Koei is nothing if not predictable. Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Nobunaga’s Ambition are continually updated and serve to entertain existing fans of the series and not many others. Nobunaga’s Ambition, as always, is a complicated, deep, and rewarding strategy game. Iron Triangle improves on its predecessor in a couple key ways: a new 3D map and a user-controllable camera. Adding these things to the tried-and-true formula of real-time combat combined with thoughtful turn-based strategy makes for a deep and satisfying historical strategy game. Nobunaga’s Ambition has always had a steep learning curve, and Iron Triangle is no different. Those who are already familiar with the series mechanics and those who are willing to read the manual and learn the game mechanics are in for a treat.
There are three game types in Iron Triangle: Unification, Local, and Challenge. Unification is far and away the largest of the three types (a couple of the unification scenarios can last as many as 50 hours). In unification you are charged with bringing all 60 territories on the map under your rule. Local mode is a miniature version of unification where your task is to unite all the territories in your little corner of the country, and challenge mode consists of you taking control of a clan and trying to fulfill a preset victory condition.
Controls are generally well-done, but Iron Triangle falls victim to the traditional console RTS downfall – no matter what a developer does an analog stick will never be a good replacement for a mouse. Setting up commands for armies, officers, and cities is intuitive, and that makes the sloppy mouse movements forgivable.
There is a lot to learn before really feeling like a proficient iron Triangle player. Should you spread rumors about one of your enemies? Or maybe you will raid an enemy army or steal one of their officers. You could also spend time recruiting additional troops and officers of your own. It’s also a viable move to build farms, train ninjas, research new technologies to upgrade your castles, and a staggering number of other options. Each option can be beneficial to your empire, and all the options can be overwhelming to the novice player. If you aren’t willing to read the manual you should definitely play through the tutorial – it is exceptionally well-done and serves as a great introduction to the game and its mechanics.
Iron Triangle’s graphics are adequate. Cities and roads are easily identifiable, and seasons change on the pseudo-3D world map. Character portraits are good, and menu text is easy to read. There is no denying, however, that this is a game made for a ten year old system. It will look fuzzy on your HDTV, and the tight gameplay will leave you wishing that Koei would finally bring the game to either the PS3 or the 360. The gameplay is great, and there is no reason that the graphics should be lagging behind due to PS2 exclusivity.
Replay value is through the roof. Players can choose to play as one of 1,000 or so premade characters or to make their own. Each character plays differently and the AI opponents act differently in each run through unification mode. With all of the scenarios available there are hundreds of hours of gameplay available in Iron Triangle. If you’re a strategy gamer then Nobunaga’a Ambition: Iron Triangle needs to be a part of your collection – even if it is exclusive to a last-gen system.
Pros: Deep and satisfying strategy experience, great challenge mode
Cons: Steep learning curve, fuzzy visuals
Plays Like: Civilization, Romance of the Three Kingdoms