Title: Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster
Developer: Monolithsoft, tri-Crescendo
Release Date: September 14, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Turn-Based JRPG
Developer Monolithsoft is primarily known for the Xenoblade series, which has found a relatively sizable audience on the Switch. But the developer has worked on several other titles before its current glory days, such as Xenosaga and, in this context, alongside developer tri-Crescendo, Baten Kaitos. The latter series graced the GameCube, giving the platform some much-needed JRPG presence. Alas, sales were not exceptionally high, so the news of an HD remaster for both entries in the form of Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster was completely unexpected, yet welcome.
Having last played Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and Baten Kaitos Origins over a decade ago, I was thrilled to revisit them and see if they held up in the modern era. The short answer is that they mostly have, thanks to some appreciated quality-of-life features, but players will need to be incredibly patient to see these experiences through to their ends.
Both Baten Kaitos games occur within the same world, where humanity lives in civilizations in the sky following an ancient conflict involving the Ancient God of Destruction, Malpercio. Most interestingly, this eventually caused people to grow Wings of the Heart, already instilling this setting with notable distinction. Aside from the benefits of flight, the wings are manifestations of one’s soul, sort of like wearing your heart on your sleeve in the literal sense.
The first game’s protagonist, Kalas, is a bit of a unique case, though. He only possesses one natural wing, with the other being mechanical. Further, he’s on a quest fueled by vengeance due to the murder of his brother and grandfather. However, his goals gradually alter when he meets a girl named Xelha, who intends to prevent the potential revival of Malpercio. Kalas begrudgingly joins her on this journey as it coincides with his, where he becomes allies with numerous other characters while traveling across the floating lands.
Throughout Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, it quickly becomes evident that Kalas isn’t exactly your conventionally kind-hearted protagonist. He’s quite immature and callous toward others’ dire circumstances, with his motivation for revenge taking precedence above all else. He evidently develops over the course of the game, and his truer colors come to light, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s initially pretty rude toward Xelha and plenty of others he meets. This growth of Kalas makes the narrative rewarding to see through to its end, alongside the inventive and captivating world.
While the missions of those in the core cast are reasonably typical, with there, of course, being an antagonistic empire to face off against, the setting is what will really start compelling you. People’s Wings of the Heart, the floating continents, and two other features known as Magnus and the Guardian Spirit, otherwise known as you, the player, give the world of Baten Kaitos a vast degree of collective individuality.
But first, what did I mean about the Guardian Spirit being you? Well, I meant it literally. In Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and Origins, you act as a literal Guardian Spirit to both protagonists, being a formless character they converse with at select times, implementing an unexpected avenue of meta-ness to both titles. This also gives you an odd sense of belonging as one with the parties themselves, even if they ultimately pursue their predetermined paths regardless of your input. Still, choosing the “correct” choices will enhance your unseen numeric bonds with the protagonists, culminating in better combat performance.
As for Magnus, they’re essentially cards used as containers for combat and daily life. The entirety of the battle systems is built around this invention. While plenty goes into Magnus across both titles, you can view them as cards sorted across decks you configure. They are obtainable in different types from a range of activities, and knowing how to best equip them and which orders to use them in is paramount for success.
Their utilization in Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is fairly lenient, as there’s transparency regarding the presence of ally and enemy actions. Simply put, you use supportive or attack-based Magnus during ally turns, and during enemy turns, you can activate defensive-based ones to reduce damage taken. Of course, a variety of factors influence the efficacy of these actions, like elemental affinities and the Magnus value order-of-utilization bonuses akin to poker, but the basics are simple to grasp. Class levels, separate from individual character levels, are particularly vital to note since they increase the number of usable Magnus per turn and the number that can be equipped per character.
The real crux of it all comes down to the real-time element of battles. You have a limited time to act when picking Magnus in offensive and defensive positions, with the latter especially being integral because enemies can combo you, and you’ll have to choose multiple defensive cards in a row before each collision to guard against each hit. This need to ensure effective timing also applies to initiating your own combos, as well.
Summatively, combat in Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean requires a good chunk of time to open up fully and a fair bit of patience to grasp the intricacies, but it becomes gratifying once you do. Baten Kaitos Origins, though, is an altered beast. The fundamentals from Lost Ocean are present, except applied far differently. Attacking, for instance, is relegated to weak, medium, and strong variations, and solo character combos are only possible if the selected cards are sequential.
To elaborate, while in Lost Ocean, you could choose almost whatever attack cards you had at your disposal, Origins requires you to use them based on their values going from lower to higher. Further, the active-time element is far more present here, with there not being clearly divided character turns. Instead, it’s all collected into a singular effort where you swap between party members as Magnus cards roll in. You can discard Magnus cards at a much faster rate, as well, which quickly becomes a vital practice. Admittedly, it’s all more overwhelming in its early hours than Lost Ocean, and the game doesn’t really explain anything to you unless you dig through the menus.
Still, I preferred Origins’ combat system since it was far swifter compared to the first title’s battle sequences, and you’re fully healed after every battle due to the increased difficulty. I tend to prefer this design choice when the challenge level accommodates it since you can go all-out in every fight like they’re self-contained ventures. This also makes fights in Origins more memorable. Origins also has “The Valedictory Elegy” for background music, so that wins by default.
Joking aside, the combat systems of Baten Kaitos are not for everyone. If you’re unwilling to be ignorant for a few hours and read some menus, both titles will be immensely frustrating. If you’re inexperienced in your deck setups or just plain unlucky, you can end up in scenarios where you’re getting bodied with little ability to counter. Personally, I completely forgot how combat worked in Origins, so I was pretty annoyed for a handful of hours before the flow finally clicked back into place. Still, the two games do share additional gameplay commonalities that diverge toward distinct goals.
In Lost Ocean, you’re required to pray to churches to redeem experience for character levels and gain Class levels. On the other hand, you gain standard character levels in Origins conventionally, while Class levels are still relegated to churches. You can purchase Auras here in this title, too, which are battle buffs. Interestingly, obtaining money in the first title requires you to take photos of enemies mid-battle with Kalas’ camera Magnus, while Origins gives you currency after winning bouts like in your typical RPG.
So, you can gather that, while not entirely different, you’ll have unique gameplay experiences across both titles, which is pretty impressive when considering how unorthodox the first game is. These differences also extend to the tone of the narratives. Lost Ocean has bleak moments defined by the potential revival of Malpercio and Kalas’ vengeance, whereas Origins is vastly tenser. Set two decades before the first game, the protagonist Sagi, the human-like mecha companion Guillo, and the enigmatic yet playful runaway Milliarde (Milly), the former two become framed for the emperor’s assassination, putting them on the run. This then morphs into a political electoral conflict, with Machination versus Magnus being its backdrop.
Sagi is a kinder and more down-to-earth hero than Kalas, yet he, too, has his own veiled demons and life-defining secrets that grant considerable depth. Thanks to Sagi’s starker contrasts, I ultimately found his plights and characterization more compelling than Kalas’, bolstered by the relatively compact cast that made the journey feel more personal. Additionally, given the title’s nature as a prequel, you’ll run into characters and areas from the first game, coupled with events that redefine some context.
Still, regardless of preference, both Baten Kaitos entries do stellar jobs at establishing their fantastical world and fastening initial tethers of attachment, bounding you to the casts. Further similarities, albeit more specific ones they share, are their presentations and area designs. The sceneries in Lost Ocean and Origin have a picturesque quality to them with excellent character designs, though the latter has admittedly not aged the best. A few characters, chiefly Kalas, have awkward, off-putting portraits that clash with the JRPG aesthetic.
Thankfully, both games do moderately excel in environmental progression. Magnus, the card containers used in battles, are also used to solve puzzles in towns and dungeons. They can range from self-explanatory busywork to being genuinely inventive, requiring players to contain particular objects and affect their vicinities in varying ways. Granted, some puzzles aren’t super clear and can become unnecessarily frustrating to determine how to make progress. Lost Ocean and Origins share these pros and cons amidst their respective durations.
One element I’ve neglected to mention so far is the performance and features of the collective remaster itself. Thankfully, this is not a Tales of Symphonia Remastered situation. I’m aware it’s certainly a different team who worked on this release, but after Symphonia’s awful treatment, I was still quite concerned about the forthcoming quality of Baten Kaitos. Firstly, there are some accessibility and quality-of-life features that you can activate at any time you’re exploring in both titles. You can turn off encounters, enable instant death in combat, turn on auto-battle, and regulate speed in and out of battle (two separate toggles) at rates of 100, 200, or 300 percent.
And man, I’ll be candid; the ability to turn off encounters is such a godsend. One rather annoying fault in the two games is how enemies usually respawn in dungeons after a single screen transition, and given how long battles can take, you can imagine why this would become a severe grievance. So, being able to just ignore them in situations where you’re either backtracking or confused about progression is highly appreciated. This alone probably saved me inestimable hours.
Of course, the speed-up options are also fantastic, and having separate toggles for in and out of battle is clever for the fact that fights should ideally remain at their default speed. When considering the active time elements of combat, necessitating you to select Magnus cards swiftly to attack and defend, you can imagine why speeding that up would make it all borderline unplayable. I suppose the option is there for players who have instant death and auto-battle on simultaneously, letting them forego battles in their entirety. But I do recommend speeding up the game to 200% while exploring since, at least personally, it hit that sweet spot of navigation where you could still have a good handle on your running speed without it becoming overbearing.
As for performance, the framerate of Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster isn’t especially consistent, yet it’s never debilitating. You’ll definitely notice spots, mainly in bigger maps, where the framerate can get a bit erratic, but it’s a minor offense that won’t affect you whatsoever unless you’re highly sensitive to that sort of thing. Other than that fault, I didn’t have any issues. There is also an elephant in the room: the lack of English dubs. For those unaware, both Lost Ocean and Origins had English dubs on GameCube that have been removed from these ports.
Producer Koji Nakajima stated this was to avoid expression discrepancies. Still, that reasoning is flimsy since taking away the options entirely feels needless. Even though the dubs, mainly Lost Ocean, weren’t terrific by any means, they should’ve been kept, if only to allow veteran players to re-experience them. These bizarre exclusions are the only egregious faults with these re-releases. It’s worth noting that the opening FMV of Lost Ocean is dubbed in English, but that’s apparently how it was in Japan for whatever reason.
One last point of collective emphasis is the soundtracks. The legendary Motoi Sakuraba, known for countless titles like the Tales of series, Golden Sun, Valkyrie Profile, and Star Ocean, is also this series’ composer. And he unsurprisingly thrived here. Sakuraba possesses highly distinct instrumentation that somehow manages to retain individuality across his numerous projects, and it’s no different in Baten Kaitos. Both titles’ soundtracks boast fantastic ambiant pieces alongside stellar battle themes at the height of JRPGs as a whole.
Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster are memorable JRPGs that can finally fully spread their wings in this remastered package. While the systems might cause early confusion no matter which entry you’re playing, they both develop into a masterful adventure. The added quality-of-life features made these titles approachable for any who wish to casually revisit the narrative or experience it for the first time. I’m glad these classics have graced a modern platform for fans, both new and old.
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