The Nintendo GameCube isn’t the ideal choice for purchasing Role-Playing Games, but many developers manage to create something for the RPG, GCN–only starved audience. Lost Kingdoms was one the few RPGs that a few quite enjoyed, but in the process, it wasn’t stellar. However, the first “true” RPG that hit GameCube was Skies of Arcadia Legends, an updated port of the popular Dreamcast title. But in 2004, there were three excellent RPGs to satisfy the GCN audience. For instance, Tales of Symphonia’s debut pleased many GameCube owners and the highly anticipated Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door received praise among websites. With two RPGs that have come and gone, Namco and Monolith went beyond the boundaries and delivered an RPG of surprising proportions. Baten Kaitos not only is one of the most beautiful games to grace the GameCube, but it’s battle system, excellent soundtrack, and powerful storyline will grab gamers and find them a place in the skies.
The main character is Kalas, a young man with one wing, while the other is an artificially made wing crafted by his late grandfather. At the start of the game, Kalas meets you, the Guardian Spirit, in which you get to select the gender and name for and from here on end, you and he becomes one and the same. The story itself starts off rather slow, but the FMV introduction clearly gives you the basic details of the storyline. A powerful Empire is trying to resurrect a powerful god named Malpercio by gathering the five End Magnus, which are sealed within the floating continents. As the story slowly progresses, you will get a chance to delve deep into the roots of each character. Many gamers may play an hour of the game and think that it’s going to be nothing but cliches and a straightforward story, but the game’s linearity will suddenly ravel into a web of complexity, intrigue, betrayal, and various plot twists that will keep you guessing until the end. Kalas isn’t your typical gung-ho, let’s save the world type person, his journey actually was about avenging the death of his grandfather and his brother Fee by the hands of the Empire. Xelha’s path is collecting the End Magnus and preventing the Empire from obtaining all five. This resulted in Kalas’ interest to help in order to get closer to the Empire. Gibari is a fisherman that boasts he’s the best. Lyude is a representative of the Empire but does not possess the cruel behaviour as its denizens. Savyna is an enigmatic hunter that resides in Anuenue and Mizuti is a mysterious wizard from another world. These colourful characters express the diversity in real life as well as their environments.
The gameplay’s high point is the battle system. Many people will get turned off with the idea of using cards, but in reality, it’s an RPG through and through with a simple battle system. Don’t expect the card playing aspect a Yu-Gi-Oh! copy. If you want to compare Baten Kaitos’ battle system with any card game, it’s poker, in the sense that it is both strategic and somewhat dependant on luck of the draw.
In battle, you select cards from your deck and they will be executed in battle. In the beginning of the game, the battle system serves more of a warm-up for first time gamers, since you are given infinite time to execute an attack. But in the later parts of the game, you must think fast on what cards you must choose on your deck because you are timed. The battle system is very fun and downright exhilarating and causes you to think and act as you progress. You can execute combos and gain bonus damage depending on you performing straights (5,4,3,2,1) or pairs (2,2,1,1,2). The numbers on the corners of the cards do not determine its strength, just for reiteration everyone.
While your characters are on the defensive, defensive cards will be used in battle and you must time them carefully in order for them to work. When you run out of cards, you shuffle your deck, but at the cost of losing a turn. Certain Magnus have attributes that are colour-coded respectively based on their elemental properties (Red is to fire, white is to Light, purple is to Dark, green is to Chronos, etc…). Perhaps one of the few flaws found within the battle system would be the obvious long battles. Many battles are usually your group against two or three monsters at a time and they take around three to six minutes to finish completely. Another flaw would be the idea of randomizing. It’s definitely not a cumbersome flaw because normally it’s the player’s fault for not having a proper deck set up. You may have more defensive cards than you need or rather you have more healing items. Another gripe would be the idea of “no sharing”. In most RPGs whenever there’s a need to heal your whole party, you can do that, but in Baten Kaitos, you’re only able to heal one person at a time, plus have to sacrifice your offensive turn, which may or may not be much of problem.
Outside the battle system is a world to explore. You travel from town to town through an overworld which is surprisingly reminiscent of Chrono Cross’s picturesque visuals. In typical RPG format, you’ll explore various towns, talk to people, go shopping at a store, save, rest, and perform sidequests.
On the subject of save points, they are huge flower buds that come in red and blue. Red flowers only allow you to save, whereas blue flowers not only save your progress but also give you the opportunity to visit a church and “pray” in order to level up or build your class up by one. There are no chests at all in the game because every item you pick up are Magnus which can be found or obtained through searching shelves, desks, and other places. Quest Magnus are items in which you use outside of battle. Need to get through a pile of rocks and want a grenade? Well, you can pick them up and use them for that situation. Other items like apples and water are used for their respective purposes and you’ll usually gain a few useful Magnus. Money is not hard to find because you’ll obtain money through battles. You use a camera for Magnus to take pictures and once you obtained a picture, let it develop for a while until the resolution is clear, thus when you sell it, the value will increase drastically.
Shop owners are more likely to give you more money if the developed picture is fully developed, thus the idea of time is used for certain Magnus. An apple will rot, pictures will eventually become clear, milk becomes yoghurt, then cheese, helpful items will become harmful and so on. A unique feature found within Baten Kaitos is the relationship level between Kalas and you, the Guardian Spirit. There are times when Kalas will ask you a question and whatever decision you choose will affect whether super finishers will appear more frequently. Finishers are cards used in battle as the final card.
The graphics in the game are out of the ordinary. Players are treated to a beautifully made FMV sequence before the start of the actual game, while the rest of the game happens to be prerendered. This may cause a lot of heads to pop up because Resident Evil Remake contains (even to this day) unparalleled visuals for the naked eye. However, Baten Kaitos improved on that through making “living environments” and beautiful scenery. From trees swaying, water flowing with exuberance and realism, fog passes by, lights illuminating, all while the camera follows Kalas around from place to place.
A downside for certain people would be the lack of FMV to further enhance the story, as well as the fact the characters don’t see to have any facial animation or expression. This could be considered a turn off for many gamers, but once you jump into the game and awe in glory as you see the visuals. From the sound perspective, it’s muffled in the beginning, but if you change your sound settings to Surround sound, everything will be fixed except for the controversial part of the game….the voice acting.
While it’s not the worst, nor the best, the voice acting of certain characters is tolerable and not much more. There are often times if you wonder if Namco just picked up a few hitchhikers and gave them parts in the game. They expressed barely any real emotion in the game and at times feel two-dimensional.
The music is superb. Motoi Sakuraba has done an excellent job bringing these songs in its glory in the final product of the game. There are many varied tunes that are generally memorable and favourable for the players. And on a technical level, it sounds great as well. The musical score succeeds on the same level as the rest of the experience: it is usually beautiful, ambient, and generally complementary to the events on-screen.
This game is an experience. One of the best RPGs of the year, no matter how you look at it. It succeeds where nearly every other game in its genre has failed: by making card-battling fun. The stigma attached to card games does not apply at all to Baten Kaitos–its system is intuitive, strategic, and easy to get the hang of while being difficult to master. All in all, it just works. It’s surprisingly accessible.
Ultimately, Baten Kaitos is a brilliant title; a piece of art that will take gamers into a journey beyond their wildest fantasies. The game will take 60 hours to complete, but that’s without all of the sidequests. It’s definitely one of the finest GameCube games made to date thanks to its innovative system, lush graphics, excellent story and damn near jaw-dropping soundtrack. If anyone happens to be a GameCube owner, this is a must buy and a test to prove that you’re supporting Nintendo through and through not just with third-party support, but also with quality games in general.