Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, the review of the last work of Yoko Taro



Yoko Taro has decided to devote himself to a curious (and minute) JRPG built entirely with cards. Here’s our review of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

A video game is an amalgam of countless ingredients, often mixed in a meticulous way, but even more frequently thrown into the pot a bit ‘at random in the hope that the final taste is not an unworthy obscenity. And among the thousands of elements that make up a work of this type many jump immediately to the eye, such as animations, music, or simply polygonal models. Almost no one, however, tends to remember a component to say the least fundamental in a myriad of titles: the post it.

No, we haven’t lost our minds, colored sheets of paper are really one of the main design pillars in many genres, especially when it comes to video games with complex stories and mechanics. Most development teams base their entire planning on sheets of paper stuck all over the place, where schematics, characters, quests, gameplay solutions and an infinite amount of other data are listed and drawn, then used by developers as a template to give shape to their baby.

The good Yoko Taro – that in the world of development has been around for a long time and this “secret” is well known, having developed games like NieR: Automata – had an idea as simple as brilliant: to create a game composed entirely of cards. Therefore came to light Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, a sort of low-cost “side project”, strong of the name now conquered by the author with the Nier series.

We, of course, we plucked, trying to figure out if it could be one of those hidden gems that this bizarre author is used to churn out. The answer, alas, this time is no, but the fact that it is not a masterpiece does not necessarily mean that it is not a JRPG worthy of being played.

Let’s find out why in our review of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars.

Fiction: a not-so-hidden darkness

Voice of Cards: movement and visibility are limited in certain areas

Voice of Cards is, predictably, a role-playing game and this is very natural if you consider that the genre comes from paper. The work of Square Enix, however, is not a kind of Japanese transposition of Dungeons & Dragons: it is actually a turn-based JRPG with extremely classic mechanics, where the cards are more a stylistic solution that an effective element of gameplay, although their presence has actually allowed some curious experimentation.

We’ll get back to that shortly, because in all sincerity – given the crowned head involved in the writing of the story – fiction is the topic that’s more than any other worth dealing with in this review, and we want to make one thing clear about it right away: Yoko Taro’s hand is immediately noticeable, if you know her work.

The world of Voice of Cards seems at first glance a classic fantasy rather dull, which even starts by putting you in the shoes of a small group of adventurers divided by class, only to introduce the real protagonist of the adventure with a twist of the tail and put you in the banal quest for a dangerous dragon. However, just a few minutes to realize that something does not add up: behind every dialogue and story is always a constant disquiet and you immediately realize that the world explored in the game is actually much darker and more violent than it appears.

Voice of Cards: status-inflicting spells can turn a fight around

There’s just one small problem: this time Yoko Taro has stumbled into his own stylistics and even the “shock factor” for which he is loved and appreciated by a large number of fans in Voice of Cards has become rather predictable. With this we do not mean that the game has a story negligible or poorly handled – the events of the protagonist, Marren (although it is renamed), and his colorful companions are absolutely interesting, flow great and not lacking in strong moments made with a decent skill – but overall it is one of the most predictable plots ever written by the author and neither the characterization of the characters, nor the worldbuilding are helped by the duration of the campaign, which is completed in less than ten hours without too much difficulty. Considering the number of events and characters involved, unfortunately, is not enough to detail enough the game universe. It’s a shame, because the potential for something more detailed was there. Even dedicated voices for the characters would have been a welcome extra, but instead we opted (perhaps just to further limit the costs) for a single narrator who tells the whole thing as if it were a big fantasy fairy tale.

To all this we add the age-old problem of localization, since we are dealing with yet another Italian adaptation that has the tendency to differ from the English one. The cases here are two: either we have based directly on the Japanese version, or we have taken some liberties. Not being able to make a direct comparison with the Japanese text, this time we believe that the right option is the first, since the events are often explained more clearly in our language than what is said by the voice of the narrator, a few mistakes here and there, however, is noticed. Overall. Narrative promoted, although the pen of Yoko Taro we expected understandably something more.

Gameplay: cards and dice, so the usual.

Voice of Cards: the world map is, predictably, entirely composed of cards Un tabellone di Voice of Cards: Il ruggito del drago dell'isola

At the beginning of the previous paragraph we talked about the use of cards as a predominantly stylistic choice and it is time to go into more detail, because at first glance Voice of Cards might seem an experimental RPG with mechanics based entirely on the construction of decks of skills (as we have seen many recently), or a simple title hybridized with the card game. It’s not like that, and Taro’s work is built on the most classic JRPG structure: your hero wanders around big maps in search of objectives and city centers, carrying on a linear plot and meeting companions who join his mission. The cards, simply, represent the internal world of the game: all maps are sets of cards to be turned by moving your “marker” in the vicinity, the skills are themselves cards that are unlocked by leveling up in a classic way and everything else, from attacks to enemies, works as in ordinary JRPGs, without any particular landslide.

The same thing is true for the towns and dungeons that you visit: in the former there is no shortage of stores for items, weapons and armor, or hostels where to heal (the recovery of life points is not automatic but requires to rest or use potions), while in the latter – and in the global map – after a number of steps increases the risk of encountering monsters according to the classic rule of chance encounters. The only distinctive elements of Voice of Cards, in simple terms, are the exploration and some interesting (but rare) mechanical variation related, precisely, to the cards.

As mentioned, in fact, the cards in the maps are obscured, and must be revealed by getting closer. Movement, however, is turn-based and is limited to dry moves, but you can return to any card already turned instantly – which greatly speeds up backtracking or returning to certain areas to complete quests. It’s this cadenced nature of the progression that gives the game a fairly unique structure, because every so often during the adventure you’ll encounter areas where immediate “teleportation” to cards already revealed is limited (or you have a precise number of moves on the map), unexpected events with multiple choices, and situations where it becomes necessary to smartly observe cards passed at great speed in front of the screen. These are gimmicks worthy of praise, but in our opinion the developers have not put too much effort into trying to make the most of the curious nature of their work and there was no shortage of ways to get something more memorable.

For their part, the battles were more than worthy: they are also turn-based with selectable moves (you can equip only four per character, with three active characters at a time) and some of these require gems that are recharged at each turn to be used. The system is immediate, functional, and has a level of difficulty calculated worthily, which never engaged us seriously but can not even be completely underestimated (advanced by avoiding pitched battles and without properly upgrading the equipment, and at some point the enemies will tear you to pieces). There is also an additional minigame (with cards, of course) with rewards mostly cosmetic, but overall we found it a bit ‘too tied to the case to be really appreciable.

Structure and technical compartment: short but intense

Voice of Cards: choosing the right move is not always so obvious. Keep enemy resistance in mind

The main weakness of the project, in all likelihood, lies precisely in the duration. About ten hours to complete the campaign are objectively few and, while it is true that significantly limit the tedium of some of the advanced dungeons – which are mostly pretty repetitive plans full of monsters, obvious steps and more or less hidden treasures – the story and the rather clever management of movement and combat have managed to never make us come to bore the experience. That said, the choice (typical) of Taro to include extra content related to a second game once the adventure is completed (in addition to the usual presence of multiple endings) seemed a bit ‘forced this time, despite getting to such extras is extremely faster on the second attempt (it takes about a couple of hours at most to return to the end of the title).

Pleasant, however, the presence of cards “secret” related to one of these epilogues scattered throughout the game, and numerous unlockable stories related to monsters and characters that push the completionism. Speaking of which, keep in mind that the JRPG of which we are talking about could be a real nightmare for those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder: turn every card will become practically a drug and will greatly lengthen your playing time (putting you in front of an ocean of random enemies), we warned you.

And from the technical point of view and sound? Well, the music is by Okabe, who just like Taro in turn did not seem to be at the top of the form, but given his enormous talent was still able to churn out a handful of themes that will creep into your mind with an ease almost embarrassing, never unsuitable or unpleasant to listen to. The rest of the title, however, is purely based on static drawings, generally of high quality and with a style that fits well with the duality of the game universe. Good then also the voice of the narrator, we have never found irritating (although the English one has a tone almost listless at times). Square Enix has not invested much money in the project, but in its own small way is clearly very nice.

Comment

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is clearly a minor project and undoubtedly not one of the most memorable works of Taro, but overall it is a small JRPG very nice and pleasant, with a narrative still able to keep the player glued to the screen, intuitive and solid mechanics, and some interesting gimmick that can distinguish it in part from the masses. It does not last long (very little if you consider the genre to which it belongs) but it’s worth playing, especially considering its low price. Although everything works more than worthwhile, however, it is difficult not to consider it a wasted opportunity: its world and its characters deserved more time in our opinion.

PRO

  • Pleasant dark narrative and good characters
  • Solid mechanics, if more classic than expected
  • Okabe’s music is always splendid, even when he’s not at his best
  • Reduced price
  • Poor durability for a JRPG
  • This is perhaps Yoko Taro’s most predictable and “simple” story.
  • You could definitely experiment more with the mechanics
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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