Possibly the best-ever RPG to hit the Gamecube.
The story of Baten Kaitos takes place in the future, where islands float in the sky, and the ocean is a myth of the past. There once was a wicked god by the name of Malpercio, who the ancestors of years past vanquished and entombed deep within the barren earth. They then left, to find a future in the sky. This is the land of our young, rash protagonist, Kalas, who is seeking vengeance against the Empire, an evil force lead by the corrupt Emperor Geldoblame that has control over a majority of the islands of the sky. Yeah, so you'll notice that the story features some lackluster plot-devices, and isn't especially great. It has the typical archetypes with the characters you meet later on in the game, and you really don't care about the plotline too much. I mean, if the whole clichéd RPG story is your thing, you might rather enjoy it, but this is one of the games weaker points. Granted, there will be a rather unforeseen plot twist halfway through the game, but this is the main highlight of the forgettable story.
While we're on the bad, we might as well cover the only other real weaknesses this game presents: the voice acting and leveling up. Even if you haven't even played the game, you might have picked up in various reviews and message boards that the voice acting in Baten Kaitos is legendarily horrendous. The voice actors are wholly artificial and add no real life to the game at all. However, the voice cutscenes are few and long in between, so you have nothing to worry about. And if it really bothers you that much, you can always turn off the voiceovers and just read the text. The leveling up isn't really that bad, it's just that you can only do so with all your accumulated EXP at save-points (wtf?), which is completely weird, but a minor nitpick nonetheless.
The battle system is what saves the game. Although the turn-based fighting is something you must have seen before, it's made better by the introduction of a card-based engine.
Each character has their own Magna decks, as they're called, with many Magnus cards. These cards embody the essentials of the object, and when used, the object appears. With these cards, of which there are hundreds, if not thousands in the game, you can battle, use in camp as healing items, and class up. Some cards can be used in combinations: for instance, a short knife + a tree branch = a bonsai tree, which is a healing item. There are three types of Magna, which adds to the complexity of the battle system: healing, defense, and attack. Healing cards are generally food items, defense cards are usually shields and barricades, and attack cards are swords, maces, spears, bows, and everything in between. Plus, they all age. The aging process adds a whole new dimension of intricacy. For example, a grape Magnus, with time, will age into a wine Magnus, which will, with time--spent during gameplay--age into Deluxe Wine. A banana Magnus, with time, will age into spoiled bananas. Certain swords dull with age, and certain potions strengthen with age. This aging engine makes the game incredibly realistic and adds to the gameplay.
The complex Magnus engine means that the avid gamer could spend hours customizing and fine tuning each character's deck, which will grow more voluminous with each level up, at which point they'll be able to use these cards in longer attack chains, and collect finishing moves, also in Magnus form.
Now for the technical specs. The graphics in the game are superb. All the towns and cities you visit have lushly pre-rendered environments with breathtaking scenery. Being a land in the sky, you can see each swirling finger from the clouds in beautiful detail in certain towns. Each town has a theme, from the picture-book village, to the town made of candy, the farming hamlet, the industrial wasteland. The characters, too, are great, although lip-syncing for voiceovers would have been a nice addition. The orchestrated soundtrack is great and unforgettable. Motoi Sakuraba creates awesome pieces that fit the theme well and are just musical masterpieces by themselves.
This game is a must-buy for any Gamecube owner, especially if you're a fan of RPGs. It's a lush 50+ hour experience that'll leave you wanting for more.
+ Great graphics, the best I've seen on Gamecube
+ Great soundtrack
+ Awesome battle system
+ A very long game, divided into two discs
- Mediocre story
- Horrendous voice acting (can be turned off)
- Leveling up only at save-points