Video game review: Jeanne d’Arc

So far, the recent crop of stories out of Japan based on French historical fiction has been of outstanding quality, with anime like “Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Le Chevalier D’Eon” and now the PSP strategy role-playing game, “Jeanne D’Arc.”

Jeanne, more commonly known in the U.S. as Joan of Arc, is just a normal village girl living toward the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Soon, Jeanne finds a mysterious armlet that grants her special powers, only to find that invading English armies destroyed her village with the aid of monstrous friends. For whatever reason, the mixture of the supernatural with historic France is a combo that works well together, creating a world that’s fantastic yet grounded in reality.

The graphics are good for a handheld, using anime scenes to tell some of the story and 3-D cell-shaded graphics for gameplay. The anime cutscenes have good production values and voice acting, but when the story is told in-game there’s no voice, so quite a bit of reading is still required. Jeanne and her two close companions, Roger and Liane, are well-rounded characters with depth, but most other allies and enemies they encounter are simple one-note characters, the worst having various ridiculous accents as the only thing to define them. That’s one of the few weak spots about the game.

The story progression strikes a nice pace between battles, advancing the story enough while developing the main characters. The battles are typical for a strategy RPG, being turn-based and requiring a lot of thinking ahead and tactical awareness to win. Chess players will love it; shoot-’em-up fans might not.

Each stage has certain victory conditions that go beyond just defeating all enemies, often requiring certain characters to survive (or all of them) in order to advance. Each stage also has a turn limit, forcing players to be efficient with their moves and often go on the offensive. Depending on how much thought goes into each move, larger battles can take close to an hour, but thankfully the game has a quick-save feature that allows players to stop at any point in a battle and come back to it later. New game mechanics are introduced as the game goes on, like skill customizing, multiple levels of transformation and combining skills to create new ones.

As one of the PSP’s few original games, “Jeanne D’Arc” is a must-own for strategy gamers on the go, and a welcome change from all the console ports that fill the shelves.

“Jeanne D’Arc”
For PlayStation Portable
Developed by Level-5
Release date: Aug. 21, 2007
Genres: Strategy RPG, fantasy, historical
Rated Teen