There are games that create a special first impression by having stylized action, sparkling with new gameplay mechanics or simply by pure provocation. The Sound of Cards: Isle Dragon Roars, the latest work from Square Enix and developer Yoko Taro — known for games in the NieR series — was particularly eye-catching. Because the game presents its entire game world in the form of playing cards, which was quite the topic of conversation when it was announced. We took a closer look at the role-playing game and explained whether the title, in addition to its unusual appearance, could also convince in terms of gameplay.
Greedy mercenaries save the world.. did you hear it all?
Anyone who has ever played a game from the NieR series knows that it is both deep and humorous and that both the setting and the characters can be a lot more whimsical and grotesque. At first glance, this is not the case in Voice of Cards, because the JRPG is pretty much a classic: you embody a hero, and the game suggests the name Ash, who, along with a monster companion, accepts the mission, the Killing a dragon that reappears after eternity She is now terrorizing the kingdom. This should be your task now in the course of the game, even if you can guess ahead of time: of course, it will not remain so simple. But Voice of Cards doesn’t come up with as many phrases as, say, NieR: Automata. When the game breaks with the mores of early classic fantasy, Ash’s motive is this: Rather than act out of pure heroism or out of interest in his country, he’s all about money, and so at first he refuses almost strictly to make it his own. The first game takes an extra companion with you on your journey, which will put the game on your side early. After all, every extra party member means you have to share the reward at the end!
This is where one of Voice of Cards’ great strengths comes into play, which becomes more apparent as the game progresses: the characters and above all the humor. Each of your future companions has their own motive, why would they like to accompany you on your journey and very few actually want a dragon to want a skin. Much work is done with humor, as imaginative stereotypes are easily flexed. This works well in the vast majority of cases and the game master contributes a large part of it. This is the game’s narrator, who comments on all your actions and also assigns individual characters to music, just as you know from the classic pen and paper tour. When he’s not in the process of emphasizing the game with his dialogues, he also likes to make sarcastic comments about your gameplay or plot, eg when you try to jump into the water and he consciously realizes that you’ll then go under.
In addition to the humor and characters, the real star of the game is the game world and its acting. Because the sound of the cards is represented entirely as individual playing cards. Your characters, all your objects, equipment, NPCs as well as those in each building or even just a piece of meadow are displayed as individual playing cards. So when you start the game in the role of Ash in the throne room, you are first in a small room, the visible walls and floors are shown as cards face up with the corresponding motif, while the other rooms and characters you are in can not be seen yet, they are all still shown as hidden cards. This type of display is perhaps the most unique feature of the game and the developers have done it very well. The individual decorations, especially those of the main characters, are all very detailed and the decorations of the items as well as the equipment and spells are delightful. This also applies to non-playable characters, but their card shapes repeat themselves very quickly, which costs the game world quite a bit in terms of believability and flair.
What happens on the screen never remains constant; The cards “interact” as much as possible. When the character bows out of gratitude, the card is tilted forward slightly as if lowering its head, especially in battles, the creators are well shown what can be done with the supposed constrained position. So the archer shoots a barrage of arrows into the air with one of her subsequent attacks, then jumps from place to place while shooting and then leans back to shoot one last, powerful arrow – and all this just symbolizes the fact that the character’s map bounces and moves at the right moment. This may look unsurprising in text form, but it looks extraordinarily attractive in motion.
These were some of the additional points the title could boast that could set it apart from the rest of the competition. But that’s it, because under the pretty interface, Voice of Cards is a fairly generic JRPG. This is best seen in the battles, which all follow well-known patterns: you can choose your characters’ attacks and skills one by one that cause damage to your opponents and you have to make counter strikes accordingly. Each character has a fixed skill set and therefore has its own strengths and weaknesses. While the title champion Ash appears as an amazingly versatile NFC with healing skills, the muscular Bruno is the typical NFC and your magical companion has elemental spells around him and is thus armed to many types of opponents. The only change that represents itself is the gems that the group shares and that you get in battle.
Glowing stones are the prerequisite for being able to use other skills beyond your standard attacks, with a certain tactical element playing its part; Do you use the three gems you collected for a powerful area attack or do you collect two more so that Ash can increase the defense of the entire group for several rounds? Such considerations will in fact favor the combat system, but that brings us to the next problem: the sound of cards is too easy. Battles are only demanding and even boss opponents can be defeated without incurring a single blow, provided you use the correct skills. The artificial difficulty of activating negative status effects on the opponent only helps when a certain value is rolled. You’ll be embarrassed every now and then that one of your characters can bless the time because the opponent can make a lucky critical hit, but usually novices will not be challenged in battles. It becomes incomprehensible, then, that the game suddenly comes with a fight with the ultimate boss that continues in several stages and that simply requires pure luck and turns completely into the opposite.
The very easy battles unfortunately also lead to the fact that at some point, the many random battles that arise when you wander in the upper world or in the dungeons become very annoying. Although you can jump from one place to another on the world map with the press of a button, making navigation much easier, the chance of encounters in dungeons from the second half of the game onwards is annoying. Especially when you have to climb a tower, cross a volcano, or explore an ancient ruin. What problem do all these three areas have with each other? They seem to be very large and carelessly assembled. If there is another fight after every fifth move, then even the most flexible thread of patience begins to slowly fade. While the areas still had their charms in the first half of the game, you can’t get rid of the feeling that the developers ran out of ideas during the second half, making large and somewhat tall dungeons feel more like an artificial extension of the game.
All of the more powerful attacks come in huge gradation.
© Square Enix
What doesn’t feel like stretching at all is the arcade game inside the arcade game. Each city offers you an additional building in which you can compete with the locals in card games. The rules are very simple at first: you have to build three different decks of a deck of cards that are gradually revealed, and during the game, tactically consider which cards you want to get rid of and which you want to keep, so that you get the most points to emerge as the winner. The more you come out victorious from different games and in different locations, the more additional and more complex rules you can unlock. So you can activate special status effects when you play a certain deck of cards and much more. Matches do not play a role in the actual action and are therefore always optional, also because cosmetic items are only waved as rewards, such as the appearance of new cards or any other type of dice that you can use in combat. As a small bonus, you can also play the card game in multiplayer mode against card players from all over the world, but this cannot be tested during the testing period due to lack of players. However, the card game itself is a nice and demanding change as well, adding a cool look to Voice of Cards.
Musically speaking, the game can ultimately make up for a lot. All the singles were successful and I remember NieR: Automata at one point or another, which soundtrack really attracted me at that time. It is possible that some pieces will repeat themselves over time, but each time you reach a new area or advance to a new chapter, you will be rewarded with one of the beautiful tracks and melodies. The game controls are what you’d expect in a classic JRPG and are solidly executed. The only speaker in the game, the master of the game, is fully dubbed into English and Japanese, and the funny and well-written texts have been translated into German.
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