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Voice of the Cards: Beasts of Burden – Game Review

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The roots of role-playing games lie in tabletops, but it’s easy to forget that with the complexity of their presentation. With all the games that attempt to simulate the systems of a tabletop game, it’s rare to find one that simulates the live of a board game: you, a narrator, and the pieces of a game spread out in front of you. A dice to decide your fate, and your imagination to fill in your gaps. It’s been a long time since crimson veil recreated this experience on the nintendo DS; leave it at Yoko Taro recreate the experience through Voice of the Cards Games. The beasts of burden marks the third time Taro and his colleagues, composer Keiichi Okabe, and character designer Kimihiko Fujisaka are collaborating on this series. Fortunately, no prior experience with the Voice of the Cards series is required. Although this game is available on PS4, nintendo Switch and Steam, I’m basing this review on the Steam version.

Players follow the story of the Subterran, A’le, a young woman who sees her entire village decimated by monsters. Rescued by L’gol, A’le embarks on a journey through an endless wasteland as she uses her powers to overpower monsters and use their powers as cards. In truth Yoko Taro mode, monsters aren’t just the creatures you encounter in the desert: they can also be the people you encounter in the villages you wander through.

The entire game is arranged to look like a table game. Your character is represented by a chess piece on a table. Your map is a series of maps; as you move your piece, more of the map is revealed as the cards are turned over. Sometimes random events happen; a roll of the dice can determine whether you find treasure or misfortune. All your debates are narrated by a disembodied storyteller. She reacts to your actions, encourages you in battle, and voices all the characters. Sometimes she stumbles over her words and has to redo a line; other times she has a sarcastic remark to make about one of the characters you meet (like the boy who buries himself up to his neck; to my surprise, the narrator has decided his name is ” Barry”). Things like the sheer size of the map can break the “table top” illusion, but the tone is right. It’s an intimate experience: just you, your storyteller and the cards.

Also faithful to Yoko TaroIn fashion, there are droplets of backstory everywhere. Random NPCs are represented as cards in your collection; all have two sides to their story. Some are hilarious like our buddy Barry up there, who cut off his finger because he was so worried about his bangs. Others are sadder, like the nameless girl practicing speaking in front of her mother’s grave. And others are just plain old brick-faced, like the little orc who promises to show off his fancy new hammer to all his bullies one by one. While the story doesn’t get as oppressive as Taro’s most famous works, there’s certainly a quirky, brooding atmosphere to it. beasts of burdenand that makes the experience all the more captivating.

So what about the fights? Well, it’s pretty straightforward for a JRPG: your characters take turns with monsters attacking each other until their health drops to zero. The animations are fairly rudimentary, leaning into the “map” angle, although some of the fancier maps like the Primals have slightly more elaborate animations. Each round grants you a gem you can spend on skills, while defeating monsters gives you a chance to earn a skill card that can be equipped based on their powers. This leads to good customization, allowing you to grant any character up to three skills. There’s also a good incentive to constantly fight monsters, as each fight gives you a chance to get a rarer and more powerful version of a monster’s skill. This can be unlike a status disease which must hit or beat a roll of 6 on a d10 to land – or just 4.

The charm comes with a few flaws. Random encounters can trigger a bit too often, making exploring larger maps a chore. While fights are incentivized with the possibility of better skills, you cannot double up on the same card (even if they are different rarities of the same card). There’s also the added wrinkle that anyone in combat can only be affected by one status ailment at a time. It works in your favor; for example, you cannot be poisoned if you have already suffered an Attack debuff. On the other hand, if you paralyzed an enemy, you can no longer weaken them. Music can also be repetitive; while perfectly suited for an RPG adventure, it’s far from Okabe’s best work.

There is a good spread of DLCs for the game which is quite attractive for such a simple game. There are alternative tables, Background music, and even card faces with pixel art for casting. But it would have been nice to have more unlocked options of the game.

In all, The voice of the cards: beasts of burden is a compelling little game. It’s an efficient, low-stakes concept with solid execution, with lots of love from creatives who had a lot of fun playing around with the concept. That there are three entries in this series is exciting; as gaming technology continually improves, it’s nice to see an attempt to lean into the simplicity of role-playing. Sometimes all it takes is a good narrator and a single dice…

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