As if martyrdom, visions from God, and the general brutality of war weren't enough to drive a strategy role-playing game, Level-5 spiced up the story of Joan of Arc (aka Jeanne D'Arc in French) with demons, ancient armlets, and transforming heroes. After Jeanne's village is destroyed, she and friends Liane and Roger embark on a mission to drive the English out of France, and defeat the sinister Henry Vi, a 6-year-old full of dark power being manipulated by the Duke of Bedford. Based loosely on the 15th century 100 Years' War, Jeanne D'Arc on the PSP is a masterfully crafted drama--at times funny, and at others heart-breaking. It takes historical elements and adapts them perfectly to the genre, creating one of the best original offerings on the PSP, and a triumph of an SRPG.
Level-5 understands more than a little about good pacing. You'll quickly grow attached to your comrades only to have them separated. As Jeanne learns the truth behind her own naiveté, you too will have to deal with betrayal and death. Jeanne D'Arc takes us in its arms, and makes us feel the ugliness of war. If the story were the best thing this game had to offer, it would still be an adventure worth taking. Well, it isn't. Beyond the cutscenes and cast of well-developed characters, there's a deep, challenging battle system, complete with skill binding and a high degree of strategy. It seems obvious that an SRPG should focus on strategy, but very often--as is the case with many of NIS' offerings--power-leveling supplants the need to think. While leveling is a must in Jeanne D'Arc, it's much more important to make use of character attributes and level-design, especially when completing stages with restrictions on number of turns.
Jeanne D'Arc skillfully balances an engrossing story with equally impressive combat.
Battle is grid-based and 3D. Combat is fun because of the many variables in each stage. Sometimes you'll need Colet, a thief with bridge building skills, to help scale rooftops. Other times you'll need the brute strength of La Hire to take down dragons and other high-defense enemies. Still other times, you'll need the mobility of whip-wielding Rose to get from point A to B in a limited amount of turns.
Burning Auras provide an edge when fighting tough enemies. If allies are directly hit with an aura, it attaches to them, so they can reposition to keep the chain going. This is a great way to do big damage, and clear out enemies. On the defensive, Unified Guard shelters allies who stand close together. Besides normal attacks, additional skills may be equipped. While some will boost stats such as HP and MP, others will grant new abilities, such as sometimes going twice in a round, and healing and attack spells.
While anyone can make use of the elements mentioned above, only a few can transform. Not only do transformed allies' stats increase for a certain number of turns, but they also gain access to new skills and the ability to use Godspeed, which let's them go again each time they kill an enemy. Transform is so powerful that with the proper combination of skills, items, and leveling, you'll be able to solo standard stages with Jeanne or any of those possessing an armlet. One other important aspect of battle is spirit affinity. Though I didn't make use of it too heavily during my play through, it can provide an advantage. By equipping skill stones that boost a particular affinity, you can do additional damage to enemies weak against that affinity.
For the first time since I've owned it, the PSP became indispensable to me as I worked towards completing Level-5's take on the Joan of Arc legend. Though it does little to break from the comfortable confines of the genre, Jeanne D'Arc skillfully balances an engrossing story with equally impressive combat. Best SRPG of 2007? So far, though there a few worthy contenders set to enter the ring in the coming months. Regardless, this is a must own for the strategy crowd, and a great reason to pick up a PSP if you've been on the fence.