A Look at Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars
A charming experience marred by a lack of substance
There aren’t many games out there with the aesthetic that Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars possesses. There also aren’t many games that have the type of unique storytelling or overarching buildup that Yoko Taro, who acts as Creative Director here, has become known for with his trademark Nier franchise. Indeed — Voice of Cards has all of the usual quirks and staples those familiar with Yoko Taro’s games should be used to. We’ve come to expect things like beautiful music backed by Emi Evans, dashes of humor to brighten the mood, along with some over-the-top character designs. What makes Voice of Cards unique though? What makes it stand apart from Drakengard or NieR?
A World of Cards
Believe it or not — literally everything in Voice of Cards is, well… made of cards. Every single aspect of the world in this game is a card. From the items to the characters, the spells used in battle, to even the square grid of the overworld, it’s all cards. This RPG doesn’t waste any time living up to its name in that aspect, at the very least. Combined with Yoko Taro’s usual aesthetics, this provides an experience that is truly charming.
Voice of Cards is also notably much more silly than NieR or Drakengard. Drakengard focuses itself on a morally gray theme while NieR has an incessant bleakness to it, notably in NieR Automata. NieR Replicant, while colorful, also has that same sense of despair tied to the core of its storyline.
In this card-based adventure, Yoko Taro omits much of that bleakness in exchange for plenty of humor. While I don’t think this humor is overdone at all, you see it enough that it becomes a memorable point from the game’s experience. I found myself laughing at a few of the story beats in the game — but mostly so with how outrageous one of the character’s designs was, along with those of a few NPCs.
Playing on the title of the game, you’ll constantly hear the voice of a specific man — the narrator. He’ll be reading off character dialogue for you, making some remarks while in combat when you luck out with a critical hit, and telling you that you can’t cross mountains when you accidentally press the wrong directional key. For the only ‘voice’ in this game, the narrator does a fine job.
That’s right — Voice of Cards has no voice acting whatsoever beyond that of the narrator.
At first glance, this is an odd choice and something that may put off many potential players of the game. An understandable notion, one that I actually agree with, but ultimately I grew more lukewarm on this decision the more I played Voice of Cards. Don’t get me wrong, though — the narrator does great with the lines he’s given. Again, to the game’s humor, the narrator can be quite funny at times with a deadpan delivery, or when he straddles the line of the fourth wall.
The choice of using solely a narrator for the voice acting in Voice of Cards, though, is to emulate the tabletop RPG feel the game is going for.
The tabletop-like nature of the game is most prevalent whenever the players enter combat. The screen shifts about and moves over to this backdrop of a table, as if someone was placing the combat board on top of the table, over the cards of the overworld. The characters and mobs involved in the battle have their cards lined across either side of the table, while the UI allows the player to cycle through the four ability cards each character can have, or cycle through the items in the player’s inventory.
Many actions you’ll take in combat cost gems. At the start of a battle, the player starts with just two, and with each turn, they accumulate one more. Some actions cost a single gem, while some will cost multiple. It adds some planning and strategizing to when you’ll delay stronger attacks in favor of letting a different character utilize all of the gems for their move because it’ll be advantageous. I bring this up because you can visibly see those gems gathered in a small box on the tabletop surface as if someone was dropping each gem in there when needed.
Like many other tabletop games, attacks often involve rolling some form of die in order to determine the attack’s inevitable effect. Many attacks that feature status conditions use a 10-sided die, for example, where a high roll will inflict the status condition on the target.
While all of this amounts to a fun little combat system, I will admit that it came to a point where I stopped strategizing and just used brute force. I would just stack gems with each character until I was able to use the most powerful ability of Melanie, the mage — which obliterated many of the opponents in my way.
With that combat in mind, one of the big problems Voice of Cards is laid bare: the game is way, way, too easy.
It’s dreadfully easy, really. There was a point in the game where I was traversing a dungeon and was just overwhelming every opponent I faced with attacks that killed them with one shot. That isn’t really any fun, and I inevitably grew bored the more I traveled through the dungeon, enough that it made me put down the game for a short amount of time. It’s fun to be powerful, sure, but it’s less fun when there’s no challenge to use that power against.
Perhaps I shot myself in the foot early on by grinding a few levels. By the time I got around to doing the first dungeon of the game, I realized that the recommended level for the dungeon was only Level 3. I was at Level 11, far higher than needed. Once I learned that the game’s level cap was 30, I figured it’d thin out at a certain point… but it didn’t.
Even when I wasn’t one-shotting my foes, and I actually needed several attacks to down them, the damage I took was minimal overall. Combine that with the healing abilities you unlock later on, and it’s a breeze.
I stacked a ton of items through the game, and a lot of them were for curing status conditions. With the minimal damage I was taking, along with the fact that status conditions are healed after battles, these ended up going unused. I kept having to throw away items from my limited inventory space of 30 items, due to how many items I accumulated that inevitably ended up being useless.
Those few levels I ground out at the beginning, which my history with difficult JRPGs told me would be necessary, carried me quite far. Once I found the correct lineup of characters that blew through my foes, I didn’t change it again unless I was absolutely forced to for story reasons. Voice of Cards seems to assume that players will go from objective to objective, rather than bothering with dawdling in between like I did. Sure, I could head right to the next town… but I want some extra gold to buy that shiny set of armor I saw in the shop.
This brings to light another issue with Voice of Cards — there’s nothing to really do besides the main quests. The game doesn’t feature any side quests at all, only random events that occur while exploring the overworld. These events can be positive or negative depending on the player’s actions, but there are only a select few encounters in the game, perhaps ten or so. Once you remember what to do for the choice-based encounters to achieve the best result, these encounters become monotonous and dull.
I find it odd that the only interesting thing to do in this game is the main story, especially when that story isn’t even that long. You’d think they’d pepper in some side quests to spice up the cycle of gameplay a bit, but apparently not. Much of the game boils down to the player visiting a town, being sent to a nearby dungeon, before being sent off to find the next town. Like clockwork, with little variation.
While the game’s charm does a good job at masking this, I would’ve really appreciated some other quests. There are some interactions with NPCs in town but they rarely say anything interesting. If there are meaningful interactions with these generic NPCs, they can usually be solved via an on-screen choice or within the town itself.
A Lovable Charm
The story itself, however, is a fun tale to sit through. As usual, Yoko Taro knows exactly how to hit players with that sudden gut-punch of a story revelation — while also having you pondering far too long about the implications of your decision-making.
What some will appreciate is how the endings of the game are handled in comparison to NieR or Drakengard. Voice of Cards indeed has multiple harrowing endings, but replaying segments of the game or replaying the story from a different angle isn’t necessary. Players can make a save near the point of no return and replay it as many times as desired to find every ending. All of these endings will have you questioning the consequence of your decision, which I absolutely love. Yoko Taro’s games make me think after I’m done, and I adore them for that.
There is one ending that is hidden, though and it requires players to grab specific collectibles (cards, unsurprisingly) through the game. I appreciate that this ending in particular is missable as a result; if you don’t speak to certain people in the game or check certain chests, you risk missing out on the ending completely.
In the grand scheme of things, these decisions are relatively minor — and allowing minor decisions to actually become relevant at the end of the game due to these collectibles is oddly cool. I respect the replayability it can bring for people who don’t want to miss out on those things.
Lately, Yoko Taro’s games have been on the smaller side — notably with the mobile title NieR: Reincarnation. This is yet another small-scale title, and it really shows while playing it — but then again, I wasn’t expecting a huge experience. It’s a short and relatively simple-to-understand experience that players can enjoy for some bite-sized enjoyment. While I played the game on PC, I feel like the platform it works best on is the Nintendo Switch, for all of those handheld mode players.
What holds Voice of Cards back from just being a “fun little experience” is how undeveloped it feels. Sure, it’s a small title, but I was expecting a little more here, especially from a game published by Square Enix. If Yoko Taro was going for a tabletop game feel, he only halfway hit that mark.
When I think about tabletop games, I get the sense that there’s a little more than just a hard focus on the main plot. Characters deserve more time to develop and interact with one another. We get a bit of banter here and there, but I would’ve loved so much more from this. The main party members of Voice of Cards, while likable, just don’t have nearly enough time to simmer and grow. By the time you meet the finale, you care about the characters — but not enough to really feel anything from points in the plot. Several characters (like Vince for example) feel underdeveloped as well. They imply some history between him and the other party member Melanie, but never elaborate on it, which just feels wasteful.
Despite my qualms with the game, it is a nice basis for Yoko Taro to potentially revisit in the future. If there’s anything I can take away from Voice of Cards, it’s that Taro’s aesthetics can be plugged into different types of games and still stand out. A slightly more light-hearted experience is a nice change of pace from NieR, although I do appreciate that it still delivers that desired sucker punch to take you off guard when you least expect it.
Voice of Cards is able to emulate the style of a tabletop game excellently but fails to back that up with much substance. It’s a game that will be worth your time for a fun little romp with dazzling charm, but don’t expect much else.
Who would I recommend this to? Yoko Taro fans, surely, who love that aesthetic NieR or Drakengard can provide. Also, to people who want an RPG that’s relaxing and that can be taken in small bites. If that appeals to you, I recommend picking up Voice of Cards when it’s on sale.