This August, a piece of history will be making its way onto the PSP, in the form of Jeanne d'Arc. In a genre often lacking in historically-based games, on a system lacking in tactical RPGs, Jeanne d'Arc holds the potential to fill a key gap in the handheld lineup.
Developed by Level 5 and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America, Jeanne d'Arc is based on the historical figure of the same name ("Joan of Arc" to the English-speaking world), covering the events of her military career during the last quarter of the Hundred Years War. The story is a retelling of the historical climate, leaning towards the whimsical side with the addition of fantasy fare such as magic, beast people, and demon-banishing armlets. Nevertheless, the story is accurate in its events, and history buffs will find real people littered throughout the fictional cast.
With a strict timeline to follow, Jeanne d'Arc's story portions are understandably linear, but the player has the ability to freely roam the countryside of France before entering most story locations, and can access all previous battlefields and shops. Additionally, some sidequests are present in the form of optional battlefields, packed with large and imposing monsters to defeat.
The game boasts traditional tactical RPG elements, with five to seven characters stacked against foes on a grid-based battlefield. Players take turns with the enemy moving all their characters and executing actions, with a limited number of turns available per battle. Jeanne receives an ever-growing garrison of allies to choose from, each with a fixed weapon specialty including swords, bows, whips and axes. The battlefields follow logical physics, with water taking longer to move through, and obstacles and height playing roles in weapon range. Players will be treated to battles with a variety of win and loss conditions that deviate from the usual "kill everybody, or everybody dies" routine.
Skill stones are acquired throughout the game and equipped to characters, offering spells, weapon skills or augments, or status boosts. Jeanne d'Arc also has a skill customization system in place, for players who aren't content to leave their characters with only the "Basic Weapon Smash X" abilities available in shops. After a certain point, the purple toad Cuisses (the obligatory Cute Party Member Thing) can consume two skill stones to combine them into a new, more powerful one, some of which can't be found by other means.
Players of Jeanne d'Arc will be greeted with crisp and colorful graphics, as well as a collection of animated, fully voiced cutscenes, in which the French characters actually sound French. The game itself is neat, and runs smoothly with next to no pauses or hitches--a PSP rarity.
For those looking to take up the quest to save France, Jeanne d'Arc will be found on retail shelves in mid-to-late August for a suggested retail price of $30. A full review will appear on RPG Land shortly before that time.