Baten Kaitos Letters: The Secrets We Keep

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Hi Rebekah,

Xelha’s rescue missions and the return to face Kalas are a crucial part of Baten Kaitos, and they’re also a part where it doesn’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do. In the aftermath of the shocker in the Lava Caves, the game starts undermining almost everything you were led to believe about its characters and world. It also tries to move the emotional focus. The twist that happens in the Lava Caves is largely an attack on you, the player, and all it requires for impact is for you to care about yourself. In this segment the game needs you to care about the characters.

That’s a problem because the game is also very busy in this part teaching you that you don’t really know anything about these characters. You didn’t know anything about Kalas, and you know even less about the other members of the party, especially Xelha. Her escape from the Imperial prison is an incomprehensible series of events. She suddenly gains the strength to blow open her cell, which is a surprise, but the real shocker is finding a hole blown in the wall of the fortress and three bizarre-looking women and a dragon waiting to rescue her. Baten Kaitos doesn’t explain this for a while. Instead we find ourselves almost immediately back in Anuenue tasked with picking up our remaining friends.

You didn’t know anything about Kalas, and you know even less about the other members of the party, especially Xelha.

I actually like the mildly tedious process of hopping into the dimensional cracks and taking down the element-themed enemies, and not just because it gives me a great opportunity to farm snapshots in the Lava Caves. For one thing, Baten Kaitos is gentle about it: only two of the cracks are hidden in dungeons. Also, this quick tour of locations previously visited helps build up the conceit that this time, we really are headed for the final confrontation, if not in the Imperial Fortress, then immediately afterwards. By the time we finish this segment, we’ll have revisited almost every continent, and seen the empire of Alfard toppled. The desperation and hopelessness of the NPCs in Mintaka is a well-done contrast to their preceding haughtiness. By the time we get to that point, we’ll have also gone to Wazn, apparently leaving only Cor Hydrae on the map. That seems to set up the endgame nicely!

This fakeout is, as you point out, kind of a hard sell. Baten Kaitos has faked us out once already, and as a powerful man once said: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… foolmah… won’t be fooled again.” We know enough to be wary of the game’s tricks. Still, the game structures this very much like an endgame, with a preliminary boss in the form of Fadroh. It’s unfortunate that this fight provides most of his characterization, because the obvious sexual references of the boss design seem like they could play off the “pretty-boy general” trope in an interesting way.

I know what you’re wondering, and the answer is: yes, he does fire a laser out of that eye in his crotch.

Baten Kaitos completes the design illusion by giving us a forgiving savepoint right before the seemingly crucial encounter. Then it throws another curveball. All this work we’ve been doing has actually helped Melodia!

Once again, though, it’s something you totally see coming in retrospect. Corellia says a couple of times that the true power of the End Magnus could only be unlocked by a power of almost equal magnitude. And what does leveling up in an RPG mean besides acquiring power? All those visits to that church, where we prayed to achieve higher and higher classes and levels, gaining power comparable to that of a god… And after all, didn’t we take down several guardians? Didn’t we wipe the floor with Giacomo, Ayme, and Folon, a trio firmly established as the world’s baddest dudes? Didn’t we topple Geldoblame after he absorbed the power of Malpercio? We’ve been getting stronger all along, and Baten Kaitos cleverly cracks the fourth wall to acknowledge this and make it part of Melodia’s plan.

The other would-be surprise here is that the Ocean Mirror can’t save Kalas; it can only straight-up kill him. Unfortunately the impact of this moment is blunted by inartful staging—Barnette spilled the beans a while earlier. Despite the fact that it should be fresh in our memory we get to see that monologue replayed for us in an encounter already gummed up by flashbacks. We could have done with just one viewing of this scene, and better-chosen flashbacks here generally (we seriously have to see Xelha ask Kalas if he’s from Mira, at this moment?).

There’s some good stuff going on here, too. Kalas ripping his new wing off is a powerful moment, where he abandons an ideal body in favor of a better heart. Xelha’s pain and confusion at the prospect of killing him is compelling. All of this, however, is dramatically undercut by the voiceover, which is kind of a disaster throughout this scene. Probably a lot of this is due to bad voice direction and audio mixing, but it certainly doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is a much better fit for a storyboard than an actual living moment. The writing (or the translation) has to take a lot of the blame here, because we emerge from this battle without really understanding why Kalas changed his mind.

Of course, the rest of the party doesn’t understand it either and it doesn’t seem to bother them all that much. It is kind of remarkable that everyone accepts Kalas back into the fold more-or-less immediately, considering what a dick he was for the whole preceding adventure. I don’t find that unbelievable, though, so much as an indication that almost everyone in the party has been keeping an important secret from everybody else. In this small segment of the game alone we find out that both Xelha and Mizuti belong to legendary magical societies. Xelha in particular keeps her secret an absurdly long time under the circumstances.

We also see that even though Kalas apparently doesn’t remember it, Savyna was present the night Georg’s home was attacked (and didn’t lift a finger to save him and his brother). Now there’s a rough flashback… I had forgotten that it shows an adorable little boy covered in blood. Hard as it is to watch, this sequence does a lot to get Kalas back into the player’s good graces. Kalas’ positive interactions with Fee and Georg show us his good side, and Fee’s end reveals the moment that drove Kalas over the edge.

The other character whose motivations get pretty well explained here is Xelha. I agree that Cursa and Kaffaljidhma (gesundheit!) are uniquely beautiful locales, but also that Wazn is dullsville from a gameplay perspective. Narratively, though, it explains a great deal about Xelha’s actions and demonstrates that even more of the game’s events have been orchestrated by powers outside the party than even Kalas’ betrayal would indicate.

It’s amazing how much changes in our perception of the world and the party during this comparatively short segment of the game. Wazn, a rumor up until now, proves to be not only real, but a major player in the world, having created Anuenue’s shield and manipulated Savyna into joining the party. Xelha turns out to be an immensely powerful magical queen, not just some innocent caught up in a plot too big for her. Most importantly, in the short term, we learn that the Taintclouds cover not a dead world, but one where the Children of the Earth still live. And Mizuti is one of them.

Also, we ditched the slugboat and we’re riding on a rad dragon. Now that we’re riding the ultimate way to fly, it’s finally time to visit the actual ground. Onward to Earth!

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

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