Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is charming, familiar, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s an RPG that, while not being particularly fresh in its mechanics and plot, still feels fresh thanks to its style and sense of adventure. The phrase that comes to mind most often after completing this 10-hour journey is simple: “This is a nice game, isn’t it?”
The most defining feature of Voice of Cards is its presentation. Namely, every piece of the environment, skill, character, and line of dialogue takes the form of a card. Across a large tabletop board, cards representing plains, mountains, and water are laid out to represent a map. Towns are filled with cards depicting roads, citizens, and shops. And in battle, your party lines up against monsters who attack and cast spells which take the form of—well, you get the idea.
This style makes it feel like you are playing in a tabletop RPG at times. This is furthered by the sole voiced character in the game, the Game Master, who narrates and plays the role of every other character while also offering his own quips on occasion. Coupled with a soundtrack that is good, albeit small, Voice of Cards ends up feeling like you’re spending a pleasant evening rolling dice with your friends.
Unlike a tabletop RPG, however, Voice of Cards tells a set story with characters who have their own personalities. If the title doesn’t give it away, the main thrust of the story involves hunting down a dragon that is threatening to wreak havoc upon a stereotypical fantasy kingdom. But you don’t play as an altruistic hero — you play as Ash, a man who is blatantly selfish and uncaring about most others besides his strange travelling companion, Mar.
“Unlike a tabletop RPG, however, Voice of Cards tells a set story with characters who have their own personalities.”
Though you swiftly gain other party members, any attempt to make Ash do a good thing will inevitably be twisted. An early encounter has the opportunity for Ash to help a woman who has fallen on the side of a road. If you choose to help her, Ash will try to get her up, fail, and walk away because it’s not his problem.
And for a game directed by Yoko Taro and featuring many people who worked on Nier, there are plenty of scenes and moments where the gameplay and characters are turned on their head in order to defy expectations. One example is the card collection, which allows you to view details on every character, item, and you encounter.
Fulfill certain conditions, and you can unlock additional text detailing that card’s background. The aforementioned woman who fell by the side of the road is heavily implied to have murdered her abusive husband and butchered his body to turn it into meat for consumption. Some of these turns are dark, others are humorous, but they are great all the same.
“Coupled with a soundtrack that is good, albeit small, Voice of Cards ends up feeling like you’re spending a pleasant evening rolling dice with your friends.”
The combat, on the other hand, is mostly straightforward. Your party of three will face off against a party of up to three monsters. Each character can equip up to four skills to use in battle. To use certain abilities, you must use gems, which are acquired at a rate of one every turn. And though you level up and unlock new skills, the system remains simple even as new party members and abilities add a little more depth to the proceedings.
However, it never becomes strategic or complex, which means that there are only a few battles that are difficult. That would be fine, but the issue is that the random encounter rate is quite high. On either the world map or in a dungeon, you can expect to fight a new battle every five to ten steps. These aren’t challenging, but they still take time to complete. And their frequency is so high that it’s very easy to hit the level cap or be overleveled. Battles become tedious in time, which is made worse by the very large health pools that enemies will have in the last acts of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars.
This also means that dungeons become slogs. The frequency of the random encounters coupled with the bland design and layout for almost every dungeon makes every crawl through them tiring. Dungeons aren’t interesting, and their length will make the battles all the duller in the process. It’s a never-ending negative feedback loop between the two.
Yet thanks to the strength of Voice of Cards’ presentation, this adventure never loses its charm. The brevity of the story also ensures that everything moves along at a decent pace, even if the combat and dungeons slow things down. There is a New Game+ mode, as well as a competitive mini-game that is actually quite fun that can be played locally, yet these are only neat trimmings in comparison to the game as a whole. With a compelling story and world alongside an easy-to-understand battle system, Voice of Cards makes for a pleasant RPG experience.