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Kadokawa Games

Review: Natural Doctrine

Oct 06 // Kyle MacGregor
Natural Doctrine (PS4 [reviewed], PS3, Vita)Developer: Kadokawa Game StudioPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: September 30, 2014MSRP: $59.99 Natural Doctrine tells the story of a world where humanity hangs by a thread. Mankind is under siege and on the verge of extinction, with only one defense to stem the tide. Pluton, a rare mineral that allows people to wield magical energy, is man's last hope. It's a difficult thing to come by, though. Acquiring pluton is dangerous work, work entrusted to Bergmans, professions raiders tasked with traipsing through goblin-infested mines to extract the precious resource by any means necessary.  Players take on the role of such a crew, one that quickly becomes caught up in a conflict far greater than their job description entails. It's an intriguing concept, but the presentation is underwhelming. The narrative is shoddy, rife with anime clichés and an unlikable cast. It's really a pity, too, because Natural Doctrine is a title that sorely could use a decent tale for players to latch onto while the gameplay viciously attempts to beat them down. Battles are exceedingly complex affairs. Though combat takes place on a gridded map, Natural Doctrine is far from a standard SRPG. Characters are able to move freely within a given range, and can be positioned anywhere within a tile. This makes line of sight and cover important aspects of battle, though nothing in Natural Doctrine is given more weight or importance than controlling initiative. The order of turns can be changed at any time via the link system, which allows friendly units in the same or adjacent square to override priority and assault foes simultaneously. It's an easy enough concept to grasp, but incredibly difficult to master, an issue inflamed through clumsy tutorials. Nothing is explained terribly well, though not for lack of trying. Players are constantly flooded with information on all corners of the screen, including a ticker tape scrolling at the bottom of the screen like some sort of television news channel. It's suffocating, really. The most frustrating aspect of Natural Doctrine is the computer will always understand the game's systems and rules far better than the player, but there are other annoyances as well. Since the link system allows the entire enemy force to bear down on players at any time and a single character falling in battle results in a game over, the consequence of one small misstep is likely death. It won't be an instant death, mind you. Failure is often a long, drawn-out process thanks to Natural Doctrine's hellishly slow pace. The game interminably forces players to sit through every animation as units think out their plan and move. Then players are asked to confirm the enemy movement, like one has any choice in the matter, only to sit through elongated attack animations. And, thanks to the link system, players get to watch dozens of these between turns. It's ... not great. Natural Doctrine often doesn't feel as much about strategy as it does trial, error, and time investment. Sometimes doom is unforeseeable, and even when it's not the game does precious little to intimate what should be done. This is a problem if only because the margin for error is so small, limiting one's leeway for critical thinking and tactics, as it narrowly funnels players down a path. Again, not by showing players, but by punishing them for lacking clairvoyance. Defeat can begin before a battle is underway. Perhaps characters are underleveled and need to grind a while or maybe their statistics are just poorly allocated. Natural Doctrine does something quite novel in this regard, allowing players to adjust stats on a whim, which can drastically change how a hero plays and performs in battle. Of course, it can be disheartening to dedicate nearly an hour to a fight in vain, only to realize another loadout is likely the key to victory. Such hindrances mean victory frequently doesn't come with a sense of accomplishment as much as it does relief. Natural Doctrine feels like repeatedly navigating a minefield, more so than a true tactical experience. Some small part of me still likes the game for some reason, so I grasp at reasons why I continue amid all the issues and frustrations. The visuals certainly aren't the reason. Natural Doctrine looks washed out and muted. Like the story, the art direction is a missed opportunity to bring some color to an otherwise dreary experience. The campaign is supplemented with online co-op and versus modes, where players can take control of orcs, goblins, and minotaurs for a change of pace. It's actually a pretty nice addition, as competing on a level playing field makes the experience more enjoyable. Natural Doctrine isn't atrocious, but it does have a lot of issues. It's as frequently enjoyable as it is repugnant, an experience that will often blindside you with cheap deaths that reek of artificial difficulty. Some will enjoy it, sure. But it's a hard sell to all but the most staunch and patient SRPG fans. And even then it will undoubtedly test those players' resolve.
Natural Doctrine photo
Adapt to abide
Natural Doctrine is a strategy role-playing game with a sadistic side. It's a brutal and uncompromising experience, one keen on taxing players and pushing them to their limits with its intense difficulty. The architects behin...

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Natural Doctrine is a brutal, sort of ugly turn-based strategy game

Jul 07 // Steven Hansen
Natural Doctrine (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita)Developer: Kadokawa GamesPublisher: NIS AmericaRelease Date: September 16, 2014 Natural Doctrine's UI has been an illegible clutter in what we've seen so far (which is sort of extensive, as it's been out in Japan for months), so I was glad to finally get some clarification, though nothing will beat playing it for a few hours to figure everything out.  First, it's like a cross between Valkyria Chronicles and a grid-based SRPG. Though large, outlined, adjacent squares? You can move anywhere within one -- moving into a new square, crossing a boundary, is what counts as a movement. And your free positioning within squares is actually meaningful. The first map shown involved catching up to protecting a character who will essentially be your first mage, if you succeed. If you don't succeed and he dies, you should probably start over. I'm told that's the case with any character, really. "You come in with a team, you better leave with that team." And so part of defending this mage involved getting your troops to his square and actually setting up a defense wall around him because enemies will need line of sight to hit (I saw a lot of shots from a ranged gunman bounce ineptly off of a piece of wall later in the demo -- third person view is helpful to avoid that). As for the messy top of the UI, that's the turn order, but it's fungible. Doing an action with in the same square (or an adjacent square) as one of your units activates Linking, which changes up the turn order. While the Initiative above may alternate you, enemy, you could theoretically link everyone and get all your turns in -- though you've opened up for your enemy to do the same. Also key are same square Link attacks which get stronger as you move your linked characters away from each other, which is great for extra offense but could compromise any defensive positioning you were working with. Grouping is also useful because everyone in an attacked square will counter. An adjacent, ranged fighter can also counter without being attacked if close enough.  Things like terrain and positioning also matter (for line of sight). You can even friendly fire your own units if you're not careful. Killing an enemy also makes the attacking unit move into the adjacent section (provided it isn't filled with further enemies), which can sometimes screw you over, as I saw in a later level.  You could spend three turns trying to close a gate, requiring enemies to flank around (and giving you more turns to pick them off slowly) or brute force your way through. Our demoer took Jeff and set him up with some buffs and set him to guard the space right behind the gate. This prevented enemy troops from moving up and allowed him to counterattack while ranged units also attacked. But our demoer fell a few times, once when a successful attack forced Jeff to move up a square, into the open, where he was unceremoniously wrecked. After finally making it through, more, stronger enemies showed up. Thankfully, someone asked Kadokawa to throw some checkpoints in so some of the longer stanges wouldn't need to be fully replayed (especially since you're advised to restart upon character death). This is more of an XCOM situation than other SRPGs. There's no grinding, just the main missions. And you're given the soldiers you have to use for each mission, though you can respec characters at the onset to some degree. They have specialties, of course, and you'll want to keep your mages for their invaluable healing and strong offensive magic -- if you conserve enough Pluton, the MP source, which doesn't always replenish between stages.  It all seems as if Natural Doctrine is a bit antagonistic. It is. But at least you can hold down a button to fast forward enemy turns.  It won't be cross-buy, but the PS3, PS4, and Vita versions will be cross-save and cross-play -- there's also a multiplayer component where you play with units of all four in-game races (in the story, you only play as humans) that you earn by playing multiplayer and getting trading cards. Each unit card has a cost to play, so you will hopefully not get steam rolled by someone just because they have stronger units than you.  And I forgot to only refer to the game as Natty Doc. Shoot. 
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Natural Doctrine photo
Natural Doctrine

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