It’s possible that no console experience has ever summed up the feeling of playing a pen and paper RPG quite as succinctly as Voice of Cards. Rather than a summary of every mechanic, it focuses in on the storyteller experience, with the Dungeon Master presenting every aspect of the games world to you through a personal narrative between his/herself and the group. It is this element that Voice of Cards absolutely nails.
Published by Square Enix, and coming directly from the minds of Yoko Taro and Maasa Mimura, the title was originally intended to be a mobile offering from developer Alim, who had previously worked on the ‘Final Fantasy Brave Exvious’ titles, until Taro saw the potential that the concept had and pushed for a more traditional release, bringing in several team members from the ‘Drakenguard’ and ‘Neir’ series. This hugely benefited the game, allowing for the removal of payment options and freemium systems. It’s worth noting that the games free demo is worth downloading and keeping regardless of if you have the full game, as it acts as a stand-alone prelude to the main game’s story and gives some fantastic insight into a secondary cast of recurring characters you’ll interact with throughout the game.
Graphically, the game is both lusciously designed and extremely simple. In concept everything in game is shows as cards. The locations, the characters, monsters, menus and abilities as well as all dialogue. This means that a few assets go a very long way, but it also means that those assets need to look spectacular. Luckily this is exactly the case as some of the best illustration work is present in Voice of Cards, with character and monster design being a particular highlight. The menus are also afforded a great deal of clarity because of this system, with choices presented in a very clean and intuitive manner. Whilst the game is technically 2D cards, it’s a 3D environment onto which they are mapped, and this is clearly shown when cards flip, or when dice are thrown. They player’s location is marked by a playing piece that can be customized, and alternative art packs exist as both awards for winning the mini-game and as DLC sets.
Sound is the highlight of this package, putting aside music and sound effects (which are excellent and memorable) the games vocal performance practically carries the game single handedly. Todd Haberkorn voices the Game master in the English language version, whilst Hiroki Yasumoto in the Japanese version, which can be easily switched between for your play through. Every event, character and snippet of broken dialogue is uttered by the narrator, and their performances provide an amazing sense of emotion. Whilst my English sensibilities sometimes pulled against the pronunciation choices for certain words, the choice to have Haberkorn use the weary drawl of a western gives a great sense of tone to the title that brings ‘Bastion’ to mind. Small asides directed to you between bouts of heavy dialogue add to the feeling of the narrator playing a game with you personally, and elevate the package considerably. The soundtrack is also quietly haunting and marries with these performances to set the tone.
The narrative sees you as a nameless adventurer joining a flock of would-be dragon hunters assembling at the royal palace at the bequest of the Queen, who has set a bounty for a Dragon that has recently been terrorizing the kingdom. It doesn’t make an auspicious start, especially when a party from the White Order, the same trio you play in the demo, are clearly the safe bets for completing the quest and you have only your sword and a mute travelling companion called Mar, a sentient monster and long time friend. Before long however the competition against the White Order kicks into high gear and the race is on to form a party, get-good and locate the dragon before they do. As Yoko Taro games go, it’s lighter fayer, but the story does contain a number of twists and turns throughout its run time, and each location having its own mini-quest to solve before moving on gives it an almost ‘Dragon Quest’ style vibe. The writing is excellent, and every character comes alive with their own speech patterns and personal goals to achieve.
Gameplay is simple, and in many ways this title would make an excellent ‘first RPG’ for newcommers to the genre. Moving around the work one card at a time, it and those around it flip to reveal their contents as you go. This allows for a gradual discovery of the world or dungeon map, whilst towns (as safe zones) are always visible, though characters in them are face down until spoken to. Tapping in one of the four standard directions moves you, whilst panning around with the left stick allows you to select any prior revealed card and immediately jump to it as a form of fast travel. Whilst towns and dungeons are laid in a straight grid, the world map is a little askew, which means that travel can mean picking a next card a little more carefully, though there are no penalties for bouncing off the odd ocean or mountain. Random events trigger in dungeons and on the world map in addition to encounters. Events cover a number of miniature scenarios that all pay out with a risk/reward system, and some involve the rolling of dice for added random change. A good example of this are exploding rocks that can become several monster types, blow up for damage or spill a lot of coins for free depending on what you roll. Alternatively some events see you learning secret locations or finding clue cards that both guide you to otherwise innocently empty card locations that now have treasure hidden on them to discover. Items are added to the items deck, which you can peel through in and out of battle for one-time use effects, whilst weapons and armour are attached to one of three spaces for each character, boosting attack and defense stats. In combat it’s a turn based system where each player turn earns a gem that can be spent to play more powerful skill cards on a character’s turn, or saved and the round passed/a standard attack used. It’s a low-numbers RPG, with the highest level boss HP at a total of 400, and most attacks dealing at best around 20-30 damage for a critical hit. Player characters max out at level 30, with about 50HP of their own, and potions heal 10, 20 and 40 damage based on rarity. It’s not a hard system to learn, and status effects add a great deal of fun to the mix, but it will feel simple or easy to veteran players. In towns a mini-game is available based around collecting sets of cards by number to outpower your opponent, and this can be played both offline and multiplayer online for rewards.
Overall, Voice of Cards is a fantastic game, and it has been released at a stellar price that undersells its quality. This is a very easy game to recommend to anyone who has even a passing interest in RPGs, and coming in at around twenty hours to complete (not 100% as there are some things to find and a post-game boss to enjoy) it’s worth every penny. We strongly recommend that readers purchase the game, even at full price, and get playing immediately. If we are lucky, it would be great to see additional campaigns using this system and characters as DLC, because we want MORE!