5 Overall Score
Gameplay: 5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10

Combat can be fun (when you eventually understand it) | Lots of content | Multiplayer runs smoothly

Overly complicated gameplay gimmicks | Looks blah | Hard to find online matches

Game Info


DEVELOPER(S): Kadokawa Games



GENRE(S): Strategy RPG

RELEASE DATE(S): September 30, 2014

What do you get if you cross a deep RPG strategy game with the ear buds that you stuffed in your pocket 10 minutes ago?  You get NAtURAL DOCtRINE, the newest release from NIS America and Kadokawa Games that gets too complicated to unwind until you spend hours untangling your frustrations.  There is a long single-player campaign as well as a pretty involved multiplayer component that contains both competitive and co-op play.  Everything is cross-save & cross-play with the Vita, so that you can play against anyone playing on any of the other two Sony systems.


The single-player portion of Natural Doctrine has you taking control of a group of adventurers as they seek to save the world from tyranny and nasty monsters.  The story is a little generic, and having them discuss plot items and where to go next while in an active overworld map screen didn’t help me want to play attention to it.  The game has you going in and out of dungeons to kill baddies and raid the occasional (usually worthless) treasure chest.  Sometimes you’ll appear in an outdoor battle in a field or outside a castle.  This is the meat of the game.  The battles that you encounter are heavy on the deep-thinking, plan-ahead type.  Across the top of your screen you get the listing of the turn order for you and your opponents, while the bottom of the screen is used as a scroll to remind you what buttons to push.

The big gimmick for this game is the linking of your party members.  There are large chunks of in-game text to explain party initiatives and turn order and placement and yada yada yada (even loading screens don’t have enough space to hold all the info, or let you scroll to see more of it for that matter).  Basically, if you’re close to a buddy, you can make that buddy go out of turn, but then they lose that turn later on.  Or if they already took their turn they can go again with no consequences.  And if you’re attacking the same enemy you can get boosts from being in line-sight of your buddy.  Get all your allies aiming at the same dude and the screen starts to look like a tangled mess of neon geometry (and not the good kind). The in-game tutorial doesn’t do a very good job of explaining all of this so you’re left to figure most of it out on your own.  This causes the beginning of the game to be an exercise in frustration.  Once you get the hang of the battle system and how to cheese it for maximum damage, battles can be interesting.  But if you make one wrong move, the CPU will take advantage and murder-death-kill your anime behind.  And if one member of your party dies, it’s game over and back to your far away checkpoint.


You would think that your goal in these battles would always be to slay all the bad guys, gather your XP & treasure, and move on.  But once in awhile you need to do your best Forrest Gump impression and run to designated spaces.  Problem is, the game doesn’t tell you that you shouldn’t be fighting.  You’ll go up against an overpowered monster 23 times before you realize that you’re not meant to fight them anyway.  Even if I did realize that’s what my task was, trying to navigate up to 9 characters to the entrance of a cave is cumbersome and boring as all get up.  Even more boring is when the game makes you move each of your party members one at a time after all the threats are dead and all the treasure is collected.  It’s just a waste of time.  Party members are already moved & rearranged via cut-scenes, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t do that on some of these other situations.

The multiplayer component has you taking the battles from single player and either teaming up or going against a fellow human.  Your battle team is formed from cards that you purchase using in game currency you can earn by logging into multiplayer and winning matches.  There is a large variety of good & bad guys available to add to your team, and it was fun getting to use some of the big boss characters in actual gameplay.  Matching making with friends works very quick and easy, even when they are playing on different systems.  I played a few matches against a friend on a PS3 while I was on my Vita and ran into no lag at all.  The problem is there is no way at all to communicate with your partner.  Not too big a deal in competitive (who needs to hear another uninspired dig at your mother), but can make the co-op awfully tough, especially with all the intricacies in battle that must be synchronized to effectively defeat the tough enemies that await.  If you enjoy the combat of the main game, you’ll probably enjoy it, but I got tired of it pretty quickly.  It doesn’t help that it was hard to find a random game even two weeks after release.


The game looks ok on the Vita, but it’s nothing terribly impressive.  For comparisons sake, I booted up the PS3 version of the game, and it looked exactly the same.  Same jaggy lines in some places and same screens & effects everywhere.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment to the Vita version or a ding on the PS3 version, but this isn’t a game you use to show of any fancy graphical fanciness.  The soundtrack is overly epic & pompous and the voices are mostly annoying.  This is a good game to play while listening to your favorite contemporary minimalism record.


There are some decent things hidden in Natural Doctrine.  The combat can be fun if you make the perfect setup and get a good rhythm going.  Unfortunately, most of the fun stuff is interrupted when you make one wrong move or placement and have to repeat a good 45 minutes worth of adventuring.  Combine that with the overly crowded screen, uninspired story, graphics, & sound, and you’re left with a game that’s not very recommendable except to the hardest of hardcore RPG strategists.



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Author: Shaun Zimmerman View all posts by
Still waiting for the Commodore 128... Find me on Twitter @Zimm108