Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden


Review by · September 27, 2022

Preconceptions and prejudices can become so ingrained into our very being that what seems different to us on the surface can become downright monstrous, even when we ultimately act no differently in turn. This is one of the main messages from Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden, the third game in the Voice of Cards series. The game mostly conveys its story themes with a masterful hand, taking you by surprise at several points with a narrative wrapped around the journey of self-discovery its four central young heroes undertake.

The Beasts of Burden is my first foray into the creative tabletop-inspired series developed by Alim and published by Square Enix. It’s also my first time playing a game by creative director Yoko Taro, executive producer Yosuke Saito, and music director Keiichi Okabe. However, I’ve heard only high praise for other titles the team has worked on, such as the critically-acclaimed NieR: Automata. After seeing the game through to completion, I feel that the standalone Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden is an excellent entry point for those curious about what the plots for Yoko Taro’s games entail. There are societal commentaries and conveyed messages that never fall into “preachy” contexts, all tied together with a maturely realistic resolution. I won’t say too much about the story itself because I feel the way it slowly unfolds with each new narrative moment is part of its lasting impact, but it will undoubtedly have you feeling things while giving plenty of food for thought.

A story scene screenshot from Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden.
Our four heroes make for an eclectic party.

The game begins by putting you into the shoes of Al’e, a young woman from an underground village who fights to protect its inhabitants from the threat of monsters. The villagers have been brought up to believe these monsters want nothing more than to exterminate them entirely, and, unfortunately, it isn’t too long before the monsters attack in full force. Al’e is left as the sole survivor thanks to the intervention of a mysterious, taciturn young man named L’gol. Alongside L’gol, she embarks on a journey of revenge against the monsters. The pair soon meet plucky researcher Pulche and the ever-cheerful circus girl Tralis. However, what starts as a simple quest for vengeance takes some unexpected turns, revealing hidden truths as the once clear waters invariably become muddied.

Besides the thought-provoking and impactful plot twists, the heart of Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden comes from the friendship that develops amongst the party. Al’e, L’gol, Pulche, and Tralis are wonderful characters with hidden depths that you uncover as you play. I love their interactions with one another and how they react to the harrowing situations they find themselves in. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite as memorable as our four heroes and serve more as tools to help move the story along. It’s nice that you can collect cards for characters and monsters with unlockable flip sides, often revealing surprising tidbits of information. But seeing as this info is contained within a separate codex, they don’t impact the characters’ roles in the title itself.

A battle screenshot from Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden.
Battles can go faster if you pick the “high speed” option.

To those familiar with the previous two games in the Voice of Cards series, this third entry boasts the same clever gameplay and storytelling premise as its predecessors. You’re literally playing a tabletop RPG, complete with cards and dice to roll. The story comes alive thanks to the Game Master, the sole narrator who initially introduces themselves to you before the tale begins in earnest. The world and its myriad dungeons and towns are made from cards that are flipped over to reveal their secrets with each move of the game piece that represents your party. Story scenes use cards with character art as the sole means of conveying what is going on, the cards often deftly moving across the screen to showcase a given action. The Game Master is the one who explains what is happening and who is saying what, with you choosing cards at times to decide how a scene might initially go. Battles occur on a game board where cards displaying your health and status and potential moves and items at your disposal are shown. It’s a rather clever premise that reminds me a bit of Level-5’s experimental 3DS title, Crimson Shroud.

Cleverness and creativity in terms of its presentation and storytelling mechanics aside, Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden plays out as a very traditional JRPG. You move across maps, opening up new areas. You explore towns and visit shops to stock up on gear and equipment. You gain a vehicle that you can upgrade to help further guide you along. You talk to characters and get to make dialogue decisions, complete some thought-provoking puzzles in dungeons to help break up the walk-then-fight-then-walk-some-more routine, and you get into turn-based combat as you traverse the dungeon and world map areas. Beyond looking somewhat different from how many video games are presented, the core mechanics are solid representations of tried and true JRPG systems that most who pick up the title will already be familiar with.

Your party and the enemies you encounter all have elemental affinities you can exploit during fights once you figure them out, a returning feature from the first two games. What makes combat a bit different in The Beasts of Burden is that your party can use monster cards, acquired through battle or at a specific store. These cards grant you access to unique abilities you can call upon during fights, ranging from offensive spells of all kinds to helpful status buff and debuff moves. Some you can use automatically provided you have the right amount of gems to access them, a type of battle currency you gain during the start of a party member’s turn that you can use to cast certain moves. Others will require a roll of the dice beforehand to see how effective they’ll end up being. At times you can acquire the same monster card in a higher rank, increasing its overall potency. Fortunately, the game is primed to always replace a lower ranked card with a superior one. You can only have one of a specific type of monster card, so there’s no stacking the deck. But there are so many monster cards to acquire that you’ll inevitably have a varied arsenal at your disposal.

Each party member can equip a set number of cards to bring into fights, giving you quite a bit of ability range. I tended to lean towards everyone having at least one healing ability and about two offensive abilities with status effects to help balance things out: you can create great character builds! Each region of the game has enemies with different strengths and weaknesses, so you can strategically set up your party to best approach each area with minimal exploratory research. As long as you’re exploring every nook and cranny of the maps and not running from enemy encounters, I found that fights weren’t too difficult to overcome even in the later chapters, thanks to the experience I gathered and the horde of cards I had collected.

A skill management screenshot from Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden.
Each character in your party can be equipped with monster card skills.

The Beasts of Burden is a balanced gaming experience with some well-designed dungeon areas to explore. I did find that some dungeons could be quite long. However, you can save anywhere if you need a break, which keeps the dungeons from feeling like they’re overstaying their welcome. I never felt overly frustrated by even the longer dungeon areas and their puzzles, nor by the enemy encounter rate. Even when going to a higher-level area, once you gain some levels and upgrade your gear and skills, you’ll develop strategies to successfully counter what is thrown at you. While there is an element of randomness involved in collecting some abilities and item/monster cards, I never felt like it reached aggravating degrees, even when trying to find specific types and ranks of monsters for one of the game’s ongoing side quests. A little patience can reward you in a big way!

Visually, I found the game’s presentation to be impressively unique. I love the card artwork and the detail seen in the character portraits with designs by Kimihiko Fujisaka. The general art direction and how it ties into the storytelling is simply beautiful. I don’t think those expecting gorgeous 3D graphics might be too impressed, but it is a stunning game with a distinctive visual direction. The music is also amazing, with simple-yet-evocative tunes and truly powerful tracks depending on the area and what is happening. Music director Keiichi Okabe should be applauded for the soundtrack, and the vocal tracks in particular are astounding. My only complaint with the music is that there is one area where a fantastic chanting piece plays, and while it is incredible to listen to, the music is so loud that it somewhat muffles the Game Master’s narration.

A character story card screenshot from Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden.
You’ll unlock flip story cards for characters and monsters as you play.

Speaking of the Game Master, the entire plot hinges largely on their performance. They’re the storyteller and our guide, who breathes life into the characters’ voices and the events you uncover. I played the game’s English language version and fell in love with Carin Gilfry as the GM. She delivers every line beautifully and makes each character’s voice distinctly clear with a script that is translated and localized beautifully. I even love the personal interjections she makes when she “breaks character” from the narrator role to interject her own thoughts or reactions to something in the plot. She really makes you feel like you’re sitting down and playing through this story with her telling the tale, guiding you along the way. Even the cards she doesn’t narrate — those that present deeply buried thought and emotion — are woven artfully throughout her spoken lines. Using only one voice actor for story exposition is something you don’t often see in video game RPGs, but it shapes the experience Voice of Cards is trying to convey.

Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden is a creatively unique gaming experience from both a storytelling and presentation viewpoint. I don’t think the presentation is necessarily for everyone, but those who it does appeal to will most certainly find something enjoyably insightful about the overall experience. This is a game that is both realistic and hopeful in equal measure, tragic and tender all at once. I cared about the four main characters as they continued their quest, and I enjoyed diving into the story with a fantastic narrator to guide me. Based on the reviews of the first two games in the series — The Isle Dragon Roars and The Forsaken Maiden, respectively — by my fellow RPGFan reviewers, it seems as if each Voice of Cards title gets slightly stronger than the one that precedes it. Given how much I came to appreciate The Beasts of Burden, I’m curious to see what the future holds for this clever series.


Wonderful core cast of characters in a thought-provoking narrative, unique presentation, solid gameplay mechanics, excellent music and voice work.


Fundamentally a more traditional JRPG experience once the unique presentation is peeled away, patience is needed to complete some quests, subject matter can get dark, music and narration combat each other in one dungeon area.

Bottom Line

Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden is a well-polished traditional JRPG experience with a creatively unique presentation and a thoughtful narrative.

Overall Score 82
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Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling

Audra Bowling is a reviewer for RPGFan. She is a lover of RPGs, Visual Novels, and Fighting Games. Once she gets onto a subject she truly feels strongly about, like her favorite games, she can ramble on and on endlessly. Coffee helps keep her world going round.