Feudal Japan has long been a popular period as a setting for storytelling, with tales of samurai and feuding warlords appearing in forms of media ranging from comic books to films and nearly everything in between. The video game world has been no exception to this, and one such example of a game that took advantage of this wild period in history turns 35 this year: Nobunaga’s Ambition.
The game is based on the exploits of the Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga, who is generally regarded as one of the three people responsible for unifying Japan during his lifetime. The game, accordingly, focuses on Nobunaga’s attempts at unifying Japan, though the player does have the option of playing as other daimyos for the campaign.
In the original game, players could choose from one of four scenarios: “Battle for the East,” “Daimyo Power Struggles,” “Ambition Untamed,” and “Road Towards Unification.” Regardless of what story was chosen, the player will be faced with turn-based strategy gameplay that includes heavy resource management and a wide number of ways to achieve victory.
The initial 1983 release of Nobunaga’s Ambition was written entirely in the BASIC programming language, which allowed it to be played on really any Japanese PC at the time. The second edition of this game carried the subtitle of “Country-Wide Edition” in Japan and was the first title in the series to see an international release when it arrived in 1986. The subtitle referred to the fact that the game had a new mode covering the entire country of Japan across 50 provinces; a graphical update was also provided to this release. This game later made it to a number of different consoles around the world, including the Famicom, Super Famicom, Mega Drive, NES, Genesis, and Super NES. It also later saw digital releases on the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console service.
Despite focusing on Japanese history, the game actually saw a very positive reception in America, thanks to its detailed simulation gameplay that included roleplaying elements. The PC versions of the game were ultimately better received than the console editions, though.
Nobunaga’s Ambition has gone on to include more than a dozen main entries in the series, though some of these have remained exclusive to Japan. The most recent title, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi, released in November 2017 in Japan for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC; the previous title, Sphere of Influence, saw a North American release in 2015. And aside from the main series, there have also been a handful of spinoff titles, including the kid-friendly Pokémon Conquest (known just as Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition in Japan). Pokémon Conquest released in 2012 and helped present turn-based tactical gameplay, which is usually considered to have a high learning curve, to a younger generation by means of the colorful Pokémon themselves. Like the main series, it involved the desire to unify a specific region (the fictional Ransei Region in this case), and Nobunaga himself appears as the final boss of the game.