02 . 19 . 2024

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean Remastered


For today’s review we thank a most generous Patron and fellow writer for Catholic Game Reviews: KAMaximilianK! Perhaps best known for reviewing 2023’s Nintendo darling The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and various modern entries in the Bayonetta series, KMax has elected to redeem his game review request for this period on a classic JRPG newly remastered for modern consoles. This genre being my de facto specialty, I decided to see if the murmurs on the wind about its quality deserve to be heard more loudly. Let us ascend to a land in the sky and see just where the adventure takes us!

Co-developed by Monolith Soft and Tri-Crescendo, published by Namco, and originally released stateside in 2004, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a deck-building turn based RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube. A remastered version was released for Nintendo Switch in September of 2023 in the Baten Kaitos I and II HD Remaster Collection, and is the version used for this article. Its premise involves a wandering young man and the player getting swept up in an adventure spanning various floating islands, fighting against reawakening dark powers and confronting various secrets of the five nations. Players interact with the game by watching cutscenes, exploring environments, fighting card-based battles, and tuning their decks and equipment while managing real-time elements.

The story of Baten Kaitos is set in a fantasy world in the clouds and follows the tale of Kalas and the Guardian Spirit, otherwise known as… you, the player. There’s not much to be said of Kalas’ background at the start of the game since the Guardian Spirit has lost its memories. The most you can parse is Kalas’ surprisingly cold and standoffish personality underpinned by a need for revenge against the man who killed his grandfather. In any case the two eventually meet a young woman named Xelha who is investigating the sealed away powers of an ancient dark god known only as Malpercio, and it turns out their goals have more overlap than Kalas could have anticipated. Thus begins a series of events that will see Kalas and Xelha travel between various island nations, recruit allies to their cause, and eventually wager the fate of the entire world. On the surface it’s not hard to see the premise of Baten Kaitos as incredibly ambitious, as there really isn’t that much else like it. Settings in the sky aren’t unheard of but still innately very intriguing, and the decision to make the player themselves a presence in the story as the Guardian Spirit to add a diegetic, fourth-wall breaking element which reconciles some of the gamey-ness of the affair is the kind of risk taking I’d like to see more of. Resonance between the story and a player’s actions is the pinnacle of what this medium can achieve after all. 

This unfortunately makes it all the more devastating to admit that underneath its surface lies one of the most painfully bland narratives I’ve sat through in a long time. The first half of the story is very predictable and constantly repeats information you already know to fill space, and then when the second half rolls around you find that after all of that build up is one of the most bog standard RPG stories you could imagine. Legitimately, it is criminal how many mean JRPG stereotypes apply perfectly to Baten Kaitos. Edgy loner protagonist, mysterious yet friendly girl, macguffins of the elemental shrines, the power of friendship, evil technologically advanced empire, white-winged evil vs. black-winged good, and on and on and on! All the story is really missing is a cartoonishly evil church dedicated to Malpercio with unbefitting high medieval Catholic aesthetics (praise God that there isn’t!) and it could have been the most JRPG JRPG to ever JRPG . The elements of the story that were more unique unfortunately get completely wasted too. Despite living in the sky and people being able to sprout wings there isn’t anything about the world these characters inhabit that feels especially unreproducible in an earth-bound setting, and in the end just feels like a rule of cool scenario. The Guardian Spirit is perhaps the most tragic victim of all, as despite the characters turning to the camera and addressing you fairly often I ultimately have to admit that if you removed the Spirit from the plot almost nothing would have changed about it.

Perhaps you may find some of these criticisms a bit harsh, and to be fair I agree that a story doesn’t need to be the most original as long as it’s well told. But perhaps the rather unique aesthetic exterior of the game magnifies the banality of Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean’s writing, and there just isn’t enough character here for me to fully buy into this fantasy world. A few of the main party members were ok like Xelha and a character you meet fairly early on named Lyude, but that’s as far as my compliments really go. If you’re less familiar with the genre as a whole then Baten Kaitos’ story might not be too bad, but as a veteran I can’t say I was impressed.

Wait a minute… your last name wouldn’t happen to be Forger, would it?

Gameplay wise at least, the game begins to more successfully execute on unique ideas. The core combat system has a basic turn-based structure, but the actions you take on your turn are based on a deck of Magnus Cards which is drawn from randomly as you spend cards on actions. The three types of cards are weapons which allow you to attack the enemy, armor which is played on your enemy’s turn in response to enemy attacks, and items which can target both enemies and allies but are most commonly run for their healing properties. Sounds simple enough, but then you add on further layers of complexity. Playing cards around their numerical values to make pairs or straights will increase their effectiveness, and element based cards can exploit enemy weaknesses BUT playing opposing elements in the same combo will cancel their effects out. A lot of these advanced tricks are hidden behind talking to NPCs for tutorials unfortunately, but once you do understand some of the mechanics underpinning the system it’s a very skill-based game. Fine-tuning your deck to have a good ratio of attacks, blocks, and items to avoid bricking your hand at critical moments is a fun challenge, and the battles themselves give you ample time to feel out their flow in the early game before getting harder.

There is one issue with combat which might be more of a me thing, but it is worth examining more broadly. Given the deck-building core of Baten Kaitos you would think that good card management trumps the need to gain tons of levels to progress, and to some extent this is indeed true. You only spend your level up exp at specific times, so it is imperative that you manage your decks well as a means of gaining more immediate power. However the primary means of gaining copies of stronger cards is by fighting battles, and thus a system which in theory should not require you to grind all that much ultimately requires just as much grinding as any other RPG. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that despite including the option to speed up combat animations in the remaster, that option actively makes fighting harder because speeding up the animations lowers the amount of time you have to queue the next card in your combo before the game ends your turn. You NEED the regular speed of combat in order to make wise decisions while fighting, and that has the unfortunate side of making the game much more grindy than many modern titles.

I’ll be real for a minute: I have a lot of different games I wish to play and review for the site this year, both in terms of new releases and stuff in my backlog. By the time I was about halfway through Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, I had not fought nearly enough overworld battles to properly upgrade my decks and ultimately hit a massive wall. At that point I used the remaster feature of ending every fight in one hit just to get through the story and complete this review in good time, because I really just didn’t have it in me to grind out all those extra Magnus. Even after making this decision I still had hours of story and overworld stuff to playthrough, so I can’t imagine how long it would have taken playing normally! At the end of the day I am not going to hold this particular point against Baten Kaitos’ final score, because I can humbly admit this is a rather unfair criticism broadly speaking. But just know that this game is a serious time commitment, and while the early game is easy enough to speed through once you’ve got your feet wet, it is sink or swim in the mid to late game. I don’t think you’d need to grind for new cards in every area, but don’t expect a great time if you don’t stop to do so at least once every few areas, and certainly don’t actively dodge encounters to move things along faster.

Beyond combat and deckbuilding, gameplay mostly involves navigating the game’s environments to find treasures and advance the story, and this unfortunately is the game’s other weakest aspect by far. The walking around part of the game is functional and unsurprising for sure, but side-quest design is based almost exclusively around capturing essences (known in universe as “Magnus”, though it’s a little inconsistent whether you capture the mere essence of things or the things in their entirety) of items in limited storage space and taking them to the people who want them. While there is a little bit of a pleasant ‘Aha!’ moment that comes from finding the solutions to the quests, this doesn’t alleviate the fact that fetch quests are usually mind-numbing and time-consuming in equal measure. This isn’t helped by the fact that many magnus can actually change the properties after a certain amount of time in your inventory, so you might have to go back and recollect these items if you don’t deliver them fast enough. The moment I put two and two together, I pretty much skipped the side content entirely.

Yes, this is as dense as it looks. It does ease you in though!

It’s a real shame the game doesn’t have better incentives to explore too, because moving on to discuss presentation, Baten Kaitos’ art direction is nothing short of incredible. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d play one of those early RPGs with 3D character models awkwardly imposed upon 2D environments, but with a little help from remastered HD graphics I was absorbed into the game’s visuals. The environments of the game’s first island, Sadal Suud and especially the city of Pherkad, are beautifully drawn and immediately drew me in with its inventive, fantastical style. And from there every new island seemed to only get more and more striking in terms of the ideas on display. Diadem, Anuenue, Mira, Alfard and more are wholly unique from one another, and the architectural ideas range anywhere from captivatingly idyllic to downright insane. I would even go so far as to say that getting to see the world of Baten Kaitos is the reason you would stick out the game’s lesser qualities for, so if you’re passionate about environmental design this one will be a real treasure. 

My only real complaint on the presentation side, apart from the expected NPC animation jank that remasters of all kinds rarely touch, has to do with the voice acting. Here’s the thing: the Japanese acting in the game is quite fine as far as my gaijin ears can tell, and the English dub that came with the original localization exists as a ‘charming quirk’ in the fans’ eyes at best. However for some indiscernible reason, while the entire main game consists solely of the Japanese acting, the opening CG cinematic in the remaster uses the English dubbed version. Aside from being catfished so hard by that when booting up the game for the first time, I struggle to see any logical reason why the game is like this. Either put in the work of dual audio compatibility, or scrub one performance clean from the product Namco, this is embarrassing.

In regards to the music, my feelings about the soundtrack are rather middling. The individual songs in Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean are quite pleasant and fit their roles well, however the size of this OST is bewilderingly small. For a game which takes people upwards of 50 hours to beat on a casual playthrough, music is repurposed to fit multiple similar settings with impressive constancy. While I liked most of the music enough to enjoy the soundscape through my whole time with the game, it is a score which you will have your fill of by the end of the adventure. I suppose the fancy combat and visuals had to come at the expense of something, but ultimately I find it a shame that musical variety had to be the casualty.

Lastly, as for what wisdom we can take away from Baten Kaitos, there is one element of the game which manages to stick out beyond its silly story and abstract setting to remind me of something profoundly simple and meaningful. As I mentioned earlier you may only level up your characters using your accumulated EXP at specific times; namely at blue save points. This isn’t some generic menu however, rather the characters are transported to a diegetic environment in the form of a church. The actual theological beliefs of this church aren’t exactly clarified as far as I can tell, but the point is that the method by which you do level up is outright stated to be prayer. This is a very specific framing device for the mechanic and in some ways I’m not sure the developers actually meant anything deep by it, but for me I can’t help reflecting on just how obvious the parallels to reality are. In our generation I think a huge emphasis has been placed on the idea of figuring things out through pure self-reflection, but ultimately I think perspective is disordered and harmful. It pridefully assumes the best of our intellect’s illuminative capacity, when in reality we cannot reach the truth apart from other perspectives. The peak of this quest for truth naturally is showing our thoughts before Light and Truth Himself in prayer and seeking His council. I can freely admit that in my own life I face all manner of uncertainty which stems from my inability to achieve meaningful growth and change, but Baten Kaitos reminded me that thinking I can achieve true growth without God’s help is folly. Redoubling my devotion to prayer might just be the best step I can take towards finding that growth I seek.

So in summary, is Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean worth playing? For me personally it is a very tough sell. Its poor story simply wasn’t worth the large time investment, and storytelling is supposed to be one of the greatest advantages of the RPG genre. There are things I enjoyed about the game like its inventive combat and beautiful environments, but those are things I can get elsewhere with much less baggage attached. If you are the kind of person who downplays the cutscene side of video games and finds a greater amount of the “role-playing” x-factor in the simple act of controlling your character and exploring another world, then you might find more enjoyment here than me. ’Tis a rather somber note to end this review on, but if nothing else I at least have a reason to check out the game’s sequel bundled in the same Remastered Collection. I do find myself genuinely curious about whether the next game can improve upon my complaints such as narrative and card collection, but perhaps that’s a tale for another time.

Score: 60%

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Art and Graphics: 5/5

Music: 3/5

Replayability: 1/5

Morality/Parental Warnings

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean features a decent variety of supernatural elements of suspect portrayal. The Magnus Cards upon which much of the game’s practical and narrative powers are derived from are said to trap the physical spiritual essence of that which it contains, and most of the magic within the game is explained on this basis. There are however seemingly other forms of magic too, as evidenced by the witches who act as sage figures in the story. The main plot of the game centers around the resurrection of an evil god named Malpercio, and he along with his minions are depicted as having an unsettling mixture of classically divine and demonic features. Some of the monster designs get really frightening in this regard. Of chief concern here is that while the evil god and co. are associated with white wings, the protagonist Kalas who stops him is associated with black ones. While one is certainly free to take this as arbitrary, I can’t unsee the luciferian imagery. The church in the game where the player levels up is not specified in terms of its spiritual doctrines as far as I can tell, though it does bear weird architectural similarities to the final dungeon of the game, Cor Hydrae. The player is represented by a spiritual entity referred to as a Guardian Spirit with no physical form, and with charity can be interpreted as a Guardian Angel of sorts. Some of the Magnus in the game take their names from various mythologies and have item descriptions which might allude further to them. 

Battles are your typical selection of melee weapons, guns, and spells, but blood is not drawn at any point of the adventure. Foul language isn’t absent from the game’s script but also not terribly strong. Most of the game’s more mature elements relate to the Alfard Empire, as the cartoonishly evil Emperor Geldoblame fosters a culture of iron fisted violence against dissenters (with at least two scenes of an innocent settlement being massacred stemming from this) and a nationalist superiority complex. Some themes of creating artificial life appear later in the tale as well. Character design is modest across the board, with only a few exceptions like Gibari and Savyna.

About PeaceRibbon

A graduate in philosophy from a campus with Benedictine monks, "PeaceRibbon" is just an ordinary introvert looking to put his hours of playing games to good use. He's played games on every Nintendo console since the family Wii and later took up PC games once aware of Steam. He's explored a lot of genres, but his favorites have been story driven RPGs and fighting games. Often finds himself going deep into gaming culture and seeking out low-profile titles over keeping up with big releases.

When not gaming, he enjoys walking in beautiful places, and overthinking just about everything. Also serves as a cantor at Mass whenever he can. Has a twin brother who shares many of the same hobbies and passions.