Review by savynastalker
"A True Gem for All Gamers"
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean was a breath of fresh air into the very static JRPG genre of games. In a world of spiky blond-haired, do-good heroes, we instead got the blue haired anti-hero of sorts, Kalas. And while the story rolled in cliches for the first part of the game, the story eventually came together into something that was wildly different and extremely thought provoking. Unfortunately, due to extremely ill placed release dates in both America and Japan, a lack of marketing, a shrinking userbase for new JPRG IPs in Japan, the Gamecube's signs of decline, and a rather poor localization with some rather terrible voice actors, the game did not sell as well as expecting, leading many fans to believe that we'd never be going back to the Sky
That is, of course, until Nintendo announced that Baten Kaitos Origins would be coming to our shores at the end of September. Yet, the question is now, does Baten Kaitos Origins live up to the lofty efforts of the first game, or does it fail to deliver?
Origins, like the first Baten Kaitos, uses a Magnus based battle system. For those of you not in the know, Magnus stand for Magna Essence, and a Magnus is the capture of an object Magna Essence in card form. As with most sequels, the battle system is different, and Origins follows suit.
To start off, every character in Origins gets their Magnus from one deck, with a total of 8 decks that can be created for battle. There are also four types of deck Magnus: Attack Magnus, Special Attack Magnus, Equip Magnus, and Item Magnus. Attack Magnus can (in most cases) be used by anyone, and are used to fill up the MP (Magnus Power) meter. Special Attack Magnus are, as the name implies, super powerful attacks that are character specific and require usage of the MP meter. Equip Magnus are Magnus that characters can use before combos to enhance stats, such a raising defense to certain elements or adding an element to your attacks. Item Magnus cannot be used in combos, and are primarily for healing allies, curing stats, or reviving them.
Battles start with the deck being dealt and character choosing their attacks. Each Magnus (except for Item Magnus) have a number on them. Equip Magnus have 0s, Attack Magnus have 1-3s, and Special Attack Magnus have 4-7s. Magnus must be played in order from lowest to highest for the combo to continue. If a character uses a special attack, and there is a party member waiting to attack, and there is a 1 attack Magnus or an Equip Magnus that has an R in the top right corner, the character can then relay the combo to the other character, continuing the chain of attack without interruption, and dealing more damage. Once the MP bar reaches level 5, players can press Y' to unleash a Magnus Burst, which allows you to play as many special attacks as possible before the timer runs out, with relay combos lengthening attacks.
Battles tend to run very frantically, with eyes mostly being placed on the bottom third of the screen. Looking up one moment during the heat of the battle will put you at a disadvantage, because the enemies will set up an attack. And watch out for enemies. They're hard. Even normal monsters are harder than in most RPGs. And bosses will cause you to Try Again? over and over and over and over and over again. Thankfully, most of these battles are mostly all tact, because the game will give you Magnus that you need. Say someone goes down. The game will actually substitute what should have been your next Magnus with a Magnus that will revive, and the one afterwards that will heal. This doesn't make the game any easier since some of the bosses are mind numbingly hard regardless, but it does take a large part of the luck factor away from the game. In addition to healing items, Magnus will be dealt that can complete your combo, or cause you to have a relay. Players are also able to discard cards by using the B' button, which alleviates a ton of pressure from getting the wrong cards dealt. Sure, there's a luck factor, but it's negligible.
Outside of battle, the game plays much like the first, walking around, opening chests, talking to people, ect. This time, though, tri-Crescendo and Monolith Soft have decided to add a ton more polish. Players can hold three times as many Quest Magnus, with each Quest Magnus having an effect on the player's stats. Players can also combine Quest Magnus to create new and more powerful Magnus to enhance stats even further. There is also a summary mode (in the form of a cute and funny diary with notes from all three characters), as well a Monster Summary, Quest Guide Battle Stats, and a (relatively weak) New Game+ mode. Besides the New Game+ mode, each of these additions is entire fleshed out, and helps deliver a very complete package. The Quest Guide chronicles every single sidequest in the game, large or small, including who gave you the quest, along with what they want.
One thing that has to be said about Origins is that is has an incredible sense of style. The characters are extremely well designed with an exotic and distinct style. Characters who were in the original now look like they're 20 years younger, while they still retain their charm from the original. The backgrounds are still beautiful, and each is beautifully painted with an exquisite sense of detail.
At least, the backgrounds in the first game are nice. While some of the new locations are nice (Read: Hassaleh, Cujam and Rasalas), some of them are rather bland compared to the original, with little to no motion in the like in the first game. Seeing as the game revolves around mechanics, it's understandable, but less gleam and more detail would have been nice.
Special effects in the game are still amazing, and each attack showing awesome spell effects and movements are. Attacks, the battle animations are quite awesome as well. Each motion, no matter what attack you play, is fluid and real, with each Attack and Special Attack Magnus causing a slightly different animation. It's very impressive.
Unfortunately, the animations outside of battle are still awkward, especially NPC animations. Not to mention that the character models have low polygon counts compared to other JRPGs this generation. To the game's credit, many of the cutscenes now are done in complete 3D, adding to the dramatic effect of the already incredible story.
Let's just get this out of the way now: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean had some of the worst voice acting of any JRPG this generation. It was atrocious. While there were some characters such as Melodia, Geldoblame, and Mizuti who stood out from the crap, none of the voice talent ever achieved more than just pronouncing their lines in English (and even Xelha couldn't pronounce the name of her damn country correctly).
Imagine the surprise when Origins actually has listenable voice acting. Not only listenable voice acting, but extremely good voice acting. Sure, some characters like Gibari and Thoran are pretty bland, but for the most part, the voice actors are especially excellent, with talents hailing from big name anime, Metal Gear Solid, NYPD Blue, and yes, even Zoey 101. The main three characters are especially strong, with Crawford Wilson (Zoey 101) as Sagi, Shanelle Workman (One Life to Live), Maura Gale (Metal Gear Solid 2, NYPD Blue) as Guillo's female voice and TC Carson (God of War) as Guillo's male voice. Each of them does an incredible job portraying their characters, with an extremely strong supporting cast. Big name voice actors such as Crispin Freeman, Dwight Schultz, Yuri Lowenthal, and everyone's favorite Power Ranger, Johnny Yong Bosch are just some of the cast to grace the game.
The music is strong, as it was with the first game, with the theme song being Le Ali Del Principio, a song with Italian lyrics sung by Motoi Sakuraba's nine-year-old daughter, Mio Sakuraba. Besides being beautifully written, it is beautifully sung, and sets the tone for a mysterious and somewhat ephemeral adventure. The overall score is strong, though the reliance on hard and powerful songs should be coupled with more slower, town-themed songs. Overall, however, the score is still one of the best in a long time.
No RPG is worth anything without its story. And Baten Kaitos Origins succeeds with flying colors.
The game is a prequel, and weaves its way through the Baten Kaitos back-story, creating new and interesting twists in places that you wouldn't expect while creating a completely new story in the same universe. Questions such as why Gibari left the army, who Melodia's parents are, and what really happened in the war 1,000 years ago. And while the answers might seem simple, they aren't. The answers are complicated, multi-layered, and are quite surprising.
Actually, everything about Origin's story is multilayered. Every motive, every action, it's not as easy as it seems. The characters are complicated, yet still enjoyable. The plot weaves around the set story creating an almost entirely different world within the Baten Kaitos universe.
Orgins's characters are arguably the best part of the story. The interaction between Sagi, Milly, and Guillo is absolutely amazing. Each of them has different feelings towards one another, continuing jokes with each other, nicknames, and none of them can be described in one sentence, let alone a paragraph. They are supported by an extremely smart, witty, and sometimes depressing script that leaves the player begging for more and more.
Baten Kaitos Origins is not only the best RPG on the Gamecube, it's one of the best RPGs this generation, outclassing many others in both script, story, voice acting, originality, music, battle system, extras, and more. It's a full complete package. The game will be hard. It will be long. But it's worth every single minute of it. Don't miss out on this gem.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/06/06
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