The PlayStation 4 has been home to many different genres over its year in existence, but when it comes to high fantasy turn based combat games, there is somewhat of a gap in the market. Natural Doctrine is intended to be placed within this void, to give next generation gamers the experience they have been dreaming about. Natural Doctrine is the story of a group of warriors who live in a world where humans are in a constant war with other species for land and valuable resources. Although you will mainly focus on the experiences of a knight named Geoff, a guard named Vasily and a military leader named Anka, several other guest characters and allies who will appear to assist you, whenever the storyline requires. While there is a distinct variety of playable warriors within the game world, there are very few that stand out as memorable, or having a history that is worth investing your time in.
The gameplay consists of controlling a group of characters around a grid based dungeon, usually an abandoned castle or some kind of hidden cave. Although the kingdom in which Natural Doctrine takes place is fairly vast, the amount of locations you will visit is severely limited. Outside of the resource missions, it is not actually possible to visit the locations displayed on the map unless you enter a cutscene, which further emphasises the quest reward mechanic even further. The enemies that will you face are typical of the fantasy setting, with goblins, orcs and other familiar fantasy creatures filling the battlefields. Larger fiends will appear as you progress through the missions, but not always in the places you might expect.
In true turn based fashion, you will move the character within the set number of spaces they can move each turn, select the action to be performed, then select your target using the right analog stick. The battle system itself has very few flaws, but the speed at which each turn moves is like you are waiting for paint to dry. A noticeable flaw in the battles, is that you have to confirm who the enemy is going to attack before they will make their turn. This feels entirely unnecessary, and makes me wonder who authorised such a needless pause. These stops are highly noticeable in the game’s tutorial mission, alongside the numerous text prompts that appear when a game mechanic is introduced. Although I usually detest long winded tutorials, I was grateful of the explanations, as the game’s difficulty level could sometimes require me to make use of techniques that I had only partially acknowledged when I began the game.
Although the wait can test your patience, the combo attacks that you can establish perform by placing your allies in certain positions can increase their attack power, lower the enemies defences or increase the amount of experience gained from destroying their opponents. These effects don’t work with every enemy you encounter or mission that you play, but the benefits will serve you well if you can work out how to use it. One pleasing feature about Natural Doctrine is that you can transfer your game save from one console to another. So if you own the game on PlayStation Vita, you can transfer your portable progress to either of the console editions and continue exactly where you finished your last gameplay session. Unlike such games such as Sly Cooper, you do not get a free copy of the portable release if you buy its big brother, so it may prove costly if you want to continue to play wherever you are.
Graphically speaking, the PlayStation 4 version of the game looks amazing. From the high definition map behind the title screen to the in-game graphics, there is an immense amount of detail that is pleasing to the eye. While it may not be on the same level as some of the games current available in this generation, the development team have worked hard to ensure they stay consistent across all three versions, and for the most part, they have succeeded. In terms of the soundtrack, the game features a wide range of orchestral pieces, with the majority of them fitting quite well into their chosen place. A particular mention goes to the ending song which play during the credits, as it felt like a true testament to the end of the adventure. Although I mentioned that the characters did little to make me relate to them, the quality of the voice acting itself is first class, with industry veterans such as Sean Schemmel and Kyle Hebert offering their voices to the cast.
If you feel like enjoying the battles with another player, the developers have included a local multiplayer mode and online battles for you to enjoy. These mix up the formula by including a card based mechanic, so you can gain certain advantages by having a particular ally or enemy in your deck before you head into battle. If these had been implemented into the single player adventure, it might have felt like a different adventure altogether. Overall, Natural Doctrine feels like a missed opportunity. While it has the hallmarks you would associate with high fantasy, it lacks the emotional storyline and interesting characters that would ensure that you remember your journey. Along with some less than wise design choices, and a frustrating tutorial mission, it is hard to justify the asking price for an exact port of adventure you could get for ten pounds less on an older platform.