I posted up early impressions of Jeanne D’Arc before, now I’m waist deep into Level 5’s tactical RPG. The experience is getting better too. Part of the reason is the malleable skill system. You don’t have classes in Jeanne D’Arc and you are not awarded skills when you level up. All magic, stat boosts and “coup de graces” (a fancy name for weapon skills) are in the form of interchangeable skill stones. In one battle you can make Jeanne a magic user by equipping heal to recover HP and ranged fire attacks. Then for the next encounter you can switch her skill stones to red weapon attacks and make her a close ranged fighter. You can do this for any character too, which means you can choose to use your favorite characters instead of spending time building up healers. To keep the game balanced each skill stone has a level requirement that prevent players from equipping powerful stones too early.
Quickly players amass a decent amount of skill stones between monster drops and purchasing them at stores. The purple and pink frog, Cuisses, that follows you around has a special ability, he can merge your excess stones. By taking two of your skill stones Cuisses can create a new one and give you an extra ability.
I mentioned that Jeanne D’Arc has a turn limit for fights. On paper it doesn’t sound like a big change, but it is. When you only have ten moves to win a fight you tend to go all out. You don’t have time for hit and run tactics. One strategy I started toying with is weakening a few enemies with one or two hits instead of trying to kill them one at a time. If you try this approach the monsters will attack you on their next turn and your counterattack will finish them off. As long as you keep your party grouped together you get a defense bonus from the united guard system, but the damage you reciprocate with is the same as a regular attack. Chipping away at monsters with your other party members opens another tactic for Jeanne. She can transform into an armored warrior that gets an extra turn each time she kills an enemy. If you find yourself running low on turns this is a fast way to shift the tide back in your favor.
Not all of the missions in Jeanne D’Arc are about beating monsters into oblivion either. In one mission you have to escort your five characters to the other side of the screen. There are way too many monsters on this stage to take on and if a single character falls it’s the end of the game. You have to carefully progress through the stage by keeping your characters close to take advantage of united guard. In another stage you have to keep a soldier surrounded by enemies alive. The trick here is to quickly run past monsters by using Jeanne’s Godspeed skill to reach the knight right away. In other missions you play defender by protecting a location from enemies. These missions are well suited for archers and magic users that can pick off approaching enemies. While the objectives in Jeanne D’Arc are not radically different, the game mixes up the missions much more than other strategy RPGs.
While there are more mission types Jeanne D’Arc doesn’t try to evolve the strategy RPG genre at all. Instead it polishes what tactical RPG fans love, packages it with a great presentation and a strange take on French history. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at the Hundred Years’ War the same way, it’s much more interesting with the British summoning lizardmen and anime cutscenes.