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Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GameCube)

Co-created by tri-crescendo and Monolith Soft, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an intriguing JRPG that is exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube. People have lived on floating islands for a thousand years and grown wings. However, this doesn't mean that they can fly for extended periods of time, so airships are a necessity for traveling. The general premise of the story is cliche, but Baten Kaitos is able to deliver some really unforeseen plot twists. Some of the characters are offputting at first, but by the end of the game there's a feeling of sadness that it's over.

The battle system uses a separate deck of cards for each character in your party. In the beginning you have 20 cards in the deck and three on hand, playing a card immediately draws a new one from the deck. If the deck is depleted, characters have to sit out one turn; the same holds true for enemies and their decks that are invisible to the player. The thing to pay attention to when playing cards is to form combos whenever possible. Each card can sport up to four numbers ranging from 1-9 in its corners and these numbers should be arranged in a way that is reminiscent to poker. At the start of the game you can play two cards per turn, so pairs and straights are your only options. If successful, the damage you deal will be increased. The same logic applies to defensive cards that you are urged to use while the enemy attacks; arrange proper combos to decrease the damage you take.

Healing, buffs etc., even escaping from battle, are also all used via cards, so you have to put these into your deck if you want to get a chance to use them. Since the cards on hand are greatly limited in number and you never know which card gets drawn next, it's a good idea to break down your decks into roughly 75% offense, 15% defense and 10% everything else, because there's nothing worse than having only invalid cards on your hand when you want to attack. Additionally, plenty of the offensive cards can also be used for defense. They aren't as effective as dedicated defensive cards, but it's preferable to having too many defensive cards in your decks.

As the game progresses, the number of cards in your deck as well as on your hand can be increased, so more possibilities for combos open up. The crown jewel is an ascending straight from 1-9 that grants a 300% bonus to your attack. But pay attention to elements, because opposing ones cancel each other out. Enemies unsurprisingly have weaknesses, so that should be factored into deck creation when facing bosses. It needs to be said that battles in Baten Kaitos are slower than in your regular JRPG, but in return the EXP gains are higher. In the sum you spend pretty much exactly as much time in battles as you do in other games, so it's fine. Dungeons usually have only two to five rooms, so they don't drag on. The story progresses at a nice pace and the game feels huge because you are visiting so many different places.

So what's the biggest flaw? Completionists are in for a rough ride. There are over 1,000 different cards and a good amount of them is missable. There's no new game plus, so you have to get it right in one playthrough. There are over 100 special card combinations that create new cards and they can be a pain to execute. But the worst thing of all is the Shampoo card. There are plenty of cards that age and transform into a new card and the Shampoo is insane. Its description says that shampoo should be applied for two weeks to get splendid hair. It's not lying, because the game really needs to run for 336 hours to transform this card. Completing all sidequests, getting all other cards and leveling up everyone to level 99 takes less than 100 hours. So what to do? Let your GameCube run the game over night while you sleep and do this for many days. That's how I broke my GC's disc drive. I got a complete file, but it came at a price.

Controls 10 Menus and battles are fine. Things aren't as smooth in the
field screen where climbing in particular feels like a chore.
Gameplay   Turn-based JRPG with a unique card-based battle system.
A carefully created deck reduces the impact of randomness.
Story   People have wings and live on floating islands. An evil emperor
wants to unleash the cursed god Malpercio.
Single-player   Dungeons are short and plentiful, allowing you to move on
and see new things at a healthy pace.
Multiplayer   Not
Graphics   Prerendered backgrounds in the field screen, full polygon
graphics during battles. Some of the animation is stiff.
Sound   Superb soundtrack with a wide variety of instruments
that always fits the mood of the moment.
Value   It takes about 40 hours to beat the game.
Three big sidequests and dozens of fetch quests.
Replay Value   Nothing special. Completionists can attempt a 100% file,
but the requirements are mindboggling.
Score 8 A good battle system is the core of an enjoyable JRPG and
Baten Kaitos doesn't disappoint.

Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Gamers Club