With 16 titles across 40 years, there are very few properties that have had the kind of longevity that Koei Tecmo’s Nobunaga’s Ambition has enjoyed. While it might not be the world’s most popular and accessible strategy series – that goes to either Civilization or Total War – the commitment to authentically recreating one of the most dynamic periods of warfare, weaving the incredible stories of the era, and giving players a deep and rewarding nation management simulation, has ensured that the series has enduring fans.
With Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening imminent, we had the opportunity to sit down with the game’s Producer and Director, Michi Ryu, to get a sense of what the team aimed to achieve with this one and what fans can look forward to this time.
Matt S: Nobunaga’s Ambition is one of the longest-running strategy properties, and Awakening is the 16th entry in the series. Is the goal for such a venerable series to find new ways to add to the experience, or is it more about finding new ways to present the existing core?
Michi R: It is thanks to our fans that this series has been able to continue for so long and we are very grateful for that. I think each are important, but our goal is to add a new experience. Our goal with Nobunaga’s Ambition is to create a realistic experience of Japan’s Warring States (Sengoku) period, but we focus on different parts of this historical period and change the system in each title so that there is always a new experience with each game. I think that creating new experiences is what satisfies fans, and that’s part of what they expect from us.
Matt S: I see that sieges are a particular focus of this year’s edition. Obviously, they’ve been a part of Nobunaga’s Ambition in the past, but what is it about this edition’s take do you think will particularly resonate with players?
Michi R: Although sieges stand out, they are not our only focus! Dominion, submission, council officials, direct talks, etc., these are all major elements important to Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening.
The sieges in this title take the form of all the retainers who are granted a castle’s dominion, fighting together. In those days, territory was considered more important than anything else and people would desperately defend the territory they were given. By representing these aspects of Japan’s Warring States period, and having a unique map for each siege so that players can enjoy the visuals while fighting different kinds of battles, I think that these are the points that will particularly resonate with players.
Matt S: We have so many games based on the Sengoku period – not just form you but from other developers and publishers, too. And yet we get relatively few games based on, say, the Genpei or Boshin wars. What do you think it is about the Sengoku period that makes it particularly inspiring to developers and publishers?
Michi R: Japan’s Warring States period lasted for about 150 years, and for a long time, the whole nation was engaged in battles. Different kinds of incidents occurred not only in specific clans, but also all over Japan, and among them, there were many heroes and many dramatic tales. I think this may be the reason why many people are fascinated by this period of history.
Nobunaga Oda, who can be called the protagonist of this series, fell in the middle of his life and thus his life has a strong narrative aspect. It makes you wonder what would have happened if he had lived, and I think this question makes people become even more fascinated.
Matt S: How important do you consider it is for the game to be true to Sengoku history? We’re seeing other game publishers that work with historical topics look to use their games to also educate and inspire players – does this Nobunaga’s Ambition do that?
Michi R: Our goal for the Nobunaga’s Ambition series is to provide a realistic experience of Japan’s Warring States period, so there are some similarities. Recreating historical facts is a very important topic for our team, and many of our players do tell us that they have learned many things from the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. However, merely recreating history does not always mean providing a fun experience, so we also need to arrange things to be game-like.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening focuses on the role of retainers, and during the game development, there was a time when we only needed to leave the retainers alone and just watch them expand their territory without giving any orders. That is true to how things happened historically, but that wouldn’t be interesting as a game, right? After a lot of trial and error, the game ended up in the form it is now.
Matt S: Following on from that, if players are inspired to learn about Sengoku history after playing and loving Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening, how would you recommend they do that? What does your own team do to brush up on their history?
Michi R: That is a difficult question! Nowadays, you can search for as much information as you want on the Internet, so it may be a good idea to start by searching the officers and clans you are interested in. There are also movies, manga, and anime from which you can choose what you might like. Of course, our Samurai Warriors and Nioh series’ are based on Japan’s Warring States period so please try playing them (he says with a laugh – ed).
As for how we brush up on our history, we constantly check documents and books to learn new discoveries and updates on historical studies. Based on the latest theories, discoveries and analyses, we do update and improve the representation in our game. Many of our staff love Japan’s Warring States period and enjoy doing research on the history.
Matt S: Strategy games can come across as “dry” to players outside of the genre. What does Koei Tecmo do to try to make these games appeal to a broader range of players?
Michi R: It is true that strategy games are often played in silence. However, you will find Nobunaga’s Ambition is quite a lively game just by watching the many people talking to you, like retainers submitting their suggestions, for example.
Even if you are someone who worries about having to think too much, you can progress through the game by just following the suggestions of your retainers. We hope you will get used to it little by little and experience the fun of strategy games.
Related reading: Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the other Koei Tecmo strategy series, though it focuses on the Chinese warring states era. Our review of the most recent one in that series on Switch.
Matt S: In the past we’ve had Nobunaga’s Ambition games have the Koei Tecmo cats as a bonus, letting you change the leader’s profiles in-game. Can we expect that again this time around?
Michi R: Unfortunately, because Samurai Cats is no longer in service (Editor’s note: It was a mobile game in Japan), the cats will not appear in this game as any bonus.
That said, if there are many requests from our players, we will consider it.
Matt S: You’re continuing on an incredible legacy, with Nobunaga’s Ambition being the creation of Shibusawa Kō, the president of Koei Tecmo. With this series really representing his legacy and so foundational to the company, what do you think has made it the series endure as it has?
Michi R: It is not common for a game series to stay at the forefront and release titles for 40 years. As developers, we have continued to develop various in-game systems in order to entertain our players with every title.
The game system changes significantly with every entry, so our players can always play with a “fresh” feeling. I believe this is one of the reasons why this series endure for as long as it has.
In addition, we are fortunate to have fans who grow up liking our titles later joining Koei Tecmo and working in development with the desire to create something even better.
Matt S: Finally, when people are diving into Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening – which daimyo (leader) do you think would be the best for a beginner, which is the most interesting to play for you personally, and which leader do you think will be the most difficult?
Michi R: First of all, this title is designed to be easy to play for beginners, so even if you do not know much about the game, you can follow the suggestions of your retainers, and by learning little by little you will soon make progress. If you are still hesitating, we really hope you will give it a try and enjoy it.
As for the daimyo we recommend, I would say the Oda clan in 1560. I really want players to experience Nobunaga Oda’s life, since he is the main personality in the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. There are many strong officers in the Oda clan, so it will be easy to play even for beginners.
Regarding the most interesting daimyo… that is very hard to answer! I am the type of person who gets more excited with difficult strategy games, so I especially like to play as daimyo who only rules one castle and few officers. That makes things challenging, and the Akizuki clan in 1546 is a good example – they are very difficult since there is only one officer.