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PSP Fanboy review: Jeanne d'Arc

Andrew Yoon
Andrew Yoon|@scxzor|August 31, 2007 12:00 AM
Get your microscope ready, because that's what you'll need in order to find flaws in Level-5's PSP-exclusive, Jeanne d'Arc. Although it rarely, if ever, breaks away from standard SRPG conventions, Jeanne d'Arc does everything a game in the genre should do -- and it does it very well. Combining fantastic graphics, impressive production values, addictive gameplay, and an intriguing story, this is a must-have for any PSP owner.

Level-5 is known to produce some of the best looking titles on the platforms it works with. For example, Rogue Galaxy is still one of the finest looking titles on the PlayStation 2. The upcoming Dragon Quest IX looks to push the boundaries of Nintendo DS graphics to limits we never imagined possible. Jeanne d'Arc, already nearly a year old in Japan, manages to still look marvelous by today's standards. The cel-shaded graphics and expansive levels certainly look impressive on the PSP screen. Add beautiful anime cutscenes, and you have a game that provides a visual feast for its players.

From the opening moments, the game tries to wow players with an impressive anime cutscene that sets the stage for the events to come. Although a bit lengthy, as many of the game's non-playable segments are, we were compelled by the high quality of the animation. The story, very loosely based on the classic Joan of Arc tale, strays so drastically from its inspiration, that it manages to surprise the player ever so often. King Henry is possessed with some demonic power, and Jeanne not only hears the voice of God, she finds an armlet that lets her transform into a armored warrior.


The high fantasy setting of Jeanne d'Arc keeps things interesting, as the story is free to go into all kinds of territory. Along the way, you'll run into a large variety of characters. However, this comes at a price: many of the characters rarely develop, weakening the player's involvement with these personas. Many interesting plot themes do arise, especially between the overzealous Jeanne, the misguided Lianne, and Roger, who's caught in the middle. Many of the other characters are disposable, but these three keep the story focused and interesting throughout.

Although storytelling is a large part of the Jeanne d'Arc experience, the core gameplay is what keeps me coming back for more. The opening moments of the game do a great job of easing the player into the various mechanics to be found. The level progression is fantastic: not once do you ever feel as though the game is being surprisingly or unnecessarily difficult. Even beginner players of SRPGs will find the controls intuitive, and the integrated tutorials very helpful.

As with all SRPGs, proper placement of your forces is crucial to victory. Levels are based on grids, and players are limited to a number of spaces for movement each turn. At the end of a turn, players can attack, either with their weapon, or through a magic spell. A variety of factors then comes into play. For example, attacking an enemy's back will inflict a much more significant amount of damage than facing the enemy head-on. As players begin to find different characters with different weapons and abilities, the tactics will continue to change. Lancers, for example, can hit two spaces ahead of them, instead of one. A thief character, like Colet, will be able to travel long distances, and steal items from enemies.

When making an attack on an enemy, the space behind them will glow. Called the "Burning Aura," this space will allow attackers to inflict a greater amount of damage. If the "Burning Aura" falls on a character already occupying the space, the Aura will move with the character, giving them the ability to use the damage bonus elsewhere. When characters are no more than one space apart, they will combine their defensive abilities, minimizing the effects of enemy attacks. Considering the placement of enemies and allies becomes even more crucial, in this regard, as players will want to take advantage of these bonuses to as little detriment as possible.

Every turn, each character will earn a little MP, which can be used on a variety of skills. The abilities are fairly standard fare, letting players attack with greater strength, alter stats, or attack a number of enemies at once. What makes special attacks so enjoyable is how players can choose apply different skills on each of the characters before each battle. Abilities take the form of jewels, which can be traded amongst the various characters. Some jewels can only be used by specific character types, so each character will have a unique feel.

The customization system adds a lot of depth to the game, and is simple enough to understand. The frog from Rogue Galaxy makes a significant cameo in the game (especially in the latter half), and like in the PS2 RPG, he has the ability to create new skills. By combining two skill jewels, a new one is created, and it's through combination that the most powerful abilities will be unlocked. For example, creating the incredibly helpful HP+100 jewel involves taking HP +50 and adding it to a Luna Sol +2 block. Through these abilities, players will be able to counter enemies before they attack, run longer distances, run through enemies, and more. It's these abilities that make the game constantly evolve and stay interesting.

Within Jeanne d'Arc's simple, and easy to understand battle system lies an incredible amount of depth that will make each battle challenging, but fair. This is one of the few RPGs in recent memory where we've never had to level up for a battle. The progression of the game is natural, something we certainly appreciate. However, if players are struggling, Level-5 has smartly included "Free Combat" areas which players can revisit and level up their characters, if necessary. Because the amount of experience points varies based on the challenge posed by the level, even severely under-leveled characters will be up to snuff easily and quickly.

There's too much to like about this PSP SRPG. If we had any serious complaints, it would be that the characters are shallow and the story certainly has some awkward moments. Regardless, this stands as a fine example of what an SRPG should be, and will stand out, even in light of upcoming releases like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. With over 30 hours of gameplay, this $30 UMD is a terrific value that should be in any PSP owner's collection.

PSP Fanboy Score: 9.0