Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Screenshot 1 of 5

Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening is the sixteenth entry in the venerable strategy franchise (which celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year) from Koei and its most accessible yet. While still convoluted compared to even another strategy title of this scale, the love and dedication to Japan’s iconic Sengoku era and the larger-than-life personalities that populate it shine through.

The game is played on a massive and detailed map of Japan, with historical start points ranging from 1545 to 1614. This was a time of chaotic civil war in Japan’s history (known as Sengoku Jidai, or 'Warring States Period') making it the perfect setting for a grand strategy game. Players are free to choose any of the dozens of historical samurai daimyo (feudal lords) and write their own records. This includes legendary figures who remain famous five centuries later, such as Takeda Shingen, Date Masamune, Tokugawa Ieyasu (the eventual historical victor), and the first of Japan's great unifiers, The Demon King, Oda Nobunaga himself.

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What happens next is up to the player; the competent AI will suggest historical objectives which offer direction, or you can attempt to rewrite history, with the idea being to do what even Nobunaga failed to accomplish: to unite feudal Japan’s fractured warring factions under a single banner.

This is primarily accomplished through the application of brute force, with thousands of ashigaru troops locked in titanic engagements. Everything in Awakening revolves around the colourful characters of the age, who will serve as your officers, and there are more than 2,000 unique, historical personalities to lead your faceless footsoldiers into battle.

Japan is divided into dozens of regions, each riddled with roads and pathways over land and sea. It’s through these pathways your troops will march and where the majority of the action takes place. Flanking is incredibly powerful in Nobunaga’s Ambition, and in specific situations, military roads can be constructed to allow for unexpected avenues of attack.

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All of this happens in real time, although you are free to pause the action to give orders as needed. The control scheme on PS5 feels pretty good, but this is largely due to the fact that your officers will sort themselves out for the most part. Things can get a bit fiddly at times, and there is a decent learning curve, but after an hour or so, we were administering our lands with a keen eye and handing out dominions to our officers like chocolates to children.

Officers improve over time, earn honour and increase in rank, and have their own individual, oftentimes stunning character artwork, which is a hallmark of the series (and fertile ground for meme templates). They also have their own traits, which can activate in the right circumstances, adding a surprising amount of drama to the affair with their dramatic combat barks.

How many officers, and which, depends on your chosen clan, and tracking down and either employing, poaching, subjugating, or beheading the best samurai in Japan becomes a meta-game in itself. You want better officers because, as Daimyo, you can only administer your own domain and must pay for improvements within it. Developing the land will allow for the raising of more crops, increasing the population and thus more recruits, as well as trade and other factors.

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In classic feudal fashion, any other domains that happen to fall under your sway can be given to suitable henchmen, who will then develop the land as they see fit, and in turn, parcelling out pieces to their own minions. Not only will they pay for the privilege themselves (in turn increasing the overall power of your realm as a whole), your samurai retainers are honour bound to raise their own regiments in your name and answer any call to arms.

Engagements themselves are sprawling affairs that can stretch across the map or be funnelled into Japan’s many, many claustrophobic mountain passes. Each officer will lead their troops as a unit towards a prearranged target, capturing territory as they go, fighting any enemy units they encounter, and consuming valuable supplies all the while.

While series purists might baulk at the streamlining of systems and automation of mechanics, we found the game to be a smoother experience for it. Rather than needing to delegate every last detail, we were able to issue directives and focus on the action, leaving the busywork to the computer.

An aspect that might surprise some is the visual novel element, which is quite shocking in verbosity. This era has been romanticised for hundreds of years, and all the famous betrayals, victories, and friendships of the age are depicted in loving, long-form detail, pages and pages of text. As certain milestones are reached or dates passed, these events can pop up and affect the game in dramatic ways if you choose (such as a specific officer dying or switching sides). Players can ignore them or turn them off entirely if they desire, but we found the gorgeous vignettes a welcome reprieve from the constant map-gazing, and some of the real-world twists of the Sengoku Jidai are genuinely surprising.

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An engaging experience, Awakening isn't a perfect one, and its UI is a major offender. While informative, the amount of information presented can make it difficult to find specific details as your eyes glaze over the reams of text onscreen. Further, the camera feels uncomfortable, and controlling what would be a cursor on a PC with a DualSense feels inelegant, meaning you will spend more time pausing the action than you might expect.

Still, fans of samurai fiction will appreciate the attention to detail, and while it might not convert the mainstream masses, fans of historical grand-scale strategy games have another excellent time sink in Awakening.


Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening streamlines the many complex systems and mechanics that have built up over the series' 40-year history, refining the strategic experience that is more approachable and all the better for it. While UI elements and precise control issues can frustrate at times, Awakening is a wonderful sandbox for samurai enthusiasts to play in.