Jeanne’s hometown of Domremy, France, is attacked in the night by an English battalion, and discovering a mystical armlet on a fallen French soldier, she senses a greater power speaking to her through it.? It is the voice of God, and it is there to help her lead her people to victory over their invaders.? Development team Level 5 (Dragon Quest VIII, Dark Cloud series) takes massive liberties with the history, though, to keep the game fun.
For instance, I’m pretty sure the English never employed orcs, minotaurs, skeletons, gargoyles or dragons to fight for them.? Not in the Hundred Years War, at least.? And Joan of Arc probably never had an armlet that let her morph into a super-powered Valkyrie for a few turns, allowing her to single-handedly decimate English swordsman, lancer, and demon alike.? But wouldn’t it have been fun?
Jeanne D’Arc is the latest game in a genre rich with quality.? For those unfamiliar with the SRPG genre (strategy role playing game),? you typically are given control of a small force of soldiers numbering between five to 10 to face off against a rival force of about the same number on a battlefield, which is divided into square tiles by a grid, similar to a chess board.? As in chess, the two sides take turns maneuvering their soldiers around the battlefield.? This is where the similarities end.
In chess, you move one piece only, and then your turn is over.? In a game like Jeanne D’Arc, you are free to move each soldier to a new square on the fully 3D and topographical ?board,? and choose an action for them to perform.? This is important, because you cannot automatically ?take? out an enemy soldier.? Everyone on the battlefield has a certain amount of HP (health points) which must be reduced to zero before they die, and HP is taken away via melee attacks (typically limited in range to the next square or two over) or ranged and magic attacks (whose ranges vary to a few squares with an area of affect to a single square far across the battlefield).
In an SRPG the game throws you into scores of different situations on scores of different maps, and the entire thing is wrapped up in the trappings of an epic quest, almost always in a medieval setting? centering around a single rebel leader taking a small unit into the heart of a national or global conflict, uncovering secret treacheries of the clergy and fighting ancient mystical demons and the like.
Jeanne D’Arc, too, follows this formula, then, but where it differs, ever so slightly, is that it takes its inspiration from the story of Joan of Arc.
There just aren’t very many bad SRPGs for some reason, and this title does not detract from that remarkable record.? The game draws reasonably from genre cornerstones such as Tactics Ogre: the Knight of Lodis and Final Fantasy Tactics.? It is not merely a derivative iteration on past themes, though, since Jeanne D’Arc does much to heighten the experience.? The battlefields are larger, and the enemy units often more numerous.? The stage conditions of victory and defeat are often changed to be more than the simple ?Win by defeating all enemies, lose by having your force completely wiped out? model commonly used for optional non-story-centric ?free? battles, and the imposition of a limit on turns in which the battle must be resolved successfully keeps the action brisk.
I particularly like the Burning Aura and Unified Guard systems, which now make it a strategic imperative to keep your force together as much as possible, as opposed to having them all go separate ways to pick off scattered enemy troops.? When you have a character attack an enemy from the square to the left, for example, the enemy will counterattack toward the square left of him, giving the square right of him (now to the enemy’s rear) a Burning Aura, which means that any attacks originating from that square during the same turn will do greater damage (in addition to the bonus you would already get from attacking the enemy from the rear, or a higher elevation, as the case may be).? This gives a new cooperative slant to your squadron’s offense.? Defensively, the Unified Guard system will, for each of your other teammates clustered around a soldier, award an armor bonus to that soldier, should he fall under attack from an enemy, giving meaning to the old ?strength in numbers? axiom.
In terms of difficulty, the game ramps up at a decent clip if you don’t deviate from the central plot path through battles.? You are free to go back to old battlefields, though, to encounter a random assortment of baddies, gaining more experience points and loot with which to build up your force to make a better run of the next major battle.? From time to time you will get one of those scenarios in which if even one of your force is felled, the battle is lost, which can be frustrating if it happens late in the battle.? Once I was about 35 minutes deep into a fight when that exact thing happened to me.? Luckily the occurrence of that condition of defeat is rare.? These are small complaints, though, and I suppose it is the nature of a strategy game to lose from time to time.
Overall,? I can heartily recommend Jeanne D’Arc to anyone who likes a more moderately paced game requiring some thought and preparation on the player’s part.? In that respect, it is not so different from a game of chess.
More screen shots after the jump.