Kadakawa Games have finally taken the steps from Publishing, to developing games with their first solo endeavour in the form of NAtURAL DOCtRINE. With their long and storied history of publishing Eastern games for the Western audience, and their ties to big names in the industry such as Suda51, FROM Software and Enterbrain Inc to name a few, there was a high expectation of what this company could deliver. Although plagued with delays which pushed back the release from the last gen to the current, NAtURAL DOCtRINE finally made it to our shores in October this month courtesy of NIS.
The Story within NAtURAL DOCtRINE encompasses all the standard RPG Tropes you would expect. Humankind is stuck in a brutal fight for survival with the Orc’s and Goblins surrounding the principal human settlement of Feste.Staving off these tribal races is made possible through the use of pluton, a rare material, that allows the utilisation of magic powers within those humans attuned to sorcery. The dwindling reserves of Feste calls for more and more excursions into areas held by the lesser races, to recover what little they can for the defence of the city.
These bands are made up of Guardians, your regular veteran warriors, and Bergman, high ranking officers who arrange scouting expeditions, who form the militant mercenary arm of the city outside its stout walls. As the game opens we are introduced to three of these mercenaries, Zekelind, Vasilisa and Geoff, who are going through the rigorous testing to prove their capabilites to become guardians. Soon, your group will stumble upon a threat that reveals the cracks that are forming in the human faction and task you with preventing the collapse of Feste.
Graphically, ND is extremely old school, and not in a good way. Character models are dated and appear comparable to transitional PS2/PS3 titles, rather than a game released in 2014.Delays in the development go some way to explain this underwhelming style, but even if the timescales had been met and it had released on PS3, the visuals would still have been seen by many as dated.
Enemies are standard RPG fare of goblins,orcs, etc, and although the goblins are built with the stereotypical tropes in mind other races, such as the orcs who more resemble a traditional fantasy “Ogre”, have unique and original interpretations.
What isn’t standard, and what truly makes this game something unique to experience, is the combat. Most tactical RPG’s have a very formulaic system. Certain traits dictate your characters position in the combat order, and you take turns battering enemies and being battered by your foes on alternate turns. NAtURAL DOCtRINE takes this paradigm and applies its own set of rules into the mix. Each foe is directly identifiable to see which will have the next initiative. Eliminate this enemy, and the flow of the combat remains with your team. This allows you to structure and plan your attacks to most efficiently eliminate your enemies before they have the opportunity to strike. These Initiative chains in conjunction with the tactical link ability is critical to success and also the source of one of the most frustrating aspects of the game. Tactical links are initiated when one of your characters performs an action in close proximity to any of the rest of the team. This then gives that party member the opportunity to either hold their position in the initiative table or use their designated action in conjunction with your attack. Positioning then factors in, as the further away from each other the characters are, the longer the tactical link lasts, the more damage and criticals you can do, and the easier it becomes to wipe out swathes of enemies in a single round of attacks.
Herein lies the problem though. Your enemies can do the same, and typically you will find yourself outnumbered two or three to one in any given dungeon. Make a mistake and lose initiative to the enemy and you can find yourself on the receiving end of a relentless assault on your team. This in itself may not seem so bad, but should ONE of your party members fall, it is game over, and there is no equivalent of the epitomous phoenix downs in this game. Should your team mate falter, then it is back to the last save or restart the dungeon.
Unlike most RPG’s, skills can be changed on the fly on the map screen, which allows you to enter a dungeon, determine the best course of action and equip the skills necessary to clear out your foes in the most expedient and safest way.
Although the correct utilisation of the initiative chains allows you a great deal of flexibility in your attacks, the game area does not and the design and layout of the dungeons renders this genius interpretation of turn based strategy combat to nothing more than an elaborate puzzle game, as you cannot make a single mistake without being returned to the start of the instance over and over again.
This repetition reveals the simplicity of the AI, with enemies making the same exact moves time and again, leaving you with a very linear set of attacks and a specific set of skills required should you wish to prevail.
Multiplayer brings into it the same combat and mechanics, but with the benefit of and intelligent, unpredictable force to play with or against as you face other strategists in a battle for survival. Taking the form of a card game, you first create your deck of characters and take this into battle for control of an area. New cards are unlocked through matches and purchases using in game currency. The best way to describe this strange amalgamation is Magic the Gathering crossed with Hero Quest.
All these faults aside, I found myself pushing on in the main campaign and after two or thee hours of bashing my head against the mechanics, it finally clicked with me. This game may look ugly as sin but none of that matters. This game is for those of us who revel in the challenge that comes with knowing a single mistake can mean starting over again. Its about learning patterns of attacks, finding the best tactical approach to leave you forever with the upper hand until you are standing over the decimated remains of what was once your foe.
This game requires the same masochistic, must be challenged, mentality that makes Demons Souls and Dark Souls so appealing to many gamers, as not once did I truly feel cheated and each death earned me that little bit more insight into what I could have done better.
If you see yourself as a master tactician this game will undoubtedly challenge you like no other I have experienced in recent years, which means this is not for everyone. If you like a deep complex and challenging strategy, this game could be right up your street.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: PlayStation 4/ PlayStation Vita Release Date: 03/10/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of NAtURAL DOCtRINE by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 2 weeks on a PS4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.