After the jump into 3D Nintendo’s Home consoles have been lacking in RPG titles. A few developers tried to spark the RPG market on the Nintendo Gamecube. While the spark never lit the RPGs that were created for the Gamecube were for the most part really solid RPGs beside a few duds. Monolith Soft and Tri-Crescendo (Tri-ace) decided to create a new RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube. Baten Kaitos was the product of this collaboration between companies. Is Baten Kaitos one of the Gamecube’s strongest RPGs or is it a failed attempt at trying to bring a RPG to the Gamecube?
One big thing you will notice right off the bat within your first few fights in Baten Kaitos is that they completely tossed the Battle Menu system for a card battle system. As horrible as this may sound, it actually turns out extremely well. You have weapon cards, defense cards, healing cards and many other different types of cards. The cards basically just replace “Attack”, “Guard”, and “Magic” type commands. In one turn you’re allowed to attack multiple times, the amount of times you can attack in one turn increases as you level your class up. The ability to attack multiple times plays a huge part in the Spirit Number system.
Spirit Numbers are numbers displayed on the corners of the cards; the numbers will be 1-9. When there are multiple numbers you can choose between them by moving the C-stick in what ever direction the number is on the card. The idea is to create combinations using these numbers. Your goal will be to make combinations of numbers in ascending or descending orders. You can also do all of the same number and there are many other combinations but these 3 are the most common. A good example would be if your attacking 4 times you try to line up cards in a number order such as 1,2,3,4 or 4,4,4,4. The only problem with this system is that some times the C-stick is not as accurate as you could want it to be and on many occasions found my self ruining combinations due to the wrong number being selected; this only seems to be a big problem with cards with 3 to 4 numbers on them.
This would be an easy task if you could take all the time you want to select your cards, but eventually you only have a few seconds to put the cards up in the order you want. As you class up you can attack more times in one turn, you also have a time limit to start your turn which gets as low as almost 3 seconds to take an action before lose your turn.. At the same time you also have to take in consideration the elements of the weapons or magic you are using. Each enemy has strengths and weaknesses which are pretty standard in the RPG genre. The trick here though is say you use a water spell and do 25 damage and in the same turn use a fire spell and do 25 damage your damage total turns into 5 damage. The spells will weaken one another. This makes maintaining your deck very important. If you have too many cards that clash with each other element wise you will be dealing out low damage.
While the battle system may sound complicated, eventually you get the hang of it. When you know what you’re doing battles become rewarding and fun. It’s possibly one of the best combat systems in a RPG. It feels great when you chain together a huge combo and do a massive amount of damage in one attack. It requires lots of strategy and thought but also requires you to be on the tip of your toes or else you will lose your turn or choose the wrong card and lower your damage. It’s possibly one of the best combat systems in a RPG. Unfortunately there is a downside to this combat system. Since it uses cards you have to maintain every single card of every single characters deck, and when you have 50 cards or more in a single characters deck it creates lots of down time. So you end sitting in the menu and constantly tweaking your decks specifically for the area or boss you’re at.
The story is about a young man named Kalas. He is searching for loot with his guardian spirit, which is you. You and Kalas come across a young girl named Xelha. Kalas helps her kill a beast and she joins up with you. While in the forest with her you accidentally unlock one of the 5 end Magnus in the world, objects of evil power that held some of the remains of Malpercio who was an evil god that almost destroyed the world long ago. Soon after Xelha is kidnapped by the man who killed Kalas’s Grandfather and brother so Kalas goes running after them for revenge.
While the story sounds pretty flat and boring it starts folding out nicely and quite a few twists to the story that are quite memorable. The writing is pretty bad…or at least the voice acting makes it seem pretty bad. Some of the characters are pretty standard issue for RPGs but characters like the Great Mizuti stand out and have really unique personality and entertaining dialogue. Although overall it sticks to many RPG clichés which can feel tiresome and overdone.
Baten Kaitos makes use of pre-rendered environments much like Final Fantasy games did on the Playstation. While this may seem like a outdated way to present the game, it definitely makes use of the extra power the Gamecube has. Many of the backgrounds are animated with grass softly moving in the wind. Going with pre-rendered backgrounds also increased the amount creativity they could use. The game has a wide variety of areas ranging from green forests, lava caves, and snowy mountains which all look amazing, but once see areas like the picture book land and candy Land areas you will really be impressed by the art and realize that pre-rendered backgrounds was easily the best choice for Baten Kaitos.
The dungeons seem small and short, but it really lends its self well to how Baten Kaitos presents its dungeons. Every dungeon has its own gimmick. Due to the short length of each dungeon the game play style of each dungeon never grows old or gets in the way. What’s Impressive though is the number of dungeons in the game. The developers made each dungeon unique in game play and presentation. You can really tell that lots of thought was put into all of them. The fact that their short makes the game feel fast paced and like your constantly moving forward rather then going to a dungeon spending over an hour in it and feeling like you barely did anything in that hour.
Just because the dungeons are short in Baten Kaitos it doesn’t mean that you won’t get plenty of play time from this title. Baten Kaitos’s main quest will take you a good 50 hours alone. Not including all the side quests. It’s very hefty quest and rarely feels like their artificially stretching the game. There are a few areas that are reused towards the very end but it’s forgivable for the wide variety of dungeons throughout the whole game. RPGs generally have low re-playability, but if you enjoy Baten Kaitos enough there is the possibility that you can get multiple play throughs but chances are the average person wont play through it again but the 50 hours of game play already covers enough to get your moneys worth.
Tri-Crescendo tried to do the same thing with the music in Baten Kaitos as they did with Star Ocean 3 by having a large variety of music in the game, but this time it works much. All the music flows well and all sound like they belong to the same game rather then just a jumbled mess of a soundtrack. That being said all the music is top notch and really has some memorable songs. The battle theme is probably one of the best video game songs I have ever heard. Music speed matches the pace of the game really well. The voice acting ranges from horrible to decent. Thankfully most of the main characters have bearable voices, but some such as Lyude and Xelha you will be listening to the whole game and it will start to bother you but you always have the option to turn voices off. Sound effects are pretty good. Spells and weapons have different sound effects depending on how powerful they are and really give a sense of progression and usually you can tell which spell is going off just by the sound of the spell.
Overall Baten Kaitos is an extremely well done RPG. The story has its faults and the voice acting is absolutely horrible at times, but it’s all completely over shadowed by the amazing battle system and great level design. If you have a way to play Gamecube games, enjoy RPGs and are willing to learn a very unique battle system, Then Baten Kaitos is a no brainer. I would recommend this game even at full price, but Amazon is selling it for 25$ so you might as well go with that.