I have a new son! His name is Paul Simmons The Fourth. He is such a lively and curious child, so I gave him one of those J-RPGs that have become so infamous nowadays, but I was not expecting this…
Natural Doctrine is the first game made entirely by a newly formed internal development division of Kadokawa Games. This is one hell of an ambitious title, as it spreads through 2 home-consoles (PS3, PS4) and one portable device (PS Vita). They were clearly not kidding, since some serious investment went in the making of this game. Famous people like the composer of Rurouni Kenshin’s OST and one of the top character designer from Ufotable, among many others. However, much like Ico for PS2, most of those people had near to no experience working on the game industry. This raises the question: What became of this gamble called Natural Doctrine?
Story and Characters
The world of Natural Doctrine is that of a traditional Medieval fantasy one. It’s full of adventures, dangers, suffering, treasures and war. The humans from a little mercenary group lead by Zekelinde get hired by a woman called Anca to rid a region of some monsters. This takes the party to a goblin mine, where they come across a type of monsters they have never seen before. The team retreats but, bringing new assistance of the wizard-in-training Nebula along, they once more try to investigate the creatures, only to have Vasilisa – one of their main warriors – brutally murdered during action by the monsters.This made the young warrior Jeff really furious, as he ran aimless full of regret and doubts about what had happened. They tried to gather human allies on a nearby fort to fight against the creatures, but to no avail. The very same humans who they attempted to protect and to make an alliance with were now hunting them. When it seemed like there was no hope, they became friends with the Orc king through his adopted daughter, a little human girl named Tatiana. During their stay at the Orcs’ territory, they received an invitation from Sodom – the land of the dead – were they expect to find more about their enemies and about how to save their friends.While the story can sound interesting and even intense at some points, the truth is that it feels really rushed. The characters are not given enough lines or gestures to convey their feelings and many events end with a “is that it?” feeling. For example: there is an enemy character that has her best friend killed by the main party, so she swear to kill every single one of the playable characters, but when she turns around she sees that one of her friends has joined the hero’s group, and she immediately decides she will be joining them as well. The event ends right away, showing only the playable characters doing each a triumphant pose, and no one questions the sudden nature of this new recruitment. It is weird, not to say “weak”!
This is the first time this team creates a game from scratch, with for some of the staff making their debut in the gaming industry. This resulted on a game that has many flaws on it’s design. While I can’t say the game is “totally broken”, it’s definitely pretty close to it. You see, when a game designer is working at the game’s balance, it’s recommended to think about two things: 1- What abilities the playable characters are able to use? 2- Can their enemies do the same? This process can be done vice-versa as well but, what’s essential is to have a complete understanding of the “whats” and “whats not” of your game, so you can work on the balance.Most RPGs end with a different setting of privileges for your characters and enemies, but for a tactics game, which is often compared to games like chess, it’s normal to keep each side with equal capabilities. Otherwise, a chess game with different pieces and rules for each player would seem unfair, and “unfair” is the last thing you want to be when creating a game based on strategy.However, the developers had a different process of thoughts, as they were thinking: “There are 5 times more enemies than your party members, but they are all a bit weaker than your characters so, it’s ok, right?” No! Take notice there’s a very simple mathematical miss here: If every single one of those enemies have the same percentage to inflict a critical hit as my characters, this means that, by acting together, they are 5 times more likely to do it than me.Talking about “acting together”, It’s what the enemies do the most! This is because, unfortunately, one of the main features in this game, the link system, is its most broken element. The idea is that you can call your other party members to act together during the turn of the character you’re currently moving. For this to happen, some conditions must be met. But, the reality is that your enemies don’t have to obey those same rules, as they can link from anywhere, with anyone, by doing anything or nothing at all. The result is a never-ending flow of attacks coming from the enemy side that, once it starts, you will most likely get a game-over.When I was consulting FAQs on the internet, I often would read lines like “If you don’t do this, you will definitely die” or “If the enemies attack you here, it won’t stop anymore and there will be nothing more you can do”. You should know the weight such words like “definitely die” and “nothing more you can do” have for the enjoyment of a playthrough, right?
To be labeled as a “JRPG”, I found this game 3D models to be too western oriented. Don’t get me wrong! They are decent enough, but not what I was expecting from a PS4, certainly!But, even though the designs and archetypes used for characters are undoubtedly on an anime-style, the in-game characters make a big contrast with the promotional art-work. Small eyes, realistic textures with a gritty atmosphere to it. Nothing like those illustrations with big eyes, and vivid colors with even some cute characters among them. At first, I have presumed the best 3D-modeling-team they could get were not specialized on anime-style. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. About one week before it’s release on Japanese stores, a localization was officially announced by NIS America, which suggests this game was planned to have a certain appeal to the western audience, for it was decided to be brought overseas since the beginning. This would be great news for any big Otaku gamer but, if this were never to be translated, would we really be losing much?
As the production value of this game is absurdly high, the voice acting is by some of the best seiyuus available. Everyone has fitting voices and the acting is delivery just right. There’s nothing to bitch about this.The same can be said for the music. Really climatic tracks that fit just right on this medieval environment. The composer is Asakura Noriyuki, who is famous for his works on other games such as Tenchu and Way of Samurai, but specially for the Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X original anime series. I could fall in love with this soundtrack if it didn’t remind me of so many frustrating moments!
I am really sad I got this for my first PS4 game. As a game by itself, it has lots of problems, but the problems go over the bounds of the gameplay and affect even the package, because the game had numerous bugs and glitches since day one. There was a game breaking bug at the end of a certain event battle that triggered at random, by trying to fix that, the patch 1.01 made the game crash before almost every event battle. They finally fixed both problems with the 1.02 patch, but Japanese blogs and wikis still report many other minor errors. I would like to receive my full-price game at a finished state next time, if there is one. After all, selling numbers are not good for this title, and I am not surprised by this result. I want to believe Kadokawa can do much better than this, so I will be waiting for their next project!