In November of 2004 Namco released a game that was like nothing else. Co-developed by the good fellows at MonolithSoft who were responsible for such gems as the XenoSaga and XenoBlade games and Tri-Cresendo who up until this point only did the sound development for Tri-Ace games. This game was the big break-in for them and afterwords they went on to develop cult-favorite games like Eternal Sonata and FRAGILE DREAMS: Farewell Ruins of the Moon.
The game had renowned artist Yasuyuki Honne who use to work with Square before joining with MonolithSoft. Mr. Honne is perhaps best known for his work as the character designer for Chrono Cross. Together with famed music Composer/designer Hiroya Hatsushiba who has jumped ship more times than any man probally should of. Mr. Hatsushiba use to be a member of WolfTeam. For those not in the Know WolfTeam was the development studio that made the first TALES game and was later reformed into the Namco Tales Studio. Before that Mr. Hatsushiba left like many of the developers and joined the new company that these developers made: Tri-Ace. In 1999 he left Tri-Ace and formed Tri-Cresndo. There he continued his relationship with Tri-Ace by doing all the sound design for there games. That is until Baten Kaitos. In 2001 Mr. Honne and Mr. Hatsushiba got together and co-created the idea for this game. They started development six months later and finished it in 2003. The final product ended up being a game that was nothing like anything else before it.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an RPG released for the GameCube back in 2004. When asked why release the game for the GameCube Namco producer Shinji Noguchi replied and I quote: "We always thought that there were not many RPG titles for GameCube. Thus, we wanted to offer a true RPG for GameCube users and eventually establish a top franchise for the platform." But Baten Kaitos was not only a RPG. The game was so much more than that. The gameplay focus everything on cards called Magus. Magnus Cards can be used to absorb "Magna essence" of real-world objects for storage and later use. What is "Magna essence"? Well it has nothing to do with Comic books sorry to inform you. "Magna essence" is the nature of an item. It's the idea of it. By absorbing the "Magna essence" You obtain the very item in the card you absorbed it with. This concept is used for puzzles and the like. Need to put out a fire? Well go find a source of water and absorb it in a blank Magnus Card and then use said card to put out the fire with. Need to ride an elevator but it's broken? Well I hope you fond that big Gear from earlier and absorbed it into a blank Magnus. The cool thing about the cards though is that they change over time. If you stored say some milk or cheese into a Magnus and don't use it for a good while the items will begin to go bad and rot. It brings a lot of uniqueness to the game and it's world. Magnus Cards are the key to the Baten Kaitos universe and you will use them in everything. And I mean everything.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why opinions vary so much on this game is the battle system. When we look at everything else we can clearly see the makings of a great game. Fun and thought-out puzzles, a great (I can't stress that enough) soundtrack, beautiful artwork, and a pretty nice story to boot. The game plays like most of your standard-RPG's except with the Mangus element backing the puzzles in the game. You walk around an area with pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera-views. Go to towns to buy resources talk to NPC's and spend the majority of your time fighting in dungeons and dealing with the story at hand. There is no world map instead when you leave a town or dungeon you're just one big character who walks around on the image of a map. No encounters and no waiting. It's quick and easy to go from one place to another. When your in a dungeon all the enemies can be seen on screen and when you touch them combat starts. And this is where it gets . . . eh? Complicated?
Earlier I said that everything in the game revolves around cards right? Well I meant it. The combat in Baten Kaitos is all card based. You make your own deck and stack it with attacks, defense, special attacks, items, healing items, the ability to run, and so on. Everything in the game is left to the deck. Each character has their own deck with their own individual attacks,specials, and magic, You can edit every characters' decks to your liking. All the cards have a rank or level to them. You can't play a level 3 card unless you played both a level 1 and level 2 card before it. When I first played the game I would just load everyone's decks with weak level 1 cards so that I could damage the opponents as fast as I could and not have to keep shuffling and drawing cards. This wasn't the best strategy. I later fond it much better to make combos left and right. Don't be afraid to throw away as many cards as you you can. When your deck is depleted it will reshuffle all the cards you used up with no punishment. So it's best to throw away as many cards as you can and try to build up a good combo. The game can be a fun and exciting one with a lot of strategy that you have to make on the fly as you try to adjust to the situation and use what cards you have. But ultimately the game is one big game of chance. The deck is shuffled at random. Sometimes you're lucky and other times you're screwed. The concept's main flaw is that it's unforgiving. Your life is left to chance and chance alone. That is why I never met someone who was in-between with this game. It's ether you hate it or love it. The battle system is the deal breaker for most people.
All there is left to talk about is the story and some more loss ends. I like to start off the story summary by pointing out that even the story revolves around the Magnus Cards. It's something you can't escape. The story starts out by introducing us to a young man named Kalas. Kalas is something of a freak in the world he lives in. The world of Baten Kaitos is made up of giant islands that float in the sky. Over the years people have evolved to grow wings called Wings of the Heart. Everyone has wings except for people who live in the Alfard Empire who instead of wings have relied on technology. Kalas is not from the Empire, he is from Mira, The City of Illusion. People's Wings of Hearts are projections of the very person's souls and they take various forms. The more pure and good your soul the more elegant and wondrous your wings will look. Well Kalas' wings aren't that great. In fact I shouldn't say wings, I should say wing. Kalas only has one wing, He was shunned his whole life because of this. People say he has a cruel and wicked soul because he only has one wing. So you can see that Kalas doesn't really fit in with the world. What makes Kalas even more of a misfit is that he is from Mira. Mira is a strange and unique place in the Baten Kaitos world. Only people from Mira are able to hear the voice of a "Guardian Spirit". These people are called Spriters. So what is a "Guardian Spirit". That's you the player. You'll interact with Kalas and give others advice and likewise the characters will turn around, face the screen and address you the player. But the thing is for poor Kalas Spiriters are often seen as crazy. No one knows for sure if such a thing as a ""Guardian Spirit" actually exist in the Baten Kaitos world and most people just think Spiriters are just who having conversations with themselves.
But to get back to the story proper. Players are presented with Kalas who was traveling alone looking for a man named Giacomo who killed his family sometime before the start of the game. Kalas is knocked out by monsters in the forest he was traveling in and is saved. In the small town he was brought to he meats a mysterious girl named Xelha. Together they venture on out to that same forest and come across a boss fight. After beating the boss they learn of the End Magnus. Five cards that sealed a body part of an evil God. The Emperor of the Alfard Empire is looking to obtain all five of these cards to bring forth the evil God: Malpercio and do what else, rule the world. And it seems that he has hired the man Kalas was looking for Giacomo to find theses cards for him. It's up to these two and the rag tag team of friends they'll meat over the course of the game to stop the Empire from getting all five End Magnus and save the world. The story starts out cliche to say the least but give it time because stuff gets real and fast! Plot-twist will whip by so hard your neck will feel like it snapped off! The sound in the game is excellent. The soundtrack is just simply amassing and should be listened to by anyone. I highly recommend at least the soundtrack. Sadly the voice-acting leaves a little to be desired. It's not bad but Namco really didn't hire pros. It's amateur at best. But the worst of it is that Namco tried to make the game sound muffled like the it's coming to you via radio or crystal ball because you the player are interacting with the world. It's a nice idea but it makes all the acting sound like crap.
Baten Kaitos is a fun and original title. But it is founded on love it or hate it principles. I suggest giving it try none the less because it's THE RPG for the GameCube. I give Baten Kaitos a 4/5