Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, the new game from NieR creator Yoko Taro, is a peculiar little game. It knows what it wants to be! And its aesthetics definitely come first. But if you’re at home in its slower pace and tavern feel, you’ll have a good time.
In Voice of Cards, you control an adventuring party, moving around the world, talking to NPCs and fighting monsters. Sound familiar? It should! Its safe, traditional storytelling approach is definitely intentional. It wants to feel comfortable and old, like a well-worn poker deck.
Everything is represented by cards, including environments and items. The game distinguishes the overworld from smaller locations by using different layouts. When you zoom out, half of the card columns shift downward, creating a pseudo-hex grid. You move along by controlling a metal marker, revealing surrounding areas (by flipping the cards) as you go.
The combat portions of the game play out similarly to standard JRPGs. It’s turn-based, with party members sporting various physical and elemental abilities. But hey, these are cards! So that has an effect on gameplay. First: low numbers. Since your stats are right on your card, every point of attack matters. Same with defense and hit points! Many modern games love accelerating digits until it all feels meaningless. Here? You can feel the one-attack bump of a new accessory in a very real way. Still, there’s some randomness. With dice rolls on some attacks, critical hits and a slight damage variation for your attack, it’s not totally predictable.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you might not find it here. It takes a while to get to challenging foes! And if you, like us, find yourself compelled to reveal every spot on the map? (Which the game really feels designed to entice you to do?) You’ll do more than enough grinding. Each party member has a growing assortment of cards from which to choose to build a loadout, but you’re only sporadically tested enough to make that matter.
The action of Voice of Cards proceeds at a contemplative pace. It’s a game designed for you to nestle in and calmly follow. And it’s absolutely about its narrator, voiced in the English track by Todd Haberkorn. It’s probably handy from a recording standpoint that everything’s voiced by the same person, but it’s also an important part of the game’s feel. It’s a clear homage to Dungeons & Dragons red box-style tabletop storytelling! So the casual, audiobook-like tone works toward that feel. This isn’t an adrenaline-fueled action game! It better fits with a cup of hot cocoa on a lazy weekend.
The game’s definitely plodding at times, but it tries its best not to overstay its welcome. Our playthrough clocked in at under 13 hours while still getting sidetracked a few times, and a speedy first play could probably manage credits in less than ten. And yet it feels like it left so many of its ideas unexplored to the fullest! Perhaps that’s why the game puts The Isle Dragon Roars at the forefront, though. Voice of Cards as a series of ten-hour adventure games might be interesting! And development could be sustainable with all the reusable work creating the format. Still, if that’s the case, we’d like to have seen more in this first entry.
This pace fits well with the game’s whimsy. The narrator is a character too, reading words he didn’t always write himself. He’s happy to call your protagonist a headstrong idiot, and he’s right. He grows tired of dawdling. He cheers you on, and challenges you, in battle as he controls monsters. More than any of the in-world adventurers, he’s a well-realized personality.
So yeah, in Voice of Cards, voice is unsurprisingly important. But hey, so are cards! We talked about the gameplay, but the idea of physical card games also drives the aesthetic. The game takes place on wooden tables and trays. Cards are stamped with gold foil and dice and gem tokens drop into view as you use abilities. For a game that isn’t pushing technical specs, it’s a nice look. (Though, if you play the Switch version, you might find some performance issues that would have you disputing that technical specs point.)
While Voice of Cards seems to love tabletop games, where it falters a bit is in its choice. You’re often presented with options meant to let you shape the story, but very few are meaningful. The joy of tabletop play is in customization and weaving a collaborative tale. Voice of Cards, on the other hand, is very much following its own script. But hey, you can ad lib here and there.
Somehow, there’s also a card game inside the card game, too. Visiting the Game Parlor lets you play against other local players or computer opponents with a poker-style deck. It’s about building sets of the same card for both points and special abilities or consecutive numbers for pure points. There’s some definite randomness here that undermines the bragging rights of the victor, but it can still be decent fun. We wish there were more reason to play, but once you win with each rule set, that’s kind of it. You just… play again? The final, “Include All” rule set includes an ability for Joker cards that really does make the outcome feel like luck, so we’d recommend mostly sticking to “Add Events,” the third rule option.
We wish Voice of Cards took the time to explore its gameplay ideas a bit more. We also wish there were a few menu options to accelerate battle pace when you know what you’re doing. But as-is? There’s a lot here to love, if you have the right temperament for it.