In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of roguelikes on Switch. In even more recent years, we have seen the same happen for 'Pokémon-likes'. Naturally, each genre has its respective highs and lows, but rarely have we seen both of them joined by the same game. That is, until we saw Dicefolk.

Dicefolk is a tactical roguelike. It's also a monster catcher. It's also a dice game. It's a confusing combination of genres that seem disparate on paper but click in practice. The game launched on Steam earlier this year and quickly started racking up positive reviews. So, when developers LEAP Game Studios (Tunche) and Tiny Ghoul announced that the monster-based mashup would be rolling the dice on Switch on 20th June, our interests were quickly piqued.

To find out more, we recently sat down with some of the creatives behind Dicefolk, Luis Wong (producer, LEAP), Paul Gerst (programmer, Tiny Ghoul), and Gregory Parisi (artist and co-designer, Tiny Ghoul), and have a good old natter about all things roguelike, Pokémon, and creature design. And you can find that very conversation below. Enjoy!

Nintendo Life (Jim Norman): Dicefolk is a tactical roguelike with dice-based combat and monster-catching mechanics. There are a lot of genre terms going on in there! Can you break down that definition and explain how you have combined all these different mechanics?

Gregory Parisi: A few years ago, we saw that the monster-collecting genre had started to join with other genres — like Metroidvania with monster catching and monster battling, platformers, etc. — so we wanted to put our own spin on it too.

We enjoy roguelikes and we were in a D&D phase during the pandemic, so we wanted to combine all of our passions and make Dicefolk, which is a combination of monster battling, catching, and roguelike.

The dice didn't come up right away with the rest of the pitch, but we eventually implemented them because we liked how they brought randomness generation among other things.

Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

The dice mechanics feel very fresh, particularly how you can control your opponent's moves. How did you come up with that concept?

Gregory: At first, we had the dice just to add some randomness because, in tactics games, you can't let everything work as planned for the player. With randomness, you can throw a wrench at them and they have to rethink their plan. Dice were great for that because they are very playful and intuitive. Everyone knows dice and it's very easy to visualise probabilities with them, too. So once we tried to implement dice into the game, it just clicked.

But we realised that players were lacking control at some points. As expected when playing with dice, it's very frustrating when you make consecutive bad rolls but there was nothing we could do about it.

by trying to be like Pokémon, we ended up being very different to it

So we thought that we should give the players more control. We didn't have an AI system in the game at first, so we were playing as the enemies too — holding their dice and playing their actions. It gave the game an unexpected puzzle flair that we liked and adopted. Of course, we had to rework it to make it more challenging, you don't want the player to be able to do whatever they want, but it felt fresh having this enemy control mechanic in the game. We did our best to make it work and we ended up with a very unique system.

‘Monster catching’ naturally brings Pokémon to mind, though the inspirations go deeper than, ‘There are monsters and you catch them.’ Can you talk about Dicefolk's battle system and how it relates to something like the rotating battles in Pokémon Black and White?

Gregory: It's very difficult to ignore Pokémon when designing a game about monster battling and I think that Dicefolk really shows that we are making a game in that family.

Usually in tactic games, you have a grid where you manage your units, but we wanted to have the player ask themselves more simple questions like who should be fighting right now and who should be taking a step back. This is how the rotation battle system from Pokémon became an inspiration. We thought it was a great way to simply and quickly show the state of a battle — who is in the lead and who is not — and it allowed us to diversify the actions the player has at their disposal. So now you can rotate and manage the game space in a new way.

Of course, this was the pitch for the rotation battle system from Pokémon Black and White. It never came back, which is a shame because I really enjoyed that creative spin on Pokémon battles at the time. It felt fitting for Dicefolk because we wanted a playful and snappy system which was easy to understand for both new and experienced players.

But the game is not a straight-up Pokémon clone by any means. What were some of the challenges of creating a new voice in an already popular field?

Gregory: It was a challenge for us! Of course, we didn't want to make Pokémon because only Pokémon can make Pokémon and it's such a well-known and loved formula.

In our game, we don't have some usual Pokémon tropes that we can see outside the battles — there's no quest with Gym Badges, evil teams, or anything like that. So, in that regard, Dicefolk is very different.

But even regarding the battles specifically, there are some systems that we could not adapt, the elemental system which is so iconic in the Pokémon series, for example. At first, we were trying systems like that because it felt natural to have one, but it didn't fit our process. It's like the core strategy in Pokémon, but it just didn't transpose very well in Dicefolk and it started to put a lot of weight on the player's mental load.

It ended up being a good thing because it gave Dicefolk its own identity. We realised that we shouldn't add Pokémon systems just because they are from Pokemon. Building the game like that makes it more unique.

The irony is by trying to be like Pokémon, we ended up being very different to it.

Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

And that carries through into your Chimera design. How did you ensure that these creatures aren't simply reskins of well-known and established characters?

Gregory: Yeah, this was also a challenge. We tried to come up with strict rules and we figured that if we were able to respect them, we would come up with our own cast of monsters.

One of these rules, for example, is trying to tie every monster to a real-world inspiration like mythological culture and folklore. Some of them are very obscure, but some are well-known, like a phoenix. They are called Chimeras because they are inspired by mythological and folkloric figures. We are passionate about monsters in general — not just Pokémon, but also ones from fairy tales and specific legends.

you never know when the Pokémon inspiration will strike!

So this was our first step to differentiate ourselves from Pokémon. Of course, you have some Pokémon that are inspired by the same mythological creatures, but we tried to make it 'our thing' to do that. It almost makes the game feel like a tale. This is why it is hand-drawn as well. We wanted this feeling of opening an adventure book and seeing the drawings come to life, so the Chimera design had to fit that vision.

How many different Chimeras are there in the game?

Gregory: We have over 100 Chimeras but we don't have an evolution system like Pokémon. In Pokémon, you could make a full team of Bidoof, but winning would be very difficult. In Dicefolk, it's 100 Chimeras, but they are all designed to be used for every type of battle you will encounter in the game.

Did you develop a favourite during production?

Paul Gerst: Yeah, it was Baramez for me, which is this goat, cotton thing.

I don't know why this one ended up being my favourite, but it was one of the first Chimeras that we designed once we had the guidelines and the rules to make them, and it felt great.

Luis Wong: I think I like Lunago the most, this small little bunny. It seems really innocent, but it can definitely hurt your runs.

Gregory: I've drawn most of them, so it's difficult to pick, but I like Michikichi, which is this Andean cat with some Peruvian decoration on it. It has a very similar colour scheme to the Pokémon Arceus — you never know when the Pokémon inspiration will strike!

Michikichi Dicefolk
Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

We've spoken about Pokémon quite a lot here, but this is a roguelike and a very different game. What were some other inspirations that you looked at while working on Dicefolk?

Gregory: The roguelike which influenced me the most was Spelunky. It's weird being inspired by a platformer for this game, but the Spelunky philosophy will forever have an impact on me.

But more specifically in that genre, we looked a lot at Slay the Spire and also Into The Breach for the tactical aspect. Even Faster Than Light. These types of roguelikes are a huge reference for every designer out there.

Paul: We used to look at a lot of things. Monster Train was an inspiration and Roguebook, too. We generally like to play those games, so it was difficult not to get inspired by them.

What was the process of building the game's lore?

Gregory: We had some complications. We came up with the world, the creatures and character designs first, and then we realised we needed a story! [Laughs]

we wanted to have a game which could be your first roguelike experience

Théodore Doumic was the main Loremaster for the game and they did a great job picking up visual elements in the universe to create a story. So this is definitely a question for him, but we did our best to provide visual support for him to build a world upon.

I know for a fact that he was inspired by fantasy settings like Elden Ring and even Lord of the Rings, because the lore of Dicefolk is about a family of gods — but I won't say more. I think because we had this blank slate of a story at the beginning, he saw an opportunity to do whatever he wanted. It was a great decision because we ended up loving the story he made. But yes, it was definitely a very rocky process.

Aside from this lore and worldbuilding, are there any other ways that you think Dicefolk manages to stand apart in the crowded roguelike genre?

Luis: Unlike other roguelikes that want to offer players a challenging and difficult experience, we wanted to be more open and approachable. Everyone can have a nice experience, even if they haven't played many roguelikes before.

Is that something you were conscious of when designing the dice system?

Luis: Yeah, definitely. And it's something that we tweaked when we were doing playtests during the beta phase.

It was really nice to finally say that we had a production without crunch

Gregory: Roguelikes are usually seen as this very hardcore and difficult genre, but we wanted to have a game which could be your first roguelike experience. If you came for the Pokémon vibes, we did not want you to feel unwelcome because of how hard the game would be.

However, we did make a hard 'Trial Mode,' which comes later in the game if you are after a challenge. But this was an important aspect of our vision for Dicefolk: everyone is welcome to try, even if you are unfamiliar with the genre.

Is there anything else you've added for more experienced players to ensure the game has strong replay value? I know you have different Talismans to attract different Chimera.

Gregory: So that is one of the ways, indeed. We have also made our characters easily customisable with equipment that stacks effects on top of their stats. The combination of all these effects makes each run unique.

When a player comes back to Dicefolk, they might play with the same Talisman they used before, but they will find new Chimeras and new equipment effects, and they will create these new synergies — some of which even we didn't think of! We hope it's a case of, 'Okay, I've mastered this status mode, I've already played with this creature, but how can I exploit it differently this time?'

Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

What has the Switch port process been like? Has anything been specifically added or removed?

Paul: For Switch specifically, we wanted to have the smoothest experience with a controller. Some roguelikes are very interface-heavy or have a lot of elements to navigate and they can be a bit messy and difficult to play. I've had difficulties playing some games, so it was important for me to put some effort into making sure that playing with a controller was as smooth as possible.

It was an interesting challenge. We had to make sure that it plays just as well with controller support and on a TV as it does on PC.

Is that something you were conscious of when visually designing the game? From what we've seen, the hand-drawn art style looks great in both handheld and docked mode.

Gregory: We wanted as few steps as possible between me making a drawing and the drawing being displayed on the screen. For smaller screens, it was important to keep the details clear and make everything readable, so we prioritised UI, UX, and affordance to make the experience as clear as possible. Once we had that out of the way, we worked on the detailed illustrations and character animations.

I don't know how intentional it was that it ended up looking good on a smaller screen, but we definitely did our best to achieve that result.

Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

A happy accident then, perhaps. You have some experience with bringing games to Switch in the past, how did your work on these projects inform your approach to Dicefolk?

Luis: The last game we did with this scope was Tunche. Here, we tried to have the smoothest production possible. We now know that we need to have time to play the game with beta testers, time for QA, and time for things related to a proper Switch launch like passing certification. So we planned ahead this time.

It was really nice to finally say that we had a production without crunch and that it was a good production schedule for everyone.

Pokémon isn't the only game about catching and collecting monsters

Paul: It was interesting to have this experience in terms of organisation and production. I don't think I gathered that much regarding Dicefolk's specific genre, but it was great to have such smooth organisation so that we could focus on the parts that really mattered — designing a roguelike and designing a monster-collecting game.

Did you look at the likes of Digimon or Palworld in the run-up to this or was Pokemon the main root?

Gregory: Well, Palworld was too late. Personally, I'm passionate about monsters and games, even in RPGs where we took a lot of inspiration from.

Dragon Quest was an influence for me. I absolutely adore the designs of the monsters in that franchise as well as Final Fantasy. Even TCG games like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! influenced the design of some monsters. They reminded us that Pokémon isn't the only game about catching and collecting monsters and having them battle.

But it's true that we have recently seen way more of this type of game, which is nice.

Image: Good Shepherd Entertainment

Finally, are there any plans for the future? Do you hope to revisit Dicefolk?

Luis: We are still working on the game. We haven't announced anything yet, but we're working on some new content that we will announce very soon.

So we can expect to see 'Dicefolk: Emerald' 30 years down the line...

Luis: [Laughs] I don't know! It will depend on the players and the feedback that we receive.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Our thanks to Gregory, Luis, and Paul for taking the time to talk to us, and to Creeson at Tinsley PR for setting up the meeting. Dicefolk rolls onto the Switch eShop on 20th June for £13.49 / $14.99, with a 20% discount available for pre-orders.