We've already taken a look at the tactics-style gameplay and use of historical figures in our coverage of Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition on the Nintendo DS. But when it comes down to it, was Poké-fying the world of feudal Japan a bold new step for the future of Pokémon, or would Nintendo have been better off sticking to its standard Pokémon formula?
Good — A Natural Fit For a Strategy Game
Pokémon has had numerous spin-offs over the years involving everything from photography to pet-rearing, yet few have worked as well as this one. With such a variety of skills and monster types, Pokémon finds itself well suited to the world of turn-based strategy RPGs. Like in the regular series, knowing the weaknesses of enemy Pokémon is the surest way to achieve victory, though there's more to battle than just that.
Good — The Landscape Is Your True Foe
The most interesting addition to the standard strategy RPG elements is the dynamic arenas in which you battle. A lava-filled map may be easily traversable for fire-types (and flying types of course), but all other Pokémon will be forced to move along specific safe paths. Other maps include switches which can change the layout of the level or extra objects—like balls—that can be used as weapons against your opponent. Many stages also have traps and warp holes to add yet another layer to the already well-designed levels.
Mixed — Simple for a Tactics Game
Yet despite the Pokémon element system and the dynamic battle stages, the gameplay of Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition is quite simple—especially for a tactics game. Each Pokémon is only capable of performing one attack, with items and trainer commands only useable once per battle. In fact, the only way for a Pokémon to learn a new attack is for it to evolve, which happens via item—or automatically if you use them enough.
On the positive side, this makes the game easy to pick up for children and those new to the strategy RPG genre. But on the negative side, veteran players of the "tactics" genre will find none of the complexity found in games like Disgaea or even Final Fantasy Tactics.
Mixed — Combining Worlds
While combining Pokémon with feudal Japan is an admittedly awesome idea, little is done with it. The story is as simple as you and your allies conquering the South while Nobunaga does the same in the North and the dialogue is little more than pre-fight posturing. There's really no compelling reason for a crossover with the Nobunaga's Ambition series. This same basic game could easily take place in the modern Pokémon world, or in that world's past for that matter.
And on a side note, only 200 of the 649 Pokémon are present in Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition, leaving a large majority absent from this adventure.
Bad — It Should Never Be Hard To Interact With a Game
By far the worst thing about Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition is its dated, clunky interface. Outside of battle, up to six of your characters and Pokémon can be stored in each one of your castles. But is entering battle as simple as clicking on the enemy castle and choosing your party? You can only wish. Instead you must transfer your chosen party into the castle adjacent to the place you want to attack. To swap two characters between castles is a process that takes no less than ten taps of the screen. It's like the game takes pleasure in being needlessly obtuse.
In-battle actions suffer from a different interface problem. While the game does allow you camera control, you are unable to zoom out far enough to see an enemy's complete movement range. Without this basic information, planning your own moves becomes needlessly more difficult.
Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition is a decent foray into the strategy RPG world. The artistic style is top notch, while the dynamic arenas make each and every battle enjoyable. And even though the game itself is a tad on the simple side—and the interface is more than a little unfriendly—there is far more good than bad in this title. It really is a great first step in a whole new direction for Pokémon titles.