I'll be straightforward with my opening statement when I admit that I am not a strategy genre buff. I've never really taken a liking to strategy games, because I've always felt as if perhaps they were a bit too drawn out and complex for me to pay attention to them. Of course, the other problem is that once I do start playing a strategy game, I'm overcome with this obsessive compulsion to dive into it and play it for hours on end. I know, it makes no sense. So I generally let someone else play the strategy or S-RPGs around here. Such isn't the case with Jeanne D'Arc, though. I don't know what compelled me to not pass the review down to someone else. Maybe it was the gorgeous box art? The art style? The praises I've heard? Or maybe because it was developed by Level 5?
A game like Jeanne D'Arc is precisely the reason why I think Level 5 are among one of the most talented developers in this industry, right now. Nobody can do the kinds of things with an RPG like these guys do. Furthermore, Level 5 performs all of their magic with budgets that are far smaller than that of powerhouse developers within Square-Enix, and such. Along with Dragon Quest VIII, Jeanne D'Arc is Level 5's newest masterpiece. It's a skillfully crafted Strategy-RPG that defines the genre, and marks an experience I haven't seen since Final Fantasy Tactics.
Jeanne D'Arc is an alternate-take on the story of Joan of Arc. The guys at Level 5 have crafted a loose rendition of the event in which the 15-year old Joan (Jeanne) leads French to victory against the English. The game doesn't just have you fighting humans, but also orcs, ogres, and tons of other creatures. Furthermore, it wouldn't be an RPG game without the casting of spells and such.
The combat system, clearly, is where the game shines. Fights occur on the same battlefield the encounter occurs at and there are no random battles. Moving around the field is limited per turn, and you'll have a selected range of 'squares' you can move across every turn. So if you're not familiar with S-RPGs, you can't move from one end of the field to another. You'll have to walk it in increments, fighting enemies along the way. Now just because you move somewhere doesn't end your turn. After you move your character, you can still perform an attack before ending their turn. If you're out of range, you can choose to wait. And range of attack is something that will vary between each character and the weapons they're equipped with.
For an S-RPG the combat system is deep, yet extremely easy to get a hang of. So don't worry about being overwhelmed, Jeanne D'Arc does a great job of explaining everything vital. The more you fight, the more little quirks you'll discover, such as unified guarding. With many of the fights come stipulations. For example, you have to complete a fight by using a certain amount of turn phases or less. There's the Enemy Phase and the Player Phase, and when both are done that equates to one complete phase. So, in other words, you don't have forever to win each match – your time is quite limited in many cases, so plan it out.
When you get passed the game's more unique features, you'll come to find the status quo RPG elements such as magic, weapons, shops, armor, leveling up and so forth. Jeanne D'Arc is a really fantastic S-RPG game, and would have been such no matter what console it hit. Level 5 has churned out yet another RPG that plays as great as it looks.
And speaking of looks, Level 5 continues their streak of well drawn games. The art is definitely one of the most pleasing aspects of the game – the box art is the initial proof of that. The game itself features smaller counterparts of each character with heads that are larger than normal – a pretty common RPG or S-RPG visual trait. Jeanne D'Arc doesn't feature any incredible, envelope pushing visuals, but it does give you everything that you'd need in a traditional S-RPG game that is heavily focused on gameplay, as opposed to aesthetic presentation.
The cut scenes, though, are beautiful. As opposed to using high-quality three-dimensional FMVs, Level 5 put to use a more artistic approach by giving the game an almost cartoon-like presence. Unless you desire monstrous visuals out of every RPG game you play, Jeanne D'Arc has the power to surprise you with its great looking art direction.
Jeanne D'Arc features a solid crew of voice actors that come into play during the cut-scenes. Each and every voice actor sounds well suited for their respective role, and so I'm hard pressed to find any issues here. Again, as is expected out of Level 5, the soundtrack is also put together quite well for the game. Aurally, Jeanne D'Arc puts on quite the good show.
Jeanne D'Arc is a huge breath of fresh air for those looking for a kick-ass S-RPG game. This isn't just an S-RPG you can play to tide yourself until Final Fantasy Tactics hits, but this is an S-RPG you can put alongside FFT and hold it up as a standard for others to follow. Jeanne D'Arc's superb gameplay package and beautiful art-design really makes this game feel like a videogame novel. To top it off, the voice acting and soundtrack completes the entire package. Level 5 has done it, yet again.