Jeanne d'Arc Preview
Sometimes, developers use real-life historical events as a loose foundation for their productions. At first, we weren't sure which direction Level 5 would be taking with the upcoming Jeanne d'Arc, but after many more details have come to light, we now know. In all honesty, the astute RPG veteran should've expected the result, especially if they knew anything about Level 5: the game won't be a gritty, true-to-life historical epic, it will be more of a fantasy/RPG blended with strategic elements, and boast a more light-hearted style thanks to the animation. After all, the French heroine is battling against all kinds of crazy monsters and creatures, which probably weren't around way back when. At least, we don't think they were.
The game will apparently follow a standard mission-based format, similar to the ones we find in strategy/RPGs like Front Mission, and there will be a variety of different environments and characters. Furthermore, we expect the style of each mission will be familiar to strat/RPG fans, as the objectives and goals will change frequently depending on the story scenario. You will also control as many as nine different characters on the battlefield at once, although you won't always have that many units at your disposal. Each character will be part of a specific class (such as archer or swordsman), and those weapon skills stay fixed throughout. But while all of this seems relatively standard, Jeanne d'Arc throws us a curve and implements several fresh gameplay elements. So just because you played Disgaea doesn't mean you know exactly what to expect, here.
One of the first unique additions is the existence of items called Skill Stones. It seems these stones can be collected from vanquished foes and treasure chests, and they can then be used to fortify and strengthen a character. But unlike a system like the one in Final Fantasy IX - where you permanently learn a skill after earning enough experience with a certain item equipped - you can never permanently learn an ability in a Skill Stone. Therefore, a major part of your battle strategy will center on which Stones you choose to equip, which will dictate your special abilities during combat. But it doesn't end there, because there's more depth involved than meets the eye...you don't just find and equip these Stones, you can also combine them to drastically increase their effects. We just don't know how many can be combined, or if you can only perform a combination once with two particular Stones.
But either way, it's a pretty good idea. The rest of the gameplay will revolve around your selection of offensive and defensive techniques and the classic "building up" of your characters. As you progress, you'll earn more magic points (for more devastating magical attacks later on), and you'll also learn more skills for everyone. We're just not sure how the group dynamic works just yet. For example, will there be large group abilities, like combo attacks? And if so, does everyone involved gain points for the move, or does only the starter or finisher get credit? These are the intricacies of the gameplay we have yet to discover, but provided the foundation is solid - and it is for most strat/RPGs, in our experience - we're sure everything should come together quite nicely.
We are aware of the Burning Aura system, which allows you to change the "aura" around a particular section of the battleground. You can use this to your character's advantage, but be careful, because the aura will affect everything within its range...and that includes enemies. On the flip side, there's the Unified Guard system, which allows your entire party to take a stand against incoming attacks. You know how one character by himself can be problematic? And how a group is generally better off? Well, this system enhances the theory: when two soldiers are standing together, they get stat boosts, and the effect of allies standing together is cumulative. Therefore, sending one unit off on their own is probably a bad idea, but remember, there is a time/turn limit for the missions, so you can't slink along in group form forever.
Oh, but the combat options don't end there. There's one other major aspect of the gameplay, and that is the magical armlets the characters can wear. They allow the character to transform and become much more powerful than before, which should factor in to your battle scheme. But again, more questions arise: how often can we use these bracelets? Of the "spirits" they require (accumulated throughout the course of battle), how often do the characters receive them? And how long can we stay in that ultra-powerful form? Can enemies knock us out of that form? It'll be very interesting to see how Level 5 tackles this feature, because we seriously doubt they'll let the player run circles around the enemy with too much power. After all, we do expect a significant challenge from this one, because it's basically a requirement of any game in the genre. The difficulty and depth is always half the fun.
Yes, we all know just how demanding strat/RPGs can be, so it's no surprise that the game will boast plenty of gameplay - probably at least 40 hours - and you'll be able to choose from 14 total characters during your adventure. Even the characters are more "animated" than you might think; they keep you updated in regards to their progress (if they're doing well, they'll let ya know), and the full 3D environments give the game a wide, sweeping scope. Jeanne d'Arc will be one heck of an appealing PSP title when it releases in August this year, if only because it's one of the very few games like it on the handheld thus far. But come on, it's a strat/RPG! How bad could it be? We're plenty excited about it, that's for darn sure.
4/29/2007 Ben Dutka