It’s a good time to be an RPG fan thanks to Square Enix. With Dungeon Encounters last month and now Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, the company is leading the way at putting out unusual, but excellently-crafted, entries into the RPG space.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars casts you as a young adventurer, setting out on a quest to slay a dragon that’s threatening to destroy the land. Your character’s a bit of an ass, in all honesty; he doesn’t so much care for saving his people. Rather, he just wants to get his hands on a nice fat wad of reward cash. Whatever his motives, he’s trying his best to thwart the dragon. But before he can do that, he’ll need some help – and so, over the course of your journey, you’ll build up a party of characters, all with their own unique skills and abilities.
This isn’t your typical RPG, however. Everything in Voice of Cards plays out like a tabletop card-based RPG. As you move around the world, you’ll move from card to card, with more cards turning face-up as you move closer to them. There’s a Gamesmaster, narrating your adventure and reading out each card as you play. In a town, you might engage in conversation with a villager, or start an event that requires you to make some sort of decision. And while in a dungeon or exploring the overworld, you’ll come across monsters, all eager to battle with you.
This is a really nice hybrid of a traditional video game RPG and a collectible card game like Hearthstone. There’s more substance here thanks to having a world to explore and characters to meet and develop, but at the heart of the game is a combat system that fans of CCGs will feel familiar with. Each of your characters – and indeed the enemies you’ll face off against – are represented by a card. Each card has three values: damage, armour and health. You’ll need to get an enemy’s health down to zero in order to win; though if they get your health down to zero first, you’ll be knocked out. Thanks to a robust set of skills available to each of your party members, though, as well as a stash of item cards you can use, battles are rarely fraught affairs. Keep your wits about you, and most are easy enough to win.
Each party member can be equipped with a weapon, a piece of armour and an accessory, all of which boosts the stats on their card. They can also have up to four skills equipped; you’ll unlock skills for each member of your party as you progress and they gain experience. Skills cost gems to use (which will be given to you during a battle) and many are imbued with elemental damage. So, like any RPG then, the trick to succeeding in a battle is to discover an enemy’s weakness. Hit a fire enemy with water damage, for instance, and they’ll go down easily.
There’s a nice story at the heart of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, which will keep you pressing onwards. The delivery of it, too, thanks to skilful narration by Todd Haberkorn, elevates it to the next level. You’ll really feel like you’re there, sat over a game board as your Gamesmaster dictates your actions to you. It’s a calming yet engaging experience that’s heightened even further by the artistic direction of the game. It looks sublime. Okay, so some of the scantily-clad characters drawn on cards you’ll come across may be a bit questionable – can’t say I’ve ever seen a video game character wearing only a jock-strap before – but there’s no denying the art is fantastic. It’s a stylistic choice that Voice of Cards runs with, and it really helps give this strange little card-based world a whimsical character all of its own.
When you’re not adventuring onwards to find the dragon, you might find yourself getting distracted at the Game Parlor you’ll find in any one of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars‘ villages. Here you’ll find a card game within a card game; a basic but addictive game that, at its most simple, is about making pairs or runs of cards. Essentially, pair up two cards of the same value, or gather three cards in a row, and the player with the highest value over three sets at the end of the game wins. As you progress, harder versions of the game unlock, throwing in new rules, twists and events. It’s a great little time sink that will easily eat up a few hours of your time if you enjoy playing cards.
The rest of Voice of Cards, however, won’t take up quite as much of your time as a standard RPG. You’ll be done with the story in around ten hours, and there’s very little side content to engage with. But you shouldn’t go into this expecting an epic adventure. This is designed to feel like a curated tabletop experience, after all, and its presentation alone means it’s hard to compare it to practically anything else out there.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars may be simple, but it does a fantastic job of delivering a card game RPG hybrid that’s an absolute delight to play. Its aesthetic is second-to-none, its storytelling is excellent (largely due to Haberkorn’s fantastic narration), and its gameplay is deeply satisfying thanks to character development, rewarding exploration and engaging battles. If you’d like an RPG experience that differs from the norm, Square Enix has nailed it once again.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars Review – GameSpew’s Score