At this year’s Gamescom I got down to business with Bytten Studio cassette beasts, an upcoming open-world monster-taming RPG in the vein of Pokémon, which is much more interesting to me than the basic concept of Pokémon. That is because you are able to merge none monsters you ‘catch’, but even more so because it’s a monster collection where you become the monster, essentially merging with bomb dogs and hermit crabs with traffic cones.
I like the way the game removes the overblown Shonen story of wanting to become the best there ever was, and instead puts the focus on its cast of characters and the relationships you form with your friends. It looks very promising.
I played about 25 minutes of an early build of Cassette Beasts, where I was able to briefly explore the opening area of New Wirral, get into a couple of junks, and do some exploring before things ended on a hair-raising cliffhanger. It was a real treat, especially as I was joined by Cassette Beasts artist, writer, and designer Jay Baylis, who not only walked me through many of the game’s sights, but also talked me through everything while I went about my business. .
One of the first things we talked about while exploring the game’s opening area, a charming little seaside town, was its premise. Sure, it’s a monster collecting game, but what makes it so different from your Pokémon and Items? Well, it’s an isekai (Japanese portal fantasy) to begin with, but it’s not just you who’s been thrust into this strange new land; it’s all the people you know, and part of the overall story of the game is figuring out why this happened. This immediately raises intriguing questions and stories, which is a refreshing change from the usual “I want to be the best trainer!” schtick that we are all so used to with this kind of games.
“[The folks of New Wirral are] from real places on Earth, or their version of Earth, at least,” Baylis tells me. “You know, they have their own reasons for wanting to stay and how they feel about everything. You can play with 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 lies not only in the larger story of why you’ve been thrown onto this land, but also in the monsters and AI companions you’ll encounter on your journey. You see, you’re not just catching monsters in a ball, but recording them onto a cassette tape, which then allows you to transform into them in battle. Baylis says it’s less like a “pet simulator” and more like a “Power Rangers thing,” so when you’re transforming into the monsters you’ve recorded, you’re “elevating yourself, which means the focus It’s in the people.”
As for your AI companions, you will meet a lot of people on your adventures and form better bonds with them by helping them complete their personal goals. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on the Nintendo Switch, it’s a similar thing where strong interpersonal relationships can grant special buffs in battle.
For all the game’s focus on people, you might think it’s making up for clunky combat or poor exploration. Bad and bad. The fights I took part in were polished, with vibrant animations and an introduction to what will inevitably turn out to be quite a complex beast. Instead of beating a monster to death with the same spell over and over again, Cassette Beast’s weaker spells cost nothing. Instead, they build a meter, also known as a boost, that charges up your strongest spells so you can unleash them in a fiery burst of glory; or Bomb Bomb Blast in my case.
Baylis says the game’s combat is inspired by Final Fantasy Y dragon quest, where subsequent battles will feature status effects that alter your rate of gaining momentum, or even moves that will “debug” your enemies and prevent them from gaining momentum faster. “We actually have an elementary system, you know,” she tells me. “Instead of saying ‘water does double damage to a fire monster,’ it’s like water weakens fire by extinguishing its ability to deal extra damage, right?” And it goes even further, as if fire hit water, it will create a “healing steam” that provides “passive health regeneration”.
I couldn’t test this elementary system, but I was able to get away from the starting town and ran into some obstacles. Namely, an elevator that I activated by dropping onto a pressure plate and a gap that I would use a glider to jump through. This may sound like small stuff, but it was nice to see some physics implemented in the top-down scan to give it more depth. Baylis mentioned that the game is being made on the Godot Engine, a promising open source engine that has allowed them to make a game that feels bigger than a two-man team. More than that though, it has allowed them to shed the nostalgia and tap into how they remember these types of games when they were young.
But the playful demeanor of the game hides a dark secret. Right at the end of the demo, I led my character into an underground tunnel that soon opened up to an abandoned subway station. Then reality failed and ripped and blam! A menacing Archangel came into existence and with it, a sudden drop in atmosphere from “Ah, this is great!”, to “Oh god, oh god.” The whole encounter reminded me a bit of Undertale and how his happy appearance hid a darker undertone. And it brought me even more on board with the story of the game and why everyone had been trapped in New Wirral. Clearly, there is much more at stake than recording monsters and I want to know more.
A battle ensued between me, my AI friend Kayleigh, and the Archangel. At first it seemed useless, with all my attacks barely scratching the Archangel. Until Kayleigh and I merged into a mega-powerful monster and wiped them out of existence. Once again, it was all about the game’s focus on people, as Baylis explained that they wanted to explore what it meant to merge with a person. The good thing is that building relationships with your party members will mean that super fusions will get stronger.
The battle with the Archangel marked the end of my time with Cassette Beasts, a wonderful monster-collecting RPG with a character-based twist. It remains one of my Gamescom highlights, not only because it was absolutely delightful and so much fun, but because Baylis’s passion shone through as I played the demo alongside him. Keep an eye out for this one.