"Next is Jeanne d'Arc, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I only have a few stages left to go; I might even finish it later tonight." What do you know. That's exactly what happened.
I'll get right to the point - I loved Jeanne d'Arc, but I wanted more. More characters, more chapters, more extras, more everything. The game boasts a solid main story (36 stages of varying length and complexity), a handful of sidequests, and the ability to replay maps in the post-game for more treasure, but it's not enough. I wanted a meaty story chock-full of extras on the scale of Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, but all I got was a really, really good strategy RPG.
The game starts out innocently enough, proclaiming to be a retelling of the story of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) in the Hundred Years War between France and England. It jumps the shark a little (re: a LOT) by introducing magic, elves, dwarves, beastmen, magical transforming armlets, and the young king of England being possessed by a Cthulhu-esque dimensional demon. Still, the game does a good job of getting the player on Jeanne's side and caring about the story's core characters.
My first big complaint is about the cast, but not the characters themselves. Just the quantity. For the game's final stages, you have fourteen characters to choose from. This is simply not enough. There is no create-your-own-generics mechanic, which is fine for games like Fire Emblem, but Fire Emblem games always have a cast that numbers in the twenties, at least. With only fourteen characters to chose from (many of which are essentially identical, since nearly all skills are shared between users of the same weapon), party diversity and replayability dies a little bit.
Second complaint is smaller than the first, but present: character balance. You eventually have five characters that can use armlets, powerful items that let characters transform. Transformation is an instant full-heal that pumps up stats and also gives the character a chance to move additional times in one turn. Yes, that's every bit as broke as it sounds. The five armlet characters, sans-armlets, would be above-average at best, but that armlet pushes them over the top. Characters that AREN'T just average are also overpowered in their own right. I would not have beaten the game as easily as I did if Colet and Rufus weren't effin' MONSTERS. On the other side of the coin, the game has a couple of hardcore suckers in its cast, namely tanks inferior to Rufus like La Hire and low-damage pokers like Beatrix.
Third complaint: difficulty. This game is not hard for SRPG veterans. Hell, it might be a good entry game to the SRPG genre. The game gives you ample opportunity to grind, gives you MAJOR rewards for completing optional maps, and is probably easy enough on its own to beat without grinding. That's a recipe for cake-tier difficulty. It's not a high-risk game like most Fire Emblems, where grinding is limited if present at all and there are major punishments for failure, and it's not a game of excesses like Disgaea, which rewards grinding but throws ridiculously powerful enemies in your face as a counterbalance. Jeanne d'Arc has none of that - no level-matching, a standard-difficulty endgame and post-game, and no real penalty for pyrrhic victories.
Fourth complaint: strategy, or lack thereof. The game's basic mechanics are solid: typical SRPG gameplay, impressive-for-the-psp isometric three-dimensional environments, and impressive customization systems centering on weapons, weapon skills, and the game's three rock-paper-scissors magic elements. None of those are the problem. The problem is the ability to win every battle by simply hurling your tanks and pixies at the enemy and then attacking targets in a sensible order. Even your most fragile characters can be made fat with easily-obtained defensive skills, and every battle can be won with character might instead of strategy. Even in Disgaea and Dragon Quest, kings among RPG grindfests (and I love both dearly), there is some next-level manipulation involved in major battles or at least a change of approach required once in awhile. Nothing like that here: put your fatties up front and your archers in back, and then march forward. Boom.
OK, now I feel like I should apologize. That's not a review, that's a list of grievances. And I didn't hate this game, I fuckin' loved it. But like I said at the beginning, I wanted more. I'll get more when Disgaea 4 comes out next month, I have no doubt of that, but I don't have it yet. Jeanne d'Arc is a perfectly good PSP game for fans of the genre, and Level-5 are nothing short of pros of execution: the game looks and sounds gorgeous, and every gameplay element is solid. I wish other handheld games looked this good without any slowdown. Maybe I've just played too many SRPGs and have been spoiled by the best ones, but Jeanne d'Arc wasn't enough. Even then, I'd still recommend it to PSP owners everywhere. Hooray for hypocrites!
Games Beaten: 2011 Edition
1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
Next will probably be either Prinny or Jade Empire. Near the end of Prinny, which is balls-out crazy hard, and in the second half of Jade Empire, which is very good but on the short side. Should finish one or both of those next week.