How we made Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

The development team of the new card-based RPG talk the origins of the game, the challenges of making a videogame feel like a tabletop experience, and more.
By Duncan Heaney

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is a lovely thing - a chilled out RPG that’s compelling and charming in equal measure.

That quality is a testament to the development team, from Creative Director YOKO TARO and Producer Yosuke Saito (NieR and Drakengard series) to Director Maasa Mimura and Character Designer Kimihiko Fujisaka.

We’ve already had a chat with YOKO-san about kittens, pixel art and basically everything except the game (read that here). This time, we speak to the other key members of the team.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars trailer

How did the Voice of Cards project get started?

Yosuke Saito (Executive Producer): It all started when YOKO TARO reached out to me, asking if I wanted to do something together with Kimihiko Fujisaka, who would be coming back to Japan.

When YOKO-san reaches out to you like that, what else can you do, but say yes?

Why did you make the decision to build the entire world from cards?

YOKO TARO (Creative Director): The reason why we portrayed this game using cards? Okay, let me provide an answer.

Games have evolved as if imitating reality, but when displaying a 3D space on TV in a 2D format, or when converting various human movements into gamepad controls, it requires “summarizing,” or making abstract, to a certain extent. Additionally, the format in which recent video games are being summarized is becoming more and more entrenched.

Given this sort of situation, we thought, "If we’re going to make a game more abstract anyway, why not consolidate it into a more compact presentation, which would then allow for people to perceive and explore entertainment in their own way?" This led to our decision to take on this challenge.

But, that’s just a lie and the actual reason is because no other previous game had been portrayed with only cards.

Saito: When you actually explore this world, portrayed by cards, it is unlike a world that has been constructed in 3D. With the power of your own imagination, the world can expand as much you want it to.

I hope you let your imaginations run wild!

Voice of Cards: the Isle Dragon Roars screenshot

Maasa Mimura (Director): The biggest problem we had was trying to figure out how much of the “traditional board and card game” feel we could incorporate into the game.

Of course, there were detailed requests from YOKO-san and Fujisaka-san on how they wanted to approach this, but as it is ultimately up to the development director to decide the extent of how much to incorporate.

It was very difficult, and something I debated quite a lot - one of the benefits of digital games over tabletop ones is their omission of superfluous hassles, as well as a lack of the limitations on presentation, but we wanted Voice of Cards to have the feel of a ‘physical’ game. It was difficult to find that balance.

Ultimately, with cards being the main theme, we incorporated as much as we could in terms of presentation, from haphazard placement of cards and pieces to the sensation of turning over cards - as well as depiction of elements like foil stamping, burning, and freezing.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars screenshot

If you can only use cards, how do you make each location feel distinct and recognizable?

Mimura: One thing in particular I racked my brain about was our need to make drawings that were moderately generic to allow for different types of presentation depending on how the cards were placed.

For example, if you gather a few cards with a water surface drawing, it’ll look like a lake; and if you expand it further, it’ll look like an ocean. However, there’s a limit to making a certain area special if it doesn’t have any characteristics, so for special areas we created original cards. It was a struggle to strike that balance.

Additionally, in terms of how to place the cards, we weren’t able to place small items, so we had to resort to symbolic presentations to a certain extent. We set certain guidelines and thought it out in a way that would make it easy for players to perceive what it represents.

Battles are surprisingly exciting, despite being represented purely with cards. How did you achieve that?

Mimura: Both enemies and allies have their own unique skills, and we added movement to them, as if the game master was acting out said skill using the card.

We were particular about the presentation of powerful skills to make up for their high cost, so when you acquire one, I hope you keep an eye out for not just the effect, but also the animation!

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars screenshot

The game has some beautiful art, particularly in its character designs. What were the inspirations for the main party?

Kimihiko Fujisaka (Character Designer): I aimed for a design that felt classic and had a fantasy feel that everyone understands - something like DRAGON QUEST, The Lord of the Rings movies, or Conan the Barbarian.

Though the art was created digitally, I was careful to leave a “pen-and-paper” feel to it to align with the concept of the whole game.

What was your process for designing the characters?

Fujisaka: First, I drew sketches of a few characters that popped into my head, based on the impression I got from YOKO-san’s proposal.

Then, as development progressed, I talked to staff members and repeatedly made minor adjustments based on their responses. Once I was able to grasp the overall picture to a certain extent, I considered points such as the composition and final art style, and took the designs through to testing.

Once the concept was finalized and I was able to present the final form, I moved onto making final clean drawings of all the characters. In tandem with that, I created sketches of additional characters.

You created a lot of art for this game - was it challenging to work on so many characters at once?

Fujisaka: I struggled with making adjustments at times as there were some characters whose biographies changed from the initial concept. Fortunately, I was able to solve any issues by consulting the scenario team and members of the development team handling the implementation.

For this project, I ended up being tasked with designing NPCs and monsters as well. Since it looked like I would be handling quite a large number of designs in total, I streamlined my workflow from sketching to creating the final drawings, which helped increase my efficiency.

More specifically, I increased the accuracy of my sketches and processed said sketches to use them directly as textures. This allowed me to elevate the “pen-and-paper” feel and also shorten the time needed to create the final drawings.

Many thanks to everyone for their time.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Steam:

As well as the standard game, you can also get a special bundle set, which includes the Pixel Art DLC set and seven more DLC themed around NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…

  • Dress of the Bereft - Swaps the costumes of the protagonist, Mar and Melanie to the design of NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…:

  • Emil’s Pattern - Swaps the reverse card design to a design resembling Emil’s clothing

  • Emil Avatar - Swaps the player’s avatar to a design resembling Emil

  • Emil Dice - Swaps the dice to a design adorned with Emil’s face

  • Grimoire Weiss Board - Swaps the battle board and accessories to designs patterned after Grimoire Weiss

  • Library Desk - Swaps the table design to resemble a certain library’s stonework

  • Devola’s Music - Swaps the general background music to a soundtrack that bring to mind the journeys of a certain young man who fought to save his sister.

  • Pixel Art Set - Swaps all character and enemy illustrations to pixel art

These items are also available to buy separately.