Baten Kaitos E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions

Namco's unusual card-battle-based GameCube RPG is coming to North America later this year.

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Many GameCube owners are rightfully excited about Baten Kaitos, a role-playing game with an unusual premise--the game is set in a fantasy world composed of floating islands, and the inhabitants have the limited ability to fly. What's stranger still about Baten Kaitos is its unconventional, card-based combat system. Rather than choosing to use attacks and spells from a menu, as in the Final Fantasies or other console RPGs, in Baten Kaitos you're dealt hands of cards whose effects can be combined in various ways to execute special moves or defensive maneuvers. The rules of the card game are kind of like Poker, lending the battles of Baten Kaitos an element of strategy and luck--as well as the addictiveness of a collectible card game, since you'll always be on the lookout for new cards to add to your deck.

The game is being developed by Monolith Soft, the same company responsible for Namco's ambitious Xenosaga Episode I for the PS2. The sheer creativity as well as the deliberate pace of Xenosaga shine through in Baten Kaitos, despite the completely different setting. The game's battles are beautiful but also methodical; we spent many minutes taking on one of the game's powerful bosses, for instance. Somehow, despite having dived right in, we emerged victorious, which says a lot about how intuitive the gameplay basically is. Still, we expect that this is going to be quite a challenging game, as managing three separate party members while managing one's deck of cards seems like it's going to be an interesting balancing act.

Baten Kaitos shipped in Japan late last year, and is being localized for a North American release later this year. Being a role-playing game (a Monolith Soft-developed role-playing game, no less), Baten Kaitos understandably is taking awhile in translation, but the results should give GameCube owners something unusual and apparently quite deep to play for a long time.

We were impressed by the game's hand-drawn, anime-style character art and fully 3D backgrounds that appeared hand painted. The premise of the game also looks very intriguing, since it's not like other fantasy-themed RPGs. Baten Kaitos has been well received in Japan, so RPG fans can pretty much count on this one to deliver a lot of what they love about the genre.

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