Hello all! Last week, we checked out a free roaming, GTA-ish title that was really more than the sum of its parts.
Today brings us to a GameCube-exclusive JRPG, one I haven’t played in years (until this past week or so) and...it’s just great.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is, as mentioned, a GCN JRPG. It’s co-developed by Monolith Soft (Xenogears/Saga/Blade) and tri-Crescendo, the latter of which developed Eternal Sonata, which I featured in this article series...wow, almost two years ago.
Anyway. In Baten Kaitos, you play as...well, you, kind of. See, you play as the Guardian Spirit of Kalas, an initially snotty young guy born with only one wing in a world where everyone has two. Don’t worry, he’s got a prosthetic one. After waking up in a hospital, Kalas ventures into the woods (more or less because he was told not to) and rescues Xelha, a female traveler.
Together, the two of them (and you, the guardian spirit) go on an adventure to stop the evil Empire from gathering the End Magnus, cards with the power of a god named Malpercio.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty standard JRPG setup. But the world of Baten Kaitos is very well realized and full. It can, at times, feel unique, even though some of it is derivative. But that’s okay, mostly because Baten Kaitos is really fun to play.
Baten Kaitos uses a card-battling system. Still reading? Okay. I get why people dislike card-battling; it’s tedious, and feels random at times. Baten Kaitos, however, keeps it smart by keeping the battles simple, with just enough depth to make you consider each action. During your turn, you’re dealt an amount of cards that can be used for offense, defense, or healing. You start the game with a three-card hand, with the option to use two during your attack phase. This introduces you to the game’s combo system. Each card has a number on it, and creating pairs and straights yields stronger attacks.
On defense, you simply choose shield, armor, or even certain weapon cards to block enemy attacks. Due to the randomness of the cards, you may end up in situations where you can’t block an attack because you want to use that card for an attack next turn. But do you have enough HP to do that? Decisions, decisions.
What I love about this battle system is, at its core, it’s very simple. It’s not Baldur’s Gate, but it doesn’t have to be. I like complex RPG’s as much as anyone, but I don’t want to play them all the time, y’know? And, like I said, the battle system features enough depth to work your brain a bit. But there’s also the need to pay attention during battles that really surprises me. You can’t just mash A through a battle, even minor ones. If you did, you could end up healing your enemies, protracting the battle and making you look silly.
Baten Kaitos overall is a very simple title, but that’s okay. Great, even, because while it’s not the most complex JRPG out there, or the most “epic,” it’s got the one key ingredient you need:
That’s really all that matters, in the end. It’s fun to play. That’s why I like it.
Oh, and I’ve got to mention one other thing: the game is drop dead gorgeous.
The environments are pre-rendered, like Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII, only on a more powerful system than those games appeared on. Even today, they’re jaw-dropping. I wonder why more games don’t go with pre-rendered worlds today; I’d be interested to see what these sort of environments would look like on PS4 or Xbox One. I was pretty surprised when I fired up the game for the first time in years. It’s amazing, made even crazier by the fact that this game is 11 years old.
And then we get to the soundtrack. The composer for the game is Motoi Sakuraba, who composed the music for basically everything, according to Wikipedia. If you know his stuff, then you know how great Baten Kaitos’ soundtrack is, already. If you don’t, go seek it out. Trust me. It’s a fantastic, amazing soundtrack, and makes the game worth playing on that alone. I should note that the voice acting is pretty bad.
Baten Kaitos isn’t a game that’s gonna change your life, and it’s not something you’re gonna be talking about over the years like your Chrono Triggers or your Final Fantasy VII’s. But it’s worth a play, because it’s great. It’s just simply great.
I’d like some feedback on something, too, if you don’t mind: So, as a couple of you know, I’ve been writing these articles every week for more than two years. I still have all these archived here on my PC. What are your thoughts on, like, an ebook collection of these, which I would fill with additional insights, thoughts, etc.? I’m thinking about collecting the first year of articles or so and releasing it as a pay-what-you-want ebook. Or something. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated!
Next week-Ninjas! Grappling hooks! Melodrama! Not Ninja Gaiden.