Baten Kaitos 1 and 2, developed by Monolith Soft and published by Namco, are two JRPGs that often fly under the radar. Released for the Nintendo GameCube in the mid-2000s, these titles may not have achieved the widespread recognition they deserved. However, they remain hidden gems cherished by those who had the privilege to experience them. To this day, the card-based combat system, engaging narratives, and captivating worlds make the Baten Kaitos duology an unforgettable RPG experience.
While it took some time for Monolith Soft to hit its stride with Xenoblade, the studio has consistently delivered memorable experiences for decades. It surprised many when Bandai Namco announced a remaster was in the works last year and that it would be bundling both games into one package. While it’s a good remaster, there are some issues plaguing the overall experience, but ultimately, this is a package an entire generation missed out on and can now experience.
It’s all in the cards
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, the first installment in the series, introduced players to a rich and enchanting world filled with floating islands, magical beings, and a profound narrative. The story follows Kalas, a young hero who embarks on a journey of vengeance and self-discovery after a devastating incident leaves him with a mysterious, sentient winged guardian; Xelha, a kind-hearted young woman with her motives, also joins him on his quest. The plot is intricately woven, gradually revealing the secrets of the world and the mysteries surrounding our protagonists.
One of the standout features of Baten Kaitos is its card-based combat system, a refreshing departure from the turn-based battles found in most RPGs. Players assemble decks of “Magnus” cards, each representing a weapon, spell, or item, and use them strategically in battles. The cards have their elemental properties, and combining cards can lead to powerful combos and devastating attacks. This system encourages experimentation and rewards players for their creativity in constructing decks. The combat is engaging and challenging, making battles a highlight of the gameplay experience.
Baten Kaitos’ unique art style combines hand-drawn 2D characters with pre-rendered 3D environments, creating a visually striking and immersive world. The floating islands, each with its distinct atmosphere, are a testament to the creativity of the game’s designers. The pre-rendered backgrounds have aged well and still hold up as visually stunning even today.
The framerate in Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster isn’t always rock-solid, especially in larger maps. There are moments when things get a bit jittery. But let’s be honest, it’s not game-breaking.
Surprisingly, Producer Koji Nakajima confirmed something I didn’t expect a few weeks ago —the lack of English dubs in the remaster. Yes, both the Lost Ocean and Origins had English dubs on the GameCube, but they’re gone in these remasters. Nakajima said they attempted to keep the dub in but couldn’t “make adjustments on some of the expressions to match the current era.” It’s a bummer for those who enjoyed the original voice acting, but it doesn’t take much away from the experience. I remember how rough Lost Ocean’s dub was then, but the sequel did an impressive job of turning things around.
The remastered package also features quality-of-life upgrades that make playing an older game easier. For starters, there’s now a pause menu incorporating the ability to turn encounters off, turn on auto-battles, and speed up encounters upwards of 300 percent. Additionally, there are buffs you can activate to make battles a breeze, a feature I think is welcome in any game if I’m honest. Older games are notorious for padding their playtime by making the player backtrack so it’s a nice change of pace being able to turn off encounters when you need to revisit an area or hit a section where the pacing isn’t the best.
Baten Kaitos is one of the greats and is well worth experiencing
The music in Baten Kaitos is another high point. Composed by Motoi Sakuraba, the soundtrack features a diverse range of musical styles, from hauntingly beautiful melodies to epic orchestral compositions. The music enhances the emotional impact of the story and adds depth to the game’s world.
However, Baten Kaitos is not without its flaws. The voice acting, while generally good, can be hit or miss at times, with some characters’ performances feeling forced or awkward. Additionally, the game’s pacing can be uneven, with occasional slowdowns in the plot’s progression, particularly in the middle section. Despite these minor issues, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an exceptional RPG that deserves more recognition.
Baten Kaitos Origins serves as both a prequel and a standalone story, offering a different perspective on the world introduced in the first game. This time, players assume the role of Sagi, a young spiriter tasked with investigating mysterious occurrences in the empire. As the story unfolds, Sagi finds himself entangled in a web of political intrigue and power struggles that could reshape the world.
The card-based combat system from the first game returns in Origins with some refinements and improvements. Adding Combo cards allows for even more strategic depth, as players can chain attacks together for devastating combos. This enhanced system builds upon the already engaging combat of the first game, making battles even more enjoyable.
Some pacing issues
Origins retains the series’ distinctive art style with beautifully designed characters and environments. The pre-rendered backgrounds are once again a visual treat, and the game introduces new locations and areas that add to the sense of wonder and discovery. While it may not push the GameCube’s graphical capabilities to the limit, the game’s art direction makes up for any technical limitations.
Motoi Sakuraba returns to compose the soundtrack for Origins, delivering another outstanding collection of tracks that complement the game’s atmosphere and emotional moments. The music serves as a cohesive thread connecting the two titles and adds continuity to the overall experience. This is Sakuraba at his best, coming off working on StarOcean 3 and Tales of Symphonia.
One of the standout aspects of the Baten Kaitos duology is the world-building. Both games take place in a universe where continents float in the sky, and the mysteries of the islands, the Guardians, and the spiriter powers are central to the narrative. The lore is deep and fascinating, and players will find themselves eager to uncover the secrets of this enchanting world.
However, Baten Kaitos Origins also inherits some pacing issues in the first game. There are moments when the plot seems to meander or become bogged down in political intrigue, which may deter some players. Additionally, the game’s difficulty can be somewhat unbalanced, with specific battles posing a significant challenge while others are relatively straightforward.
As classic RPGs, Baten Kaitos 1 and 2 shine as underappreciated gems. Both games offer engaging narratives in a beautifully crafted world, with card-based combat systems that provide a fresh and enjoyable gameplay experience. The visual design, music, and world-building contribute to the series’ unique charm.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and Baten Kaitos Origins may not have achieved the widespread acclaim of some other RPG franchises, but their enduring appeal is undeniable. The intriguing characters, profound lore, and memorable stories make these titles a must-play for any RPG enthusiast.
If you’re willing to invest the time and embrace the unique card-based combat system, you’ll discover a rich and captivating world waiting to be explored. The Baten Kaitos duology is a testament to the creativity and innovation that can be found in the world of JRPGs, and it deserves to be experienced by fans of the genre.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]