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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.

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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.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

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.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

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.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

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.

Conclusion

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.