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Another day, Another Magnus Card
Baten Kaitos borrows from several reasonably well-established game conventions and attempts to graft them together in a bid to create a new type of action-oriented RPG. Usually for me, the idea of card-collecting and battling brings to mind countless hours (millennia?) of obsessively rearranging decks and a slow, strategic battle process. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, somehow, Baten Kaitos has managed to keep an in-depth item- and card-collecting system and partner it with a quick (albeit strategic) battle experience that keeps the action fresh and exciting.
One of the first things you'll notice about this game is the attention to detail present in every aspect of the artwork. Even in the very first town, you will appreciate the subtle rustling of the brightly hued flowers and the pleasant and subdued painted appearance of the environment. The animation can feel a bit stiff at times, and your main character is in no rush to explore the world, as he shuffles his feet and ambles at a pokey, unhurried pace.
Throughout the game, you collect cards that represent weapons, armor, spells, foods, and other more esoteric items. You can win these cards from monsters or find them hidden in the nooks of the environment. You assemble a deck (starting at 20 cards) that you take with you into battle with the creatures of the land. In combat, you draw a hand of cards, and from it have to pick the best card for the situation. Usually, weapons and spells are good for attacking, but there are foods and medicines that you can use to regain your health. There's also a camera card that takes photos of your enemies, which you can then sell for cash (one of the few ways to make money in the game). After you pick from your initial selection, the enemies get a chance to attack, and you have a very limited time to select which of your cards will help you to defend against their attacks. Armors and weapons usually mitigate some damage, and there are elemental-imbued items which are particularly effective against their opposite elements. The time limit forces you to think on your feet, and if you can't reach your armor in time, you'll take the full brunt of the attack.
Over time, some of your cards will mature and change into others. For instance, your green banana card (it's bitter, unripe, and used to attack the enemy) will eventually ripen into a yellow banana card (you can eat it to regain health). Other cards mature into weapons, or from weapons into other items. This is really a neat twist on the gameplay, and it's always interesting to see how your deck changes and "grows up."
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From Can to String to Microphone
For some reason, every line in Baten Kaitos sounds like it was spoken through a didgeridoo. At first I though this was the fault of my speaker system at home, but, unfortunately, that was not the case. Be prepared to thrill to unemphatic and spacey-sounding dialogue during your time in the world of Baten Kaitos.
In another odd twist, the main character, Kalas, starts his adventure as a vanilla and unassuming hero, who minds his niceties and generally tries to help out where he can. Early in one of his first adventures, he radically shifts and becomes a remorseless jerkface who (predictably) infuriates and interests all around him. I can't fathom the reasoning behind this sudden change, which, while entertaining, is still rather bizarre.
Outside of combat, Kalas moves just slowly enough to get on my nerves without making me want to vomit with frustration. I would have loved to see the inclusion of a "run" button in the game, or the use of the wings that Kalas uses to fly in combat to help expedite things in town, but, alas, it is not to be.
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Baten on a Sure Thing
I really like the direction Namco took with Baten Kaitos. The battles feel fun, even after your hundredth; the deck assembling is easy and addictive; and the graphics hold up very well. I found my copy in a clearance bin for $14.99, and I found the sequel, Baten Kaitos Origins, for $20. If you're looking for a new experience in the RPG realm, I heartily recommend this game.
I give it an 89 out of 100, which, for most game studios, must be like winning the Nobel Prize. Sort of.
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Published by Namco
Rated T for teens
Playable on GameCube and Wii