Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi is the 15th installment in the acclaimed historical simulation series by Koei Tecmo. If enough of the preceding 14 games were good enough to warrant a 15th, you’d think the team working on these has a great deal of experience and a large pool of examples to draw upon when considering what works and what doesn’t. Under such circumstances, it’s quite baffling how Taishi managed to turn out as bad as it did.
It’s important to note that Taishi was first released in the November of 2017, albeit with no localizations. This new version is the same game, but with an English translation. This also means that the version I reviewed isn’t simply the launch version in English, but the version of the game which benefited from months of patching - a little research will show that reviews at initial release were even most scathing than what I’m about to write because the game was so barebones at the time that it felt like a mobile knock-off.
I’m not sure how ethical it is skewing the score of a game based on a heavily patched version, but I can’t render judgment on a version I haven’t played either. I also think it prudent to mention that at the time of writing Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi has 12 paid DLCs available, take that as you will.
Taishi is a grand strategy game that, in accordance with the series, aims for unrivaled depth in game mechanics and a strict adherence to history, both in terms of people, places and events as well as actual gameplay. It certainly is packed with a lot</> of systems and mechanics that should achieve its goal of complexity and depth, however the actual result feels more akin to the game having the breadth of an ocean but the depth of a puddle.
There are plenty of ways to micromanage your clan’s lands. You maintain diplomatic relations with neighboring daimyo (the heads of their respective clans), there are commerce and economic mechanics, military systems, skill trees, officers with different attributes and various regions within your territory with different stats making them suited to different purposes. You have a selection of buildings to build within districts, you can recruit two different types of soldiers and trade goods.
On paper, you have all the trappings of a complex country management simulator. In practice, these mechanics are poorly implemented and disjointed from one another. Well layered grand strategy games show how interconnected your decisions are and how each mechanic affects the others. They make you feel like you’re controlling a real, actual complex nation. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi makes you feel like an overworked manager controlling a dozen different companies which aren’t related to one another.
There are tangential connections. Obviously, you need money to do basically anything, so commerce is tied into the other mechanics, and you need a strong agriculture to produce enough provisions for a standing army. However, aside from the surface relations, there is no strategic depth or interconnection between these. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi tries to look big and complex but cutting up what are single yet multifaceted mechanics in other games into their seemingly separate systems to draw a veil over its simplicity. In terms of resources, you have gold, horses, provisions and muskets. You have two combat units, infantry and militia.
That said, there are fields where Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi does present a greater depth than other games. Officers are nuanced characters with a number of attributes and traits. Daimyo and officers (who can succeed your daimyo if you choose to retire them or they die) have a “Resolve”, which is their driving directive, goal. Some are driven by the desire to expand their territory via conquest, others struggle for independence, some seek to unify Japan under a single banner to achieve peace and prosperity.
In addition to these resolves, each officer has a personality trait, 5 stats, preferred military tactics and maneuvers and an occupation. Some officers may prefer flanking while others spur their soldiers to charge the enemy head-on, giving them a penalty on morale. Some will pursue and hunt a retreating enemy to intimidate their clan, while others will allow those fleeing to escape to better your chances at a diplomatic resolution of hostilities.
Resolves and the personality traits of the daimyo you deal with also change how diplomacy works. All daimyo have a two-factor opinion of all others. Their emotional opinion is easier to increase (usually, as some traits make it difficult) however this can only increase to a certain amount in relation to the practical opinion, which is harder to boost. In some cases, increasing the emotional opinion is as easy as sending a formal delegation or paying a small friendship bribe. However, some resolves will result in a daimyo reacting negatively if you try these approaches.
Something about Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi that impressed me was the web of alliances and intrigue among the daimyo. While I feel most western grand strategy games nail most mechanics better than Taishi, this is a field in which the game is on-par if not better. You need to keep a tab on how the opinions of the other daimyo develop both of you and of each other, as you can use these developing alliances and rivalries to your advantage - however, if two formerly friendly daimyo with whom you planned partnering up get into an argument and stop liking one another, you must adjust your plan accordingly.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi also allows you to create your own custom officers, for which you can also import portrait images yourself. Whether you want it to fit the lore, import an image of yourself, some other video game character or even your dog, you can. Beyond the name and portrait of the officer, you can customize their resolve, stats and traits.
When it comes down to it, the lack of depth isn’t even the biggest failing of Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi - it’s flat-out boring and provides little to no entertainment. I love grand strategy and historical simulation games, but Taishi does nothing to keep one’s attention. Save for its well-rounded characters, no attempt is made to draw the player in, to make them care about the fate of their clan or to reward them for pushing forward with the game regardless.
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NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION: TAISHI VERDICT
I really hate tearing down games because nobody sets out to purposefully make a bad game and people put passion and effort into Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi, but not only does this game fail on its own merits, the fact that this is the 15th entry in an acclaimed series makes it even more disappointing. The way it tries to hide its lack of depth is almost insulting, and not even a decent character system can save it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
“When I stopped playing” feels too harsh, but then I have no substitute. Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi has no top moments, or any memorable moments, or any distinct, discernible moments at all.