If anyone even mentions "One Winged Angel," zey vill be SHOT.
Namco's second exclusive RPG for GameCube is developed by Monolith Soft, the same company behind Xenosaga and Xenogears. Both games feature extremely pretentious, poorly written plots without much of anything else -- definitely not my cup of tea. So it was with some trepidation that I delved into their latest project.
Baten Kaitos features many lengthy cut-scenes full of evil kanji. This coupled with a marked lack of voice acting makes it very difficult for players who do not have a good knowledge of written Japanese. While the game does not currently have an American release date, it would be best for non-speakers to wait until the game is localized. If however, you are able to muck through the hieroglyphs, Video Game Depot can handle your import urges.
The opening FMV tells of a time when humans defeated an evil, power-hungry deity. Upon sealing it, the people fled to islands in the sky, living happily above the barren earth. Some people have the ability to sprout "spiritual wings" when under duress, which allow them to fly. The young hero Kalas is one of these people. Unfortunately, he only has one wing. Somewhere along the way, it appears he ran into a prosthetic, and thus is able to fly.
One of the interesting things about Baten Kaitos is the fact that the player himself is included in the game. When beginning a new game, you’re asked to enter both your name and gender. Appearing to Kalas as some sort of spiritual guide, he'll ask you for advice from time to time. If an NPC character can explain some sort of gameplay mechanic, Kalas will ask you if you'd like to listen to what he'll say. It's a neat little feature that helps pull one into the game world.
Considering the battle director also directed Valkyrie Profile, it's good to see that fighting monsters has that "tri-Ace" touch. (It's particularly cute to note that the opening boot-up features the logo of "tri-Crescendo", which has a mirror image to that of tri-Ace's. Very cute.) As mentioned in many a preview, the battle system uses cards. However, this doesn't make it a typical Card RPG. Each card is a kind of command. Some are more powerful than others, plus there are Elemental Cards to use to your advantage. For instance, Kalas can find and use the card "Ice Dagger". When he attacks, not only will he do Physical Damage, but there will also be Ice Damage. The interesting part is that not only attacks are cards. Player's armour is also denoted in cards. When an enemy attacks, one is allowed to select a card. If the card is as strong as or stronger than the attack, it will completely negate it. However if the attack includes an "Elemental" attack, and the defense armour does not, then the character will be hit for the full Elemental damage.
Sounds confusing, but it really isn't. Fire and Water are opposites. So if one is attacked with Fire, one must use an Ice defense card and vice versa. The same applies to Earth and Wind, as well as Light and Dark. This can be used against the enemy as well. If an enemy has an affinity to any of the Elements and you attack with the opposite, you'll get a mega damage bonus. Another interesting aspect is that if you attack with two opposing elements the same turn, the Elemental Damage will be canceled out. So if you attack with a weapon that has a Water Count of fifteen and one with a Fire Count of eighteen, you'll end up doing three Fire points of damage overall.
Thus far, enemy battles have been rather easy, and I suspect it is because Monolith didn't want to hear from gamers complaining that they didn't get the right card (since it is randomly shuffled) and therefore met an untimely end.
Cards don't only prove useful in battle. It seems that these "Magnus Cards" have to do with everything in daily life. Early in the game, Kalas will get a set of four "Blank Magnus". Kalas can then copy items or other things onto the blank cards and use them later. In one case, by copying a wood stove's fire onto a card, it is possible to burn a log that is blocking the way to a treasure chest. Players also accomplish side quests by copying things like milk or apples to their Blank Magnus. Very strange. Even consumable items to heal characters are cards.
So far Baten Kaitos has proven to have a very fun battle system and an interesting premise. Considering that I was far from pleased with Monolith's previous efforts, Baten Kaitos has been a significant improvement.