I can understand the animosity toward remasters some days. How many versions of The Last Of Us did we need, after all, particularly after it was already remastered once? On the other hand, sometimes it can be nice to get the chance to experience older hidden gems that might have not made such a splash on their native platforms.
Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster is a great example of the latter, since these deckbuilding RPGs might have been a little ahead of their time when they launched on the GameCube as Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean and Baten Kaitos Origins. Even in a post-Slay the Spire world, this pair of excellent adventures from Monolith Soft (Xenosaga) still have a fascinating amount of context that makes them worth your time.
In a land high above the clouds, people fly to and fro on their Wings of the Heart, ethereal wings that manifest during moments of great emotion. The ocean is a myth, long since forgotten, and travel takes place using great airships that sail from one floating island to another. We follow the adventures of Kalas in the first Baten Kaitos and Sagi in its sequel, Baten Kaitos Origins, as they search for the truth behind their world and a malevolent entity that might threaten everything they know.
The Baten Kaitos series’ most important facet is, of course, its fascination with cards. They’re called Magnus, and they’re the solution to pretty much every problem, at least when they’re not the problem themselves. Your inventory and everything in it? Well, those are Magnus. Your weapons and defense gear? Magnus. Special attacks? Magnus. Even the armor your characters equip are Magnus!
That means you’re going to quickly have to wrap your brain around the heart of the cards. Just as one example, consider that an early healing item is a bunch of bananas. What happens to bananas that get too old? Well, they turn rotten and gross, and you probably won’t want to use them for healing, but now it’s great to throw them at enemies! Interactions and changes, both over time and from having Magnus transform each other, abound. It’s important to keep an eye on your deck just in case your tasty healing bamboo shoot grows into a damage-dealing spear.
Combat is also card-based, of course. Weapons are used for attack, shields and defense gear for blocking, and you’ll want to pay attention to elemental affinities. Blocking a fire attack with an ice shield works great, while a fire shield won’t do much. Early on you’ve got few cards, a small hand size and plenty of time to play out your moves, but as these games progress you’ll find that battle gets more and more complex. There’s even secret card combinations, like carving up the aforementioned bamboo spear with a knife to get a pile of branches.
There’s more! If you want money, use a camera card on a monster to get a photograph card of it, wait for it to develop, and sell it for big bucks. How about solving puzzles? That’s cards too, since you can capture objects in blank cards and use them later to get things done. The degree to which the Baten Kaitos games explore their systems and weave them into the world makes them feel unique amongst their peers. It’s a wonderful, unique experience that starts out strong in Baten Kaitos and is refined further in Origins.
Even if you’ve already played these games back on the GameCube, it’s worth checking out the remaster just for the variety of visual and audio updates. Baten Kaitos and its sequel always looked pretty good given their native platform, but some upscaling, spicier textures, a far smoother framerate and so on go a long way here.
Likewise, there’s only a Japanese voice track available. You might think that’s a downgrade, but the original English dub was both terrible and compressed to the point that everyone sounded like they were underwater. Beyond that, there’s some handy gameplay improvements like being able to turn off random encounters. Normally I’d frown on this sort of thing, but Baten Kaitos battles can take quite a while and it’s nice to explore in peace sometimes.
Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster is a fantastic collection of solid adventures that, for quite some time, weren’t particularly easy to find and play. It’s entirely possible you missed them on the GameCube. If you did, this collection’s a no-brainer on the Switch, and if you played them already, it could very well be worth going through them again to experience the improved presentation. Just remember not to be a third-rate duelist with a fourth-rate deck!