Cat Quest Review: A Furry Good Time
RPGs have become progressively more expansive over the years, with bigger maps, intricate subsystems, plots with more loose ends to tie up than a scarf your cat shredded, and enough quests to push the playtime well over 100 hours. That's great, but sometimes, it's a bit overwhelming, to say nothing of the entry barrier for RPG newcomers. That's where Cat Quest comes in. The furry indie brainchild of The Gentlebros is a return to what first drew many of us to RPGs in the first place, but with some modern touches thrown in. It's not purr-fect, but it is a well-crafted and solid adventure worth your time.
What's It All About?
Cat Quest centers around the nameless hero and his spunky spirit guide Spirry on their quest to rescue the hero's catnapped sister from the evil Drakoth, a cat who brings the power of dragons back to the world Felingard. You soon discover you're one of the Dragonblood, a cat with the ability to fight dragons and keep the world safe. The story contains some interesting twists and turns, but it remains a lighthearted tail—er, tale—throughout. It's not afraid to poke fun at genre tropes, either. For example, when Drakoth first reveals his motives for reviving the dragons, Spirry remarks how bland and generic he is for a villain. Along with that come several fourth-wall-breaking moments, including a Star Wars Episode III reference when venturing into one of the game's mini-dungeons. What are you supposed to do with the monsters in there? "Wipe them out…all of them."
If the basic setup sounds a lot like The Elder Scrolls, it's supposed to. The Gentlebros drew inspiration from a variety of open-world RPGs to craft their new outing, combining overworld map exploration with open-world adventuring, with a dose of Zelda-esque combat and, of course, plenty of cat charm. The idea was to create a streamlined RPG that offered the best of the genre without all the extra trappings to bog players down. And it succeeds remarkably well.
After the game's quick opening sequences, you can almost immediately wander the entire world, although it's a good idea to follow Spirry's advice and head to your next objective point. For most quests, an elaborate medieval-style white arrow serves as your map marker, pointing you in the right direction; some tracking-style missions have you following a red dotted line laid out for you thanks to Spirry's advanced sensory capabilities. In keeping with the developers' design philosophy, it doesn't ever take long to travel across large portions of the map either, making it fast and simple to arrive at your next objective.
Side Quests: Front and Center
But there's plenty to distract you from that objective. Like any good, modern RPG, Cat Quest features a bevy of side missions, although they aren't as peripheral as you might first think (more about that later). Most of these are exclusive to a certain village or city as well, which helps provide character to the otherwise very similar village designs, so it's worth a return visit or five to see what else might be available on the message board.
Side quests range from traveling to a certain point to find a lost item or clearing out monsters from a cave, to multiple-part quests covering a specific NPC story, such as one notable, four-part quest early in the game that sees you put the spirit of an ancient cat necromancer to rest. Like main story missions, you get map guidance to point you in the right direction, but it does replace the main story marker until you complete the quest. Completing quests nets you heaps of experience points, gold, or both, along with weapons and gear to help you on your journey.
You'll need all the help you can get, too. Don't be fooled by the game's cutesy look: there's some challenge to be had here. The combat mechanics are fairly simple in and of themselves: one attack button, a roll action to help escape from impending enemy attacks, and then you eventually learn spells that can be assigned to the four shoulder buttons. The magic system is quite good, and it doesn't allow you to simply steamroll foes. Each spell uses mana points, some—like Healpaw—more than others, and you can only recover mana by using physical attacks against your opponents, similar to the TP system in Tales of games.
Each spell has its own unique range of effect, and some spells inflict various status ailments on opponents. For instance, Flamepurr burns enemies and steadily causes damage, while Freezepaw slows enemies down. Of course, your enemies use these attacks too. Fortunately, there are plenty of warnings to indicate what sort of attack they might use and where it will land, giving you time to roll out of harm's way. Every enemy has a different weakness, with some weak against physical attacks, some against lighting, and so on. Determining weaknesses is a case of trial and error, but once you attack with an enemy's weakness, the damage numbers show up in red.
Despite being easy to master, combat never becomes dull, and the main reason for that is the game's difficulty. Don't let the cutesy aesthetic fool you: this game gets pretty challenging not long after it starts. Enemies are always just a bit stronger than you are, and their level scales as you progress further in the story. So even if you encounter an enemy near Lake Felingard that looks the same as one from around, say, East Pawt, chances are, if you aren't leveled enough, it will kill you in one hit. There are also a few areas around the map set off with "do not enter" markers where the enemies are even stronger. This is why Cat Quest's side missions are more integral to completing the game than most side missions.
Not only do you need the experience points so you have half a chance against your opponents, but gold is scarce outside of side missions, and the best equipment from Kit the blacksmith can be pricey (think Dragon Quest). It's never frustrating, though. For example, if you happen to obtain a weapon or piece of armor that you already own, its level and stat bonuses increase; plus, it's just a matter of minutes to complete some side quests and level up where you need to be.
The game's art draws on the classic medieval themes of yesteryear's RPGs (and maps), imbuing them with a soft, cartoon-y charm in the process. It's a pleasant mix of 2D and 3D models, adding to the retro feel without sacrificing the more polished, modern look. Most NPCs have no distinguishing features, but your hero's appearance changes with each piece of equipment chosen, which adds a nice element of customization (and it's just cute).
Many of the environments in the earlier portions of the game look fairly similar to each other, though that soon changes. The sprawling map encompasses frozen wastelands and spooky marshes in addition to various villages, caves, and ruins. So even though the game world is relatively small by some standards, you still get your usual cornucopia of locales to explore.
There are some drawbacks that keep Cat Quest from being all sunshine and catnip, though they aren't too damaging. As delightful as the art style is, the caves and dungeons all look pretty much the same, with very little difference in layout and appearance from the first you crawl through to the level 60 ones encountered later. The music doesn't change too often, either. More tunes, especially during major fights, would have been nice. But, in all fairness, it's difficult to cite this as a problem when it is so similar to the games it draws from, like Zelda, where you get one theme and that's about it.
Then there's the dialogue. For the most part, it's a substantial strength, with clever puns and general wittiness. But there are a couple of nagging issues. Almost every other cat is just "peasant," which seems like a wasted opportunity to carry the cat language further by means of naming. Some of the puns are slightly out of place too. Now, I'm not against a bit of judicious swearing when the situation calls for it, but things like "godcattit" (two guesses what that's supposed to mean) in a game like this just don't fit.
All in all, though, Cat Quest is a loveable romp, engaging—and challenging—enough to overshadow minor complaints. The mechanics make it suitable for both short bursts and long play sessions, which fits the Switch's functionality quite well. If you're looking for a lighthearted RPG you can pick up at any time that's deeper than it looks, look no further than Cat Quest.