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here have been some stupid and terrible games with cards as the core mechanic. They are usually either interactive commercials for collectible toys or aggravating collect-a-thons. So, when gamers found out that the next project from Monolith Soft (best known for Xenosaga) would feature a card-based combat system, they were a little bit wary. Let me calm your raging doubts right now: Baten Kaitos is awesome.

I was most surprised by how quickly this game drew me in, and it wasn’t even the story that captured my interest – it was the setting. From the first scenes in a rural farming village, the world feels alive. The colorful graphics depict storybook settings teeming with movement, complete with swaying leaves and moving clouds. I felt like a child with a picture book, all of the substance and subtlety falling by the wayside in the face of breathtaking environments, slick character designs, and terrifying creatures.

Of course, as Billy Dee Williams can testify, good looks can only take you so far before you need to bring something else to the table. Initially enticing you with beauty, Baten Kaitos holds your attention by being downright fun to play. The battle system is indeed card-based, but it is far deeper than most of the menu-based combat mechanics out there. The cards are called Magna, and they are more conceptually similar to the Elements in Chrono Cross than the monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh. Each one represents a weapon, a piece of armor, or magic spell, and the ones you select determine your actions. Depending on your level, you can also string together huge combos, potentially using every offensive Magnus in your hand to deal out major damage. Plus, because many cards are class-specific, you are able to tweak each character’s versatile deck to an even greater degree than is usually allowed by simple equipment optimization screens.

Above all else, an RPG needs to immerse the player in its universe in order to be successful. Though this can be done in many ways, the most common is to create a compelling story. Strangely, Baten Kaitos does not follow this tradition; the events and characters of this game are not particularly interesting or engaging. However, every other aspect of the game, from the visuals to the music to the battles, kicks into overdrive to create a vibrant fantasy setting. For those gamers lamenting the discontinuation of the Chrono games, Baten Kaitos is the closest thing I’ve seen to a successor, though its wings don’t quite soar to those titles’ lofty heights.  


There are two things that I usually look for in a role-playing game: storytelling and gameplay. While there are a number of interesting hooks in Baten Kaitos’ plot, the conflict at hand is far from compelling. Even the characters, most of whom have personalities that resemble walking corpses, seem bored by the events at hand. The miserable spoken dialogue (which sounds like it was recorded in a tin can) comes dangerously close to turning solemn moments into laugh out loud riots. While it’s difficult to attach yourself to this world, the unique card-based combat system is reason alone to see this adventure through to the end. I really like how the game forces players to string together cards into combos, build class-specific decks, and study the elemental bases of their adversaries. Baten Kaitos is also incredibly gorgeous (the realism of the environments reaches a level of visual efflorescence), and the soundtrack is a masterpiece. The story may be forgettable, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find an RPG with gameplay as enjoyable.

People have wings, whales are holy, and the ever-present evil empire threatens the safety of the world
I’d marry this game, but I have concerns about being wed to a spouse whose ethereal beauty is guaranteed to outshine me at every social gathering
The strained voice work is like getting your ears boxed, but the pain is quickly soothed by the amazing folksy/tropical soundtrack
Though turn-based, the battles are frenzied and keep you on your toes
A weak story and lack of cinematics are balanced by outstanding combat and fun gameplay
Moderately High
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