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Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
game: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
four star
posted by: Eric Qualls
publisher: Namco
developer: Monolift Soft
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Tue Jan 4th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Tue Jan 4th, 2005

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Click to read.The full title of this game is Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, but no one will think any less of you if you just say Baten Kaitos.  If you own a Nintendo GameCube and claim to be an RPG fan, this is a must play game no matter what you want to call it.  Baten Kaitos has all of the graphical bells and whistles you could want along with a decent story and a very well implemented card-based battle system.  Some questionable design decisions spoil the overall experience, but Baten Kaitos is still a very worthwhile game that GameCube owners will really enjoy.

Baten Kaitos takes place in a world of floating islands where legend tells of an evil deity who sucked the oceans dry and forced everyone to find homes in the sky.   Just like in every other RPG, the evil returns at the precise moment the hero stumbles into town and it is up to the main character, Kalas, to save the day.  The story is good enough overall to keep you playing, but nothing that happens will really surprise RPG veterans; Baten Kaitos uses pretty much every cliché in the book.  Another issue is that the game focuses on pushing the main narrative forward rather than revealing the backstories of the characters who join your party.   The result is that the supporting cast is filled with characters you don't care about one way or the other.  

What sets Baten Kaitos apart from other games is that you don't actually take on the role of the main character.  Instead, you are a guardian spirit whose soul was bonded to Kalas.  All throughout the game, Kalas and other characters will turn to the screen and address you directly, which is an interesting and fun twist.  Kalas often asks you for advice, and if your answers match what he wants to hear then the bond between you and him will grow stronger.  The stronger the bond you have, then the stronger you will become in battle.  

At the heart of Baten Kaitos are the magical cards known as Magnus.  These cards are the "magna essence" of items that have been magically stored on the cards.  All of your weapons, armor, items, attacks, and magic are on magnus cards.  You can also find blank cards that you can use to capture the essence of objects such as fruit or milk or explosives so you can use them later.  Some cards will also change over time.  Grapes will turn into poison, then into wine, and then into vinegar.  Milk will turn into cheese.  Edible bamboo will eventually turn into hard bamboo spears you can use as weapons.  At every step of the transformation process the abilities of the cards will change, so you have to be careful that the item you had hoped would heal you hasn't turned into something dangerous.  It is sort of annoying that items that you've been counting on can change and leave you high and dry, but managing your cards is easy enough that it is only a minor complaint.  

Outside of battle, Baten Kaitos is pretty much like any other RPG.  You travel from town to town talking to people and buying items at shops.  In battle, though, is where the whole magnus system pays off and the game becomes fresh and new and fun.  As you explore, the enemies you'll face are all fully visible onscreen.  No random battles here.  You choose when and who you fight, and I like that.  When you do initiate a battle by walking into an enemy, the game shifts into battle mode and the fun begins.  Each character has their own deck of cards that you can arrange ahead of time.  Depending on their class level, the characters can play anywhere from one to nine cards during their turn.  The amount of cards in a character's deck is determined by their level, and when you play through all of your cards the deck is reshuffled and you start again.  At the beginning of a turn cards are dealt into your hand and are replaced with new ones as you play them.  During offensive turns you want to play your weapon cards and magical spells, and you can also use the turn to heal if you want.  On a defensive turn you have to quickly play your armor cards before the enemy attacks to try and lessen the damage or avoid being hit entirely.  A fun aspect of the cards is that you can string several cards together to form combos when it is your turn to attack.  There are over 140 combos in the game and since there are over 1,000 cards to use, finding combos is a somewhat tricky, but ultimately rewarding experience.  

The card-based combat in Baten Kaitos has been extremely well implemented and most of the time the battles flow smoothly.  Battles move at a brisk pace and everything is very straightforward.  The cards are clearly marked so you know right away their elemental alignment and power; you don't have to pour over a bunch of statistics and crap that get in the way of simply enjoying the game.  

Because this is a card-based game, though, there are some annoying issues that you simply can't avoid.  Cards are dealt to you randomly, so this means that occasionally you'll get a bunch of defensive cards for an offensive turn or vice-versa and you have to waste that turn.  Also, the combo system is really cool, but since the cards are dealt to you at random you can't always pull off a big combo when you want to.  Your success in the latter parts of the game depends heavily on using big combos and not being able to proceed just because of the luck of the draw is frustrating.  That is the inherent problem with card-based games:  You aren't really in control of what is happening.  Baten Kaitos is still a fun game when you get into it, and is one of the more enjoyable card-based games I have played, but it definitely won't appeal to everyone.

Another problem stems from the way you level up your characters.  Rather than automatically leveling up when you gain a certain amount of experience, you have to find special save points that allow you to enter a church where you are allowed to level up.  You aren't allowed any customization at this point and your characters simply go from one level to the next and that's it.  Why the game was made this way is just baffling.  It definitely isn't better than other games, but it also isn't all that bad as long as you remember to level up.  It is mostly annoying, and something that would have been better off left in the brainstorming session.  

Graphically, Baten Kaitos is great looking.  The backgrounds are prerendered and have an incredible amount of detail in them.  They aren't completely static, though, and touches such as amazing looking waterfalls, swaying trees, birds flying overhead, and working fireplaces give the environments a lot of life.  Sadly, the characters can't even come close to matching the detail in their surroundings, and they look rather poor in comparison.  The game still looks very good overall, though.

The sound almost matches the beauty of the visuals, but an artistic decision made in regards to the voice acting really, really missed the mark.  There is a ton of voice work in the game, but all of the dialogue has been distorted so it sounds distant and echoic.  This was done because you are supposed to be a guardian spirit and not really there, but it just sounds absolutely hideous.  Luckily, you can turn the voiceovers off.  The rest of the sound, thankfully, is very good.  The music is perfectly suited to each area of the game and it all sounds really great.  It is big and epic when it needs to be and light and fun in all the right spots.  The sound effects and music in Baten Kaitos are wonderful, but the voiceovers spoil what would have otherwise been both an aural and visual feast.

Overall, Baten Kaitos is still highly recommended despite having a few problems.  The card-based combat is fast and satisfying and there are over a thousand cards to find and experiment with.  This is a big game that spans two discs and will take around 50 hours to complete, so I would recommend it for purchase if you are a hardcore RPG fan.  Since it is a card-based game it won't appeal to everyone, though, so rent it first if you are unsure.  It isn't perfect, but Baten Kaitos is a fun experience that GameCube owners should definitely take a look at.

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