Baten Kaitos continues a long-running trend of Japanese games taking a while to reach North American soil. Early screenshots that appeared on the Internet built anticipation for the game, one of those cases where the graphics alone make you wonder how the game will look up close on a big-screen TV. A romantic view of the game can be very dangerous. When unreleased games start building hype, it’s impossible for them to live up to inflated standards. Is this the case with Baten Kaitos?
Without exaggeration, Baten Kaitos has graphics that would make any serious gamer proud and consider the possibility that games really are an art form. Baten Kaitos showcases beautiful original images rather than just killer smooth polygons. It reminds players of the graphics in Ocarina of Time, but with more particle effects, and more flair than Nintendo’s masterpiece. That may or may not be a problem, depending on how you feel about Ocarina, because it’s certainly not a new game (actually it’s a N64 game), but had a unique feel to the visuals. The graphics in Baten Kaitos are beautiful and original but they can look a little dated at times. The prerendered backrounds and the overall artistry of the game are excellent; that stillness makes you feel like you’re looking at a painting where the people move. Fortunately, there is some variety, and once you engage in combat, things get much more exciting and alive. The attacks, spells, and deflections have over-the-top explosions and lighting effects, giving it a very Japanese anime feel. Like every good RPG, the big bosses have to be breathtaking and menacing (again, it reminds me of Ocarina of Time). Taking two of the game’s characteristics and putting them together gives you an idea of what the graphics are about: looking at a lush painting one minute, and anime the next.
A big plus in this department. The soundtrack is amazing, very Japanese but lively and more exciting than the actual game play. Sometimes you feel that the soundtrack should belong to a faster-paced game, but after a while it sounds right at home. Bear in mind that if you don’t like Japanese animation and all the things related to it, you may grow tired of the music and sound effects. It’s amazing how a game can go from average to outstanding when you add great graphics and sound. Like in movies, it can be said that sound is one of the most important aspects of any game. It is, after all, an audiovisual experience. With that in mind, Baten Kaitos can fly with its own wings powered by the technical beauty.
Baten Kaitos sounds like a great game up to this point, and depending on your taste in RPG combat styles it could become better or be worse. The game uses the turn-based approach of traditional RPGs with a twist that, at least in Japan, is nothing new: card-based fighting. You can get a bit confused when fighting using cards; it’s an acquired taste, pretty much like turn-based combat itself. If you are used to the action-oriented combat of the Zelda games, the fighting will be from another planet to you and not very fun. But, try to get the hang of this scheme and you may change your view. You don’t need to be an Otaku to enjoy oriental styles of game play. In videogames, as in life, you have to be willing to try new things. For people on the New World side of the Pacific Ocean, it can take a while to like playing your RPGs like this. Basically, if you love turn-based RPG’s you won’t have too much trouble getting into the card fights.
In a true turn-based RPG fashion, you go about the fantasy world until an enemy appears and in contact with it, you are taken to a combat screen. That makes games feel less open-ended; you feel constrained but at the same time it makes RPGs into longer, broader adventures. Baten Kaitos can easily pass the 40-hour mark depending on how good you are. If you are new to the genre, it may last up to 50 hours of effective game play.
Baten Kaitos has a couple main goals: to be beautiful technologically and to be a long adventure. Those goals are achieved with flying colors (literally). Like every fantasy game or movie, or book for that matter, your imagination will fly on each new area you discover in this fantasy universe. You are transported to another dimension, and the best you can do is enjoy the ride. That ride will take a while and that’s exactly what you want: not to leave. In a time where few companies want to take risks in games, it’s good to see that some still try to bring something new or different to this side of the world. This is not a perfect game, but it is one that should be in any GameCube library.