Natural Doctrine: The Unforgiving, Soul-Crushing SRPG that Plans to Destroy Players

It’s of little doubt that soul crushingly difficult games are a thing right now; they’re a big thing, actually. We could trace such titles all the way back to the NES, but as of late, the punishing “genre” has really been brought to the mainstream via the Souls series. Certainly, these games, which started off niche and cult-like in following, have gone on to spawn a multi-million dollar franchise. But From Software isn’t the only developer pumping out these roleplaying games. In fact, Kadokawa Games has thrown their hat on the table and just this past April released a similarly masochistic game by the name of Natural Doctrine. This coming fall, NIS America will bring that very game stateside.

Natural Doctrine is a strategy roleplaying game, but not just a typical SRPG. In fact, when we sat down with NIS America during E3, they briefed us a bit more on the title, calling it a mash-up of XCOM: Enemy Territory‘s gameplay and the inherent challenge found in something like Dark Souls. They’re further capitalizing on this hodgepodge of styles by calling Natural Doctrine the first true hardcore strategy game on the PlayStation 4. But, when we talked with them, we found out that Doctrine is more than just its gameplay conventions; it has a story to tell as well. For starters, the setting presented here is one that can best be thought of as a post-apocalyptic world. There is only one town in the entire game, and it is a highly sought-after place — after all, living within its borders provides a far safer life than trying to make ends meet beyond the veil. But, to earn a spot as one of its denizens, townsfolk must contribute to the well-being of the town and their insulated society. To do this, they are tasked with searching out specific artifacts that help the remaining population progress their civilization from the dark age in which they found themselves after an undisclosed cataclysmic event. Of course, players assume the role of one of these adventurers, thus giving folks a reason to fight — at least from a narrative standpoint. But, we would be remiss to hang all the weight of Natural Doctrine‘s experience on its story because, it seems clear, that its primary objective is most definitely gameplay.

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When we talk about gameplay, we can’t gloss over the difficulty factor. Actually, this is sort of what the game has become known for. It’s so incredibly tough and thereby demoralizing, that when the game was first released in Japan the developers had to issue a patch in order to tone down the masochistic level of challenge. That tweak will make its way over in the North American release, with NIS America saying that the shipped game here in the States will have the patch-implemented modifications to the learning curve. They did, of course, go on record to state that the game is still insanely brutal in its difficulty; needless to say, this is not a game for the faint of heart. But what exactly makes the game so difficult? That was one of our questions when we chatted with NIS — to which they noted that in some combat scenarios, a single character death spells an immediate game over. For the battles that don’t utilize this failure condition, they made it clear that perma-death is also in full effect with Natural Doctrine. It was becoming abundantly clear that the more they talked about these defining qualities, the more we began to understand the game’s reputation.

But then they went a step further and demonstrated that, it’s not necessarily a game that throws tons of baddies at a players to accomplish its level of challenge. No, instead it demands a keen mind — someone who can adapt to a combat situation on the fly and strategize several moves ahead of the present one — and an ability to make effective use of all the systems given to the player to succeed. NIS America went out of their way to emphasize the importance of coordinating attacks in Doctrine, stating that meta-tactics, such as sacrificing one turn so that that particular character can enhance an ally’s attack in the next, were integral to victory. They also reinforced the notion that positioning is absolutely vital, calling ND a strategy game through and through, thus requiring brains and foreplanning for every encounter. Naturally (no pun intended), skill points and a progression system for warriors certainly help a player’s cause, furthering showcasing that Doctrine is a strategy game on and off the actual battlefield.

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Lastly, in our sit-down we found out that Natural Doctrine will also include a head-to-head multiplayer component. In this mode, players can take their band of slayers online and test their wits and mettle against opponents from around the globe. Since the game is releasing on all three Sony systems (PS3, Vita, Ps4), it supports cross-play, hence making it possible for a PlayStation 4 player to exchange fisticuffs with a Vita player. Better still is the fact that the online will make use of a persistent leveling system and allow folks to use main-story and enemy characters from the singleplayer in their army. Meaning to say, Natural Doctrine is looking to have a whole shedload of content, ensuring its longevity and a healthy playerbase for many months after its launch.

From our interview with NIS America, it would appear that Natural Doctrine is shaping up to be a beast of an SRPG. Not to mention, it will be the first of its kind on the PlayStation 4, which will definitely appease an audience there and even bring in new players wanting to give the genre a shot on their shiny new console. No hard release date has been confirmed at this time, but right now Natural Doctrine has a fall launch window.