Here’s a tip for designers and translators. One of the words in your title must be in the language of your market. I worked on a game called Elrelis Bled once upon a time and the name worked because the second word of the title is a verb we all understand. We can deduce then that Elrelis is a person, place, or something that can bleed. What exactly is a Baten Kaitos? Does Baten Kaitos or does Kaitos Baten? Are both words nouns or is it just gibberish? Am I ignorant for not understanding Japanese or should the localization team tried a bit harder?
Actually, it turns out I’m just an idiot. Baten Kaitos is a constellation. Let’s pretend that last paragraph never happened and once again thank the power of the internet for saving me from my ignorance yet again. I thought about just deleting my intro, but it took me a good four minutes to write, and besides, I have a college degree, I should know what the names of games mean. So the obvious conclusion is that Monolith Soft are a bunch of pompous, “look how much we know,” snobby bookworms. Who reads, anyway? Losers, that’s who.
Baten Kaitos is a poorly named card based RPG and I am a sucker for card based games. I’ve spend hundreds of hours playing Culdcept, dozens of hours with Dual Masters and at least a few hours with one of the many versions of Yu Gi Oh. Card games are usually fun and Baten Kaitos doesn’t go against the grain.
The best part by far about this RPG is the card battle system. First I will reply to the critics that argue the game is based too much on luck – No. Poker is very luck based, but try telling a pro that they aren’t actually good, it’s just luck. Baten probably has more to do with luck than other RPGs, but it is still largely dependent upon skill. If you give yourself the right cards for the battle at hand you will minimize the effects of luck so the odds are at least some of the critics of the battle system were just bad at it.
The battles give you a hand of cards to play. The hand is selected randomly from the cards in your deck and between battles you can assign what to keep and what to remove from the deck of each character. Each turn your characters are given the chance to play up to six cards, based on their level and class. The cards are mostly attacks, defenses and healing items with some stat changing cards here and there. During the attack portion of a characters turn they can play a number of attack cards but the defender is also allowed to play their cards to minimize the damage they take. Being able to defend your characters with defense cards makes the game dynamic and keeps the player on his toes for the whole battle.
Battles have some other complications besides the basic attack and defend turns. Enemies often have better defense against specific elements so you’ll need to make sure you play elements that oppose these. For some reason the opposite of the element wind is the element of time. The other elemental pairs, fire and water and light and dark, make more sense. In addition to many cards having an elemental attribute, all have numbers. The numbers allow you to do extra damage by playing your cards as a hand. You receive bonuses for pairs, triples, full houses, and straights. This adds a lot of depth to an already very enjoyable battle system.
Only boss battles in the game are mandatory because regular enemies are clearly seen roving about the map, ala Grandia or Saga Frontier, and can be avoided. This will be a relief to many, but I don’t usually mind incessant battles. I’m a bit of a min maxer and level cruncher. The friend I played the game with is not, however, and he was very pleased by the minimum number of battles he was forced to engage in.
The leveling system is a little different from traditional console RPGs. As usual, every battle yields experience but in Baten Kaitos you cannot actually level up characters until you visit a church. I was worried this would be a gimmick to force the player to run back and forth through dungeons, away from bosses back to churches and then back to bosses. Not only did it not turn out this way, the leveling up process is actually a lot of fun. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you beat a large dungeon and tough boss then return to a church to find out you’ve gone up three whole levels.
In addition to leveling your character up, churches can also promote your characters to a new class if you have the appropriate item. Each new class allows a character to hold more cards in their deck and play an extra card. You begin with only the ability to play two cards and hold twenty, so by the end when you’re holding twice as many and playing six in a turn it really feels like you’ve progressed. It’s a shame they couldn’t tie classes in to character development a little more, though. When I think of class, I think mage, rogue, barbarian, but in this game classes are 1, 3, or 2.
One of the more ambitious innovations (gimmicks) of the game is the passage of time. Strangely enough, time doesn’t pass in night and day cycles and is in fact completely removed from your characters, the world, and the plot. Time only affects certain cards in your inventory. A flaming sword will eventually go out, and a rare coin may become pocket change. The mechanic is interesting but ultimately not used enough to be relevant. If the majority of cards evolved over time then the system would matter enough to significantly influence gameplay. As it stands, I simply don’t use the flaming sword card.