Review by Kevin Cox

"20 years before Kalas and Xelha... an amazingly upgraded game awaits!"

Don't get me wrong - I love a good RPG as much as anyone. But an RPG based around a deck of cards? It's an original concept, executed quite well in the original Baten Kaitos. Origins, coming a mere three years later, has a lot to live up to. The original game was stuffed with secrets, two long subquests, drop-dead gorgeous graphics, wonderful music that brought out the emotion in the story... and a pretty good turn-based timed battle system using the "cards", known as Magnus in the world. However, Baten Kaitos wrapped everything up quite nicely with its story and its decadently long ending sequence... hence, Origins is a prequel. How does it stand as a game?

Your party is smaller, as you now only have three characters. Sagi, your spirit's partner, Guillo, a very odd puppet with a sour attitude especially where Milly is concerned, and Milly, a truly spunky "sheltered girl who ran away from home". The interactions between the characters might sound more limited because there are only three, but it's anything but that. Milly and Guillo, for example, are constantly at each other's throats verbally. Their exchanges are sure to provide many memorable lines, and a huge dose of humor. The writing is top-notch, allowing barbs to fly back and forth between characters as well as letting things stay serious when they should be.

The graphics and music have somehow improved on the original. This is the sweetest eye candy on the Gamecube, and only the upcoming Twilight Princess looks like it'll be a worthy rival. If you thought Mira was off the deep end of design last time... there's now a seperate village made entirely of clay. It looks so funny, seeing Sagi sneak, run, or fly around a room that was clearly a picture of a house made of modeling clay that was scanned in and programmed. Much, but not all, of the music is remixes of original tunes from Baten Kaitos, so fans of the original will catch a melody they know many times, while new players to the series can experience the aural wonders of the world for the first time.

Battles require an entire paragraph to themselves. They're still turn-based to an extent, but they have changed for the better. No longer do you have to micromanage one deck for each character - your three characters share a single deck. It can be quite a headache, though, if you only have cards Guillo and Milly use and you're choosing Sagi's cards... so you quickly acquire a "Discard" option. And it comes in handy! My hand is constantly cluttered with healing and revival items when I need attack cards or equipment cards, so deck-making is even more important now. And the "turns" are far FAR more streamlined now. You can give Sagi his instructions, then Guillo's face will pop up, so you give it instructions, and then Milly... after executing the actions, they'll wait a little while, longer OR shorter depending on their equipped weapon/armor card, and they're ready for another turn. Meanwhile, enemies are getting their moves ready, and I'll be blunt: SOME of them have hideously overpowered moves. Taking approximately half of -each- character's HP is almost beyond cheap, but you can also manipulate the battle system to your advantage, chaining attacks together in spectacular combos of cards, or setting up to revive a dead character and then restore his/her/its HP right afterwards. There's so much more, but battles are a lot faster-paced. Which is truly a good thing for the series. Oh, and your HP is 100% restored after each battle, with rare exceptions.

The controls feel better as well. Holding the A button will let Sagi dash while a gauge at the top of the screen fills. If it fills all the way, though, Sagi will have to just stumble around until it empties completely, and any battles encountered during that time will have a LOT of extra waiting to do before any action can be taken. And the slightly cumbersome ladders are gone, replaced with a "wing" icon in a speech bubble. Where that appears, press A to jump. It can be tricky in one or two spots where there's more than one direction you can jump, but never frustrating.

The Magnus themselves were made over as well. Most shops will let you "upgrade" them... if you're at the shop that upgrades that particular card and you have the correct Quest Magnus to do so. Finally, that flaming sword's blaze will NOT go out, so there's no problem with putting it in the deck - as far as I can tell, with more than 10 hours played, battle Magnus do not change on their own. Quest Magnus, however, change all the time. Water goes bad after some time, flames die out, lava cools to rock... and then there's the "mixer". It's a strange Magnus that you can put two Quest Magnus in, and after a few battles you'll either have some weird failure, a new Quest Magnus, or a prompt to add another ingredient. There are 50 mixtures to make, MANY of which are required at some point in the story, and the rest of which are either used as upgrade materials or used in creating another mix. Seriously, there are some eight-card mixes in there, and each one requires a multi-step process to acquire one of the ingredients. The level of depth here is almost beyond astounding.

Voices, now. The biggest complaint about the original game was the out-of-battle voices sounding like they were slightly... off, like they were through a speaker. Well, if it was an artistic decision or a decision made based on lack of space on the game discs, it was that way. But now, the voices sound normal, with no distortion effects (unless the character is named Guillo or something, that is).

Since this is a prequel, there are some familiar faces... but not all of them are in familiar roles. 14-year-old Gibari shows up on Diadem as a Knight of Diadem... but he's not that bright, which makes sense given parts of Baten Kaitos. Naturally, there's a small scene between Gibari and a young girl at the bar... now what COULD her name be? And in Azha village, a woman with flame-red hair befriends Sagi and Milly easily... believe it or not, she IS who you think she is. If you played the previous game, that is. Which you should, before OR after playing Origins.

Finally, plot. THIS was where Baten Kaitos shone... that shocker on Disc 2 still resonates. The major things this time involve something... odd. I honestly don't know how to describe it, as I am not far enough in the game to know what the heck is going on with the "warping" to what I think is another world, or another version of the world without islands. It's peculiar, as Sagi is still Sagi, but Sagi isn't Sagi. You more or less have to play the game to figure out what's going on... and get REALLY far in it, it seems.

The verdict is in: Origins is a fantastic game. The world is richly detailed, subquests are everywhere, optional areas are in several places, some people aren't who you think they were, just as in the original game... but some people change in 20 years. In fact, the first person who really helps you out is none other than a major villain from Baten Kaitos! And said future villain currently shows no signs of becoming said villain... the game might explain why. 10 hours in, there's a LOT of explaining it has to do... something the first game did beautifully, explaining things slowly to keep you interested, and then turning the explanations into "One-two-three-SLAM!" moments that could be rather shocking. This is a game to GET... it's one of the last true classics the GCN will have, another 2-disc wonder in the vein of the original. And just as unique.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 10/06/06

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