It usually takes a while before we see a sequel to an RPG. Yet here we are with Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden arriving four months after The Isle Dragon Roars. Which means, well, things are going to feel similar! Not in terms of the story. This is a unique tale filled with warrior maidens, monsters, and high seas exploration. But given the brief gap between the two games, it will mechanically feel like a second verse of the same song.
Barren is a young man living on a doomed island. In this world, people depend on maidens to preserve their homelands and lives. Omega Island doesn’t have one. So his dream is to set sail and explore. He won’t be alone either. A young woman with no voice named Laty’s been staying at the hideaway where he’s building his boat. However, after a chance encounter at the shrine near the village, Barren and Laty will set out to help her perhaps become the island’s maiden and save the day.
It’s a tale that works well. There are certain tropes in play. However, the game plays around with them. In part because this isn’t only the story of Barren and Laty. There are other maidens living on their own islands. It is their story too. As you travel, it will almost be like your party acts as supporting cast members in their adventures. It’s a concept that works well. Not to mention the way it is handled means it fosters connection between the player and these other folks.
While this is a game played with plenty of cards, Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden is mostly a traditional turn-based RPG. You explore towns and dungeons. You fight monsters in turn-based battles, using general attacks and skills. (You set which skills are active outside of fights.) There are pieces of equipment and restorative items to acquire and use. It is all a very story-heavy affair, with even the tale calling to mind some other RPGs you might have played. (Many also from Square Enix!)
The balancing could use a bit of tweaking. For the most part, Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden’s difficulty is just right. You don’t really need to invest in the most expensive equipment until you near the end. Things are generally well balanced. However, there are times when the encounter rate can wear on you. I noticed in situations in which I’d need to nearly fully explore a space, I’d get exhausted by a fight every 2-4 moves. There was also one boss fight that involved four opponents with high defense, attacks that could halve your health, and that would have the ability to heal themselves for 12 HP. When a situation like that comes up, it really messes with the experience. Especially since, prior to that, I hadn’t seen a need to grind for levels.
I found loading to be quite noticeable in the Switch version of Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden. When you first begin the game, it will take about a minute to hop back into the adventure. When you’re going into or out of a boss fight, it there’s a substantial pause. I’d turned down the shadows in the options, in the hopes it would help. It did, but the wait is still significant.
But really, Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden is about its atmosphere. (Just like its predecessor The Isle Dragon Roars!) It really is like you’re going through a campaign with a game master taking you through everything. This means rolling to determine damage or if status effects come into play. (The “GM” handles enemies’ rolls.) There are crystals and markers for HP and MP. The “battlefield” is a tray with candles. Cards flip to reveal new areas. Also, talk to people, spend time with folks, or fight opponents enough and you’ll earn “flip side” stories for their cards in your collection. (Think of it as like an encyclopedia or bestiary.) Your avatar is marked by a miniature moving around the cards. All that, combined with the ability to get through things in probably less than 15 hours, makes it feel more like a multi-part tabletop campaign than a traditional JRPG.
This also means that GM Mark Atherlay is carrying quite a weight. His voice comes across as more youthful than Todd Haberkorn’s did in the previous installment. Our GM also doesn’t insert as much of himself into the game as the previous narrator did. He might remark on being at sea or congratulate you on a critical hit or good roll in battle. But I didn’t as much get the sense of him as an actual person. Which some people might like! His tone is very immersive for much of the game. I felt as though it was more like playing a game with a narrator, rather than a GM than in the original.
The optional Game Parlor returns too. This is the card game in which you face an AI (or other people locally via the title screen). Your goal is to either match up two-to-three of the same card or create a three-card straight based on ones in your hand and the shared space. The score comes from the value of the cards accumulated in your sets. You can only have three sets total, and the winner is the one with the higher score. It’s fine. Especially if you use certain rules. It never feels necessary, but it is a welcome diversion.
What we have here is a situation where everything true about Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars largely remains true about The Forsaken Maiden. The story is different (and engaging), but the mechanics remain largely the same. Which means what might have been an issue before still is now. I think it did a good job of telling its story and getting people to care about the characters. Its tale builds tension well with foreshadowing and asides. Between its use of cards, its narrator, and aesthetic in general, it’s pretty great at establishing a mood. If you enjoyed the previous installment, odds are you’ll like this one too.