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Platform: PlayStation 2 Publisher: Koei
Genre: Multiplayer Online RPG Developer: Koei
Format: DVD-ROM Expected Release: Q3 2003 Japan

Preview First-Look
04/17/03
Mark P. Tjan
Mark P. Tjan

The ancient tradition of the Japanese samurai finally plugs into the modern age with nothing less than what looks to be another Koei classic: Nobunaga's Ambition Online. Fans of Koei's historical simulations, prepare to plunge into 16th century Japan in a time of war and torment; when the nation was torn between a great many leaders and warlords. While it was unexpected that Koei would produce an MMORPG, sure enough, that's what Nobunaga's Ambition Online seems to be all about, virtual bushido.

Nobunaga’s Ambition Online is set in 16th century Japan, during a time that the Japanese call the "Sengoku Jidai": The Age of War. It is often referred to as one of the worst periods of Japan's history, as many warlords fought against each other, often catching noncombatant citizenry between them. Among these was Iyasu Tokugawa, who would later unite Japan, and Oda Nobunaga, a maniacal tyrant with dreams of conquest. With this history lesson in mind, let's look at the premise of Nobunaga’s Ambition Online. Players will be able to choose from one of seven prescribed classes, customize their character, choose an allegiance and hook up with friends to go on war campaigns in hopes of conquering Japan.

The world of Nobunaga’s Ambition Online is massive, spanning 21 provinces to explore with a wide variety of environments. From formidable feudal fortresses to sprawling plains turned into battlefields, the sheer size is impressive. While many MMORPGs already feature diverse landscapes, real-time communication and character customization, what makes Nobunaga’s Ambition Online different from the next Ultima Online or EverQuest-clone? Strategy! Koei has always been known for including an insane amount of micro-management in its games. Even Dynasty Warriors, Koei’s acclaimed historical-action series, had a fair share of strategy and they don't appear to be pulling up their roots for Nobunaga’s Ambition Online. Reportedly, what a player’s character does in terms of fighting, negotiating, trading, etc. will have an impact on the game world. Koei has designed Nobunaga’s Ambition Online so that every decision the player makes will affect their aligned faction economically, militarily or politically.

In Nobunaga’s Ambition Online, Koei hopes to make players feel like there is a living world around them and has spent a great amount of effort on the game's social structure. Alliances, in particular, are said to play a significant role in how gamers will experience their adventure. Forging friendships with other players and joining guilds appear to be an integral aspect of gameplay, instead of the casual hunting parties found in other MMORPGs. Guilds will gain abilities as they grow in membership, earning skills related to battle as well as political and civilian affairs. With these abilities, groups can influence control over Japan by forming enormous armies in order to shift the balance of power. As territorial warfare has always had a tangible effect in the real world, they will have the same effect in this virtual 16th century Japan. Nobunaga’s Ambition Online promises to provide players with an immersive and ever-changing environment with an impressive attention to detail. This appears to be a refreshing change from the constant repetition of many other MMORPGs.

From the limited screenshots and video clips available, the graphics are similar to those in "Way of the Samurai", another pseudo-historical game. While not possessed of an altogether vibrant color pallet, the game's textures are natural and realistic in their tones. The physical structures of this world are very organic and solid. The character models are realistic without appearing overly grotesque. In addition, character customization will feature a variety of facial compositions, stature attributes and clothing textures, much akin to Sega’s Phantasy Star Online. However, at this time, there is insufficient information about just how deep character customization extends.

Koei describes combat in Nobunaga’s Ambition Online as 'cinematic real-time', and in theory, the strategies that can be drafted in this system are limitless. Similar to the Active-Time-Battle (ATB) system used by many Square Soft titles, Nobunaga’s Ambition Online will stresses the importance of coordination with fellow players, positioning, equipment and so forth. Players expecting the hack-and-cast adventuring of typical MMORPGs may be surprised at what Koei has created. While very little information is available on the intricacies of this battle system, knowing Koei's penchant for micro-management, players can expect a moderate amount of combat depth.

Overall, Nobunaga's Ambition Online appears to be a very ambitious project that will hopefully live up to the premise. The game has been scheduled for a late spring/early summer release in Japan on Sony’s PlayStation 2. Sadly, a domestic release has not been announced.



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