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.
Almost 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.