* Extreme Gamer's 2007 PSP Game of the Year
Joan of Arc, the teenaged girl who fought for god and her country against the English empire in the 15th century. She became a martyr and eventually was canonized as a saint years later and now Sony has turned her legendary story into a game. Loosely based on the legend of Joan, Jeanne D’Arc mixes history and fantasy creating a masterful strategy role-playing game. It’s time to receive the visions and lay siege on the Playstation Portable.
If you’re not familiar with the history of Jean of Arc, it’s a great story to investigate. Jean has inspired the world long past her death including the Philosopher Voltaire, Shakespeare and a host of films, songs and other media outlets. Given it's past the year 2000 in the videogame age, it’s not a surprise someone has finally decided to take the reigns on the Joan legacy. I’m glad developer Level 5 (Dark Cloud, Rouge Galaxy) chose to integrate fantasy elements like demons and magic into the story rather then recreate the dark times of war in the 15th century. This re-make of the Joan story is a lot of fun without loosing the passion that inspired the game.
For particulars Jeanne D’Arc tells the story of a war between humans and demons that is reborn in a lust for power. The demons rebirth takes control of young King Henry VI which in turn gives the entity the power of the English empire. This is where Jeanne comes in when she ironically stumbles upon a magical armlet that gives her new personal power along with one of five keys to banish the evil demons from the world. Jeanne becomes inspired by the Kingdom of Heaven and marches in battle to free her country from the tyranny of the English.
The gameplay in Jeanne D’Arc is turned based strategy with role-playing elements. This format has been popular over the years, but surprisingly is still an underground fanboy type of genre. Few games manage to grab a hold of the hardcore, but once in a while we see a glimmer of brilliance in unexpected places (Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Advanced Wards). Jeanne D’Arc is a top notch strategy RPG that most turn-based will enjoy, however, compared to the three above mentioned strategies; Jeanne D’Arc might be a little too light in its core system that the uber-strategy fans would like. For the casual turn based RPG gamer, I have no doubt that you will get into Level 5's little project featuring the heroine from France.
The battles take place in a grid based format with a certain amount of rules to each battle. There are different victory and defeat conditions per map and sometimes other circumstances like limited moves. Jeanne D’Arc allows players to save before battles so the consequences for loosing isn’t that grand, and if you’re like me a experienced turn based gamer, its possible to loose a few, but overall its smooth sailing. It’s smart to take some time and learn the ins and outs of the combat system so you can exploit the system to work for you rather then climbing up hill. In Jeanne D’Arc you can control up to seven players per battle which will help you make it through the 40 plus battle sequences.
Balance is key between defending, attacking, disperse magic and using special attacks. I like to take each character and specialize them with certain magic spells, or weapon preferences, basically slot them into certain strategic roles during battle. In total Jeanne D’Arc boasts 150 different customizable options which you can fool around with and mix up however you wish. For weapons Jeanne D'Arc drops the fantasy and keeps it medieval with spears, bows, axes and swords, nothing too outlandish besides magical wands. Jeanne D'Arc might seem light compared to other games like Disgaea’s item world, but for this style of turn-based strategy game, it’s adequate and works like a charm.
Even though I’ve been dogging Jeanne D’Arc because it’s not as intense on the strategy end, Jeanne more than makes up for it with its storytelling, polished graphics and plot progression. The production level of Jeanne D’Arc is very high and reminiscent of Level 5’s previous work. Jeanne D’Arc uses a blending of cel-shaded graphics, full out animation cut-scenes and 3D graphics for the gameplay. The entire project is highly original and is strong in its delivery. I especially like how Level 5 varied the grid battles using new settings, rolling terrain and gifted colour pallets to keep gamers interested that breaking one major downside to some other strategy RPG games.
Not forgetting the audio, it also shows a stellar performance with strong orchestrated musical sections, adequate sound effects and exceptional vocational voice work. This includes the voice over work from Kari Wahlgren (Xenosaga, Rouge Galaxy). Jeanne D’Arc is one of the most vibrant games to hit the PSP this year and it showcases the talent in the Level 5 team.
In total Jeanne D’Arc runs for an average of 40 hours with expansive environments where you crusade through the countryside helping revive the fallen French towns while learning about your unique circumstance and the demon threat. It’s more than enough game for the price, and anyone who enjoys the history of Jean of Arc will enjoy stepping into the shoes of this young girl as she avenges her fallen comrades. I highly recommend Jeanne D’Arc for gamers who don’t mind spending a little time and thinking out battles rather than mashing buttons. Jeanne D’Arc is an A+ title that will be up for many awards nominations for Sony’s Playstation Portable. Like the legend of Joan of Arc, Level 5’s Jeanne D’Arc has marked itself along side some of the other great turn based strategy RPG games that we’ve come to adore over the years.