Natural Doctrine (PlayStation 4) Review

By Albert Lichi 06.01.2015

Review for Natural Doctrine on PlayStation 4

Back in the late '90s, strategy or tactical RPGs were all the rage. On the original PlayStation alone there were hits like Final Fantasy Tactics, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, Vandal Hearts and Tactics Ogre - games that introduced the more methodical and placement conscious aspects of battle. Later generations had games like XCOM, Fallout 2, the Disgaea franchise, and Nintendo's long enduring Fire Emblem series, the genre never truly could escape its niche status. Even SEGA tried to spark interest in the strategy RPG genre with the Valkyria Chronicles games (only two instalments left the shores of Japan) and, along with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, was one of the few tactical RPGs to get a major release on consoles. Kadokawa Games sought to deliver a title for fans of the genre that has become largely absent in recent times. The Natural Doctrine Cubed3 review will now engage.

Originally intended to be only a PlayStation 4 game, after a few delays Natural Doctrine has arrived on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita as well. While it is a miracle that a strategy RPG has appeared on a major console, it does make sense for a version to appear on a portable gaming device since most RPGs in general seem to have found their niche on mobile platforms. It's a daring move to cater to such a narrow audience on a platform like the PlayStation 4 and while it doesn't take advantage of the hardware, fans of the genre will definitely find something they like about Natural Doctrine.

The first thing any gamer will notice is that despite it looking decent at best, it has fairly low production values - probably due to the limitations of the PS Vita edition. The cut-scenes are very barebones, consisting of character portraits and cut-outs that are not expressive or even that well drawn. It's unfortunate that this is the case because the in-game character models are actually very nice with fluid animations and it is disappointing that they are relegated to just battle unites that don't get used in cut-scenes. These cost saving game design choices affect the experience on the big screen PlayStation 4 version, especially when compared to older strategy RPGs like Valkyria Chronicles, or even Final Fantasy Tactics, games that had living and breathing characters move and act. The story of Natural Doctrine is fairly simple and manages to have compelling characters that players will care about; basically it is like a medieval StarCraft. The localisation is very strong in this one and has energetic voice actors that do the characters justice.

Screenshot for Natural Doctrine on PlayStation 4

Natural Doctrine is an unforgiving mistress, though. This is a very challenging game that demands a full understanding of its intricacies and systems if there is any hope of succeeding. That is not to say that it is a very rigid game - far from it. There are many options that can ensure a victory, but there are so many risks involved. The battlefields are grid-based and characters can move up to two squares. Within each square is a small field of 3D movement where units can be positioned. What Natural Doctrine does introduce to the genre are initiatives and links; mechanics that can create devastating attacks. Another interesting quirk is that each unit can get their own turn, alternating between player and enemy. This is where it gets interesting - the player can link unit actions together permitting multiple actions before the enemy can have its turn, basically killing them and skipping their action. It is risk vs. reward because taking too many actions will leave the opposition open to take many turns. This is especially risky when a player turn did not make any kills that might have interrupted the enemy's flow, allowing them to wipe out allies by simply killing one unit. Yes, if a single character dies, it is Game Over.

Once the various systems have been grasped, there is a great sense of accomplishment when victory is finally attained. It never feels like a gruelling war of attrition, but sometimes the stupidity of enemy AI does reveal itself. After a while, gamers might be able to figure out some of the patterns the AI has and discover that they will almost always go for the weakest unit. It can be a viable strategy in a game as difficult as this, but exploit this weakness and victory still feels earned. While most strategy games focus on character building, Natural Doctrine does only lightly explore it with minimalistic skill trees. The core focus is definitely placement on the field and risky choices. It may not be for everyone, but for those who embrace an unforgiving system that demands careful thinking, Natural Doctrine will be a wonderful and stressful experience.

Screenshot for Natural Doctrine on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

There is an incredible game hiding in Natural Doctrine. Sadly it is held back by a lack of vision and its spartan interface. Hopefully, Kadokawa Games will improve on the concepts in Natural Doctrine for their next game. As is, this is a demanding strategy RPG that will turn away casually interested parties. The outrageous difficulty is admittedly a preference for some gamers, and those who are hungry for these types of games will not be disappointed. Natural Doctrine is a raw example of pure strategy with such delicate situations amidst a roaring hurricane.

Developer

Kadokawa Shoten

Publisher

NIS America

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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