Jeanne d'Arc
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Level 5
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Format: UMD
Release: US 08/21/2007
Japan 11/22/2006

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Ragnaros is here?!
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There's gonna be some magic done here.
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No one's taking my nachos!
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Let's hope the Burning Site is not a symptom of VD.
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John McCarroll
Hands-On Preview
John McCarroll

Most people at least know the name Joan of Arc, if not her entire story in regards to the Hundred Years' War. The French maiden, known as Jeanne D'Arc in her native tongue, was said to have visions from God telling her to free France from the grip of the English. Level 5 has decided to re-tell the story of Jeanne D'Arc, but this time, it's got orcs, elves, and magic. Certainly, a great deal of artistic license has been taken in creating this PSP Strategy RPG, but Level 5 has a track record of producing simply spectacular titles, and Jeanne D'Arc is looking like it's following in the footsteps of those games.

Those who are unfamiliar with the plight of Jeanne D'Arc, the game won't shed any light on the 15th century maiden; in fact, the PSP version of the story is so full of magical powers, anthropomorphic creatures, and solo charges into battle that anyone expecting otherwise likely wanted a true iteration of the Battle of Thermopylae in the recent film, 300. Regardless of its truth compared to reality, Jeanne D'Arc's first few hours contain quite a bit of entertaining dialogue, as well as animated cutscenes that punctuate major parts of the story. Unlike many games for the PSP, where animated sequences are found only at the beginning and end, this title features cutscenes at the end of every two or three battles. Certainly, some are as short as a few seconds, but it's a nice touch.

While the animated cutscenes look great, what of the in-game graphics? As one might expect from Level 5, the graphics are cel-shaded, though as the models are smaller than, say, the models in Dragon Quest VIII, the characters don't always look like they are surrounded by that familiar black line. All of the characters in the first few hours look fantastic, and each character's dialogue is accompanied by a small anime-styled portrait, even if it's the generic soldier portrait for some. The battle environments look like what one would expect out of a modern SRPG, and many stages contain things such as large, animated windmills for ambience.

Players control Jeanne and her party of allies in battle up to a maximum of six characters, at least in the first bit I've sunk my teeth into. At the beginning, the battles initially feel simple, but quickly prove otherwise. Players maneuver the characters in standard SRPG fashion: assigning them to different blocks on a grid, then using abilities and attacks to strike nearby enemies. Much like Fire Emblem, each attack is countered by the opponent, and these retaliatory attacks are just as effective as a standard swing. Level 5 slowly introduces more and more strategy into the title as players complete the first chapter. For example, Jeanne, as well as other characters introduced later in the game, can transform into a magically armored form with heightened statistics. These transformations last a short time, usually only two turns, although slaying a foe will allow another attack for the transmogrified character, meaning that one can take down a swath of injured foes in one fell swoop.

That's not where the customization ends, however. The only static thing about a character is the type of weapons or armor they can equip. Each character has a number of slots that can be given statistical upgrades, special abilities, or affinities for the sun (Sol), moon (Luna), and stars (Stella). While some of the weapon-based abilities are restricted to a single type, every character can wield magic, though, obviously, some are much more adept at it than others. These abilities aren't immediately available, however. In contrast to most games in general, characters will start with 0 MP at the beginning of the battle and will only generate magic as turns progress. Because of this, it may be most wise to eliminate enemy mages first, and keep your own behind your meat shields. The affinities mentioned earlier also cause a rock-paper-scissors style setup, where Stella beats Sol, Sol beats Luna, and Luna beats Stella. Characters who are not assigned an affinity won't be affected in the positive or negative. The weapon types also have special abilities: those attacking with a bow cannot be countered, and those attacking with a lance can strike from two squares away, or two enemies in consecutive squares.

Positioning of characters is incredibly important in Jeanne D'Arc. While fans of Shining Force are familiar with spreading their characters out to prevent massive spells hitting many targets, Level 5 wants players to keep their party together, even when the enemies are split. The more allies a character has nearby, the higher defense he or she gains from the Unified Guard system. As long as a character is in any of the eight squares surrounding a unit, they can become part of the Unified Guard chain. Additionally, when melee characters attack, they create a Burning Aura on the other side of their opponent. These areas cause any unit inside of the aura to do increased damage with their next attack, but they only last until the end of the current turn.

While Jeanne D'Arc isn't the most original in Strategy RPG titles (it's not the vanguard of any new ideas), the gameplay still can't be considered 'classic' by any means. The early version of Jeanne D'Arc I played had addictive gamplay through its first ten stages, as well as a great graphical presentation and little in the way of extensive loading. Assuming the rest of the game follows suit, Jeanne D'Arc should find its way into any PSP RPG fan's library. Check out this Level 5 title when it launches in August 2007.

Mark P. Tjan
First Look Preview
Mark P. Tjan

As the year two-thousand-and-seven rolls around, an ancient heroine from around fourteen-twelve is coming out of the history books, and landing smack in the PlayStation Portable... in a highly modified format.

A strategy RPG from the marvelous Level 5, this retelling of a French heroine's tale comes complete with anime cutscenes and anime-style modifications. Beastmen, dragons, and all manner of strange monsters appear in this fanciful interpretation, placing the legendary Joan of Arc at the forefront to drive back the forces of evil.

The game is featured in full 3D, making use of fully polygonal figures in place of more traditional sprites found in most SRPGs. Its maps are also fully 3D, utilizing a familiar grid system that allows players to move a certain number of spaces and then choose to attack, defend, or make use of another function. Certainly nothing new here.

What makes Jeanne d'Arc stand out, however, is its sheer casting count. At a reported 150 characters, it promises to tell a convoluted, if not compelling story, the likes of which are sure to recall classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the more recent Disgaea series. Additionally, between 40 and 50 stages will be available, giving players quite a wide spread of environments to take part in.

Known for games like Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII, and the recent Rogue Galaxy, Level 5 has a reputation for epic gameplay that still enables casual players to enjoy the experience. While discussing gameplay developments prior to the Tokyo Game Show, Level 5 commented that it wanted to make Jeanne d'Arc accessible to both the hardcore and casual gamers of the world. To that end, the game can take anywhere from 7 to 25 hours to complete, although how that is to be achieved has not yet been explained.

Video previews have revealed a large number of cutscenes and discussion. Impressive special effects litter the battlefied as spells go off, and there seems to be an abundance of anime sequences for videophiles to enjoy.

The game attempts to follow the historical events of Joan's life, but with a rather liberal slant upon events. The game's background sets up Henry IV as the young king of England, who has been possessed by the god of death who had been sealed by five heroic figures of antiquity prior to current events. As a result, the British army is now made up largely of trolls and other foul creatures, and Joan is given a command from God to sally forth and rid the world of evil.

Not particularly the story one might be used to. Lampooning aside, the game's alleged brevity may in fact imply a lack of focus on the story, which is not necessarily a problem as most SRPGs are by and large hinged around their gameplay.

As with most Japanese SRPGs, the grid-based battles specify a particular goal to achieve (most often the outright defeat of all enemy units), and then award prizes and money based on achievements. Here however, things get complicated. The game features a limited number of turns players must utilize, making the game a rather rushed affair. Players must fulfill the battlefield objective before their turns run out or risk defeat and a subsequent game over.

Altogether, Jeanne d'Arc looks to be another high-quality notch in Level 5's belt. North American players can find out for themselves later this year. In Japan, the game hit the PSP this past November.


© 2007 SCEI, Level 5. All Rights Reserved

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