Jeanne d'Arc Preview

By Chris Remo, Aug 02, 2007 1:16am PDT The upcoming PSP strategy RPG Jeanne d'Arc, from the RPG maestros at Dragon Quest VIII (PS2) developer Level 5, presents a history in which the legendary Joan of Arc truly was touched by divinity, granting her unearthly powers which she used to lead her countrymen against the English. Because it is a video game, it also presents a history in which the French were pitted against not only the English but against hordes of demons.

Despite that rather predictable concession to video gameness, Jeanne d'Arc's alternate history swords-and-sorcery story, conveyed via 2D animated cutscenes and attractive real-time 3D, is different enough from the standard carbon-copied swords-and-sorcery setting that permeates most games of the genre. Its gameplay is less unique--but that doesn't really end up detracting from the overall experience. Much like Level 5's work on home console games, Jeanne d'Arc doesn't so much markedly innovate within its genre so much as provide a solid and polished example of it. The PSP could use some more tactical RPGs, and Jeanne d'Arc is shaping up to be a good one.

At a recent Sony event, I was able to play the first hour or so of the game, which consisted of several missions. Those familiar with similar turn-based series like Fire Emblem will know what to expect: the player and the AI alternately move their armies across a square-tiled battlefield. Forces are small compared to a straight turn-based strategy game, and each character in a player's party levels up with distinct characteristics and abilities. In this particular game, characters return next battle if they die, though losing mission-critical characters like Jeanne causes an automatic fail.

To convey Jeanne's divine power, she builds up Soul Power as she fights. Though she begins every battle as an ordinary human girl, she can use her Soul Points once per battle to transform into a much more powerful Valkyrie-like form for a few turns. In that form, she gains the powerful ability to take an additional turn upon killing an enemy, allowing you to set up amusingly checkers-like rampages if you maneuver Jeanne into a situation where she can jump from enemy to enemy indefinitely, killing each in a single blow.

It is of course difficult to glean a nuanced understanding of a game's balance and gameplay mechanics with a brief hands-on, but Jeanne d'Arc seems to put an emphasis on coordinated team formation and a united front. Characters are particularly vulnerable from the flank and rear (leading to the amusing tendency on the part of both the player and AI to constantly be running turn-based circles around one another), and your characters gain a stackable defense bonus when positined adjacently, so you'll want everyone to stick together.

All in all, my experience with Jeanne d'Arc left me eager to play more. It didn't surprise me, nor is it likely to surprise you, but its solid gameplay paired with interesting presentational elements should be fun times for fans of the strategy RPG genre.

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