Natural Doctrine, announced for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita a couple weeks back, is more than just another entry on Sony's PS4 launch lineup in Japan. It also marks the first title from Kadokawa Game Studio, a new internal team launched within the company that we last saw collaborating with Grasshoper Manufacture in Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer is Dead.
"Kadokawa Games is five years old now," said company president Yoshimi Yasuda in this week's Famitsu magazine, "and with its business operations now stable, we're at the point where we need to think about mid- to long-term growth. One thing we're aware of is the need to create and nurture a flagship title for our company, and another was the need to build a team that has all the collected know-how needed to help the company set and meet their loftier goals. [Producer Kensuke] Tanaka and I found ourselves on the same page here, and he told me he wanted to make a strategy RPG. I felt that genre had possibilities; it was something I wanted us to challenge ourselves with."
Strategy is a genre that Tanaka has always wanted to tackle. "With this genre, you tend to see someone build up a gameplay system, then use the same one for many years to come," he said. "The famous Fire Emblem is like this, as is Tactics Ogre, an extremely well-made title. The legacy of these well-made systems has created what's considered the standards for the genre. I thought that, if I ever tackled this genre, then even if I didn't come near all these great titles, I wanted to try creating a new standard."
Natural Doctrine is set in and around the fortified castle town of Feste, where the human race is fighting a resource war with the goblins, trolls, lizardmen and other nearby humanoid races. "The story is set in a fantasy world, one that should be easy to picture," Tanaka explained. "There are humans and assorted other races, and while they clash with each other, there is a sense of balance as they build their own cultures. On the human side, there is the upper class that lives in the fortress city, and those on the outside that wish to live inside someday."
The story begins by focusing on Jeff, Vasilisa and Anca, three human soldiers in the frontier corps sent out to open up new resource mines and rub out any non-human resistance along the way. "At the start," Tanaka explained, "you're doing typical fantasy things, raiding goblin lairs and beating up foes to level up and get treasure. That's depicted from the human side, but what if it was shown from the goblins' side, or the orcs and the other races? I'm hoping we can insert scenes like that into the story as well, since different viewpoints make the story more interesting and helps to establish the 'doctrines' behind each side's actions and strategies." (This doesn't mean you actually get to play as the non-human side in the story mode, although those units will reportedly be available in multiplayer.)
Battles in Natural Doctrine are turn-based, with the player's side taking turns with the enemy. The difference: Instead of little squares or hexes, units can take action across much larger "areas," hiding behind walls to avoid enemy attack or working in tandem with allies in the same area to launch combos.
"The most unique thing here is the size of the areas that units move around on," Tanaka said. "Games with small squares may allow you to stack characters into a single space, but with this game, you can move around anywhere you like within the area, which makes positioning important. Each unit will also have their own specialized job; you'll build a skill tree for each one as they grow. Front-line units, for example, might have skills in one-handed or two-handed swords, and they can grow these skills flexibly depending on what the player's tactical plan is."
Natural Doctrine, although set to debut on all of Sony's current platforms, is going to come out right alongside the PS4 on Feb. 22 in Japan. As Yasuda put it, it's an attempt to get as original as they can with the SRPG genre. "Generally, with SRPGs, the idea is that you have resilient knights or fighters in front, archers and other support units in the middle, and sorcerers firing magic from the rear," he said. "There were also general rules to enemy tactical patterns, such as attacking low-endurance units out in front. With this title, we'd like to combine the excitement of looking ahead and taking position to account for that with the thrill of being thrown off by the enemy's truly unpredictable moves."