At this year’s Gamescom, I came across Cassette Beasts from Bytten Studio, an upcoming monster-taming open-world RPG along the lines of Pokémon, which to me is far more interesting than the basic concept of Pokémon. That’s because you are able to merge each monsters you ‘catch’, but mainly because it’s a monster collectathon where you become the monster, essentially merging yourself with bomb dogs and hermit crabs with traffic cone houses.
I like the way the game puts an end to the overly violated story of wanting to become the very best there ever was, and instead puts the spotlight on the cast of characters and the relationships you form with your friends. It looks promising.
I played about 25 minutes of an early build of Cassette Beasts, where I got to briefly explore New Wirral’s opening area, do some leftovers, and do some exploring before things ended on a ghostly cliffhanger. It was a real pleasure, especially as I was joined by Cassette Beasts artist, writer and designer, Jay Baylis, who not only guided me through many of the game’s landmarks but also told me through everything while I was working on my company.
One of the first things we talked about when I explored the game’s opening area – a delightful little coastal town – was the premise. Sure, it’s a monster collecting game, but what makes it so different from your Pokémons and Temtems? Well, it’s an isekai (Japanese portal fantasy) to begin with, but you weren’t just pushed into this strange new land; it’s everyone you meet, and part of the game’s overarching story is discovering why this happened. This immediately raises intriguing questions and storylines, making a refreshing change from the usual “I want to be the best trainer!” schtick we are all so used to this kind of game.
“[The folks of New Wirral are] from real places on Earth, or at least their version of the Earth,” Baylis tells me. “You know, they have their own reasons for wanting to stay and how they feel about everything. You can play out the emotions of likes, how they interpret the events of being stuck here and what that means to them, and what they can get out of it.”
And the game’s focus on people is not only in the broader story of why you were dumped in this country, but also in the monsters and AI companions you encounter during your journey. You see, not only do you catch monsters in a ball, but you also record them on a cassette tape so you can turn them into battle. Baylis says it’s less like a “pet simulator” and more like a “Power Rangers thing,” so when you transform into the monsters you’ve included, you elevate yourself, meaning the focus is on people.
As for your AI companions, you will meet a lot of people during your adventures and build a better bond with them by helping them achieve their personal goals. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on Nintendo Switch, it’s something similar where strong interpersonal relationships can bring special benefits in battle.
Despite all of the game’s focus on people, you might think it compensates for janky combat or poor exploration. Wrong and wrong. The battles I took part in were polished, with lively animations and an introduction to what is inevitably going to be quite a complex, ahem, beast. Instead of killing a monster with the same spell over and over, Cassette Beast’s weakest spells cost nothing to use. Instead, they build a meter – also called momentum – that charges your strongest spells so you can unleash them in a fiery blaze of glory; or Bomb Bomb Blast in my case.
Baylis says the game’s battles are inspired by Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, where later battles will feature status effects that alter your speed, or even moves that “debug” your enemies and prevent them from gaining momentum faster. “We actually have an elementary system, you know,” he tells me. “Rather than it’s ‘water does twice as much damage to a fire monster’, it’s like water extinguishes fire by extinguishing its ability to deal extra damage, right.” And it goes even further, as if fire hits water, it will create a “healing steam” that delivers “passive health regeneration”.
I haven’t been able to test this elemental system, but I was able to walk away from the opening city and run into a few obstacles. Namely an elevator that I activated by popping on a pressure plate and an opening that I would dive over with a glider. This may sound like minor things, but it was nice to see some physics being implemented in the overhead exploration to give it a little more depth. Baylis said the game will be built on the Godot Engine, an emerging open source engine that allows them to create a game that feels bigger than a two-man team. But more than that, it has allowed them to renounce nostalgia and discover how they remember these kinds of games when they were young.
But the game’s sunny attitude hides a dark secret. At the end of the demo, I sent my character into an underground tunnel that soon ended in an abandoned subway station. Then reality faltered and tore and blame! A menacing Archangel came to life and with it a sudden drop in the atmosphere from “Ah, this is fun!”, to “Oh god, oh god”. The whole encounter reminded me a bit of Undertale and how the cheerful veneer hid a darker undercurrent. And it got me even more on board with the story of the game and why everyone was stuck in New Wirral. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than taking samples and me want to know more.
A fight ensued between me, my AI-bud Kayleigh, and the Archangel. At first it seemed hopeless, with all my attacks barely scratching the Archangel. Until Kayleigh and I merged into a mega mighty monster and wiped them out. Again, it all factored into the game’s focus on people, as Baylis explained that they wanted to explore what it meant to merge with a person. What’s nice is that building relationships with your party members means super fusions get stronger.
The battle with the Archangel marked the end of my time with Cassette Beasts, a beautiful monster-collecting RPG with a character-driven twist. It remains one of my highlights of Gamescom, not only because it was extremely charming and a lot of fun, but also because Baylis’ passion shone through as I played the demo alongside him. Keep an eye on these.