Nobunaga's Ambition: Iron Triangle Review
Some of you pessimists out there will say Koei is stuck in a rut that stretches back to the previous generation. There’s a seemingly endless stream of action/strategy titles that always use a similar feudal Japan setting, and it’s a premise that the Western gaming crowd has never quite embraced. They started to with the original Dynasty Warriors, but that was over eight years ago and…well, things appear to be old and stale. On the other hand, there’s a select group of fans who enjoy Koei’s continued efforts, and provided you have a meticulous nature (if you’re a Koei follower, you probably do), Nobunaga’s Ambition: Iron Triangle is for you. But as usual, this one is specifically designed for the hardcore aficionados out there; if you’ve never before indulged in such an experience, you may want to pass. There’s a whole lot of depth, not a lot of flash, and enough classic strategy involvement to keep you occupied until kingdom come. If this is your bag, pay attention.
The graphics are like a double-edged sword: one can easily point to the drawbacks of using one visual engine for so long, but at the same time, we have to realize it’s designed for an old console. In all actuality, the graphics have stood up quite well over the years and we don’t need much more for this type of game, where the intricate gameplay is the primary focus. Still, the predominating browns, greens and grays always leaves us feeling a little down; it’s just a very drab atmosphere and even the battles aren’t quite as vivid and colorful as they should’ve been. There’s something to be said for a depressing war-torn landscape, but Koei is really pushing it with Iron Triangle. On the good side, there’s always plenty of little details that the PS2 must be straining to produce, and the CGI cut-scenes – which you really only get a healthy dose of in the introductory sequence – are quite impressive. It’s your standard strategy fare, really, and if you’re familiar with the visual atmosphere, you won’t be surprised in the least. We’re just hoping Koei has an upgrade in store for us soon…
The sound is a definite bright spot in the game. The classical soundtrack is excellent; it’s professionally orchestrated and implemented as it’s never in your face, and it rarely takes a backseat to the action on screen. It simply acts as a solid accoutrement, one that enhances the experiences and allows the player to immerse himself in a historically accurate world of complexity. The sound effects aren’t quite as sharp, and although they serve their purpose well enough – especially during epic clan encounters – they often seem a little muddy. In this way, they fit right in with the visuals. Overall, though, much of what you hear in this newest Nobunaga’s Ambition title is clear and appreciated, and perhaps best of all, you won’t be bombarded with atrocious voice acting. So while the clash of weapons and the construction of various facilities aren’t anything special, the music carries the day, and that’s a big bonus. It gets a little repetitive in some places but there’s no denying its inherent quality and appeal.
As we indicated earlier, if you’re of a certain strategic persuasion and you’ve often lost yourself amidst the trials and tribulations of controlling virtual armies in the past, than this game has plenty to offer. Right from the start, you’ll be asked to choose between three different game modes: Unification, Local, and Challenge. Each provides the player with new scenarios and situations, so you may want to try all three. At the core of each lies an appropriately deep strategy mechanic that has you preparing a tactical plan for your countrymen. You will have to build, research, train, harvest, and control your soldiers and officers, and this is going to take gold, food and of course, the loyalty of your followers. You can even try to entice other officers to your side if you wish, and there are always multiple ways to tackle your objectives, which can range widely depending on the selected mode. The only problem we have with this whole arrangement is that despite the variety, it always feels as if we’re going through the same processes in order to achieve victory.
It really falls to the player to experiment. If you wish to do this, you could sit there for hours, analyzing the current battle plan and poring over the map, considering your position and issuing orders. When you first begin, you will view the different locales on the map and their Relation to you; they’re categorized as Alliance, Truce, Coalition and Target. It’s typically a good idea to put together a few friendly clans before attacking any particular target, so checking the map is – obviously – invaluable. You can also check the current Technology of the clan you selected, and you can view its proficiency in Infantry, Cavalry, Bow, Musket, Siege, Naval, Civil, and Engineering. To boost the usefulness of these gauges, you can always get a report that tells you the strengths and weaknesses of the clan in question; this will let you get the inside scoop. As for the clan itself, you’ll need Gold and Food as basic necessities, and of course, Troops and Officers. There’s also a Fame indicator, which will come in handy at a later time. But perhaps the most interesting part is the gameplay settings…
Not only can you select the difficulty, but you can also choose to alter the Lifespan and Battle Deaths of the officers on the field. You can either make it historically accurate or go for something a little less taxing, and you can even opt to include realistic Historical Events in the playing out of the missions. Also, one of the more appealing aspects of the game is the ability to create your own officers, which you can then input into real game scenarios. As for the core gameplay, you won’t be surprised with what you see: you’ll have the standard options of City, Personnel, Military, Strategy, Diplomacy, Review, and Province, and you can fiddle with each ‘til your heart’s content. Building and maintaining is step #1 but before long, you’ll be involved in pitched skirmishes and even all-out wars between multiple clans. As usual, we’d like to complain that the pacing of each mission seems a little slow, but in reality, we’re probably too used to the slam-bang action of next-gen titles. Our guess is that most strategy fans won’t have an issue with the speed of the gameplay.
Maybe the only significant problem is that despite all this depth, it’s really just more of the same. There are a few interesting upgrades and enhancements but there’s nothing all that significant, and for the most part, it just feels as if we’ve played this before. Those who wish to delve deep and locate all the small updates are perfectly free to do so, but when one steps back and examines the entire picture, one has difficulty finding anything fresh. On the plus side, there’s just so much to do, you likely won’t sit there going, “geez, I wish they had added ‘insert feature name here’.” That really won’t happen and unless this is the type of game that completely turns you off, you’ll quickly become absorbed in the strategy of Iron Triangle. We just wish Koei would try a little something new one of these days; step out of the PS2 generation and create something special for the PS3. These guys have proven they know how to make a great strategy title – remember the original Kessen? – so all they have to do now is update.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Iron Triangle is, quite simply, for the loyal fans. Anybody else won’t get much entertainment out of it, but for that niche audience, they’re likely going to enjoy the experience, provided they don’t mind doing more of the same.
3/17/2009 Ben Dutka