Jeanne d'Arc - Retroview  

The Passion of Joan of Arc
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Interesting and well-realized setting
+ Varied and captivating tactical combat
- Hard to find some skills
- Strict turn limits
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   Exactly what inspired Level-5 to develop a tactical title derived from Joan of Arc's story may never be known, but the result is something that deserves to be experienced by all with even the slightest interest. Jeanne d'Arc may not be much use for anyone trying to research the Hundred Years' War, yet obviously a lot went right if its failure to be an effective substitute for a lesson in 15th century European history is about the worst thing I can say. This is a most worthy game that doesn't vary enormously from the standard tactical template but makes a number of moderate tweaks to enhance the experience.

   A young woman named Jeanne is living peacefully in her small French village of Domremy when nefarious English forces attack. Jeanne is able to repulse them, in part thanks to an armlet that mysteriously grants her great power. Her village is not fortunate enough to escape the attack, and along with fellow survivors Liane and Roger, this determined woman seeks to use the power granted through the armlet to drive the hated English out of her country. Jeanne's brazen, uncompromising attitude quickly gains the attention of others, and efforts to drive the English out of France are given a substantial new forward impetus.

   A real woman in early 15th century France is the namesake of this game, and its early events actually hew pretty close to the known historical record. Things go off the historical rails later in the narrative, and the English use of mystical creatures such as ogres and elves is not something supported by the primary sources. This is nevertheless a narrative that is easy to become invested in, as it does not insult the player's intelligence with blatant stupidity but also avoids overwhelming complexity. Most of the characters are not written in a multifaceted manner, yet their personalities are lively enough to not be repellent. The localization team decided to differentiate certain people via distinct styles of speech, such as alliteration at all cost or an Inspector Clouseau-level French accent. Such methods are not subtle but do give characters a distinct presence on the screen.

   Jeanne d'Arc's combat basics look and feel similar to many other tactical titles. The player's side of up to seven characters takes its actions, moving around a tile-based map and engaging with a variety of English soldiers and fantastical creatures. The battlefields are not colossal in scale, but that makes them progress fairly briskly by tactical standards. A good variety of opponents will also be encountered, with even what appear to be old foes kitted with new abilities to keep things fresh.

I think everyone remembers that moment in the Hundred Years I think everyone remembers that moment in the Hundred Years' War when a talking toad with a sword in its mouth fought against a dragon serving the English.

   Plenty of details keep things distinctive and interesting in Jeanne, such as MP generating gradually as turns pass rather than being present at the beginning of the battle. Characters in close proximity increase each other's defense, which can make all the difference in a close contest. Jeanne, and other characters who join later, can transform using the supernatural armlets. Not only does the transformation allow use of new abilities, but killing an adversary while transformed allows the responsible character to immediately act again, as many times as the character can administer a coup de grâce. These transformations only last a couple of turns, preventing abuse of their power. Enemies can be very stupid and not move even when long distance attacks are striking them, but whenever they do start acting the offensive power they wield is no joke.

   There are also numerous ways to affect how characters perform in battle before fighting starts. These stem from the skill and ability system of Jeanne being very flexible and open to experimentation. Weapon skills are exclusive to characters who fight using that type of armament, but magic and statistic enhancement can be applied to anyone. Wielders of axes with little magical aptitude can nevertheless be given any kind of spell to provide a distance attack, and mages can be given HP increases to make them less fragile. A vast array of skills and options is available to enhance characters however the player wishes, and an ability to combine skills in search of new ones is quite addictive. Many of the stronger abilities cannot be found except through this combination, and since enemies routinely drop more skills than the player can use there will always be extras with which to experiment. These skills include an elemental trinity that can be changed at any time by switching what is currently equipped, allowing the player to tailor the party as necessary for each encounter.

   A few bothersome points do exist, though they are comparatively minor. Getting the required components for some of the top-tier skills requires a fair amount of time to be committed, since they often demand large numbers of building blocks to reach the summit. Jeanne d'Arc's turn limits are uncompromising, and always in place. While this is not a problem most of the time, it can be unpleasant to have a team not capable of smashing through the enemy ranks get stymied by an inflexible turn counter. Shop inventories vary depending upon the locale, and late in the game this translates to a bit of a scavenger hunt to locate precise items. As negatives go, tactical games have done much worse.

No wonder we haven No wonder we haven't found a cyclops before - no one limited the search to things that are purple.

   Its core story can be completed in less than forty hours, making Jeanne shorter than many tactical games. Its method of letting players grind is interesting though, as it does not simply let battles be recreated. The same battlefields are used but the antagonists and locations are different, making things a bit more interesting than otherwise. Some optional battlegrounds also appear as the game progresses, and these offer unique situations and challenges to participate in.

   A few animated sequences pepper the narrative, and while not at Studio Ghibli levels of quality they certainly look respectable. Most of the game has visuals with sprites marching around the landscape, and while the basics of this approach could have been done on hardware in the early 90s, Level-5 managed to put quite a bit of detail into the animations. The occasional animated sequence is also the only time when any kind of voice acting will be heard, while in battle quick text balloons will appear over characters instead. Most of the score is not very catchy, but does an effective job of accompanying the action and is worth hearing for that reason.

   It's really too bad that further adventures from Japan with a basis in western history haven't been encouraged through the decade that has elapsed since this one. I would have enjoyed seeing how the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars, Ivan the Terrible, or even the War of the Roses could turn out if some mystical beasts turned out to be aiding the oppressors. Not starting a trend is no knock against Jeanne though, which remains very much worth experiencing by any tactical veteran as an example of how to do a lot of things right.

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