Card-en-Ciel's Anime Expo demo left an incredible first impression

I didn't originally realize that IntiCreates was at this year's Anime Expo until Day 2, when I chanced upon their booth - along with a public Card-en-Ciel demo - while roaming the Exhibit Hall on my "free" day. With how packed my schedule was, though, I'm glad I managed to find the time to give the demo a shot - because Card-en-Ciel is shaping up to be one of 2024's most promising RPG releases.

Let's get the obvious out of the way - Card-en-Ciel very clearly draws inspiration from Capcom's Mega Man: Battle Network franchise, yet after sitting down to play the demo it immediately becomes clear that it's not just IntiCreates copying Capcom's homework. For one; combat is almost completely different. While in Battle Network players would choose their actions ahead of time, and then could move freely between actions, Card-en-Ciel is completely different. Every time you use a card, you act immediately instead of queueing their effects for later. Each card has an energy cost associated with them, and once energy has been fully expended you'll be unable to move for an enemy's action.

Unlike Battle Network, you cannot move freely. Instead, players have to gauge whether to use a card for its effects - whether that might be an attack, a buff, or what-have-you - or to move in a specific direction. Discarding a card will move you in the direction denoted by the card, without expending any energy. This is important, because enemy attacks will have their area of effect highlighted on the grid - and enemies will regularly have a timer displayed underneath them to alert you to when the attack will finally be enacted. So combat at a base level is considering when to use specific cards for damage, and when to use cards for movement. There may be some cards that you'll have to decide what to use it for, assuming that it comes with both a movement direction and an ability that you'll want to use.

Compounding matters is the Muse system - cards that will automatically activate after prerequisites have been met, passively buffing cards - the Break system, cards that directly buff your base damage, and additional effects for cards that can be enabled by expending a Muse's effects. Even within the time constraints of the 15-minute demo, it was immediately obvious what sorts of considerations players will be dealing with in the middle of battles, and how players might have to weigh what cards to use, when, and how.

To expand on the Break system a bit, sometimes enemy attacks might be unavoidable, with enemies tracking your movements to match your attempts at escape. In that case, players can use cards which can deal Break damage to weaken enemy attacks. Additionally, some enemies might have a set Balance, which can also be depleted with Break damage. Reducing an enemy's Balance to 0 will stun them, preventing their actions for a single turn, and doubling the damage dealt to them for the duration of the debuff. That's a lot to memorize, but shockingly enough the way it's all doled out during the demo made it easy enough to keep track of it all.

I wasn't able to get a full read of the story and characters yet; half the characters shown in-game are based on existing IntiCreates projects, while others are completely new to Card-en-Ciel, based on in-universe games. According to the game's website, there will be over 50 Muses from all the associated games, real and fake - which, if nothing else, makes me curious exactly how large the game might be. While I'm still unsure about the story, one thing's for sure - Card-en-Ciel is now on my shortlist for 2024. I just hope I'll have the time to play it, when it launches on October 24, 2024 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC (Steam).