When a title is first announced and described as a cross between Tactics Ogre and Dark Souls, you instantly take notice. Such was the case with Natural Doctrine, the debut release from Kadokawa Games. With talent that worked on titles such as Patapon, Fate/Zero and the anime series Ruroni Kenshin lending their assistance, there has been plenty to get excited about. And, the lack of RPGs currently available on the PlayStation 4 at the moment has also only raised expectations for the title.
If you have ever played a turn-based RPG before, then you probably have a basic grasp of how Natural Doctrine plays. You move your party through a variety of dungeons in search of enemies to kill, as well as Pluton, which is what everyone is searching for in these caverns to begin with. When confronted with a threat, each group takes turns plotting their moves and executing attacks or using items. What separates this from other titles in the genre, though, is the unique link system.
While other games in the genre want you to gang up on a group of enemies, Natural Doctrine specifically gives out bonuses for chaining attacks. Thus is the idea of the linking system, which emphasizes careful planning and patience rather than a quick trigger finger. Well, as quick of a trigger finger you can have in a strategy game, I suppose. Learning how to successfully chain together a group of attacks is necessary for survival, as not only will you dole out more damage through it, but your enemies are also able to take advantage of it. One false move could easily lead to a brutal death.
Unfortunately, Kadokawa Games is less than successful in this regard, as the tutorial for the game is lacking and moves too fast for a game as complex as this one. Important actions like learning how to properly guard unprotected allies and making sure someone who opens a door isn’t killed immediately by what’s behind said door are quickly glossed over.
The lack of a proper or full tutorial is just one of the many, many reasons this game is such a pain in the ass to play through. Now, before I really get into it, let me just say that I hate ragging on a game because it is difficult. I get that some people are attracted to games with higher difficulties, and I don’t want this criticism to sound like I’m just complaining that I’m terrible. With that said, let it be known that I think that Natural Doctrine is difficult to the point of game-ruining.
If the title was just regularly difficult, like say, Dark Souls or XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I wouldn’t really have a problem with it. Those games are difficult, but not in the unfair and cheap way that this one is. You see, while most strategy titles (and really most games in general) allow you to experiment with how you want to solve a mission, Kadokawa Games wants you to complete each mission in the way they want you to. Take one wrong step off the “correct” path and you will soon find yourself being bludgeoned to death by a gaggle of orcs who have linked all of their attacks together. And you can look forward to repeating this over and over again until you eventually figure out the exact way to get by it. I’m all for being patient and waiting to figure out when to exactly launch an attack, but after getting stuck in an unbreakable chain of attacks for the 50th time, I have to draw the line somewhere. Frankly put, the game doesn’t play fair and is nowhere near enjoyable enough to make it worth suffering through.
As if its brutal and cheap difficulty wasn’t a turn off already, the glacial pace at which the game moves killed the rest of my hope for it. Even the smallest of dungeons can quickly turn into 30+ minute slogs, as you slowly watch your team execute moves, then watch the enemy do the same thing. By the time I reached sections of the game that featured larger groups of foes, I was pretty confident I could fit in a good nap while I waited for the computer to finish up their turn. Even worse are the sections that require you to escape a dungeon, as each movement takes up one turn. There could be no enemies around at all and these sections would still take too long to get through.
It’s a shame that the gameplay is such a turn off, because I actually enjoyed the plot of Natural Doctrine when I got a chance to advance it. Although there is a decent cast of playable characters, the main character is Geoff, a young mercenary. At the beginning of the game, he is allied with Vasilia, a young soldier, Zeke, his mentor, and Anka, a sharpshooter who is adept at searching for Pluton. The group is trying to collect enough Pluton in order to gain access to the fortress city of Feste, which is one of the last remaining human cities. The tale is intriguing enough, and it features one of the more brutal twists that I have seen in recent years.
Graphically, the game is kind of a mixed bag, as the character models looked decent, but everything else was a little rough. The dungeons are bland and drab, while the enemy designs are more generic than not. The sound work is equally mixed, as I enjoyed the score of the game, but the voice acting could have been improved. It doesn’t help that the same soundbites are repeated over and over again during battle.
When Natural Doctrine was first announced, I was always under the impression that it would be difficult. However, there’s a difference between being difficult and being annoyingly difficult. Unfortunately, this title falls more on the latter side, as it is just too annoying and cheap to be worth playing through. Still, even though I was not a fan of the game, I expect it to go down as a quasi-cult hit, as there are certainly enough masochists out there who are willing to brave its brutal dungeons in order to get their fix. The rest of us will just have to keep looking for the next great RPG to sink our teeth into.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Although mechanically sound, Natural Doctrine is too unfairly difficult and slow-paced to be worth recommending to anyone but the most hardcore gamers.