Graphics:
4.7
Gameplay:
5.3
Sound:
4.9
Control:
5.6
Replay Value:
4.5
Overall Rating:
5.0
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
NIS America
Developer:
Kadokawa Games
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Strategy
Release Date:
September 23, 2014


Make no mistake: My favorite game of all time is a turn-based strategy title ( Final Fantasy Tactics ) and while many critics often harp on trial-and-error, that style of gameplay has never really bothered me. I’m more patient and meticulous than most, and tasks some call tedious I often don’t mind in the least. Therefore, all things considered, I should be the perfect candidate for Natural Doctrine , a strategy/RPG with an innovative combat system and oodles of depth. And yet, I emerge mostly frustrated and disappointed, despite its potential.

I guess we have to wait for Final Fantasy XV before we’re blown away by excellent graphics in a JRPG. Over the years, the technical presentations of such games have fallen way off the pace, and that’s once again obvious here. Natural Doctrine doesn’t have the requisite detailing, polish, or flash to stand up to other PlayStation 4 titles and in fact, it looks very much like a last-gen production. The gameplay is the lone saving grace, just because you’re often so intent on combat that you’re not focusing on the lackluster visuals. There are a few nice battle effects but that’s about it.

As is typically the case with Japanese games, the audio is more subjective than anything else. As such, I probably shouldn’t dock the game for having amateurish voice performances, which fans of Japanese design might find charming or even impressive. The soundtrack isn’t bad, either, but it does little to stand out. The effects aren’t much better and overall, the sound lacks that refinement and intensity one might associate with a next-gen game. Again, we’re so caught up in the on-screen action that we often don’t have time to dissect the graphics and sound. But when you do, you can’t help but notice that Natural Doctrine simply comes across as…old.

Like I said, I’m an extremely patient and attentive gamer. That’s why I’ve always gravitated toward games with deeper, more involved gameplay structures, which inevitably demand more observation. I also don’t mind a properly balanced challenge within such a structure, because I can rely on my innate ability and steadfast determination to succeed. What I can’t stand is when developers clearly go for cheap difficulty, which is downright unfair. It’s almost as if they want you to throw a controller or simply “rage quit” because the game cheated you out of a victory.

But before I get into that, let’s address the game’s lone highlight: The combat mechanic. Or rather, I refer to the potential this system had, because the execution leaves a lot to be desired. You won’t find anything else like it, and that originality holds immense appeal. Provided you have a great eye for detail and you don’t mind being bombarded with a ton of information, you might end up deeply immersed in this complex battle architecture. It does indeed reward the diligent and anal, and it responds quickly to those who grasp the flow of battle with ease.

But man, it’s like a cacophony of data and not all of it is essential. While many of the battlegrounds are usually good-sized, battles often end up meandering down cramped corridors, and that’s when the entertainment begins to degrade. Level design isn’t great to begin with, and when you combine a screen crammed with information, you get a jumbled, disorganized, and ultimately frustrating presentation. It really does have a huge amount of potential, and if you can rapidly sift through the available data – focusing on what you need and discarding what isn't immediately necessary – this could be a fulfilling experience. But really, it feels like too much of a chore to me.