" or "Power-up Kit"), went from the Birth of Nobunaga in 1534 to the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. This game goes–without DLC–from 1545-1582.

    With DLC, the game can go from 1534 (Birth of Nobunaga is a $3 DLC scenario, highly recommended although…) to 1584 (which is a significant 2-years-forward as it’s post-Nobunaga), but compared to Sphere of Influence which came with these two eras (in its American release, not the original Japanese release) its a significant step backwards. I suspect there will be a PUK which expands the game forward a few decades and adds content on top of what we have, but I’m judging based on what we have. It’s great and all, but the lack of those two eras plus the post-Hideyoshi era of 1600-1615 is a major loss.

    By "Covert Operations", I mean the ability to use spies to get information and poach enemy officers. In older games, you knew very little about the other clans besides your own. Now, you have an open-book of all the relevant stats and resources of all clans. You don’t necessarily know what a clan is up to, but you know what they have to work with. Also, in past games, you could poach low-loyalty officers and maybe get them to betray during battle or turn over their castle/city. Now, you can only recruit foreign officers by defeating them in battle or conquering their clan. Loyalty is less of a factor in this game because of this. While Blue, they’re totally loyal. While Yellow, they will likely defect upon capture. While Red, they will likely abandon you soon. Beyond that, the only affects loyalty has is if a warlord has a Resolve which exploits low loyalty and causes some kind of effect to happen. Otherwise, loyalty doesn’t mean as much as it used to (but it does matter enough for you to ensure they’re at least Yellow so they won’t leave and Blue so they won’t betray you upon a loss on your part).

    OVERALL

    …I recommend this game. With existing Birth of Nobunaga DLC especially.

    It’s a very fun game I’ve been playing since its release and up to (and beyond) the time of this review’s publication. I rate it a 10/10 not for being perfect (it’s not) but for being very fun and highly replayable and–perhaps most importantly–deep.

    The game is highly deep and sophisticated, and yet it’s probably the most approachable game yet since it presents itself simply and tries to guide you. Once you’re experienced enough to let go of their hand and lead yourself, you can really pull off some amazing battle strategies and political machinations!

    Therefore I strongly recommend buying this game and playing it to death! I also recommend the Birth of Nobunaga and Fateful Clash DLCs, each $3, as it expands the game by 2 eras as the balance of power in the 1534 Birth of Nobunaga is significantly different than the later scenarios while Fateful Clash is a post-Nobunaga scenario which sees the rise of new warlords from the Oda Clan’s remnants. Battle of Okitanawate takes place slightly after that and offers another significant balance of power shift. But I don’t recommend it over Fateful Clash.

    Thank you for reading, and have a fun time! :-D

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