Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean Review
What begins with Kalas, a young hero seeking revenge and bound to a guardian spirit, evolves into much more as he and his eventual battle companions are caught up in the scheme of an empire. Eventually, the fate of the entire world and an ancient god will be in their hands. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean contains an interesting mix of gameplay, story, and a variety of floating worlds, though the focus is clearly on the card-based battle system.
During battle, players and enemies take turns selecting cards out of their hand to use. These cards have various effects from representing a sword strike or spell to a shield or healing item. Designing a deck is a lot of fun and offers a considerable amount of customization. Filling a deck with offensive cards will allow powerful attacking chains to be created but will often leave heroes vulnerable, while an armor-heavy deck will often leave the player without any attack cards in their hand. Elements also play a rather large role in the game as almost every single enemy has a weakness. Cards of opposite elements will nullify each other when used in the same turn, so it is important to use caution when building a deck.
Each card also has a spirit number that will affect its use in combinations. Though they aren’t very useful until late in the game, these combinations can result in very high bonus damage if enough cards are included. These combos are created through matching cards with the same spirit number or through straights. If attacking or using items, this will result in bonus damage or healing respectively. Conversely, this will result in decreased damage while defending. Once combos are common, they can really add to the fun in the battle system by giving the player something to do during the lengthy attack animations. While these elements come together to create a good battle system, it’s really wasted on normal enemies. Battles often take several minutes and offer little or no challenge or excitement to players with well-designed decks. Luckily, boss fights are generally a lot of fun, but gameplay is still rather unbalanced.
Despite the small amount of time the game allows the player to choose cards from the deck to create combos, it is still surprisingly easy to do so with a carefully created deck. Early bosses can be defeated easily without combos, but even the final boss can only take a few straights before falling. Of course, there are a few more difficult bosses here and there, but the game is still rather easy in general, especially since normal enemies will often fall after a single hit.
Players can carry around hundreds of cards, but the game offers numerous sorting options to help players manage their decks. It can still be a bit difficult to scroll through cards near the end of the game, but the sorting interface makes life a lot easier for the player. In battle, a chart detailing an attack, elemental effects, and combo bonuses will appear after each attack to assist players. Though those are useful, the interface does have some faults as well. For starters, player HP readings vanish while using healing cards, making it difficult to figure out exactly how much to heal without falling short or wasting cards. Additionally, cards will transform into other cards after a certain amount of real time, but generally no warning or indication of the change is given. This will often leave players scratching their heads as to what happened to some of their cards or simply annoy them as their best cards rot in the middle of a battle. Another problem arises from the nature of the C-stick: selecting spirit numbers often requires precision that the C-stick simply does not offer. This results in combos periodically being ruined. The localization also features both ups and downs: while the spelling and grammar is good for most of the game, the voice recording is poor at times. Intentional or not, it can make some characters very difficult to hear on occasion.
The card-based battle system does derive most of its rules from other card games such as poker, but it’s still fairly original. The real time changes that certain cards go through is also a unique addition to the genre. Though the story is fairly cliché most of the way through, Baten Kaitos still contains an above average level of originality.
For the majority of the game, the storyline is nothing that hasn’t been seen in numerous games before, with only minor tweaks such as it taking place in the sky. The story does finally take off after a lengthy series of predicable events, but by then it’s really too late in the game to become particularly fleshed out. The story is decent overall, but it’s hurt by the lengthy introduction to the real game.
Spanning two discs, it should come as little surprise that Baten Kaitos is a rather long game. The main storyline is roughly thirty-five hours minimum, but there are plenty of sidequests to keep players entertained for much longer. These side events can easily add another twenty or so hours, though most of them are just glorified fetch quests.
Despite the length of the game, the music tracks are spread out enough that very few of the tracks become repetitive. The quality of most of the music is generally very good as well. It seems that a considerable amount of effort was put into the numerous battle tracks in particular. Given the amount of time spent in battle, this is very much appreciated.
Visually, Baten Kaitos really pushes the limits of the Gamecube. Pre-rendered, animated backgrounds really stand out and help the game come alive. Many of the attack and spell effects are beautiful as well. While it only has one FMV in its opening sequence, it is still among the most beautiful games out at present.
The battle system can get old after a while, especially since normal enemies can be defeated with minimum effort, but bosses are fun to fight. The story starts out rather cliché, but it eventually evolves into a decent storyline. While not as important as the actual story and gameplay, it features a lot of good music tracks and plenty of great visuals. All things considered, Baten Kaitos is greater than the sum of its parts. It has several flaws, but it’s still a good game overall.