The crossover diagram of historic events and Playstation PSP and Vita games is not that big. And as a history buff, this makes me a bit sad. On the home consoles, there’s more stuff like Civilization and even the Assassin’s Creed series (which take place in historical settings). So when I started playing Jeanne D’Arc for the PSP, I was pleasantly surprised at this novel take on the story of the French heroin. But was there more to it than a historical appeal? You bet there was.
Jeanne D’Arc: What’s It All About?
The game is a grid-based strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. The story revolves around Jeanne D’Arc, which is loosely based on the historical figure of the same name (Joan of Arc’s name in French was Jeanne D’Arc). There’s of course a lot of historically inaccurate stuff thrown in (most of it, really), but there’s enough truth to the story to have that feeling of gravity while still not taking itself too seriously.
As I said, the story is based on Joan of Arc, the French young woman who became a general and liberated parts of France from tyranny. This isn’t a documentary-style game, however, and the story deviates pretty heavily from historical records.
Having said that, if you know about Joan’s story, then you’ll see the parallels with Jeanne in-game. But more importantly, perhaps, is that if you don’t know about Joan, the game might encourage you to quickly Google the Wikipedia page or watch a video about this remarkable young woman. And in my eyes, any game that encourages you to learn about history is a win.
But What About The Gameplay?
This isn’t an edutainment title, that’s for sure. The gameplay isn’t some afterthought just thrown in there to make learning more fun. Make no mistake: Jeanne D’Arc is a hardcore, sometimes grueling strategy RPG. There’s tons of depth to the strategy, including reading the topography of the battleground, positioning attackers in the right formation, and more.
Jeanne D’Arc was not made in the vein of “new games that are easy and approachable”. It never feels cheap, but it’s certainly challenging. The difficulty curve is fairly linear, however, so as you move through the story, if you pay attention and do the battles right, you can definitely (eventually) find a winning path.
But don’t expect to be handed victory on a platter. This isn’t that kind of game.
SRPGs on the PSP look amazing anyway (just take a look at Final Fantasy Tactics: the PSP port is probably the best-looking version), and Jeanne D’Arc is no exception. Everything from character sprites to the battlegrounds, to attack animations and even the user interface look fantastic. In fact, the user interface has remained surprisingly fresh, despite some of its contemporaries looking more like PS1 games than PSP games. And the cut-scenes are fully animated, looking nearly as good as a Studio Ghibli film. Yes, they’re that good.
The music and voice acting are both top-notch as well. The frame rate can be a bit touch and go late in the game where there’s a ton of stuff going on, but as this isn’t a fast-paced game, it doesn’t really impact the experience much.
Should You Play It?
Honestly, Jeanne D’Arc is probably my all-time favorite strategy RPG. The gameplay is flawless, there’s enough history there to tickle my fancy, the presentation is fantastic and there are tens of hours of storymode to go through.
So, if you like strategy RPGs, or RPGs in general, definitely give Jeanne D’Arc a go. It’s not an easy game to find, mind: the physical edition is expensive, and the digital version’s availability is spotty. But if you can get your hands on it, this is a game that will not let you down.