Developer: Monolith Soft
Release date: 11/16/2004
In the recent boom of new-age RPG’s, developers have been trying to solve the age-old problem of beating the dead horse one way or another with the prison-like genre’s limitations. The main topic of this turbulent discussion would be the battle system, the literal make or break point for any RPG set on capturing more than the hardcore devotee’s attention, and Baten Kaitos steps out of the norm to deliver a fresh new look that may or may not sit well with some fans.
Baten Kaitos is a game set far in the future, where mankind has lost many of the technical advantages that we hold in our present time, and has risen the masses of land on Earth into the sky. You play as Kalas, a youth who is bent on revenge for the massacre of his family by the military, but a chance meeting with a young woman pulls him into one of the biggest twists to be witnessed in RPG’s for years.
First and foremost, anyone who has seen screens from the game can tell that it sets the new benchmark for pre-rendered backgrounds, just as Chrono Cross did many years ago. Each and every single area in the game features and vibrant and aesthetic environment that literally looks like it exists in real time, the time and care put into each and every area really feels like there was no section overlooked in this game. Towns will have photo-realistic puffs of clouds roll about in the streets in real time, while others will have a fog slither along the players’ feet. The integral usage of clouds really helps solidify the fact that these environments exist in the air.
Characters are rendered in 3D, and they sport some of the zaniest outfits to be witnessed in a game, for example, Kalas sports a pair of blue slippers that had a modification in Japan along the line. But these costume choices only emphasize the vibrant atmosphere, and the characters poly count helps them look smooth as they move right in front of the screen, or travel far into the background. As mentioned before, Chrono Cross is a key factor in this game, as a few refugees that worked on the game have joined the art team for Baten Kaitos. The overland maps will prove this, which feature absolutely stunning renditions that have real time lighting and clouds moving about as you travel about, which again, makes it feel realistic in a not-so-realistic world.
One of the games biggest draws is the musical score produced by none other than gaming music legend Matoi Sakuraba, responsible for the scores featured such games as the Tales series, Valkyrie Profile, and the Star Ocean series. The score in the game has an atmospheric overtone, which captures the setting of the game perfectly. The upbeat battle theme is actually composed in a way that it won’t irritate the player when he has to hear it for the 200th time, similar to Final Fantasy VI’s themes. The one problem with the score is that there isn’t enough content to spread across the game, as you will hear similar themes to different towns and dungeons, which takes some of the uniqueness of the near-perfect environments. Unfortunately, since we are talking about audio, I must present to you the biggest downfall of the game that drags its audio presentation from greatness to mind-numbingly annoying: the voice acting.
Back when Baten Kaitos was still just movie streams and demos, it actually featured a nice set of voice actors, but them something happened; Namco began to shift its priorities to other games, leaving Monolith Soft with three good voice actors, and a collection of people that sound like they were pulled off of the street and told to read the lines and leave. Kalas, Gibari, and Savyna actually sound like professionals in their field, conveying the right feeling within the limitations of their characters feelings. As for everyone else, it sounds like they don’t understand the tone or setting that they read the line from, thus destroying the mood in certain situations due to an oddly read line.
Fortunately for players, the ability to turn off the voices in the game is a god-send, and will greatly alleviate any worries of having to listen to the horrid voice acting.
But here is where the games biggest make or break point is, the battle system. People who had heard of what the battle system was based off of beforehand were quick to dismiss it as riding the gravy train that is very popular in Japan: card games. In essence, the premise of card game is being a bit overused in Japanese games, but Baten Kaitos puts a spin on it by integrating the cards with the traditional ATB-esque interface for a very streamlined experience. The way that the system works is very easy to grasp once you have enough practice with it, and will continue to surprise you as you progress further in the game.
The cards that you collect and buy in shops can be used in battle or on the field, depending on their type. In battle, each character can be equipped with a variety of cards that will either attack, heal, or take a picture of your fellow players or enemies (more on that later). The cards in each characters deck is shuffled in a random order, and the player will have to negotiate with the deck at hand. In each card, there lies “Spirit Numbers” that reside in six corners of the card, there will be fewer Spirit Numbers early on, but as you progress, they grow in number. If you are able to string the numbers in a certain order, such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 2, 4, 6, 8, you will be rewarded accordingly with a larger amount of damage dealt, a larger healing bonus, or less damage taken. There are also many combinations that will create new cards for your deck, so this gives the player more of an incentive to take risks in battle to create a powerful card.
Battles flow very fast and can be very challenging with the time constraint placed on you to choose a card before your turn is skipped. The way that the game streamlines this experience is by letting the player select the Spirit numbers on cards by just moving the C-stick in the direction of the number they desire. The player will actively choose cards as the character is attacking, almost creating a pseudo-real time battle system that also mimics the action while the player is defending. The take on receiving money is also a very fresh experience, as the only way to obtain it is by taking pictures of your adversaries. During battle, if your Camera card appears in the deck as you are attacking, you can take a snapshot as you are attacking, but the quality of the picture is dependant on how well you are stringing your attacks together. If you are stringing Spirit Numbers together nicely and keeping your cards in the right element, you will get a crisp picture that will fetch a high price, but if you are picking random cards and ignoring everything, you will get a blurry picture that will not be worth as much.
As you progress and gain experience, you will be able to visit a church to level up by using up your experience points, or level up your class, which allows you to use more cards per turn. This means that if you are at a low level, and continuously dying at the boss, you will have to travel all the way back to the nearest church to be able to level up and tackle the challenge again. This can be very frustrating to some, and it may force you to lose all of your progress if you are unable to backtrack out of the dungeon without dying. The way that Baten Kaitos tries to alleviate encounters is by having monsters actually appear on-screen, so that you will be able to avoid them if necessary, but don’t expect to be able to do it all the time.
One of Baten Kaitos’ major problems is that players that do not grasp the card system early will be subsequently be shut out from the games increasingly high demand that you act accordingly to the situations it presents to you. You will have to rearrange your entire deck sometimes, and understand the environment that you are in. The reason being is that each characters deck is chosen completely at random, so if you desperately need a healing item, and the character whose turn is at hand only has one healing card in their deck, chances are that you won’t see that card until the 4th or 5th turn.
Another problem that arises is that early on, the game's story really drags on with a generic plotline where you will see some of the twists coming from a mile away. This will quickly diminish some players desire to press on and discover that later on in the game, the story actually gets very high marks for it’s originality. Unfortunately, the pace of the initial story will scare some away.
The real message of Baten Kaitos is “good things come to those who wait”, and it is true in every sense. The game does have some downfalls, but it’s overall originality and its fresh take on the RPG battle system helps it stand on its own as a title that will really satisfy the player that sticks with it and see that the grass really is greener on the other side.
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Published on: 2005-03-03 (11445 reads)[ Go Back ]