A demo for Yoko Taro’s card-based RPG Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is now available on Steam.
I played through the demo and was pleasantly surprised at how well Taro’s JRPG storytelling style translates to a game that’s told entirely through cards and a narrator’s voiceover. In a welcome touch, the demo isn’t actually a slice of Voice of Cards’ campaign: it’s set the day before the events of the actual game, which comes out on October 28.
The demo follows three members of the Ivory Order, a peacekeeping group of warriors and magicians tasked by a queen to determine who stole a priceless vial from the castle’s treasury. It starts with fairly standard JRPG tropes, but there’s a warmth to the presentation that’s buoyed by a narrator who seems like a sleepy D&D game master realizing he’s in for a long night of shenanigans from his players.
Voice of Cards is divided into exploration and combat. Exploration is set entirely on a tabletop full of facedown cards arranged in a sort of hexagonal grid, again like a D&D dungeon. As you move from one card to another, surrounding cards are turned face-up to reveal either more paths to walk through, monsters to battle, treasure to unlock, or characters to meet. Enter a town and there’s the usual shops to buy potions and armor, inns, apothecaries, and villagers to chat with. Despite the strictly card-based presentation, each character feels expressive thanks to vivid card animations, like when an old woman asks the Ivory Order to help her get to a doctor, her card wobbling in place to emphasize her busted ankle.
Colorful card art by Kimihiko Fujisaka (of Drakengard fame, and the recent Nier: Replicant remake) gives each character a distinct personality, like a fisherman with a bob cut dressed in a tight leather speedo, or a grandma carrying a kitchen knife with a hint of cutthroat malice.
As is common these days in card games, Voice of Cards draws from the likes of Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, though it does a few things differently. Everyone has an attack and defense value. Each turn you produce a gem that’s collected in a little box on the side of the battle. Regular melee attacks are free, but special attacks with elemental infusions or other modifiers will cost a gem or two. The trick is, unlike MtG or Hearthstone, those gems aren’t fully replenished at the start of your next turn, meaning your strategy has to go a little further than just the next attack. Certain attacks also require a dice roll to determine how much damage they deal, lending another layer of luck and strategy to how you use your resources.
Despite the fairly simple JRPG atmosphere, I enjoyed my short time with Voice of Cards thanks to the wonderful character illustrations. Even though it was my first time playing, it felt like I was getting together with some old friends to go dungeon crawling. I have no doubt that the full game will reveal more of creator Yoko Taro’s personal touch. Nier series composer Keiichi Okabe also adds a more modest, acoustic take on his usual fantasy music.