This isn’t nearly as good as scoring an original Q&A with Level 5, but Sony Computer Entertainment USA released a canned Q&A with extra details on Jeanne d’Arc. There are some interesting nuggets of information like Jeanne d’Arc has been in development for about two years and (gasp!) Level 5 is altering history by changing Jeanne’s end. Level 5 also explains how Jeanne d’Arc is different from other strategy RPG games because it has an increased emphasis on bunching your characters together.
Q: How long has Jeanne d’Arc been in development?
A: When we first started, we had a small team working on the concept and prototyping for about six months. If you count that as well, it’s just under two years.
Q: How would you describe the world of Jeanne d’Arc? What influenced the team in creating the game’s story and overall art direction?
A: What we hoped to achieve is the blending of history and fantasy. The blending of reality and fantasy creates a unique world that is both familiar yet disorienting which makes for an interesting experience. We were inspired by a wide variety of works for Jeanne d’Arc. We saw the different portrayals of Joan of Arc by artists, movie makers, and writers, and we created our version of her that fit our story. As for the graphics, we’re pretty proud that everything is done in 3-D. We put a lot of work in to making detailed stages, towns, and backdrops. Since everything was done in 3-D, we were able to create more dramatic scenes through the use of camera work.
Q: Can you provide a brief overview of the story in Jeanne d’Arc? How closely does it parallel the real Joan of Arc?
A: Jeanne d’Arc is inspired by the story of Joan of Arc, and as such, it is a mix of both history and fantasy. This story takes place in France during the Hundred Years’ War, where Jeanne receives an oracle to drive the English out of her homeland. She rallies the French troops to fight the English and free the occupied cities, and tries to have The Dauphin, Prince Charles VII, crowned as the rightful ruler of France. On top of this history, we’ve added fantasy elements such as “The War of the Reapers”, a great battle fought between man and demons. Since the ending of Jeanne’s life is very well known, we wanted to surprise the players by making some changes to the ending as well.
Q: How would you describe the characters in the game?
A: Many of the playable characters have some basis in history, such as Jeanne d’Arc, Gilles de Rais, and La Hire, all who fought alongside one another during the Hundred Years’ War. You’ll find other notable names in the characters such as Bertrand, Jean, and Richard who were important figures in the war.
In terms of personalities, although we consulted other works as reference, we did take some liberties to fit our vision of Jeanne d’Arc. We wanted to make the personalities of each character easy to understand—Jeanne is the determined hero, passionate about her beliefs and unwilling to yield. Liane is her counterbalance; gentle and somewhat meek. But you’ll see her character grow in contrast to Jeanne.
We’ve also paid close attention to the character design to make it easy to understand the personalities of the characters. For example, we turned La Hire into a therion (a lion beast) to match his boisterous, jolly nature, while Gilles de Rais, a calm, collected character, uses purple and burgundy tones to match his personality.
We also gave each character a unique look and color scheme to help differentiate them on the battlefield. Because strategy games use a wide-angle view, we wanted to make sure the characters are easy to discern even when they look small on the screen.
Q: How many levels are there in Jeanne d’Arc? How many total hours of gameplay?
A: There are around 40 stages or so, and it should take between 30-40 hours to complete for the average player. If someone wants to play through all the missions and extras, it’ll probably take over 50 hours.
Q: Describe the challenges in developing an RPG for the PSP system? Especially since you’re used to developing on the PS2.
A: On PS2 titles, we were able to use anime-like expressions on the character’s faces to help express emotion, and we wanted to do this on the PSP as well. Doing this, however, was too taxing on the PSP processor so we decided to go with being able to display more characters on the screen and making them easy to control.
The other challenge was the content. Just because this is a game for a portable device, we didn’t want to reduce the volume of the game. We wanted this game to have just as much game play as your typical PS2 title.
Q: How is the combat system in Jeanne d’Arc unique for a turn-based strategy RPG?
A: There are four elements that really set this game apart from other turn-based strategy RPGs on the market today. The three features are “Burning Aura”, “Unified Guard”, “Transformation” and “Skill Stones”.
Burning Aura is a system where if you trap the enemy between two of your characters, you will be able to deal out additional damage.
Unified Guard, on the other hand, is a defensive system where if your characters stand near each other, they will share a defensive boost against physical attacks. The more allies you have near by, the more powerful this effect becomes, and it rewards the player for moving the troops as units. But the drawback to this is that since they are bunched up together, they become more vulnerable to attacks that cover a wide area, such as magic spells.
Both of these systems are simple concepts that are intuitive—it makes logical sense that you’re more likely to withstand an attack if you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your allies. It also makes sense that you’re able to attack more effectively when you flank the enemy and attack from both sides. We wanted to emphasize team coordination motivate the players to think strategically without making the system overtly complex.
The transformation system is another aspect that makes this game unique compared to other turn-based strategy RPGs. Characters equipped with magical armlets have the ability to don a powerful armor, which give them additional stat boost and special abilities. Their greatest advantage, however, comes when they defeat an enemy. Normally, each character can only take one action per turn. But when a character is in a transformed state, they get an additional turn each time they defeat an enemy. This can be utilized to turn the tide of battle as the character can defeat multiple enemies across a wide area in one turn. This must be used strategically, however, because it takes some time to build up the power to transform, and the characters can only sustain their transformed state for a limited number of turns.
The last major feature is the Skill Stones. Each character is able to equip up to six skill stones. These skill stones range from passive effects such as HP/MP/Attack/Defense boosts, to specialized skills such as auto HP recovery, locating loot, casting spells, etc. There are also skills based on your weapon type, which allow the characters to attack over a broad range, or concentrate their attack to deal heavy damage against a single enemy. You can even combine different skills to create new, more powerful ones. With the wide-range of skills available, this system allows the player to customize their characters to the way they play. If you’re an aggressive player, you can set it so your characters are effective at moving quickly through the map and dealing damage, while a more conservative player can set it so that they have higher defensive/healing capabilities.
These elements help deepen the strategy aspects of the game, and improve the speed/pace of the battles.
One other feature worth mentioning is the text bubble system, where the characters offer commentary throughout the battle depending on the situation. This helps bring out the personality of the characters.
Q: What gameplay features in Jeanne d’Arc are you most proud of and what aspects of the game do you see it helping to evolve portable RPGs?
A: We put in a lot of time to make sure the controls felt just right. For example, because this game is fully 3-D, camera can become an issue when blocked by buildings and other objects. We made the buildings semi transparent when it blocks the camera so that the players will be able to see all their characters even if they are behind buildings. Moreover, the players are able to control the camera themselves using the L/R button and the analog stick so they can see the map from their preferred vantage point.
We’re really proud of what we were able to achieve graphically on the PSP. We wanted to make one of the best-looking PSP game available and we put in a lot of details into the environment and characters without going over the top.
Q: What does Jeanne d’Arc bring that’s different from other RPG games?
A: First and foremost, because this is a strategy RPG, we made sure that the strategic elements of the game were fun. We kept the basics simple and true to the traditions of the genre. From there, we incorporated the unique systems (explained earlier) and used the animated cut scenes to enhance the dramatic elements of the story. By uniting the historical story and fantasy of Jeanne d’Arc, we’re hoping that players can experience a different kind of RPG.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this game?
A: In a strategy RPG, the game balance makes or breaks the game—we knew that going in, and just as we predicted, it was one of the most difficult aspect of the game to get it just right. We didn’t want it to be too difficult, nor did we want the game too easy. Finding that right balance took quite a lot time, but it was definitely worth it in the end.