From Monolith, the developing team behind Xenosaga, comes Baten Kaitos, an original RPG for the Nintendo GameCube. Sporting an innovative card-based battle system and a typical yet grandiose storyline of the "Let's save the world!" variety, Baten Kaitos could turn out to be a solid RPG entry for the console.
The world of Baten Kaitos is made up of a series of floating islands, and its population comes equipped with wings that can be used to help navigate these islands. The story is centered on two characters, Kalas and Xhela. Kalas is on a quest of revenge, while Xhela sets out to change the world for the better. The explorative duo meets up near the Moonguile Forest, and proceeds to venture into said forest to continue on their quests. Inadvertently, they arouse a sleeping demon, setting off a chain of events that endangers the world in which they live. Suddenly, it is up to Kalas and Xhela to save the world from the monster they unleashed.
Despite its seemingly lackluster storyline, Baten Kaitos stands apart from other RPGs because of its innovative approach to combat. Battles are based on using cards, called "Magnus Cards", which are used for both offensive and defensive combat abilities. A player forms a deck from their collection of cards, a few of which become available randomly each turn in combat. Attacks of the sword and magic variety are available via these cards, as well as defensive moves and healing magic. In addition, items found while exploring can be stored in cards and used. Another twist comes in that cards will have an element attributed to them, which can be used to exploit elemental weaknesses of opponents. In addition, by using certain cards in succession, combo attacks can be performed for added effects and damage. Cards are assigned numbers, so playing them in pairs or straights can lead to these more powerful effects.
Acquiring money is also centered on the use of cards. Enemies won't drop money after combat. Instead, money is earned by using a "camera card" in battle. By using the camera card, a picture can be taken of the enemies being fought, which can be developed and sold to NPCs. The money earned can be used to buy more cards to enhance a player's arsenal and continue the vicious card-collecting cycle of addiction.
Gameplay outside of combat also utilizes Magnus Cards in a variety of situations. By absorbing items that can be used as tools into blank cards, the player can solve puzzles, complete quests, or overcome obstacles. The nature of the items stored in cards can change or evolve over time, and cards can also be combined for a variety of effects.
Graphics in Baten Kaitos are very impressive, as expected from a developer like Monolith. Character designs by Asami Fujita are rendered in a style that resembles Chrono Cross. All environments and backgrounds are extremely detailed, rich, and colorful. The soundtrack for Kaitos was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who also worked on Star Ocean 3. While the score seems to be getting some excellent reviews, the voice work in Baten Kaitos is not. Luckily, any gamers easily annoyed have the option to turn off these voice-overs.
After the release of Tales of Symphonia earlier this year, publisher Namco delivers another RPG for the Nintendo GameCube console with Baten Kaitos. Incorporating an innovative combat system with a traditional story and beautiful graphics, the title deserves a closer look by any fans of the console. Look for the release of Baten Kaitos for the GameCube on November 16th.