Baten Kaitos Letters Part 2: Earth and Sky

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Baten Kaitos Letters is a correspondence with our Rebekah Valentine and Sparky Clarkson of Ludonarratology, and originally posted there. In these letters, we will be discussing in-depth the GameCube RPG Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean as we play through the game together. This week, our adventures continue in Diadem, land of the clouds, and Anuenue, the rainbow nation. Rebekah’s letter is first:

Hi Sparky!

This week’s adventures take us to Diadem and Anuenue in search of two of the End Magnus. These areas are largely set-up: we acquire three more party members and solidify the main conflict here, while the major systems in the game start to flesh themselves out as Magnus become more available. We start in Diadem, land of the clouds:

Kalas and Xelha land in the quiet fishing village of Nashira, and are introduced almost immediately to Gibari. The fisherman Gibari sets himself apart immediately from the remainder of Nashira with his realism and willingness to help strangers. It’s clear from the dialogue that he has a history with Reblys, the village leader; King Ladekhan, and literally everyone in Sheliak, but for some reason no one comments on this.

Nashira is also home to the first of three Macbethian witches we’ll encounter. Witch One regales us with a bit of mythology: the world of Baten Kaitos apparently used to be like ours—on solid ground, with a huge ocean, and the people didn’t used to have wings.

It’s interesting to think of Wings of the Heart from an evolutionary standpoint, as having both a practical purpose in allowing people living aloft to fly, but also as a manifestation of a person’s inner self. From your last letter, we know that Wings of the Heart don’t serve a practical purpose. People still fly from island to island on derpy deer-creatures, and the islands themselves are navigable without them. Perhaps in a world already riddled with magic, wings were the natural response of people’s hearts to living in the sky? But that’s speculation.

Anyway, Gibari joins you with his fish wings for some rather unremarkable (if pretty) dungeons as you solve the flooding problem of the Celestial River and eventually reach Sheliak, where the castle is under siege by the Empire. There’s some weird, but intriguing gameplay going on in the castle involving selecting and commanding groups of soldiers into battle, but it’s fairly short-lived and way too easy.

I said last letter that Diadem was one of my favorite continents, but after replaying it, it’s occurred to me how tedious it is. This is likely due to the battles. By the end of Diadem, you’re up to four cards per turn and have a time limit ticking down, but everything still feels painfully slow. Enemies are harder to kill, and mobs of three are common. And even with a wider selection of cards and careful deck-balancing, I was still stuck passing turn after turn because I had no attack cards, or all rotten fruits. Blah.

It’s such a vague system, but for those willing to dig in a bit and explore, combining Magnus in combat is a blast.

In spite of this, I found myself delighted by the silly flavor text on the Magnus. I’m not using a guide, but a careful reading of each card often reveals what other Magnus with which that card can be combined. So, experimentation! Do I use the cucumbers first, or the honey? How many Aqua Bursts does it take to revive the dead flower? It’s fun, and often results in better surprises at the ends of battles than mere Chump Change. It’s such a vague system, but for those willing to dig in a bit and explore, combining Magnus in combat is a blast. And with that in mind, the slowness of battles isn’t quite so bad. You need the extra time to set up the cards you need.

But back to the story. Diadem’s adventures conclude with the defection of Lyude to your party. Lyude is an Imperial—by title, the Ambassador to Diadem, but his position is really one of exile. See, Lyude is a kind-hearted, compassionate soul who loves the simple things in life. The Empire, being the Big Bad Evil Technology Country, obviously has no room in it for someone with a heart. So they shipped him and his trumpets out to Nashira to get him out of the way.

Once Lyude realizes you’re on the side of justice and good, he joins your group with a deck full of heavy-handed symbolism: all his Magnus are dark and light based. Normally I’d find that really annoying, but you can’t get mad at a guy wielding a tuba gun. You take him with you aboard your fluffy boat and set sail for Anuenue.

Anuenue, like Diadem, sports a charismatic leader, pretty dungeons, a gorgeous capital, and a new party member with some crazy wings. We get our first glimpse of Geldoblame, and welcome Savyna to the team for another dungeon culminating in an End Magnus that we actually get to keep this time. Nice.

This game really sets you up to fall hard, doesn’t it? You’re told repeatedly there’s a traitor in your midst, and then immediately proved wrong. Lyude tosses the End Magnus to Folon…but he was under weird mind-control. Some hasty action on Kalas’s part (that jerk never listens to me) results in a confrontation with Savyna at the top of the Celestial Tree, but she reassures you she’s on your side…and you believe her. That leaves Gibari, who’s too boring to be a traitor; Xelha, the quintessential goody good girl; and Kalas, who’s the “hero” and thus totally unsuspicious.

What surprised me most about Kalas during the Diadem and Anuenue sections was what a bystander he is to the story thus far. He may be the “party leader” by default, but he exhibits little to no agency in group decisions. And he’s so fickle! During times of danger, such as the attack on the Mindeer, he shows obvious concern for his party members, particularly Xelha. But when asked his opinion or given an opportunity to speak up on the nature of his mission, he retorts like a child being dragged on “errands” with his parents.

Even more bizarre is that in spite of all this, everyone else insists that Kalas stick around. At five party members, everyone can obviously get on fine without him. He contributes nothing unique to the group. But Gibari, in particular, strong-arms him into staying. Why? We know why Kalas stays—he has ulterior motives. But it seems utterly beyond logic for the others to keep him around (and let him carry the super powerful world-ending item) when he’s such a selfish jerk.

With three End Magnus down, we ship off to Mira. Before we see land, the Goldoba swoops in to thwart our plans, but also to drop hints that we’re about to find out more about our main character. It’s already pretty apparent that every single party member has some interesting secrets, but with Giacomo’s mention of the “Divine Child” and Kalas’s intriguing family history dropped during a conversation with Xelha, it’s clear that our main character might start showing himself as a hero very soon. Maybe.

Most of the meat of Diadem and Anunue is at the end of each continent. What are your thoughts on Gibari, Savyna, and Lyude? Have you found any interesting Magnus combinations I should try out? Does Kalas hate you yet?

Next: Everyone's a hero but the hero