As an owner of two cats who regularly bring home all manner of half-eaten wildlife from the neighbouring bins, hedgerows and overgrown student gardens, I often wonder how these adorable murderers are perceived by the local mice and rat population. If it's anything like ginger puss cat Tiger in Jeremy "Aviary Attorney" Noghani's turn-based RPG Small Saga, they're going to be in trouble, as these rodents come bearing switchblades and cigarette lighters to fend off their deadly foes. It's an intriguing take on the classic Final Fantasy-like job types of other RPGs - the switchblade is to protagonist Verm what Cloud's Buster Sword is to a regular human, while Siobhan's lighter allows her to cast fire 'magic' as the party's mage - and based on its hour-long Steam Next Fest demo, it's shaping up to be just as grand a tale as its lauded genre mates.
Or should that be 'tail'? As the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted, our mousy hero Verm is missing his distinctive wiggly appendage, and the thrust of the game will be about him seeking revenge against the 'yellow god' (that is, a rather mysterious human in a hazmat suit) who took it from him. It's a charming mix of medieval fantasy tropes in a modern day setting, and I enjoyed seeing how relatively mundane objects and places like a London supermarket got mythologised as a heavenly buffet for these lowly sewer-dwellers. To get a glimpse of what else Verm and his friends will be getting up to, have a watch of the trailer below.
Indeed, with the opening of the demo taking place in the drains of London's underground, I was immediately cast back to the early moments of Final Fantasy XII - a JRPG that also begins in a similarly dank maze of pipes and rather suspect pools of murky water. Enemies are clearly visible on the isometric map, too, leaving you free to focus on exploring and uncovering out-of-the-way chests without the added pressure of random encounters.
When it is time to fight, Small Saga pulls you into a turn-based battle arena like RPGs of yore, letting you attack, defend or use items that you've got equipped. Each move has its own energy requirements you'll need to be aware of, and there are also elemental and weapon advantages you can suss out to help turn the tide of battle. Some of these are spelled out for you as part of the story - such as Siobhan's handy lighter on old Tiger - but others required a bit more experimentation, and weren't always as obvious as I'd perhaps like.
Still, in the moment at least, Small Saga's combat proved to be highly compelling. I particularly liked how the frequency of its two-part boss moves made you play defensively in between attacks, and the late-demo addition of Bruce the bard squirrel and his buff-filled pencil flute gave us a taste of just how closely all of your party members will need to work together to make the most of their varied movesets.
I'm keen to see more, both of its battle system and its medieval rodent society, and it's certainly one I'll be looking out for later in the year. Small Saga only has a release date of 'Coming Soon' at the moment, but I'd strongly recommend trying out its demo over on Steam or Itch if you can. The Steam version is available as part of the current Steam Next Fest, which is due to end today at 10am PT / 6pm GMT, but if you miss it, then there's always the one on Itch.