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Stuck on PS2: Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power Strategy Tips

posted Aug 8, 2012, 10:33 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: April 7, 2009

So let's get back to Nobunaga's Ambition.

Last post, I gave you a lot of sentimental yadda yadda about how I played the Mac version 20 years ago, then bought Nobunaga's Ambition: Rise to Power for the PS2 last year. Now for stuff that's actually interesting: What's the newer version like, and what tips can I give about how to win at it?pastedGraphic.pdf

Basically, Rise to Power retains the feel and flow of the earlier version, but with deeper (i.e., more complicated) gameplay. The most striking innovation is the use of an 'officer' system for command and control and both the strategic and tactical levels, much like in Bandit Kings of Ancient China and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In the old version of Nobunaga's Ambition, the only character you had to worry about was your Daimyo. But in Rise to Power, you will need to recruit good subordinates (and retain their loyalty) because it’s through them that you will govern your fiefs and control your troops in battle. Needless to say, not all officers are created equally, and the good ones know they're good, and they probably won't agree to serve you unless you have a good history of success behind you. 

The purpose of fiefs is essentially the same — you need them to harvest gold and food to support your armies, and the more you have the better — but governing them is much less abstract. You need to leave at least one officer in each of your fiefs to act as governor, and improvements take the form of structures, each of which improves the fief in its own unique way. If you want to produce more gold, build a market; if you want to produce muskets, build a smith, etc. 

The strategic map is also 'deeper' in that the number of fiefs is about doubled from the older version. I didn't count exactly, but it looks to be about 100 instead of 50. Some factions begin the game with two or more fiefs under their control, which gives you extra flexibility in choosing how hard you want the game to be for you, at least at the start. Within each difficulty setting, you can choose a faction with more than one fief and a gaggle of officers already recruited (like the Otomo), or a faction with a much more difficult position, only one fief, a small number of officers and not much prestige with which to recruit good ones early in the game... like, well, the Oda.

In fact, it says something about Oda Nobunaga's strategic genius that he obviously starts the game in a very difficult spot. He has only one fief (Nagoya Castle) with potential enemies on almost every side, including two factions that start the game with three fiefs each — the powerful Takeda and the implacably hostile Imagawa — as neighbors. He has an ally-through-marriage in the two-fief Saito, but they really aren't that rich or strong, and you will probably have to stab them in the back fairly early on. It's a tough hand at the start, and how Nobunaga became the dominant warlord in Japan within a generation.... Well, the old boy must have had some serious brains and stones, brains and stones.

Needless to say, the production values are much richer than in the older version of the game, although I should probably add that I always mute the music. The graphics are more than respectable for a PS2 game, though not quite what you can achieve on a PC or next-generation console. Most striking, perhaps, are the hand-drawn and precisely-rendered portraits of the various Daimyo and officers — although I must admit that the fine dot-matrix Daimyo portraits from the older game were no slouch, either. They were like a cross between sumi-e and Seurat, almost Pointilist in their fineness, certainly much less pixelated than the NES version and something of a tribute to what you could achieve on a Mac in those days.

But enough of that, and on to the tips and hints. How are you gonna win at this thing?

Strategy Tips

1. Understand your starting position.

This is perhaps not the most important thing you have to do, but it is the first. Not all factions are equal at the start, and on top of that, the part of the map in which you choose to start can affect the things you need to mind later on. One of the reasons that the Oda's starting position is so dicey is that they really have no safe flank; Nagoya Castle is located on the coast, but almost in the exact middle of Japan. They have potential foes on three sides. On the other hand, the Otomo (for instance) start at the western end of the map, and the Date and the Nanbu start near the very eastern end. These positions are not absolutely secure, but the ends of the map do give you something of a safe flank, allowing you to concentrate all of your best fighting officers along a single front. The AI opponents are not as aggressive in Rise to Power as they were in the old game, and so it is somewhat easier to fight a two-front war. But a two-front war is always a disproportionately trickier business than fighting on a single front (I found it easiest to win Shogun: Total War as the Shimazu or the Otomo for exactly that reason).

But on the other hand, starting at one end of the map is not necessarily your best bet. Both the old game and the new game are basically about gobbling up fiefs faster than your rivals, so that by the late game you're generating more resources and soldiers than any of them, and your weight of numbers is irresistible. And the great danger of starting at one end of the map is that you will have no direct influence on what is happening at the other, so that one rival will digest all of the weaker factions before you can interfere with them. By that time, they may have grown too strong for you to handle, and there will be nothing for you to do about it. This is not a game in which you can count on coming from behind to win. So the Oda's middle-of-the-battlefield starting position is actually advantageous in some ways, in that it allows you to push strategically in either direction if you see a rival getting too strong. And if you see that happening, you want to be the one to stop them.

On the other hand, Rise to Power does offer you an option for taking down a powerful opponent, should you choose to enable it: the Kessen, an all-or-nothing battle in which you can challenge another powerful warlord to a single battle with all of your lands at stake. I can't really speak to how this works, as I have not played with it, but I find it hard to imagine that it's easy to win against a stronger opponent.

2. Get off to a quick start.

Which segues into my second point: Don't be passive, especially early in the game. Gobble up as many fiefs as you can as quickly as you can to increase your harvest of resources and break out to an early lead. Pick off as many weak factions — those with only one fief — as you can; if you don't bite, someone else will and become more dangerous thereby. Don't count on building up your resources to gain a bit more of an edge before you launch your first invasion, because your rate of increase will not outstrip your rivals' by much. Don't be afraid at this point to dip into your fief management tools to raise as much gold, food or troops as you need.

3. Employ your officers properly.

Officers are rated according to different attributes, each of which is keyed to a different game function and very few officers are good at everything. So it's important to get the best use out of each. Early in the game, when you don't have many good officers at your beck and call, you may not have a choice. But it's best not to use officers weak in Leadership to lead your troops into battle (they won't move fast and they'll probably get slaughtered); it's best not to use officers weak in Politics to improve your fiefs (the rate of improvement will be low, so you won't get a good return on gold spent), etc.

One of the most interesting aspects of the officer system is that officers are distinguished by rank as well as ability, with higher-ranking officers being able to command more troops in battle. Higher-ranking officers can also be appointed governors of fiefs without causing jealousy among other officers in that fief. Officers can gain promotion (and ability increases) through experience points, so it behooves you in more ways that one to make use of your low-ranking officers with high attributes. You want them to rise through the ranks so they can use their talents in positions of higher authority. This is not hard for officers strong in Politics; whenever you need to build an improvement in a fief, have one handle it. If you need to send a ninja from a fief, have a junior officer strong in Intelligence give the order. The more they work, the faster they’ll get promoted.

As you accumulate fiefs, you will want to automate the handling of many, if not most of them. It is then especially important to have officers ranked Captain or higher, with an orders capacity of 3 (or at least a high Politics rating), to entrust with governorships. The AI for fief management seems to be more intelligent than in the old game, but as always, it's best to delegate authority to people who are actually the best qualified to handle it.

Also, keep an eye on your officers' Loyalty. It has never happened to me, but theoretically an officer with low Loyalty could be persuaded to switch sides by an enemy officer. The myth of Bushido be that as it may, any student of the Sengoku Jidai will tell that you that that sort of thing happened.

In particular, be wary of Motoyasu Matusdaira (or, as he is later known, Tokugawa Ieyasu). I recruited him for the Oda and kept him happy with all of the goodies that you're supposed to throw at an officer to keep him loyal, and he still rebelled against me right as I was about to win (perhaps a nod to how, in history, he pounced on the weakness of the Toyotomi after Hideyoshi's death). As powerful as he is, I suggest that you resist the temptation to recruit him. If you capture him in battle, kill him. He’ll make trouble for you later on, one way or another.

4. Employ your resources properly.

Gold and food are just as important in Rise to Power as it was in the old game. Without food, you can't move troops. Without gold, you can't improve your fiefs or buy spies. If you're going to take action in or from a fief, you need to have enough of the necessary resource in that fief. Fortunately, you can move resources from fief to fief quickly and easily, but if you commit to launching an attack and you don't have enough food on hand to move all of the troops that you need, well, you might as well reboot. Food is also important when you defend against an invasion, as you will lose if you run out of food before the battle would otherwise end.

When you conquer a fief, note how much gold and food and how many troops are left for you to control. Unless you have been canny in how you took the fief, you will probably not have much of anything. Immediately, you should move at least a couple of officers into the fief to govern it. Then, if feasible, move in from other fiefs as much gold as you will need to start rebuilding; enough troops so that those officers can defend against a counterattack; and enough food to keep those troops fed.

5. Use your spies and don't sweat the rest.

As in the old version of Nobunaga's Ambition, just about the only aspect of the design of Rise to Power that kind of disappoints is diplomacy and espionage, although diplomacy does seem a bit more useful in the newer version. In Rise to Power, the ability to carry out joint attacks can help take down a foe of equal or greater strength. And the ability to make vassals out of weak foes allows you to bypass them while concentrating on a stronger opponent, or combine strength with them on the defense. But marriage alliances remain pretty tepid stuff, and the diplomatic option will not keep more than one high-Charisma officer busy per turn. This is especially disappointing, since many of the items that you can bestow on officers to keep them loyal to you are Charisma buffs.

If anything, ninja are less useful in Rise to Power than in the old game. You can no longer try to assassinate a Daimyo (always a long shot, but a doozy when it worked), and sabotage seems so much less useful now than it used to be, largely because the introduction of structures gives you too many moving parts that you need to destroy before you gum up the works in any measurable way. Using ninja to decrease the Loyalty of enemy officers so you can bribe them into your service is theoretically useful, but in practice it takes a while to make it a good bet. You're better off concentrating on building up an army that will kick ass rather than rely on ninja and cajolery to weaken the enemy.

But one ninja function is absolutely essential: spying. You need to be aware of how your enemies stand at all times: How many troops they have in each fief, whether or not they have enough resources to support them, whether those troops can be equipped with horses or firearms, and ideally, whether or not powerful officers can be used to defend that fief. You should be at least slightly aware of all of these things before you make a decision to invade a fief. This means having spies in all fiefs with which you share a border, and which are one fief beyond your border. If your spies get caught, send reinforcements. Remember, it's a good way to gain experience for junior officers with moderate-to-high Intelligence, and spies only cost 100 gold each.

Next: Advice on fighting battles, and whether or not Rise to Power is cool.