Strategy games regularly re-create historic battles, but few re-imagine them as loosely as Jeanne D'Arc tackles the Hundred Years' War. Fantasy tropes elbow into this role-play retelling of the life and times of Joan of Arc, infusing the tale with dragons, demons, and magic. Jeanne commands a troupe of mystical warriors, some of whom wield the ability to transform, à la He-Man, into powerful heroes clad in baroque armor. Nearly all La Pucelle's minions are armed with some kind of magic, so when the time comes for Jeanne to lay siege to Orléans (as her real-life counterpart did in 1408), the fray is fraught with magic spells, orc archers, and anthropomorphic beast-warriors.

Like all great tactics games, Jeanne D'Arc gives players the power to micromanage battles down to the tiniest detail. Every step taken, spell cast, and blow dished out is executed in turn. This approach to combat stretches fights out to long, slow-motion brawls that some may find tedious. But those who savor the idea of puzzling out troop positions will find Jean D'Arc's cinematic scenarios among the best the strategy RPG genre has to offer. On top of this fine level of combat control, the game offers nearly bottomless layers of character customization and skill-crafting for obsessive-compulsive gamers to peel away. All these mechanics come expertly packaged into a plot infused with Joss Whedon ensemble drama, surprise plot twists, and, of course, tragedy. Who knew that it would only take a little anime flavor to make a classic story feel this new?

Beyond the game: Jeanne D'Arc isn't the first strategy RPG to mine France for flavor. La Pucelle Tactics cribbed Joan's virginal nickname and gave its world a Gallic touch, but never attempted to rewrite history with its farcical, fun story.


Worth playing for: Turn-based strategy predates The Matrix's bullet time by centuries. In Jeanne D'Arc, players don't just watch the complex fights unspool, they orchestrate them. Executing these assaults is the video-game equivalent of "knowing" kung fu.

Frustration sets in when: A failed maneuver kicks players to a "game over" screen. Forgetting to save before entering a battleground can transform a minor setback into a major hassle.


Final judgment: Folks who traded in their PSPs for lack of awesome games should be feeling substantial remorse right about now.