TOKYO--Jeanne D'Arc is a tactical RPG game loosely based on a French historical figure, who we probably know better as Joan of Arc. She lived in the early 15th century and rose to prominence as the figurehead for France's revival in the Hundred Years' War with the English. She was only 17 at the time, and died at 19, but had made enough impact to later be made a saint. However, the PlayStation Portable game bearing her name deviates a fair bit from what the history books tell us, putting her into more of a fantasy setting.
Unfortunately, because the game is slated for a release only in Japan at this point, all of the dialogue we saw was in Japanese, and therefore it was pretty hard to tell exactly where the game was going in terms of story. From the trailer and two playable battle levels, it seems that Jeanne (as we'll call her) is cast as roughly the same person as she's been portrayed in history, although with a manga twist and quite a different setting.
In the main, the game will be played out in a similar way to other turn-based grid games such as Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, where the main task is to vanquish all of your foes on any particular battlefield. That field is split into a grid of squares, and you move and attack based on your various characters' statistics and abilities. As you kill enemies your characters gain experience points and loot, in the traditional way. As the game progresses the enemies get tougher, but so do you, and so the pattern continues.
With Jeanne D'Arc this doesn't change. The first battle map we played was fairly small and is probably the first of the game. The setting was a ransacked village with buildings on fire, and was drawn beautifully. The characters on the map were all very low-level, and included three good guys against a host of small dragonlike creatures, led, it seemed, by a knight in bronze armour.
After an initial round of turns, one of the monsters scored a hit on Jeanne (dressed at this point in rural period costume) and that kicked off a manga cutscene in which a magical power transformed her into a fully battle-ready, armour-laden warrior. Suddenly she had much greater power than previously, and could also make multiple moves and attacks, killing several of the dragon creatures in a single turn.
By contrast, her colleagues--one male, one female--seemed surprised at her transformation and were quite weak by comparison. They were no match for the dragons alone, and almost all of the good hits were scored by Super Jeanne. After a couple of rounds, Jeanne transformed back (although this could have been the result of accidentally choosing an option to dispel the effect--without translation it's impossible to tell) and was killed by the opposing knight, who now was much more powerful.
As expected, the death of Jeanne gave us a game over, and so we moved on to the second battle map, which seemed to be set around the ruins of some kind of Greek-influenced ancient temple. By this time the characters were much more powerful, and there were eight playable allies, so the concept of maintaining a team seems pretty crucial. How that team develops through the game wasn't clear.
Without being able to decipher any of the plot, it's not possible to work out whether or not this was a particularly important location, or how far along in the story it was. The enemies were significantly tougher this time, and it wasn't long before a couple of our team members had been floored. As with any games of this type, getting to know how the AI works is crucial, but there didn't seem to be any real easy way of getting around the bad guys. That said, we weren't able to utilise many of the powers and items, as all of the description were in Japanese, so we were handicapped somewhat. Overall, the game seems to contain all of the elements you'd expect from a tactical RPG. All of the basic turn-based options are there, accessed for each character via a menu system, and cycling through the characters is as simple as pressing the triangle button. We're not sure how important the storyline is at this point, nor is it possible to say if developer Level 5 has managed any innovation in the game. What is clear, however, is that the game is really very nice to look at--certainly more attractive than most other games in this genre for the PSP to date.
There's no indication so far that this game will ship to the rest of the world, but if it does it'll need time for translation and localisation to take place. We'll have more news on that when it becomes available.