Frozen Synapse Prime review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Double Eleven
Developer: Mode 7
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

It’s probably because I’ve been playing the two games alongside each other, but I can’t help but think of Frozen Synapse Prime as the anti-Natural Doctrine. After all, even though they’re both strategy games, it’s hard to think of anything else the two games have in common. I mean, just look at them: Natural Doctrine looks like a rough synthesis of every other modern Japanese RPG, whereas Frozen Synapse Prime is all sleek and shiny. In terms of aesthetics, it’s the difference between medieval warriors and futuristic robot warriors.

Of course, the differences run deeper than that (which is why the comparison seems so appropriate to me). Natural Doctrine is a game obsessed with being played in just the right way; if you don’t do things in precisely the order it demands you to, it’ll simply kill you off and make you start over again. Frozen Synapse Prime, by contrast, is all about letting you do what you want. There’s a brief tutorial at the beginning, but after that, you’re on your own. It tells you a bit of story via dialogues, it gives you a scenario, then you’re on your own.
Frozen Synapse Prime_Screenshot_01I’m not saying that such an approach is perfect, because it’s not. It obviously leads to a whole lot of trial and error, right from the get-go, as you gradually feel out what works and what doesn’t. If you want a game that holds your hand, this clearly isn’t it. But you know what? After playing a game (Natural Doctrine) that not only holds your hand but smacks it down hard the moment you try a little experimentation, a bit of freedom is awfully nice.

Not only that, it’s nice to play a game where the deck isn’t stacked against you. The enemies here may be able to kill you on sight, but the good news is, you can do the same to them. You’re not going to come up against some absurdly overpowered foe, nor are you going to have to grind and grind and grind until you reach a certain level. Compared to other strategy RPGs, that’s a pretty welcome change.

In other words, Frozen Synapse Prime works because it has faith in the person playing it. It trusts that if it tells you the basics and gives you a level playing field, you’ll be able to figure it out from there. Sure, you may spend some time working things out, but that makes the end result all the more fulfilling.
Frozen Synapse Prime_Screenshot_02Which, ultimately, is what really makes this the anti-Natural Doctrine. It was hard to feel like you’d accomplished anything there, because when you finished a level it was just because you’d worked out exactly what it was the developers wanted you to do. In Frozen Synapse Prime, when you beat a level, it’s because you figured out your own way from Point A to Point B — or, more accurately, because you figured out how to make all the moving pieces of your own little Rube Goldberg Machine of Death come together. What could be more satisfying than that?

Grade: B+