History was a class in which, many of us found it quite easily to doze through, during what often seemed to be a way too long class day. The long lives, or not so long, but very busy lives of kings, queens, emperors, and other assorted people who seemed to make speeches at the drop of a hat often slipped us into the heady world of the daydream until yanked out of it by a disapproving teacher’s stare or a ringing bell. A number of video games, however, have turned what caused us to doze off in class into a dynamic action packed adventure, which often made us realize how truly exciting history was when you weren’t reading about it. There have been games like Call of Duty 4, Dynasty Warriors, and even the History Channel’s various historical themed games that have all brought plain words into lifelike 3D that we could play and learn with. Straight up history, however, isn’t always what it’s all about… it’s often about the legends and SOE’s and Level 5’s Jeanne D’Arc for the PSP features one of the greatest legends of all time… just with a few twists.
Jeanne D’Arc does feature the young Jeanne D’Arc(or Joan of Arc depending on where you read it) a young peasant girl from the village of Domremy who rose to become the Savior of France from the English invaders after receiving an angelic visitation who urged her on and supported her through her fight. That is Joan’s story, and indeed, Jeanne’s story is much the same but with a few key differences. Yes, it takes place during the 100 Years War, yes Jeanne comes from Domremy, and yes, both hear the voice of God and become inspired, but that is where the similarity ends and the game begins. First an explanation of the story is indicated to separate fiction from fact.
In Jeanne D’Arc the story is told that long ago, the world was beset by an army of demons who sought to destroy the country, and it would have, were it not for five warriors each bearing an armlet whose mystical powers helped to destroy the demon army and it’s leader. The English are now in league with those same demons, the young English king is now under their control, and the five and their armlets have disappeared into history. Into this scene comes a young peasant girl, Jeanne, who finds one of the powerful armlets on the body of a dead knight who road into her village. Just then, an English knight with a squad of demons arrived, apparently searching for the armlet, and Jeanne found she had the power to destroy them all with the help of the armlet and the urging of a voice only she could hear. Jeanne’s village is shortly destroyed afterward, but after helping to save her friends, Jeanne decides that she has to keep protecting them and anyone else whose town might suffer the same fate. So Jeanne begins her adventure to defeat the demons, kick out the English, and save France.
All in one day; imagine having that dropped on you first thing in the morning.
Despite its clear departure from actual recorded history, Jeanne D’Arc is an excellent game for fans of the strategy RPG. The game shares quite a few similarities with the game Disagea where players move individual characters around battlefields composed of tiles that both enemy players and friendly players would move around to try and gain the advantage on one another. A typical battle in the game involves placing your troops on the map and then using both their specific unit advantages and the landscape to help you win. If you have an archer, for instance, you can place that unit on a high promontory which will give that unit a longer reach on your opponents who cannot deflect the archer’s shots or approach him easily. Also you can move your characters around the sides and back of an enemy unit in order to deal more damage to them with your attacks. Despite the chess like movement system featured in the game the combat system does a good job of keeping the battles exciting due to a variety of conditions imposed on it such as turn limits, conditions on winning and losing, and enemies that can catch you unawares by exploitation of the weaknesses in the positioning of your characters.
The in-game graphics, while consisting of the old style shrunken characters and text speech, are nonetheless well crafted and well colored. They may not the quality of the characters found in a big budget console game, but when you consider that this is for a portable game system the care and attention that the environments, artwork, and characters have received are worthy of any gamers’ respect. The environments in the game are organized into three different types: there is the world map which is organized along Super Mario Three-esque lines where each area is connected in line to another area and then to another and so on. The story is advanced using cut scenes which have been tricked out in a well drawn and rendered anime style that will surprise anyone with an appreciation for anime with its quality. The voice casting has also been well chosen with voices that match the characters with the end result that the English sound English and the French actually sound French but not English trying to sound French. Apologies to all fans of Monty Python.
There are no random encounters on the world map, but there are still the plot battles you must fight and win at to continue the game and there are also Free Battles which are elective battles used to level your characters and to gain gold and items. All battles carry a specific objective and a specific condition for winning which, for example, can specify that to win the player must complete the battle in a certain number of turns and not allow any of the player’s characters to die. This is another way that the game keeps the turn based tile structured battles from dragging: the player must often find the best route to finish the fight quickly and properly position their units to complete this goal. There are few times during the game where you will be caught dawdling, but don’t worry, the game offers you as much time you need to plan your moves between turns. Players can also use the control stick to shift the camera to get a better view of the battle from any angle and allow players to better plan their attack. A nice feature indeed.
When all is said and done Jeanne D Arc is a game that any fan of the strategy RPG should own. The game’s surprisingly active and dynamic battle system has more in connection with Risk instead of chess, the characters and environments are well rendered, the animated cut scenes and text box artwork well drawn, and a battle system which is dynamic and challenging without being unforgiving. The story itself, based off one of history’s greatest legends, has been changed to meet the demands of gamers while still containing the energy that made the original tale of Joan of Arc one that still survives today.
Just remember to save often.