Jeanne d'Arc (PSP)
Remember the story of Joan of Arc? The tale of a young girl who hears the voice of God, takes up arms, cross-dresses and eventually leads France against hordes of English knights, orcs, dark elves, dragons and cow-warriors called Bovimoths? Remember how, with her magical armlet and cowlick-sporting giant purple frog she won the day and saved France and...wait a minute. Okay, Jeanne d?Arc doesn?t try to simulate history and just can?t resist leaning hard toward anime convention. It?s French mythology as imagined by feverish and stylish Japanese developers. Good thing the gameplay is as divine as La Puecelle?s heavenly inspiration.
The art style is pure anime and hand-drawn. Cinematics tell the story with much awkward moving about but a real attention to detail. The main splash screen and interstitial artwork are gorgeous, showing period French architecture and scenery with love and affection. The music is simple -- childlike and reminiscent of a music box -- yet affective, drawing you into Jeanne?s weirdo tale.
After encountering a dying man in the woods, and having his strange armlet graft itself to her own arm, Jeanne returns to the village of Domremy and finds it beset with purple-pig-headed orcs. Joined by Roger the red-caped warrior and a whiney rich girl in a corset and ringlets, Jeanne listens to the strange voices that tell her where to go for her next turn-based battle. Soon a motley and talkative crew, all using different abilities, skills or weapons, join her and, in this way, the battles themselves act as a tutorial and the tactical options grow more and more complex. A bow or spear/halberd can strike at a distance, without fear of counter-attack. Potions can raise stats, make a character run more quickly, revive the fallen, and more. Special magic and skills can be used as well, like Jeanne?s armlets? ability to temporarily transform her into an armored superhero, it also grants her an extra turn if her initial attack slays her foe. More powers and abilities -- there are over 150 of them, all told -- are earned over the course of the game as characters rise in level.
Battlefields are divided into grids with features like rocks, trees or buildings forming obstacles. The game uses facing, and flank or rear attacks are more devastating. Characters also have the odd ability to literally knock the ?aura? from their foes. If Jeanne hits the enemy from the front a small ring of fire appears behind her enemy. Then you can move Bertrand or Roger into that square for a damage enhancement. Defenses are enhanced when characters are near each other. They gain a Unified Aura ability that strengthens their defense. Since enemies can use aura and facing is important, how you attack and the arrangement of your allies at the end of a turn can make all the difference in a battle. Interestingly the game disallows hit-and-run tactics. You can either move and then attack or just attack. No attacking and then running away to a hopefully safe distance. Given the way facing works however, expect to do a lot of moving behind foes and then having them do the same to you on their turn. Maneuvering skillfully to deny rear attacks is the key to at least one late-game mission -- or at least it worked really well when I solved that mission.
The game throws a lot of curveballs, too, including missions where you?ve got to be crafty or a potential ally will die before you can rescue them, or missions where you?re challenged to cross the map without losing a single character. Most of the time fallen allies will be hale and hearty after the battle ends, but Jeanne is a challenging game. Expect to lose a lot. As the game progresses you?ll eventually find yourself juggling up to 14 different characters -- including monsters and other strange beings. Up to seven can be played on each battlefield.
Jeanne d?Arc offers solid and polished tactical gameplay with terrific artwork and an engagingly bizarre storyline. Can you hear the Voices? They?re whispering, ?Buy it.?
This review was based on a copy of the game purchased by Crispy Gamer.