I’ll go in-depth once I’m more sure I understand the game myself (I’m like five hours and three battles in on the hardest difficulty, and though it is not very complex, I still am not quite sure I understand half of it), but basically, I only care about Japanese tactics games that have crazy nonsense gimmick combat systems because I find the sensible stuff like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics to be banal and thus wishing I were playing a real tactics game like Jagged Alliance 2, which will never be remade or followed to my satisfaction (or even rendered entirely playable on its own merits for me, doubly frustrating) ANYWAY
(seriously though FFT is so brainless. you jump around and hit me in the back! then I jump around and hit you in the back! then she jumps up and casts her spell! one by one by one! everyone does the thing that they do! yawn)
Like Knights in the Nightmare, which is probably among the most incomprehensible games I’ve ever played, but definitely has some of the best fonts. There’s like 20 different fonts on-screen, in the action, in super low-res on the DS, and yet they all work and they all kick ass. I never got much into it but damn do I respect it.
Anyway NAtURAL DOCtRINE is so ugly, and so cheap, the storyline so thin and terse (and yet just irritating enough), and the stages are so small… with no background at all, just hovering in void, like a diorama, and I’m totally relieved from being expected to care about another dumb generic fantasy world and the characters in it unlike what Square or Nintendo wants to drag me through, and so since it either knows they have nothing to say or they have no budget with which to pretend they can say it, you get to actually play a tactics game that is fuck-your-face-up difficult and uncompromising and strange from the get-go. It’s so concise. It’s a PS2 game, basically.
My last resistance against falling in love with it, fell when I saw that mines could close if you’ve exterminated too much of the local population (i.e. run it a couple times), as an anti-grinding method. Or how you can’t save-scum during a dungeon run, but they have sensibly placed checkpoints coinciding with events, and no you will not be fully healed upon restoring to a checkpoint. Oh, and nobody can get downed or it’s Game Over, and there are enemies in these dungeons (presented as discrete missions, with one of those scoring systems where you can get an “S-”) which you cannot expect to kill until much later. The first two dungeons (mines/missions) demand that you flee from them at some point. I died like 20 times on the final part of the second one, trying to escape from some larvae spitters, until I realized I wasn’t supposed to attack them while they were eating a corpse at the start because otherwise they’re occupied for that one extra turn I need to get out of there alive.
The combat consists of, like, basically weird abstract baton-passing “links” that you exploit to give everyone extra turns, and you basically want to do all this weird shit so that the enemy never gets a single turn ever or they will probably one-shot you. It’s like SMT’s Press Turn but with formation-forming instead of elemental weaknesses (I don’t think there are elements in this game! Hell yes!), and they can and will do all this against you too. It sounds like bad design, and maybe it is, because I still don’t really completely understand it, and none of it makes any intuitive sense (why do my melee attackers get stronger if they are spaced out far apart and one is in the corner of the room furthest from the enemy)… but… it’s so different I can’t completely evaluate it yet. Hopefully I’ll break the game so I can stop caring and go back to talking about normal things people understand and appreciate. I have a feeling it has much more to teach me though.