The upside of schizophrenia.
I have to admit that initially I had some weird aversion to starting this game. Unless you're a history buff, you probably remember what I do about Joan of Arc's (Jeanne d'Arc is the French) story: a young girl disguised as a man on a mission from God to destroy the English. Did Jeanne have gender identity issues or did corsets just really chafe on the battlefield? Was she just plain crazy or were there environmental factors? Does God hate the English?
[image1]All good questions. But it didn't seem worth my time to test the veracity of any of these theories out by playing a game from tragic little Jeanne's point of view. If you have similar reservations you can make like Jeanne's executioners and burn them at the stake because unless the Hundred Years War involved magic, animal-human hybrids, demons, dragons, and talking frogs then this is not exactly an accurate history lesson.
Jeanne d'Arc vaguely follows the story of the young hero turned heretic turned saint, but underneath all that armor, it's really one of the best tactical strategy RPGs we've seen in a while. So put the pencils down 'cause you're in for a treat with this French lesson.
Some fantastic hand-drawn anime style cinematics flesh out the story, and begins with Jeanne finding a dying soldier in the woods. He's a goner but he also has this mysterious armlet that attaches itself to Jeanne. Shortly thereafter, things kick in and she starts hearing The Voices and the furries start to appear. While others might want to just ride out their trip, not Jeanne.
Good thing too because when she returns to her village of Domremy she finds it in ruins. Against all odds and with the help of the trusty magic armlet she is able to wipe out the remaining army in the village. Now, with no home and the voices prodding her along, she's off to kick those dirty English bastards back across the channel.
Gameplay is based around familiar turn-based grid battles with some unique twists. Each time you attack one of the enemies you knock some of their “Aura” onto the square behind them (OK, maybe a hallucinating soldier is a good premise for a video game). If one of your allies happens to be standing in that square the aura splashed on them will strengthen their next attack. If no allies are near, you can run over and step into the aura to get the attack bonus.
[image2]Your enemies can use Aura as well so be careful splashing it around willy nilly. Another twist to battles is the Unified Guard. Anytime characters are next to or diagonal from other allies their defensive stats are strengthened. If your whole party is touching in some way, then theoretically defense is greatly strengthened but in reality it didn't really seem that effective.
What is very effective however is the funky armlet that Jeanne acquired at the beginning of the story. There are a few similar armlets floating around the game as well. Activating an armlet in battle not only gives a higher hit point limit, full health, and an extra skill, but it also changes your clothes. Take that, Queer Eye!
Perhaps the most useful bonus though is that if you kill one of the enemies while an armlet is activated the wearer gets a bonus turn. If you time things well you can keep moving from one enemy to the next causing some massive devastation quickly.
There's also a turn limit on each battle which keeps things moving at a nice clip and forces you to take some chances you wouldn't otherwise take. This really ramps up the difficulty on some levels. On a couple of occasions I found myself on my last turn, taking the very last ally that could move, just making it into range, to barely take out the last enemy. It's satisfying enough to make you jump up and yell “Take that you @%#*ing English dogs!” .
You do not always succeed, however. Jeanne's journey is difficult, but not so difficult though that you need spend undue amounts of time leveling up to get through it. You can start random skirmishes in areas that your party has already passed through to bulk up some of your team stats, if need be.
[image3]One minor annoyance is that you can't attack first and then move. Each ally you control can move then attack or just attack in each turn. This prevents you from using the smack-and-run-away strategy. I'm nitpicking here. Jeanne probably wouldn't have done that anyway.
As with most good tactical RPGs the meat is in the party and character customization. Your party will swell up to 14 characters made up of humans and the aforementioned furries with up to 7 playable in any one battle. Along with the standard armor, weapon, and shield upgrades there are 150 abilities equipped by assigning skill stones. Each character has a certain number of slots for these stones which give them their blend of abilities. To gain more new abilities you can experiment by giving combinations of stones to the talking frog who will chew them up and spit out a surprise stone (more hallucinations?).
Overall there's nothing incredibly ground breaking about Jeanne d'Arc. However it has an extremely compelling story with some great “Holy Crap!” moments. The graphics and animation are very well done, not to mention the deep gameplay and solid, intuitive controls. I recommend surrendering to The Voices you hear right now, and go pick up this game start slaughtering some stinking English degenerates.