Title: Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: October 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Turn-Based JRPG, Card Battler
Headed by Yoko Taro Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars provides an RPG entirely depicted through cards atop a board, which already places this title in the unconventional territory. Still, curiosity wins in this setup. While lacking challenge, Voice of Cards is an exceedingly welcoming title that anyone could easily play regardless of their background with tabletop games or even RPGs.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars has players control a nameable main character (whose default name is Ash) and a slew of distinct party members who join the fray on a quest to slay a treacherous dragon. Queen Nilla offers a monetary reward for the creature’s demise, which Ash practically squeals in delight for. However, while he’s on this quest for his selfish desires, the rest of the party that gradually forms has its own motivations.
The premise is typical, perhaps even boringly so. This is a Yoko Taro title, though, and it succeeds at intricate subversion and emotional shifts in similar veins to NieR and Drakengard. This adventure is undeniably unique and all its own, yet its DNA is as transparent as glass.
Fans of Taro’s other works will undoubtedly foresee particular plot reveals and the like ahead of the curve, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this experience will be any less. Further, the core of the presentation and depiction of the narrative make the journey itself a worthwhile one.
Since this title is told via the context of being a tabletop game, each voice and event is narrated by a Game Master. You’ll be hearing his voice for several hours, so it helps that it’s clear, deep, and easy to understand. Having played with the English dub, I was immediately drawn in by the Game Master’s narration to such a degree that I occasionally forgot that I was even playing a tabletop game in a meta sense.
Even when beginning, the Game Master advises the player to proceed with sound on as often as possible because his job is to provide a priceless degree of immersion to the story being told. I gradually grew an affinity for this nameless, unseeable ‘character .’ His occasional additions of jokes on in-game events and the like were genuinely entertaining. Funnily enough, if the game is left alone on the world map for an extended time, the Game Master grows drowsy and falls asleep, so there’s legitimate detail incorporated into his inclusion.
Experiencing the plot in this context was oddly compelling. I was concerned if I would’ve just preferred this title to be more conventional with characters having their own voice work and whatnot, but that turned out not to be the case whatsoever. Instead, whether due to my unfamiliarity with the tabletop genre or not, it almost felt like I was being read a storybook. Of course, I ultimately progressed events forward, yet this fresh delivery of the story engaged me from beginning to end.
As you can see, the presentation is entirely made up of cards atop a game board, further enhancing the intended aesthetic and ambiance. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you ask, the gameplay systems of Voice of Cards are jarringly simple compared to the creative ambition of this title’s premise.
For instance, combat plays akin to a standard turn-based RPG, just with a few tabletop-centric bells and whistles to provide some presentative uniqueness, as minuscule as they are. Characters learn skills through level-ups which range from outputting raw or elemental damage to supplying buffs. Special attacks, which are essentially every skill aside from the default attacks, require specific amounts of gems to utilize. 1 gem spawns every turn, though items and skills can provide more. For some skills, a die is rolled to determine whether a particular effect occurs.
And that…is pretty much it. Expected implementations like status effects are also part of the fray, but if you’ve played any turn-based RPG, you’ll quickly grasp mechanics after a few battles. I have no issue with combat being straightforward since encounters still managed to be somewhat fulfilling. However, there is not much of a challenge provided to supplement these simple to parse systems.
All encounters, including bosses, are way too frail. Several party members learn absurdly powerful skills. The one that immediately comes to mind is the main character’s Triblade, where using it twice decimated a key boss, leading me to feel somewhat amused by it all. I even restricted myself from purchasing equipment later on to grant a semblance of challenge, which was not fully realized. I don’t want that to come off as bragging on my part. It’s just that the lack of challenge is a bit baffling at points.
Map navigation is strangely enough what I enjoyed the most. Approaching unexplored territory on the map flips cards right-side-up, revealing characters and connected scenery. The sound design and gorgeous art style helped make progression continually satisfying. Additionally, a few RNG-centric events can randomly occur during exploration, such as rolling a die to avoid environmental damage. These further aided in preventing navigation from feeling like a dull chore.
Granted, I would’ve appreciated more variety in these events since a few repeated here and there, but I was captivated all the same. An outstanding balance is struck between RNG and actual skill, with the former not needlessly muddling the latter to make every fight feel purely luck-based. The RNG instead provides tangential benefits that are neat to obtain but never necessary for victory. So, I was never frustrated by any failings from random chance because it was never a defining factor of progression.
While I mentioned the story and characters earlier, I want to highlight that while most of the cast receives compelling writing and backstory, a few party members feel almost forgotten about, later on, rarely being acknowledged by the Game Master in any way. This was undeniably disappointing, and more character-focused scenes spread throughout the adventure would have been appreciated. The quality of the narrative itself is stunning, but when a few characters feel like they aren’t actually there sometimes, the care on my end tends to diminish. It also felt more pronounced in this particular case because the cast size is pretty compact.
The soundtrack is expectedly fantastic, with extraordinary atmospheric mastery emitted from each song. They are also not interrupted when transitioning from the map to battle, which is a noteworthy bit of cohesive ambiance.
Lastly, one final point I want to bring up is fast travel. While a carriage service transports players between towns, there is also the ‘Jump’ feature that allows players to quite literally jump to any previously explored tile no matter how distant they are from it in the current area. This mechanic indescribably aids pacing, which I’m truly thankful for.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars provides a gratifying experience with a distinct presentation, delightful soundtrack, and remarkable storytelling stellarly utilizing its tabletop context. Even when accounting for its lack of challenge and questionable character focus, it still manages to be a welcoming turn-based RPG any intrigued party can dive into without fear of obstruction.
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