Jeanne d’Arc, developed by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy), is a strategy RPG that combines many elements from classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the Fire Emblem series to create a finely tuned joy ride that any strategy RPG fan owning a PSP simply needs to experience. The game offers a fantasy twist to the historical story of Joan of Arc, and though some may scoff at the retelling of such a tale, I still think this engrossing tale woven with memorable characters is worth experiencing.
The chapter-based story starts by Jeanne’s town getting burnt down by the English. She comes across a magical, life-saving armlet while in a battle, and some close friends tell her to put it on and use it. When she puts the armlet on, she transforms into a fully armored warrior with an enormous increase in stats that allows her to defeat all of the enemies in her town. This first battle is the start to a great war between the French and English. The armlet directs Jeanne where she needs to go in the story in order to reclaim France back from the English. Jeanne is not alone on her quest, though, because throughout the story many characters come and go. Each ally is pretty different in style and all classes, from mage to warrior to thief, are accounted for. Classes cannot be changed or upgraded in the game, but the way it is structured, it is not necessary. Sometimes, though, the plot either forced me to train up characters that I initially didn’t want to or took away the characters I was using for a battle or two, making some battles harder than they should have been. Still, I enjoyed the story. There is a wide variety of characters with great personalities, all of whom contribute greatly to the plot. The story was emotional with the right amount of scenes to make it worthwhile without getting in the way of the gameplay.
The aforementioned armlet features into the gameplay just as much as the story. Armlets allow characters to transform during a battle after three turns. After transforming, you get access to special moves that require a certain MP amount to use. This isn’t the only add-on though. After you defeat an enemy, you activate what is called “Godspeed.” Godspeed allows the character another turn to pummel the enemy. This allows more strategy as well since you can have the other characters weaken the enemy and have the transformed character finish it off. The best thing, though, is that this doesn’t unbalance the difficulty. Each battle is set up so that you often have to transform if you want to live, instead of transforming and just zipping through the enemies in each battle. The armlets are equipped with gems that are acquired throughout the story, each with their own unique abilities. In the story, Jeanne’s armlet takes a major role as it directs Jeanne around to where she needs to go.
If you have ever played a strategy RPG before than Jeanne d’Arc should be instantly familiar to you. It doesn’t really do anything differently than what’s been done before, but just makes minor tweaks here and there to make the experience its own. Each battle has you moving your characters around on a grid. When you go up next to an enemy you can attack with your equipped weapon, but like in Final Fantasy Tactics, being on different sides of the enemy has different effects on your attack. Attacking from the front is the least successful as it lowers your accuracy and damage, but attacking from the side gives you a slight advantage on both numbers. Attacking from the back is the best way as it gives you the most damage and accuracy. Counterattacks, like in the Fire Emblem series, are always executed in Jeanne d’Arc, and really make you think about whether it is worth attacking or waiting. Something new that Level-5 incorporates is the “Burning Aura,” a gold/yellow circle that goes on the opposite side of the enemy when you attack. This burning aura gives attack boosts when stood on by allies or enemies. Also, if the aura is put onto the character (meaning they were on the adjacent square when someone attacked and the aura popped on them) they can move around and keep the aura with them. It may not sound like a whole lot to some, but this really goes a long way to developing more complex strategies for victory. The terrain also becomes a factor that affects damage and accuracy much like in other strategy RPGs.
The best feature of Jeanne d’Arc is its skill system. Skill stones are equipped to slots on each character, with each character having a certain amount of slots depending on their level. These range from giving you stat boosts to magic spells and abilities for battle. Each character has a certain weapon they use based on their class and there are skill stones specific to each type of weapon. After about a third through the game, you are allowed to fuse skill stones together to make new ones. Each skill has a certain level requirement that must met in order to equip it, so it is easy to tell which ones are better than the others. Most skill stones have more than one way they can be made and it really adds even more strategy to the game. You can spend a ton of time just making new stones. The game also keeps track of every recipe you use so that you don’t have to remember it yourself. Making new, more powerful stones can really help out in battle since the time you invest makes your characters that much stronger.
Jeanne d’Arc’s presentation is also of high quality. The in-game graphics are 3D polygons and look quite impressive on the PSP. All of the animations are pretty good, but there were instances where my PSP would stop and have to load some of the abilities when the characters had used their armlets. There are no lengthy animations in the game that throw off the pace of the fights either, which is good. If there is one thing people might complain about it’s the art style. The characters kind of look like bobble heads during battle close-ups and in cut-scenes. They don’t look like this during the well done anime cutscenes so you don’t have to worry about them looking out of place. The anime cutscenes shown during major events are very well done and even incorporate some solid voice acting that is appropriately French sounding. It is a shame that there isn’t any voice acting outside of the major cut-scenes, because it is quite good and would have fleshed out the story better.
The soundtrack is also appropriately French sounding and is pretty solid. It has some hummable tracks that will most likely get stuck in your head for quite some time. If there is one thing the music lacks, it’s variety. Most of the songs are repeated throughout the game. Even as good as they are, most songs get repetitive when played hundreds of times.
What Jeanne d’Arc lacks in originality it makes up for in its polish. It’s an all around solid strategy RPG that anyone into that genre will eat up and enjoy. Considering the loads of mediocre RPGs being thrown at the PSP, it should be a welcome addition to any RPG fan’s PSP library. It is refreshing to see an original title of such high quality on the PSP and I hope to see more like it.