Baten Kaitos Letters: Beneath The Clouds

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Hi Sparky!

While this section of the game—a strange, almost purposeless sort of interlude between the appearance of the Big Bad and the character quests leading into the end—can be awfully tedious gameplay-wise, there’s a lot of good in it, too. I love getting to know Mizuti, and Kalas’s reformation is really set in stone here, even before we hit what effectively becomes his character quest (since he won’t get one later, with the others). Kalas is super nice now. He’s even the one who wants to go back and save the residents of Gemma. Yay!

I agree that most of the dungeons in and around Duhr are pure agony, though I always enjoy the Labyrinth. Zosma is tedious and the Celestial Alps, while pretty, try awfully hard to be “unique” with bug walls when it’s really just more of the same. Capella in particular is the most pointless place in the game. Literally the only “mechanic” is that you Move. Really. Really. Slow. It’s actually harder to run into monsters in there than it is to avoid them. And what’s up with the magically pristine house at the end of it that is nevertheless a total wreck inside?

For all the frustrations of block-climbing and mud-walking, you do pick up some of my favorite Magnus in the game from these locales. Lyude’s Rhapsody, Mizuti’s Providence, and of course, the counter to Kalas’s Fangs of Darkness, Fangs of Light. I love this finisher, as it’s the game once again reinforcing a character’s internal state through gameplay.

What places like the Labyrinth, Capella, and the top of Zosma do right is pique my interest in the world of Beforetimes. Before the Taintclouds, and the islands rose. If I hadn’t played Origins, I’d actually be leaning toward a more “futuristic” universe for the past, almost as though a civilization somewhat more advanced than ours had undergone some sort of apocalypse-sized disaster and had to compensate. Did you see those towers at the top of Zosma? They look like airport control towers, or radio towers.

There’s some evidence to support this theory, too. Larikush’s speech to Kalas about the nature of Magnus as effectively “encoded data” hints at it. Georg and Larikush’s experiments of creating life in a lab are not unheard of ideas today, and with 3D printing we’re already a step closer toward creating miscellaneous items based on data. After all, none of the wizards or magicians in this game actually use real magic. They simply know how to draw forth element-based powers from Magnus and use them to attack. What they call magic, we might refer to simply as technology.

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Origins debunks most of this (though not without the magic/technology angle), sadly, but it’s still an interesting thought. The world we are treated to below the clouds is interesting on its own, anyway.

I love Mizuti, and what I love most is how much she stands out, even in her own home. Of everyone in the village, only she, Kamroh, and Kee can hover; she’s the only one with the weird voice; and her dress is beautifully ridiculous. Her name is also the only non-K name you encounter. This is quickly explained away mostly by the fact that she is the most powerful wizard in Duhr, a descendant of the warlocks of old. Powerful enough, even that her parents don’t seem remotely concerned that their little girl ascended to the Sky (which everyone else seems to treat as absolutely off-limits, as Krumly’s plot shows) and went on this grand adventure. In fact, they laugh it off.

Actually, it’s a bit weird how the game treats the function of the Children of the Earth. It’s their job to stay below the Taintclouds, yet Mizuti headed up isn’t a big deal. In fact, she indicates that the Children are well-practiced at busting through the clouds, although no one in the sky seems particularly aware of their existence. Odd.

Other than providing Mizuti’s backstory and completing the Sky-Ocean-Earth triad the game rests upon, the storyline in Duhr is largely forgettable. Another artifact is destroyed, Malpercio grows stronger, and we’re still totally okay with forgiving everyone who offers their service to a powerful, wicked god who is trying to destroy us all. Even the battle against Malpercio in Algorab, after two other fake-outs for final boss (and we’re not even done with those!), wouldn’t be memorable but for Mizuti’s temporary costume change. Unfortunately, with her mask off, her voice acting is just as bad as everyone else’s. Put it back on, please.

The return to the sky is a welcome relief. It’s actually the first time in the game we’re given control over where we fly, so I managed to take a few detours and pick up some of Quzman’s family. We’ll be railroaded into the Alps next, but we’ve finally hit that beautiful point of Baten Kaitos where the world opens up to us for sidequesting. It’s lovely to venture back and speak to old NPC friends again—some even have some new things to say about the state of the world with Cor Hydrae at the center.

Visiting Cebalrai especially hits a bittersweet note for me. For the last fifteen or more hours of gameplay, we’ve been dealing with highly-advanced civilizations that were either really angry or terribly powerful, or both. It’s been a long time since we’ve met regular, ordinary people who just want to live their lives. Staging Larikush in Cebalrai, with the swaying trees and running children, has a way of reminding you what you’re fighting for.

Staging Larikush in Cebalrai, with the swaying trees and running children, has a way of reminding you what you’re fighting for.

And just because you mentioned Larikush’s arms, I’d like to point out that for every somewhat-ordinary looking human model in this game there is one that just blows my mind every time for how weird it is. Larikush is wearing a GIANT bow on his back. Some women are walking around with giant cone-hats. And I simply CANNOT get over the fact that at least one child in every village, as well as one of the witches of Wazn, is dressed up in a fish suit. Why?! Are they…infashion?!

This chapter wraps up with the dreaded trio fight, Parts 2 and 3, and boy is it a doozy. If you haven’t played the game, Giacomo’s voice in the doorway comes as a total shocker after his “death” on the Goldoba. He also tears your Spirit abilities out of the picture for the first half, rending you powerless to help Kalas.

I have to admit, though, I’m getting really sick of the Kalas/Fee flashbacks. My emotions can only be stirred up by a tragic death so many times, and as you said, there’s some really weird techno-babble stuff going on here. The universe of Baten Kaitos is weird, yes, but Kalas’s storyline before and during the Alps piles new information on how the world works higher than snow in Wazn.

With Giacomo’s death comes a sudden, weird attempt to redeem him, Ayme, and Folon in the eyes of the player and, in keeping with this game’s intense desire to forgive everyone, we’re completely okay with this. If the world’s story is one of redemption and unity, it only makes sense that we forgive literally everyone, no matter how heinous their crimes, as long as they have a sad enough backstory.

At least, I guess that’s where we’re going with this.

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

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