Back when I reviewed Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars in October of last year, I had no idea that nearly a year later, I’d be reviewing its third entry. At this point, some might ask if the sequel fatigue has settled in and to that, I’d have to admit that it’s complicated.
The series is very much a “love it or hate it” scenario given how much of the gameplay flow carries over. While its sequels are largely faithful in their adaptations of the foundations laid out by the first entry, The Forsaken Maiden introduced more additions to its battle system and a much more fleshed-out story that better suited its storytelling angle of hopping from island to island making a substantial enough improvement despite some balancing issues towards the end and a random encounter rate that meant constant battles back to back which broke up the pacing.
However, the fairly quick production schedules beg the question: What does The Beasts of Burden do to help relieve the sequel fatigue? Ultimately, while the third entry does help address some issues with some new depth given to its gameplay systems, several of its other elements like the story end up having to take a backseat.
First things first, this is a story of revenge. Given that the concept itself is so linear in nature, the runtime is a lot shorter as well, with many of its elements streamlined as well. However, this tradeoff does allow for the plotlines to be a lot more focused this time around leading to some engaging twists and turns and ultimately, given its nature as a revenge story, there are some darker subject matters explored as well!
You play as Al’e, a youth from a subterranean village that dreams of one day seeing the stars in the sky. As she spends her days protecting the village from monsters, it isn’t until long that the monsters unleash a devastating assault on her home leaving Al’e the sole survivor. Amidst the devastation, Al’e is rescued by a young man by the name of L’gol, and their path toward vengeance begins.
As with series tradition, the party picks up some friends along the way but I’d rather keep those characters a surprise given that they offer some nice dynamics to the group. The shorter runtime here also allows these characters to be focused on more giving some interesting insight into the intricacies of each member of the cast. I always liked the bildungsroman setups of each entry of the Voice of Cards series but this one feels much more personal given that the nature of its revenge setup also means it’s an examination of the ways the main character handles grief.
While it’s not exceptionally deep it still does make for an engaging narrative angle. It’s also of note that the new tracks here by series composer Keiichi Okabe, greatly enhance some of the more important scenes with the vocal tracks, in particular, being a large highlight in the overall experience.
As for the gameplay sections, it’s still Voice of Cards so the core gameplay loop of using cards and dice for rolls remains largely the same. The major additions here however are the addition of environmental gimmicks and more importantly, the new “creature collecting” gimmick offering an alternative to traditional attacks and abilities in the previous entries.
The environmental gimmicks are often present in specific moments like the beginning fight in the village having ground traps and rock traps which you can use in the fight as abilities to do a variety of different attacks. The major change here, however, is the addition of the monster cards that can be gained from battles or at stores spread throughout the map. These cards allow for a variety of options in battle and constantly incentivize trying out new combos and grinding is also somewhat incentivized which greatly improves the exploration loop in the overworld and dungeons as getting duplicates sometimes will boast a higher rarity allowing for more powerful variants of the same card being able to be used.
As mentioned before, the game itself is far more streamlined in terms of design than its predecessors but that also allows for the overworld and dungeons to feel a lot more snappy. This focus also allows for not only clever puzzles that don’t overstay their welcome but more memorable dungeon design as a result. That being said, the random encounter rate is still pretty high here but at the very least your patience is rewarded given the chance of each encounter dropping a card remains tantalizing throughout the end.
Unfortunately, the gameplay here being streamlined also means the experience is significantly less difficult than The Forsaken Maiden which I personally thought earned its difficulty spikes for the most part. However, that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make ultimately given how much the overworld and dungeons benefit from that focus.
As usual, the bulk of the experience is largely experienced via the presentation of its tabletop aesthetic here and the cozy atmosphere that’s become a series staple remains the same here. There’s a new game master this time around and the performances by both the English and Japanese voice actresses remain endearing and do a great job at bringing a lot of the wonderful script to life. Pairing all this with some great new designs by Kimihiko Fujisaka and the aforementioned soundtrack by Okabe and the series’ atmosphere is preserved almost perfectly in this new entry.
Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden be on the shorter side of the entries so far but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a lot to offer. While repetitive at times, the core gameplay loop has been revamped in a way that while might seem minor to some greatly adds value to participating more actively in the systems it engages its players with.
Overall, The Beasts of Burden is a more streamlined version for better or worse, and for returning players the familiarity of its systems may elicit interest or lack thereof, but I think if you stick with it for its opening hour, the game gets the ball rolling narratively and opens up gameplay-wise fairly quick comparative to its forerunners. I just hope that one day this series can take on some larger changes to refresh interest for others and take the series on another trajectory entirely.
For me, it’s the little steps in the process that matter most, and Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden seems like a good direction towards that. After all, one might best describe Voice of Cards as a series that gets better as it goes on, a sentiment that I hope continues to carry its own weight in the future.
Version Reviewed: PC (Steam)
Disclaimer: Review code provided by the game’s publisher Square Enix.