Cynopsis: Natural Doctrine (PS3)

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It’s not often that I’ll finish a game and
still be conflicted on how I feel about it. Natural Doctrine was one such title. Developed
by Kadokawa Games and published in the west by NIS America, Natural Doctrine is a Tactical
RPG for the Playstation 3, 4 and Vita. I’ll say this now, if you’re not a fan of the genre,
this game won’t change your mind. Natural Doctrine is targeted towards the hardcore
fans. You play as Geoff, Hired by a woman named
Anka to help explore Goblin mines for a resource known as Pluton. This rare material is what
provides the world with its magic. The last remaining human city, Feste, requires explorers
to obtain Pluton in order to continue the city’s progression. During an expedition the group runs into a new species, the Gorians. The game quickly
becomes a battle of survival against this new threat. While the story isn’t exactly what I would
call bad, it just seems to only exist to move you from one location to another. There are
plenty of cliches to go through, but the characters overall aren’t too bad. Everything just feels
underdeveloped. You’ll often wonder if you’ve missed something or if the game just didn’t
bother to properly explain what’s going on. You won’t play Natural Doctrine for an interesting
plot or exciting side quests. Instead, the game lives or dies by it’s combat system. Looking at a battle screen for the first time
can be a bit overwhelming. The screen is cluttered with information and there are lines going
all over the place. Natural Doctrine has a bit of a learning curve, though it’s not as
impenetrable as it may seem at first. At the top of the screen is the battles turn
order. Once it’s your characters turn you have free movement within the areas outlined
in blue. Each area can only contain 4 characters at a time, though some larger units count
as two or even four units. Any area controlled by the enemy has a red outline and cannot
be moved through. This rule applies to you and the enemy, so it’s important to position
allies with shields in the front and ranged characters a space behind them. Here’s where things get interesting. Every
action a character can take after moving has the ability to Link with other characters.
For example, if you choose to use the guard ability, any character in an adjacent area
will be allowed to take an extra turn instantly. If you decide to attack instead of guard then
anyone who is in range of your target will be allowed to take their turn as well. Every
action has a Link requirement, it’s important to learn them all and position your units
correctly. It’s important to keep in mind that the enemy
plays by the same rules you do. If one enemy unit decides to attack, it’ll cause a chain
reaction with the others to attack as well. This can become overwhelming and lead to a
quick death of a character. This is where a lot of the games difficulty comes from,
if any character falls in battle it is game over. Luckily, Natural Doctrine does have
a checkpoint system in battle so you don’t always have to start over. One rule the enemy doesn’t play by however
is the magic system. As you win battles and clear out Goblin Mines you’ll obtain Pluton,
what is essentially your groups mana reserve. While you have a limited amount to work with
that carries across all of your battles, the enemy can use as much as they want. Over the
course of playing the game I tried to use as little as possible, making some of the
encounters way harder than they should have been. By the end of the game I had way more
Pluton than I could actually use. While I’m not saying to use all of your special abilities
every turn, don’t feel too restricted. If you ever feel like you need more to progress
you can always go back and clear another goblin mine to obtain more. Here’s a scenario. You have Geoff in the front
lines with his shield up, ready to take the enemies assault. After the first hit, he becomes
staggered, meaning every hit will now connect, ensuring his death. Is your first thought
“This is unfair” or is it “Next time I will use some Pluton to cast Tranquility, making
Geoff immune to Stagger.”? If you think this is unfair then you’re probably going to have
a bad time with Natural Doctrine. Setting up a perfect defense is all too important
in being successful. One wrong move will ensure the death of a party member. Because of this
I found any melee unit without the ability to block was useless. If they attack and kill
a unit, they automatically move into the enemies area to claim it. The next turn they would
just be targeted and killed. You would have to ensure the next move is yours so that you
could then move them back behind your defensive line. In some ways you could say that combat is
more of a puzzle, with only one solution to a victory. This isn’t always true however.
One fight against a minotaur requires the group to retreat as they battle him. This
is because large units will steal a turn from you if any of your allies are next to him
when their turn ends. My solution was to back the golem unit against a wall in a defensive
stance, casting Steel Protection, a defensive buff on it. Any unit that had a gun would
be in a position to provide cover fire. With my units being equipped with rings that increased
their chance to stagger an enemy, the Minotaur would receive his extra turns, but would become
staggered for most of them. There are creative ways to get out of seemingly impossible situations,
you just need to think about it before you get frustrated. One of the better features in Natural Doctrine
is the ability to redistribute any skill points your units acquire. Instead of having Geoff
use his sword and shield for the Minotaur fight I spent his skill points increasing
his ability to wield guns. As soon as the fight was over, I could change him back at
no cost. I could even make Zeke, my most underused character, somewhat useful. I’d give him as
many buffing abilities as I could that would Link with the other members, giving them extra
turns. This opens up a lot of new ways to tackle any challenge the game throws at you. You can of course equip a few items onto your
characters. You can change their weapons and up to two ring slots. There are no shops to
buy anything though, You’ll need to open treasure chests in the areas you explore to find them.
All of the Goblin Caves can be revisited for loot, just be careful how deep you go depending
on your level. Natural Doctrine is quick to punish you for stepping where you don’t belong
yet. While I never got to try it out, the game
does have Online Multiplayer, both co-op and competitive. You build a deck of cards, each
being a unit from the single-player game. You obtain Card Points, or CP, for logging
in each day and playing matches to spend on improving your deck. There are various scenarios
and objectives to attempt with, or against a friend. It’s a nice addition to the game,
though there don’t appear to be many playing it. It does support cross-platform play between
the PS3, PS4 and Vita, however that makes the current online player count even more
worrisome. While I cannot recommend Natural Doctrine
to everyone, I feel it does have merit for fans of the genre. Some odd design decisions
such as having to move your units to an exit before you can leave the battle slows the
game down, and hearing the same voice samples over and over can be annoying. I will say
that the difficulty takes a rather large spike at the end of the game. There are multiple
difficulty settings however if you feel things are becoming too much. The battle system can
be wonderful, it’s just a shame everything surrounding it is mediocre at best. If you’re
a fan of the genre, give Natural Doctrine a shot, maybe when it’s on sale. For anyone
else looking to get into the genre, I would look elsewhere.

 

4 Responses

  1. Nickolas Hylton

    November 8, 2014 12:04 am

    I love your reviews they're really detailed makes me know if a game is worth my money or not,keep up the good work.

    Reply
  2. ColdMetalz

    August 5, 2015 3:05 pm

    Hmmm.. Combat looks fun tbh.. But still can't fackn decide. Story sounds meh, music sounds meh, voice acting was meh. Like you said everything outside of the combat just looks average.  A sale would make this decision much easier.  I just really need a new strategy/turn based rpg until D5 comes out this winter.

    Aside from this are there any other PS4/Vita/PS Now games you would could reccommend me besides the obvious tactics ogre, lions, etc?

    Reply
  3. RedDrakePL - Retro Future Zone

    January 7, 2016 5:20 pm

    I have question for you. But First. I very like Strategy jRpg, I have Disgaea 3,4 and D2, Tears to Tiara 2, Valkyria Chronicles. My question is, Natural Doctrine is worth to buy? I saw many gameplays and you review, game for me looks nice. Should I buy? Or another game Strategy jRpg? My platform is PS3. Thanks for answer

    Reply

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