Baten Kaitos Letters: The Secrets We Keep

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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, we join a new protagonist, venture to a snowy city, and experience another “fake” ending. Rebekah’s letter is first:

Hi Sparky!

Baten Kaitos immediately restores the player’s agency, lost to Kalas, as you join Xelha. Without you, the story cannot continue. You find Xelha trapped in the Imperial Fortress with Meemai, and it is only through your intervention that she finds the strength to blow up the door of her cell (wait, what?) and escape.

This section of the game is structured oddly, as if the game itself has to recover from what just happened. We don’t get another real dungeon until the Imperial Fortress, and our protagonists have to spend a lot of time talking to each other to set everything straight. Given that a dead god is being resurrected, it’s about time that someone figure out which of the legends involving him are true, and which are not. Of course, this falls to us.

As instructed by Corellia and Ladekhan, we accompany Xelha to the four continents minus Sadal Suud, where our friends are trapped. They’ve been bound to weird Y-shaped crosses and are guarded by monsters, apparently so their power (which rivals that of Malpercio?!) can be fed by the respective continents. Each visit to the Cracks hearkens us back once again to each continent’s “theme”, matching it to a hero from our party.

It’s a weird segment, but important later. Melodia’s plan seems to backfire, we escape, and we’re now carting around the energies of four continents with us. Cool!

Our next stop is Wazn, where Xelha finally gets some plot love. Not merely the pendant-wielding damsel in love with the hero, Xelha is queen of the ice lands, witch of once-great power. Her high status still requires that we trudge through a tedious mountain of snow and winds that never go our direction to get to her homeland, but that’s a small price to pay for the beauties that are Cursa and Kaffaljidhma.

I love Wazn, because the designers obviously wanted the player to be in awe of its beauty just as the characters are. They set up the reveal very nicely, by covering it with blowing snow and wind, allowing Xelha to clear the way and reveal a pristine, sparkling ice castle covered in ornate detail. There isn’t a room in Kaffaljidhma or Cursa that isn’t completely stunning.

Modern graphics in games have come a long way into the realms of realism, but I’m thinking of what you said in Mira. Not only do games rarely portray absurd environments anymore, but there are few really beautiful, fantastical ones. Kaffaljidhama was designed with such exquisite detail and care, like a painting, or a set for a ballet. It really is too bad we’ve largely resorted to accurately rendering brown ground, green trees, white snow.

For all its beauty, Wazn’s events have the distinct odor of filler. You run up and down the stairs of the castle a few dozen times on various fetch quests, and Xelha must obtain the only item that can save Kalas through a battle that should be epic, but really takes about two minutes and relies entirely on random chance.

For all its beauty, Wazn’s events have the distinct odor of filler.

Though Xelha’s backstory is thoroughly explained in Wazn, her persistent love of Kalas is not. In fact, the entire party is under his spell! It’s thoroughly bizarre how they want to rescue him, when the betrayal was set up so deliberately and chosen so completely by Kalas. Yes, he’s probably mind controlled by Malpercio or Melodia now. But…didn’t he choose that in the first place?

Yet rescuing Kalas is top priority for everyone. No one even directly mentions destroying Malpercio. For all his horrible attitude and nastiness and desire to see the world burn for his own wings, Kalas managed to make five of the most stupidly loyal friends manageable, one of whom is madly in love with him in spite of never having an intimate moment with him.

The other major highlight in Wazn is the emphasis on the trifecta of land, ocean, and sky. We have the Earth Sphere and the Ocean Mirror, setting us up for the third item we’ll encounter next week. Xelha is told it will soon be time to “release the ocean”, revealing the witches to be the people of the ocean. The islanders represent the sky, obviously, and we’ve heard hints of the Children of the Earth. These hints are offered again during the climactic scene at the end of the Imperial Fortress, as a part of Xelha’s prayer for redemption. More than ever, we sense that how things are now is not how things were, that humanity was the cause of this disunity, but it will not remain. To spite Malpercio’s reign of destruction, a kind of redemption may be at hand.

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We return to the continents with full intent of taking on the Imperial Fortress, saving Kalas, and ending the battle. In the Lava Caves, everything lined up nicely to deceive us into believing it was the final battle. Here, there’s another mild attempt at end boss fakery that falls slightly flatter the second time. The Imperial Fortress is the longest dungeon we’ve conquered so far: full of elevator puzzles, soldiers using the toilet, and Malpercio’s demon army. That, the epic music, and the double battle at the end almost make it a plausible finale.

First we take out a mutated Fadroh wielding a highly inappropriate beam out of an eye on his… let’s just say the monster design just keeps getting weirder. Next, we fight Kalas in a truly difficult match-up to save him from himself. Then comes a long, tense scene in which everything goes to pieces.

Melodia reveals that our return has been part of her plan all along and harnesses the energy of the five party members, coupled with the power of each continent, to birth Malpercio into this world. Xelha attempts to use the Ocean Mirror to break the mind control on Kalas, which mostly works, though his body still must obey her. When every bit of defiance the party has left in them is exhausted, Kalas breaks the spell. The darkness of Malpercio has obviously shown him more than he ever wanted to see. Knowing now the cost of his betrayal, Kalas rips out his new wing and returns to his broken body, but fully in control of it. The will of a mortal thwarts the power of a god, and Kalas is redeemed and “grounded” in a way that mirrors the ultimate redemption of the world.

But Kalas is exhausted and hurt. This time, Mizuti steps in, heralding the next segment of the game. She uses her strange powers as one of the Children of the Earth to make Malpercio gush green goo and force Melodia and the god into retreat. After a timely rescue and a more detailed recap of Kalas’s past, the party regroups in Mintaka, and Kalas is welcomed back into the fold.

Kalas’s return does make me wonder if Xelha knew the entire time that he would betray them, but also that he was ultimately good. We’re never told what her nightmare in Wazn was, yet it was enough for her to set off on her journey. Early in the game, she always looks at Kalas rather slyly when asking him to travel with her awhile longer, and there are several moments between the two that almost turn into serious conversations, but don’t, as though Xelha wants to say something she can’t. This could be attributed to awkward romance, but I’m not so sure. There’s something about the way she tries to speak to him in Balancoire, reprimands him in Azha, and finally her call to “Wait!” right before Kalas’s big reveal that hints at her knowing more than she lets on. If that’s true, her persistent faith in (and stupid crush on) Kalas makes sense too. If she knew his darkness so well, she should also know his light.

What do you think? Does Xelha know more than she seems to, or is she just bonkers over Kalas? Do you think the second “ending” effectively fakes the player out? And, most importantly: are you ready for Mask City next week?

Next: You know nothing