Thursday, August 30, 2007

VG REVIEW: Jeanne D'Arc

Sony, for the PlayStation Portable, rated T for Teen (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language), $29.99.

Perhaps I received a faulty education, but nowhere in my studies about Joan of Arc do I recall learning that she ever owned a pet purple frog that swallowed and spat out magic gems that she could use in battle.

Or that English King Henry VI was possessed by an evil spirit. Or that the French army was made up of black-hatted wizards and pig demons. Or that Joan owned a magic armlet that allowed her to transform into a powerful Valkyrie-type warrior.

Then again, "Jeanne D'Arc," the latest role-playing game from developers Level 5, who brought you "Rogue Galaxy" and "Dark Cloud," doesn't make any pretensions to authenticity.

No, this is strictly a fanciful re-interpretation of history, with the maiden Jeanne battling against the kinds of foes usually found in your Dungeons & Dragons handbook.

Christianity is obliquely referred to here (Jeanne thinks she hears voices from God, but the plot hints pretty heavily that it's something else) and much of the history surrounding the Hundred-Years War is simplified in good vs. evil terms.

While a game that took a more active interest in actual historical events might be more rewarding (or at least interesting) it's not a total loss, as "Jeanne" proves to be an engrossing, entertaining fantasy game.

"Jeanne" is a strategy-based rpg, which means the player moves the various soldiers around on a grid-like map, taking turns against the computer.

Each soldier has a unique skill. You have archers who can attack from far away and pikemen who can strike from a closer but equally safe distance. You can only take so many soldiers into each battle, however, so a bit of early planning is necessary to ensure success.

There isn't much in "Jeanne" that you haven't seen before in terms of gameplay and plot. The battles, while diverting, suffer from having trod in the footsteps of other well-known titles such as "Final Fantasy Tactics." There isn't enough innovation here to override that sense of familiarity. Even the gem-spewing frog is taken from "Rogue Galaxy."

The plot abounds in cliches as well. You've got the winsome girl who's good at magic and not much else, the hero with the mysterious past, the magic weapons that must be collected or else the world will end.

Surprisingly enough, none of that keeps the game from feeling sluggish or rote. On the contrary, it's an involved, clever game that will keep you glued to your PSP for hours.

A good deal of that has to do with how Level 5 sets the difficulty bar. Each battle is tough enough to keep you from coasting through, but rarely so difficult that you feel as though you'll never win.

If you're willing to accept a bit of familiarity, as well as the fact that the game has about as much to do with the historical Joan of Arc as Mickey Mouse does, then "Jeanne D'Arc" will prove to be time well spent.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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