Also On: PS4, PS3
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Read this sentence. Now read this sentence. Now keep reading. Now go to the next paragraph.
And here’s a new paragraph. And another sentence. No, sorry, you shouldn’t have read that last sentence! Anyway, here’s one more sentence to read. And one last sentence. And now you can read the review!
If you want some idea of what the first couple of sections of Natural Doctrine are like, the preceding two paragraphs are pretty much it in a nutshell. Tutorial screen after tutorial screen, including some screens that tell you to do something in one breath, only for you to find out they were only giving you directions on what not to do once the sequence is over and done with. This is a game that has a lot of ideas as to how you should be playing it, and it never hesitates for a second to make sure you find out exactly what all those ideas are.
I’d really like to say that all that preparation is worth it once the game actually lets you loose in its world, but that would be a lie. While the tutorials may end after you’ve visited the first couple of locations, the insistence you do everything a certain way or else doesn’t. Try and do things in a different order than the game intends, try and attack enemies before the game wants you to, try and explore areas before the game wants you to discover them — do any of that, and you’re likely to be seeing a Game Over screen before too long.
On some level, I guess, this makes sense: Natural Doctrine is a Strategy RPG, and it takes that genre classification very seriously. If you want to advance in this game, you need to take a strategic approach to everything you do, and if you don’t…well, tough luck.
Of course, that’s also the game’s major flaw. As far as it’s concerned, there’s only one proper approach to take in any given situation, and it strictly punishes anyone who wants to approach problems in a different way. Considering one of the major joys of gaming is finding your own way through created worlds, you can see why such a strict approach is less than enjoyable.
That’s not Natural Doctrine’s only flaw, either. The graphics are pretty standard RPG fare, though in this case the line between “generic” and “eyesore” is pretty thin. The game’s cast of characters is pretty rote, too, and I’m not afraid to predict that however you’re picturing “typical JRPG hero/heroine”, you’re probably picturing the characters here. And, to top it all off, the voice acting is…flat, to be charitable (or laughably bad, to be not).
And yet, despite all those obvious flaws, I wouldn’t say the game is wholly devoid of charms. Natural Doctrine may have been frequently annoying, but at the same time, there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained from finally figuring out exactly what it is the game wants you to do. Likewise, while most of the time the game looks completely generic, I loved seeing the game’s World Map in action — it’s seemingly designed to look like something straight out of a board game, complete with your characters being moved around like a game piece.
Obviously, those few moments of fun don’t counterbalance the otherwise constant frustration. But they are enough to make me think that, deep down, Natural Doctrine isn’t all bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not good, either — but overall, it has just enough things going in its favour that it’s able to lift itself from “Oh God, this is horrible” to “Meh, you could do worse.”