The PSP has slowly been gaining a lot of RPGs and tactical RPGs. In late 2007 we saw the release of three Strategy RPGs in particular. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Jeanne D'arc. While Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea were two fine ports from two fine systems, Jeanne D'arc stands on its own as an original creation. The result is a beautiful, simple SRPG that while it doesn't change the face of the genre, it's a game that manages to be fun nonetheless.
The story of Joan of Arc has been told numerous times. However, it's never quite been told like this. That is to say the story itself mixes in Fantasy with History. In short, any student hoping to use this game has an interactive history lesson won't find it. On the other hand, though, the story is well told through some fantastic Anime cutscenes that are by far some of the best to grace the PSP thus far. There are some great characters to accompany you on your travels as well. It also helps that the game has some spectacular voice acting with French accents that aren't overdone, but aren't too tame either. The cel shaded graphics looks absolutely astonishing as well. The environments are enormous and detailed. The enemies are also pretty detailed as well. In terms of production values, Jeanne D'arc exceeds by being both artistic, and showing what the PSP is capable of doing. It's very rare when a game does both very well, but Jeanne D'arc does. If there was anything that hampers the story it would be that some characters just don't do much to add to the story. Level 5 has never been well known for their astounding character development. Jeanne D'arc is no exception. From time to time you'll be wondering what purpose some characters serve in the story and why they're there in the first place.
A beautiful game can't stand alone without some good gameplay to go along with it. Luckily, Jeanne D'arc has some good gameplay too. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but the simplicity of the game makes it so that there is no need for overly long tutorials that plague a few other tactical RPGs. While this can be a little annoying for those who dwelled into more complex SRPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, it does have a few traits that make it overall fun to play. As usual, you'll control characters on a grid and there are a set of objectives. In some missions the goal is to defeat the enemy leader while making sure a specific character doesn't fall. In other missions it's simply to crush all the bad guys. The game adds a twist on this as well. You must finish the battle in a certain amount of turns or its game over. While this is a nice twist it's hardly something that merits being included. You'll finish most battles long before you get that warning telling you how many turns are left. Jeanne D'arc isn't the first SRPG to do something like this, and it will not be the last.
Much like other SRPGs you'll have a set of commands to attack your enemies and use skills. Unlike many SRPGs, though, the counter attack rate in Jeanne D'arc is through the roof. The good news is that this makes the battles go faster. That may be one of the things that helps this game out. In many SRPGs battles are slow winded and last for a long time. In Jeanne D'arc they go relatively fast. In between turns you'll also see enemies and allies shout things out. For a moment this is alright, after a while it gets annoying.
There are skills at work in battle. You can equip certain skill stones to let you do things like cast healing spells or perform special attacks in battle. Equipping skill stones doesn't just grant you abilities or status enhancements. It's also there to raise affinity with the three spirits, Luna, Sol and Stella. There is no one spirit greater or more powerful than another. This works in a Rock-Paper-Scissors, fashion. One spirit is stronger than one but weak against the other. This puts a lot more emphasis on strategy. Some attacks deal far more damage based on which spirit you are affiliated with. The same thing works for your enemies.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Jeanne D'arc is that the games transformation system. Jeanne can transform once she has enough SP. This gives her a significant boost to her stats. It also gives her the ability to take another turn immediately after killing an enemy. This is great, but because of the increase in stats in some areas it makes the game unreasonably easy. That doesn't mean the entire game itself is easy. You'll find that in many maps you're outnumbered. And that a mishap or two in your strategy can cost you the battle. Jeanne D'arc may be a simple game to learn but it can be a bit tough to master.
Jeanne D'arc also sounds masterful. The soundtrack is beautifully orchestrated. While at some points the music can be repetitive (particularly hearing the "Enemy Phase" music over and over again), it still sounds absolutely fantastic. If there was anything holding Jeanne D'arc back, it would be the games lack of voice acting. While you hear a lot in the animated scenes, you don't hear them that much beyond that. It'd be nice if some of their battle callouts, for example, were screamed out. This is a minor problem and in no way detracts from the game itself, though.
Any PSP owner looking for a fun, engrossing SRPG ought to look to Jeanne D'arc. It's incredible story, simple battle system and good use of customization and balance make it an engrossing adventure. It may not reinvent the wheel, but that keeps the game from being a needlessly complicated endeavor.