Natural Doctrine (PS4) Review

Not playing fair.

I don’t shy away from strategy RPGs. Games like Valkyria Chronicles, Fire Emblem, and even Disgaea are some of my favorites in the genre. They take thought and careful planning to both play and enjoy, and I can safely say that while I’m not the best at them, I still thoroughly enjoy them. Natural Doctrine, on the other hand, has the makings of a great strategy experience, but a lack of explanation and brutal difficulty make it both an almost impossible task and a chore to play.

Players take control of a band of adventurers as they explore areas and get stuck in a secret war between two factions. While the story is there, it takes a back seat the entire game, and is really there just to show the player what to do next; at least, sometimes it does. Many times I was wandering around the same areas, not knowing what to do to trigger the next story mission. Granted, it allowed my party to level up and find new equipment, but when I spend more than an hour doing the same missions without unlocking the next part of the story, it becomes a chore fast.

Platforms: PS3, PS4, Vita
MSRP: $59.99
Price I’d pay: I wouldn’t buy this game. Maybe $15
Multiplayer: Online Vs and Co-op

You’d better link if you know what’s good for ya.

The game itself is a turn-based strategy RPG that feels like a cross between Valkryia Chronicles and Fire Emblem. Players can move their characters around a grid map, choose which actions they want them to do and then execute them when the full turn is up. Depending on the initiative of the characters, the turn order can vary. On top of that, there is a link system that allows multiple characters to move, attack and do other things without it being their actual turn. Linking is essential for survival. The problem is, the enemy party can link up as well, and it always seemed to me that they knew how to exploit it more than I did. This is partially due to the very basic tutorial that really only showed me the basics of the game.

While in dungeons, players can find treasure chests that may contain new items and weapons to equip, as well as extra pluton, the source of mana in the game. Pluton powers all magic attacks, and the overall pool is shared by the entire party. Certain characters can change weapons during combat, so my sword and shield guy can equip a rifle to fire off shots at enemies from a distance. Finding the higher ground and utilizing the environment is another important part of the combat. One wrong move or leaving a party member in a bad position could mean game over. The problem is this is very easy to do. If one party member falls in combat, it’s game over.

This doesn’t look confusing at all.

So many times I found myself having my party in a defensive position ready for an attack, and one party member would be outed and relentlessly attacked until dead. Certain things like opening a door or using a lever to open a gate has to put a party member in a vulnerable position, and before I could readjust, they would be dead. It seemed like all the enemies would need is one turn to destroy my party, and I always had to stay two steps ahead of them. The juggling act of trying to actually damage enemies while trying to stay alive proved to be a struggle.

Oh, is it my turn? Good. You die now.

The AI was relentless. and the odds were always stacked against me. I’m not really the one to call a game unfair. I loved the Souls series, and found them to be very challenging, but always fair. Natural Doctrine is completely unfair. Too many mechanics go against the player, and having to start an already 20 minute mission over just because one single party member got killed because they HAD to open a door to progress in the dungeon became a frustrating occurrence even early on. I even died in the first mission that was still going over tutorial stuff.

The game is pretty bland visually. It looks like a PS2 game during the combat sequences, and the looping music grated on my nerves after around the fifth mission. The voice acting is decently done, but repeated lines of dialog popped up almost immediately.

The game features a multiplayer mode as well, where players can be unfair to their friends. Utilizing a random card system, players create a party from cards that can range from common to ultra rare. Taking better cards into battle will offer players party members with better stats. These are used in both the versus mode and the co-op mode. Co-op is a nice way to see how two players can gang up on the AI, but it’s still unfair and brutal. Like my co-op partner said in our game play video, misery really does love company.

I’m the fire starter…

Natural Doctrine will frustrate you. It will pound you into the ground and then beat you again for hitting the ground too fast. There is an audience for it. The hardcore strategy players will find more than a challenge here, and patience is a must if you plan to play this game. I would even warn regular strategy players about going into Natural Doctrine. Unlike Dark Souls or even a difficult mission in Fire Emblem, finishing a mission in Natural Doctrine didn’t feel like an accomplishment.

It felt like I escaped yet another beating and then lined up for another one with the next mission. Now, I don’t want to act like this is an actual bad game. It’s not. It just has multiple things that make it far too difficult to play. It is most certainly not for me, but even I can see that there are some things that strategy fans will love about it. Just keep in mind if you do decide to pick this up, you’re in for a very difficult, sometimes unfair, struggle.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Complex battle system
  • Decent voice acting
  • Brutal and unfair difficulty
  • Bare bones tutorial
  • Dated visuals
  • No sense of direction
Written by
Drew is the Community Manager here at ZTGD and his accent simply woos the ladies. His rage is only surpassed by the great one himself and no one should stand between him and his Twizzlers.