I wasn’t sure what to expect when firing up NAtURAL DOCtRINE for the first time. After all, you could say it’s not a “natural” title for a strategy RPG (har, har, har). The various trailers that have been released since its announcement seemed to promise a very challenging experience, however. Take a look at this and you’ll see what I mean:
The Dark Souls of tactical RPG’s? Welp. Well, let’s see how far I get…
1. Absolute first impression: NAtURAL DOCtRINE is an information dump. Loads of text populates the entire left hand side of the screen, turn orders and statistics are all over the place, and arrows are drawn from one character to another that have data inside them. If you like your strategy games to tell you everything there is to know about everything in a given situation, you will be ecstatic.
2. Despite how daunting it all looks, the game does actually do a solid job of explaining the core mechanics. The first map walks you through the basics, telling you exactly what it is you need to do in order to proceed. The map that follows goes into more advanced strategies, though they are completely optional if you want to figure things out yourself. Take it from me, you’ll want to hear what the game has to say.
3. The trailer wasn’t lying, this game can be rather unforgiving. In my second battle, there was a caged monster standing guard over a treasure chest. Seeing as how I steamrolled over the goblins that preceded it, I opened the cage door… only to get soundly crushed in a single blow. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about restarting a map due to permanent character death like in Fire Emblem or XCOM… the game makes that decision for you. That’s right, a single death will automatically prompt the Game Over screen, giving you the option to revert back to your last checkpoint or start the map over. Since I didn’t see any obvious prompts, there’s no telling how far back that checkpoint will be. I should add that, although you can adjust the difficulty level, these things are consistent even on the lowest setting.
4. If you can cope with the challenge, the combat system is rather enjoyable. Your characters can move within the blue space on their turn, either via an overhead perspective or a third-person view (like Valkyria Chronicles). Once you’ve locked onto an enemy and decided your attack, it’s time to let loose. The main gimmick behind the combat is linking your party members’ attacks together and annihilating your foes in one lengthy turn. The enemy can do this too if you’re not careful, but if you manage to make things work in your favor using this system, it’s incredibly satisfying.
5. Each character has their own innate abilities, though there is some flexibility involved in customizing them to your liking, and you do get one party member (Geoff) that can fulfill any role. Vasily is a sword and board type of gal ideal for tanking, Zeke has a massive blade and a skillset for clearing rooms of foes, and Anka is a ranged damage dealer perfect for covering teammates on the move. Later, you’ll find Nebula who acts as your healer and overall spellcaster.
6. After each battle, you can equip your party with any gear that you find in chests. I never encountered any shops during my early hours of play, so it’s quite possible that the ONLY gear you get is the stuff you find. Skill trees can be tweaked with points earned from leveling up as well. It’s important to note that you can respec your characters at any time, without the use of any sort of money or item. This is an awesome feature, as if things don’t go your way, you can completely rebuild your party from the ground up (for the most part).
7. I found out the hard way that it’s entirely possible to injure your own characters if you get within the line of fire. Fortunately, I’ve found that with Anka at least, she will hold her fire during counterattacks where a party member is blocking her view. The A.I. isn’t immune to friendly fire either. I’ve seen soldiers shoot and kill their own comrades on accident, much to my amusement.
8. The story takes place in a realm where mercenaries of sorts are hired to clear out ruins and mines in order for humans to gain access to a substance known as Pluton. During one such routine mission, a legion of bug-like creatures is discovered that likes to feast upon their goblin enemies. As you might imagine, their situation is all downhill from there.
9. The characters are voiced in English and their delivery is pretty solid. The visuals aren’t nearly as impressive, though they can get pretty gory at times. Not that graphics matter all that much in an SRPG anyway. At least all of the humans have feet.
10. Save data is cross compatible with all versions of the game, plus there are multiplayer modes with the ability to cross play with the other versions as well. I didn’t have a chance to check out those modes yet, but there were both co-op and competitive versions available. Not many games of this genre pull off co-op too well, but I have high hopes for this one.
As much as I’m enjoying the experience thus far, it’ll be interesting to see how much progress I’ll be able to make before ultimately hitting a difficulty wall. Is it really the Dark Souls of SRPG’s? I don’t know yet, but it very well has the potential. Stay tuned to Diehard GameFAN for the full review!
NAtURAL DOCtRINE releases on September 23rd for the Sony PlayStation Vita, PS3, and PS4.