Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean was released in 2004 to a decided lack of critical consensus, with media outlets giving the game a wide variety of grades. Supporters of the game argued that the card-based mechanic provided a 9refreshing change of pace from the turn-based menu grind. Supporters also noted the game\'s strong pedigree, fantastic music score, and the absence of pesky random battles. Naysayers claimed that the game\'s card system was too complex to be fun, noting that the random draw of the deck and the changing of items over time required a great deal of management. Critics also argued that the game\'s production values - particularly the sketchy voicework and the average combat graphics - did not stand up to other games in the genre such as the Final Fantasy series or even the GameCube\'s own Tales of Symphonia. Regardless, Baten Kaitos did not sell particularly well on either side of the pond, and it was assumed that Monolift Soft\'s experiment was over. Surprisingly, however, the development team decided to take another bite out of the apple, and in 2005 released a surprise prequel, Baten Kaitos II, in Japan. Even more surprising was Nintendo\'s decision, in 2006, to localize the game in the United States as Baten Kaitos Origins. This is good news for fans of RPGs, because Baten Kaitos Origins improves over its predecessor in almost every single category and gives life to the GameCube at the end of its life cycle. Origins may not be for everyone, but serious fans of the RPG genre will find much to like here. GAMING EXPERIENCE
Right off the bat, the question must be asked - is playing the first Baten Kaitos necessary to playing Baten Kaitos Origins? Origins is a prequel - a rarity in video games - meaning that the straight answer is no, but it is also true that some of the most significant plot twists in Origins have much more “punch” if one is familiar with the plot of the first game. The original Baten Kaitos told the story of a young man named Kalas and his adventures on the various floating islands of the world. Baten Kaitos Origins goes twenty years into the past to explain how Kalas\'s world came to be. Younger versions of several major characters make an appearance in Origins and many of their back stories come to be told. And even the characters too young to be alive in Origins - such as Kalas himself - are given back story that explains how they came to be in the world. Both Baten Kaitos games employ a unique storytelling concept in that the gamer does not actually play one of the characters. Instead, you assume the role of a “guardian spirit” that counsels and advises the main characters. What is unique is that the gamer becomes a unique and independent part of the storyline, and characters in the game frequently break the fourth wall, speaking to the gamer directly. These conversations are not simple chat - they can have serious impact on the flow of the game and even the potency of combat.
Some key decisions can change major plot points in the game. Others can affect the relationship between the gamer and Sagi; positive interactions between the two will produce better card draws in combat, for example. Where the plotline of Baten Kaitos was faulted for being largely pedestrian (save one granddaddy of a plot twist about midway through the game), Baten Kaitos Origins features a generally stronger plot that also features one or two plot twists sure to cause a few jaw drops. The storyline is more immersive and compelling - and noticeably darker - this time around, as are the side quests and subplots. Character development is still a challenge, though; although Origins has fewer playable characters, it also has a burden to tell the stories of many NPCs. Because of this, the three main characters get less attention than one would think they would. Still, the game does reserve time to tell their stories too, and they are good ones to tell. There are some faults in the storyline that would be impossible to elaborate on without spoiling the plot, but it is enough to say that the endgame remains a hot topic among those who have experienced it. For the most part, though, this game features a nice plotline that avoids some of the more clichéd themes of the genre and sets out for more unique ground. Mechanically speaking, Origins boasts really outstanding game play that reflects a desire to make the game accessible without sacrificing excessive depth. Monolift achieves this balance with rare skill. RPG vets will find that many of the game mechanics revolve around familiar RPG conventions - various offensive and defensive statistics, health points, experience points, leveling-up, and the like. Side quests, which are plentiful, range from your garden-variety fetch quests to a fantastic Colliseum area that allows the gamer to go up against some of the toughest challenges the game has to offer. Origins is a beefy adventure - most gamers will spend between 60 and 70 hours going through the game - and it one-ups its predecessor by being more open-ended.
From early on in the adventure you will have the ability to backtrack to any island you have previously visited, and this state of affairs lasts until you fight the last boss battle, meaning that there are no real “missed chances” in the game. Additionally, the game saves your data following completion of the game, so those looking to complete their collections will have reasonable cause to take another trip through the adventure. What really sets Origins apart from other RPGs is its use of a unique card mechanic that bears no discernable resemblance to any of the current card fare. If you\'re looking for Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh, you will most certainly not find it here. Instead, the game uses a card mechanic and then superimposes it over standard RPG conventions. The end result is a game that is much more engaging than turn-based games. Broadly speaking, game play revolves around two areas: questing and combat. For questing, your characters are given “Quest Magnus” storage devices that can be used to capture dozens upon dozens of unique items. Those items will change over time; pristine water will eventually turn stale, fires will go out, and food will invariably rot. In addition, items can be mixed together to form new items. For example, a stone and a blazing fire can be mixed together to form lava, or salt and water can be combined to form saltwater. More exotic recipes abound, too, and many of the new items spawned by them can add serious bonuses to your character\'s stats. Captured items often serve as solutions to various quests, too, which in turn can yield unique items useful in both questing and combat.
Combat in Baten Kaitos Origins is one of the most immersive parts of the game. Combat rounds employ a variation on the Active Time Battle (ATB) popularized in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, with characters forced to wait after each attack. The difference in Origins is that more powerful attacks require a longer wait to earn another attack, forcing some strategy on how big an attack to unleash in any given turn. Attacks are effected using “battle magnus” cards that carry out an attack in real-time. These cards are “semi-random” In other words, much of the time they are random but as you develop a closer relationship with the main character, Sagi (see story), there will be intervals where the deck will deal out exactly the cards you need in a given sequence. This mechanic not only encourages you to cultivate a strong relationship with Sagi, but it brings a certain degree of predictability to an otherwise-random experience. Attacks can be played out with any combination of cards so long as they are in ascending order (sort of like a modified version of solitaire or speed). Card numbered 0 are “equipment cards” that can start any attack. Cards numbered 1-3 are standard attack cards. Cards numbered 4-7 are special attack cards that can be used after a certain amount of power is built up from successive normal attacks. The game also includes various items and such that heal, resurrect, cause status damages, and the like. Mercifully, too, the game lets you “discard” cards you don\'t need so as to keep your current hand most populated with what you need at the time. The end product in combat is a system that is easy to learn yet offers great depth for those looking for mastery. The system is part random, part predetermined, part strategy, and a lot more engaging than the menu-driven plodding of many other RPGs. Add in the fact that there are no random battles in Origins - enemies can often be avoided when desired - and combat proves both engaging and easy to immerse into.
The original Baten Kaitos was a generally pretty game, with some beautifully-crafted Pre-rendered backgrounds in the tradition of Chrono Cross. The combat engine, meanwhile, was serviceable but occasionally spotty. Baten Kaitos Origins adds a layer of visual polish on both fronts. Many of the backgrounds from the first game are brought back for this game - largely because this game is set in some of the same locations - but many of the settings sport greater detail and clarity than their predecessors. As was the case before, the artistic style of Origins is striking, with each distinct continent evoking a specific atmosphere. Origins is one of those rare games that encourages you simply to stop and stare at the setting, as opposed to simply run through it. The combat engine in Origins has undergone a more substantial facelift. Character models in this second effort are noticeably sharper than before, and the game\'s various effects look cleaner and more spectacular than before.
Attack animations are more fluid, natural, and generally varied than the original Baten Kaitos. Attack effects make up some really nice eye candy, with a generous serving of elemental and physical attacks that generally surpass the bar set by the first game. Visually, this is about as close to Final Fantasy as you\\'re going to get on the GameCube. As for negatives? There are a few. For one, all cut scenes are handled using the game\'s graphics engine; there is no CG. Two, the field view can be a little too expansive at times, making it difficult to make out fine details in some locales. Three, combat backgrounds can be a little spotty at times, as they were in the first game. And four, there are occasional slowdown issues when large attack effects erupt on screen. As a whole, however, this game is one of the better-looking GameCube offerings.
Among those passionate few who anxiously awaited the arrival of Baten Kaitos Origins, few questions were more pressing than this one: what kind of voice acting will Origins have? In the first Baten Kaitos, Namco chose to lowball the cast, filling the large quantity of voice work with a largely no-name group of voice actors. The end product was a much worse form of torture than bad - it was so inconsistent so as to continually tempt the listener to hang in there through a few awful Lyude lines or bizarre Xelha deliveries just to hear Giacomo\'s powerful delivery or Gibari\'s hilarious commentary. (It did not help, either, that the first game\'s sound was recorded in such a way that anyone listening to anything but the “surround”; setting got treated to what sounded like vocals spoken through cardboard.) Trapped between decent and awful, Baten Kaitos was the most vicious of voice efforts. Nintendo handled the duties this time around and mercifully did it better. Specifically, Origins features a significantly more experienced cast, including several veteran voiceover personalities (Kim Mai Guest, TC Carson, Robin Atkin Downes) and experienced Hollywood actors (Dwight Schultz). The voice coaching is good and most of the deliveries are setting-appropriate. The voicework is not flawless, but it is good enough not to distract from the plot, and in this regard is more on the level of, say, Tales of Symphonia. The soundtrack to the original Baten Kaitos - unlike the voice work - was critically acclaimed, earning IGN\'s award for “Best GameCube Soundtrack” of 2004. Motoi Sakuraba once again has brought his talents to bear on Origins, and once again has created a memorable score. Many of the themes in this game borrow hooks from the first game and bring new but familiar spin on old locations. Players venturing back into the cities of Perkad and Komo Mai, for example, will be pleased to hear revisioned takes on old tunes. Other themes are brand-new and while some of them are not quite to the level of the first game, others vault beyond it. Some of the boss battle music, for example, is catchy but not particularly varied, and in that regard it is less memorable than the diverse boss tracks in the first game. On the other hand, the new battle theme (“Valedictory Elegy”) is a more fitting battle anthem than the first game\'s tune (“The True Mirror”) although the latter does find new life in Origins in a fabulous new orchestral arrangement. But the real show-stealer in the musical department is a certain piece entitled “Le Ali Del Principio” an absolutely haunting piece with strings and youth vocals that stands out as the most memorable track on the game and one of the most memorable pieces in recent video game history.
As it was a console game, there were very technical few problems with the game, although there are a couple of significant ones that should be mentioned. One, there are - as mentioned before - some slowdown issues during large effects that are a little frustrating. Two, I discovered at least one potential quest bug late in the game that could make a specific side quest (namely, the game\'s coliseum series) un-completable if certain actions were performed in the wrong area. Other than that, there were no problems of note.
Controls in Origins are mostly intuitive. Menus are mostly navigable (with a few minor faults) and movement in the over world is easy and smooth. There are a couple of times when finding hidden items or moving objects is a bit of a hassle, but those moments are few. Combat controls are nicely-refined and make excellent use of the GameCube controller, particularly the directional pad and C-stick. Overall, many of the controls borrow from the first game but show noticeable improvement and tweaking that make this game mostly hassle-free when it comes to movement and action. APPROPRIATENESS ISSUES Violence (7/10) - RPG Violence -3 pts It will come as no surprise that RPG violence is the norm in this RPG. There is, however, no combat blood, although a couple of major characters who die are shown in dialogue frames with blood trickling from their mouths. Language (6.5/10) - Swear Words Acceptable for Prime Time TV are used throughout the game -3.5 pts This is one of the more notable differences from the first game. The original Baten Kaitos sported some scattered profanity but it seems there is more in this second game, perhaps in an attempt to project a more ”mature” plotline. This is unfortunate, as Nintendo-published games are typically cleaner than this. Sexual Content (5.5/10) - Characters clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality -1.5 pts - Various sexual issues. -3 pts Evaluating sexual content in Origins is very difficult because most of it is treated elusively within the game. One character in the game is suggested to be homosexual but that fact is never explicitly stated. In one side quest, a heterosexual affair is implied but is, again, never explicitly stated. Beyond that, sexual content is minimal and is somewhat toned-down from the first Baten Kaitos. Occult/Supernatural (6.5/10) - There are dark supernatural elements to the game. -2 pts - Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. -1.5 pts Baten Kaitos Origins is set in an alternate world with supernatural elements. While those elements would not be considered “occultic” many of them are dark and foreboding, much more so than in the original game. Magic is an integral part of the game\'s plot, and the player can use both “holy” and “dark” magic. Cultural/Moral/Ethical category (10/10) There are no serious cultural, moral, or ethical issues to the game. It is possible to make “evil” decisions in the game, but those decisions can actually harm your proficiency in combat, so it is not promoted.
In a year when other major franchises are releasing big-name RPGs, including Team Symphonia’s excellent Tales of The Abyss and the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XII, Baten Kaitos Origins is an easy game to overlook. Yet with its gorgeous artwork, excellent audio, varied cast, immersive plotline, and addictive combat system, Monolift Soft has shown true passion in taking a good game concept and refining it into something great. It is definitely one of the best RPGs on the GameCube. And with a lengthy 60-70 hours of gameplay, Origins is more than worth its value in longevity. At the same time, there are some significant appropriateness issues with this game that have to be considered. None of them are overwhelming, and certainly none of them are on the level of those found in, say, Grand Theft Auto, but this game is nevertheless one that is one best left for gamers 13 and older. That notwithstanding, the game is nonetheless highly recommended.