Reviewed: January 9, 2005
Reviewed by: Roger Cox
Released: November 16, 2004
Ever since GameCube owners experienced Namcoís Tales of Symphonia last July, they have been desperately craving another great RPG. That great RPG has arrived in style and itís called Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean.
The Story: ďItís a time when the existence of Ocean and Earth has been regarded as a mere fairytale Ė past down for generations. Kalas is a rebellious youth seeking revenge for the murder of his grandfather and brother. Xelha is a young woman out to save the world from a brewing crisis. The two main characters cross paths and the story unfolds in a world of massive islands, floating high up in the sky. Rife with emotion, deceit, and faith, a tale of the worldís destruction and rebirth begins.Ē
The story is one of the best parts of the game. There are a lot of unexpected turns in the story that will throw you for a loop. Unfortunately, that is all I will say because I donít want to give anything away to future players of this game.
As the player, you assume the role of the main characterís (Kalas) guardian spirit. You must provide guidance and moral support to the characters on their journey. The bond of trust you have with the characters will greatly affect the frequency of Spiritual Attacks during battle as well as the ending of the game.
First things first, Baten Kaitos is a card based RPG. You go around obtaining cards in battle, by finding them, receiving them, or creating them. I know that for a lot of people, the simple fact you use cards is enough to turn them off. I would like to inform everyone that the use of cards in this game is done effectively, in a way that never detracts from the feel of a standard, turn based RPG.
The cards in Baten Kaitos are called Magnus. Itís essential that you know what Magnus are and learn about the various types. There are four main categories of Magnus: Battle, Camp, Equipment, and Quest Magnus. Your party carries all Magnus they obtain as a stock of cards.
For example: Battle Magnus can only be used in battle once they have been equipped into your characterís deck (you start out with a deck of 20 cards). Since each character can only equip a certain amount of Battle Magnus, itís important to make sure you have the right ones in place. It proves to be crucial in battles as they increase in difficulty.
When a battle starts, the Battle Magnus in your deck are shuffled and dealt into your hand. You then select and play from the ones displayed on the screen. A lot of the time you will tie together a string of attacks, thus performing a combo move on your opponent. You have to be quick because there is a time limit and you donít want to miss your opportunity to attack or defend.
I found the battle system to be confusing at first, but after playing for two hours I really got into it. Battles turn out to be a lot of fun once you understand how everything works and remember not to heal your enemies. What will really draw you into the battles are the time limits given to select your cards. The enemy is attacking and you have to make a quick defensive card selection. Itís a great feature that makes this card based RPG a lot of fun.
The one major flaw this game has is that it is extremely easy to heal the enemy that you are fighting. The reason this happens is because the default cursor location is on the enemy, so if you want to use a healing card, you must first target yourself. It sounds easy enough, but many times you will have a very short time to select your cards. This proves to be the most frustrating part of this overall, solid game. Slashing an enemy and healing them right after is not what I would call, a preferred combo move.
One other downside is that your characterís health bar isnít displayed at all times. You can only view it when you are on offense. I canít figure out why Namco decided to go about it this way, but it will cause you problems while you wait to attack. Magnus cards arenít simply found, purchased, or won. You can actually capture the essence of items, weapons, and spells within blank Magnus cards. They can then be used for exploration and combat. For example, if you have a blank Magnus card and you come across a fire, you can choose to capture the essence of fire, thus creating a fire Magnus card. If you ever find a better essence to capture, you can choose to delete the essence on the card. Itís a feature that feels like busy work to me.
Cards in your inventory change with the passage of time. For example, food ripens or rots, blades rust, and rare items will increase in value. This has been done before and is another aspect of the game that will keep you constantly checking your inventory of cards.
I canít go without mentioning that Baten has one of, if not the best and most user-friendly menus I have ever used. Itís a simple drop down menu, very similar to the one Windowís Explorer uses. Iím surprised that I havenít seen this type of menu used in more games.
As far as load times are concerned, they are basically none existent. When you approach an enemy, there is a simple 2-second, blurred transition into battle. The load times when entering a town or environment takes the same amount of time, without the fancy transition.
Like nearly all RPGís, saving the game often is vitally important in Baten. The save points are spread out and you will mainly find them in towns. You can also save while you are in the world map. If you die while facing a boss, the game doesnít end, you get the option to retry or quit. I was thrilled the first time this happened to me. In a way it makes up for the lack of the ďsave anywhereĒ feature, but I donít think anything can.
This is the prettiest game Iíve ever seen. Renowned artist Nakaba Higurashi has created some gorgeous character designs in his first video game venture. The towns and environments are pre-rendered and appear to be hand drawn pieces of artwork. On the other hand, the battle sequences are in full 3D with real time shadowing. Most likely youíve seen this style of RPG before, but I doubt youíve seen it look this good.
In the battle sequences, the characters and animation look extremely polished. The spell effects are creative, colorful, and spectacular to watch. Itís fortunate that the spell animations are generally short because there is no manual override.
Baten Kaitos has subtle exploration music, fast paced battle music, and great town background music. The overall musical score is excellent and I like that each town has its own unique theme music. I only wish there was a soundtrack I could buy.
When it comes to voice acting, the quality is inconsistent. The main character has ďAĒ quality voice acting, while the majority of the secondary characters give ďBĒ or ďCĒ level performances. To be more specific, a lot of times it sounds like the characters are reading their lines word for word. Fortunately, the voice acting is marginal enough not to detract from Batenís excellent story.
Although it supports in game Dolby Pro Logic II it doesnít sound much better than the default Stereo setting. The only time you can really hear a difference is during the cutscenes. Other than that, it only proves to make everything louder and more pronounced.
I got tired of the standard celebration commentary the characters make at the end of each battle, but thatís not unusual. The only other thing that got old was the battle music, but luckily itís not at all obnoxious.
Baten Kaitos has become one of my all time favorite RPGís. The graphics are gorgeous, the musical score is stirring, and the story is one of the most enjoyable in recent memory.
I think you will really like playing from the perspective of the characterís guardian spirit. In doing so, you get the opportunity to make crucial decisions throughout the game that affect the ending. Multiple endings always give gamers a reason to play again and thatís another reason why Baten is worth what you pay.
On the outside this is your everyday RPG, full of towns and forests complete with a world map to travel in. What makes it special are the breathtaking graphics, flawless character animation, great musical score, cool cut scenes, great story full of startling twists, and a unique card battle system thatís surprisingly fun. If you own a Gamecube and like RPGís, there is no reason not to own this game.