Natural Doctrine is an JRPG developed by NIS America. I want to make sure to point out the key word America. I emphasize that because very few JRPG’s developed by an American studio have turned out to be great JRPG’s. For those of you not familiar with the term JRPG, that’s a Japanese Role-Playing Game. Keyword being Japanese. American made RPG’s don’t have a great history overall and especially when they try to design them like Japanese studio’s do. I don’t mean any offense, I’m sure they worked really hard. For all their hard work, they managed to crank out a turd. Not even a polished turd at that; a plain, stinking, abysmal piece of crap. So, let me try and justify my harshness by explaining my first 2 hours of the game.
You do get a tutorial walk-through in Natural Doctrine, but it treats you like you’re a small child learning how to balance spinning plates without ever giving you the plates. It throws a lot of information, albeit simplistically, at you and once it’s finished you don’t use what you just learned right away. You don’t even use it within the first hour! It walks you through using characters with shields as defense for the rest of your party, but Natural Doctrine punches you in the teeth and goes around everything it just taught you. After I placed my defender, the enemies calmly walked around him and had a good ol’ fashioned slug-fest with the rest of my party. Why institute mechanics designed for a specific purpose if all of the NPC’s are going to slap you upside your head when you make an attempt to use them.
Natural Doctrine allows characters to level up and gain additional stats for agility, strength, defense, etc. Pretty typical of an RPG, but there aren’t any special abilities you gain access too. At least not that I discovered trying to push through to the two hour mark. Characters gain increased damage or critical hit chance when spaced out from each other. What!? Why in the world would you space your characters out to increase damage to one enemy? To top it off, they don’t do anything cool. They just hit the enemy with the same strikes over and over again. Combat gets tedious and repetitious in a short period of time. It required a strong effort for me not to quit after the first hour.
Graphically, Natural Doctrine is sore to the eyes in-game. The water colors and tapestry-like paint for the maps looks really good, but the in-game looks really low-budget. It doesn’t look very polished for a next-gen game. A lot of generic body build was used for the characters as well as the area’s they explore. It’s almost like they tried to make a real RPG using the first Disgaea map design. I know that NIS is typically known for it’s strategy elements, but the least they could have done is try to design levels that looked interesting or felt alive in some way. Natural Doctrine feels like the level designers looked at each other and said “Hey, brown is a great color. Let’s paint brown onto everything. Every rock, wall, shrub.” I’m not an art major and I don’t know a lot about color palettes, but I’m certain painting the town brown is a horrible choice. You become very familiar with this look as the majority of levels seem to take place in caves or brownish ruins.
More excruciating than the level design is the terrible dialogue. I can’t give you a synopsis of the story because it doesn’t give you anything to grab onto in the first couple hours. The best that could be established, humans are racist against anything not human for no reason at all. I know that voice actors work really hard and there are a lot of them that are very good at their craft. Sadly, I was unimpressed with the quality of voice acting as well as the script. I’ve honestly seen a better script come out of Yo-Gabba-Gabba. That’s right, the scripted dialogue for a Mature rated game is worse than a pre-school level television show. It feels like the developers had blinders on through the whole process. How did nobody read this and immediately go back to the drawing board!
I really wish I could come up with just one good thing to say, but I can’t. There is a multiplayer feature, but I have no idea if it’s any good. Every time I tried to log in, it would prompt a message saying that it lost contact with the server. There doesn’t seem to be a logical explanation for why this game made it onto shelves when it clearly needed a lot more thought and work. If you’re really into strategy RPGS, you might like the system the game presents, but it’s definitely not for players with high expectations of a strategy rpg or traditional rpg. Save your money for a better game this holiday season.