Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is the newest RPG for the Gamecube I could get my hands on. Although the genre-lovers aren’t being overwhelmed by a huge offer on this console, they did get titles like Paper Mario 2 and Tales of Symphonia. Monolith Software, known from the Xenosaga series on PS2, now tries to go in the footsteps of these top titles with BK. The unique thing about this specific game is the fact that the combat system is completely centered around the strategic use of cards. Whether this is the only unique thing and whether this was sufficient to keep me clustered to the gamecube for several days, I’ll let you know below.
The game immediately starts with a beautiful movie that sets the visual tone for the rest of the time. After the overwhelming images your character Kalas awakes, as it should in any good RPG, in an unknown bed. Quickly you discover a girl called Xelha with whom you need to prevent the destruction of the world. The universe in which this is happenin is one of floating islands populated by humans. Since travelling between these is rather difficult, humanity has been given wings.
Original is the fact that you don’t control Kalas but are more some kind of ghost who watches over him. The better you get along with him in the course of the game (he sometimes asks you questions), the stronger your link will be which in return offers quite some fun extras. I’ll keep quiet on the story for the rest, except to say that it’s good and long but a bit too linear.
What immediately gets noticed the first seconds are the graphics. The colors are very vivid, the surroundings very diverse and look very artistic seeing that they’re pre-rendered. The way that for instance clouds move along is a lust for the eye! More even, each location in the game is a perfect example of fantasy and talent and especially the light- and shadow effects will open your mouth from astonishment. And it doesn’t only stay with the backgrounds: also the animations and the characters are excellently made. Now and then I had the feeling they didn’t really integrate well with the setting, but that’s just to give a less positive comment. In short: great, beautiful graphics!
Also concerning the sound we can be positive. The effects are good, but it’s especially the large sentences that impress. About every conversation was synched and this adds a lot to the atmosphere. The quality isn’t always the best, but it’s hard to have that seeing the sheer amount of them. One small downpoint: they should let the talk go on faster as impatient gamers like me quickly skip them to win a couple of seconds. The soundtrack is also quite good although after about ten hours of play you’ll know some by heart.
But enough about the presentation, let’s see how this game plays. The world map (looking fantastic) is used to travel on and finding your destination. You can’t be attacked on it but when you arrive on your destination, all of this changes and the fighting can begin. In the many dungeons you’ll have to do the usual stuff: solve puzzles, explore, and beat lots of enemies. Starting a fight is done by making contact with the baddie(s) after which another screen pops up.
And this is where the most original and fun part of the game begins: the way how combat is done. Key words here are Magnus and of course the game cards. These latter we’ve seen before, but BK not only improves the principle that we know from other RPG’s but even takes it a step further. You won’t need them to fight but also to heal your wounds or buy stuff. They’re an integral part of the story.
But I was also talking about Magnus. This is the “soul” of objects, ALL objects! This Magnus can be taken from items in the world of Baten Kaitos and stored on empty game cards. Suppose: you want to take a banana to eat or use later on. The only thing you need to do is put its Magnus on a card, taking that with you and later activate the card so that you get your banana again!
There are of course different categories of Magnus. First is gear and these are armors and such like we know from other RPG’s. The second one is Quest Magnus and this gives you the possibility to take along quest-items. You also have Battle Magnus that takes care of attack, defense and of course magic. The latter is Magnus that takes care of healing, buffs, in short everything that has to do with your group and fighting in general.
During combat you can choose 20 cards (or more depending on your level) from which 4 are randomly given to you at the start. Then you get the chance to do an attack, the opponent can defend and afterwards attack you. This all has to be done pretty quickly though! The same of course also is done reversely when it’s your opponent’s turn.
This combat system is very nice and exciting and on top of everything quite strategic. You really need to set up your deck of cards very well to get the good ones during fighting. On top of that you need to make sure you constantly adapt your deck to the environment you’re in. Some areas have enemies that are afraid of fire, others are sensitive to water. You can also combine cards and do more damage or create special effects.
This all sounds very complicated but after a while you get used to it and will discover more refined and new tactics. Some are even very funny: you can give extra damage or heal people by first throwing an egg and then a “heat”-card so that your egg gets baked! You can’t imagine the possibilities for fun combinations. A disadvantage is that it can become quite frustrating if you just don’t get the right cards during a fight or have bad luck. Very annoying also is that after using all your cards, these get shuffled again before you can use them again. This costs you a turn which can be very bad in an exciting battle.
To take everything a bit deeper than it already is, everything changes throughout time!! Apples will rot and pictures will get developed better and give you more money. Suppose you want to eat an apple and it’s a bit overdue, then you’ll get less health from it. If it’s completely overdue, then it will make you sick! Really an incredibly fun feature and one that enhances even more the possible combinations of the cards. Think what a little seed can become if you wait long enough!
Also nice to mention is that in this world you don’t earn money by beating creatures: you need to take pictures of them! This is done by using the cards before a fight, but of course pictures taken during battle bring in a lot more cash. A lot of money can be earned by shooting boses while little worms will hardly worth anything.
The way you rise in levels is also very original. This doesn’t go automatically but you need to visit a church for that. There you can choose to uplift your stats or raise the amount of Magnus you can keep and use. This latter option can’t be done everywhere and anytime though, you need to fulfill certain conditions each time you want to progress. I guess by now you’ve noticed that Baten Kaitos nicely fulfills the need for innovation in the RPG genre!
The conclusion can be deducted from what I had to say above. Baten Kaitos is a very original RPG that offers a lot of depth, something that’s not always easy to find on Gamecube. The card and Magnus system offers a welcome variation and is strategically appealing thanks to the many details and combinations, but also not without flaws.
Thanks to the beautiful graphics and good music this title is a recommendation for RPG lovers. Don’t expect something equal to other console- or PC RPG’s though, BK is something very unlike anything else, but definitely worth it!