Standing out from the crowd, Baten Kaitos is a game that is hard to forget.
The world of Baten Kaitos is spread out through a group of floating islands, each of which essentially is a country holding a variety of different cultures to explore through. The hero of this adventure is a young man called Kalas, a one winged loner and his Guardian Spirit, represented as you the player. On his travels Kalas meets a beautiful young girl called Xelha and ends up fighting against an Empire, a dark god and various other expected RPG story turns. Needless to say for the most part you will see everything coming though that's not to say the game isn't an enjoyable ride.
Each of the characters in Baten Kaitos certainly stands out from the rest including a mask wearing magician, a weathered old fisherman, a noble and an assassin. Each of these characters have rather distinct personalities and history that the game makes sure to focus on from time to time, love them or hate them, the characters are surprisingly well fleshed out.
To help this the voice acting is surprisingly top notch matching the characters perfectly, from the enigmatic Mizuti to the gruff blunt tones of Savyna. For some strange reason though, the voices when spoken sound like they were recorded in a baked bean can and come out sounding hollow and echo slightly. It's not a big deal, and after a short while it didn't bother me but it is strange at first. On the topic of sound, the music to Baten Kaitos is fantastic with some truly breath taking pieces and some excellent guitar heavy battle themes that get the blood pumping.
The art design to each of the characters as well as the islands they travel through are unique and above all, gorgeous. The backgrounds are all pre-rendered but are full of lush detail, colour and flavour, Baten Kaitos is always striking to look at. The areas Kalas goes are as previously mentioned also incredibly diverse with a steam punk Empire, a mining camp, a poison cloud town and even one made entirely of sweets. Bland is not a word to be associated with this title.
In battle, Baten Kaitos once again holds it's head above other RPGs with a system that while simple takes a while to master. The core to the battle system are the cards your party collect and then use in battle known as Magnus. These Magnus cards are essentially the essence of an object stored in card form that can then be used at any time. This includes offensive items from swords, spells and knuckle dusters to healing items, shields and even pointless objects at first glance such as pens, debt sheets and even ice cubes. These Magnus have various uses some of which at first glance might not be that obvious and some will even change with time, food will rot, ice cubes will turn to water which will then change to stagnant water changing the effect of the card.
Though Magnus is used for a variety of things outside of battle including quests and puzzles, for the most part they will be used in battle. Each character has their own deck of cards to use in combat that can be customized any time between battle, though what cards they can use is often limited to what weapon they specialize in, like Kalas can only use sword based Magnus. At any time there are only a certain amount of cards from that pool that can be seen during a characters turn in which to choose from, often not the cards you may want.
During a characters offensive turn, weapon cards, buffs, cameras or healing items are all generally the slots that are picked, anywhere up to 9 cards can be used in a turn by the end of the game though certain cards will combo together for extra effects or more damage depending on what is used or if there are matching numbers on the cards that were chosen. When attacked though using a shield, or piece of armour to help protect against the damage given would be the choice of action to take, though there are also various elements to defend against so what you use is vitally important as is how you build the deck, a good mix is essential.
This of course works both ways with exploiting enemies elemental weakness often key to winning battles effectively. However due to the way the deck randomly assigns cards there is no guarantee that the elemental attack that is needed will show up so often decks will have to be modified for each dungeon to account for the enemy types. This shouldn't be a problem though as enemies constantly drop Magnus and towns and shops are full of them.
After battle the party gains experience used towards level ups though strangely the only way to actually level up is at a save point, though only certain ones even more strangely so often by the time the next is reached every character will have accumulated enough points for 4-5 level ups in one jump. These save points are also where each character can improve his or her rank which allows for bigger decks in battle as well as more cards to be used in a single turn. These can only be activated when a special Magus is found however, though they aren't hard to find.
Baten Kaitos is a long journey, even for an RPG clocking in at a good 60 - 80 hours on 2 discs. (Took me over 100 but I grinded for levels and Magnus a lot) Main story aside there are quite a few side quests to complete as well as over 1000 different Magnus cards to collect so there is plenty to keep a collector occupied and even without that it's good value for money. All in all, this game is fantastic looking, fantastic sounding and has a battle system that though isn't perfect if you can get your head around it is an excellent and totally different experience worth trying. I recommend giving it a try to any RPG fan.
+ Unique and clever battle system.
+ Lovely visuals both artistically and technically.
+ Colourful cast of characters.
+ Lengthy adventure with lots to collect and do.
- Voices sound hollow for some reason which may bother some people.