Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Jeanne d'Arc review
I finally completed my first play through of Level-5's Jeanne d'Arc. Seeing that this title may not receive a European release, possibly due to the low commercial viability of strategic RPG genre in this part of the world, I guess it is a good time to write a quick review on this Level-5 game so you can decide whether or not to import the game before it goes out of print.
According to Level-5, Jeanne d'Arc is a blending of reality and fantasy loosely based on the tale of Joan of Arc and her campaign to save France from the English during the Hundred Years' War back in the 15th century. The developers has decided to interpret freely the myths behind the legend and does include historical accuracy, as well as practising their artistic license. Henry VI's insanity for example is explained to be of demon procession nature caused by the Duke of Bedford. As well as the historical campaigns based on Joan of Arc, the game dabbles with plenty of fantasy based plotlines. The fictional War of the Reapers is one such example, a tale of a war between human and demons - which explains why the English conscripts are mainly made up of ugly monsters.
Gameplay wise the title is divided into chapters. It is very predictable really. It kinda works like this: Cutscene -> Confrontation -> Battle repeated ad nauseam. The world map is made up of towns, villages and other locations connected via sprawling lines where your party travels through. There are no random battles as per usual to SPRG conventions here and grinding requires you to participate in free battle locations. The party is made up of members whom la Pucelle meets during her excursions and there are no class or job system here though unique skills can be assigned. There is a similar mechanism to Dragon Quest VIII's Alchemy Pot where skill stones can be fused to create more powerful ones.
Like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics, battle occurs on a grid based location and are turn based with EXP points are gained for whatever actions a character takes regardless of whether or not the enemy is defeated. Battles are condition based and does not necessary involve defeating all enemies. As far as gameplay depth goes, Jeanne d'Arc isn't very deep. It is a very traditional title - even more so than Tactics. You will be hard pressed to find the high level of customisation provided by other titles like Disgaea or the tactical skills required in Tactics.
Despite the reserved attitude, Jeanne d'Arc does introduce some rather intriguing combat mechanism. One such example is the "Unified Guard" where if your allies are close by, it increase the defence of the targeted party member. Enemies can counter attack, but if you attack from the back it decreases the chance of a successful counter attack and vice versa. Attacking an enemy target will also produce a burning aura on the tile behind the enemy, which another party member who attacks from the tile will be given a temporary attack boost. Jeanne, among others, also have the power to transform once per battle. This gives temporary stat boost as well as bonus turns for every enemy Jeanne kills. This gives a tactical advantage to the player when playing levels which has very few turn limits.
Visually the game is set on a rotatable square-based grid plane with full polygonal backgrounds and characters. While the cel-shaded characters are well done, personally I would have preferred if they have gone for sprites. The lack of emotional expressions is one of the reasons why sprites would have been better - just look at Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. Both features low-res sprites but still allows far more detail to be conveyed when compared to Jeanne d'Arc's super deformed chibby characters.
Regardless the graphics still stack up nicely, a testament to Level-5's knowledge in pushing a console's polygonal power. The environments are detailed with French architecture suitably based on the medieval time period. This reassures me as at least now I know that Dragon Quest IX is in very capable hands. In between battles we have story sequences that are sometimes told via FMVs. They aren't too distracting (I am not normally a fan of prerendered videos in video games) and are well animated. Plus you won't find a more vibrant and colourful game than this.
The soundtrack is okay with very good orchestra-like collection, but gets very repetitive. Sound effects are exceptionally well done with environment details and what-nots available. Only the English voice acting is available for the US version, but like Dragon Quest VIII, Level-5 cleverly decided against an Americanised voice accent, usually favoured by other developers like Nippon Ichi America for Disgaea's English voiceover. While the entire game's voice acting language is in English, regional stereotypical accents is applied to provide nationality. The voice of the virgin one is provided by video gaming voice actress veteran Kari Wahlgren, whose CV includes Ashe (Final Fantasy XII) and Lilika (Rogue Galaxy)
There are a couple of issues with the games though. The directional controls for example can get a tad annoying. Pushing the d-pad into the direction you want the character to move may not yield the result you want due to the way the camera handles, which is why I am happy to toggle the camera bring a vertical or horizontal viewpoint rather than an isometric one. Regardless this is purely a personal preference and may not affect everyone. But it does put a damper to my enjoyment of the game.
Loading times is also an issue. Even accessing the menu from the world map will bring up the loading screen. But anyone who has ever played the localised versions of Dragon Quest VIII will realise this is most likely due to the elaborate design that Level-5 puts into creating the menus. Performance wise the game runs smoothly with the framerate not once stuttering, though the graphics could do with a little bit of anti-aliased filtering. Finally the game is not too challenging, though you may encounter the Game Over screen early on while grasping the rules. Even then this title should not give your brain too much a work out.
It is a minefield out there having to choose a SRPG game for the PSP as it holds host to a number of quality titles like this, Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea Afternoon of Darkness. However Jeanne d'Arc is the only original title among the games I listed and despite its flaws, is a must have game for PSP owners seeking for a quality SRPG title and fans of the genre alike. It may not have the level of depth the previous title exhibits, nor does it push the genre much. Like Dragon Quest VIII, Level-5 has developed a title that is charming if a little bit too traditional and accessible.