Title: Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: September 13, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Turn-based JRPG
The Voice of Cards series has already received its third entry in less than a year since the first title’s launch. This sheer frequency of brand-new games from a prominent developer and publisher is exceedingly rare. The first two titles, Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars and Voice of Cards: The Forsaken Maiden, essentially have identical systems. Still, their narratives, casts, and tones differ in various ways. The new third entry, Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden, also provides a similar experience, though to an extent where the formula has begun to run its course.
As this tale begins, players are introduced to the protagonist, a young girl whose default name is Al’e. Her daily life comprises living underground with scant villagers who try their hardest to make a living in their dismal environment. Alongside supply struggles, monster attacks are a common cause for concern, though Al’e is a reasonably mighty warrior despite her age and constantly slays beasts attempting to do harm. Finally, however, following some unforeseen developments, she finds herself on the surface of the world for the first time in her life, accompanied by a strange boy who needs a skill she never knew she possessed; the ability to control monsters.
Instead of reiterating the same points about how the previous two games looked and played, I recommend reading our review of Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars if you’re entirely new to this IP. The art style, progression, and general gameplay loop of this new title are highly familiar in almost every way imaginable. Moreover, these games are more typical turn-based JRPGs, except with a card-based aesthetic to induce a more distinct personality. As a result, every entry is approachable to those unfamiliar with the genre and can act as an excellent avenue for entering it.
However, The Beasts of Burden attempts to shake up the combat formula by introducing a monster-capturing system. When battling enemies, players have the random chance to obtain monster cards that offer their own variety of benefits ranging from inflicting status ailments to inflicting raw damage. Further, specific types can also be bought in town shops. Each playable character can equip up to four monster cards at a time, which, at a glance, opens up a vast realm of explorative customization. Unfortunately, I found this monster capturing mechanic to be quite poorly executed since it doesn’t mesh well with the type of appeal and difficulty design this game embraces.
As mentioned earlier, the Voice of Cards games are casual experiences and never particularly difficult unless one goes out of their way to be underequipped. So, because of this design philosophy, introducing a mechanic encouraging customization to such an extent feels half-baked. Most monster cards players obtain will be useless, given the game’s general lack of challenge. Even when accounting for the monster cards’ upgraded iterations, you can easily get by without intricately thinking about what to designate.
To best summate it, the monster cards are a compelling design choice that had the potential to significantly differentiate this entry from the previous two. Unfortunately, its incorporation ends up feeling superficial and forgettable since progression feels nearly identical to what came before, and only a few of the cards stand out in hindsight.
Speaking of the lack of challenge, I’m almost positive that The Beasts of Burden is the easiest Voice of Cards entry yet. This could have simply been abhorrently good luck on my end, but the critical rate was absurdly high in my favor. It happened often enough to make me question if inherent game code made this the case, but I doubt that. Regardless, due to these instances, my experience made gameplay akin to an auto-battler at points.
Regarding the cast and narrative, The Beasts of Burden didn’t quite nail the landing for me. Tone-wise, this is probably the darkest title so far, but the lack of presence many core characters possessed caused various developments to falter. Aside from the protagonist, I never came to care about the characters, though mileage will vary here depending on the player. They were more strictly affixed to the plot without any memorable interactions, with their best moments being more contained to themselves rather than with others.
Further, the world map was more congested than I would have liked, especially when compared to The Forsaken Maiden, creating a sense of suffocation, which, even if intentional, wasn’t conducive for enjoyment when coupled with the monster card mechanic, which is dependent on variance. Still, the dungeon design was somewhat engaging with more involved puzzles, so this can perhaps be perceived as a trade-off. For the record, it’s worth emphasizing that I still did enjoy the story, just in a far more mixed fashion than I did with The Isle Dragon Roars and The Forsaken Maiden.
The Game Master, this time around, is voiced by Carin Gilfry, and, like the other two Game Masters, she does a splendid job immersing players within this tragic tale. She’s noticeably more light-hearted than who has come before and provides occasional levity to an incredibly solemn adventure that only has a few standout comedic segments. The soundtrack and presentation, certainly the most terrific and worthwhile elements of Voice of Cards, continue to shine here. The card-based world, portraits, character designs, and environments are top-notch and did more than enough work to invest me alongside the stellar sound design.
Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden boasts some of the same general strengths the series has had up to this point: engaging audio design and an endearing presentation. However, whether it be due to my tiredness with this formula or an overly ambitious stumble, the storyline and characters failed to truly grasp me amidst a few notably moving moments.
Additionally, the newly introduced monster capturing mechanic feels hollow without meaningful substance accompanying it, thereby making the combat a weaker yet similar iteration to the past two games. Again, I respect the efforts to change up the systems, but when it fumbles like how it did here, it’s easy to reflect favorably on the past without having much care for the present.
If the Voice of Cards series continues, I hope they either refine the gameplay systems or undergo a major enough shakeup to breathe new life for returning players. Still, if you enjoyed the last two games, this one will likely be up your alley and is worth considering. Though, those who were not drawn in beforehand won’t find anything to compel them this time around either.
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