CGR Undertow – NATURAL DOCTRINE review for PlayStation 3


If I felt the urge to do so, I’d lowercase
the nearly random letters as indicated in the title screen. I don’t feel the urge
to do so. Instead, I’m going to continue to wrap my brain around what the hell Natural
Doctrine is: A tactical RPG, sure. A grim high-fantasy conflict, sure. An arcane analysis
of strategic min/maxing? Now that’s a bit more interesting. Natural Doctrine is the
step beyond Disgaea that Disgaea was beyond Fire Emblem… a salty wad of number-juggling,
excruciating decisions, and gameplay as dense as a loaf of turkey roll. It’s not so much
about how you attack, but who you attack, and how you can maximize your bonus attacks
from nearby allies. Actually, that tends to be the majority of the game. So I’m going to try to break this down,
because it’s kinda like the hypercube of TRPGs: Natural Doctrine uses a hybridized
grid-based and freeform combat system. If I felt the urge to do so, I’d bust out that
Lewis Black line, because that’ll take a second to digest. But no, there we are: You
move your units between squares of the terrain, and then within each square you have a number
of tactical concerns like cover and sight-lines. Not only that, but the bonuses you earn from
teaming up with allies for attacks are increased by the distance between the units that team
up, so sometimes you’re giving up some defensive advantage in the name of stronger or more
accurate attacks… and I’m not entirely sure how that’s supposed to work, but there’s
a lot of this game that’s rather inscrutable. A culture now stands that learned to harness
magic through the use of magical matter, which you might find in chests and is your MP. That’s
right, MP isn’t replenished; you’ve gotta find more or relegate your caster to the sidelines.
All in all, your story of a young knight and the fighters around him feels samey and done,
especially in this genre, and you’ll be giving all your consideration to the enemies
on the field, your own party, and how you can fiddle with them for maximum effect. It’s
all about pushing numbers, stat allocations, and equipment around, which is sometimes what
you’re looking for, sometimes not. This kind of myopic detail-oriented gameplay is
a fine mental exercise, but the narrative suffers grievously as a result. So I’d almost write the entire experience
off, until I hit… the multiplayer. That’s right, it’s a tactical RPG with multiplayer.
Straight-up, player-versus-player combat. When the main storyline gets you down, here’s
where you should go; buying packs of units, building a “deck” of combatants, juggling
size restriction issues… and then going toe-to-toe online against a similar opponent.
And in these small bouts, where it’s all about a manageable throwdown for personal
glory, the game improves greatly. The nuts and bolts are still decent: the music’s
appropriate but not really remarkable, the character models are detailed if a bit samey,
and the portrait art gives you the option of just how anime you want the game to be.
And I just used that as an adjective, which gives me pause, but it’s the truth. Unfortunately,
the multiplayer isn’t enough to bolster the whole experience, leaving Natural Doctrine
to the kind of players who tried to grind up their disc of Soul Nomad and the World
Eaters and take it intravenously. Speaking of, I wonder where mine is…


23 Responses

  1. Nick Redman

    November 25, 2014 12:14 am

    Thanks for holding off that Lewis Black line, you're a great reviewer but you really overuse that gag.

    That said, neat video, too bad the game is such a black box. Not sure if I'll pick it up – definitely goes on the bottom of my Vita wishlist.

  2. Redd Head

    November 25, 2014 1:21 am

    TJ lives sounds like a corny 1940s horror movie but he hasn't had a review in a while started to wonder if undertow was Derek only now

  3. J Sun

    January 7, 2015 5:34 am

    hmmm I'm playing Resonance of Fate right now and this gameplay kinda reminds me of the gameplay in Resonance.

  4. Vivi Orunitia

    January 25, 2015 5:22 pm

    The battle system is great once you understand that you need to reserve your units instead of using them all at once. You can win pretty much every battle without taking damage by doing that.

  5. Raiden Heaven

    February 21, 2015 4:34 pm

    This one is a hardcore game. And by hardcore I mean you need to understand all game mechanics in order to beat it. Natural Doctrine wants you dead. Forget anything you know form XCOM and Fire Emblem. You need to understand how Turns (Initiatives) and Rounds work, before you use your Links and become a sitting duck for the rest of the Round. If you play it right, you can clear a whole room with one or two Initiatives (Turns) without giving them any chance to attack or react.
    The story is a mix. You will hear a lot of interesting things… but you will not see much. Though, the Characters do feel real.
    It's a little rough gem. If only this game had a Random Generated Dungeon…

  6. Kindlesmith80

    May 5, 2015 1:00 am

    @CGRundertow min/maxing. Almost all rpgs are based around this. Number crunching. Getting the most out of the abilties you are capable of through combos or 'rotations', exploiting weaknesses, positioning and being equipped with specific gear. Some are more lenient than others. If you have issues with this, keep away from rpgs. Period.
    The game comes with all you need to know in the tutorials right off the bat as well as extra tips during loading screens. You have to be mighty dense to not understand basic english. Tutorials take you through the motions as well so as not to be just reading text.
    Narative is standard anime affair. Not this game's actual selling point. Then again, compairing it Final Fantasy 13, this game offers better characters.

  7. Cheezers Cameback

    August 28, 2015 9:14 pm

    This game is great if you give it the chance. Very original in terms of how you have to set up your strategy. I love how the computer will register your movements and set it's own strategy accordingly. I'm playing this on the vita and haven't tried any other version but my main issue is that some events that are suppose to happen just don't. This leaves the player with no choice but to get a game over screen and the feeling of being cheated.

  8. Robert Wagman

    March 5, 2016 5:22 pm

    Move and attack. That's how it goes. Magic is rare, Triangle or Fourangle attack with 3-4 character. That's it.

  9. jeremy forrest

    April 28, 2016 7:24 am

    This game is great. it's actually a challenge, unlike most strategy games. it doesn't look great, have a great story, or music, but the game play is there, and that's what matters. if you want to play a strategy game that holds your hand, and let's you walk through it, then this isn't for you. but if you want a challenge, be punished for every mistake, and get an actual feeling of accomplishment after a battle, then this is it. This is the strategy mans game.

  10. Kesateria Matahari

    March 11, 2018 1:29 pm

    It is great once you know what to do. The system is unfair – to you and to AI. It is up to you to to use chain combos and kill all the enemies in one turn.


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