Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars Review

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is one of two recently released smaller scale games dropped by Square Enix last October with minimal promotion. While it’s not part of some big franchise, in its favour are the prominent key staff that worked on this project, such as creative director Yoko Taro. The tale starts with the terrible roar of a fearsome dragon. Having once brought devastation to the mainland, it now returns again. To be rid of it, the Queen has offered a handsome reward to the one who slays it. The main protagonist - along with their monster pal Mar - wants in on said cash reward. However, they can’t even hold a candle to a favoured rival dragon-hunting trio in the Ivory Order. While making their way to the dragon, strength and stories will be forged.

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As I’ve mentioned in my preview, Voice of Cards is not a collectible card battling game as it may appear to be, but instead a plain ol’fashioned JRPG. It’s also on the simple end, both in difficulty and your toolkit. The elemental weaknesses are easy to guess and later in the game I had critical attacks coming out the wazoo. Each party member can equip four moves, though as they level up they’ll gain more which can easily be switched between battles. Some can be used freely while others use gems that generate every turn (in the place of skill points). Attacks may also require a roll of the dice to increase/deal damage, or inflict status effects. Ailments don’t stack, so in some circumstances I could give myself something else to avoid/remove a harsher affliction.

For the most part I stuck with the same units, but they all share experience so there’s no ill consequence to doing so. Upgrading and changing up your equipment is pretty important, but I rarely used any non-healing items. The only element of combat that may have been inspired by card games, is how damage is calculated. Reducing the attack’s impact based on the victim’s defence points (with extra hits for weaknesses). While that’s how most games do it, showcasing it via the points always being on the cards allows players to better understand how hard they can hit.

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One partial shake up in combat are the so-called “happenstances” that may randomly apply an additional effect like reducing the damage of elemental attacks until every combatant has had a turn. While guaranteed in some battles, they occurred quite often in regular encounters and usually were beneficial. As I feared from the demo, the game is generally too easy; a large number of battles were ended in a single turn. In the final area experience points were all but being funnelled directly into my throat. The only fight I lost in my entire playthrough was against a post-game boss. 

On the map you’re depicted as a little pawn-like piece, flipping over more cards as you move across the world. I found it very satisfying to explore, solely to fill in the map but I was often rewarded too. Outside of certain areas you can jump to any previously flipped over card, which keeps exploring and back-tracking a low-risk venture. Besides battles with goblins, you’ll encounter random events that may require a choice, or a high roll to avoid obstacles like flying tree branches, adding to the role-playing feel. Other times I Iearned of a treasure location via listening in to thieves and had to piece together where it was on the map. Traps and avoiding them are an essential part of dungeon exploration, while present here these enclosed areas have little in the way of puzzles. Simply thoroughly exploring the area will give you what you need to progress. Backstories and sometimes alternate art of characters can be gained through story and side quest progression. When not investigating the landscape, the path you take is railroaded with presented choices only in the rarest circumstances making any difference.

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In towns, you’ll find the game parlor, which has a mini-game with varying rulesets unlocking per a successful match. It involves collecting sets of either pairs or consecutive numbers from the draw pile or pot, somewhat akin to traditional poker. Later versions involve pair-specific abilities or the option to draw an event card which could be either beneficial or detrimental. For the most part, it’s pretty easy, as some of your opponents are downright moronic. Lucky for me the shenanigans turned in my favour.  Completing each variant nets you an in-game cosmetic such as a new table or card backing (and I find they’re much prettier than the paid ones). Otherwise, the only reason to do it again would be to get an item for free, and there are no new opponents per town. You can also play against real opponents through the main menu in couch co-op, or for Switch users wireless play. It’s a nice touch to be able to play this with others even just as a short boredom buster, and it gives me a reason to keep the game downloaded.

The story that is told over table-top and by candlelight is not a groundbreaking epic. It’s filled with hilarious moments and perhaps a few dark corners. I loved the cast of stupid adventurers and some side characters too. It’s got everything from father-son conflict to heavy-handed Zelda references. While the major plot isn’t overly astonishing, your journey with your companions is the primary reason I’d recommend the game. 

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From the ground you walk, to the menu, characters & dialogue, almost everything in this game is depicted as a card. There are also many aesthetic elements reminiscent of a table-top RPG experience, such as the movement pawn and combat elements like the gems and dice. I loved flipping cards over when exploring the map, but the world design did often feel basic. At least in caves the lighting helped bring atmosphere, otherwise only being effectively employed with the candlelit battle board. In battle there are some visual effects for elemental attacks, but you also get to enjoy spectacles like one card suplexing another. The character art and design is absolutely gorgeous, especially Bruno. Townsfolk don’t miss out either whether you’re ogling the ripped fishermen or keeping a keen eye on the knife-wielding housewives. Most monster designs are basic but pleasing, I especially enjoyed how they used the cards for the final boss.

Voice of Cards is made to "feel like someone is reading out of a gamebook'' accomplishing this with the game master who not only narrates out all the dialogue and scenes but may also comment during your adventure. Both the English and Japanese game masters really put the voice in the cards. While keeping his voice on is recommended, I played without it, and it did make things feel a bit hollow. Still, if you're streaming or just too fast a reader the game can be enjoyed without. The music is largely atmospheric with a heavy Celtic influence, being not afraid to make good use of both stringed and wind instruments. These tracks are all beautiful and worth listening to on their own while giving the right ambiance for the game. Occasionally the sound design might be a bit too pleasant, what was supposed to be a dramatic fire at one point sounded more like a relaxing fireplace.

I didn't experience any technical or performance issues on Nintendo Switch, though I did play it after patches that alleviated the loading time between battle and the overworld. The game has also been updated with a high-speed mode, increasing map movement and battle time. Though you might want to slow it down in areas with dangerous terrain I’d recommend playing this way as you still get to enjoy what animations there are. Here’s hoping we get an update to add a higher difficulty to the game.

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Due to the difficulty, or mostly lack thereof, and simplified concepts I could recommend Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars as a beginner or more laid-back RPG. More experienced gamers might bemoan the straightforward gameplay or lack of difficulty, but those who are interested in the charm and humour only need bring their cards to the table. At the very least you should give the demo a try.

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