Reviewed: September 4, 2007
Released: August 21, 2007
Sony Computer Entertainment has been making or publishing some of the best games to hit their PlayStation line of handhelds and consoles for years. Among these games are some of my personal favorites including Alundra, Ico, and Legend of Legaia to name a few. Every game that SCEI has put out has been nothing but gold to me. And that brings me to another gem by Sony, Jeanne d’Arc for the PlayStation Portable.
Jeanne d’Arc is a tactical role-playing game (or grid style) set in the 15th century during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. There have been several tactical games of this type over the years, namely Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation, but Jeanne d’Arc has to be the best one I’ve played so far. The game is loosely based on the story of Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc to the French) and her struggle against the English occupation of France in the 15th century. This has to be the only game I have ever played that actually blends history and fantasy together to make a surprisingly beautiful game. I always liked reading about (for the sake of this review) Jeanne d’Arc when I was younger and I am surprised on how historically accurate Sony was with the characters. But from there on it’s a whole new ballgame.
The plot of the story starts with a Great War (known as the War of the Reapers) between demons and humans. Five heroes created five magical armlets and used their combined power to seal the demons away. During the dawn of the 15th century, the territorial conflicts between England and France are ongoing. One night in the town of Domremy, English soldiers and demons attacked the town and burned it to the ground. Jeanne, a young girl, picks up a sword and destroys them all, and on her arm one of the magical armlets.
You play as Jeanne and her two friends (Liane and Roger) as they struggle forward to free France of England’s demonic army. Along the ways you will meet and join forces with other famous French (and very much real) warriors.
The interface of this game is fairly straightforward and very easy to pick up on. Each town is a stage or battle and you can save before heading into the fray. Like most RPGs of its type, you can upgrade your weaponry, armor and skills as you progress. The combat system for Jeanne d’Arc is your basic turn-based attacks mixed with the strategic workings of chess.
The object of most stages is to defeat all the enemies or at least the English Knights. The thing that draws me into this game is that the rules for each stage differ. For example, one stage may be a defeat all and the next will be to survive long enough to reach a destination. But that’s just the half of it, not only do you have to defeat the enemies you often have to keep yourself or another key player to the stage alive. If that person or yourself die, then it is game over. And trust me I’ve died more than a few times.
Another mind blowing thing about this game is the ability to command up to 14 different characters throughout your journey. That’s insane! Your characters gain levels by defeating enemies like most RPGs and you can buy stronger weapons and armor with the spoils of your battles. Jeanne d’Arc uses skill stones for everything from physical attacks to magical attacks (such as fireballs and thunderbolts) to Status abilities. Skill stones can be equipped as they are or combined with other stones to create something new entirely. Along with the skill stones, come the different types of weapons. There are at least 46+ weapons ranging from swords to lances to bows and each has their own special traits. What’s not to love in that honestly?
The game has both MP and SP and do totally different jobs. MP in the game is used for all magic based attacks as well as the specials for all the different weapons. SP is used as Skill Points which are gained by fighting. They are then in turn used for the Transformation modes that several key characters use.
There are two main features that I love in Jeanne d’Arc. One is the Transformation System; the other is the Support Systems. Both can be found in battle and both are a very important part of a successful battle. The transformation system allows characters that wield the magic armlets, such as Jeanne does, to transform into a stronger version of them. But be warned, Transform can only be used once per stage and requires SP gained in battle to use. Also the transformed person changes back after a set amount of turns. Now I’ve heard from other reviewers and gamers that the “Transform” feature is a cheating death mechanism. I think otherwise. It is actually a vital part of surviving the stages. Plus there is the whole “use it wisely part”, the whole game is about knowing when and where to use every person, attack and Mode to your advantage.
The other favorite, as mentioned above is the Support system. This system is actually broken into parts, offensive and defensive. The offensive part comprises of “Burning Auras”. Burning Auras are created every time an enemy takes damages and ember like splashes fall back in to the adjacent square on the grid. If one of your team uses attacks will in a Burning Aura they gain an attack power bonus. The defensive part is called “Unified Guard”. This takes place when you and several of your troops are linked together within a certain distance of each other. What this does is raise your defense on every character nearby. This often time helps you block an oncoming attack, but it doesn’t work in every situation. Certain attacks cannot be blocked by Unified guard. Also the more characters you have linked the higher your defenses are to attacks.
Jeanne d’Arc also has a Free Battle feature available. Free battles do not progress the story in anyway but they do allow your characters to gain experience by defeating enemies. So simply put, if you are stuck on a tough Story battle, and you don’t think your characters are high enough in level, this is a perfect place to level up. Also free battles have no special Victory Requirements so no worries there. There are times where you have Exclusive Free battle stages available to you. These battles are usually tougher than normal free battles but the rewards are well worth it. There are also battlefields known as Colosseums. These are Free Battle stages where you must try to win through 10 consecutive battles. And trust me, this is a challenge.
The graphics of Jeanne d’Arc are exceptionally well done. The 3D battlefields are beautifully done in the PSP’s 480×272 resolution screen. The characters are nicely done, a bit on the pixilated side but still quite beautiful. But the one thing that I absolutely love is how the story is dramatically told by means of beautiful animated movies. I sat and watched the opening movie for probably ten minutes before even playing the game. Often times I couldn’t wait to see the next one as I fought my way thought the game.
My hats off to Sony on this, I have always appreciated a good story telling mechanism. These types of videos add a feeling of real adventure and allow you do see a bit more into the lives and struggles of each character. All other story related information is found out through text conversations. The visual effects for the various magical, special and transformations are well beautiful. I can’t help but say beautiful over and over, because that is what this game is.
The sound quality might not be perfect but its darn close. Everything from the battle music to Start screen music to the combat sounds is well done. Among the English voice Actors a few actors stand out. Being a big anime fan a few stuck out immediately. The first is Kari Wahlgren, who does the voice of Jeanne, who is more notable for roles as the star character in the animes; Witch Hunter Robin, FLCL, Blood+ and Princess Ashelia in Final Fantasy XII. Another is Yuri Lowenthal, who does the voice of Roger, who is known in the gaming world as the voice of The Prince in the Prince of Persia game and Luke fon Fabre from Tales of the Abyss.
Jeanne d’Arc will take you about 35 hours to beat if you play right through. But if you take the time to get everything in the game plus the level grinding you may have to do to take down those tougher foes it will take you around 40+ hours to beat.
Thankfully, Jeanne d’Arc doesn’t have a multiplayer mode and it doesn’t need one. There is however a Browser feature that allows you to view screenshots, download wallpapers for your PSP and view trailers of Jeanne d’Arc. You do need to have an Infrastructure set up on you PSP and have access to the Internet to do this however. This game is well worth the $30 dollars.
Jeanne d’Arc is the best tactical RPG that I have played in a long time. The amount of skill customization and various character types with their own weapon types and skills is amazing as is the sheer level of detail in ever facet of the presentation. And I still can’t get that opening movie out of my head.
A fantastic mix of historically accurate characters and a world of fantasy sewn together is all I could ask for. Well Level-5 and Sony delivered. I highly advise anyone to buy this game. You will not be disappointed. If you’ve been looking for that next great RPG for the PSP look no further. The world of Jeanne d’Arc awaits.