Jeanne d’Arc – PSP – Review

There was a
time when a vile demon king had risen up to terrorize the country. Five heroes
countered the hell-spawned threat, using armlets imbued with the power of God.
But as time passed, things changed. One of the heroes is now the “uncle” and
advisor to the boy-king of England. It is his desire that the young king lives
forever and rule supreme. To that end, the English have begun a campaign to
conquer France, using all manner of creature – from beasts to elves.

But it was not
enough. The advisor decided that for his king to rule forever, the old power of
the demon must be called forth, and the boy used as a vessel for that demon
king. There were few to oppose the plan, and the one that did was quickly and
quietly disposed of.

However, even
the best-laid plans can sometimes be put awry by unexpected resistance from
unlikely places. One of the ancient wristlets fell into the hands of a young
French girl, who used it to call upon the powers of Heaven to encase her in
ethereal armor, unleashing powerful attacks upon the enemies of her homeland.

Jeanne D’Arc is
a tactical role-playing game from Level 5, published by SCEA and released on the
PSP handheld system. The game has approximately 40 hours of gameplay, with 14
playable characters and the ability to customize them. Death is simply a matter
of not finishing the level and gaining the experience bonus awarded at the
successful conclusion of the stage.

The backdrop
for this tale is the Hundred Year War between France and England. The story is
loosely based on the exploits of the French heroine, Jeanne D’Arc (known by the
English name of Joan of Arc). The story begins in a small French village where a
young girl and her friend (Liane) are asked to deliver herbs to a local church.
They are almost there when a sound comes from the forest. A knight rides out of
the woods, injured, and he falls to the ground at the foot of the church. Tied
to his waist is a satchel, emitting a glow. The young woman, Jeanne, reaches her
hand tentatively toward the satchel, drawn on by the glow. Something snakes from
the bag and wraps around her wrist, glowing brightly. She is alarmed, naturally,
but unhurt. When the glow stops, she finds that a wristlet has attached itself
to her.

No time to
admire it, foul creatures attack and a voice (which the young Jeanne calls the
Voice of the Lord) tells her to grab the fallen knight’s sword and attack. She
does and quite successfully, too. It is not until the next battle, in the
burned-out village of her family, that the wristlet shows its power,
transforming Jeanne’s humble clothes into a brilliant armor, bearing some
resemblance to what one might suppose an avenging angel would wear. She is well
protected and a formidable force, now set on the path to ruin the plans of the
demon-imbued boy-king.

Told through
cut scenes, done is the typical Japanese anime style, the game has a building
curve, taking the player deeper into the tale. You will gain more companions on
the journey, but can only place five into a battle (at the start of the fight).

The combat
phase, itself, is pretty straightforward. The battleground begins with a
load-out section, in which you can change weapons or armor, or even distribute
skills to those in the group. Then an area lights up and allows you to place
five members of your troupe into the scenario. There are conditions for the
battle and then it begins. You get a chance to move each of your team. When they
are selected, you are given a grid over the landscape, which shows the extent of
their movement. You move, can decide whether to attack, use a skill (which
drains a bar that is equivalent to mana), use an item from your inventory – like
a healing herb, or wait. Once you have gone through all of that, your turn ends.
An attack will sometimes lead to a counterattack, depending on the type of unit
you are attacking. If, for example, you get within one square of an archer and
melee attack, the archer – needing to be two squares away for the bow to be of
use – will not retaliate.

Jeanne also has
the ability to transform into her heavenly armor. However, she can only do this
once within a scenario, and the power of the armor lasts only a few turns. If,
though, she attacks an enemy, and kills it, she gets a bonus that basically
gives her another turn. This is demonstrated effectively in an early level where
you can plot your moves and take out quite a good portion of the enemy force
before the power fades.

everything yields experience points, which translate into new levels, as well as
the ability to use different armor, skills and weapons. There are also free
combat areas and you can always revisit areas you have battled in as you move
around the map.

Some of the
problems occur early in the game. The AI seems to take a vacation when it could
actually do you in. This is a game that plays out like a chess match. You make
all your moves and then the enemy AI makes its turn. As the phase plays out, you
can start to see holes in your strategy, and may actually cringe when you see
how open you have left a member of your team (there is a unity defensive bonus
when team members are in proximity of each other). Sometimes, though, the game
does not pick up on it and you can escape the error. If you fail a scenario, it
is game over, and you have to reload from the last saved point. This means
waiting on load times.

The digression
from the true story of Jeanne is for the sake of gameplay and as this is a
fantasy tactical RPG title, it works well. The game has a small(ish) learning
curve, but is a visual delight. The gameplay itself is addictive and the game is
recommended for those PSP owners looking for a good game – whether you are a fan
of Japanese RPGs or not. This is fun stuff.

Review Scoring Details

for Jeanne D’Arc

Gameplay: 8.8
The difficulty curve
ramps up as you progress through the game and the controls are easy to learn and
use. There is some suspect AI at time, especially when you realize you’ve made a
tactical error and the game’s AI does not take advantage of it, but the game
still provides a range of mission types as well as a lot of entertainment.

Graphics: 9.0
Sure, they are
basically a 2D scheme juxtaposed with an isometric (and rotatable) camera to
give the impression of 3D, but while some of the cut scene material is tried and
true, the game still gives a very bright and lush rendering that is – as far as
eye candy is concerned – absolutely delicious on this platform.

Sound: 7.4
Solid music and some
of the in-game effects you’ve heard before. A decent supporting cast member but
nothing that truly shines on its own.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
Nothing overly
complex here. This is a tactical RPG, which means you have to think your moves
through, and level up (and equip) your party members appropriately. Those that
have played this type of game before should not have a problem with the concepts
presented; those who have not will find the learning curve small.

Concept: 8.5
A handheld tactical
RPG that is visually wonderful and does a great job in terms of gameplay. Give
Level 5 credit for taking some of the best elements of the genre, combining them
with a few new ideas and dropping them into a solid gaming backdrop.

Overall: 8.9
The game has a few
minor problems but when looking at the overall scope of the game, and what it
achieves on the handheld platform, this is a pretty impressive title. It plays
well, you will find that the characters have a bit of personality (yes, even
Liane – whose value is definitely in the role of healer or spellcaster), and the
game’s missions are diverse enough to give you a reason to keep moving the story
forward. This is a terrific PSP title.