Yoko Taro is a pretty big name amongst fans of the Nier and Drakengard series. He comes across as an eccentric man with an interesting persona, but whenever his name is attached to a game, it’s a guaranteed interesting experience. It’s no different for Voice of Cards.
You play a young man who is adventuring with his monster friend. They have heard through the grapevine that a deadly dragon has been rampaging through the area, and whoever is able to slay the creature will receive a bounty. With the promise of gold, it takes little understanding to figure out the motivations of Ash as he aims to be the one to fell the dragon once and for all.
The story is told via cards that appear on your screen and the overall vibe is akin to a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It concentrates on a main objective, but also allows you to explore specific areas. As you move around, there are small quests that you can complete and other random events that pop up. Some of these quests or events will result in items or general world building lore. When it comes to the random events, there are only a few in rotation, so you will find very quickly that you are coming across the same events. Either that, or there just happens to be a lot of tornadoes that pop up in the area.
When it comes to the actual storytelling, the story is decent. It starts off fairly simple with you needing to defeat the dragon and slowly builds itself up as you go through the game. There are a fair amount of plot twists, but nothing that is too out of the ordinary. While I do like the development of Ash and Melanie, it would have been nice if they were fleshed out. Their motivations become much deeper when their backstories are revealed, but past that, there’s not much to latch on to. And that’s not even touching on the supporting characters.
In typical Yoko Taro fashion, Voice of Cards offers multiple endings. Thankfully, they are all easy to obtain. There are three endings that you may unlock by simply playing the game all the way through and making different choices towards the end. There is also a true ending, which you can achieve by collecting all of the Mysterious Cards that are scattered throughout the game. These aren’t too out of the way to pick up, but you will need to be methodical about exploring and talking to everyone.
Voice of Cards is a turn-based RPG where you control a party of up to three members and use skills or items to get through battles. Turns are based on your unit’s speed stat, and as you win battles, you level up. There are occasional boss battles that appear, but for the most part, you will be battling against random enemies as they appear via random encounters.
The gameplay splits between exploring and battle. As you explore, random events will occur outside of battle, sometimes requiring a dice roll to determine the outcome. These moments can be interesting, albeit like the random encounters, bordering on irritating as they pop up just when you seem to have a destination in mind.
You control a board piece that you can move anywhere across the board. The entire field around you is full of facedown cards. As you come into contact with new cards, any adjacent cards will flip face-up. As you explore more of the world and flip more cards face up, it is easier to navigate around. Any area that you have revealed can be traveled to in an instant by moving your cursor over and selecting that specific card. However, there are some cases where this option is limited, such as in dark caves. You also have the option of using the carriage system to fast travel to towns that you’ve already visited.
The overall movement does feels a bit slow as you’re trying to get from one location to the other. It is enhanced with the fast travel functionality, both with carriages and using your cursor. But if you’re right in the middle of new territory or are in the middle of a dark cave, you are subjected to going slowly through each level. And this speed is further cut down by the amount of random encounters that you will be bombarded with.
As you explore around the world of Voice of Cards, you will come across enemies in random encounters. From there, a board will slide in and you will officially enter battle. You have the option of using a skill, using an item, passing your turn, or fleeing from battle.
Each of your skills requires a certain amount of gems. Some require none, while others require two or three. Every turn, you will earn one gem and you can hold up to ten gems. Each skill has its own effects, with some having a baseline damage while others may afflict the enemy with status ailments. However, you’ll want to keep an eye out for enemy types. If an enemy resists a specific type, the status ailment associated with that type will have no effect. Skills with higher costs tend to do more damage, however you don’t want to fill your active skills with those, as there will be times when you may not have enough gems to use the skill.
Each character card has its attack and defense values listed. The higher the attack value, the more damage dealt. The higher the defense value, the less damage you take. This value can be changed using skills and by equipping your units with items. As you progress, getting better equipment is a must as your base attack and defense stats are minuscule otherwise.
In order to flee, you will have to do a dice roll that is greater than or equal to a random value that the game will throw out. Typically, dangerous enemies will require a higher value. If you don’t roll high enough, all of your units’ turns will be skipped. If you end up losing all of your units in battle, you will get a game over. From this point, you will have to load your last save in order to start the game back up, so be sure to save often.
Team and Unit Building
You will unlock five characters that you may use in your party, but only three can be active during battle. Each unit has its own advantages to team building. Ash has a healing skill that definitely comes in handy in battle. Melanie has a skill that generates gems. Mar and Bruno both have high attack stats that can make them clutch during times when you need hard-hitting attacks. Bruno and Ridis have stat boosting skills that can increase your team’s attack and defense. While each unit has its uses, and there is probably a best composition, you can get through the entire game with any layout and not have much reason to experiment.
As you explore and come across more towns, you will find new weapons and armor in the shop. Voice of Cards follows the habit of introducing better weapons with each new town meaning that you will need to be ready to upgrade your units often. Thankfully, you gain money after every battle, and if you find yourself in the habit of battling every monster that you see, you’ll have more than enough money. While you don’t need to constantly be updating, it’s best to update before major boss battles, as those are really the only times that the game challenges you.
Equipment can increase four different stats on your characters: attack, defense, health, and speed. Each character can have one weapon, one armor piece, and one accessory piece. There are different types of weapons that you can equip to different character types, such as a bow for Ridis or a sword for Ash. Since there is very little overlap with types of weapons/armor, you can sell off old equipment pieces immediately after upgrading.
Difficulty and Replayability
Voice of Cards is of a fairly standard difficulty when compared to other turn-based JRPGs. As long as you keep up with your levels, equipment, and use the right skills against the right enemies, you’ll be fine and will find most battles easy. The only time a difficulty wall comes up is right towards the end with the final boss. Otherwise, you mainly fight against random enemies for the majority of the game, who don’t really give you any problems.
If you’re not a fan of excessive random encounters, then you’re in for a bad time with Voice of Cards. With a high encounter rate, new battles appear after only a couple of steps. When grinding for levels or money, it makes that process easy to breeze through. If you’re looking to fully explore an area or to just get to the next town, you’re going to be irritated very quickly.
In terms of replayability, there are four endings that you can get even if they are easily obtained by beating the final boss four different times and choosing a different option at the end. Otherwise, the game and story beats (a beat as in a particular topic or subject area that a reporter covers) play out exactly the same every time. Still, you can seek out the different dialogue choices if you’re curious about their differences. After you complete the game the first time, you do unlock a New Game Plus mode, which carries over your levels and equipment. There is also a new boss. With that in mind, you will spend most of your time in with first play through, averaging around 10-15 hours.
If you grow tired of battling and just moving around endlessly, there is a Card Parlour in every town where you can play cards. The mini game is available solo or locally against friends. The objective is to create either pairs, sets of three cards, or three cards in ascending (or descending) order. You earn points equal to the total of all the cards in each set. If you match up two “five” cards, you will earn 10 points. If you match up a five, six, and seven, then you’ll earn 18 points. The catch is that you can only have three sets at one time. If you create any other sets past that, you have to discard a set, but you do have the option of discarding the set you just created and can create a match simply to get those cards out of commission.
Every turn, you will draw two cards. If you have a match, then you will create your set. Otherwise, you must choose one card to keep in your hand and discard the rest into the shared pile. Any cards in the shared pile is free game for all players. This is extremely important because you can view your enemies’ cards. You’ll need to think strategically. Just as you want to create as many matches as possible, you want to make sure your opponent doesn’t have the chance to catch up to you.
The game ends once the deck reaches zero cards. After that, whoever has the most points wins. The card game can be a bit addicting if you get down to it. It’s a simple premise, but done very well. With each round that you win, you unlock new rules that can spice up the gameplay.
The art for Voice of Cards is quite beautiful. With a lot of Kimihiko Fujisaka’s credits being related to Drakengard and Nier, Voice of Cards is just as breathtaking to look at. All of the characters and monsters are on cards with fancy gold foil decorating cards of NPCs. Outside of important story characters, other character art repeats amongst the villagers. Occasionally, visual affects appear, mainly during attacks outside of battle.
Animated cutscenes play out at the beginning of each chapter along with the main theme song. It is a beautiful piano piece, accompanied by vocals by Saki Nakae. The cutscenes play out using the cards in game and giving a synopsis of the plot as well as a hint as to what’s to come in the future.
Music and Voice Acting
The majority of the OST for Voice of Cards is based on piano, flute, and orchestral pieces. The aim of the pieces is to invoke an “Irish atmosphere” with each individual piece.
As for the voice acting, there is only one voice actor throughout the entire game of Voice of Cards — the narrator. On one hand, it helps to really cement the tabletop game feel with the narrator as the game master, so to say. On the other hand, it would have been nice to see the narrator differentiate his voice during moments when he was saying the lines of other characters. The cadence is the same throughout the entire game. There is the option to play the game using Japanese and English voices, for those who like to have choices between the two languages.
As far as Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars goes, it’s a fairly standard JRPG. Combat is a breeze if you choose to fight against every single monster that you come across. If you’re not battling every monster, then you might find that your levels are lower than you may want towards the end. Even worse, you may not have the money you need to get better equipment.
From the art to the music, the Voice of Cards team went all in with the tabletop feel and came out with a great visual piece. The audio cues and music add to that experience as well. When it comes to the story, it’s middle of the road with some exceptions to the later parts of the game. It has some interesting concepts, but doesn’t really do anything that is extraordinary to set itself apart from other JRPGs.
Overall, Voice of Cards is a fun JRPG that does what it sets out to do and does it well. It’s not a life changing experience, but has the potential to develop a cult following. If you’re curious about this title, I would definitely say dip your toes in by checking out the demo first. The demo is a pretty good representation of what the overall gameplay and environment feel like, so if you liked that, you’ll probably like the full game as well.