With Melodia and Malpercio hiding out in Cor Hydrae, our intrepid heroes descend through the taintclouds to the hidden surface of the Earth in search of the Sword of the Heavens, and instead find the most annoying dungeons in the game.
The Labyrinth of Duhr is the least offensive of the four we have to suffer through this week. It’s not a terribly intricate maze, though the way the viewpoint sticks to the entry point on each screen makes it a little tougher to figure out. It’s not too hard to muddle through without figuring out how it works; obnoxiously you have to go a fairly long way before you encounter the guy who explains how to navigate properly.
Mizuti’s home of Gemma Village is a wonderful addition, however. The brightly-colored abstract art that covers all the exteriors manages to be different from anything we’ve seen yet, and the design of the spaces manages to add depth to the society. In particular the communal living arrangement evokes the idea of longhouses. The big tomato-head guy who scared off Malpercio is there, and tells us where to get the sword we came here for.
Capella is called the Garden of Death, but the only thing dying in there is my patience. Well, okay, also any of the monsters I happened to bump into, but mostly my patience. It’s only a three-screen dungeon, but it takes half an hour to get through just because of how slowly Kalas wades through the ocean of mud. The high point of this locale is that you don’t have to run back out of it when you discover that Sir Krumly stole the sword.
The quest for that artifact eventually takes us to Zosma Tower, a particularly obnoxious block-puzzle dungeon. The idea of carrying fire in the quest magnus to light the torches isn’t a bad idea intrinsically, but the game hands out quest magnus like they’re diamonds, so there’s no guarantee you’ll have the four free magnus to carry all the fire you need. If you don’t, you must either sacrifice something or travel all the way back down the tower to get more.
Again, possibly not a big deal, but Zosma Tower is one of the places where you really notice how the game constantly forgets that everybody in the party has some capacity to fly. You spend well over half your time in the tower climbing up onto blocks, or worse, climbing down from them. Kalas should be able to fly up or at least glide down. As annoying as that is while you’re trying to solve the puzzle on each floor, it’s positively infuriating when you have to tediously clamber around while going down the tower for another flame and then back up.
The puzzles themselves, meanwhile, aren’t anything remarkable. Again, I feel my patience is being tested more than my ingenuity, as it’s hardly possible to get things really wrong. Only the penultimate room requires any real thought to solve, and that makes the dungeon feel like a big waste of time to me.
Zosma Tower is also where the game remembers it has bosses. The Agyo / Ungyo fight is neat because the bosses have such precisely opposed strengths and weaknesses. Since those are water and fire, it seems like this is the place for Savyna to shine. Just one problem: Savyna is terrible. At this point in my game she hadn’t classed up to have the larger hands and combos the other characters could deliver. She’s also way behind in terms of level, because I just don’t like using her. Savyna seems to have slightly different timing on her turns than everyone else, and I frequently have trouble extending her combos past three or four hits because I unexpectedly run out of time to play cards.
Instead, I bring Xelha and Mizuti to this fight. Because they draw on the same pool of offensive cards, I like to split them into complementary element sets. For most of the game Xelha has fire, light, and wind while Mizuti has water, dark, and chronos. That means each of them is very powerful against one of these bosses and neither has to worry about opposed elements weakening their attacks.
When we get past this fight we learn that Krumly intends to strike a deal with Malpercio in order to live in the sky. This fits a pattern. For all that the game goes on about Malpercio’s power, Melodia seems to mainly gain advantage through trickery. In every instance she offers her pawns what they want, then betrays them or subverts the deal. Krumly suffers the same fate Kalas, Geldoblame, and arguably Fadroh did. The party’s reaction to him helps, to an extent, to explain why they’ve accepted Kalas back too.
In the massacre at Algorab Village our last hope for defeating Malpercio is again destroyed. We’re three for three on getting these precious magical artifacts broken. Since this leaves us without any obvious way to fight Malpercio, the story takes a detour to explain the mystery of Kalas’ birth. I personally think the “Divine Child” stuff is a bridge too far for this game. Every time it comes up we’re deluged with exposition and backstory, most of which ends up being just a bunch of magibabble. It doesn’t add much to the story for me, and takes up a lot of time. It does illuminate, however, that like Kalas, Georg was a good man with a very dark side.
After Zosma Tower, the Celestial Alps are almost a relief, despite the bugs that block you every few steps. Again, this seems like a problem that could be more easily solved if the characters made use of the wings on their backs. What’s far more annoying is this final fight against Giacomo and his buddies, which is a double dose not only in that each of them gets two turns in a row every time they attack but also in that we have to fight them twice.
This is one of my very least favorite tropes in RPGs: winning a fight only to have the story take control and dictate that you lost it and will have to fight these jerks again (in this case, almost immediately). I came out of the first round against Giacomo, Ayme, and Folon at almost full health, so seeing Giacomo beat the crap out of Kalas doesn’t at all connect to the reality of the battle I just fought. Baten Kaitos Origins abused this trick liberally, which is one of my major complaints with it.
Eventually though, Giacomo bites the dust and Kalas gets a new winglet. We still don’t have any idea how to get into Cor Hydrae, but the game is giving us unambiguous signals that we’re about to set out on a final tour of the world. Are you ready to finally give Melodia what she deserves? Do you also wonder why Mizuti’s new mask and Kalas’ new wing look almost exactly like the old ones? Do Larikush’s arms seem short to you?
While this section of the game—a strange, almost purposeless sort of interlude between the appearance of the Big Bad and the character quests leading into the end—can be awfully tedious gameplay-wise, there’s a lot of good in it, too. I love getting to know Mizuti, and Kalas’s reformation is really set in stone here, even before we hit what effectively becomes his character quest (since he won’t get one later, with the others). Kalas is super nice now. He’s even the one who wants to go back and save the residents of Gemma. Yay!
I agree that most of the dungeons in and around Duhr are pure agony, though I always enjoy the Labyrinth. Zosma is tedious and the Celestial Alps, while pretty, try awfully hard to be “unique” with bug walls when it’s really just more of the same. Capella in particular is the most pointless place in the game. Literally the only “mechanic” is that you Move. Really. Really. Slow. It’s actually harder to run into monsters in there than it is to avoid them. And what’s up with the magically pristine house at the end of it that is nevertheless a total wreck inside?
For all the frustrations of block-climbing and mud-walking, you do pick up some of my favorite Magnus in the game from these locales. Lyude’s Rhapsody, Mizuti’s Providence, and of course, the counter to Kalas’s Fangs of Darkness, Fangs of Light. I love this finisher, as it’s the game once again reinforcing a character’s internal state through gameplay.
What places like the Labyrinth, Capella, and the top of Zosma do right is pique my interest in the world of Beforetimes. Before the Taintclouds, and the islands rose. If I hadn’t played Origins, I’d actually be leaning toward a more “futuristic” universe for the past, almost as though a civilization somewhat more advanced than ours had undergone some sort of apocalypse-sized disaster and had to compensate. Did you see those towers at the top of Zosma? They look like airport control towers, or radio towers.
There’s some evidence to support this theory, too. Larikush’s speech to Kalas about the nature of Magnus as effectively “encoded data” hints at it. Georg and Larikush’s experiments of creating life in a lab are not unheard of ideas today, and with 3D printing we’re already a step closer toward creating miscellaneous items based on data. After all, none of the wizards or magicians in this game actually use real magic. They simply know how to draw forth element-based powers from Magnus and use them to attack. What they call magic, we might refer to simply as technology.
Origins debunks most of this (though not without the magic/technology angle), sadly, but it’s still an interesting thought. The world we are treated to below the clouds is interesting on its own, anyway.
I love Mizuti, and what I love most is how much she stands out, even in her own home. Of everyone in the village, only she, Kamroh, and Kee can hover; she’s the only one with the weird voice; and her dress is beautifully ridiculous. Her name is also the only non-K name you encounter. This is quickly explained away mostly by the fact that she is the most powerful wizard in Duhr, a descendant of the warlocks of old. Powerful enough, even that her parents don’t seem remotely concerned that their little girl ascended to the Sky (which everyone else seems to treat as absolutely off-limits, as Krumly’s plot shows) and went on this grand adventure. In fact, they laugh it off.
Actually, it’s a bit weird how the game treats the function of the Children of the Earth. It’s their job to stay below the Taintclouds, yet Mizuti headed up isn’t a big deal. In fact, she indicates that the Children are well-practiced at busting through the clouds, although no one in the sky seems particularly aware of their existence. Odd.
Other than providing Mizuti’s backstory and completing the Sky-Ocean-Earth triad the game rests upon, the storyline in Duhr is largely forgettable. Another artifact is destroyed, Malpercio grows stronger, and we’re still totally okay with forgiving everyone who offers their service to a powerful, wicked god who is trying to destroy us all. Even the battle against Malpercio in Algorab, after two other fake-outs for final boss (and we’re not even done with those!), wouldn’t be memorable but for Mizuti’s temporary costume change. Unfortunately, with her mask off, her voice acting is just as bad as everyone else’s. Put it back on, please.
The return to the sky is a welcome relief. It’s actually the first time in the game we’re given control over where we fly, so I managed to take a few detours and pick up some of Quzman’s family. We’ll be railroaded into the Alps next, but we’ve finally hit that beautiful point of Baten Kaitos where the world opens up to us for sidequesting. It’s lovely to venture back and speak to old NPC friends again—some even have some new things to say about the state of the world with Cor Hydrae at the center.
Visiting Cebalrai especially hits a bittersweet note for me. For the last fifteen or more hours of gameplay, we’ve been dealing with highly-advanced civilizations that were either really angry or terribly powerful, or both. It’s been a long time since we’ve met regular, ordinary people who just want to live their lives. Staging Larikush in Cebalrai, with the swaying trees and running children, has a way of reminding you what you’re fighting for.
And just because you mentioned Larikush’s arms, I’d like to point out that for every somewhat-ordinary looking human model in this game there is one that just blows my mind every time for how weird it is. Larikush is wearing a GIANT bow on his back. Some women are walking around with giant cone-hats. And I simply CANNOT get over the fact that at least one child in every village, as well as one of the witches of Wazn, is dressed up in a fish suit. Why?! Are they…in fashion?!
This chapter wraps up with the dreaded trio fight, Parts 2 and 3, and boy is it a doozy. If you haven’t played the game, Giacomo’s voice in the doorway comes as a total shocker after his “death” on the Goldoba. He also tears your Spirit abilities out of the picture for the first half, rending you powerless to help Kalas.
I have to admit, though, I’m getting really sick of the Kalas/Fee flashbacks. My emotions can only be stirred up by a tragic death so many times, and as you said, there’s some really weird techno-babble stuff going on here. The universe of Baten Kaitos is weird, yes, but Kalas’s storyline before and during the Alps piles new information on how the world works higher than snow in Wazn.
With Giacomo’s death comes a sudden, weird attempt to redeem him, Ayme, and Folon in the eyes of the player and, in keeping with this game’s intense desire to forgive everyone, we’re completely okay with this. If the world’s story is one of redemption and unity, it only makes sense that we forgive literally everyone, no matter how heinous their crimes, as long as they have a sad enough backstory.
At least, I guess that’s where we’re going with this.