Natural Doctrine Preview
For those who appreciate in-depth, turn-based strategy experiences, they’ll be all over Natural Doctrine when it releases for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Vita on September 16.
It was a PS4 launch title for Japan and although review scores weren’t exactly through the roof, we all know that such games are designed specifically for the niche crowd. As such, I see this game as suffering from a potential White Knight Chronicles situation. It caters to a very particular group and that group simply wants the wonderfully intricate gameplay; everything else is secondary.
From what I’ve read, the game is indeed complex…perhaps too complex. There are some import reviews that cite the game’s cumbersome and often confusing interface. However, the game will start with a series of tutorials, and I’m hoping that if you’re a turn-based strategy vet, that’s all you’ll need. If not, trial and error is often part of the experience in this genre. We strategy/RPG buffs typically embrace the opportunity to sit back, plan, and yes, even cogitate. The only problem is that if there’s a distinct lack of direction and we have to struggle through the first few hours, Natural Doctrine might start to feel like a chore.
The good news is that no matter how it starts, once you’ve got a handle on things, you should really be able to give into the turn-based goodness. Each battle presents the player with a lengthy task, and that task could indeed take hours to complete. Some of the longer battles will give you the blessed option of a checkpoint but otherwise, death means starting the whole thing over. This sort of punishing difficulty isn’t common to the genre, believe it or not, so we’ll have to see how the fans respond. Difficult tasks don’t deter this diligent group of gamers, and learning more about a game’s many mechanics and systems is part of the fun. …just don’t overdo it, Kadokawa.
There will be a wide variety of battles and objectives, which should keep us coming back for more. There are times when only one strategy can save the day, while other battles will give you the option of approaching the obstacles however you see fit. It’ll be a matter of honing in on the weaknesses of your foes, marshaling your forces with efficiency, and discovering advantageous positions on the field. Provided the camera and basic control doesn’t screw you over, this will rely entirely on your planning and micromanagement capabilities. Take your time, plan, and execute with precision; that’s the hallmark of any good strategy game.
Characters advance via their individual skill trees, which should be relatively straightforward. You can also reassign previously allocated points, which is a huge bonus and in this case, absolutely essential. Considering the steep difficulty and learning curve, you might have to revisit your characters multiple times. If you increased statistics or learned abilities that won’t do you any good in a certain battle, you can fix it. This is a more modern feature that I really wished we had back in the day, but then again, games like Final Fantasy Tactics weren’t hard enough to warrant such an option (in my eyes, at least).
As for story, I’m hearing mixed reports. Some say the unexpected plot twists make the narrative worthwhile, while others say the story feels underwhelming and even unnecessary. I guess we can anticipate the standard cheese-ball Japanese direction, too, which admittedly has become tiresome (and even childish, in a way). Still, story is never a focal point of any strategy game, as these experiences hinge almost entirely on the gameplay. If you can get past the initial learning difficulties – which just about everyone encounters, apparently – you might encounter a fulfilling, rewarding title that grants many hours of cerebral entertainment.
7/17/2014 Ben Dutka