Jun 172015

Hi Sparky!

This week’s adventures take us to Diadem and Anuenue in search of two of the End Magnus. These areas are largely set-up: we acquire three more party members and solidify the main conflict here, while the major systems in the game start to flesh themselves out as Magnus become more available. We start in Diadem, land of the clouds:

Kalas and Xelha land in the quiet fishing village of Nashira, and are introduced almost immediately to Gibari. The fisherman Gibari sets himself apart immediately from the remainder of Nashira with his realism and willingness to help strangers. It’s clear from the dialogue that he has a history with Reblys, the village leader; King Ladekhan, and literally everyone in Sheliak, but for some reason no one comments on this.

Nashira is also home to the first of three Macbethian witches we’ll encounter. Witch One regales us with a bit of mythology: the world of Baten Kaitos apparently used to be like ours—on solid ground, with a huge ocean, and the people didn’t used to have wings.

It’s interesting to think of Wings of the Heart from an evolutionary standpoint, as having both a practical purpose in allowing people living aloft to fly, but also as a manifestation of a person’s inner self. From your last letter, we know that Wings of the Heart don’t serve a practical purpose. People still fly from island to island on derpy deer-creatures, and the islands themselves are navigable without them. Perhaps in a world already riddled with magic, wings were the natural response of people’s hearts to living in the sky? But that’s speculation.

Yep, this slug thing pulling a shell is our boat for now.

Yep, this slug thing pulling a shell is our boat for now.

Anyway, Gibari joins you with his fish wings for some rather unremarkable (if pretty) dungeons as you solve the flooding problem of the Celestial River and eventually reach Sheliak, where the castle is under siege by the Empire. There’s some weird, but intriguing gameplay going on in the castle involving selecting and commanding groups of soldiers into battle, but it’s fairly short-lived and way too easy.

I said last letter that Diadem was one of my favorite continents, but after replaying it, it’s occurred to me how tedious it is. This is likely due to the battles. By the end of Diadem, you’re up to four cards per turn and have a time limit ticking down, but everything still feels painfully slow. Enemies are harder to kill, and mobs of three are common. And even with a wider selection of cards and careful deck-balancing, I was still stuck passing turn after turn because I had no attack cards, or all rotten fruits. Blah.

In spite of this, I found myself delighted by the silly flavor text on the Magnus. I’m not using a guide, but a careful reading of each card often reveals what other Magnus with which that card can be combined. So, experimentation! Do I use the cucumbers first, or the honey? How many Aqua Bursts does it take to revive the dead flower? It’s fun, and often results in better surprises at the ends of battles than mere Chump Change. It’s such a vague system, but for those willing to dig in a bit and explore, combining Magnus in combat is a blast. And with that in mind, the slowness of battles isn’t quite so bad. You need the extra time to set up the cards you need.

But back to the story. Diadem’s adventures conclude with the defection of Lyude to your party. Lyude is an Imperial—by title, the Ambassador to Diadem, but his position is really one of exile. See, Lyude is a kind-hearted, compassionate soul who loves the simple things in life. The Empire, being the Big Bad Evil Technology Country, obviously has no room in it for someone with a heart. So they shipped him and his trumpets out to Nashira to get him out of the way.

Once Lyude realizes you’re on the side of justice and good, he joins your group with a deck full of heavy-handed symbolism: all his Magnus are dark and light based. Normally I’d find that really annoying, but you can’t get mad at a guy wielding a tuba gun. You take him with you aboard your fluffy boat, and set sail for Anuenue.

At least when you get to Anuenue there's a party

At least when you get to Anuenue there’s a party

Anuenue, like Diadem, sports a charismatic leader, pretty dungeons, a gorgeous capital, and a new party member with some crazy wings. We get our first glimpse of Geldoblame, and welcome Savyna to the team for another dungeon culminating in an End Magnus that we actually get to keep this time. Nice.

This game really sets you up to fall hard, doesn’t it? You’re told repeatedly there’s a traitor in your midst, and then immediately proved wrong. Lyude tosses the End Magnus to Folon…but he was under weird mind-control. Some hasty action on Kalas’s part (that jerk never listens to me) results in a confrontation with Savyna at the top of the Celestial Tree, but she reassures you she’s on your side…and you believe her. That leaves Gibari, who’s too boring to be a traitor; Xelha, the quintessential goody good girl; and Kalas, who’s the “hero” and thus totally unsuspicious.

What surprised me most about Kalas during the Diadem and Anuenue sections was what a bystander he is to the story thus far. He may be the “party leader” by default, but he exhibits little to no agency in group decisions. And he’s so fickle! During times of danger, such as the attack on the Mindeer, he shows obvious concern for his party members, particularly Xelha. But when asked his opinion or given an opportunity to speak up on the nature of his mission, he retorts like a child being dragged on “errands” with his parents.

Kalas does not care if your country burns down, Gibari

Kalas does not care if your country burns down, Gibari

Even more bizarre is that in spite of all this, everyone else insists that Kalas stick around. At five party members, everyone can obviously get on fine without him. He contributes nothing unique to the group. But Gibari in particular strong-arms him into staying. Why? We know why Kalas stays—he has ulterior motives. But it seems utterly beyond logic for the others to keep him around (and let him carry the super powerful world-ending item) when he’s such a selfish jerk.

With three End Magnus down, we ship off to Mira. Before we see land, the Goldoba swoops in to thwart our plans, but also to drop hints that we’re about to find out more about our main character. It’s already pretty apparent that every single party member has some interesting secrets, but with Giacomo’s mention of the “Divine Child” and Kalas’s intriguing family history dropped during a conversation with Xelha, it’s clear that our main character might start showing himself as a hero very soon. Maybe.

Most of the meat of Diadem and Anunue is at the end of each continent. What are your thoughts on Gibari, Savyna, and Lyude? Have you found any interesting Magnus combinations I should try out? Does Kalas hate you yet?

Hi Rebekah,

I like this segment of the game a lot, to some extent despite its best efforts, because Diadem and Anuenue are where the world of Baten Kaitos and the party that will explore it begin to take shape. That starts in Nashira, where we get the first version of the myth of Malpercio, a story that appears in many different forms throughout this game and proves to be even more different in the prequel Origins. This time, he’s an ancient god of evil who drank up the ocean and choked on it, poisoning the world and forcing everyone to take off into the sky.

That makes Baten Kaitos a post-apocalyptic story, even though our party members have spent their time so far in relatively pleasant places high above the ruined world. This becomes even more overt as we proceed through these chapters, as our team traverses the poisonous and unfortunately-named “taintclouds” that cover the remains of the earth. The shifting story of Malpercio contributes to the sense that there was an ancient event so cataclysmic few people were left alive to record or even remember it.

With E3 going on and news of Fallout 4 in the air, it may seem a little odd to say Baten Kaitos is post-apocalyptic, but this so common in RPG settings, of both the science fiction and fantasy varieties, as to go almost unnoticed unless marketing is making a special point about it. In Western works this is a historical feature, as RPGs tend to be set in or overtly reference the medieval era, which followed the apocalyptic collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This influence surfaces repeatedly in the invented mythology of Tolkien (i.e. the destruction of Beleriand, the fall of Numenor, and the deaths of various human and dwarven civilizations), from which much of Western fantasy descends. In Japanese RPGs this setting takes on more varied forms but is nonetheless extremely common, perhaps because we dropped an apocalypse on them.

Nashira is also where we join up with Gibari, a hero in the “noble idiot” mold. If he were a teenager, Gibari would, once again, be a more typical JRPG protagonist than the one we got. His strong sense of ethics and complete straightforwardness are a notable contrast to Kalas and Xelha. We’ve discussed Kalas’ personal shortcomings, but it becomes clear during this part of the game that Xelha is holding back some important information too. Gibari has no time for any of that. He’s just going to figure out what the problem is and hit it with an oar until it goes away.

This is actually unusually subtle problem-solving from Gibari.

An unusually subtle bit of problem-solving from Gibari.

Adding Gibari to the party is also the tipping point for something you referenced: the game’s lack of an effective discard feature. With one or two characters in the party it’s almost guaranteed that everyone will get attacked regularly, giving plenty of opportunities to banish junk from the character’s hand. With three in a fight, it’s not unusual for characters to go several turns without taking a punch, thus having to sit idly and throw away an armor every round in hopes of getting the cards cycling. This is a special problem against singular bosses (like the various Iron Beetles) that attack once (or less!) per round. It’s almost a relief to face the Guardian of the Celestial Tree since its two tentacles are at least good for soaking up defense cards and unnecessary utility items.

This is something that the game is just stuck with and it never goes away, although as the hands increase in size it becomes rarer to really get trapped. The game’s demand for constant deck management also grows here. As you noted, just wandering around without paying attention will get you a deck full of blackened bananas and rotten food. Paying careful attention to the text, on the other hand, will have you rolling in high-quality healing items in no time. The card details are can’t-miss stuff in this game, especially for healing and utility items. The text for weapons is less critical, but weapons are among my favorites, especially Lyude’s, which are written like a Jane’s manual from a world where all the shock troops wield trumpets.

Something else you can’t miss but may want to are the animations. You mentioned Xelha’s absurd penguin-run, but Diadem and Anuenue show off some especially janky stuff. The weird, disconnected, slow-mo “fighting” that goes down in the palace turns the leadership mini-game into a kind of comedy. The dancing in Komo Mai is equally screwy. I don’t hate it — actually I think it’s part of the game’s charm — but it definitely screams of work by the JV team.

What’s odd is that the battle animations look fine. Everyone looks loose and ready, the wings move beautifully, and the special attacks come off well enough that they can provide some narrative insight. Xelha’s early specials, for instance, heavily use Meemai, and “powerful magical weapon” is not exactly the role you expect a squidgy whale creature to fill.

Gibari also gains some character from combat, particularly in that sumo stomp he does before his special moves. The style of his wings is reminiscent of fish, yes, but the way the membranes hang off his upper wings also evokes the look of nobori for me. Maybe oars aren’t choice weapons for samurai, but they’re not unheard of for a warrior: Musashi famously used one in a duel.

Then there’s Lyude. He’s higher on the traditional JRPG protagonist scale than Kalas, too, what with his strong sense of right and wrong, pretty-boy looks, and angst. His deck is kind of a mess, as his early elemental weapons are mostly dark-based and his specials use light. Those specials help him seem sort of calm, bloodless, and tactically-oriented, fighting from a distance and taking his enemies down with a light show. Then you get his dark-element special, Sforzando, a special attack where he leaps forward and beats enemies to death with his gun. I’m not sure if Baten Kaitos makes his dark side evident anywhere else, but the up-close physical brutality of Lyude’s dark specials is certainly striking.

As for the Empire Lyude abandons, its presence in the game constantly grows through these chapters. On Sadal Suud the antagonist was really just Giacomo. In Diadem, the full force of the Imperial army shows up, first to take over the fishing village and then to attack the palace and King Ladekhan. It’s not clear why the Empire is so insistent on trying to off the King, since their real interest on Diadem is the End Magnus–once Lyude gives it up to Ayme they book it out of there.

Maybe Geldoblame wants one less competitor for the title of “Most Absurdly Dressed Ruler”. He shows up personally on Anuenue, wearing way too much makeup, an incomprehensible hat, and… wings? I kind of dig the lipstick, makes a strong statement, but those white patches around the eyes have got to go. Here we also get to meet the final member of the chaotic trio, Folon. He reveals that Geldoblame wants to harness the power of Malpercio as a weapon, which is an almost conspicuously boring motivation. But there’s something else going on, because somehow Geldoblame knows Kalas by name and regards him as a serious threat, which is yet another item for the Kalas mystery box.

This situation calls for a Gita Jackson intervention.

This situation calls for a Gita Jackson intervention.

Savyna, of course, also seems to have some past connection to the Empire. At this juncture in the game we still know too little about her to say much, except that she has the most awesome “wings” of anyone: she’s like a peacock that will punch you to death. Even given the limited things we know about her background, however, we can state definitively that Savyna is, like everyone else in the party, a better fit as a JRPG protagonist than Kalas. I say this not only because her cool warrior personality reminds me of Lightning, but also because her “elite soldier who turned against the Empire” backstory is basically reused for the protagonist of Baten Kaitos Origins.

It’s a good thing that the overarching plot heats up so nicely, because the dungeons here are kind of a bore. Again we’re making silly hops all over the place in Diadem, although the Cloud Passage at least looks kind of cool. The mirrored structure of the Palace is no great shakes either. I like the Ancient Library on Anuenue, especially the optional spellbook enemies that you find by trying to get educated. The Celestial Tree is disappointingly small and again is a place that forgets the characters have wings (people who can fly, climbing a tree!). The less said about the Holoholo Jungle, the better.

Seriously, though, navigating in this dungeon sucks.

Seriously, though, navigating this dungeon sucks.

Of course, the parts we’ve played so far are kind of boring and normal. Yes, normal, even though we have winged men in flying ships fishing rivers that circle the sky. If anyone thinks that stuff is weird, the trip to Mira is going to be a real eye-opener.

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