Baten Kaitos Letters: The Long, Lost Ocean

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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, the end is at last upon us. We defeat Malpercio, rescue Melodia, and complete the game. Rebekah’s letter is first:

Hi Sparky!

We’re coming at last to the end…the real end. This final segment is more “end-like” than anything we’ve experienced before, with five character quests, an open world map, and a very final Final Dungeon. Unfortunately, Baten Kaitos tries to wrap its stories up in some bizarre, and often unsatisfying ways.

First, the five character quests are all pretty awful, and somehow all awful for different reasons. Xelha’s dungeon is mostly a reiteration of plot we learned in Wazn, only with adorable teenage Xelha at the helm. The dungeon itself is just a long series of what’s-behind-door-number-3… it’s a monster, by the way. It’s always a monster. The whole thing is dull considering it’s meant to bolster the Ice Queen herself.

Gibari’s challenge is unfulfilling due to lack of plot. You find out upon entering Nashira that Gibari used to be a knight of Diadem. Cool! Naturally, the expectation is that we’ll discover some interesting thread that occurred while he was there, potentially leading to this “mysterious” reason why he left… but no cigar. The information is dropped, then totally ignored in favor of a fishing contest with (in my opinion) the worst scripting moment in the game: a laugh scene to rival Tidus and Yuna’s.

Then there’s poor Lyude, who gets a cool dungeon in the form of the Phantom Goldoba. It’s full of spirits, likely brought forth by Malpercio’s darkness, who torment Lyude for abandoning his homeland and family. What’s sad about this one is that it actually could be a cool and tear-jerking moment, maybe, if the voice acting and script weren’t so awful. The way Skeed, Vallye, and Almarde torment Lyude is heavy-handed to the point of being nonsensical, and his “turn” at the end seems to come out of nowhere, as if the developers realized that Lyude really didn’t have much to live for, and pulled a quote off the nearest inspirational poster to save him.

Savyna’s character quest isn’t as bad. We revisit Azha and try to find the hardened soldier some closure in helping the citizens of Azha escape Malpercio’s monsters (to where, though, is anyone’s guess—there’s literally nothing across that desert). Again Baten Kaitos plays with interesting dungeon mechanics, forcing you to take a ton of water into the desert with you just to survive. Two problems here. The first: unless you talk to absolutely everyone and make some logic leaps, the game doesn’t actually tell you that you’re meant to carry lots of water, resulting in some awkwardness at the start of the dungeon. The second: The desert is barely a dungeon. You can get to the end without fighting any enemies or having to refill your water supply. Oh, and the boss is just a rehash of Folon, only easier. Dullsville.

…the five character quests are all pretty awful, and somehow all awful for different reasons.

Finally, Mizuti. Oh…Mizuti. I was complaining about dungeons being too short and too dull before, but I didn’t mean I wanted the opposite extreme. Mizuti’s quest involves chasing Kee and the Great Kamroh into…ugh, Zosma Tower. Which apparently has four more basement levels, all harder than the top four. Without a guide or a clear view of the entire floor at once, these puzzles can take hours to solve, mostly because of all the time you’ll spend climbing up and down, resetting, and climbing again. Furthermore, Zosma Tower culminates in another fake boss battle like the Ice Queen fight from Wazn. It’s not at all satisfying after all the work you just did in the tower.

Kalas doesn’t get a character quest, since the journey to the Celestial Alps effectively counted as his, but I do want to point out that in the conversations leading up to Cor Hydrae, I hate how he is suddenly set up as the chosen hero. It’s as though they were reading a list of RPG tropes and realized they missed this one at the last minute. Kalas is fine as he is, and already had his moment in the spotlight for cool character development. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the ending would have all played out the same whether he possessed the “Magnus of Life” or not.

With the character quests out of the way, there’s one more thing to do before headed to Cor Hydrae. I wanted to finish Quzman’s family tree. Early in the game, an old man named Quzman in Pherkad asks you to find all his family members, have them sign a family tree, and send them to stand by his death bed so he can be surrounded by them when he dies. I like Quzman’s quest. Each family member has an interesting story and connection to Quzman and the others, and discovering these connections organically as you meet the bracelet-wearing wanderers can be delightful. There’s an estranged wife who’s an abstract painter, parents who can’t agree on how to raise their children, a woman who pretends to have a bad memory to avoid social situations, and a man obsessed with rocks.

Quzman’s quest ties in nicely with the themes of redemption and unification we’ve been hearing all along, too. As we will soon unite all the world on the surface, so too we must gather Quzman’s family from every corner of the world and bring them together. At the end, Quzman dies happy, surrounded by those he loves (and some he probably barely knows).

And so to Cor Hydrae and the final plot party of the game. I won’t spend too much time on the dungeon itself: it’s long, with a few challenging puzzles, some big scary monsters, five mini-bosses, and really epic music. Just about everything a final dungeon needs.

Our first encounter with Melodia leads to a predictable rehash of the Malpercio fight in Duhr, where we absolutely trash the evil god, and the world leaders make an appearance to talk Melodia down… and yes, once again, she’s not really evil. We just want her to come home and be the sweet girl we used to know, right? You know, before she died and we used the power of an evil god to revive her… oh. That must be why she’s gone crazy now.

This touching origin story just enrages her all the more, and she merges with Malpercio to create… I don’t know, super Malpercio? It’s bigger and scarier than the last, and we have to beat it atop Cor Hydrae itself. Upon its defeat, we still refuse to just let evil people be evil and Kalas dives inside Malpercio to rescue the real Melodia so we can finally slay the demon god. Melodia returns with a new hairstyle (that makes no sense unless you have fan theories about Origins) and combines her powers with Kalas’s and yours (the spirit’s) to repair the Ocean Mirror, the Sword of the Heavens, and the Earth Sphere. With the three artifacts together again and Melodia removed, we topple the evil god at last.

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The ending, in which the continents descend at last and merge with the earth, is actually rather beautiful and sad. Xelha’s prayer throughout the game for restoration and redemption is answered at last. The people give up their wings of the heart, and return to what their ancestors lost, hopefully a bit wiser and kinder than before. It’s a strange story, when you think about it. We, who are stuck on the ground, dream of flying. These people, with the skies open to them, just want to return to the earthly home they left, freely giving up wings to get there.

…but there’s one other thing before we say goodbye to Kalas, and that’s Geldoblame’s giant stupid head sticking up out of the ground. …Yeah.

Xelha runs off on her own to release the entire ocean, which apparently the Ice Queens have been carrying inside them all these years. Kalas suspects something’s up and goes to be with her, quickly establishing the token romantic subplot of the game in its last fifteen minutes, and also explaining why Xelha has been so obsessed with Kalas all this time. As she’s about to release the ocean in a scene rife with some weird sexual tension, Geldoblame’s massive face rises up out of the ground and challenges you to a fight. As weird as this sounds, the sudden interruption of a quiet moment with a black screen and a creepy voice is terrifying if you didn’t expect it, and the crazy white faces popping up all over the screen aren’t much better.

Sadly (or happily, if you’re just ready to be done), this fight is a joke. Geldoblame is killed instantly if you get a Spirit Finisher, which I obtained in the first turn. He didn’t even get to attack.

Without remarking on the weirdness that just transpired, Xelha releases the ocean and, we presume, dies for it to live (don’t worry, she’ll be back in a few minutes). All the greythornes we’ve met throughout the game combine to form the long, lost Great Whale, and the world is made whole once again. Just in time for you to say goodbye, and return to your world.

There’s a lot going on in the ending to Baten Kaitos—some of it’s pretty nutty, and some of it’s rather beautiful. I think Xelha and Kalas’s argument is some of the better voice acting in the game, and the world building is just phenomenal, especially at the end. But after a game that was all about forgiveness and redemption in spite of even top levels of general evilness, I want to know how everything shakes out. I want to explore this new surface world, and see what all has changed. It really is too bad we never got a sequel. They seem to have learned from their worse mistakes in this when they made Baten Kaitos Origins, and I could only hope a third game would be even better. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Thanks for playing Baten Kaitos with me, Sparky! I hope your finale adventures were as grand as mine.

Next: May time, ever fleeting, forgive us...