Baten Kaitos Letters Part 1: The Adventure Begins

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Hi, Sparky!

Thank you for having me. Baten Kaitos is so… delightfully weird. I played this game last in high school, and have fond memories of both its beauty and its…eccentricities. Particularly in light of time and the evolution of RPGs, it’s worth a closer look.

Though the GameCube definitely skimped in the RPG department (allow me to add the beautiful port of Skies of Arcadia to your list, along with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles), it still had plenty of strong titles in its heyday to warrant some notice. Most of them were your typical fluffy Nintendo games. I remember particularly Animal Crossing, various Sonic titles, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance as the selling points my friends and I rallied around.

In a wider context, the GameCube had some serious problems and marked the beginning of Nintendo’s struggle to simultaneously innovate and retain their audience. That’s no surprise, when the console touts RPGs like this one.

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If you get whatever they smoked at the pitch meeting, I want what they drank at the later meetings where they filled out the world. To the crazy universe you’ve already mentioned, they added adorable squishy whale babies, monsters that shoot beams out of eyes on their privates, a city made of cake, upside down dungeons, and a huge side quest based entirely on an old man’s lechery. Seriously.

Baten Kaitos was and is worth playing simply for all the weirdness. The bizarre can be disorienting, but the surprises are all the more memorable.

Your adventures in Sadal Suud subtly lay the groundwork for everything else you’re about to experience. All you mentioned: wings of the heart, Magnus changing over time… is taught to you by NPCs in Cebalrai and Pherkaad, if you think to ask. For example, one of Quzman’s family members accessible early on needs Pow Yogurt before she’ll sign your Family Tree. You already know you can obtain Pow Milk, after fetching it for a woman in Cebalrai. By now, your bamboo shoots and bananas have probably started turning, so it’s not a difficult leap to discern the origins of Pow Yogurt.

To contrast, the battle system is somehow more boring on the first continent than any typical RPG “Wooden Sword/Attack” starting combo. The time limits don’t appear until after you’ve left Sadal Suud, your cards are painfully limited, and gosh the characters move slow. (click through to YouTube for a little more detail on the battle system at this point)

Still, the tedious start is necessary to gently teach the player the ropes. By the final boss, you’re flinging around nine cards, each with four rotating numbers, and a punishing time limit.

Kalas is awful, and I disagree that not being him softens it. I find that being his guardian spirit makes it worse, because now you can be treated like dirt along with everyone else. You’d think that your relationship with him would net you some respect. Instead, he manipulates you into agreeing with his every stupid decision—a harbinger of what’s to come. Your reward is a better chance at random, superpowered finishers in battle… and unfortunately, losing them isn’t worth the opportunity to snark at Kalas. There’s no payoff for speaking your mind.

What should fascinate new players about Kalas, aside from his disability, is that he breaks the typical “average joe from a farming village” stereotype. He isn’t from Cebalrai, and his motives for being there aren’t at all clear. The bits of info he gives you (after he tells you, unprompted, that you must have amnesia) amount to: he’s from Mira, he is interested in ancient ruins, and the bits about Giacomo, Gramps, and Fee. But why is he in Sadal Suud at all? Was he looking for Giacomo? Does this guy even have a job?

The lack of practical wings is indeed a facepalmer, and you pretty well covered it, so let me mention the atrocious voice acting. Every character in this game, without exception, sounds like they are speaking through a length of PVC pipe to someone they think is foreign. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not (it could be argued that it sounds like they’re speaking through the “ocean”, or that you’re a Spirit technically, or something I guess), but conversation is just painful.

The worst offenders are children NPCs. “I’m Cedr! C…E…D…R! Cedr!” … yup. Thank you for taking an hour to spell your name for me, kid. I’ll be off now.

The beginning is very slow and strange, but there are some wonderful bright spots. The leveling system is unique and challenging, encouraging you to fully prepare before going into a dungeon or boss fight.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about this game, especially considering I adored Baten Kaitos when I first played. The beginning is very slow and strange, but there are some wonderful bright spots. The leveling system is unique and challenging, encouraging you to fully prepare before going into a dungeon or boss fight. Similarly, taking pictures for gold, while weird, is an interesting twist. Your battle strategy actually affects your income. It’s one of the many little quirks (recipes being another) that keeps regular monster battles from growing tedious.

Finally, I can’t end this letter without mentioning the exquisite backdrops in Baten Kaitos, or its superb soundtrack. While the character models are a bit vague, the backgrounds for villages, dungeons, and overworld alike have a level of detail and beauty that was rare on the GameCube.

Motoi Sakuraba pairs these landscapes with what I personally believe is one of his finest soundtracks. He balances beautiful, touching melodies, epic orchestrations, tribal chant, and (just because it’s Baten Kaitos) rap music. Rap music that is somehow not at all inappropriate to the action going on. “Chaotic Dance” was so popular, they remixed it for the prequel (it wasn’t as good).

I look forward to Diadem and Anuenue, where the action really picks up. Lyude and Gibari serve as pleasant balances to Kalas the Jerk and Xelha the Penguin (her running animation!), and Diadem is even more beautiful than Sadal Suud, with the Celestial River and clouds everywhere. If not for Mira, it’d be my favorite place in the game.

To Nashira!

Michael Clarkson’s work, screenshots, and video have all been reproduced with permission. For more of his work, click here.

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