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Developer:
Level 5
Publisher: SCEA
Platform: PSP
Release Date: August 21, 2007

by Josh Ferguson




One game developer that sure has taken the RPG genre by storm is the acclaimed Japanese developer, Level 5. The company is responsible for such PS2 hits as the Dark Cloud series, Rogue Galaxy, and the critically acclaimed Dragon Quest VIII. The developers' latest title, Jeanne díArc is a strategy-RPG for the PSP. This is the companyís first run with the handheld, so could this be the start of a beautiful relationship? Read on to find out.


The storyline in the game loosely follows the legendary tale of Joan of Arc, but this time it follows Jeanne, with demons and a talking toad. One night when Jeanne and her friend Liane are doing a task for Jeanneís father, the two come across a dead soldier on horseback. When the soldier falls to the ground, the two see something glowing inside a small bag attached at the soldiers waist. As Jeanne opens the bag, the glowing object magically attaches itself to her wrist, giving her powers beyond imagination. Oh, and she begins hearing a mysterious voice, which she believes to be the voice of God. Aside from this, the English army, alongside an army of demons, has begun invading France, with Jeanneís home of Domremy being one of the first. Using the powers of her newfound armlet and the aid of her friends, Jeanne seeks out to unite her fellow countrymen in order to push the English out of her beloved country.


As is the case with most RPGs, Jeanne wonít be going on her quest alone. Along the way she will pick up new comrades, and at one point, depending on the path you choose, the player will be able to determine a character that joins your team. Throughout the game you will encounter some pretty interesting characters, including Jeanne, Roger, and Giles. However, some of the remaining characters are a little less important to the storyline, and because of this they lack some of the character development of a few of the others. Either way, the game has some interesting characters and a good story that will make you feel sad, happy, and many other emotions, which is really what we all want in an RPG, right?


In order to access the different stages of the game, you must first go along the world map. The world map is full of battle stages that are relevant to the story, as well as others called free combat, where the player can go to merely gain more experience. Often, once you have finished one of the storyline battle stages, the location will then be turned into one of these free combat stages. Like most RPGs, the game also features shops, which can be visited by going to the shop's location and pressing the triangle button, which will bring up the outfit menu. This menu has several different options, including changing your equipment, binding skills, shopping for new skills, equipment items, and saving. The player is able to open this menu at any time while on the world map, but shopping will obviously only be available when located on a shop location.


Before we get into the actual combat, let's first get into how the thing works. Each of the battles in the game features a max number of turns that your characters can take, and if you donít complete the battle within the required number of turns, then it will be game over. Also, each level has a certain requirement that must be completed before you can achieve victory in that stage. Examples of these requirements include defeating all of the enemies, defeating the enemy group's leader, or having your party reach the end of the map. Each battle also has a limit to the number of characters you may have on the battlefield. This limit is usually around five characters, but you will often be able to choose exactly which characters you want to take part in the fight, except for Jeanne, who most often is required for battle. Even before combat starts, your characters will be given time to properly prepare for battle, which basically means that the outfit menu will reappear, of course without the shopping option. This will allow you once again to change your character's equipment, bind skills, and even save, which we all know is ideal for an RPG on the go. Once you have finished that, it is now time to place your characters on the map. This is pretty easily done, especially considering that there usually is only a small area where you can place your characters, which is often consisting of around ten squares. Once you have outfitted your party and set your characters for battle, it is time to start fighting!


The battle system in the game follows a turn-based, strategy-RPG formula, and basically plays out similar to any other sort of game in its genre. Combat in the game takes place on a grid, but these grids only appear when your characters are taking some sort of action, such as moving, attacking, or casting a spell. In traditional RPG fashion, your characters can use magic spells, items, move, attack, or just sit there and waste their turn. As far as attacking, Jeanne díArc follows the formula that we often see in these type of games these days, with an attack coming from the side or the back much more devastating than say an attack coming from the front. Similar to most games, each of your character's attacks and enemy attacks have a certain amount of range. For example, a sword doesnít have quite as much range as say a spear or obviously a bow. However, unlike many games, Jeanne díArc is a game in which you will definitely want to keep track of the amount of range your weapons have, because the game features a system that almost any time you attack a character, that character will counterattack. For example, when one of your characters is about to attack an enemy, a menu will appear, indicating the percent that your attack will hit, the amount of damage that you are likely to do, and the likelihood that you will be hit by a counterattack. However, characters are unable to counterattack from a magic spell, so this is one way to easily take advantage of your enemy. As I said before, the spear has a little more range then, say, a sword, as does the whip. Unlike the sword, the other two weapons I mentioned are able to attack two squares, rather than the one square that the sword and axe are capable of. So, if you move a character wielding a spear or whip two spaces from the enemy and attack, it is possible to get away without being countered, that is unless they are wielding a spear or whip, too. Also, no matter what, the bow is not able to counter or be countered. This countering system adds a little uniqueness to the game, and a little bit of extra strategy to the combat system.


While battling it out with enemies, there are often times that you will come across objects known as burning auras. During combat, you will occasionally create burning auras by attacking enemies, and when this does happen, if you send one of your characters to the location of the aura and attack, they will receive a large attack increase. The game also features one type of defensive stat increase that can be obtained by merely keeping your characters grouped together. This type of stat increase is known as unified guard, and as I said, can be obtained merely by grouping your characters together. Also, the more characters you have grouped together, the stronger the unified guard will be. However, this type of bonus doesnít come in handy when being attacked by magic abilities.


One thing that has always bothered me about many RPGs is that often characters donít share experience. There are times in games when you just downright wonít want to use a certain character, and then at one point you will be forced to use them, and because of their lack of use, they will be considerably lower-leveled than everyone else. Well, good news, because in Jeanne díArc, all of your characters will obtain some sort of experience at the end of battles. Thatís not to say that you wonít come across the problem of having certain characters with higher levels than others, but it does help in making things a little easier. As for the leveling up process, earning experience in battle can be as easy as attacking, using an item, casting a spell, or doing any other sort of action, aside from merely moving. Of course, the easiest way to gain experience is to attack an enemy, but the best way is to defeat it, because this will dish out a lot more experience than any other action. As far as leveling up, your character must gain 100 experience points. It doesnít matter if they are Level 1 or all the way up to Level 35. All your character will have to do is gain 100 experience points. Of course, it will become a little more difficult to level as time passes, but thatís the basic way to gain experience.


Skills in the game are obtained by equipping different types of stones. Skill stones can be acquired in a number of different ways, including defeating enemies, purchasing them from shops, or going ahead and skill binding. Skill binding is an easy process, and involves taking two skill stones and combining them to create something completely new. This process doesnít take long, and can be done at almost any time by going to the outfit menu. Worried that you might combine the same two stones and create the exact same skill? No worries, because the game keeps track of the different combinations that you have completed, and will indicate the formulas that you have already created. However, some skill stones can be created using different formulas, so with these you wonít know all the formulas until you have tried it out. Equipping skill stones is simple, and all of your characters are able to do so. There are also four different types of skill stones, including two different types of weapon skills: red stones, which contain finishing moves and require MP to use, and purple stones, which vary depending on your character's weapon type. The other two are magic stones: green stones cost MP to use, and blue stones basically are stat boosting and give you different passive abilities. There is a large amount of skill stones to be found, and between purchasing them, binding them, and defeating enemies for them, it could definitely take a while to locate all of them.


One interesting aspect about the magic in Jeanne díArc is that when a battle starts, your character's MP will be rather limited. However, as time goes on, your character will begin to gain more and more MP. In other words, when you use a skill that takes away your MP, you will soon begin to gain your MP back in battle. Also, the characters in the game that wield the armlets have their own unique transformation ability that they can perform by using SP, or spirit points. Obtaining SP is simple, and basically just requires you to take up turns. Yeah, as simple as that. When your character has obtained their required amount of SP, indicated by the gems in their armlet, they will be able to transform, which boosts all of that character's stats, including HP, attack, and defense. This transformation will only last two turns, and your character will only be able to use each gem once per stage. However, one other advantage of this transformation is that if, for example, Jeanne is able to defeat an enemy on her turn, she will be rewarded another turn, with which she can attack another enemy, heal someone, or do whatever else she desires. This process is called Godspeed, and can continue until you donít defeat an enemy, and in fact, it is possible to wipe out the entire enemy forces using only this process, though not very common.


One of the flaws that we see commonly with handheld games is that they generally arenít very long. Well, Jeanne díArc is one game that can definitely keep you busy. With all of the skill stones I mentioned earlier, obtaining all the character's transformation gems, and just the actual adventure could definitely take over 20 hours to complete. So, if you are looking for a long RPG that you will be able to play on your PSP for a while, this game right here is it. With the added ability to save frequently, you canít go wrong with this game. Aside from that, the game was released at a price tag of only $29.99! Seriously, how can you go wrong with that?


Graphically, Jeanne díArc is an impressive-looking game for the PSP. The cutscenes in the game look nice, but many of them donít last very long. The transition between cutscenes and gameplay is also fluid, and doesnít take much loading to complete. Character models in the game (both enemies and your parties) are also quite lovely, as are the animations. Many of the skills found in the game are also bright, colorful, and nice looking too.


As far as the sound department goes, Jeanne díArc features some very good voice acting, but sadly is limited to only cutscenes. Itís too bad, too, because the voice work is done very well, and if there were more of it I definitely wouldnít be disappointed. The soundtrack in the game is also very well done, but some of the songs become a little repetitive after hearing them so often. Sound effects are also nicely done, whether it be the swinging of your sword, the strike of a lightning bolt, or the dodging of an attack.


Overall, Jeanne díArc is possibly the best strategy-RPG found on the PSP. While much of the gameplay doesnít necessarily differentiate itself from others in the genre, some of the added focus on combat and skill bonding certainly doesnít hurt. Oh, and the $29.99 price tag doesnít hurt either. Either way, if you have been starving for a good strategy game or RPG on your PSP, then this should definitely be your next pick-up because you shouldnít be disappointed.


Final Grade: 88%




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