In a time when nearly every new game on the market has to appear franchise-able with the potential for sequels and merchandising, it's refreshing when, every once in awhile, a true standalone comes along. It's doubly pleasant when such a title is as good as Jeanne D'Arc; an obscure but mostly-wonderful tactical role-playing game that mixes 15th Century history with fantasy. Developed by Level 5, the brains behind Rogue Galaxy and the Professor Layton series, it should come as no surprise that Jeanne D'Arc is expertly crafted and beautifully presented. The story is not your usual RPG fare; very loosely framing itself around the exploits of one Miss "of Arc", whilst adding a healthy dose of artistic licence and fantasy overtones for good measure. A significant number of locations iconic to her legend are present; including Jeanne's home town of Domrémy; Reims, where her military victories helped secure Charles VII's succession to the throne; Rouen, where she was executed (an event given a clever new spin here) and Orléans, scene of her first, historic military success. The player travels France building a resistance army, as Jeanne and company become locked in a bitter conflict first with the invading English, and then when fantasy elements come to the fore, a hoard of butt-ugly monsters and demonic creatures. The heroine is challenged with uniting carriers of a magical armlet that grants superhuman power in battle, in a bid to overcome her formidable adversaries. Barring the odd blip, it's a deft little story. The love triangle involving Jeanne and her friends Roger and Liane bubbles nicely just under the surface, whilst Jeanne's personal struggle as a woman-at-war and the burdens of her armlet add a layer of depth that lesser RPGs often neglect. Whilst the story loses a bit of bite when the focus moves from the human element to that of grand fantasy in the closing stages, it's rarely short of compelling, ably supported by a lively crew of allies. It doesn't flinch at delivering gutsy plot twists either, with few games having the audacity to switch lead character midway through the adventure after Jeanne is separated from the group. Add to the mix the spooky, demon-possessed boy-King Henry VI and his fabulously malevolent advisor the Duke of Bedford, and you've got the makings of some superb pantomime villainy too. The gameplay itself offers a recognisable though highly-polished tactical-RPG affair. The fifteen or so characters you'll get to play as throughout the game (for the most part its between five and seven in any one stage however) offer a handsome amount of variety, and it's nice note that no one style of fighter tails away significantly over the course of the adventure, with all remaining competitive given the right tactical deployment. Jeanne D'Arc uses a standard grid system, allowing characters to travel a certain number of squares on the battlefield per turn. Archers offer great range of attack, but their physical vulnerability means they must be protected by tougher, short range fighters, such as the axe-wielding barbarian-types, who are super powerful but limited in the number of squares they can cover. One character can plant ladders as an alternative means of breaching castle walls, whilst those attacking with pikes/spears can avoid counterattacks by striking from two squares away. It's simple to grasp, yet offers lots of options. The 'unified guard' is a clever system that allows characters standing within one square of each other to form a defensive link against incoming attacks, whilst Jeanne and a small handful of other characters who can deploy their special 'armlet' powers, can prolong their turns whenever they kill a foe, allowing for an often-decisive succession of killing blows. Add to this the ability to fuse and create new skills ranging from stat boosts, to magic spells, to massively damaging special moves, and there's plenty to busy yourself with. Jeanne D'Arc is more accessible and attractive a proposition than most tactical-RPGs - there's still some level-grinding to be done but the process is nowhere near as severe as in titles such as Disgaea. The gameplay avoids stagnation by refusing to settle in the same patterns for long, and the radius of objectives built around the battling is fantastic. There's the risky business of breaching a castle or preventing your own from falling after some of your compliment reveal themselves as turncoats. Escorting the vulnerable Charles VII to a safety point challenges you to carve a path through foes whilst also remaining in a tight enough formation to ensure his safety. Better still, the player can return to the vast majority of the 40+ maps to fight a new set of foes in order to accrue money, items and experience points, and not only this, there's some great side-missions too. Some reveal the games creative side, like an instance where two giant dragons must be lured inside a castle's gate and sealed inside; whilst the Colosseum, an awesome test of battle hardiness, echoes Level 5's earlier titles as you rattle through ever-tougher bouts, deciding to stick or twist at the end of each. Problems are few and far between, but there is the odd hindrance. The chief challenge for the most part is not so much the foes, who can be picked off with relative ease, but completing your task within a 'turn' limit. As a result, you'll occasionally encounter some rather craven A.I. tactics designed to stymie an encounter, allowing them to win by running down the counter. The player must also take care not to 'save' at the battlefield setup screen before a fight, as it prevents a return to the relative safety of the main map until you beat the level. Various locations on the map allow access to shops with weapons, items, skills and so on, but as they're all the same bar for slight differences in their inventories, it perhaps would have been wiser to simply have one shop instantly accessible with everything available to the player in the one menu. Whilst the voicing is no lunchtime job (they sport solid sounding French accents for starters), there are, as ever, a few performances that leave a bit to be desired. Still, it's a superbly stylish game. The wonderful, almost cel-shaded look of the characters is enhanced through some marvellously elaborate animations, particularly in the early stages of the game. It's clear Level 5 have gone to great lengths to make it all look high-end, and big story moments are intermittently conveyed through a clutch of cool anime video sequences, which is something of a treat for PSP gamers. The only gripe presentation-wise is that it doesn't indulge in such visual extravagances as much in the closing stages, ironically when the really grand-standing battles begin. The battle locations themselves, whilst not quite as tidy or slick as the rest of the game, still reveal an appreciable amount of detail, which can be admired via an easily navigable camera, controlled with the analogue nub. It continues to exceed expectations with excellent longevity. Whilst the map looks pretty big to begin with, it's positively heaving with battles at the close of your journey. The main game should last most players more than 30 hours, to which you can add easily another ten if you wish to conquer all of the side-levels and additional, tougher Colosseum runs that become available post-completion. Jeanne D'Arc is ultimately a very classy, very complete game. Whilst its tried-and-tested gameplay blueprint doesn't seek to reinvent the wheel in itself, numerous new additions are almost universally positive, resulting in a game that's highly addictive and an effective time-sink. It has lots of content, particularly for a portable title, whilst its continued creativity and smart level-design help an admirably different story retain impetus. Fans of the genre will love it, whilst even tactical-RPG sceptics like myself will likely end up believing Jeanne D'Arc can work miracles.
Jeanne D'Arc is a fun little game that melds RTS and RPG elements together well, while running along a mild historical bent (and I emphasise mild, because while this is rooted in some sort of historical veracity, it is NOT accurate and has no pretensions to such). You start off with a map, on which the eponymous protagonist travels. It is complete with both areas to fight and towns to rest at, and spans quite far, which in itself gives this a lot of replay value. The main bulk of the game consists of fighting, and while it's not exactly original, it's well executed, and being able to have over half a dozen players in your party at once is surprising for the limited PSP. The controls are also intuitive and do well given, again, the PSP's annoyances in this area. The game is pretty good from a visual perspective, although not the cream of the crop. Some pop-in and screen tearing is noticeable, and there isn't the immense detail other PSP games have managed. Still, the overall style is palatable, and aurally, the game is also supported with some authentic-sounding dialogue, fun combat sounds and a good soundtrack. What I admire most is that there's so much here to play through; one playthrough can take upwards of 24 hours, and far, far longer if you decide to go for the side-quests. This is great value for money any way you cut it, and it thankfully doesn't feel too repetitive either. If you're a big RPG fan, this is a must get if you own a PSP, and it's up there with the higher echelons of the PSP's RPG catalogue.
The greatest game I've played on the PSP! It mixes historical facts with magical beings based on the story of Joan of Arc. One village girl, Jeanne, armed with a mystical bracelet builds an army when her peaceful village is burnt down by the English. She receives the power of transformation to fight for her just cause and travels France with her friends and other companions she meets on her journey. This game cleverly twists history to give it a gripping plot filled with death, betrayal and the occasional laugh. It is a strategy RPG which makes it easy to play and quick to learn. You may also fuse certain skills so that your skill list is almost endless. Once the game ends there is still a lot more to do. The 'Colosseum' offers bonus fights with special prizes and there are many optional missions which can make the game more exciting for the people who care little about the plot. The only problem someone may have with this game is that it feels there is nothing wrong with killing off characters which can be annoying for those who get attached. An exciting game from the beginning to the end!