Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster Review
The GameCube had some remarkable RPGs back in the day. Baten Kaitos was – and remains – one of the most remarkable among them. Gorgeous backgrounds are mixed with colorful 3D models. Battles are fought with cards. Even the setting is unusual and memorable. Although the games are a bit clunky in their execution, you can’t deny that these are some unique RPGs. Whether they’re worth revisiting in 2023 is another matter altogether.
You play a guardian spirit bonded to the protagonist. It’s a fascinating departure from the usual tropes, though it doesn’t impact the story much. Though it was surprising to see the main character turn and address me -the player- so directly. He does ask for your input and advice at several points. I even got into an argument with him, sort of. It’s a cool mechanic, one that everyone in the game is at least a little familiar with. Beyond that, the narrative is fairly predictable. An empire is getting up to some bad business, and your hero is dragged into dealing with it. Honestly I found it pretty forgettable after a while.
On the other hand, the combat system is downright delightful. Everything is controlled by cards. Sorry, maybe that wasn’t clear enough. Absolutely every aspect of battle is controlled with cards. Healing, magic, strike strength, item use, and even functions like running away are all card-based. This keeps even regular battles feeling impactful and interesting. Of course, you’re also customizing your decks. You can switch things up for certain levels or specific bosses, as well. The only major downside is healing.
It’s Cards All The Way Down
Turns come with time limits, you see. You also need to manually select the healing item (assuming you’ve drawn one), switch to your party, and select the party member. It took me many battles to get the steps down. I accidentally healed a lot of enemies. Baten Kaitos 2 makes this a bit easier, thankfully. You don’t retain damage between battles, and you’ve only got the one deck to manage. Alternately, the HD Remaster has a host of modern touches that can make things much simpler.
If regular battles feel too slow, you can speed them up. This makes selecting cards on time much harder, however. You can also turn on auto-battle, which negates that issue. Or, you can remove random encounters altogether. If that seems like too much, you can just adjust the enemy difficulty. I recommend bumping up the battle speed a bit, if you can handle it. Regular fights move pretty slow, and there are a lot of them. You can try and avoid the enemies you encounter, but my success rate with this was low. The combat pacing gets exhausting, but the remaster makes things a little easier.
I was thrown off by the leveling system at first, but it’s grown on me. You accrue experience through fights like normal, but you don’t automatically level up. Instead, you have to do so at certain save points. While it’s easy to forget this extra step, it’s crucial that you put the work in. I found it especially satisfying to go up by three levels at once after depositing a giant chunk of experience. On the other hand, it’s more work for no practical purpose. Unless you’re hoping to do the whole game at level one, in which case this system is perfect.
Crisp, Colorful Visuals
While the modern combat features are great, let’s not discount the upgraded visuals. The graphics are downright crisp. The static backgrounds and the 3D characters maintain visual parity, which rules. Plus, everything looks ship-shape on a 4K monitor. This was an important element to get right, after all. Baten Kaitos features some wonderful visuals. Every stage is colorful, crammed with animations, and full of fascinating characters. Even the portrait art stands out. Whether you’re docked or in portable mode, these games look great.
RPGs don’t always age well. Things like combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving can change drastically in a handful of years. The Baten Kaitos games hold up pretty well, all things considered. The visuals are great and the combat is excellent. The Remaster also does a great job of smoothing over certain rough patches. There’s a generous autosave system in place, for one thing. The modern combat upgrades also go a long way to making those slow battles feel faster. On the other hand, the story feels very by-the-numbers. I felt like I was running down a checklist of tropes within a few hours of the first game. But if card-based battle systems are your thing, this collection is a godsend. If nothing else, Baten Kaitos I&II provides a fascinating snapshot of a lost era of GameCube RPGs.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
Crisp updated visuals
Deep, engaging battle system
Tons of modern features
Predictable story beats
Battle pacing suffers
Healing feels very clunky
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