Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean


Review by · April 26, 2024

A time capsule can be a treasure chest or Pandora’s Box. It may be overflowing with precious memories of a bygone era or unleash calamity—the realization that the past’s masterpieces don’t hold up or, worse, weren’t great to begin with. In either case, the time capsule is a true Shrödinger’s box, as it’s impossible to know which of the two it is until it’s opened. Although Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster gives Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean some minor modern updates, the game is mostly untouched, a living relic of a time long gone. A look into this time capsule reveals an antiquated but ambitious title, one that is held back from the greatness it strives for by gameplay and story elements that seem intriguing in concept but are tedious in practice.

Baten Kaitos is a turn-based RPG, but you don’t select between fighting, using items, or running on your turn. Each party member has a deck of cards they use to take actions during battle. When it’s a character’s turn, you can select offensive cards from their hand to damage target enemies or target an ally and use an item card on them. On the enemy’s turn, you can select defensive cards to guard against their attacks. This unique battle system has the potential for greatness, but it falls tragically short in many respects. The simplicity of the drawing system is its first major detriment. Your characters have a maximum hand size, determined by their “class level,” and when they use a card, they automatically draw the next one from their deck. There is no way to search for cards, which makes bricking frequent. One party member will have a hand full of armor, making their own turn a waste. The enemy then can, and often does, target the party member with only weapons in their hand who can’t defend themselves. Encounters that should be a breeze thanks to your levels oftentimes run long due to bad draws. Even if your decks strike the right balance between offense and defense, your hands work against you more often than not. 

On the rare occasion that you do have the right cards ready to go, many gameplay facets can work against you. Each card, called a magnus, has unique properties. They have one of six elements or no element, and an attack or defense value if it’s a weapon or armor. In some cases the magnus will have an additional effect, such as curing a status ailment or restoring HP. Every magnus also has anywhere between one to four single digit numbers in the card’s corners, which are used to make special chains. Using the right stick, you can play your selected magnus with the number of your choice. You can either make pairs by having each number match with at least one other number in the chain, or a straight by selecting all numbers in the chain in ascending or descending order. Doing so results in bonuses, awkwardly called “Prizes,” that can majorly increase the damage you deal, decrease damage you receive on a defensive turn, or even increase the amount of health you restore.

If even one number doesn’t apply to your pairs or straight, however, the entire bonus is nullified. It’s a fair trade-off since the bonuses can be game-changing—for instance, a straight using each number starting from 1 and ending at 9 quadruples your damage dealt. Over the course of the game, however, the same issues that trouble the regular turn-by-turn gameplay affect the Prize system as well. It’s entirely random whether you draw into magnus with numbers that work with your pairs or straight, often leading you to end a chain early to maintain any sort of bonus. While this is an innate part of the decision-making process in Baten Kaitos, it also emphasizes how there is no skill at play here. Everything comes down to luck. It isn’t satisfying to pull off a long chain so much as it is a relief that you drew into the right magnus at all.

A Baten Kaitos screenshot of the party all together. Lyude, making an unsettling smiling face, is laughing.
*chuckles* Most characters’ smiling portraits are quite unsettling!

This is somewhat alleviated very late into the game, when magnus frequently have four numbers, giving them more uses. Other issues, however, remain prevalent throughout the game’s extensive runtime. The higher a character’s class level, the larger their hand and deck, but the less time they have to select their first card and target. These precious few seconds are also the only time your party’s HP displays on the screen, making it tougher to determine what actions you’d like to take, especially after multiple enemy turns in a row. 

Once you’ve begun your chain, you only get a few seconds to choose what magnus you’d like to use next, which often feels inadequate when you’re trying to make selections with numbers that stick to your pairs or straight. Additional minor inconveniences accumulate into major impediments. One such issue is that the time you have to select the next magnus in your chain is contingent on the character’s attack animations. The magic-focused Xelha has a bit more breathing room, but the fast-hitting Savyna has hardly any time between attacks, cutting many of her chains short. Enemies’ animations also affect how much time you have to select a magnus for defending. Their first attacks are frequently too fast to respond to, so even when you’re lucky enough to have armor cards in hand to block each attack, you may not have adequate response time to use them all. On the bright side, the number of armor magnus you use to block isn’t the only factor that affects how much damage you negate. Just like with attacking, a card’s stats, element, and bonuses from a straight or pairs can drop the damage taken even without putting up a defensive card for each of the enemy’s strikes.

This is but a minor glimpse of sunshine through a predominantly stormy system, however. The game’s six elements come in three pairs: fire and water, wind and chronos, and light and dark. Paired elements cancel each other out when used at any point in the same chain. The best course of action is to build each character’s deck with only one element from each pair. This way, you can’t accidentally negate your own damage while you’re scrambling to make the best chain possible with your entirely luck-based resources. Unfortunately, this only further removes any semblance of player skill from Baten Kaitos’s battle system. When you see that an enemy resists fire attacks, you can’t necessarily try water next—the game’s awkward mechanical choice of elements canceling each other out means the character likely won’t have water spells in their deck at all. If you decide to give each character magnus of all elements, it leads to less effective—and less efficient—battles overall as your decreased number of cards of a specific element rarely get drawn. You’re always limited to your deck’s cards, then further limited by your random draws.

In the case of boss fights, there are practically no in-game hints prior to the battle to indicate what weakness to expect. In fact, drops from enemies throughout the game tend to be magnus of the area’s boss’s neutral or even resisted elements. While there’s never any proper way to prepare for a boss fight, always having a guide open to reference can alleviate this somewhat. Although it’s a valid solution, it further highlights Baten Kaitos’s shortcomings, not giving players a way to respond to these challenges on their own until it’s too late.

If you play the game without a guide and have a character or two with no magnus that targets an enemy’s weaknesses, you can still slog through a battle whittling away at their resistances. In the worst-case scenario, your party wipes. Before getting a “game over,” you’re given the option to “try again.” Doing so allows you to change around characters’ decks freely. It’s a bandage over the problem, but a bandage is better than nothing. A separate grievance this draws attention to this is how, whether it’s to try a battle again or not, you have to tweak decks one card at a time because each character has access to only one deck. You can’t, for example, make one water deck and one fire deck to swap between on the fly. For a game that is designed so that you can’t feasibly have access to all elements at once, the convenience of storing multiple decks seems like it should be a given.

A Baten Kaitos screenshot of the party gathered together in a circle. Kalas says, "There may be a traitor among us..."
I will not apologize for this screenshot.

There are numerous ways to obtain these magnus you painstakingly put into your deck one by one. They function as weapons, armor, and items do in other RPGs, so they are for sale in stores, found in chests, or obtained as drops for defeating enemies. Drops are very stingy in Baten Kaitos. No matter how many enemies are in a single battle, you can only select one magnus to take as loot at the end. This wouldn’t be a noteworthy issue on its own, but other odd limitations add up to make this point more egregious over time. One such limitation is getting magnus by making SP Combos. SP Combos are chains of specific magnus in a particular order that result in a new magnus. If you play the entire combo—and nothing else—in a chain, the new magnus will be among the loot at the battle’s end.

Like many features in Baten Kaitos, SP Combos are a unique idea that simply don’t have enough benefits to make up for their shortcomings, making them more bothersome in the long run. Some combos make sense, like using Chunk of Ice followed by Sculpting Knife to make Ice Sculpture. Others aren’t helpful but make for fun hidden goodies, like playing Blank Notebook followed by Monolith Pen (as in the co-developer Monolith Soft) to get Monolith Brochure. But some SP Combos are entirely nonsensical. The Silent Woman’s (a magnus of a woman’s photograph) description says to “Set it under a dim light,” but its real recipe is playing Lukewarm Rice Brew, Roasted Squid, The Silent Woman, then Light Flare Level 2 to get… a Model Boat.

Other SP Combos are practically required to get through the game, adding even more layers of luck to the gameplay. Aside from a single late-game, story-based magnus, the only way to get magnus that revive fallen allies is to make an SP Combo of Rice Brew and Holy Grail to get Sacred Water. Sacred Water restores 500 HP and can revive a fallen ally. Although you have access to a single copy of Sacred Water once all six party members have joined up, that won’t be enough going into some of the story’s intense boss fights from the mid-game onward. Yes, you’re very likely to only have a single magnus capable of revival by the halfway point of the game. 

Grinding for Sacred Water brings to light just how annoying the SP Combo system is in practice. Just like with pulling off chains, sometimes you get lucky and have the necessary combo ingredients right away. Other times, you don’t draw into them until 13 minutes into a single fight. To prepare for one especially nasty boss with an instant death attack, I spent about 70 minutes farming and got only eight copies of Sacred Water to distribute amongst my party of three.

A Baten Kaitos screenshot of a battle. Kalas attacks a robotic enemy with a sword card, and the card "Hate-filled Doll" in his hand is selected.
Hate-filled Doll is the magnus I transform into after I see that my food items, some of which heal more HP than Sacred Water, have gone rotten.

Aside from farming Sacred Water because it’s good to have some way of reviving characters, you also want to farm it because it’s one of the very few healing magnus that doesn’t go bad over time. Most magnus in Baten Kaitos change in some way as time passes. This system sounds exciting on paper and has its appeal to both completionists and players who enjoy the concept of trading cards with a life of their own. But most of the time, changing magnus are more frustrating than endearing. All food magnus will eventually transform into a rotten version of itself, and then into mold, which is especially annoying since food magnus—when fresh—are generally the best source of healing and even curing status ailments.

And it’s not just food that changes: hardly any item magnus are safe from suddenly becoming a card that has no synergy with your deck whatsoever. Hoping you draw into a specific magnus in the midst of battle is already unpleasant enough—drawing the magnus and finding that it has changed into something unusable is one of Baten Kaitos’s most unwelcome surprises.

Baten Kaitos’s story is also filled with surprises, although like the gameplay, the story’s novel and intriguing concepts don’t hold up in practice. Many of Baten Kaitos’s plot beats feel as if they were written just to give the party more things to do and places to go, even if they don’t always push the story forward. Some segments, such as getting cream to trade for chocolate to be told to go to the quarry, which is a dead end, so you have to talk to the duke you were already considering speaking to, feel like padding in a game that is already way too long.

Character deaths get retracted with no explanation or effort from the main cast for the sake of having more boss battles or to give the story a few extra hours of needless drama. Reveals intended to drastically change a character’s life have no bearing on the story whatsoever. An effective twist should recontextualize prior details and play a major role in the story going forward, but most of Baten Kaitos feels propelled by the seat of its pants, writing scenes and plot twists just because they’re interesting in the moment. The only plot point effectively built up to its reveal—who among the party is actually working for the main villain—is also undone after a few hours of backtracking through the game’s pretty but forgettable worlds. The traitor is forgiven as if nothing ever happened, and the story drags on for another 20-or-so hours.

A Baten Kaitos screenshot of the party in a candy house. Gibari sits in front of a hole in the wall that he just ate. Trill is standing behind the wall. She says, "I can't believe this! You ate the wall? Are you insane?"
Not enough moments are genuinely fun like this one, when the party is under house arrest in a house made of candy.

With how often character deaths and betrayals are reverted without consequence, Baten Kaitos could be half the length and gain more than it loses. Much of the story feels irrelevant to itself, and many of its gameplay shortcomings would be far less egregious had the game not dragged on for dozens upon dozens of hours. The one redeeming factor is that the HD Remaster collection offers new features to help get through the game faster, including the option to turn off enemy encounters. While more options are always great, it’s never good when you feel like using them because you wish the game was over 30 hours ago.

Opening the time capsule that is Baten Kaitos reveals a hodgepodge of gameplay ideas, story beats, and even visual styles from island to island that reaches for the stars but doesn’t land among the clouds. Instead, it crashes back into the earth with the rest of the mortals. Although it is more fallen angel than god, there are definitely parts that shine, such as Mizuti meeting with her family—but they would have shone even brighter if they weren’t lost amidst the game’s weaknesses.

I can’t help but wonder if I would have felt more favorably towards Baten Kaitos had I played it during its initial moment in the early 2000s on the Nintendo GameCube. But like one of Schrödinger’s thought experiments, there’s no way to know the answer without the experience, and there’s no way to go back in time to obtain that experience. All we can do is open the time capsule and hope it’s a treasure chest—and if it’s Pandora’s Box, we have the strength to power through it or simply close it.


Unique card-based gameplay system, interesting narrative ideas, beautiful backgrounds.


Gameplay is too reliant on luck, story is far too clunky, awkward perspective makes elevation-reliant puzzles a hassle.

Bottom Line

Baten Kaitos has no shortage of amazing ideas—and just as many shortcomings to go along with them.

Overall Score 60
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Niki Fakhoori

Niki Fakhoori

Video games have been an important element of my life since early childhood, and RPGs are the games that gave me the opportunity to branch out of my “gaming comfort zone” when I was a wee lass. I’ve always spent a good deal of my time writing and seeking value in the most unsuspecting places, and as such I’ve come to love writing about games, why they work, how they can improve, and how they affect those who play them.