Joan of Arc PSP Style

Level5's Jeanne D'Arc for the PlayStation Portable
I am a nerd. I'll admit it. It's not new if you've read my previous articles. I like numbers, puzzles are cool, and graph paper has been a mini-treat for me to write on ever since I was in the 6th grade.

What does that have to do with "Jeanne D'Arc" for the PlayStation Portable (PSP)? Pretty much everything. Whether you're a nerd or not, here's why "Jeanne D'Arc" is one of the finest games your PSP should have running in its system.

"Jeanne D'Arc" is loosely based on the revolutionary life of Joan of Arc, the young Frenchwoman who helped overthrow the British back in the 15th century. I say loosely because Level 5, developers of the hit games "Rogue Galaxy" and "Dragon Quest VIII" for the PlayStation2, took history and added a mythical layer on top of it that makes the story seem set in a fantasy world.

In "Jeanne D'Arc," the young British king is possessed by a demon and controls an army of orcs while the French are allied with beastmen and elves. On paper, it sounds completely odd, but it is planning and storytelling done with precision crafting. At times, the story is even presented with high-quality, fully-voiced animation. While it does sound like non-French people speaking with French accents most of the time, it is nonetheless well done as it helps connect you with the main characters. Filled with hopeful idealists, despair, betrayal, deceit, and heavy religious tones, it hits the mark in not watering down its intended story for its "T" for Teen rating.

The gameplay is tactics based, which means two armies will face off on a mapped grid and each army has its own phase where its characters will take their turn based on their speed, race and profession. Fans of tactics-based games ("Field Commander" for the PSP and "Final Fantasy Tactics Advance" for the GameBoy Advance) will feel right at home, while those new to the genre might be a little put off by the initial complexity.

Fortunately, as you start combat, a series of tutorial pages will walk you through and teach new players tactics-based gameplay along with new tactical features even veterans of the genre will find refreshing. The in-game tutorial is very straightforward, easy to understand and teaches you every aspect of system as you encounter it for the first time. If you forget something you missed, you can go to the help menu and read up on what you need.

Actual combat is turn-based and is very customizable due to the Skill Stone system. These are stones that have certain weapon skills, magic spells and statistic attributes embedded in them. This makes the character creation interesting. While you are given a set of characters in your squad, you can equip them as needed for each battle. For instance, a standard swordsman can have a "heal" skill stone placed on him; now he has the magic power to heal his teammates. Usually, in games like this a fighter is relegated to only fight, and a healer is only supposed to heal, etc. In "Jeanne D'Arc," the skill stones allow you to dictate the powers your team wields. Combined with an ability to combine stones to create new stones introduced later in the game and the combinations are incredible!

After equipping your team, you head off to battle (and yes, the equipment stays on the person, so you don't have to micro manage for each battle unless you want to), which will have a set of conditions for victory and defeat. Sometimes to win, you will have to defeat the enemy army, at times you must keep a particular teammate alive, other times, you must simply get your whole team from one side of the map to the other. So paying attention to the battlefield conditions is important.

The other thing to be aware of is the battles are on a time limit. Each battle will only last a set number of rounds, made up of the player's turn and the enemy's turn. If you don't complete the victory condition in time, GAME OVER. Luckily you are given plenty of chances to save on the world map. You are also given the ability to play completed battles over to level up your characters.

So it has plenty of statistics (character attributes, weapon and defensive power, etc.), has some puzzle elements ("How do I beat this enemy army efficiently in only 10 turns?") and graph paper (the mapped grid). For me it's an easy buy. For less nerdy people, well ... it's still an easy buy thanks to the high quality of presentation, the fast paced timing of combat, the superb visuals and sound, an engaging storyline and precise, highly customizable gameplay. "Jeanne D'Arc" is easily one of the top five PSP titles of the year, hands down, and, in my eyes, the best PSP RPG title of 2007. Period.

I was lucky enough to get some Q&A time with US Producer Nao Higo and voice actor Jeanne, Kari Wahlgren (from "Samurai Champloo" and "Legion of Super Heroes").

GameCore (GC): What is the approx critical path timeframe for completing the game?

Nao Higo (NH): Approximately 30-50 hours depending on the gamer's familiarity/skill with strategy RPGs.

GC: Were there any differences between the Japanese and American releases (story, difficulty, etc.)?

NH: As the game was well balanced in the Japanese version, we've decided to keep the game play the same.

GC: Was this Level 5's first "tactics-based" RPG?

NH: Yes, until "Jeanne," most of the RPGs Level 5 has worked on have been action RPGs (except for "Dragon Quest VIII").

GC: Kari, while you've done plenty of voice characters, how did you get your mind set and voice set into a French revolutionary?

Kari Wahlgren (KG): The French accents added a challenging acting element to the game. Luckily, we had a French language consultant in the recording studio to help us with pronunciation and dialect questions. In the end, I think it adds a lot to the game!

GC: I thought it did. You've played another strong leading female in your last Level 5 video game (Lilika from "Rogue Galaxy" for the PlayStation2). How do you give each character their strength and quirks?

KW: I really enjoy playing strong female characters. I think they're good role models for girls. Why rescue the princess at the end of a level when you can BE the princess and kick butt on your own?! I take into account the background information I'm given about each character, and the impression I get from the dialogue. It also helps to have a great director and clients who really know the game -- all of that helps create the character.

GC: Which has been your favorite to do so far: video games or TV animations?

KW: That's a tough one. I like doing both, actually. They are very different formats, so the recording process is different as well. Doing both keeps things interesting.

"Jeanne D'Arc" for the PlayStation Portable handheld console is rated "T" for Teen.