Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean GameCube Review
Remember that game you used to play that was so unique, so original, and you wanted to play it with every spare moment in your life until you finally completed it? Been bored with the generic titles we see today and been craving a story you can sink your teeth into? I felt the same way until I grasped the sheer excellence of a title in my library of games – the game that had been sitting, waiting in quiescence for me to discover the magnus inside. That game was Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean.
When you first start out, you will be greeted by a cut scene and a short place in which you will be asked your name. You are a spirit from another world that aids a young human named Kalas. Spirits ‘bond’ with special humans who hold unique and important traits. You end up in a small village called ‘Celebrai’ and are in the care of Dr. Larikush. Unlike most humans in the Baten Kaitos world, Kalas only has one wing and has had a mechanical wing known as a ‘winglet’ entrusted to him by his grandfather. Throughout the story, Kalas and the other characters you meet along the way travel the world, face terrifying foes, and unwrap a story with such intensity you’ll want to play right through to the end in one sitting. The story is a little slow starting off, but that will soon change as you progress.
While Baten Kaitos could be classified as a card-based RPG, beneath its plastic case it is a turn-based RPG at heart. Each offensive, defensive, and HP-recovering card is represented through a ‘magnus’ (the cards). This is because in the Baten Kaitos universe, an object’s magnus essence can be trapped within those cards for storage and used later on. Some like fire will eventually snuff out and bamboo shots will become bamboo, whereas others will remain in their original form. As I mentioned earlier, there are three main types of magnus; offensive, defensive, and HP-recovery.
All of your offensive and defensive magnus are divided into seven groups; water, fire, light, dark, wind, chronos, and the generic ‘normal’. As you can probably tell, there are weaknesses to each magnus. Fire is weak to water and vice versa. The same traits go for light and dark, and wind and chronos. When attacking and defending, the opposites have different effects depending upon what type of monster you’re fighting. Sometimes you’ll be blessed with a boost, and others you’ll have a percentage depleted. When using opposite elements in the same turn, they’ll subtract to a number which isn’t too pretty – in fact it’s downright hideous.
The written part of Baten Kaitos can be described in some cases as pitiful, but the incredible story with its many twists, turns and loops tend to make all of that go away. The fact that you are a key player in the actually story is really well done as the characters tend to include you in their discussions and choices. The disappointing areas are nothing story-related, but in some cases you’ll have a majority of your party say something like “Haha” or “Oh…” all separately. Perhaps it would be better described as lame? You can be the judge of that.
From simplicity comes sheer beauty. As if an invigorating story wasn’t enough, the game walks elegantly sporting a dress comprised of hard work and jaw-dropping beauty. Each island is depicted differently with a simply amazing amount of detail. Each background, each island, each room, each little object has been drenched by the bucket of care and are all depicted differently in detail. It is all so complex yet it is so simple in the way it is presented. Unlike other genres where you get to explore the map and turn corners, the areas in Baten Kaitos have a fixed position and you move closer and farther away. The only let down here is that some things can be quite hard to notice when your character is in an area that stretches really far back.
The character animation throughout the game isn’t all too much to brag about. Characters don’t turn around; they appear to hover-walk while turning then walk in a straight line. While the character animation outside of battle isn’t too impressive, the animation within the battle is definitely something to take note of as it gets more and more impressive as you progress and get more finishing moves which are essentially moves with animation and do a chunk of damage.
The sounds and music of Baten Kaitos are unique in an amazing way. There is no better word to describe the sounds of Baten Kaitos than ‘inconsistent’. This is because are some areas where you’re thinking “couldn’t they have done a better job with this?” and others you’re thinking “this music suits what is happening perfectly!” The sound of Baten Kaitos can be divided into three general areas; voice acting, background music, and sound effects.
The voice acting which in some cases is so awful you’ll be covering your ears in repulsion, is only there in some instances during the main quest and is often tolerable. Within the adventure, some people will have a voice actor whereas others will just have text. The ones with actors are often important and have relevance to the main quest, however there are exceptions. During battle, the characters will make shrieks, grunts, or phrases and taunts as they attack and are attacked in turn. The shrieks and grunts are well done as they are short and quick, but the phrases, while a variety exists, it is not a vast variety and becomes old and reused more quickly than the battles go.
Outside and inside the battling world, you’ll be blessed with amazing tunes. Perhaps one of the finer points in the game, the music varies greatly – it is nearly different in every area you travel to and every area you fight a battle in. Perhaps the most impressive are the songs that play during boss battles. These songs bring up the speed, the quality, and the overall effectiveness of the battle. The farther you progress and the more important the battle, the more entertaining the songs get. They are indescribable, but are definitely worth a listen – there’s even a song list in the main menu that allows you to listen to the songs again!
Finally, we’re blessed with the games’ sound effects. To say that they could be improved upon is a euphemism as in many cases you’ll be wondering what that awkward crunching blasphemy is. In many cases the animation during cut scenes doesn’t appear to match with what is happening. An answer you will undoubtedly take note of as you progress is the characters’ footsteps. When off-screen they sound remotely normal, however when the characters walk on screen they’re mismatched and too few. Having said that, the obnoxious ear-clampers are often few and far between and others aren’t quite as noticeable.
The length of Baten Kaitos ultimately depends on how you play the game. If you simply rush through (there’s a slim chance that you would even complete it that way), you’re looking at about 30-40 hours of gameplay. If you’re taking your time, searching for as many magnus as you can, levelling up, and taking part in various side quests, your time will obviously be substantially longer. The replay value of the game is quite hard to explain. If you’ve been intrigued by the storyline and want to play some more but don’t feel like starting over, chances are you won’t – the same goes for someone who can’t progress due to lack of preparation. However, overcoming that uphill walk to the “New Game” option is one of the best things to happen. Once you start out again, you’ll be happy you did. You’ll be captured by the story once more and will continue to play (probably even longer than before) until you’ve emerged victorious once again.
Never before have I played through a game with such an invigorating storyline and memorable moments. Although some of the writing and voice work is questionable, neither take away from the impact the game delivers. Despite the battle system being quite complex with many rules, it is surprisingly incredibly easy to pick up. A game that bleeds originality like Baten Kaitos should be given a chance by RPG fans no matter what their taste. While there are small tidbits throughout the game that will cause you to cringe, they do not add up to anything that can reach up and remove Baten Kaitos from its island in the sky.