Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: October 25, 2016
The past couple of years have seen something of a rebirth of Koei Tecmo“s historical strategy titles. Though their major franchises in the genre -- Nobunaga“s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms -- have never been put aside, both franchises were absent from the west during the PS3 console era. But both series have returned in a big way, starting with Nobunaga“s Ambition: Sphere of Influence last year and the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII just a few months ago. And now, Nobunaga“s Ambition is back once again with a stand-alone expansion to Sphere of Influence entitled 'Ascension.'
Ascension, like past Nobunaga“s Ambition titles, is set during the Warring States era of Japan“s history. The ultimate goal of the game is to unite all of Japan under the flag of one daimyo through a combination of diplomacy and tactical warfare. What sets Ascension apart from the original Sphere of Influence, however, is its greater focus on individual officers. Similar in nature to Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, the player takes the role of an individual officer and plays their part in steering their faction toward victory.
Where the officer-focused gameplay of Romace of the Three Kingdoms XIII is intensely complex, Ascension is relatively simpler by comparison, but by no means is it an easy game. Also, unlike Sphere of Influence and ROT3K13, there is no dedicated tutorial. Helpful prompts appear whenever the player is introduced to a new concept or gameplay element for the first time, but it will be much easier for players to come to grips with Ascension“s mechanics if they“ve previously invested time into Sphere of Influence.
As a stand-alone expansion, Ascension maintains a tight focus on its core gameplay. After selecting an officer, each of whom is tied to a specific scenario, and starting a campaign, the player is thrust into their role and free to act. Lower-ranking officers are granted a domain of land to develop as they see fit and are presented a list of objectives to pursue that are meant as progress toward a larger goal. For example, before the faction“s daimyo will order an attack on a specific castle, the faction must first deliver a certain amount of iron, lumber, money, and supplies, raise a force of a certain size, improve stretches of road, and engage in smaller battles with enemy tribes.
Once all of these objectives are met by the player and/or allied AI officers, the larger objective will be presented. If that objective is met, a new larger goal will be declared, and the player will be tasked with a new list of smaller objectives. Every time objectives are met, the player earns honor, and as honor increases, so to do the opportunities for promotion. At higher ranks, the player gains more autonomy and is free to take on objectives with more freedom, or convince the daimyo to pursue new objectives. The player“s officer can also become a daimyo, granting command over their entire force. Or not, as it“s possible to turn down promotions and remain at a lower rank if so desired.
Whatever path is chosen, progress is made through a combination of civic development, warfare, and diplomatic endeavors. Properly developing an officer“s domain through the construction of facilities and building strong diplomatic ties will aid the player in building a force capable of taking on enemy factions, but tactical slip-ups can (and mostly likely will) result in setbacks. Alternatively, the player can choose to betray their faction by agreeing to join a rival or by breaking away from their patron clan to become an independent force, though these actions naturally carry their own risks.
Primarily driven through menus, Ascension has a clean, clear interface. It does a fairly good job at imparting the information necessary, though it at times can become dense, and the importance of some statistics isn“t immediately obvious. Curiously, the game“s UI is by default set to a very small size that“s almost unreadable on a 1080p television display; the first thing I had to do upon starting the game was find the option to enlarge the text in the main settings menu. The same issue was present in Sphere of Influence, but I have yet to understand why the default is set as it is.
Aside from the primary campaign gameplay, there are two major customization features at the player“s disposal. One is a standard officer edit feature that allows the player to edit the stats of historical officers, or to create new officers from scratch. Without any forced limits, the player can create officers that are as overpowered or underpowered as desired. The other feature is an option to create custom events that will trigger if specified criteria defined by the player are met during a campaign.
For example, a specific officer can be granted a specific weapon upon another specific officer“s death. While an interesting feature to tinker with in theory, the user interface is difficult to come to grips with and may scare off a lot of players after only a few minutes of struggling to understand it. Ideally, custom event creation should only be approached by veterans looking to spend a lot of time in the editor to get the most out of it, but there are no apparent rewards for these efforts beyond personal satisfaction.
At its core, Ascension is a worthwhile expansion to Sphere of Influence. Though the lack of a tutorial may be off-putting, it“s more immediately approachable than Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII and still offers many hours of freeform tactical gameplay. While I would recommend players begin with the original Sphere of Influence, Ascension is still a worthwhile entry in the Nobunaga“s Ambition series.
+ Refined, officer-focused strategy gameplay.
+ Numerous options are available for customizing the difficulty and elements in a new campaign.
+ Beautiful artwork and music, most of which is taken from Sphere of Influence.
+ Earning PlayStation/Steam trophies also unlocks bonus officers.
- No dedicated tutorial.
- The custom event creation interface is obtuse and difficult to use.
- Some PC mouse controls map awkwardly to a PS4 controller.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Ascension is a worthwhile entry in the Nobunaga“s Ambition series.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.