Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: August 2007
It seems like everyone has a complaint about the software selection on the PSP, whether it is due to the mass of shoddy PlayStation 2 ports or the almost complete lack of third-party Infrastructure support. RPG fans have been especially vocal, but it's not like the handheld is completely lacking in genre entries. Sadly, most of what's available are either decent retreads (Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth) or simply not worth the investment (Generation of Chaos, Kingdom of Paradise, etc.).
The near future holds many more of those remakes (Final Fantasy I, II, and Tactics: The War of the Lions), but SCEA and Level-5 (Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy) may have a solution on the other end in the form of Jeanne d'Arc. While its strategic gameplay does not appear to diverge significantly from the Tactics template, its visual presentation, combined with an intriguing narrative soaked in historical fiction, makes it a potential must-have for on-the-go strategists.
Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc, for the non-French speaking) finds the titular historical figure as a young girl in 15th century France. As the Hundred Years' War rages on between France and England, Jeanne is thrust into the conflict when she stumbles upon a glowing armlet in the forest while running an errand. Once the armlet attaches itself to her forearm, Jeanne starts hearing voices that command her to battle the demon king and reclaim the sanctity of her homeland.
Based on the early battles I played at Sony's Gamers Day event, Jeanne d'Arc does not seem to overhaul the standard, grid-based gameplay we have come to expect from titles like Disgaea and Tactics Ogre. The game features over 40 environments spread throughout 15th century France, and players will be able to control up to 14 playable characters, with up to seven per battle. Each playable character has a defined weapon type (including swords, whips, and wands) with special skills mapped to each weapon set. Over 150 total skills and abilities will be available in Jeanne d'Arc to allow for epic character customization.
For several years now, Level-5's calling card has been its vibrant, cel-shaded characters and environments. Jeanne d'Arc does not attempt to disrupt that pattern, taking advantage of the PSP's wondrous widescreen display to portray the charming super-deformed visuals. At first blush, the visuals remind me somewhat of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, albeit with a sharp, cel-shaded sheen. Even more impressive than the in-game visuals are the spectacular anime cut scenes, which are well animated and fully voiced in English. Low production values are nowhere to be found in Jeanne d'Arc, which looks to take full advantage of the UMD format.
Though I was not able to spend a lot of time with the game at Gamers Day, I came away extremely impressed by Jeanne d'Arc. Expected to click in at over 40 hours, this portable concoction of refined gameplay and classy visuals should prove to be a worthwhile timesink when it ships in early August.
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