I know running a strategy game through the RPG-focused VIPS is bound to create some anomalies, but shut up, I do what I want.
Story & World
The historical setting of feudal Japan and the attempt to show the actual conditions at each of the time periods scores big points here. Some of the fiefs seemed to be better producers than others. If that is also patterned off the history books, then more kudos to Koei are in order. The firearms unit was particularly nice to see as Japan had just recently acquired the tech from the Portuguese. Certain random elements, such as typhoons, only came during the appropriate season. However, after gaining a good chunk of fiefs, future acquisitions did begin to blend together due to their sameness. Just another fief to micromanage.
There are a few ways to interact with the other rulers but are
downplayed by outright warfare (as was the style at the time).
Nonaggression pacts can be made but are short-lived affairs. Even an
alliance by marriage is no guarantee that an invasion won't happen down
the road. With it being this limited, it's no surprise that all the
other rulers acted pretty much the same way. However, you can also
interact with them by sending a pile of ninja to try to assassinate
them. I tried once to send 27 ninja but they all failed. Would have scored more points here if the ninja didn't blow.
The single objective to unite Japan dominates the entire game and while ambitious, it lacks any distinct flavour. Domination has to be done through force and diplomacy is just a delay to the inevitable. 7/20
Building the daimyo consists of 5 randomly generated attributes, ranging from around 60 to 110. All of these come into play at some point and mostly affect the effectiveness of decisions made. Success in certain endeavours can raise stats and, likewise, failure will reduce them. However, most of these changes are so small as to hardly matter. A low Health stat is especially dangerous as the daimyo will get sick easier and die quicker. Character portrait is tied to the nation chosen to play and I certainly can't fault a historical simulation for doing so. 5/20
Combat & Monsters
It wouldn't be much of a historical simulation if it included magic, so that won't be held against it. The strategy in combat in very basic and laid out in an odd rectangular grid. There are four terrain types that affect combat: plains, towns, hills, and castles (in order of desirability). Battles typically play out in the same manner. Enemy generals have no problems in attacking from the weak plains terrain into a superior location even if a better location was available. A few memorable battles involved trying to cut off the escape of the enemy command unit but for the most part battles were bland. An option to bribe enemy units was available but morale was usually high enough to make this worthless.
The only foes are your fellow countrymen and there's
thousands of them. There are three unit types though: infantry,
cavalry, and firearms. 3/20
Graphics & Sound
The colours and styles used on the main map serve their purpose and make each nation stand out from the others. Daimyo portraits are well done and though I only recognized Oda Nobunaga and Takeda Shingen, I wouldn't be surprised if the other portraits were accurate as well. The battle grid and unit graphics could have stood a little polishing. Music variety was lacking and, most distressing of all, wasn't even Asian-sounding at all. That is a huge black strike against a historical period game. I usually ended up listening to Kitaro (not the spooky kind) instead. 8/20
Any strategy game like this has to have a strong economy behind it. The two major components are, not surprisingly, gold and rice. Rice is
needed to feed armies and reward peasants and soldiers. Gold is used
for everything else and a smart daimyo will save his surplus rice and
sell only when the price is high. Investing in various areas of the
fief will see bigger returns every fall when taxes and harvests come
in. Gold is always in high demand especially for the first half of the
conquest. Excess gold can always be used to send swarms of ninja. :)
Controls were fine for fief development but were less
responsive during the battles. The battle interface also made it
difficult to quickly pass all unit turns (as usually happens when
defending). Overall control was enhanced greatly by the usage of the
SNES Mouse, a boon to any console strategy game.
Whether you want to replay or not, Ambition will force many restarts. Initial fief choice is critical and determines your chances of making it past the first few years. Multiple scenarios set at different times can be chosen from and determine the starting land holdings based off of history. You can play as the favourite, such as Oda in the 4th scenario, or play an underdog and hope to crawl your way up to the big leagues. The balancing act of resource management and the agony of analyzing a decision's risk & reward ratio is served in abundance. For example, during those first few critical years, every koku of rice counts and it can be tough not to sell the majority of rice on hand when the price is high enough. Run out of rice and the peasant's loyalty will start sinking fast, leading to revolts if not handled. Even if a revolt is suppressed, it still means lost troops that need to be replaced, retrained, and rearmed. And so on and so forth. Nobunaga's Ambition definitely falls into the just-one-more-turn category like so many other solid strategy games (I'm looking at you, Civilization). 17/20
Final Ranking: 40/100