We play a fair few adventure card games in my household, so my curiosity was piqued when I learned about Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars. Square Enix advertises Voice of Cards as a JRPG from the creators of NieR told entirely through the medium of cards.
Cards? Dragons? Square Enix? I was in from the word go. I reviewed a Switch copy, but Voice of Cards is also out on PS4 and PC via Steam.
Out the other end, I had undoubtedly had a good time, but not for the reasons I went in for.
Wait, it’s all cards?
When Square Enix says Voice of Cards is told entirely through the medium of cards, what do they mean exactly? The world takes place on a card table covered in cards. The map is explored by moving to facedown cards, which flip to reveal the environment. Dialogue is represented by text on cards. Characters and monsters are illustrated on cards. Combat uses cards, (also dice and gems, but these don’t fit the narrative Square Enix and I are going for, savvy?).
To summarise, it’s basically all cards – from dialogue to exploration to combat.
However! Brace for controversy!
I would like to argue that Voice of Cards is not so much a card game mechanically as it is aesthetically. Sure, everything looks like a card, but take off that coat of paint, and Voice of Cards is a bog-standard JRPG. There’s no ground-breaking gameplay here.
Combat comprises characters using four skills that can be swapped out as desired, with certain enemies weak or resistant against types. Stronger skills use a mana-type resource called gems which replenish after every turn. There’s no real deck-building or randomised shuffling element. Dice rolling adds chance, for example, when calculating whether you succeed in running away from enemies, and there are randomised world events, but again – nothing outside of what you can experience in a non-card game.
That said, in the towns you visit in-game, there are card parlours where you can play an actual card game so you can play a card game while playing a card game.
The cards suit
So, the cards are more for looks than anything. But damn, Voice of Cards does look amazing.
The cards lend themselves to an effective visual motif that ties everything together superbly. The character illustrations are gorgeous, and the combat effect animations are striking. The game is so flashy, in fact, that it results in noticeable lag on the Switch, particularly on loading screens or when moving between menu tabs. It is very, very pretty.
Adding to the appealing looks are some appealing sounds. The tunes are atmospheric and sufficiently pleasant that my partner never complained when they repeated endlessly in the background.
A further point of difference is that all dialogue and descriptions are voiced by a single narrator, not unlike a Dungeons & Dragon GM. Heck, the game even calls the narrator “GM”. Todd Haberkorn voices the English version and sounds low energy, even mocking at times. I genuinely loved it and never skipped a description.
Card tricks with a twist
Voice of Cards doesn’t have time to be too complicated, coming in at 15-20 hours average playtime. Very short for those who are used to 50–100-hour JRPGs. To be honest, I didn’t mind this. As a time-poor person, a bite-sized JRPG was a relief for my schedule.
Not only is Voice of Cards not very long, it’s also not very challenging. This is especially so if you become addicted to filling out the map, which results in over-levelling very early on.
However, this short and relatively easy game does hide some surprises in its storytelling. For example, collectable cards contain a two-part description of characters and monsters met during the adventure. The second part of the descriptions, revealed by flipping over the card, reveal twists so dark they’re practically two-sentence horror stories. Voice of Cards is honestly one of the few games where I was genuinely excited to collect not for completion’s sake, but to read the bonus text.
The final deal
Voice of Cards can’t decide if it’s a card game, a JRPG or Dungeons & Dragons. While I won’t be a card-carrying member of the Voice of Cards fan club, the real drawing card here is how the game looks and the twists and turns of the story. That may leave some who wanted a mechanically solid card-game with some real challenge unsatisfied.
I can objectively see its flaws, but I can’t deny I liked the game. Beyond whatever aspirations I held for it initially, Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars was a good time, and perhaps that’s all it ever needed to be.