Well, that was fast, wasn’t it? Not even four months ago, Square Enix released Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, which proved itself to be an enjoyable, relaxing, and interesting take on a classic JRPG from creative director Yoko Taro and his team. The title subtly hinted at the possibility that there would be more entries to come, and now here we are with a full-fledged sequel that tells an entirely new tale. The good news is that Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden is every bit as enthralling and cozy as its predecessor. The bad news is that it feels more like an ‘extra chapter’ than it does its own standalone product. It’s a great game overall, though it won’t change your mind if you weren’t swayed by the first entry.
Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden is still set in a fantasy world, but this time with a decidedly more nautical theme. This narrative is centered around a small archipelago of islands, each of which is dependent upon a resident spirit for prosperity. From time to time, a local maiden on each island needs to perform a ritual to please the local spirit and ensure that her island will continue to thrive. You play as Barren, a hopeful navigator who belongs to the aptly named Omega Village. For whatever reason, the maiden who was supposed to reside there never arrived, and the island is thus teetering on the verge of destruction. It’s revealed early on that Barren’s friend Laty—a green-haired, mysterious girl who doesn’t have a voice—is the island’s maiden, but she doesn’t have the power to perform the ritual she was born for. So, the two set out on the high seas to seek the aid of the other islands’ maidens and hopefully get to the bottom of Laty’s hidden past.
It's a remarkably compelling narrative, driven by strong characterizations and some shockingly dark plot twists that are well-telegraphed. The main gimmick, of course, is that all this is being communicated to you via a sole narrator who reads every line of dialogue and description. The GM duties this time around are being handled by Mark Atherlay, a new narrator who provides a solid performance that matches Todd Haberkorn’s previous level of quality while having some distinguishing traits. Atherlay has a slightly more playful tone to his narration, and though he doesn’t insert himself as a character into the narrative as much, we noticed that he breaks away to speak directly to the player more frequently. Some may have an issue with just one voice for all characters, but we really appreciate how Voice of Cards nails that storybook vibe of having someone reading to you; it has the effect of drawing you into the world in a way that no cutscene or extensive voice cast ever could.
As for its gameplay, Voice of Cards plays a lot like a typical old school JRPG, but with the small difference being that the entire world is made out of a huge grid of cards. In the overworld, you don’t actually play as a given character, instead you control a golden totem that represents your party and move it from card to card laid out on a big wooden table. The cards in every new area you enter are flipped over, and you only get to see what’s on the other side if you move your totem to an adjacent card. Most cards will just have grasses, paths, fields, and so on, but sometimes you’ll come across rock walls, water, or other untraversable terrains that prod you to turn back.
This can make for some thrilling exploration, as you have no idea what the lay of the land is like until you have actually moved your party all around it. Sometimes you might find a hidden passage leading you to a special alcove, or you’ll find a treasure chest obscured behind some trees. Sometimes you may think you know how a given dungeon floor will be laid out, only to be surprised as you slowly uncover what it’s really like. It's impressive how a relatively small collection of ‘generic’ terrain cards can be laid out in such a way as to make new locales feel entirely distinct even if they technically look the same.
As you explore the overworld, you’re sure to come across some randomly triggered events that help to make the flat world feel much more alive. Sometimes a random merchant will approach you and give you a chance to buy products at a big discount. One memorable instance saw our party collecting a bag of mysterious goods that proved to be instrumental in a later quest. You never know who might approach you or what might attack you on the road, and given that you literally can’t see anything coming, these emergent events are always a nice surprise.
This being an old school JRPG, it comes with the territory that every few steps will see you randomly getting jumped by yet another enemy and getting drawn into combat. The battle screen is laid out a bit like a traditional card game, but the actual combat system just follows simple, tried and true turn-based battle rules. Each character has myriad attacks, skills, and spells they can cast, and there’s an interesting take on a mana system on display here. Every character generates a gem when their turn comes, and this is then stored in a small box that the whole team draws from when anyone wants to cast a more powerful action. This means that not everyone can go all out all the time; sometimes you have to prioritize which attacks or actions you want to take because there won’t be enough gems for everyone. Generally, the enemies don’t put up enough of a fight that you really have to be getting in the weeds of planning out turns, but we enjoyed this extra layer of strategy to an otherwise simplistic battle system.
One new mechanic exclusive to this entry is that of Link Skills, which enable party members to act in tandem with each other. Sometimes it’ll be the same skill on both characters and other times each will have a distinctive action if they’re the ‘lead’ when you choose to spend the hefty price of gems. These link skills can be absolute game changers if you know when to drop them in a tough boss fight, and we appreciated this effort to make your team feel like a more cohesive group. Plus, watching both the necessary cards dance around the battle screen as all kinds of fireworks go off can make for a magnificent spectacle as you drive the nail into the enemy’s coffin.
Those of you who get tired of the traditional gameplay loop of exploring dungeons, visiting towns, and fighting enemies can always stop off at a game parlor in each major town where you can engage in a minigame that plays much more like a conventional card game. Here, you and your opponents share a deck of cards, and the goal is to create sets of two or three cards to hold in your hand and boost up your overall score. There’s a nice balance here of luck and skill, as you can’t do anything to control what cards you draw each turn, but how you play them can mean the difference between victory and defeat. There are other rulesets, too, that give each card different abilities for adding extra strategic depth or have random events take place every now and then to completely change the state of the game. It would’ve been nice if this minigame were integrated better into the main gameplay loop—we’re remembering fondly of how Triple Triad worked—but it’s still nice to have a break from the action every now and then if you want it.
As for its presentation, Voice of Cards manages to establish a thoroughly engrossing and imaginative atmosphere that all but begs to be played in a comfortable location with headphones on. The mixture of Mark Atherlay’s emphatic narration, the warmly lit table, and Keiichi Okabe’s collection of soft guitar and piano tracks creates a tremendous sense of place, stimulating your imagination to fill in the gaps and create this world in your mind as you’re playing through it. The character art for all the characters and monsters—hand-drawn by Kimihiko Fujisaka—remains impressively expressive, while fun little extras like your totem changing into a little boat when you go sailing show some fun attention to detail. Our only complaint here is that we noticed some occasional performance dips when loading into or out of the battle screen; nothing that disrupted the flow too egregiously, but enough to be noticeable.
We feel it’s important to note that Voice of Cards is the kind of game that demands a certain mood. By this, we mean that it’s intentionally designed as a very short, yet slow kind of game that you can’t engage with in the same way you do most other RPGs. Voice of Cards isn’t about minmaxing your party or rushing through the plot so you can get to the endgame, it’s all about things like taking your time to gradually reveal all the cards in a new area or to let Atherlay’s narration play out on each line. If you’re the kind of player who doesn’t have the patience for a more laid back and easygoing experience, Voice of Cards just may not be for you. The JRPG structure here is certainly the core of the gameplay, but we’d argue that structure isn’t the point of this release. This is the kind of game to approach in the same way you would someone telling you a story by firelight — just settle in and enjoy what each moment brings without focusing on what’s next. This is a title to be sweetly savored, not voraciously consumed.
Arriving mere months after its predecessor, we’re happy to report that Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden proves itself to be a satisfying and endearing sequel. It’s mechanically almost an exact copy of the first Voice of Cards, but things like the new setting and Mark Atherlay’s narration help to make it feel like a distinctive entry that stands well on its own. We’d give Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden a high recommendation for anyone looking for another ‘cozy’ game to add to their collection or for players who want to try an engaging, but not overly demanding JRPG. For all its brevity and minimalism, Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden is an unforgettable experience.
I've been playing through it the last couple of days and have been really enjoying my time with it. Mechanically it's much the same as the previous entry but the storytelling feels like a bit of a step up so far (and the first game was already really good).
Now we need a physical release with both games on the cart!
I just wish there was a physical release of both on one cartridge
Question now is: Will a third game be announced and released in a few months?
If so, what is Square-Enix's strategy for this series and releasing them so soon from each other?
It's a remarkably compelling narrative, driven by strong characterizations and some shockingly dark plot twists that are well-telegraphed.
This means that not everyone can go all out all the time; sometimes you have to prioritize which attacks or actions you want to take because there won’t be enough gems for everyone.
These link skills can be absolute game changers if you know when to drop them in a tough boss fight, and we appreciated this effort to make your team feel like a more cohesive group.
Herr Vogel! Now that I know you've played a Real Shin Megami Tensei Game™, I find your reviews all the more intriguing. My compliments for the "cozy, fireside" metaphor here.
Given the length of the game and the short window since the previous release, do you think a trilogy or set will be compiled into a package? A retail release would be welcome, in that case... @SwitchVogel
@Quarth agreed. I’ve been waiting on that
Weird they released it as a new product that fast. Kind of sucks as I'd like to try them but can't even give the first a go because it hasn't even been close to having a sale that might persuade me to jump in. Oh well, maybe sometime down the line.
The first one was disappointingly easy, to the point where I never felt like I had to actually engage with the (somewhat intriguing) mechanics of combat. The boss fight difficulty felt like it should have been the everyday fight difficulty. And the trash fights were pretty much 1-2 turn kills every time, usually before the monsters could even act. Is there actually a bit of challenge in this one?
I liked the first one as a one-off experience. By the time it ended, I had more than my fill. It's a solid formula but it barely had the legs to keep the first game interesting during its short runtime. Not at all intrigued to jump back for a second helping unless there's a new hook.
@SwitchVogel What’s the estimated playtime? Just curious to see if I can fit the title into the busy gaming schedule that starts today.
I'm hoping we get maybe 1-3 more Voice of Cards entries through the year and then they all end up on one physical cartridge afterwards. These games are amazing
@somnambulance Somewhere between 12-15 hours, doing everything (including fighting the secret boss in the first game, I assume this one will have something similar)
I absolutely love the card motif!
Probably because I love card games.
Combine that with an RPG and this game along with its previous entry are definitely on my wish list!
Maybe it might end up becoming its own series!😃
@somnambulance I'd say about fifteen hours, no more than thirty for completion.
@CANOEberry Yeah, I'd be willing to bet we'll see a third one on early summer. My theory is that these were all originally planned as one game, and eventually they'll all be compiled into one.
I also suspect that these are all set in the same world and tell one big story. All the cards in the first game had a "VI" at the top of them, while all these ones have a "IV". Knowing Yoko Taro, that's not an accident; it could be that we'll eventually have six or seven of these.
@ItsATM @SwitchVogel Between the two titles, which would either of you recommend? I’m pulling the trigger on one of them. I wanted to wait for a sale, but I think I’m ready to jump on it.
@somnambulance I'd go with this one, it's a little more difficult and I just liked the story here slightly more. Hard to go wrong with either, though.
I think I'm gonna wait for a "trilogy" on a cart.
Part 1 seemed interesting to me but was too pricey from my point of view. Now - not even 4 months later - pretty much the same for the same price?
Seems like they're milking a cow pretty early.
You'll have to be a fanboy of the 1st part to buy this I think.
Is this a milky, milky franchise? Releasing a new entry every few months?
Ngl... These Square Enix Card RPGs seem like they could be great as full-fledged JRPG releases, but Squeenix is using the card mechanic and theme as a way to skimp out on having to do fully rendered character models and animations plus build out a world with environments etc. Since there's clearly an appetite for new JRPG's from them, I just wish they'd take the time and resources to fully flesh these out more instead of churning out these lite-r quickies.
... Wun can only hope.
@Henmii Tbh if the quality remains consistent, I'll take 3 releases a year without complaints.
It doesn't need to be a masterpiece, it just needs to be consistently good. Playing through this game felt like sitting down with a great audiobook - not the best you've ever consumed, not absolutely amazing in every way, but well-paced, relaxing and most of all, enjoyable, and at times one that even lets you "come up and breathe" by ever so slightly letting up on the narrative.
Yeah, so far they seem fine. And I may try at least the first one someday, though I am not that big on card games. But there is a possibility that they are going to milk it. As good as they may be it may get rather stale rather quickly if they are going this route. But of course it depends on the person.
@somnambulance It's such a hard choice. I really like the setting and story in Forsaken Maiden, but liked the twists and a little more varied combat options in The Isle Dragon Roars. Both games are easy 9/10's though at the least
@BenAV do you have to play the first game or is it a stand alone? Is the first one available on Switch? Thanks!
@Joe-b Aside from a few references it's mostly a completely separate story. First one is also on Switch.
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