Kadokawa Games has challenged players with a new portable SRPG called NAtURAL DOCtRINE and I’ve accepted. The game has some new and unique features not seen before in the genre – but does it hold up against other SRPGs? Join me in my quest and find out!
The story of NAtURAL DOCtRINE is actually quite simple and a bit unoriginal; you are in control of several characters and the goal is to become accepted as citizens of the city of Feste. To reach this goal you’re being sent out to explore mines… and this is where things take a turn for the worse. I did my best to follow the story, but it isn’t very entertaining and lacks the depth one would expect from a SRPG. The personalities of the characters are actually quite nice however, they are very different from each other and are portrayed so well that they can almost make you forget about the lack of depth story-wise.
NAtURAL DOCtRINE is a game for players who like a challenge and those who aren’t afraid of a bit of a learning curve. The game starts with a couple of simple tutorials to let you become familiar with the unique battle system, which looks very, very complicated and could quite possibly put off players before they’ve even tried it. This isn’t fair to Kadokawa Games and NAtURAL DOCtRINE, as in practice the battle system does work very well and SRPG fans will love it!
So what is this battle system all about? To succeed in NAtURAL DOCtRINE one has to master the linking system, as linking attacks is crucial to winning battles. It’s a turn-based game in which both the order of attacks and the strength of attacks can be influenced by the linking system. The first tutorial tries to explain this to you, but it can be quite overwhelming at first – I found that the best way to really learn and master this system is to use the ancient technique of trial and error.
NAtURAL DOCtRINE uses a grid of tiles for players to move around on, however unlike other SRPGs you can place up to four units on a tile (depending on their size). Your characters can move around freely on a tile, which comes in handy when you start a fight as you can make sure other characters aren’t blocking your line of sight to prevent friendly fire. Usually, attacks can reach up to two tiles and this is something you must keep in mind when linking attacks. When a character’s attacks doesn’t reach the enemy the link doesn’t occur, and this can cost turns which will most likely result in being trampled by the enemy since they use the same linking system you do.
I’ll try to explain how you can link attacks and why this is important to master, but if you see the image below you will better understand what I’m talking about. In the screenshot you can see two links; a straight link between two characters and a delta link between three characters. Usually you only have one turn, but by linking attacks you can gain turns and thus initiate an attack with multiple characters – this way you do massive damage and when facing multiple enemies you can take them out before it’s even their turn.
In the screenshot you can also see some percentages (14% [Straight Link] Damage and Critical Rate+60% for example); the further your characters are placed apart in a link, the higher these percentages get. It’s vital to take advantage of this to increase the damage done to enemies, meaning character placement is also an important part of the battle. The link system also applies to supporting characters, and actions like healing a character while they are attacking an enemy can result in a link that will then increase the amount of HP gained.
Fans of strategy games will love this battle system they use in the game, as it keeps you focused and thinking ahead is crucial. Sometimes it’s better to buff your characters and raise their defense before attacking, you have to weigh those options in your head. Character placement is important as well and the order in which you move and where you place them is something you really need to think about with the limited amount of tiles you can move to. At first you can feel overwhelmed and a bit stumped by this battle system, but when mastered it’s absolutely brilliant and works great.
There are three ways to look at the map in NAtURAL DOCtRINE; there is a third person view, an overhead view and a view in-between those. I used the last one the most, as it gives a good view of the map; you can see more enemies and treasures or hidden paths at the same time. The third person view is great to use while setting up attacks though, as with this viewpoint you can make sure no one is blocking your line of sight and prevent friendly fire. Personally, I didn’t use the overhead view a lot since the other two seemed to provide everything I needed.
The graphics of NAtURAL DOCtRINE won’t blow you away. The environments look a bit dull at times (even on the bigger maps) and the characters and enemies look decent – but offer nothing overly pleasing to the eye. I did encounter frame-drops during battles; when creating links with the characters you can literally see the Vita struggling with it. This doesn’t occur all the time, but it’s certainly there and can be a little bit annoying to see. The music, sound effects and voice-acting in NAtURAL DOCtRINE are just like the graphics, it’s good; nothing groundbreaking but certainly not boring.
The story of NAtURAL DOCtRINE is relatively short for an SRPG, it takes around 20 hours to finish if all goes well. You’ll find yourself going back and forth between mines to level up your characters when you have a hard time beating enemies in new areas, though it’s not too boring since you can find new treasures as well. It’s a challenging game, even on normal. On some maps the criteria will change halfway and you can be caught by surprise by this. Luckily there are checkpoints when this occurs, though I had to restart some maps to make sure I could tackle the new criteria. Save your game a lot – most SRPG fans know this and it will become second nature to save after each battle. To complete NAtURAL DOCtRINE on higher difficulties you really have to master the battle system, so always remember to practice!
NAtURAL DOCtRINE offers a multiplayer mode as well. The multiplayer works with collectable cards you can buy with in-game currency, which you’ll earn by winning games. You must build a deck with the cards from your collection, allowing you to create a party to use during online games. The games work exactly like the story battles, so make sure you know how to link attacks before trying to take on other players.
There’s also an online co-op mode, allowing you to battle your way to victory with another player. NAtURAL DOCtRINE is available for PS3, PS4 and PS Vita and features cross-play across all three versions – meaning you can fight gamers on other systems (which works very well). It’s worth noting that I didn’t encounter any lag during any of my online fights.
NAtURAL DOCtRINE is a refreshing take on the SRPG genre, and uses a unique battle system which is a joy to master. It looks complicated but strategic players will love this, the game being quite challenging but not too hard to master if you’re willing to put in the effort. The story could use more depth and the frame-drops are a bit annoying – but these issues are easy to forgive once you’ve played it. As for the online multiplayer, it’s a great way to extend gameplay and seems to work very well.
In the end, I enjoyed NAtURAL DOCtRINE – and I’m sure others will too!
Note; I’ve played the PS Vita version of NAtURAL DOCtRINE and my review applies to this version only.