Voice of Cards Reignited my Love for Turn-Based RPGs
Contributed by DJMMT
My first turn-based RPG was Final Fantasy X on PS2. I could argue it was really Quest 64 on the N64, but that’s slightly different; and I never finished it in my original playthrough. It wasn’t until years later that I finally finished an emulator of the game with speed mods to streamline the experience. FFX was the first traditional turn-based RPG I played to completion. To this day, it’s still my favorite Final Fantasy game and one of my favorite turn-based RPGs. I don’t know why I was so late to the genre, because I had already been console gaming for years, going all the way back to the NES. There were several turn-based RPGs before FFX, such as nine other Final Fantasy games. But I never cared to play any of them before FFX. In fact, the only pre-FFX Final Fantasy game I’ve played is still just FFVII. I played the PS4 port a few years back; and honestly I think it’s overrated. Yeah, I said it. In any case, I really like turn-based RPGs. Or at least I did for a time. But in recent years I just haven’t connected with them. That is until I played Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars.
With the exception of Nintendo big name staple titles like Paper Mario and Pokémon, I can’t remember the last turn-based RPG I played to completion. I would have to go back through years of records to figure that out. There’s probably some short indie or gimmick spin-off project I played through at some point, but the point is that I haven’t had a memorable turn-based RPG experience in years. Note, I’m not saying they aren’t still making quality turn-based games. I’m aware of franchises like Persona and Shin Megami Tensei. I just don’t have any interest in playing them. And it’s not because they’re turn-based RPGs. It’s that I have zero interest in the plots of those games, based on the marketing and discussions I’ve seen. And yes that has to be included in the discussion. Mechanically sound games that don’t have plots I’m interested in are not a failing of me as a consumer. They’re a failing of the industry to provide products I’m interested in buying. And it’s not like I don’t buy tons of video games. It’s that the turn-based RPG genre has, for the most part, stopped making stories I’m interested in. I still buy basically every mainline Final Fantasy title. But they stopped making turn-based RPGs.
My decision to buy Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars was brought upon by two important factors that too many games just don’t get these days. The first was that it was featured in a Nintendo Direct. Had that not have happened, I don’t think I ever would have acknowledged or even noticed the game. The second was that the game released a playable demo on the day of the Nintendo Direct. I actually do take the time to play most demos I’m made aware of. The sad thing is that so few games in the grand scheme of things get demos these days. I tried the Voice of Cards demo and instantly fell in love with the game. And that’s speaking as someone who generally hates projects by Yoko Taro. For the record, I’ve only been able to stand playing two of his games to completion. But I absolutely loved Voice of Cards.
For years, I thought that I was just over turn-based RPGs. A lot of people talk about how the genre is just too dated and slow compared to the action RPGs common to the market today; and I was in agreement with them for quite some time. I didn’t want to agree, but when I looked at my own gameplay history of the last several years, I had to acknowledge that I too no longer seemed interested in playing the genre. What Voice of Cards showed me is that this isn’t actually true. At least not for me anyway. The real issue is that most turn-based RPGs in recent history have been mediocre and focused on subject matters I just don’t want to play. So many turn-based RPGs, and really JRPGs in general these days, are about weebo shit. School girls in tiny plaid skirts fighting monsters for some odd reason. I’m a 33 year old married man. I’m not buying those games. I miss the good old days of adventurers traveling across a fantasy land to fight monsters and save the kingdom, princess, or magical deity. Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy type storylines. They still make those games; and I still buy them. They just aren’t traditionally being made as turn-based RPGs anymore. Voice of Cards reignited my love for turn-based RPGs, because it’s actually good and has a traditional fantasy RPG plot. It’s really that simple.
What I love about Voice of Cards is that it boils down a turn-based RPG to the essentials, focuses on tradition, and weeds out all the annoying parts that have customarily plague the genre. It’s very bare bones in a way, and that’s a good thing. For example, there are only five party members to choose from for a team of three. FFVII has nine playable characters. FFX has seven. Interesting that I liked X more than VII and love Voice of Cards. The less players to choose from, the less time you spend trying to figure out which party members to use. That also means you spend less time managing gear, character development, and learning move sets. Five is probably the perfect number of playable characters in three-member party turn-based RPG. It allows for a total of 10 combinations. Less if you always keep your character in the party as a matter of principle, like I do. I want to play the game. I don’t want to waste a bunch of time preparing to play the game.
Another thing I really like about Voice of Cards is that they figured out how to make a game with exploration that also has an objective system of measurement. The problem with every game that has exploration is that you never really know if you’ve seen everything. You never know for sure if you’ve checked every nook and cranny of the map. Admittedly, many developers, and players, like that. They like the idea of the world being so vast and alive that you never really feel like you’ve seen it all. I hate that. I hate feeling like I haven’t done my due diligence and seen/found everything the game has to offer. With Voice of Cards, by nature of the card-based map system, you know when you’ve explored everything. You can see it on the map very clearly. If you’ve missed a spot, you’re aware of exactly where that spot is. Along with that, Voice of Cards perfected short range fast travel. I don’t use fast travel often in games, unless I’m travelling long distances. Because fast travel is rarely actually fast. I don’t have a PS5 yet, so maybe this has changed, but if I have to go through a loading screen, it’s not really fast travel. That’s one of the things I really have to commend Pokémon Legends: Arecus for. The fast travel, within the specific region you’re in, is really fast. There’s no loading screens, and it’s super convenient. I use it all the time. Voice of Cards has an even more convenient fast travel system than Pokémon Legends: Arceus. You can literally fast travel to any individual card on the map you’ve already visited. It’s the most convenient system ever. You don’t have to take a single extra step if you don’t want to.
Many people will disagree with this one, but another thing I liked about Voice of Cards is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a short game. You get a full fantasy RPG story with multiple lands, backtracking, side quests, choices, and even optional bosses all in less than 40 hours. Granted I only paid $21 for the game, on Switch no less, but I was really happy with the length. It left me wanting to play a sequel while also being totally fine with the fact that the game was over. And I did 100% completion, including getting all party members to max level and gear.
Ultimately what Voice of Cards accomplished was modernizing the turn-based RPG model for the modern adult gamer. That’s not to imply that kids can’t enjoy it. In fact, I think it’s a great first turn-based RPG for kids. It’s a serious story with real drama that doesn’t get too graphic. The art is really nice but also child friendly. And the gameplay is streamlined to easily understand and play without previous RPG experience. The reason I say it’s great for adults is that you can play it a little at a time without having to relearn everything. It’s boiled down to the minimum needs of the genre to get an authentic experience that isn’t annoying or asking too much from the player. I absolutely loved this game and it made me remember why I love the genre.
Even more impressive is the fact that they released a sequel less than a year after releasing the original. I haven’t bought it yet, because I’m waiting for it to go on sale, but I can’t wait to play it. It’s even made me start looking into other turn-based RPGs again.