Quantum Protocol Review – Visual Novel Deck Building Protein Shake

    Title: Quantum Protocol
    Developer: Kaio Meris
    Release Date: November 4, 2020
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Kaio Meris
    Genre: Strategy

Quantum Protocol is billed as “a visual novel deckbuilding card game” with a sci-fi theme, where card battles represent hacking and destroying malware. Sadly, on that description alone, the visual novel aspect is lackluster, and the deckbuilding is limited, but the card game itself isn’t all that bad.

Quantum Protocol’s card game features feel overwhelming at first, as new characters with their own unique decks are rapidly introduced, and you hardly have a chance to get a feel for how one plays before it changes again. There’s a mix of short puzzle battles played with a specific deck, often serving as a tutorial for new card mechanics, and long dungeon battles, where you have a choice of character and deck to play with. There are only six dungeons in the game, but they can be repeated with each of the six main characters, giving you a chance to try out different decks and strategies.

Playing cards and taking actions don’t require a casting cost; instead, your strategic currency is time. Enemies act on a timer, counting down each action you take, such as drawing a card, using a special ability, or attacking. Drawing a new card is also on a countdown and refreshes the cards on the field so you can use their attacks or abilities again.

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The strategy varies from one deck to the next. Still, in general, there’s a focus on sacrificing cards, which gives them an extra attack and also charges more powerful abilities along with reloading your deck from your discard pile. There’s no deckbuilding from one stage to the next, but you pick up card drops during battles and can customize your deck on the fly. This includes adding new card drops to your deck, moving cards into storage where they can be accessed by certain card abilities or saved for the next time you reload your deck, and combining three of the same card into a slightly more powerful version.

Card drops are randomized, so your deck can vary from one battle to the next, and you’re often subject to the mercy of the RNG. However, the game relies more on strategy than luck. Enemy waves stay the same on each replay, and you’re shown the enemy formation and number of waves left, so it’s possible to slowly plan out your moves. The sheer amount of cards and the fact that each deck has its own unique theme makes it hard to keep track of everything. It took me almost the full length of the game (about 16 hours) to really get into the right rhythm and synchronize card abilities effectively — but I don’t play many card battle games like this, so people who are more familiar with the genre will probably have an easier time.

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The easiest deck is probably the Queen’s, which is based on a chess theme; for example, knights can attack in an L pattern and directly ahead, and pawns can attack diagonally and become Queens if they survive on the board long enough. Unlike the other decks, you don’t get card drops, allowing you to practice your strategy with a deck that’s more consistent and reliable, albeit somewhat less interesting.

The difficulty is adjustable by increasing the number of turns before the enemy’s card effects trigger. The extra margin of error does help, but it seems like there’s a missed opportunity here for adjusting the difficulty by making it possible to undo a limited number of turns or waves. Dungeon battles are long, often 10-20 minutes, and a simple misclick or single unlucky draw can lead to a lot of wasted time. Even when losing due to my own poor strategy (often, to be honest), having to continually replay a dozen waves I had done to get to the final boss who I couldn’t figure out, which ended up feeling more tedious and frustrating than a fun challenge.

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The card game portions are broken up by short “visual novel” story segments; unfortunately, they lack in both the visual and novel departments. The story is bare-bones and disjointed, told in dialogue only by a constantly growing cast of characters that’s honestly hard to keep track of. Each character has a side image with no variations in expression or voice acting to flesh out their personality. Full-body character sprites aren’t shown during the story segments, and there are no event CGs. Some characters get a little bit of development. Still, for the most part, your interest in their interaction relies heavily on your familiarity with their generic archetypes rather than anything particularly engaging about them.

As a framing device for the card game, the story is perfectly serviceable. The artwork is lovely, and the anime-style character art and detailed sci-fi backgrounds mesh well with the more minimal pixel artwork on the cards. The presentation is slick, with different colored text highlighting for each character, the standard backlog and skip features and a progress bar for each scene. I wouldn’t have been disappointed in this side of the game if the marketing hadn’t raised my expectations.

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Considering the story’s weakness and the high gameplay to story ratio, I can’t recommend Quantum Protocol to visual novel fans looking for a decent story with a bit of gameplay. Still, I would recommend it to fans of strategic card games. The difficulty could use a few tweaks to make it friendlier to beginners, but experienced players looking for a challenge will certainly find one.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Amy Scholl

Fan of unusual visual novels.