The Hundred Years’ War is remembered for many things, most notably its famous heroes. Although lasting more than one hundred years (116 years, specifically), the war featured many historical figures including Edward the Black Prince, John Talbot, Gilles de Rais, and Joan of Arc. Likewise, Level 5 are known for their quality titles such as the Dragon Quest, Dark Cloud, and Professor Layton series. With a combination of both a significant historical event and a talented developer, does Jeanne D’Arc live up to its promise?
Plot-wise, the game takes an interesting twist on the Hundred Years’ War. The story begins in the village of Domremy, where a festival is being held. Jeanne (Joan of Arc) and her long-time friend Liane are called out to the local church to give an offering and look for a young man named Roger. Once there, Jeanne discovers a strange armlet that chooses to attach itself to her against her will. The two also find a large pink frog, which decides to accompany them. After this strange turn of events, a force of orcs attack them. They are able to fight off the monsters, and are afterwards accompanied by Roger.
However, the monsters are not simply wild and uncontrolled. The beasts pledge service to the possessed Prince Henry VI, as well as the evil and corrupt Duke of Bedford. To the dismay of Jeanne and company, the orcs are not alone. Upon returning to the village, they discover that it has been burnt to the ground by the English forces (led by Talbot). Jeanne is able to defeat the English deployment by the power of the armlet, and she sets off on a quest with her friends to defeat the English army and liberate France.
Despite a wild premise, the plot gives a lot of excitement and fun to the game. Like any good story should, it provides insight into the characters and the emotions that revolve around the plot. While the story does partially fit history, many parts of the game stray from historical accuracy, and it loses its factual basis after a certain point into the adventure. The only issue with the story seems to be a high frequency of plot twists, which results in constant party changes (gaining or losing members) and abrupt changes in the game’s direction.
Typical of great games, Jeanne D’Arc delivers quality gameplay to compliment the engaging story. Battles are set up in a standard strategy-RPG (SRPG) fashion, but complexity and variety in the combat system comes from the strategies needed to win. Players can select a certain number of fighters from their overall party to be on the field, and movement follows square patterns (movement distance being dependant on the character’s stats). Along with moving, these characters can discover hidden treasures, climb ladders, and use items or heal.
Most of the actions on the battlefield, however, will boil down to combat. Fighting takes place in a simple manner, with a character attacking another and being met with a counterattack. However, advantages in combat can be given from your fighters being in a certain position relative to their opponents (such as beside or behind). Additionally, characters receive bonuses for having an advantageous element over their opponent (such as Sol being strong against Stella). The combat system provides a lot of variety through the levels, and it forces a player to think about their surrounding environment and their opponents.
Fitting to its genre, the game holds many of the characteristics of a strategy-RPG. Characters gain levels by fighting opponents and gaining experience. Gaining levels also gives your fighters access to new weapons and raises their stats. Finished stages often have shops where you can buy weapons, armor, or items. These purchases are made with gold, which is also acquired by defeating opponents in battle. However, what sets the game apart from other titles in the genre is the variety given in battle. Spaces on the field are made increasingly important throughout the game, as many of the attacks have varying strengths and radiuses of impact. For example, the magic spell Blizzard hits a different formation of squares on the field than the spell Cyclone. These spells also fit to elements, and can be used to take advantage of an opponent's affinity. Characters that wield armlets can transform after a certain number of turns into a far more powerful form, and can often turn the tide of a battle. And despite all the advantages the player's party has, opponents are often very powerful and tactical.
Loot taken from battle is one of the things most essential to success in Jeanne D'Arc. After defeating a foe, the player is given whatever loot their opponent held. These treasures range anywhere from healing items, stat boosting items, weapons, armor, and, more often than not, skills. The rewards of battle are very important in the game, since stages become increasingly difficult. While the game starts out easy at first, the stages become harder and harder. Some can only be won by using your armlet-wielding characters. A flaw of the experience system is that there isn't enough experience to properly raise all the characters in your party, and some characters remain under-leveled so that you can have an adequate party.
To portray the events that unfold, the game offers fine graphics. Sprites are detailed and vary in color. Levels and environments, although sometimes lacking in detail, provide beautiful stages to battle in. Combat animations are beautiful to watch, although they sometimes suffer from slow loading times. Still, despite the occasionally sluggish loading times for battles (and at times movement) the game is free of framerate issues, and loading times for cut scenes are kept to a minimum.
One of the most interesting things about Jeanne D’Arc is the style of the cut scenes. Cut scenes are shown in a captivating anime style. Despite European-style characters being portrayed in anime style animation, the cut scenes work very well and are beautiful to watch. Additionally, the scenes give you a better idea of what the characters look like (the detail being deeper than the sprites), and they often seem to reward being victorious after a long or tough level. Important cutscenes (those in anime fashion) usually occur to demonstrate important plot points, while drama or conflict among your party is shown in the game's standard graphics.
Whether you’re in the middle of a tough fight or a plot-important cut scene, you have to give a nod to the music. Stages set in places like forests or plains often seem tranquil, while important battles in cities and palaces are made to feel epic. Perhaps the greatest use of the game’s music comes during cut scenes, which can be given a great deal of personality. Fittingly evil music plays during cut scenes with villains or monsters, while sad scenes are accompanied with similarly appropriate tunes.
When it comes to value and hours of play time, Jeanne D'Arc has plenty. The main story can be completed in about 20 hours or less, but there are many other extra features. Stages can be replayed in order to raise the levels of your party, although the monsters give barely any experience after you've beaten the stage, and it makes grinding a chore. There is also a colosseum that shows up after a certain point into the game, which pits 2 of your party members against increasingly tougher waves of monsters. However, the waves come in rounds and you can pick different characters for each round (your party also heals after each one). Additionally, there are side levels for getting extra experience and weapons.
Jeanne D’Arc, from its great plot to its addictive gameplay, is one of the best strategy-RPGs on the market and one of the best games on the PSP. Even people who aren’t fans of the genre should give it a try, and anyone looking learn more about history should give it a chance too. Either way, any PSP owner should consider picking this up, or at least consider renting it. If their was any game needed to demonstrate the developing talent at Level 5, Jeanne D’Arc would be a prime choice.