I was in awe of Natural Doctrine at E3 2014. I wasn’t actually able to play it, and spent the press session watching a more knowledgeable NIS America employee repeatedly attempt to meet what appeared to be rather demanding victory conditions in an intimidating battle. Yet despite the difficult battle going on before me at the event, I was still somehow drawn to the game. It tapped into my masochistic tendencies and tempted me. Now that Natural Doctrine is actually within my grasp, I find myself pulled to it like a cat to a bag.
Natural Doctrine begins with a heavy reliance on some RPG tropes. A young man named Geoff and his friend Vasily are hoping to become mercenaries, and the very first battle is both a tutorial and test arranged by their mentor, Zeke. The two must enter and explore a small ruin, wiping out the goblins within, claiming a treasure, and protecting an adventurous explorer named Anka.
However, once this initial jaunt is through, hints at something more unorthodox appear. Natural Doctrine isn’t a standard game where heroes and heroines fight against various monsters because they’re evil. It isn’t black and white. There is just one human city left in the world, and the only way it can keep running is by taking the Pluton from these creatures.
It’s interesting, because even in my first three battles, I couldn’t help but wonder if my party was really in the right. They were going into the ruins that the monsters called home, stealing the weapons and accessories the monsters had collected and created. I found it a nice twist, since even at this early stage it’s getting people thinking.
Of course, it isn’t just the notion of right and wrong. Natural Doctrine is Nintendo hard. Even on the Easy difficulty level, which I naturally went with, this title can take out any player that isn’t planning things out.
Here’s a perfect example. The second battle had Geoff, Vasily, Anka, and Zeke exploring a goblin cave. The initial goal was to explore the interior of the cavern, defeating the visible goblins and collecting the visible treasure chest. I did that, but I noticed there was more to the cave. In the introductory battle, Natural Doctrine went out of its way to point out there can be additional areas in each dungeon. In that tutorial, Anka was able to use a skill to take down a flimsy wall. In this dungeon, there was a lever and a door.
I could have just left the cave after I completed the initial objective, but I decided to explore further. I sent Zeke to throw a switch, and had Anka hidden in a nearby corridor to use her as a sniper. Once he threw the lever, a room with three more goblins appeared, as well as a cell that had some sort of monster and a chest inside. I wiped the goblins out.
Since that went so well, I decided to send Geoff and Vasily to see what laid beyond the door.
This was a big mistake.
Inside were more goblins, only this one contained one that was a mage. I had Geoff guarding when Vasily opened it, hoping he would act as a tank and take all of the attacks from the force no doubt lying in wait. He didn’t. Instead, the goblins all went after Vasily instead. Despite her being at full health, she was quickly defeated when they linked together. Her death meant a game over, though on the bright side, my “grade” was still C+!
There is no room for failure in Natural Doctrine. Even in these initial missions, I learned that thoughtful decisions are key. Keeping track of which characters are going to move and when, and linking together actions by keeping characters grouped together and focused on the same enemy, is critical. Before every action, I quickly learned the importance of scouring the map from multiple perspectives before every attack.
I’ve spent a good two hours with Natural Doctrine. It’s been an illuminating experience, and one that I feel has even taught me some valuable lessons that I can apply to other strategy games. Even now, I can tell that it’s going to challenge and provoke players. Though, everyone will have to wait and see if it’s something right for them, as it won’t be on the PS3, PS4, and Vita until September 23, 2014.
Site [NIS America]