Jeanne D'Arc Review
As anyone that has read some of my past reviews knows, I'm a huge fan of the Disgaea series. Now, I didn't always like strategy RPGs – I didn't get into Final Fantasy Tactics in the first go round on the PS1 like a lot of the fans of the genre did. I never played any of the games in the Ogre Battle series either. Disgaea, however, managed to get me into this style of game and, ever since, I've been looking to play more of them. So, when I heard of Jeanne D'Arc from another gamer friend of mine, I wanted to take a look at it. I wasn't quite sure how things would turn out, as the game is only 29 bucks as opposed to the 34-39 of most PSP games.
For anyone that hasn't heard of the game yet (and I'm sure there are a lot of you), Jeanne D'Arc is a strategy RPG, though some people refer to it as a tactical RPG. To be honest, I'm not very sure of the difference there. I just know that you move your party members around on a grid a la Final Fantasy Tactics while beating up tons of different enemies along the way. You'll level up, find new spells and all the other stuff that comes along with the whole RPG genre. The story is also pretty interesting, being that it has some roots in history – I'm sure many of you have heard of Joan of Arc, after all. Of course, it is only loosely based, since I highly doubt Joan fought all sorts of fun beasts employed by the English. Or that Joan had magical abilities to transform into some sort of super-fighter. I'll just say that the game's story is pretty well done and, by using some historical elements, gives gamers a sense of familiarity while not throwing the typical save the princess story in their face for the millionth time.
Getting into fights here is an absolute blast. The game really does a good job of easing you into all of the elements of the combat system, first introducing you to the basics such as moving, attacking and the directions your characters face. As you go through more fights, you'll get introduced to other elements such as Burning Auras and Unified Defenses. Burning Auras are one tactical element that I've not yet seen used in this style of game. See, if you have one of your characters attack an enemy, a Burning Aura pops up in the square opposite of the person that just attacked. If you then have someone attack from this square, they'll get a bonus to their damage. Enemies can also make use of these Auras, though, so you have to be careful about just who attacks and when. Unified Defense is another element that is nice to have around. If you have your party members close to each other and one of them gets an attack, you'll get a bonus to your defense based on the number of allies that are close by. Needless to say, the way you position your characters in Jeanne is of utmost importance.
The game also does something else that is fairly unique to this genre – it imposes a time limit on each battle. You'll have a certain number of turns to meat the stage's goal which is, more often than not, to eradicate all the enemies. Because of this, the idea of moving slowly and engaging one enemy at a time isn't a valid tactic. You'll have to charge forward, potentially split up your party and be smart about how you do all this if you want to finish within the map's turn limit. This gives each of the battles a sense of urgency and forces the player to plan things a bit more than he or she may have originally thought of doing.
Planning is also important before the battles start. Unlike most games in this genre, you don't have characters leveling up as certain classes. You don't have classes laid out as they have been in the past, with fighters bashing stuff, healers healing and mages throwing fireballs around. Instead, you have these things known as skill stones. Not only do they provide special abilities for your character – they also give statistic bonuses and affinities. The affinities are important to some of the battles you'll end up in during the course of the game. There are three different ones: Sol, Stella and Luna. Each affinity is weak against one and strong against another, allowing you to get just the right counter for the enemies you are about to face at the cost of having more abilities/bonuses for your character. This customization system is one of the more interesting ones I've seen in a strategy RPG – the ability to turn someone with fighter abilities into a fighter/healer and then into a mage from battle to battle is awesome.
You can customize all your characters to your play style, be that having everyone with high hit points and a heal spell, or having a dedicated healer, a dedicated fighter and a dedicated mage. Some characters may be better suited for filling certain roles due to stats, but that doesn't stop you from using them in a different role if you feel like it, which is pretty darn cool. The only thing I can really find wrong with this system is that you will, on occasion, lose access to certain characters for story reasons. With the ability to customize other characters to fill certain roles, though, you can rearrange the skills in your party to compensate for this to a degree – the other character you use won't have the level/stats, but will have the abilities.
Some of the characters that you will get also have these holy armlets. At the beginning of the game, Jeanne gets one of these and you get to find out just what they do – they transform whoever has them into a Holy Wrecking Machine of Doom. This transformation not only makes you significantly more powerful, but also has one ability that borders on overpowering it. See, if you manage to kill someone while you have this power active, you get a free turn. The reason this only borders on overpowering the ability is that you have to plan for this transformation in the first place, weakening monsters as you go instead of killing them. If you're fighting a battle where the armlet user can transform and one shot fully powered enemies anyways, the battle wouldn't have been that hard in the first place. Not to mention, you can't just transform at will – you have to wait for soul power to slowly charge up.
To get around to all of these battles, you'll move from area to area on a world map of sorts. This isn't a free-roaming map, but is more like the one used in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. You have certain cities and fight areas that you can move between, with the ability to go back to areas after they've been cleared out so that you can fight the battle again. The game does require you to do a bit of leveling outside of the storyline, be it for getting certain rare abilities from monsters or to just tack on another level or two. Thankfully, each battle you fight in will be fun and rewarding – you're going to get the same loot and experience that you'd get from a normal battle when you do these free battles.
Yet another one of the game's strong points is the overall presentation. Instead of going for a realistic looking approach to the characters, the game instead has a heavy anime feel to it in the game world. Even the cutscenes are done as an anime instead of being a more CG-style like you'd see in most Final Fantasy games. The best part about these graphics, though, is that they are fluid and don't bog down the system at all. The characters animate well, the game doesn't bog down during heated battles and the character design is well done, both with the enemies and the player's party. Of course, if you aren't a fan of the anime style, you'll not enjoy this as much.
Jeanne D'Arc is one of the best games to be released on Sony's portable system to date. The battle system is very well executed, with a combination of new elements and ones that are familiar to those of this style of game. Character development is wide open to many different playstyles, allowing you to, more often than not, use the characters you like the look and story of as opposed to forcing you to use someone because they have a necessary ability. Finally, the game just looks incredible, from the well-done anime cutscenes to the in battle graphics and animations. If you own a PSP and enjoy RPGs to any degree, you owe it to yourself to buy Jeanne D'Arc – especially since it is 10 bucks cheaper than the average PSP title.