I love a good visual novel as much as the next guy, but I have to admit that my favourites usually involve a little more gameplay than just reading text. Games like the Ace Attorney series do this by adding mysteries to solve and evidence to present, but there are plenty of other ways to make a visual novel more thrilling. Jack Jeanne blends in rhythm game sections and Persona time management into this word-heavy genre, and the end result is magic.
Our protagonist Kisa has always loved acting. As a child her older brother would come up with plays for her and her best friend to act in, and ever since she’s had the theatre bug. Cut to present day and with her brother off chasing his dreams it’s up to Kisa to look after the rest of the family. At least until she’s approached by the principal of the Univeil Drama School and given a unique opportunity.
You see Univeil doesn’t allow girls to study at the academy, and the principal thinks this is unfair. The school bigwigs won’t be convinced to change, and without any other options the principal has decided that sneaking you in and proving you’re just as good as the guys is the only way to prove his point. Yes, Jack Jeanne is basically Mulan at drama school, and it’s just as amazing as it sounds.
The way Univeil works without girls to perform the female roles is all a bit Shakespearean. Students at the school are assigned as Jacks (actors playing male characters) and Jeannes (actors playing female characters) for each performance, and because of this about half of the students live day to day life as girls. This is ideal for Kisa because everyone just assumes she’s another Jeanne, but that doesn’t mean her time studying at Univeil will be easy.
Once it has been decided which of the school’s four houses Kisa will join, the intense semester of drama begins. You only have a set number of days until the first performance of the year, and with Kisa landing a big role there are lines to learn, songs to sing and a whole lot of rehearsals needed. While you’re reading about all the trials and tribulations of daily school life you’ll also need to decide how best to grow Kisa’s talent, by choosing one of six stats to focus on. Do you want to improve at singing and dancing to make the rhythm sections easier and impress the lads, or would you rather focus on charm so that you understand how to play different roles better? Every weekday you’ll choose a stat to improve, and at the weekend you can make a bit of time for your friends.
Because Jack Jeanne is an Otome game at heart, there are six hunky boys that you can get to know in your downtime. Whether you’re into eccentric writers, graceful dancers or athletic leading men, there’s someone to pursue for everyone. The individual stories of each of these characters are all really interesting, and getting to know them better will only make you love them more. To trigger the main relationship scenes you’ll need to raise the acting stat they care about and hang out with them enough in your downtime, but all that effort is definitely worth it.
As much as I loved hanging out with all the boys, the best parts of Jack Jeanne for me were the rhythm game sections. Any time a song or dance number needs to be rehearsed or performed you’ll trigger one of these, and they’re an absolute blast. For the songs you control a cursor that goes along a track, and using the shoulder buttons you have to switch lanes in time with the music. The dances function more like a traditional Guitar Hero style rhythm game, in which you need to press one of four buttons when a note reaches you. Both are the perfect way to break up the reading though, and the music accompanying them is sensational.
I was initially a little disappointed by the music in these sections though, because how they function in rehearsal is totally different to when they appear during a performance. Your practice runs feature no vocals and a plain background, but when the curtain comes up the performances have singing, dancing and are frankly the highlight of the whole damn game. Seeing how the show comes together as a whole after months of hard work is incredibly satisfying, and although you know the jist of the story from rehearsal seeing the end result is just delightful.
Jack Jeanne is one of the best visual novels I’ve played in a very long time, but it does have a few minor issues. Later in the game it takes ages to level up your stats, and it just doesn’t feel great to spend a week leveling up a single point. There also just aren’t enough rhythm game sections, and I actually ended up replaying some in the menu to break up the reading.
Jack Jeanne is an incredible visual novel with a really unique setting. The rhythm sections are a great way to break up the story, and getting to know all the other students at Univeil is a joy. It’s been a long time since I got this invested in a video game story, and if you have even a passing interest in visual novels or Otome games then you owe it to yourself to play it.
A wonderful and unique story
The rhythm sections are ace
Leveling up your skills is compelling
Loads of great characters
Leveling up takes too long towards the end
Just not enough rhythm sections