Special | Availen Kaitos 1 & 2 HD Remaster – When you think of Monolith Soft, the Xeno games like Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenosaga probably immediately come to mind. But there is another franchise that the Japanese developer was responsible for in the early days of the studio, which is Baten Kaitos. The first Baten Kaitos game was released in the middle of the Nintendo GameCube life cycle, but failed to achieve great success at the time. Baten Kaitos 2, a prequel, was never even released in Europe. This game also didn’t sell as well as hoped, in part due to its release two months before the Nintendo Wii’s launch in North America. With the HD remaster of both games, Bandai Namco is giving this RPG franchise a new chance, and it might be worth taking advantage of that opportunity now.
A Solid Story
Baten Kaitos 1 and 2 are games that focus heavily on the story. In Baten Kaitos 1, you are an invisible ‘Guardian Spirit’ who guides, advises and controls the main character Kalas. Kalas is a bit of a loner and has only one goal in mind: to take revenge on the person who killed his grandfather and brother, but his company and worldview soon broadens when a great evil called Malpercio resurfaces after thousands of years. It’s a typical, but solid RPG storyline that’s a bit slow to get off to a start and also a bit predictable. Fortunately, it has support from well-written dialogue and a diverse cast of characters, making it still entertaining.
Released in 2006 as Baten Kaitos Origins in North America, Baten Kaitos 2 is set 20 years before the events of the original. In this game, you once again step into the “shoes” of a Guardian Spirit who guides the main character Sagi, a soldier in an elite unit of the Alfard Empire. The story of Baten Kaitos 2 picks up much faster and focuses on a smaller-scale conflict compared to the first part. A theme that predominates, for example, is technological progress (industrialization) versus magic. This, along with the greater emphasis on the development of the various characters’ personalities, creates more focus and only benefits the game. It’s clearly an improvement over the first game. The story of both games takes about 40 to 60 hours each. If you also do all the peripheral activities, you can certainly spend more than 100 hours per adventure.
The world of Baten Kaitos 1 and 2 has an interesting concept: Magnus. Magnus cards are objects that can absorb the essence of almost anything, such as weapons, magic, and various items. Both the map-based system and the gameplay in the world revolve around the use of these Magnus cards. In total, there are five different types of Magnus: Quest, Battle, Equipment, Class-up, and Camp Magnus. The last three types of Magnus are only available in Baten Kaitos 1. Equipment Magnus functions like equipment in every game and boosts your stats, while Camp Magnus provides healing or permanent buffs. Class-up Magnus can be used to increase your class level, resulting in a larger limit on your deck of cards and more actions during your turn in battle.
The Quest Magnus are perhaps the most interesting. You have a number of blank Magnus cards that you can use to absorb the essence of objects or elements to deploy them later. Think, for example, of a Magnus with water that you can use to extinguish a fire or an apple to give to a hungry city dweller. The system is reminiscent of the medallion in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, in which you could save emotions to give them to someone else and continue with a quest. It’s a fun and interesting gameplay element because sometimes you have to puzzle a bit to figure out exactly what you need for a quest. The downside is that you don’t know what you need until you need it, which means that you sometimes have to backtrack to fill your Magnus cards with the right essence.
The heart of the cards
The combat system of Baten Kaitos is very simple in theory. It’s a semi-turn-based system in which in Baten Kaitos 1 you have both a turn to attack or heal yourself and a turn to defend against your enemy’s attacks (in part 2 you do all this in one turn). Once you’ve chosen a card to attack, you’ll still need to actively select other cards to use in your combo. It works exactly the same way when you have to defend. To do this, you use three different typesBattle Magnus: weapons and magic that allow you to attack, armor that you can use to defend, and items that allow you to restore your HP in battle.
There are also numbers on the cards, and these are certainly not unimportant. By combining the right numbers, you can inflict more damage or block more damage. You can do this, for example, by using a card with the same number during a turn, or by combining cards with ascending numbers. Baten Kaitos is all about cards, so it won’t be surprising that sometimes, for challenging battles (and they can certainly be challenging), you’ll have to go back to the drawing board to rebuild your deck. Baten Kaitos 2 adds another system that makes it possible to combine Magnus to create other Magnus.
The enjoyment of Baten Kaitos 1 and 2 depends mainly on how well the combat system suits you, because it only becomes really fun when you understand the full system and get the enjoyment out of the prep work. For me, it took a while before this was actually the case, so the first hours of play were not very enjoyable. This is an experience I’ve had before, for example with Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Gwent, but thankfully, just like with those games, it became more and more fun the more you play. Baten Kaitos 2 is also a definite improvement in terms of the combat system, as it is a bit simpler.
A simple remaster
Of course, since this release is a remaster, there are also a number of improvements over the original. For example, the package has a number of new options, with which you can, for example, turn off encounters, increase the speed of the game or make the game fight automatically. The game also has a New Game+ and a New Game, yes really, mode. With the New Game+ mode, you can take all your Magnus, equipment and levels with you to the next playthrough. It also means that you can still get quests or items that you missed. The New Game mode, on the other hand, is a more difficult run in which certain restrictions are imposed on you.
Of course, there are also graphical improvements. The resolution of the game on the Nintendo Switch is docked 1080p and 720p when you play handheld. The models of the characters have been upscaled to HD, but the improvement is especially noticeable in the beautiful backgrounds, which was honestly a surprise. In comparison, the typical PS1 backgrounds in the remasters of Final Fantasy VII and IX, among others, didn’t look very great at a higher resolution, where the characters were high-res. In this case, the upgrade is much more visible, which makes for a nicer picture, so chapeau to Bandai Namco. In addition to the improvements, there are also some negative points. The game runs both handheld and docked at 30fps and is not even stable. There are a number of areas where the frames shoot down for a while. In addition, the English dub, which was in the original, is not available in Baten Kaitos 1 + 2 HD remaster.
Fun game for quiet times
Baten Kaitos 1 + 2 HD Remaster contains two fine games that can keep you busy for a long time, as long as the combat system suits you. The typical improvements of a remaster, such as graphics and resolution, are fine, but the frame rate is a disappointment. The extra quality-of-life additions, such as faster game speed, New Game+ and New Game-, are valuable additions that gamers who have played the original will especially appreciate. Baten Kaitos takes a look at the early days of Monolith Soft and also shows how far they’ve come in the last 20+ years, but is especially recommended when you don’t know what you want to play and are in the mood for a long RPG. So it’s the perfect game for periods when there aren’t many new releases. However, that is not the case for many at the moment and in the coming months.