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

posted Aug 8, 2012, 10:37 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: April 10, 2009

There are, of course, two layers to Nobunaga’s Ambition; in my previous post I talked about the strategic level, in which you manage the territory under your control and march your armies up and down the length of Japan, all in the name of fighting what was ultimately Tokugawa Ieyasu’s version of the war to end all wars.pastedGraphic.pdf But the actual fighting happens on the tactical level, in which you come to grips with the enemy army, and because the battles Rise to Power play out in real time, it’s a little harder to work out the tactical challenges on the fly. 

Although I despise real-time strategy as a general rule, the tactical system in Rise to Power really is a substantial advance over the turn-based system in the older game. In the older game, your army was always divided into five divisions no matter how many troops you brought to the party, with each division receiving a pre-set proportion of the army. IIRC, division 2 was always cavalry, division 5 was always muskets, and division 1 was always the largest and was personally led by the Daimyo. Destroy it, and the battle was over.

I’m sure these limitations made it relatively easy to program the AI, and indeed it was almost impossible to achieve a truly crushing victory. There just wasn’t much you could do in terms of laying cunning plans, and whatever you could dream up, the AI almost always slipped out of it. After a while, the tactical experience acquired the staid formality of chess, combined with the constricted predictability of tic-tac-toe.

In Rise to Power, the battle experience is much more dynamic. The removal of the hex grid helps, as does the ability to customize the composition of your army by weapon type. But most importantly of all, the officer system (which the old game — unique among KOEI’s games of that category — did not use) makes constructing your army a supple and flexible process. You can only bring up to eight officers to a battle, and each officer constitutes a distinct tactical unit, so how many divisions you have and how many troops you have depends on how many officers you choose to bring and their rank. For instance, Lt. Generals can command up to 1200 troops, so if you can bring eight Lt. Generals and you have enough troops and food to fill out their units, your army will be 9600 troops (and that’s a respectable size, even later in the game).

The fact that you can customize your armies in Rise to Power also means that my tactical tips actually start with the pre-battle preparations.

Tactics Tips

  1. Not all Skillz are Mad or L33t.

Officer who make at least competent fighters generally have at least one Skill that they can use in a battle. This is a mechanic that I first saw KOEI use in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games. However, it seems that the only truly useful ones are Confuse (which can basically paralyze enemy officers, particularly those with low Intelligence), Rally (which brings the fatigue level of your troops back up to normal) and Calm (which instantly negates the effect of Confuse. Taunt seems to be mildly useful for getting an enemy officer to separate from the rest of the army, into a position where he can’t be supported. But the rest are only available to you when your army has already had some success and has raised morale; i.e., they won’t pull you out of a bad situation. Confuse can devastate an army full of low-Intelligence officers, and is one of the few ways that an outnumbered army can win.

  1. Don’t Sweat the Horses

In the old game, you had three troop types: infantry, cavalry and muskets. And to be honest, there wasn’t a huge difference between them; even your Division 1 — the Daimyo’s bodyguard — was just a very large and slightly better infantry unit.

In Rise to Power, this division of labor is preserved, although with added layers. Horses and muskets have to be produced. If you don’t have muskets, your missile troops use bows. Troop types also improve after you have reached certain benchmarks in terms of fiefs under your control. Your infantry are no longer spears after that point, but pikes (which are more effective at destroying fortifications). And your muskets become rifles, which have longer range and do not lose their effectiveness in wet weather.

In my experience, the most effective weapons are the pike and the musket. To capture a fief by force, you will ultimately have to destroy all of the enemy commander’s troops (muskets seem to be the most efficient killers of troops) or capture the main keep, which will involve busting through several layers of fortification (pikes are the best at that). Cavalry, I regret to say, doesn’t seem to be useful except in a few specific situations. If the enemy chooses to meet you in a field battle rather than defending his castle, then they can rush to the defense of your strongpoints, or work around the flank of an enemy unit to surround it and make it easier to destroy. But they’re kind of fragile and they don’t work very well against fortifications, and because of that they have to be managed closely. In other words, there will be no reversing the verdict of Nagashino in this game.

  1. Build Your Army Wisely

In my previous post, I commented on the importance of employing your officers properly. When building an army, you should also have a mix of missile troops and infantry. Missile troops are very vulnerable to melee attacks, and so you will need infantry to screen them, as well as for breaking down fortifications. I prefer a ratio of roughly 1-to-3 missiles-to-infantry if I anticipate that the enemy will defend at the castle rather than meet me in the field.

The officer you put at the left end of the display when you assemble your army becomes your commander, and it’s best to make him the highest-ranking officer in the army. You don’t want a leader whose troops can be wiped out quickly, since you will automatically lose the battle at that point.

You should strive for at least a 3-2 numerical advantage over the enemy.

  1. Get There the Fastest With the Mostest

In terms of fighting the tactical battles, the wisdom of Nathan Bedford Forrest is the best advice I can give: Get there “the fastest with the mostest.” In other words, concentrate force. Focus on destroying part of your enemy’s army by swamping it; then move on to another part, and so on. You’ll find yourself inflicting more casualties than you take, and with an ever-increasing numerical advantage. A unit that is completely destroyed can’t be reconstituted by running into a fortification and recovering; that officer and those troops are gone from the battle entirely.

This approach is all the more useful because in Rise to Power — unlike Rome: Total War and Medieval: Total War — when you give your entire army a single command to move, your units won’t move in line abreast, they will move in a column or cluster. Your army will work best as a tight swarm. Don’t spread out your troops; always make sure that your units are in a position to support one another. Isolated units will die quickly.

  1. A Siege Requires Patience

The heart of the tactical battle experience in Rise to Power is taking down an enemy-owned castle. That’s how you capture a fief, which means that you’ll have to do it over and over again to win. The castles in Rise to Power strengthen as the game goes on, which means that their features have more strength points and are harder to break through. Most of them are also designed to make you run gauntlets of missile fire before you can get to that gate you need to break down; think of the castle battle scenes in Ran and you get the idea. Add in the harassment to which the garrison can subject you, and a siege can be a daunting prospect.

Until you’ve been through the wringer a couple of times, it’s easy to panic and think that you have to do the thing in a single rush, since the tactical battles have a time limit. But in fact, you will almost always have time to pull back to your lodge to let your army rest and recover some of the troops that you lost in the first assault. You should also consider attacking a castle tower after you’ve breached the first gate, to get yourself a rallying point closer to your main objective than the lodge.

At the Easy difficulty level, the AI may actually make things easier on you. If you have less than a 3-2 advantage in troops, the garrison will probably sortie at some point, approaching you in a loose column and attacking you willy-nilly. When this happens, keep hint #4 in mind: Keep your army in a tight swarm, attack the lead enemy unit, and when you have destroyed it, move on the next. You will probably be able to wipe out most of the defending force this way. Pull back to your lodge to recover, and you will be able to move on the castle with a much greater numerical advantage.

At the Normal difficulty level, the garrison still sorties, but not until you get much closer to the castle, at which point it can fight you under the umbrella of missile fire from the castle’s towers, and with a much shorter retreat when it needs to pull back and recover. But if you play it smart, you can still inflict a lot of casualties on them.


All that being said, how did I actually enjoy playing Rise to Power? Would it have been worth it even if I had had to sacrifice a kidney or two instead of $30 to get my hands on a copy?

Well, I was not disappointed. Yes, it takes even longer to play than the old game, because the map is effectively twice as large and the gameplay is more complicated. But the officer system works beautifully well in this game, and the leveling-up elements are a fun touch. And let’s face it, if you’re a deep-strategy gamer, you’re always willing to pay a certain price for that. The bottom line is that if you have a PS2 and you enjoy deep strategy, Rise to Power is about as good as it gets.

I’ve read reviews that complained about the complexity of the interface, but I found it reasonably intuitive and tolerable at worst. Again, maybe that just comes with being a strategy gamer. I found navigating the strategic map to be a bigger issue, mainly because it involves mapping a right-left, up-down control scheme onto a map of Japan in which moving from point to point involves no right angles at all.

I would certainly have preferred turn-based tactical battles — perhaps something like KOEI’s Dynasty Tactics system, which would have made the battles easier to control while retaining the flair and color of the setting. But I’ll admit that could be my eternal distaste for real-time strategy showing.

The localization is smooth and solid, with very few grammatical or even typographical issues. Sure, some of the dialogue reads a little hokey. But if you’re going to play a Japanese video game about the Sengoku Jidai, well, you really have no business complaining about that sort of thing. It comes with the territory. I did find it odd, in a weirdly circumspect sort of way, that Mitsuhide Akechi’s assassination of Nobunaga is referred to over and over as “the Honnoji Incident,” but I assume that that is a pretty direct translation from the Japanese.

That tidbit leads me to what (for me, anyway) is really the most important aspect of Rise to Power: After all these years, Kou Shibusawa is still into it. The level of detail is such that the game still feels like a labor of love. It’s one thing to introduce the officer system into the game; it’s quite another to fill it with real historical figures and to give each one a distinct portrait and a potted biography (100-200 words in English). Given that the campaign game can run from 1550-1700, the database must include hundreds of them, most of them relatively obscure. That’s a serious load of research, and it’s the sort of thing that’s not absolutely necessary to make a marketable game. But once you experience it, you need it.

KOEI followed Rise to Power in fairly short order with another Nobunaga’s Ambition game for PS2, Iron Triangle. It came out in January, but from reading the product description I can’t quite figure out how it differs materially from Rise to Power. Want me to find out? Well, go to the home page of this blog and check out the widget with Amazon Wish List.  Iron Triangle is on it. Buy me a copy, and I’ll play it and blog about it.