Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Jeanne D’Arc and I was very impressed away by it. The game begins with Jeanne as a regular girl in her home town of Domremy. Jeanne and her close friend Liane step away from the village to find Roger. An orc impedes her path and a booming voice from the sky (signified by capital letters and a black background) tells Jeanne to draw her sword. Apparently, the English are aided by orcs and other monsters in this alternate take on history.
The story is told in two ways. Dramatic scenes in Jeanne D’Arc have anime movies and are voiced with French accents. However, most of the story sequences play like a silent film. Dialogue between Jeanne and her army is told through text boxes, a 3D background and frozen drawings. When Jeanne dons the magical armlet you get to watch an animated scene where she equips it. In a later sequence you see Jeanne transform Sailor Moon style into a new suit of armor. When her village is burning to the ground after the first fight, the story is told through pages of text boxes.
The story is certainly unique, but I haven’t delved enough into it to see how deep it goes. I spent most of my time in battle fighting the English back. Jeanne D’Arc’s system should be familiar to anyone who has played a strategy RPG. You move characters around a grid, pick commands from a menu and watch the blades fly. Jeanne D’Arc tends to have larger battlefields than other SRPGs and you end up fighting more enemies. In the early fights you command five troops and you have to face nearly double that many Lizardmen. The key to winning fights is to take advantage of the two elements unique to Jeanne D’Arc: Burning Aura and Unified Guard.
When you strike a bovimoth (a cow demon) from the front an orange glow representing a burning aura square appears behind it. If you can position one of your characters in that spot and attack while standing on it you get an attack bonus. When a monster gets hit it might not stand still, it may counter with a blow of its own. You can lower the amount of damage the counterattack deals by bunching your party together. When your characters are grouped they get a defense bonus from the Unified Guard system. On paper these elements sound minor, but they add a new degree of depth to Jeanne D’Arc. If you play your cards right you can chain Burning Auras together. For example you can attack a Dark Elf with Jean who uses a lance that can hit enemies from two squares away. After the strike a burning aura appears behind the elf. You can move Jeanne on the burning aura square behind the elf so she gets an attack bonus for her turn. After she attacks a second burning aura appears on the square between Jean and the monster. You can move Roger to that square and give him a burning aura attack bonus too.
You have to take advantage of the burning aura system because you don’t use skills in Jeanne D’Arc as often as you do in other SRPGs. At the beginning of a battle you don’t have a full MP meter for spells or special moves. The gauge slowly increases each turn, which prevents players from casting their most powerful spells. The skill system in Jeanne D’Arc gives players a lot of flexibility to customize characters. In the beginning you have three open slots that can be filled with special attacks, spells like heal and elemental attributes that align you to one of the three spirit affinities. You can earn skills directly from monsters or purchase spells such as fireball and ice bullet in stores.
Jeanne has one other ability, she can transform into a new suit of armor by expending SP. When Jeanne wears the Valkyrie-like armor she earns an extra turn each time she slays a monster and has the flash of white, a powerful sword skill. Since Jeanne can only stay transformed for a limited amount of time you have to use the skill wisely. One trick is to space out the nearly dead enemies and keep them a couple of squares from each other. If you do this when Jeanne is transformed you can make her move far. After each orc falls to the ground Jeanne gets another turn to move and attack. To balance Jeanne’s multiple moves players have to complete the battle objectives in a set number of rounds. I’m for this change because you can’t spend rounds buffing characters. You’re forced to fight and figure out the fastest way to clearing all of the monsters led by the lone English knight.
So far Jeanne D’Arc feels like a game strategy RPG aficionados are going to enjoy. Look for more to come later this week.