I never thought I would happen.
I never thought I would see the day that a small indie game company could make a game that could not only compete with Nintendo & Game Freak’s monster catching RPG, but actually surpass it in many ways!
I never thought that a monster catching/taming RPG would ever be more than just a Pokémon clone.
But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. And yet, I am so glad I am!
Every so often, a game comes that changes what players can think of a video game genre, like what Super Mario Bros. did for the platformer genre, what the GTA series did for open-world video games in general, Baldur’s Gate 3 did for the D&D RPG genre, and several other similar games.
Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green started what many people believe to be the modern “monster catching” RPG game. And whiile the first few generations were wildly influential and spawned many game companies attempting to copy the series, to varying levels of success, Pokémon has somehow endured, despite the past few generations being divisive among fans of the genre for many reasons from “Dexit”, a ridiculous story, and a high 90 USD pricetag for the “Complete” game in Generation 8’s Sword & Shield and its DLC, to backlash from fans over the Diamond and Pearl (Generation 4’s games) remakes’ graphics. Generation 9 games have also been divisive, with the lead games Scarlet and Violet being launched in a buggy state with game slowdowns, crashes, loss of true character customization, and once again fans balking at the 95 USD price tag for the “Complete” game with DLC.
Despite the games (in my opinion) being better than Sword and Shield, they still failed to impress me as being major steps forward for the franchise, and they felt like Game Freak & Nintendo were behind the curve in terms of innovation, which hurt even more because they had published first-party games like Super Mario Oddyssey and the original The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that showed that they could make good and fun games, but for whatever reason, for every one of those games, there was a Paper Mario: The Origami King or another underwhelming Pokémon game which brought them down. This was one of the factors of why I stopped playing my Nintendo Switch in favor of PC games. You can read more about why I left Nintendo behind here.
But in 2022, I read an article on the GamingOnLinux website about a new monster taming RPG called Cassette Beasts. I was skeptically optimistic about this game. I thought “maybe it could be a good game, but I’ll have to wait and see”. I followed the blog, and was pretty interested in the game, but I held my judgement until my Steam pre-order was ready, and downloaded it to my Steam Deck.
I then started playing it, and within 30 minutes of starting to play the game. I was very impressed. So much so, I almost couldn’t put it down, and I really didn’t want to! That has rarely happened to me nowadays with any game. I’d even call Cassette Beasts the next “monster taming RPG breakthrough”, much like the first few generations of Pokémon were.
Why do I say this? Because Cassette Beasts throws away most of what made Pokémon so iconic and the “standard” for the monster taming RPG genre and changes the reaming mechanics for something that truly innovates in a way that Nintendo and Game Freak either have or won’t. Whether of not it’s due to a lack of talent, ego, or the fear of losing a valuable franchise’s fans and players, Pokémon has fallen way down the innovation ladder. And what do I think has replaced it?
Well, the game whose article you’re reading about! 😉
Note: I did not get a review copy for this review. I paid my own money for this game and I was not paid for this review. My thoughts for this review are my own and are from my own experience with this game, playing it through not once, but twice.
What is Cassette Beasts?
Cassette Beasts is an RPG similar to Pokémon but also at the same time very different. It was made by Bytten Studio, an indie game developer studio located in the U.K. and published by Raw Fury. It was released on April 26th, 2023 on Steam, and later on Xbox and the Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately for you Playstation owners, there is no word on or plans on a Playstation 5 port of the game.
I can only share my experiences with the Steam version of the game, which around 99% of the playthroughs (yes, two playthroughs) were done on my Steam Deck. (I’ll get into specifics on the game performance later on.)
The Story – A 180° Flip of Modern Pokémon
The story starts off with you creating and customizing your character. There aren’t too many options as to be overwhelming, but there are sufficient options in terms of character customization. Also, there is a pronoun selection of he/him, she/her, and they/them., as there should be!
After you’re done customizing your character and give yourself a name, you are dropped in the world of New Wirral, which is a world between worlds, and are introduced to a woman named Kayleigh, who gives you a cassette tape with one of two monsters “recorded” on it after being jumped by two monsters at the entrance of Harbortown, the main village of the game.
To defend themselves from the monsters of this world, the denizens of New Wirral figured a way to “capture” monsters on cassette tapes (yes, the ones used for music in our world). Except, they don’t play them back to send out monsters, they play them back to become the monsters. And it’s here that the first differences between Pokémon & Cassette Beasts arises.
But before we get to that, let’s get back to the story. So you meet a young woman named Kayleigh, who gives you your first tape with one of two monsters on it (basically a starter monster), and she fights with you against the two wild monsters that jumped you.
After that, you decide to explore the open world outside of Harbortown a bit and somehow uncover a train station. When you and Kayleigh go inside, you are confronted by something called an Archangel. Despite being pressured by Kayleigh to leave due to the potential dangers of Archangels, your character presses on and you enter your first Archangel battle. These strange and freaky beings are different than normal enemies and are considered extremely dangerous by the inhabitants, but I’ll get to their battling strategies later.
The first one you encounter is Morgante, who is (notably) almost out of HP (and this is later mentioned by Kayleigh). During the battle, in a feat of determination, you and Kayleigh fuse your monster selves into a combined monster to defeat Morgante. (More about fusing later.) After defeating Morgante, she sort of “possesses” your soul as a “vessel” and offers a way off of New Wirral if you can complete and follow her song. Defeating the Archangels is the key to this (but I won’t spoil the details).
Afterwards, back at the Gramaphone Cafe, the meeting place (where you later switch between partners and also rest, change out your tapes, and can buy items), Kayleigh mentions that you and her should find more Archangels to try to get people off of New Wirral and back to their homes.
After that, you are introduced to a second partner who invites you to meet him at a certain location. And it’s that the game really opens up into an open-world masterpiece. But first, let’s talk about the battle system of Cassette Beasts.
The battles in Cassette Beasts are in the format of a (usually) 2v2 turn-based match that you and one of the partners you encounter throughout your explorations of the game (there are six; three women, one of whom is Kayleigh, a guy who we are introduced to at the end of the tutorial and demo, another guy who I didn’t find in the original playthrough by complete accident but I unlocked in my second playthrough, and the last one is literally a dog) become the monsters you use to fight against both wild monsters and also other cassette users (sort of like trainer battles).
However, there are differences. First, the type system in Cassette Beasts way more involved to Pokémon’s. In addition to a super effective move like water on fire dealing more damage, it also either affects them with a negative status condition, like extinguishing them from dealing damage (in the water on fire example), lowering their defense (like with steel on earth), or even transmuting them into a different type (like with fire on plastic, which causes the plastic target to become poison temporarily). In addition, poor type matchups do also cause less damage (like fire on water), but they also lead to positive status conditions, like restoring HP every turn (in the fire on water example), raising enemy evasion (like grass/plant on fire), or causing melee attacks to hurt the attacker (like with poison on steel). This means you can switch monsters in battle to confuse your enemies and hopefully get status benefits in the process.
There are also walls that protect against several attacks that cause damage unless the type of the move hitting the wall would be super effective, in which case it breaks the wall immediately.
Second, the damage system is different. Each person or monster usually gets 2 AP per turn. Each move costs 1 or more AP (although a few basic attacks are free). Better moves often cost more AP. These “moves” are acquired via stickers you can either get by finding them, buying them from shops in Harbortown, or leveling up monsters with fights (stickers can be earned even after monster tapes reach 5 stars as the expereince bar never goes away). Note that you level up, while monsters go from 0 to 5 stars with experience from winning fights. These monsters can then be enhanced (similar to Pokémon evolution) which brings new forms as well as increases their max AP.
When a monster loses all of their HP, they flee (if they are a wild monster), or if they are a player (generally, players are human, although there are a few exceptions, but those are spoilers), the tape breaks and needs to be repaired, either at a camp site (which costs wood), at the Gramaphone Cafe (which is free), or with a Respool item, which acts like a Max Revive in Pokémon. HP can be restored in battle using a Rewind item, but this takes a turn to do, and you are limited in how many of these items you are allowed to carry at the start of the game. Furthermore, any excess damage to a target “runs over” to the human target if applicable, and damage done between that point and the end of the turn when the player selects a new monster also is taken into account. If all of the tapes on a side are destroyed or if all players on a side lose their HP, they are unable to fight and lose. In a player v player fight when you defeat the other users, this means you win and get items. If both members of your party lose all of their HP or all of their tapes break, that is a loss, and you are sent back to Harbourtown (the main settlement of New Wirral) with some material items lost or paid to the winner (not stickers or usable items), but raw materials used to buy or make these items.
Third, there is a fuse mechanic, which can only be used after you gain at least one heart with the partner you are with (by completing their quests, which often happens during a fight with an Archangel) and then filling up your fusion meter. There are several ways to gradually do so, with an additional item that can fully fill it up that can be made from the Café with 1000 wheat. Fusion allows both you and your partner to fuse into a new monster with all of both monsters’ moves and 4 AP generated per turn. It also adds a powerful fusion power move that can be used with the AP gauge is full if the heart with the partner you are with has at least two hearts.
Finally, acquiring new monsters is different. To record new monster, you need cassette tapes. Then once you select the monster to record, that turn, the chosen player records the tape… As their human self. This can be risky, as they can be damaged, not only hurting the chances of the recording (especially if the monster still has a lot of HP), but also risking knocking out the recording player. If the recording was successful, you get a copy of the monster on the tape. Like Pokémon, only 6 tapes can be carried into battle at one time, and can only be changed out at camps or at the Gramaphone Cafe, although each player has one, leaving four spares. If the recording fails or the recording character is knocked out before the recording is finished, the tape is lost.
(Also, each partner has a “signature” monster; using that monster for that player gives a 10% stat boost. For example, Kayleigh’s signature monster is Sirenade and its remasters.)
I’ve got to say, this is quite a risky maneuver with all of these battle changes, but they work. Most Pokémon clones don’t change the formula too much, and neither does Pokémon’s developers. (I also have to mention how cool it is that Bytten made a Pokémon fan idea, the fusion mechanic, into an integral part of their game!)
The (mostly) open world of New Wirral requires the use capturing certain monsters to progress. For example, the first time you record a flying monster, you then become able to glide. Recordings other monsters can occasionally unlock other abilities.
Spoiler Alert for Abilities
- Recording a Boltam (an electric typed monster) allows your character to manipulate magnetism, like attaching to the blue magnetic boxes in the world.
- Recording a Bulletino (a missle-shaped fire typed monster) allows you to dash quicker and break lighter colored breakable rocks.
- Recording a Busheye monster (a bush-like plant typed monster) allows your character to scale walls.
- Recording an Averervoir (an air typed monster that I first quest) allows your character to pick up height during gliding to reach higher ground. I really like this ability, and during said quest will actually roll back the save until I successfully record the Averervoir, as they’re hard to find otherwise.
End of the Spoiler Alert for Abilities
Upon defeating Archangels, your stamina increases a bit, allowing you to explore more part of New Wirral with these abilities for longer. Notably, you can’t use these abilities when your stamina is empty, which can be a bit annoying, especially when trying to outrun enemies when your stamina is depleted, because you can’t dash.
And let’s just say that the puzzles can be a bit tricky, such as to advance or unlock item chests in the field (some are locked until you solve their puzzles), but the important story ones aren’t too bad. They kind of give me a Legend of Zelda vibes.
In the world, there are several stories to complete. There are some side quests, but there are two main quests: The ranger captain quest, and the main story quest.
One of these quest lines you can attempt in any order are ranger captains to beat (sort of like gym leaders in Pokémon). They give special stickers when beaten. One goal of the game is to beat all 12 of them. Each one has a special battle technique, not type (unlike Pokémon) and may be done in any order. I’m not 100% sure if they scale on level though.
As for defeating them, most of them weren’t too tough, but do note they are 2 v 2, with another ranger supporting the captain. During the first round of battles, the supporting ranger has one tape while the captain has two.
SPOILER ALERT FOR Ranger Captains
Some of the ranger captain “gym” battles are also quite unique, like Buffy’s, which use the double battles design with the secondary ranger supporting Buffy to give her their AP, while others feel a bit easier, like another ranger who uses Gambit, which massively increases all stats, but breaks the tape after the third turn after Gambit is used. (Just survive until the Gambit status runs out and you’ll win that one.)
After defeating them, you then fight Ianthe, the head Ranger Captain, and Wilma, Ianthe’s partner (romantically and professionally) and the person who will give you rewards for Fusion Materials dropped by Fusion Monsters and Fusion Swarms in the field. They are very tough, they have four monsters total that are shared between them, and will fuse once they are down to their last monsters (unless you defeat one of them or make one of them unable to transform into a monster because there are no more left) before they do so.
And after you defeat them, you can challenge the other captains to rematches for extra rewards and fusion materials, although they’ll be much stronger and can fuse in the same way as Ianthe and Wilma.
END OF THE SPOILER ALERT FOR Ranger CaptaiNS
Partners & Archangels
I mentioned this during my talk about the story, but each of the partners have a corresponding relationship meter. After you unlock the ability to fuse with them in battle (usually against an story Archangel with the exception of one the partners who fights against an Archangel not required to complete the story and another whose fusion meter doesn’t unlock against an Archangel at all), they sometimes will talk to you during camping and breaks at the Café. These conversations will build your relationship with the characters, making fusions with them stronger and relationship level 2 unlocks fusion power moves, which can be extremely powerful (but generally require full AP meters). You can also romantically pursue all but one character regardless of your pronoun selection (and it’s quite obvious who that character you can’t romance is), although I didn’t on my first playthrough and haven’t done so yet on my second.
SPOILER ALERT FOR Partners
- The character whose Archangel isn’t required to be beaten for the story is Felix.
- The character who doesn’t fight an Archangel when fusing together and the character you can’t romance is Barkley, and given he’s a dog, it should make sense why.
- Additionally, fusion can be done with Kayleigh from Morgante’s fight, however, until you beat the Archangel in Harbourtown, Mourningstar, you cannot get to relationship level 2 or higher with her.
END OF THE SPOILER ALERT FOR Partners
But the story of the game is how to get back home to your world. In order to do so, you need to finish Morgante’s song by defeating all of the 8 Archangels. Notably, Archangels gain AP until they reach 10, their maximum, and then unleash a move that can be devasting unless you create a wall, which will break after being hit by one of these moves.
Every time you beat a story Archangel, your character’s maximum stamina increases and a portion of Morgante’s song is unlocked. There are eight parts needed to get to the end game.
SPOILER ALERTs FOR The Story
Halfway through the story, after defeating four of the mandatory Archangels, you meet with the Archangel Aleph, who is gathering the defeated Archangels, temporarily casts your character out of the world but you return shortly after to continue the story.
Also, there is death (both on and off screen) in this game (such as a side character dying just before Kayleigh’s archangel fight). Deal with it how you wish.
End of the SPOILER ALERTs FOR The Story
There is literally so much I could say about this game, but I’ll try to sum it up:
As mentioned, I like the changes made to a previously stale battle system. The changes made to battling make it feel more dynamic and not just leveling up all of your Pokémon via grinding to win the battles; you need to think carefully about when to use each tape and which one to respool, as those respools are limited.
The monster designs are also really cool. I know some reviewers have had issues with the A.I. generated monsters, however, they need to take into account that Bytten Studio is primary a two person job! That’s right, this entire game was made in Gadot, a FOSS game engine, by almost two people exclusively. Take that Game Freak and Nintendo! (And give Bytten Studio a break!) And of course, I love quite a few of them (like Bansheep, Pombomb, and Puppercut)!
The Archangel battles also deserve praise. Unlike other battles, they have no types, gain 2 AP until they max out at 10, then unleash an ultimate attack, and their designs are (purposely) freaky. I don’t want to spoil the story anymore (as the Archangels often ties into flaws of the characters), but here’s an example of what I mean.
The dialogue is pretty funny too. Here is one of my favorite lines:
The music is awesome. It can get boring at times, like with the Harbortown music, especially with the vocals that come in inside buildings, but the battle music is awesome, especially when the vocals come in when you fuse.
Finally, I do have some criticisms, but they’re relatively minor in the grand scheme of things:
- You move pretty slowly in the world, and dashing takes stamina. Once you run out, you can’t dash until you regain it fully.
- The pixel art overworld designs of the player characters, especially scaled up in battle, may not be to everybody’s tastes (I personally was neutral to them, but your subjective mileage may vary).
- Sometimes figuring out what to do next can be tricky, especially towards the end of the game, like when following Morgante’s song. This is when rumors, the mechanic that is supposed to solve this issues, run out.
- The ending was a bit too short (this was by far my biggest complaint of the game). I liked it, but the story itself can feel short if you rush through it. It’s best to enjoy it and not to rush through it.
In addition, I did have one game hard lock, however, as my Steam Deck ran out of power at that exact moment and since I was unable to reproduce this issue, I think this may have been a Steam Deck issue, but I am mentioning it here just to be safe. (I know some early versions on the Nintendo Switch were buggy for some users, however, given the age of the hardware in that console and the extremely small development team while still running mostly well on the Steam Deck, I feel they deserve a break.)
But overall, I really like this game. I haven’t been this excited over a monster RPG and still loving it to this day since 2010’s Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver! This game reignited my love for the genre in the way no recent Pokémon game has. And given this extremely small development team absolutely made a better game than a big team for a major console exclusive (cough cough, the last two generations of Pokémon games, cough cough), that alone was impressive. But making something that redefines the genre is a rare moment that is almost impossible to do correctly, and yet, Bytten Studio did it, and did it impeccably well.
Cassette Beasts is EXTREMELY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. If you like monster taming RPGs, this game should be on your shortlist. (Well, unless you’re a PS5 exclusive gamer, in which case you’re likely SooL, but you should still play this game.)