Jeanne d’Arc
Playstation Portable
Reviewed: 08/13/2007

Level 5, the developer behind masterpieces such as Dark Cloud 2 and Dragon Quest VIII, now demonstrates its creativity in the tactical RPG subgenre with Jeanne d’Arc for PSP.

It’s unusual to see an RPG plotline based on the life of a canonized saint, but Joan of Arc had a pretty epic crusade going in her time, so why not? Of course, since the story contains many things not present during the Hundred Years War (talking trees and soul-possessing demons, for instance), it is only a loose retelling of the life of Jeanne. For the first half of the game or so, the plot limps along, alternating between being interesting and slightly mundane, and seemingly unable to decide whether it would rather be whimsical or serious. The way the script introduces historical figures and places is mostly a curiosity, though it does follow the life and campaigns of Jeanne after her home village Domrémy burns to the ground, with few segways. Key characters do what they should, when they should, and in this way Jeanne d’Arc is accurate, but players looking for Koei-caliber accuracy will be disappointed. The second half of Jeanne d’Arc, though, takes place after the point in history when Jeanne was burned at stake, and here the plot begins to stagger. With no history left to draw from, it lurches head-on into RPG-cliché territory and relies on the fictional character additions to carry it through to the end.

This would be fine, if these characters were likeable or the player had any real reason to care for them, but unfortunately, they aren’t and there isn’t. The ones given speaking parts are cookie-cutter, from the dashing swordsman with amnesia, to the steadfast and courageous lion, to the sissy (and possibly homosexual) archer who gives pet names to fellow party members. Furthermore, some characters are utterly arbitrary, showing up for a single battle to spout a few lines and justify their true existance: filling out the player’s garrison. These characters, while useful in battle, generally come with ridiculous backstories, and it’s debateable whether having them show up once more to clarify their pasts would have done more harm than good. The game’s script itself is of average quality, and does bolster the overall story. It contains good, if predictable lines and is occasionally punctuated by moments of sparkling wit. The downside is that on a few occasions the player must decipher bizarrely written lisps and accents. In the end, while the story is not poor, it feels more like a novelty than a well-thought and integral part of the game, relying on the name of the title character to gloss over its roughest spots.

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Very well-done battles make the game overall great.

Luckily, Jeanne d’Arc‘s gameplay is astonishingly addicting, and more than makes up for what the plot lacks. The grid-based battles borrow several common elements from various tactical RPGs, but come with their own system twists. Characters are assigned equipment and skills, then placed on the battlefield to duke it out with opponents, moving around according to the terrain. At its core, the battle system is nothing revolutionary, but these traditional elements work well, as they generally do. Four new gameplay elements directly affect players strategy and party customization to add challenge and interest to battles: equipping of skill stones, transformation gems, burning auras, and unity guards.

Skills stones may be equipped to characters, and there are a plethora of innate and direct weapon skills, magical spells, and character augments (such as MP +30) to choose from, but the catch is that any single character may only equip six, with no exceptions. This forces players to be very choosy about preparing characters for battle, and prevents any one character from becoming an all-purpose tank. Skill stones may be found or created through the skill binding system, where two stones can be combined into a mystery stronger one.

It is surprisingly easy to lose oneself in skill binding for an hour without even noticing, as the combinations are numerous. Transformation gems may only be used by the characters with magical armlets, and are gained either through the main story or by clearing free stages. They allow that character to transform once per gem, healing themselves and becoming powered up for a few turns. Burning auras and unity guards occur in battle and affect the placement of characters: burning auras allow one to chain attacks to do substantially increased damage, and clustering friendly units together will boost their defense as they protect each other.

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Here is something you can’t understand: how I could just kill a man!

All of these elements contribute to battlefield strategy, but one outstanding difference that sets Jeanne d’Arc apart from other tactical RPGs is in the battlefields themselves. Battlefields are not homogenous, their only differences being mostly aesthetic, but rather, are dynamic and laid out to add extra challenge to the confrontations, particularly in the later parts of the game. Attacking a fort, players face a choice: batter at the hefty wooden gate, or protect a character as he runs around laying siege ladders? Indoors, characters can sometimes open doors to reveal more enemies, new routes, or treasures. One battlefield is actually a maze of teleporters, requiring characters to be left behind to trigger switches while the others forge ahead. Often, enemy reinforcements will come barrelling in without warning. Party members will start out not always in neat clusters or groups, but are sometimes isolated and scattered across the field. Added to this are a healthy variety of win/loss conditions, with a surprisingly low number of maps requiring the total obliteration of either comrades or foes.

Jeanne d’Arc‘s system is not without flaw, but these are minor and mostly negligible compared to how fun the game’s battles actually are. The character variety could have been a little wider, with many sword and axe characters, few other classes, and a whip wielder who is entirely missable. The whole game is overall on the easy side, but not mindnumbingly so. It also suffers from a few minor balance issues, where shops will stock the same equipment for most of the game, and the free stages will dispense magical gems like candy. Jeanne d’Arc is mildly replayable, with one or two battlefield or character choices left up to the player, and a garrison containing roughly twice the characters needed for any given battle, allowing players to experiment with a different main party the second time around.

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Get back, get back, y’all don’t know me like that!

Musically, Jeanne d’Arc has a pleasant overall theme, and most of the songs are good listening. The battles in particular have good music, and so it is unfortunate that there are so few songs to fill the battles with. Many songs are repeated frequently throughout the game, lessening their appeal. The sound effects are just fine, and the in-battle voice acting is almost non-existant, which is just fine, as there is little appropriate opportunity for it. Voices in the anime cutscenes are clear, and feature voice actors who for the most part do a pretty good job of sounding French without sounding like Inspector Clousseau.

On the topic of anime cutscenes, Jeanne d’Arc has several, which are graphically clean and colorful, and all-around good looking. Some of these cutscenes last for several minutes, with no detrimental loading times. In-game graphics are very brightly colored as well, with sharp lines, and are such that they never look bad. Jeanne d’Arc‘s graphics may not be the highest resolution, best rendered or the most gorgeous, but they are well-employed, with environments constructed with variation and detail, and the battlefield grids on top of the battlefield instead of constructing it.

PSP owners who are fans of tactical RPGs have no reason to not give Jeanne d’Arc a shot. The slightly weak plot can still see the game to the end, and the tactical gameplay is top notch, providing dynamic maps and a variety of battles to keep a player satiated, along with a fun skill system. Coupled with the neat, styled presentation, overall fine sound and with over 30 hours of gameplay, Jeanne d’Arc has a wide and lasting appeal.

-Janelle Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Below Average
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 8