Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 08/21/07 | Genre: Strategy RPG
The handheld console wars have been seen as many to be a battle that is all but over--with the Nintendo DS taking a very large lead that Sony could probably never overcome. I personally enjoy both platforms and feel they have enough different games to make each of them a worthy experience. However, Sony's handheld platform has been missing AAA software for quite some time now. Fortunately it finally appears that developers are making truly incredible experiences on the handheld and Sony's latest release--Jeanne D'Arc--is a great example. By utilizing a great story, mixing in anime cinematic sequences, and delivering incredibly deep strategy gameplay, Jeanne D'Arc is not only a great PSP game but one of the best Strategy RPG's I have played in quite some time.
Jeanne D'Arc is a retelling of the classic 15th century French story of Joan of Arc. Many attempts at retelling this story have been made in cinema and videogames. However, Developer Level 5 has decided to take the liberty of slightly changing up some of the elements, adding in demons and other mystical creatures, and added in a story of magical arm bands. The result is a fresh look at the classic tale that still manages to deliver the religious elements of Joan of Arc.
Visually, Jeanne D'Arc begins with an anime cinema and the story is told between these sequences and the standard 2D portrait of characters and their text boxes. All of the characters in the game have bright colors and larger heads. This does make them look less realistic but I found the graphics to bring a certain flavor and charm that made it feel inviting--no matter how difficult the task before me was.
In the 30 hour quest of Jeanne D'Arc, the meat of the game will take place on a 2D battlefield that looks just like any other Strategy RPG. Also, you can rotate the camera around and move the viewpoint up and down to gain the best view of the action. Each space on the map can hold only a single character and each character can only move a set number of spaces per turn. After you take your turn at moving, using skills, using items, and attacking, the opponents can also do the same. The other feature of these turns is that Jeanne has the ability to transform once per battle. This gives her two moves. If she kills an enemy while transformed, she can gain another turn. This can lead to her vanquishing five or more enemies on a single turn! Due to the sometimes high difficulty of a particular map, this is a necessary skill and is an absolute joy to control.
Another feature that Jeanne D'Arc brings to the table is the Burning Auras. These are left beside any character that gets attacked and gives any character that accompanies the space an added combat bonus. This bonus can also be used by enemy units so be careful. The drawback to the Burning Auras is that they have a very high counter-attack rate. But typically it is a good idea to have your characters lined up around an attacked enemy to gain the power of Burning Auras.
Characters gain experience by attacking enemies and using skills or items. If you vanquish a foe, a higher amount of experience is given. As a character gains 100 experience points, they gain a level and increase their stats. Characters also have a limited number of slots to add in skill stones. These can give stat bonuses or magic spells. Just as some characters can't use certain weapons, the same is true for skill stones. Unfortunately I found it a bit difficult to determine what characters were best at magic. This is definitely when a tool like GameFaqs.com comes in handy.
As characters select their skill stones, you can align them, with one of their slots, to one of three elements. This gives a rock/scissors/paper element to combat as enemies will be stronger or weaker against you depending on each of your alignments.
Overall, Jeanne D'Arc is an excellent game with a lengthy quest and a ton of replay value. Although it may not receive the attention it deserves, I found this to be one of the best games i have played all year. I highly recommend Jeanne D'Arc. It is yet another PSP title to further strengthen the library of great PSP games. Although it may seem unlikely, with titles like this, the PSP just might be able to catch up to the DS in sales figures.