It shouldn't surprise anybody that the story of Jeanne D'Arc (or, to us Americans, Joan of Arc) would make for an interesting video game. After all, it's the story of strong woman who hears the voice of God and is called to do something pretty extraordinary ... liberate France from the tyranny of the British. With its over-the-top characters, non-stop killing, huge battles and political intrigue, you would think that the story of Joan of Arc would be salacious enough to make for a great video game. But Jeanne D'Arc, the new tactical role-playing game from developers Level 5 (Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII), decided to go a completely different (and some may say crazy) route when retelling this story.
On the surface Jeanne D'Arc tells a pretty familiar story, it's 15th century France and the people of that country are locked in a nasty territory dispute with England. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, demons attack a local festival and start to ruin the day for a lot of the fun-loving French citizens. It's at this very moment that a young girl, Jeanne, hears a message from the heavens that tells her to kick the demon's ass, something she is capable of doing despite never wielding a sword in her life. Jeanne saves the day and realizes what she must do: Bring order to the rest of France and run out those nasty demons. Wait ... what?? Since when did the Joan of Arc story deal with demons, zombies and dragons?
I think it's safe to say that Jeanne D'Arc takes some liberties with the original story. While you will be fighting knights and enemy soldiers, the majority of your enemies consist of the undead monster variety. It won't take long before you get over the initial shock that this is not a historical retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, and once you do you'll be treated to the single most exciting tactical role-playing games currently available for the Sony PSP.
Like so many tactical RPGs before it, Jeanne D'Arc is played on a giant board divided up into a lot of little squares. You command a group of warriors over the terrain and take on your enemies in a turn-based battle to the death. Along the way you can use magic and items, as well as transform certain characters into god-like killing machines. If you've played this kind of role-playing game before then you should already know what to expect, Level 5 did not deviat from the tried and tested formula that has worked for games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.
Comparing Jeanne D'Arc to those popular (and influential) tactical RPGs isn't that far off, especially since this PSP game tends to play exactly like those other titles. Level 5 hasn't really gone in and created anything new or necessarily original, what they've done is refined the gameplay into a wonderfully streamlined retelling of the genre. The best part of this role-playing game is that the missions are often quick and action-packed, not something you always say when describing a tactical role-playing game. A lot of the useless detail that ultimately slows down the action has been taken out, and it has been replaced with a game that is simple enough for new fans of the genre, yet deep enough to keep the hardcore fans entertained from beginning to end.
The game is split up into three dozen story missions that are spread out over eight different chapters. While most of the missions involve you exterminating all the enemies on that level, there are quite a few missions that revolve around you safely leading your team to an exit, protecting some computer-controlled character, and overcoming unfair situations. In short, there's enough variety in this game to keep you entertained through all of the missions (and the side questions). Best of all, Jeanne D'Arc features a lengthy campaign that will have you going for 30 to 40 hours (depending on how much of a completist you are).
The best reason to see Jeanne D'Arc to the very end is the incredible story. We already know that the story of Joan of Arc is one full of bloody combat and an over-the-top hero, but the supporting cast of characters is equally memorable. And better yet, the actual plot of the game twists and turns all over the place, constantly keeping you on the edge of your seat. In one moment you'll be ripping the heads off of zombie soldiers, while in the very next sequence you'll deal with the heavy emotion of losing one of your best friends. Despite the game's cartoony look, Jeanne D'Arc features a number of heart wrenching (and sometimes controversial) moments.
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