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Developer:
Monolith
Publisher: Namco
Platform: Gamecube
Release Date: November 16, 2004

by Tony Ames




The second effort from Monolith, the team behind Xenosaga, has come forth. With that sort of pedigree, one would expect a lengthy epic with sky-high production values. While Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is hardly perfect, it certainly delivers on those fronts.


Baten Kaitos is, simply put, a gorgeous game. The backgrounds are colorful, imaginative, and vibrant. The characters are fluid and intricately designed. Even battle effects simply ooze style. The three combined form a visual experience that’s wholly captivating.


Layered over all that is the soundtrack, which is just beautiful: mellow themes that sweep you in their melodic flow; festive tracks that thrust you into each new town; battle music that sets the tempo of combat wonderfully yet still sounds fantastic. In fact, if not for some troubles with the voice acting, I’d call it the ideal audio setup. In addition to just being lackluster, though hardly bad, on its default setting the voice work had a seemingly intentional distortion. Switching some audio settings (namely, changing from ‘stereo’ to ‘surround’) pretty much cut it out, but it still made for an annoying couple of hours.


This could almost be a fair way to sum up the story, as well. While there’s a good deal of interesting material, especially matters of history and legends, it takes the game an inordinate amount of time to start revealing and using it. In a fairy-tale world where the land has taken to the skies and oceans, a young man named Kalas seeks vengeance for his fallen grandfather and brother. This quest steadily entangles him in the mission of Xhela, a girl trying to stop a great empire from resurrecting an ancient God. This is a good, if slightly cliché, foundation that the game takes nearly 10 hours to start expanding on. Frankly, I’m not sure the story really justifies that much patience on the part of players.


Fortunately, Baten Kaitos has more than just a story. It features a strangely intuitive battle system built around decks of cards called Magnus. While the decks start with 20 cards comprising various offensive and defensive options, you choose which ones to use from a hand of 3, and may use 2 at a time. This keeps things from getting too unwieldy, although one occasionally gets a bad hand and wastes turns due to lacking attack cards. However, deck size, hand size, and the number of cards you can combo all gradually increase throughout the game, giving the player better control while easing them into the system. The result is a nice balance between being easy to play and engaging.


The game makes a good effort to keep you engaged outside combat, however. Even from the very beginning, large-scale side quests are available and pretty much out in the open. And by large scale, I mean you can accomplish bits and pieces of it in nearly every location, and that completing parts of them often involve smaller quests unto themselves. But that’s to be expected from an epic.


All told, Baten Kaitos is worth at least a glance from any Gamecube owner. Just be warned that it will definitely try your patience.


Final Grade: 79%




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