Castles in the Sky

20 Aug

These aren’t my first first impressions of Baten Kaitos. I bought the game earlier this year along with Metroid Prime and P.N.03, all used, at Game Stop. I didn’t get very far thanks to the game’s awful plot and voice-acting. This time around, I decided to put those things aside and breeze through the cutscenes in order to enjoy the actual gameplay, which is really quite good considering it’s a post SNES RPG on a Nintendo console.

I couldn’t quite specifically recall why the voice-acting in Baten Kaitos was so bad. Sure, it was just plain poorly acted, but it was also poorly recorded. It sounds like the voices in the game were literally phoned in, with the sound director holding a microphone to the receiver of his cell. Either that, or the voice actors delivered their lines through a cardboard tube.

It also doesn’t help that lines are delivered so slowly. I can’t stand when the text finishes so much sooner than the speech. It’s like watching TV with closed captions, but you have control over how fast they scroll. Since I don’t have to wait, I don’t want to wait.

As I mentioned in my last post, the game makes the odd choice allowing you to input your name as an invisible guardian spirit that follows the main character, Kalas, around. Unlike Final Fantasy X where the character’s carefully work around whatever you named Tidus, Baten Kaitos has its characters pause when your come comes up. Maybe this is the result of some lazy translation error, but it’s all pretty ridiculous, especially when the rest of the lines are so horribly voiced anyway.

I’ll only detail one more complaint since I’m painting a very pretty picture so far.

I was never a fan of the goofy names of people and places in high, Western fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Elder Scrolls, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) There’s just something so incredibly nerdy about them, even to me, a guy who wants to get paid for writing about video games. I find that most JRPGs do a decent job avoiding whatever it is that makes high fantasy names so detestable, but Baten Kaitos fails in that regard. I just faced off against a man named Giacomo (‘jack-uh-moh’), and now I’m on my way to some floating island whose name I can’t pronounce because I skipped through the horribly voiced cutscene that mentioned it aloud.

I just can’t form a personal attachment to people and places when I can’t stand saying, or even seeing, their names. Just because it’s fantasy doesn’t mean you have to make up ridiculous words. The Magic: The Gathering method works well enough when naming creatures and places: Cool Word + Cool Word + Cool Noun = Cool Name! Just give it a try and you’ll come up with gems like Hellwrath Demon or Shadowbane Labyrinth.

Now, onto the good!

Contrary to popular belief, Baten Kaitos is not a card game. Yes, there you manage card-like objects into decks and draw hands to do battle, but there’s no “heart of the cards” or anything like that. In fact, aside from the random nature of drawing from a deck, Baten Kaitos‘ customization is similar to most modern JRPGs.

Cards, or Magnus’ as the game refers to them, are the sealed essences of real world objects ranging from swords and shields to spells and plants. Most are relegated to battle, but they also play a part in the game world by allowing you to seal essences of various objects to use in other parts of the world. For example, sealing the essence of flames in a fire place will allow you to release those flames onto a fallen tree that is blocking your path.

In battle, you draw a hand from your deck, both of which can hold more cards as your rank increases. Ranks and levels are gained by praying in an inter-dimensional church found at certain save points. While levels are gained through experience in battle, ranks are gained from key items sealed as a magnus. You’re not told how much experience you need to level up and can’t actually gain the level until you pray at the church, so the sense of grinding isn’t as strong in Baten Kaitos. I kind of like that, but wish they would have taken it a step further and had based your experience on how well you executed combos in battle.

In battle, you’re allowed to use multiple magnus to execute combos. Assigning magnus in groups of the same spirit number, or in ascending or descending order of spirit numbers will net you a bonus in damage, defense, or restoration. It’s a little confusing at first, but it becomes pretty addicting once you gather enough magnus to create an efficient deck.

In a move that works well with the removed emphasis on grinding, Baten Kaitos doesn’t offer you any money from battle. Instead, you gain a magnus from most every victory. You can also take photos of enemies or your party with the camera magnus. You can sell the pictures and any other magnus you acquire at stores for cash. Pictures of bosses net a lot more cash than those of more common enemies.

Another neat feature is the use of the in-game clock to age various magnus. A bamboo seedling serves as a healing magnus, but over time, it will grow into an actual bamboo plant that serves as a spear-like weapon. There are also hidden combos that require specific magnus in specific orders. A magnus’ description may offer a special hint about possible combos so its not like all of your discoveries will be totally random. When you do unlock a combo, the game records it so you’ll never lose track of its components.

I’ll mention the game’s music and visuals before I ramble too much. Several songs, even this early in the game, are incredibly beautiful. Many are meloncholy pieces with haunting voices and sad pianos.  The graphics conjure up memories of Final Fantasy X and especially Chrono Cross. I suppose it makes sense considering how each game deals heavily with island inspirations. Baten Kaitos is very colorful and has fairly decent character models. Even the styles the character’s wear are reminescent of FFX and Cross, so it’s a bit strange.

Anyway, I’ll try to stick with it best I can. The battle system is pretty enjoyable, and the plot is looking up. As long as the option to skip over the voice-acting isn’t dropped for some reason, I think I’ll be fine.

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3 Responses to “Castles in the Sky”

  1. Makeup DOLL February 4, 2010 at 10:41 PM #

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  2. Asus Laptop February 11, 2010 at 12:14 PM #

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    • chasmang February 11, 2010 at 3:07 PM #

      Thanks. 🙂

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