There is no doubt in the mind of any Nintendo fan that there has been a solid lack of RPGs for the GameCube. The PS2 has been the absolute dominant platform for the genre this generation. But even so, that doesn’t mean the GameCube hasn’t had its share of quality. Whether it be Fire Emblem: PoR, Paper Mario: TTYD, the X-Men Legends games, Tales of Symphonia and a good number of others, the GameCube has quality RPG titles. Final Fantasy is without a doubt one of the most if not the most well-known RPG franchise in existence. It started off with Nintendo and jumped ship to Sony, but is slowly returning to us again. However, Crystal Chronicles hardly did well in sales, which begs some of us to believe that Nintendo is searching for something else to call their own ‘Final Fantasy’. With the makers of the Xenosaga franchise behind Nintendo, did we get something that truly rivals other big RPG franchises?
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a RPG filled with truly bizarre characters and atmosphere along with a rather cheap plot. The bad part about the plot is it can take up to 20 hours just for it to finally become interesting. It is so slow at the beginning you may find yourself falling asleep at times. Nevertheless, the game as a whole is actually great, and something Nintendo RPG fanatics have to delve themselves into. One unique thing Baten Kaitos does is not actually have you take on the role of a particular character. The main character happens to be a young 19 year old man named Kalas. But instead of actually ‘being him’, you guide him as a Guardian Spirit. You do actually control Kalas yourself in the game, but when it comes to making decisions and doing battle, you are simply there to ‘guide’ him. It might seem cheesy, but it adds some nice depth to the plot.
The main story seems to surround Kalas and a girl by the name of Xelha. Sadly, mystery takes a hold of the history and intent of both characters until the very ending of the game. But their mission is rather simple. The world of Baten Kaitos is terrorized by the Alfard Empire. It is led by Emperor Geldoblame and his deadly cohorts Ayme, Giacomo and Folon. Without knowing how at first, you find out that Xelha uncovered a sinister plot courtesy of Geldoblame to uncover a truly evil power that can allow him control of the world. Apparently there is a force known as the End Magnus which holds the power of a once corrupt and evil god by the name Malpercio, who is currently in slumber. The worlds in Baten Kaitos actually happen to be islands floating in the sky, as it is said that Malpercio was responsible for sucking up the entire Ocean. This was during a war between a number of gods and ancient magicians, and in the end, the magicians ended up floating the five worlds you have original access to.
Speaking of Magnus, that is actually what the entire gameplay engine is encompassed by. Magnus are cards that can contain virtually anything to be frank. They can be weapons, armor, healing items, voice clips, spells and even food. Everything in the world of Baten Kaitos has a ‘Magnus essence’. If you happen to have any blank ones handy while examining something that can be extracted, you capture the Magnus essence of that particular item. Not all Magnus has to be gained this way though, as most of it will actually either be won, found or bought. This is what makes the battle engine in Baten Kaitos so unique. It has its pros and cons, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
Depending on what number class a character is (up to six), they can use anywhere from two to nine Magnus at once in battle. You actually customize a character’s deck completely to your liking, with taking into account what will suit what battles the best. There are six different elements in this system. They are fire, aqua, wind, light, dark and chronos. With the numerous different cards also come the numbers etched on them. On the actual face of the card, it is possible for it to have a number in each of its corners. Most don’t have four numbers until the end of the game, as the main stash you have will contain two or three. These numbers are what actually allow you to achieve combos in battle. You can actually select these Magnus with both the A button and the C Stick. However, the numbers etched on the cards won’t be taken into account if you use the A button, so getting used to using the C Stick is wise.
Depending on the position of the particular number, that’s actually the direction of the C Stick you tilt. So if you want to use a number in the upper left, you tilt the stick in that direction, simple enough. These numbers range from one to nine, and you can create a combo of two or more Magnus. These can range from pairs, sets of three or four, as well as straights of numbers. Utilizing these number combos will actually net you nice bonuses upon offense and defense, since you have to use Magnus dedicated to both. This can either boost the ending attack damage by a certain percentage, or reduce the same done to you. The better the combos you get, the more bonus percentage you get. It’s very nice when you can string a combo with only originally 200 damage, and get 400 at the end upon doubling it. It gets even better when you end the combo with a powerful ending attack by a character. Each have around eight powerful Finisher Magnus, and they are neat to see as well. The weaknesses and strengths of enemies also come into account here. If you use an element that an enemy is weak to, it will add additional bonuses. However, if they are stronger against your element, your damage will be reduced a certain amount, even if you manage to string a combo together. This system is very intuitive, and definitely appeals to the active battle style fan.
Of course no battle engine is perfect, so there are obvious shortcomings. One happens to be the randomness of your card hand at the start of battle. The game automatically shuffles the cards for you, so you never end up with the same starting Magnus at the beginning of battle. This can prove frustrating sometimes, for a couple reasons. Sometimes the majority of your first hand contains all defense and healing Magnus. Well you can’t use a defensive Magnus to attack, so that pretty much leaves that character useless until you take one out to make room for offensive cards, or wait to get attacked. This can prove annoying when you face the harder battles of the game, as the randomness of your hands can ultimately decide whether you win or lose. Another nagging feature is after a certain point in the game, you are timed to choose your string of cards. This basically means that if you aren’t quick enough to read your hand and the numbers on your Magnus, you may end up ending your turn unintentionally or miss a combo you may have been trying for because you couldn’t be quick enough. After a while you do become used to how the system works and how quick you have to be at certain times, but it wasn’t necessary to be forced into a situation like that. Nevertheless, the card system is actually quite fun to use, as it makes every battle different, and those that believe this game is ‘card-based’ are truly mistaken.
Definitely the best aspect of Baten Kaitos is the graphical appeal. The game is without a doubt one of the most breathtakingly beautiful games we have available. It joins the ranks of the Resident Evil games, the Metroid Primes and all the other great looking titles. Baten Kaitos is presented in both a 3D and 2D isometric fashion. Monolith Software utilized prerendered backgrounds a la Resident Evil to show off just how awesome the worlds in the game can really look. The lighting and special effects are beautiful, the characters models are incredible if not a little bizarre and the way everything is lively and animated will put a smile on your face every time. The only major disappointment here is the inclusion of only one FMV. Sadly this isn’t even in the game, so while it looks awesome, it serves really no other purpose than to look pretty. There’s really no other way the game’s looks can be described. The character costumes may be downright strange, but it still doesn’t take away how great everything looks. Simply put, if you’re wanting a game that has incredible graphics, here is one for you.
The audio presentation is fairly impressive in its own right. The music is mostly composed, and composed quite well for the most part. Some of the songs just like the character costumes are just plain weird, but they all have their purpose and sound great. There are a number of pre-determined themes that are spread throughout the entire game. Regular battles, boss battles and the final battle have their own music, and its very catchy as well. RPGs usually pride themselves on having excellent music to go along with the story, and while this story isn’t stellar, the music helps it out a lot. The sound effects serve their purpose too, as all the sounds of weapons and spells in battle really make them lively and exciting. However, the biggest drawback and by far the biggest complaint is the voice work. Some will hate it, some will like it and some may even love it. But most seem to not care for it and end up turning it off in the main menu. The main reason it can be annoying is how long it takes a character to say something. This is mainly evident with Xelha, as the rest of the characters talk more like actual human beings. But for some reason, the person who voiced Xelha couldn’t have possibly had experience doing this before, as the pauses inbetween punctuation in the subtitled text is just ridiculous. Each character most definitely has their own personality that shows through their voice, but it could’ve definitely been done better.
In terms of coming back to the game, it really varies according to your liking of it. The back of the box claims the quest takes around 60 hours to complete for the first time, and that’s pretty accurate. There are around ten sidequests to partake in, but unfortunately more than half of them are required so you don’t end up getting destroyed in the final area of the game. The story in of itself probably won’t be what warrants another playthrough with it taking so long to just become interesting. However, there are a few side things other than what are virtually required that can be fun to do. One of them involves finding pieces of a broken star map that is located in the church. The church is where you actually level up and class up your characters, along with helping to repair the star map. In the star map, there are 50 constellations missing, which actually directly coincide with our star map, so that’s a neat thing to get involved with. Each time you find one, the priest who overlooks the restoration provides you with Magnus gifts. Unfortunately, other than the few lengthy sidequests that you can take yourself through, there isn’t much to be excited for after the first 60 hours. But if you do wish to complete all the other side jobs, you will more or less be forced to go through the story again.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a great way to revive the RPG genre on the GameCube. Later this year we’ll be receiving the ‘sequel prequel’ of the game, tentatively named Baten Kaitos II, which is set to take place 20 years prior to the events of BK. It’s rather easy to define how quality of a title BK really is. The story and replay value aren’t great, but everything else pretty much is, save the somewhat shoddy voice acting. If you have the hunger for a great RPG right now and have no others to play, do yourself a favor and pick this up. It may take a while for you to really get into it, but once you finally get to that point, it’s hard to not want to keep playing just to see the neat plot twists and turns. The game may be bizarre a la Killer 7, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play.