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Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GameCube) artwork

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GameCube) review

"Let's say that one day you and your company of gamers make a hit title, but feel that you're shafted out of making this title everything that it could be. You then split off from your parent company to set things right, but somewhere along the way you realize that you can't just ride the coattails of your parent game, and need to branch out. What is such a fledgling company as Monolith Soft to do? None other than make a game so different as to reqire a name I still haven't found a satisfactory p..."

Let's say that one day you and your company of gamers make a hit title, but feel that you're shafted out of making this title everything that it could be. You then split off from your parent company to set things right, but somewhere along the way you realize that you can't just ride the coattails of your parent game, and need to branch out. What is such a fledgling company as Monolith Soft to do? None other than make a game so different as to reqire a name I still haven't found a satisfactory pronunciation for.

Baten Kaitos

If you have ever wondered, even briefly, what would happen if the people at Monolith decided to focus some of their attention onto something that wasn't plot, this game will help you with that. The game's greatest strength is that it isn't a game you've played before, nor is it similar to any game you've played before.

Popping in the game you are immediately assaulted with an extremely vibrant world. The art style is old school prerendered backdrops, but they look amazing this time around. If you are used to the sort of flat metallic world of a Xenosaga, or even the semi-realism of a Final Fantasy X, BK will blow you away with an almost vomitious array of bright colors and happy scenery. Imagine those crayon drawings you did when you were a kid. You know the ones I mean. The ones where you attacked the canvas with all the fervor of a Leonardo DaVinci, and all the skill of a William Hung. Baten Kaitos manages to take this ideaology and runs with it, turning what is only a very fine line away from an awful swirl of colors into a series of very beautiful environments. There's even one town that's made up almost exclusively of pink candy.

None of the areas feel alike or rehashed and even the dungeons have their own unique feel to them. The characters themselves reflect the same artistic philosophy. The costume design in BK is unorthodox and very colorful, and each character seems to come from a completely different planet than any of the others. Animations both in and out of battle reflect a sort of smoothly flowing grace, very different from the often used displays of sheer overpowering force used in a lot of today's RPGs. Basically, the entire game has a style very reminiscent of an evolved Chrono Cross, and is utterly beautiful to behold, if maybe a little overwhelming at times.

So, you now have a game that is set apart from all other RPGs on the merit of visual appeal alone, what comes next? That's right, card battle system! But not really. It's only a card battle system in that you use cards to attack and defend. Granted, that sounds like every other card battle game, but it's not. Because it's different.

Every battle starts out with each character being dealt a number of cards from their deck. During your party's attack phase, you can select a number of weapon cards to perform a combo on the enemy. During the defense phase, you can select a number of shield or armor cards to absorb a portion of the damage that would be dealt. Each subsequent round, you're randomly dealt the same number of cards from the deck as were previously used. But it's so much more than that. You can also use food or potion cards to heal.

If your combo is sufficiently large, you can finish it up with a special attack card. There's also elemental effects. By using a number of weapon cards of the same element, you can add an elemental damage bonus to your attacks. And by using armor cards of the opposing element, you can knock damage done by enemies to an all time low. For the most part, the battle system uses cards, but doesn't really feel like a Yu-Gi-Oh kind of game. As with anything, however, there is an upside and a downside to this.

On the upside, the use of the deck allows for an almost obscene level of customization. You can control virtually every facet of your character's battle abilities. Want a character to be immune to fire damage? Fill his deck with water armor. Want lots of shadow attacks for an upcoming boss? Got it. With proper planning, you're really never in a disadvantageous situation when it comes to your equipment.

As for the downsides, the random dealing adds both an interesting sense of franticness to the battles, but at the same time also causes you to lose some battles that you should win. When you enter a boss fight to find you've been dealt nothing but armor for all of your chars, and you have to eat them to get through your initial attack phase, subsequently using some of your best armor AND doing no damage for the first turn, you're likely to be angry when you lose the fight.

Also, the complexity of the battle system leads to some of the most excruciatingly long battles in RPG history. It's not uncommon for one random encounter to take several minutes. Mercifully, however, enemies appear on the map, and you can avoid most of them with relative ease. There's a certain satisfaction to be taken in maneuvering your way through foes without getting caught. On top of that, the random dealing is usually pretty fair, and for the most part, you're never out and out screwed in fights. And for every time that you are you will generally get a fight full of very good draws that always pop up right when you need them.

This brings us to one of the most interesting facets of gameplay to date. Aging cards. You see, everything in the Baten Kaitos world is represented in cards. Everything. Food, drink, weapons, supplies, monsters, pictures, everything. Much like what Hallmark would do to our world given half a chance. The interesting thing about this is that cards can change the longer they are in your posession. Bananas that once healed you in your time of need will rot into something that will poison your enemies. Wine will become more potent as it ages, healing more damage. A small flame will turn into a large blaze, granting more power. Pictures develop and pocket change turns into quite a sum later on, I exaggerate not when I say that you refuse to sell cards just to see what they turn into later on.

We've seen the potatoes and the dressing, now what about the meat of any RPG? The story. Does Baten Kaitos deliver where it counts? Of course it does. It is, after all, written by the same people who wrote Xenogears and Xenosaga, though with considerably toned down cutscenes. The world itself is much like that of Skies of Arcadia, a series of floating continents that can be traversed with large ships. All the inhabitants have wings, and the days where people walked on the ground and saw the ocean below have become the stuff of legend.

Kalas is the requisite oddball with only one wing, and also a special Winglet given to him by his dead grandfather to replace his missing wing, so he suffers very little. He also has the requisite vandetta against the people who killed his family. Mission of revenge. Etc. The game follows his meeting with Xelha, a strange girl on some kind of quest to prevent the resurrection of some ancient god, and their escapades in thwarting the evil empire who seeks to raise said god. Without giving too much away, the game is nowhere near as cliche as it sounds, and has every bit the masterful penmanship you can expect from the writers of XS. I've played more than my share of RPGs, but Baten Kaitos has what is easily one of the most shocking plot twists I've ever seen. I would likely recommend it on that alone.

Baten Kaitos seems to be an exercise in pushing the envelope of what makes an RPG. Its battle system is unconventional, its story is extreme, its artistic style is unique, and it has little that could really be used to liken it to other games. If what you hunger for is something that you haven't seen before, or you simply want a great RPG that isn't Tales of Symphonia for your Gamecube collection, then by all means pick up Baten Kaitos. But do so quickly, this game is of the experimental underground breed, and therefore likely to simply vanish before it gets the attention it deserves.

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Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (June 08, 2005)

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