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Baten Kaitos Origins Package Art
 GENRE
  RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Monolift Soft
 PUBLISHER
  Nintendo
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1
 CONNECTIVITY
  no
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Baten Kaitos Origins

Under the normal rules of economics that govern gaming today, Baten Kaitos Origins should probably never have been made. Baten Kaitos Origins is the prequel to Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, a decent game with a few noticeable faults. It was a game with stellar artwork, a magnificent soundtrack, innovative gameplay and the decided absence of random battles. It was also a game burdened by complexity, wildly-inconsistent voice work and the stigma of being a so-called card RPG. Regardless, Baten Kaitos put up poor sales figures on both sides of the Pacific.

Surprisingly, the developer (Xenosaga’s Monolift Soft) decided to take a second shot at the franchise, crafting a prequel set twenty years before the original. Even more surprisingly, Nintendo decided to bring the game to the United States. Unfortunately, Nintendo did not heavily promote the game, which is understandable given it's release just two months before the Wii launch, but that should not be taken as a knock on the quality of this title. Baten Kaitos Origins is a fantastic RPG that improves upon its predecessor in almost every way.

visuals

The first Baten Kaitos was a nice-enough looking title that featured gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds and stylized artwork reminiscent of the Square-Enix classic Chrono Cross. (That is not surprising, given that some former members of the Chrono Cross team helped develop the Baten Kaitos games.) It was also a game that suffered visually in some areas, particularly in respect to the combat engine. Moreover, the game lacked any CG outside of an opening video and the cutscenes in the game.

Baten Kaitos Origins continues the strong artistic tradition, while showing a significant improvement. First off, the stylish art direction of the first game makes a grand return with a diverse collection of characters inhabiting a beautiful pre-rendered world. Old locales join new places in creating a world of floating islands that is truly worth putting a controller down just to look at. Unfortunately, Origins has no CG either, but important scenes are better here than they were in the first game, largely because of the creative use of the combat engine as the venue for important cutscenes.

The combat engine, meanwhile, has received a substantial face lift over the first game and now does justice to GameCube's graphical capabilities. Character models are much cleaner, and their motions in both cutscenes and combat look more fluid and natural. Attack animations look superb and frequently feature fantastic special effects that splash across the screen. While Final Fantasy still reigns supreme with CG, Origins' polished combat engine and may actually trump FF's aging and sometimes jaggy combat graphics.

audio

The audio in the original Baten Kaitos could be summed up as fantastic music, but painfully-inconsistent voice work. The music in the first game, crafted by veteran composer Motoi Sakuraba, was a diverse and memorable thing of beauty and a nominee for several soundtrack of the year awards. The voice overs, by contrast, were handled by a largely unknown cast that ranged from solid to out-and-out terrible. The true aggravation came in not knowing which you were going to get in any given moment, and many people opted to turn off the voice work altogether.

Baten Kaitos Origins holds its own to its predecessor musically and is a significant upgrade vocally. Sakuraba returned to compose the music for this second game, and the results do not disappoint. Some of the tracks are revised versions of songs from the first game, while others are entirely new to Origins. The revised songs bring a welcome sense of familiarity and connection to those who experienced the first game, while the new tracks add some really nice texture to the soundtrack. Folksy melodies join guitar-driven boss battle tracks to make every experience in the game something new. The game’s signature track (“Le Ali Del Principio”) combines a haunting string-and-piano chorus with youth vocals to create one of the most haunting and memorable game songs.

As for voice work, Origins improves markedly over its predecessor. Nintendo, who handled publishing duties with this game, brought together a veteran cast to create a more consistent dialogue. The work, while not perfect, is vastly improved over the first game and now sits at a level roughly equal to that of Tales of Symphonia.

gameplay

Baten Kaitos Origins is in many respects a standard epic Japanese RPG; leveling-up, item-purchasing, main quests, sidequests and 17-year old male protagonists are all wrapped up in a beefy 60-70 hour package. Origins takes place in a world of floating islands, and gamers will voyage to many of them in their quest to stop an evil Empire and save the world from doom. Because Origins is set twenty years before the first Baten Kaitos, it serves up a substantial amount of back story on how the characters and places in the first game came to be. While playing the first Baten Kaitos adds weight to some of the events of Origins, it is not required.

The game deviates from many RPGs by casting the gamer as a character distinct from those on the screen. You play the part of a guardian spirit outside the game’s world, an entity that interacts with the characters and guides their actions. As a result, characters will break the fourth wall and speak directly to you, soliciting you for advice or even confronting you over your comments and actions.

Combat in the Baten Kaitos franchise is unique and cannot be fairly compared to any other game series. Moreover, the combat system has evolved from the first Baten Kaitos. One thing both games have in common, though, is the misleading label of card RPG. The Baten Kaitos games are not card RPGs in the traditional sense; this is not Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering. Instead, they are turn-based RPGs that use a card-style mechanic in lieu of your standard menu system.

Perhaps the best way to understand the combat system of Origins is to think of it as a cross between the Square-Enix Active Time Battle system (popularized in games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII) and a variation on the card game Speed. Attacks are played out in real time with the player having attack cards numbered 0-6. "0" cards are attack cards, "1-3" are standard attack cards and "4-6" are special attack cards. Cards can be played in ascending order (skipping numbers during that ascent is allowed), although the special attack cards cannot be played until the player has executed a sufficient number of standard attacks.

The system has a pseudo-random nature to it. On one hand, a certain amount of luck of the draw occurs during combat, which is somewhat balanced by allowing the player to discard ill-fitting cards. At the same time, as the player (in his or her role as the guardian spirit) cultivates a positive relationship with the game’s characters through branching conversations, the game causes cards to be dealt more frequently in an order that allows for better attack combinations.

Those who despise random battles will be pleased to know that there are none here. Enemies can be seen onscreen and often avoided. In fact, much of the gameplay seems aimed at creating an accessible experience that provides sufficient RPG depth without becoming unnecessarily cumbersome. Origins walks the line well, making it a tremendously enjoyable experience.

multiplayer

N/A

overall

Baten Kaitos Origins is an easy game to overlook, given the arrival of big-name RPGs (Team Symphonia’s superb Tales of the Abyss and the highly-anticipated Final Fantasy XII) and the Wii launch. To overlook this game, though, would be a serious mistake. With its stylish artwork, excellent music score, solid voice cast, respectable plotline and addictive combat system, Monolift Soft has shown true passion in taking a good game concept and refining it into something great. Simply put, this is a game that ought to have a home on the shelf of any RPGamer with a Cube or a Wii. With a lengthy 60-70 hours of gameplay, Origins is more than worth its value in longevity. Highly recommended.



final score 9.1/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Joshua Johnston
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"Round 1! Fight!"


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