Nothing could’ve prepared me for this. I read up on Baten Kaitos Origins; I read the lackluster reviews and inconsistent comments and opinions, and the only thing I got out of it was half an erection. I ended up buying it anyway, because the K-Mart in town, the legendary underwhelmence store where I bought my NES and Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, had many copies of it on sale for $10. I bought it and Metroid Prime Pinball ($3 new! This is K-Mart, people!) and got change back for a $20.
God, a man goes through such blind exuberance only TWICE in his life! I’m guessing losing my virginity would be the second time, but I’ll be a grandfather by then, so this was definitely my first. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Here’s the thing: I’ve never played Baten Kaitos. I’d only ever played one good card game, and that was—you never saw this coming—Dragonball Z: Legend of the Supersaiyan, so I didn’t want to try the original BK. I don’t know how this game matches up to the first one, so this review will be written for the reader who has never tried any Baten Kaitos games at all.
So how did this game start out, anyway? I have an idea:
“Hey! You got your Chrono Cross in my Tales of Symphonia!”
“Hey! You got your Tales of Symphonia in my Chrono Cross, and your thumb up my ass!”
“Dude, I’m standing right in front of you….”
Yikes…. Anyway, this game is some kind of succulent union between two or three or four companies, I don’t really know. There’s Monolith Software, Tri-Crescendo, NAMCO and someone else. Now, too many cooks spoil the goose normally, but all these people came together and just banged out one incredible RPG experience for the perpetually underwhelming ‘Cube.
Baten Kaitos Origins is a card-based game. I know you know that, but I had to start this paragraph somehow. Card-based games are for only a select group of people—most everyone else is turned off. It’s love or hate, and you don’t get to choose. All you can do is play and see the decision being made for you. I was lucky enough to tolerate it, and whether you do will completely make or break the game for you.
Which is a shame, because Baten Kaitos Origins is a work of art.
There was not a second of time when this game did not have my attention. Baten Kaitos Origins easily has the best graphics I’ve ever seen on the GameCube, and not just the graphics themselves, but the level of creativity they soar to. The soundtrack is easily the best, too. Motoi Sakuraba, a man with such power in his music that it will one day overwhelm, consume, and transform him into the end of civilization as we know it, does his best Yasunori Mitsuda impersonation (but never forgets to do 3threeand-a-half-minute-long prog-rock dungeon songs in E minor), and the two together create an unfathomably REAL fantasy atmosphere. I felt this game from start to finish.
The story itself is true to the game’s off-Square Enix roots, creating a jumbled mess of plots and twists. The plot outline is pretty simple, but you gotta watch it happen for it to work. It plays off of J-RPG clichés with grace, style, and irreverence. It knows your expectations before you do and plays with them. The characters are the weak point, because, for some reason, I never quite believed that two 15-year-old kids and a puppet could stand up to such abuse and challenges, but this quibbling is just that. Quibbling.
Talking about how much stuff there is to do in Baten Kaitos Origins would triple the size of this review. Let’s just say it’s a LOT. No dungeon or event skimps on design or concept. I will say that it quickly gets annoying that simple stuff is turned into complex minigames, but even the most frustrating puzzle or event has something admirable in its design. This game will eat up 50-to-60 hours of your life, and if you can handle the card-based battle system, it will be some of the best 50-to-60 hours of your life.
IF you can handle the card battles….
I won’t lie to you: I’ve never seen a game with an Achilles’ heel this big. The battle system is complicated, absolutely punishing, and with all the amazing effort put into this game, I’m shocked to see they couldn’t think through it more. The big caveats in fighting are:
1. You have to equip weapons and armor IN-BATTLE as random cards (and not at the same time.)
2. There’s an overemphasis on overkill to a single enemy. You create combos to do your damage, like in Chrono Cross, and you can link up the other characters to run up serious numbers, but you can only really do that to one enemy at a time. When you have five enemies kicking your ass, you need those combos to carry over to THEM. It works great on big single bosses, but man it just sucks when you have a swarm of mosquitoes to take care of.
Best thing you can do is watch some battle videos on YouTube and see if it’s your thing. If not, I feel sorry for you, because as tough as it is to battle, the whole rest of the game goes to far-out lengths to please you. This is the best and most engrossing RPG I’ve played in years, and I recommend that you buy it.