Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The Sengoku period of Japanese history is as fascinating and dramatic as any soap opera. There was treachery, romance, and conflict in every corner of the nation; even historical accounts of the period read like a dramatised version of events. Few series let you dive into this fascinating period of Japanese history quite like Nobunaga's Ambition, with the latest entry, Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening, improving on what makes this turn-based strategy sim series so fun despite some hiccups with the Switch port.

Like many games from Kou Shibusawa, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening allows you to explore and alter history in interesting ways. First, you pick one of several scenarios, which represent crucial points in Nobunaga’s quest to unite Japan. However, these are just starting points for you; you’re free to pick another daimyo, each starting in a different part of the map and with different abilities to guide them to absolute victory.

There is plenty of depth to the gameplay. Each new region you conquer needs a new governor, who will largely run the region for you. As daimyo, you get to choose which policies to set across your domain and what buildings to focus on. The key resources are soldiers, gold, and food production, all of which become vital as you try to grow your empire. The minute details are left to the local lords under your sway.

Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

However, the tutorial brushes over key parts of the gameplay. It never explains key points such as what officials’ stats mean and how they affect their ability to govern. You’ll need to learn on your own how to marry into alliances and how other diplomatic tactics play out. These aspects may well be old hat to series veterans and the last thing you want is for a neverending tutorial to explain every system in painstaking detail, but skirting these early fundamentals makes Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening difficult to recommend for players new to the historical strategy genre. The default difficulty setting for the game is Easy, which should tell you something about what to expect. Even on Easy mode, there's plenty of challenge here.

Part of that challenge comes from how the game treats its historical events. Though they’ve been turned into dramatic caricatures, these are still real people from history. Players can find themselves in a tight spot because their daimyo’s ambitious son launched a successful coup in a specific year and sends the rest of the clan into chaos as a result. It is remarkably easy to have a few bad years spiral until you suddenly find yourself surrounded by powerful foes on either side with no path to victory.

As unfair as some of these events can feel, they are also a big part of Nobunaga’s Ambition's charm. During this tumultuous period, there is seldom a season where something of historical significance doesn’t happen. These events play out like a visual novel, giving you some insight into the people at the heart of Japan in the late 16th century. Occasionally, these moments will play out because you fulfilled certain requirements, such as when we led the Oda clan to conquer Inabayama Castle and were treated to a scene of Nobunaga renaming the landmark. These vignettes are entirely optional but are easily the most refreshing moments the game offers.

Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The controls in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening aren’t optimised brilliantly for Switch. Moving between menus is cumbersome and battles are nearly incomprehensible messes thanks to the awkward way that you are expected to zoom in and out. While we eventually got used to needing to hit around four different buttons just to dismiss one of our armies, it made the early hours feel slower and certainly detracted from our enjoyment of the game. It feels like every feature from the PC version is here, but finding it can be a chore.

The worst offender of these control issues is the battles. These sequences offer you the chance to lead individual armies to take on a castle or a famous battleground in Japan. While the tutorial suggests that you use strategy to manoeuvre your troops into position before striking, we felt it required precise control that wasn’t available from the Joy-Con. Because there are so many units and so many terrain features to contend with, the battles can devolve into chaotic confusion. You’re often better off simply waiting until you can overwhelm your enemy with numbers rather than trying any truly clever strategies in the Switch version of this game.

Another area where the game falls short of its own ambitions is its visuals. Some of these shortcomings are simply annoying, such as the text being frustratingly small in handheld mode. However, when the camera zooms in on the victorious troops at the end of a battle, you can see how dated and simple the graphics are. In wanting to achieve a sense of scale in these battles, the developers clearly had to sacrifice some of the detail of these models. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it's noticeable.

Nobunaga's Ambition: Awakening Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Ultimately, despite its issues, this is still a charming and challenging title that doesn’t hold back when it comes to challenging players. Rich and deep, there is near-infinite replayability here between the different clans and the multiple scenarios and the gameplay loop feeds into the 'one more day' instinct that makes the best entries in the strategy genre so addictive and dangerous. It is incredibly easy to find yourself at 2am, wondering how you managed to let the Hojo clan expand unchecked across the region and desperately trying to find a way to tip the scales back in your own favour.


Despite the graphical issues and the most bare-bones of tutorials you’ll find in a historical simulation sandbox, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening offers plenty of great moments. We loved the historical vignettes that played out as events unfolded and certain conditions were unlocked. Even on Easy mode, the game will make you surrender and start over multiple times before you can achieve Nobunaga’s dream of a united Japan. The Switch version is far from perfect, but if you're willing to work with it, there's a rich, deep, addictive strategy sim to get lost in here.