Monday, October 13, 2014

Natural Doctrine (PS3) Review

Natural Doctrine is the inaugural title made by Kadokawa Game Studio.  It's a strategy RPG in a fantasy setting.  The enemy and location designs seem more "western", being more brown and gray, where the character designs are much more "eastern".  It looks nice, and the character portraits have different settings, so you can have more realistic (as they are called), or the anime style with either large or small portraits.  I was surprised so many lines were voiced, too.

At its heart, the game is a strategy RPG, although not quite in the way I'm used to.  While battles do take place on a grid, each square is rather large.  You can't move in or through an area that the enemy occupies, so no real back or side attacking like other strategy or tactical RPGs.  Instead, each team member's turns can link with each other if you fulfill certain conditions.  Linked attacks will happen together, so you can pile on the damage... or get it piled on you.  The enemy can and will use these mechanics against you.  The whole system is pretty unique, but complicated and not very well explained.  I'd like it better, but it takes a lot of trial and error to understand it, and the computer is vicious, since they can and do take full advantage of it.

Battles can be hard, since any of your characters dying will result in a game over.  Considering linked turns can stack on the damage, one mistake can end the battle.  It's that unforgiving.  Battles have some checkpoints, but the game doesn't note when you hit one (at least not that I saw).  It's nice, and something you will probably use a lot, especially early on.  Although, I had at least one battle that I had to completely restart because the checkpoint was in a no-win situation.  If you want to succeed, you'll want to learn the link conditions and take advantage of them to move your team and destroy the enemy.  There are a few battles you can repeat, but the rewards will diminish quickly, so grinding doesn't help a whole lot.

One of the best aspects of the game is the skill trees for each character.  There are a lot of good skills and abilities in them, and you can change what skills you purchased any time you aren't in a battle.  Want extra healing in the next encounter?  Use your points on the skills that give health potions.  Did you end up needing a stronger attack ability?  Take those healing potion points back and re-distribute to get it.  No more accidentally buying something or finding out something isn't as great as the description made it sound.  It's a very flexible system, which helps you tailor your party to meet each challenge, reducing the difficulty of some battles.  Plus, healing and recovery potions will refill after each battle, so there's no penalty for using them when you need them, as you can't run out in the long run.

Surprisingly, there is multiplayer in the game, both versus and co-op.  I really wanted to try the co-op, since that's more my thing, but was unable to find a game after searching at different times for a few days.  I also searched several times for a versus match, and eventually found one.  It went...ok... but it was really boring.  When the enemies go in single player, you can hold circle to make their turn faster, but no dice for versus (obviously).  So, you just have to sit there until your turn.  Plus, you don't have your normal team, but a team assembled of characters that you have cards of.  Basically every character and enemy in the game gets a card, and what you can fit into each "deck" will be used as your units.  Really, a tutorial would have helped so you wouldn't be trying to figure it all out the one or two chances you have to play it online with someone.  At least it was easy to spend the points for more cards, since they gave you some each day your connected to online.  If you are a trophy hunter, you will want to set up matches, since there are trophies tied to the multiplayer.

All in all, I wanted to like Natural Doctrine more than I did.  It has a unique take on strategy RPGs, but ultimately is a bit too complicated for its own good.  While it explains the systems at work, it doesn't do it well enough, which comes to bite you rather quickly.  Fights are tough, and one mistake can fail the whole thing.  If you master the link system, the game gets better, though.  It looks nice and the story seems decent.  There's also cross-save and cross play, so there are definitely positives to the game.  If you are willing to invest the time figuring it out, the game can be pretty fun, it's just a shame it's so unforgiving and frustrating while you learn.

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