Jeanne d'Arc - Staff Review  

Jeanne is on Fire
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Jeanne d'Arc
35-50 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   What was Level-5 thinking when they dreamed up the idea to create a tactical RPG based around the story of the 15th century savior of France? It's difficult to say, but the concept got the green light and has now made it all the way to North American shores. Jeanne d'Arc for the PlayStation Portable loosely follows the history of the young martyr starting in her hometown of Domrémy when she first hears the voice of God. Along with hearing the voice, she also obtains an armlet that grants her the power to transform into a powerful, armored knight. Shortly after obtaining this armlet, Jeanne and her delicate lady friend Liane wander back to Domrémy and find it burning down. Soon they are joined by Roger, a friend who knows little of his past, and the trio is able to defeat the invading English band. After that, they all begin a grand adventure to rid France of the English.

   In Jeanne's effort to drive England's forces from France, she joins up with Dauphin Charles VII in an effort to reclaim the throne of France. Jeanne and company are constantly attacked by the English army under the command young Henry VI and his uncle the Duke of Bedford. Here is where history takes a turn toward fantasy, as the young child Henry VI seems to be possessed due to some evil incantations that the Duke cast on him. The playful child-turned-monster enlisted both human soldiers and powerful beastmen to try to stop Jeanne and the Dauphin from taking back France. While very much of the story follows the actual history of Jeanne, many other aspects of the game are far from it. One area that blends history and fantasy is the game's characters. Gilles, the quiet, purple-haired noble; La Hire, the proud beastman; and the humble friar, Brother Richard are all people from recorded 15th century history, but they take on much different personas in Jeanne d'Arc. The actual history of Jeanne d'Arc is an interesting enough story, but for those that are willing to take the fantasy elements and sweeping historical changes in stride will enjoy a plot with many twists and turns. It is a touching tale involving friendship, determination, and tragedy with very well-written dialogue throughout.

Power The power "burns" you.

   Jeanne d'Arc plays like most other grid-based tactical RPGs. The player's side gets a turn, then the enemies do. When an enemy is defeated, it will net items or money. When a playable character is beaten, they are just gone from that battle, not for good, and it's not until over halfway through the game that players can obtain a spell to revive fallen allies mid-battle. Players get to select their party at the start of each stage, with stages offering varying numbers of party members that can be used. The game features around a dozen playable characters available and each can use only one weapon type: sword, spear, axe, dagger, staff, bow, or whip. Skill Stones, acquired from defeating enemies in combat, are used to gain special skills for characters and their specific weapon type. They can also equip passive skills such as Counter and enhancing skills like those that modify stats such as HP, MP, or attack. All characters can equip Skill Stones that grant the ability to cast magic, though certain characters are naturally better with magic than others. These stones allow for nearly endless customization of characters and help to provide lots of diversity in combat.

   During battles, Jeanne d'Arc features additional concepts to allow for greater strategy. Spirit affinities are Skill Stones that enhance characters with a specific affinity: Sol, Luna, or Stella. These affinities then take on a rock-paper-scissors style with Sol beating Stella, Stella beating Luna, and Luna beating Sol. For example, Sol-equipped characters will do heavy damage to Stella characters, but will deal little to no damage against Luna-equipped ones. Characters can completely ignore this and not equip an affinity Skill Stone at all, forgoing a bonus, but leaving them to deal and receive equal damage against all enemies. Along with traditional directional attacks, Jeanne features the Unified Guard system and Burning Auras. Unified Guard gives a defense bonus that increases with the number of characters directly linked to the character being attacked. Burning Auras are offensive and are created behind an enemy that has been hit with a physical attack launched by the player. These Auras give the character in that space, or one that moves into it, a single round attack bonus while they are within the Aura. Finally, certain characters in Jeanne's crew are armlet wielders like Jeanne herself. These armlet wielders have the options of charging up SP to transform into more powerful versions of themselves for a few turns. During this transformation, characters are not only stronger, but have access to a special offensive skill unique to that transformation. All armlet wielders have access to the passive skill Godspeed as well. Godspeed allows a transformed character to take another action upon defeating an enemy. Sadly, armlet wielders are predefined, so customizing who can transform is not possible. With all of these combat features, it is clear that Jeanne d'Arc isn't just a run-of-the-mill tactical RPG.

   Battles take place in stages on the overworld map. These stages will either be story stages that advance the plot or free stages. The free stages are used in acquiring new items, Skill Stones, or just leveling characters. Eventually, a free stage called the Colosseum opens up and offers a humorous contest called Yield or No Yield, complete with a gameshow host. The Colosseum offers ten consecutive battles that must be won in order to win the grand prize at the end. As the rounds get higher, the battles get tougher with a loss equaling a game over. Thankfully, the host gives the option of yielding after each round. After finishing the main quest, players can go back to replay free stages for an even greater challenge and the opportunity to obtain more powerful weapons, armor, and Skill Stones.

Anger Jeanne is "burning" with anger.

   Interaction on maps and in menus is simple and effective. Saving is allowed in between story stages, after entering a stage, or as a quick save during combat. Purchasing new equipment is user-friendly in that character stats are shown along with the positive or negative stat changes being clearly displayed on screen before purchasing them. Another interactive feature is the binding of Skill Stones in which two existing stones can be merged to produce a new skill. This is a simple process of trial and error, but upon completing a successful bind, the recipe is stored for later reference. Combat interaction is smooth as well, as characters can see attack and defense percentages before confirming an action. One of the only real downsides of Jeanne's interface is the delay in opening the option screen and occasional loading time when using a skill in combat, but these are just minor in the overall scheme.

   In terms of graphics, Jeanne d'Arc is very well detailed, containing bright, vibrant characters, stage maps, and enemies. Attack animations are not elaborate, but offer more than just a basic weapon swing. Each character has their own style of movement, and the game even goes as far as to enhance that movement as they traverse across the battle maps. Instead of just watching the character lifelessly move from point A to point B, they will interact with the environment by climbing ladders, jumping off ledges, and even squatting down to get momentum to jump up a small rise. Though the game's cutscenes are not prevalent, they are still impressive. Each scene is fully voiced, but sadly lacks subtitles, making it sometimes difficult to catch what was being said if the volume was too low. All voice actors do a wonderful job though, as each character's voice fits his or her personality all the way down to the accent. One flaw in the game's sound is that battle cries get repetitive and stale after a while. The game's soundtrack is very pleasant, but not extremely memorable. Thankfully, there is a decent variety of tracks offered within the game.

   What started out as a questionable concept to many has turned out to be quite a solid game in the end. Boasting a hefty 35+ hour story and loads of bonus content available post-game, Jeanne d'Arc offers a good deal of playtime for a portable title. It features a hefty challenge to start with as many battles require more than just defeating all enemies to succeed. Some require making it past powerful enemies without losing an ally and others require luring certain enemies into a trap and then springing the trap. As the game progresses those experienced with tactical RPGs will find the game to be a bit easier as characters become more powerful. Taking a twist on an already interesting historical tale, offering entertaining characters, and boasting a solid battle system, Jeanne d'Arc is one of the most impressive tactical RPGs to grace any system in some time.

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