Review by clarkisdark

"New deal"

Baten Kaitos Origins may have come out after Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Yadda Yadda Yadda, but it actually acts as a prequel. Hence the Origins, you see. While people from the first game will make cameos as their younger selves, the story mainly focuses on three new individuals: Sagi, Milliarde, and Guillo. That's right, just three playable characters this time. Their quest will take you through familiar territory a la Baten Kaitos 1, but Origins does well to separate itself. There are new locations, a whole slew of new characters, and several smaller touches that definitely make this feel like a more refined Baten Kaitos experience.

For instance, Sagi can use his wings to quickly scale or fall down cliffs instead of slowly climbing a ladder. His wings are also useful for temporarily dashing across the ground. This makes it possible to avoid running into a monster or to just speed up the process of traversing the overworld map. You have to do a lot of running back and forth for mandatory tasks, which is irritating and tedious, but being able to dash helps. Item-based puzzles are also prevalent, those that require you to find and take the "Magnus essence" of something (like an apple or gunpowder) to the person or place that needs it. There's even a "Magnus mixer" now that lets you combine essences based on recipes you find. Leveling up is instantaneous this time, too, taking place of forcing you to go pray at a church. You do still have to visit the church, though, in order to upgrade your deck class. Higher classes allow you to hold more cards in a deck, create more decks, or to up the amount of cards you can discard in one turn.

Baten Kaitos is still a card-based RPG, then, but the system has changed, for better or worse. Your characters now share a single deck, even though there are still character-specific cards that get in the way of others' turns. Attacking is made much more restrictive, too. Instead of selecting actual weapons, you only have the option of a weak attack (with a card number of 1), medium attack (2), strong attack (3), and maybe a finishing move (4-7) if you have enough magic built up. These attacks can only be played in ascending order and only once per turn, so if you're dealt nothing but 3s, you play just one. But attacks still vary depending on what weapon you equip. Weapons have a card number of zero, so you can equip a flame sword before dishing out a 1, 2, and 3 and do more (fire-based) damage than normal. Weapons lose durability, however, and they'll eventually unequip themselves. Defense cards have the same effect and are used in the same manner. You don't get an actual turn to defend. Rather, you equip a weapon or a defense card as needed, but not both at the same time.

For fans of the first Baten Kaitos, these changes to the battle system will be greatly upsetting. The satisfaction of creating crazy combos and frantically picking out useful element types just isn't there. Keep playing, however, and you'll grow to appreciate what Origins is trying to do. You won't like it as much as the original, but battles can still get pretty intense. It may appear turn-based, but if you don't take the initiative in a fight, the enemy will go ahead and attack you as they please. At the same time, if you're fast and sharp enough, you can create relay combos between characters that deal more damage than by themselves. You really have to stay alert while you battle, and the game feels significantly harder, too. Every major boss battle demands at least one retry, which is kind of nice considering Baten Kaitos 1 was a near pushover. Aimless attacks don't always cut it. A few fights start to veer into ridiculousness, but overall, it's a very nice challenge.

Because of the changes to the card system, less time is spent in menus managing multiple decks. While I didn't mind the original game's micromanagement so much, it was rather tedious to spend 30 minutes readjusting six different decks just to accommodate a few new cards. For Baten Kaitos Origins, you can go hours without even looking at a menu. Part of this, however, is that new cards are hard to come by. Stores don't sell a very wide variety, and treasure chests usually contain cards you already own. Having multiples of the same weapon or shield is pointless since you cycle through a deck in-battle really fast. In fact, it is sometimes better to only keep 30-40 cards in your battle deck so the health-restoring cards come up more often. Because of this, collecting cards in hopes of forming the ultimate deck quickly becomes a lower priority.

Overall, Baten Kaitos Origins didn't pull me in as strongly as its predecessor. The story takes a long time to get going, and some of the harder battles will make you want to quit as soon as they're over, because you're too stressed out to move on. But all things told, Origins is still a lengthy and meaty adventure that spans at least 40 hours. And you haven't seen everything this game has to offer unless you venture into many of the side quests, including rebuilding a town and inviting people from all over the world to move there. Completists will certainly have their fill.

Origins retains much of the same look and feel as the first game, but the graphics do feel like they've been improved. The different areas are all beautifully-rendered, but the effect of seeing them isn't as great since most of the locations are recycled. Origins does, however, up the quantity and quality of character animations. Characters are much more expressive, and cut scenes have more actions in them than just people standing around and talking. The voice acting no longer sounds like it was recorded in a tin can, either, which makes it considerably more bearable. And the pauses where your name is supposed to be spoken--you being a guardian spirit to Sagi--don't sound so abrupt and unnatural. Unfortunately, cheesy dialogue persists. Some of the things they say are downright embarrassing and just make you feel bad for the voice actors (if not for yourself for having to listen to it).

Final Comments:
Whereas the first Baten Kaitos ranks as one of my favorite Gamecube games, this sequel/prequel is nothing more than a nice diversion to help fill that RPG void which has plagued Nintendo consoles since the N64 days. Origins ups the production values and difficulty and still provides an entertaining experience rife with frantic boss battles, but it loses too much of what made Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean so endearing. Namely, collecting cards and then using them in battles feels a little too... rote and contrived. Fans of RPGs and of Baten Kaitos will enjoy what Origins has to offer, but it's certainly not A+ material.

+ Looks and sounds better than original
+ Harder
+ Less time spent managing cards
-- Because card collecting is minimal
+ Intense and fast-paced battles
-- Despite being very restrictive
-- Weak, almost embarrassing story
-- Too much running back and forth

Score: 7.5

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/04/07

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