Natural Doctrine Review – Patience is Tested (PS4/Vita)
“Be patient” is a phrase I hear quite often during my day, as I more often than not become impatient very easily. That carries over at times to games, where I expect things to be fluid and fun and if they aren’t, I grow extremely impatient. So just imagine what happened when I sat down to review Natural Doctrine and was treated with a game that tests every single patient bone you have in your body, but without any sort of reward for not throwing your controller across the room and ninja kicking whatever you find in your house. This was a game made to piss you off, but unlike a game like Dark Souls, it offers very little in the way of accomplishment or reward when you complete anything.
Natural Doctrine is a down-to-the-roots, traditional strategy RPG that could have a lot of good going on if it didn’t spend so much of it’s time blatantly giving you the finger. Most of the time when you play a game of this nature, you are filled with useful tutorials that fully explain to you exactly how to play the game and be successful. ND has not a single bit of this, instead asking you to go into each battle with a field knife and blindfold, hoping you figure out the exact way to move that won’t result in a defeat. The game overloads you with useless information around every corner and a user-interface that looks like someone gave a kid a coloring book and asked them to draw a bunch of lines around the screen. All of this useless information is packed into a tiny dungeon space, filled with your characters, enemies, attack order on the top of the screen and a button guide on the bottom.
All of this info I mentioned above and you are not given a proper tutorial on how to use anything to the best of its ability. The game does a terrible job of teaching you anything useful, leaving you to use the good old trial and error method to solve each level. Really, let’s just call it the “trial, die, and start all the way over” method; because that is what it is. You will spend a good 30 minutes moving your characters through the level, attacking the enemies, having to watch all of their moves, and then you will die on a door you accidentally opened and all 30 minutes will have to be replayed again. It is frustrating beyond belief, as you must take each battle at snail speed because one single wrong move and your party is then bombarded with a string of enemy attacks that you cannot stop.
The combat system is actually pretty good, but you are never properly taught how to use it and what you’re taught is utterly confusing the way it’s explained. The biggest draw is supposed to be the linking system, where when you set to attack an enemy, you can link up with your teammates so that you can all take a turn attacking a group of enemies. Pulling this off is essential to battle but should you fail to kill off everyone, often results in starting over from the beginning. In fact, the combat really boils down to using your two shield bearers to defend while hitting everyone long distance with your guns and pluton magic. This approach is the most effective to victory but also slow down the pace of each dungeon, creating 45 minute trips into battle. Making matters even worse and battles even longer, are the missions where your job is to get to a certain point of the dungeon and then run away. Because even running away takes forever, as you have to move each character two zones at a time, while also viewing all 10-15 actions of the people chasing you.
Natural Doctrine does have a nice skill system that allows you to swap points around to different skills without penalty, letting you try and figure out what fits best for each character through trial and error. The problem is, to learn what’s best, you will have to spend plenty of time grinding away in dungeons and dying over and over again. So the game takes a system that seems like a good idea and takes all the fun away from it, leaving you with a boring and dull grind through uninspiring dungeons. Oh, but you can get loot during each level, just make sure you don’t open the wrong door and unleash a monster 10 levels ahead of you.
It would be nice if at least the story was interesting, but sadly as with the rest of the game, it is not. You are a group of mercenaries that are out to collect pluton and things happen, people get upset, blah blah blah. The story is a complete snore fest, with uninteresting characters, loads of useless text, and really no point at all. It would have been nice to offset some of the glaring gameplay issues and sadistic nature of everything with an interesting story. Speaking of, it (story) isn’t helped by presentation either, as the graphics and audio are fairly supbar, with battlefields or characters doing their best to not stand out. The game gets even worse on the Vita, where slowdown is frequent.
With all the bad I have said, there is an audience out there somewhere for Natural Doctrine. If you enjoy mindless hours of grinding with no clear goal or instruction, and if you enjoy hour long battles on the “easiest” difficulty setting where you still feel underleveled no matter how much you grind, then this game could be right up your alley. The system is there to try and be a good game, but it is given no chance to shine and no clear direction on what to do, leaving you with a mess of missed opportunities and frustration.
PS4 and Vita review copies provided by the publisher. For more information on scoring, read our Review Policy here.