So recently it came down the pipe that a third Baten Kaitos game could still happen if fans wanted it.
I had two reactions to this story. First, I went and signed the petition. Second, I started writing this editorial.
If you have never heard of Baten Kaitos, or you passed on the franchise back in the day, let’s talk.
The Baten Kaitos series, released on GameCube a decade ago, was a key part of my own arc as a video game writer. In 2007, when I first applied to apply to write for Nintendojo, my sample writing was a review of the second game in the series, Baten Kaitos Origins. Then Editor-in-Chief Noah Ward saw enough in that piece to bring me on board, and over the next several years I have served, by turns, as staff writer, senior editor, and now semi-retired contributing writer. Baten Kaitos Origins was one of my first published reviews for the Dojo, and, as my profile avatar indicates, I never forgot where I came from.
The first game, the ridiculously named Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean was– and here I’ll be honest– good but not great. The artistry was absolutely lights-out, as was the music; this was a game that just begged to be strolled through. The pre-rendered backgrounds and gorgeous character designs set the stage for a charming fantasy epic in a world of floating islands. The storyline, while not all that memorable, did use the novel mechanic of breaking the fourth wall; in other words, the characters actually spoke to the player, who operated as a spirit guardian. And the plot does serve up one absolutely jaw-dropping plot twist. On the other hand, the publisher, what is now known as Bandai Namco, did the game no favors by going with a thoroughly middling voice cast, and the card mechanic was sometimes imbalanced and plodding. As I said, good but not great.
Despite lackluster sales, developer Monolith Soft produced a prequel, Baten Kaitos Origins. Bandai Namco ceded publishing duties in the States to Nintendo, which turned out to be a blessing, as Nintendo hired a veteran voice cast that did the game justice. The rest of the game was equal to the task, with almost every part of this game exceeding its predecessor. The visuals were just as good and the music was just as brilliant. The card system was revamped and refined, to awesome effect. And the plot, a virtual love letter to fans of the first game, somehow offered a plot twist just as jaw-dropping as the one in the first game. I am of the conviction that Origins is (with apologies to Tales of Symphonia) the best RPG in the GameCube library.
The timing of Origins‘ release is almost a story in and of itself, and perhaps hints at why we haven’t seen more of the series. Nintendo released Origins stateside in the fall of 2006; GameCube was at the tail end of its life cycle, and Wii was less than two months away. With hype for Nintendo’s new system growing, and with few fans who had played the original Baten Kaitos, sales seemed destined to be low. Indeed, that proved to be the case. It is quite possible that those low sales figures caught the attention of Reggie Fils-Aimé, who had just assumed the position of President of Nintendo of America in May of that year. Whatever the case may be, Reggie showed no interest in bringing future Monolith Soft titles to America, nixing Disaster: Day of Crisis and almost shutting Xenoblade Chronicles out until Operation Rainfall performed a miracle.
That brings us back to Baten Kaitos. I harbor no illusions about the franchise. The Baten Kaitos games were niche, JRPGs that used card-based mechanics for combat and much of their in-game world. They were released on GameCube, the little box that sat firmly in third place during its generation’s console wars. I’ve long left them for dead, and with no regrets– I was tickled just to get two games, and Monolith has since given us Xenoblade Chronicles (and, in short order, Xenoblade Chronicles X). The notion of a third BK game seemed fanciful, a pipe dream that sounded cute but would never happen.
Now that this conversation is actually on the table, it will be interesting where it goes. I’m thrilled with what Monolith has done with the Xenoblade series, but I also think there is room for more Baten Kaitos, even if it started just as a 3DS (or Wii U) port. Those card games would be perfect on any touch screen, and 3DS is more than a match for GameCube graphics. The series could make for a great RPG series either alongside Xenoblade on the console or as a flagship RPG IP on the handheld, and because Nintendo now owns a controlling stake in developer Monolith Soft, Nintendo could absolutely make this happen if it wants to.
I hope they do.