Baten Kaitos 1
Image: Bandai Namco

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, rumours of a potential Baten Kaitos remake have got Alana all fired up...

Of all the wild remake rumours I thought I would hear in 2023, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is not one I had on my bingo card.

Reports of a remake for this relatively obscure 2003 GameCube RPG appeared overnight, and the very idea of revisiting Monolith Soft's first video game on a Nintendo system is enough to make me giddy. It's not the first GameCube RPG I thought we'd see on the Switch (that goes to February's Tales of Symphonia Remastered) nor the second (which we all know should be Skies of Arcadia Legends), but golly do I think it maybe deserves it the most.

Before Monolith Soft conquered the world with Xenoblade Chronicles, it was a fresh-faced studio in the early 2000s with big names behind it — Tetsuya Takahashi, director of Xenogears; Hirohide Sugiura, producer on Ehrgeiz; and Yasuyuki Honne, art director of Xenogears and Chrono Cross — and a ton of ambition.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean was only the studio's second game. Published by Bandai Namco and developed alongside tri-Crescendo, it doesn't quite have the narrative ambition and grandeur of the studio's first game, Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, but it is unique in its own way, and is probably one of the most beautiful RPGs I've ever played.

Set in a world made up of various floating islands, you follow Kalas, a teenager on a journey to avenge the death of his brother and grandfather. He bumps into Xelha, a young woman who is on a journey to stop the Alfard Empire from unsealing the End Magnus — magical golden cards that seal away pieces of a dead god's dismembered body. Kalas, haughty and selfish, is reluctant to join her, but it's an RPG — things never go that simply, do they? So the two journey across the five nations to stop the Magnus from being unsealed. Throw in a giant magical whale, dethroning God, and people with wings, and you've got yourself the perfect JRPG recipe.

Baten Kaitos is an early demonstration of Monolith Soft's talent for creating unique and unusual worlds full of life and colour.

The first thing that makes Baten Kaitos so distinct is that you're not playing as Kalas, technically. Yes, you're moving him around the screen, interacting with objects as Kalas, but at the beginning of the game, you're asked to name and gender a 'Guardian Spirit'. That Guardian Spirit is you, the player, and Kalas (and other characters) refer to you by name multiple times throughout the game. But why don't you, the Guardian Spirit know anything about the world? Amnesia! Of course.

I can let the amnesia trope slide, though, because I've never seen another game break the fourth wall in this way before, except here and the prequel, Baten Kaitos Origins. You being the Guardian Spirit ensures that you, the player, are an active character in the story. You have to make choices and decisions as Kalas' Guardian Spirit that increase affinity with your party. Plus, the novelty of characters interacting with you, particularly Xelha who has some very cute conversations with you, doesn't ever wear off.

The story itself isn't too special (though notably it's written by Chrono Cross' Masato Kato), but Baten Kaitos might have one of the most shocking twists in any RPG I've ever played. It's not something I saw coming, and it completely changes the trajectory of the plot. The drama of it is slightly dampened by the tin-can voice acting, but I've grown to love the over-the-top screaming in this cutscene for a quick giggle. Though a remake could make this scene deliciously good with an improved dub.

The ace in Baten Kaitos' deck, for me, is its world. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is stunning, even today. Both it and its prequel use pre-rendered backgrounds to create some utterly gorgeous scenery and captivating locations. The nation maps look like watercolour tapestries, with clouds and lights drifting across the screen, and ships and transport passing by in the background. Interactive scenery like rubber mud and snow are distinguishable from the beautiful backdrops that catch your eye — I still love seeing the snow part as you walk through a blizzard on your way towards the Ice Kingdom. A remake would probably do away with pre-rendered backdrops, and this is perhaps what I'd be most worried about.

I could easily go on about the gorgeous use of colour and how I adore just how different each island nation is, but it's not just about how they look, but how creative they are. Sadal Suud, the first island, feels like a typical 'first' place for an RPG, but it's rich in forests, flora, and farming hamlets — and apples. In contrast, Mira is home to a cornucopia of locales — there's a village made entirely out of confectionary, another that looks like the inside of a children's storybook, and a dungeon where you walk upside-down and play through a portion of The Tower of Druaga to get around.

Baten Kaitos is an early demonstration of Monolith Soft's talent for creating unique and unusual worlds full of life and colour. There's a real sense of place and culture on each of the island nations. There are creatures unique to every island that are inspired by real-life animals — Fluffpups are a bit like Pomeranians and are pets that suggest their owners are posh or have a lot of money, and they're native to Alfard and the city of Mintaka, while Cloudgulls fly around Pherkard on Sadal Suud. Mira even gets its own unique map music to really hammer home that, yes, this island that looks like a shattered mirror really is this strange.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the world is just how the game's main mechanic — cards — is implemented into every single facet of Baten Kaitos. From the lore to the items to the gameplay, the cards, called Magnus, make up everything. It may be most well-known for its card-based battle system, which back in the day wasn't so common (though FromSoftware also has a card-based RPG on the GameCube called Lost Kingdoms from 2002), but what sets Baten Kaitos apart is that Magnus are integral to pretty much everything you do. I've already mentioned the End Magnus above, but every single item you use, pick up, or interact with, is a Magnus. To claim any of these items, you have to either buy the card, pick it up in battle or in a chest (for items, weapons, and armour used in combat), or absorb its essence into a blank card.

As you can imagine, pretty much every single puzzle and sidequest revolves around these blank cards by storing items and bringing them to other people or locations to use. There's one early-game dungeon where you have to absorb the essence of clouds and use them in a generator later on in order to open the path. In another dungeon, you need to transfer the essence of flames to torches to activate the block-pushing puzzles. And sidequests can be as simple as bringing water to an injured person to carrying around the essence of a family tree and getting family members to sign it — both begrudgingly and lovingly. Just think about the absurdity of handing someone a glass of water from a piece of paper. And yet it feels totally normal here.

Baten Kaitos 3
Items? Cards? All the same to me. — Image: Bandai Namco

Normal items change according to your in-game clock — food like meat, apples, and milk all rot or change, and that means their properties change, too. A slab of beef may have an attack power of 40, but in two hours' time, that will go up to 50, then 60, until it eventually rots — then it has a chance to poison an enemy. What, you thought you'd get to eat the beef? Mattresses break, flame swords burn out, and The Peach Boy eventually turns into the Wonder MOMO. Because there are so many different time-based items, a 100% speedrun of this takes nearly 340 hours.

And since we're talking about food that you can throw at enemies, let's dive into the combat. Admittedly, Baten Kaitos' card-based battle system is pretty slow, and the semi-random element can turn people off, but when you figure out just how to play your cards right and everything clicks, you can snap the game in two.

There are some throughlines you can see from this stunning game that go right the way through to Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Every single character in your party has their own deck, which you need to fill up with Magnus for attacking, defending, and healing. Or you can just leave some slots empty, which will give you an empty 'Pass' card so you can pass your turn. Over the course of the game, a character's deck gets bigger thanks to upgrade items you pick up throughout the story, and the bigger your deck and character class level, the more cards you can use per turn (for a maximum of nine attacks/actions).

It's pretty intimidating at first — especially because you have attacking and defending phases, certain cards can't be used in defense phases (some swords can and can't, for instance), elemental properties need to be considered (as using a water sword after a fire sword will cancel out some of the fire damage). And, if you're like me, you might accidentally heal the enemy and it may take you five hours to figure out how to select a party member to heal the first time. There are also numbers on the corners of the cards you use. It's a lot to take in and would need some good tutorials or a lot of refinement to feel more approachable.

But when you crack it, it's sweet. The numbers on the card corners don't particularly matter, but with the 'C' stick (which I miss dearly), you could select that card and that number. Matching pairs or ascending/descending sequences will net you a damage increase — if you couple a 1-through-9 sequence of cards with an enemy's elemental weakness, you can kill bosses, including the final boss, in one round.

Baten Kaitos 4
Pick a card, any card. — Image: Bandai Namco

That's largely down to luck and not skill, though. The deck might not come out in the right order, or you might just not have cards with the numbers you need on them. But you also didn't need to use these numbers to beat the game or do a huge amount of damage — which is probably why it was scrapped in Origins, which streamlined and overhauled the deck system entirely, and for the better, I think.

All in all, perfect fodder for a remake, then, even if the possibility seems remote. Bandai Namco's trademark renewals from 2021 for both Baten Kaitos and Klonoa have me a little bit hopeful that there's substance to this particular rumour, but given that a proposed Xenosaga HD Collection "failed in a profitable market analysis", I'm very reluctant to cling too tightly to that hope. (Incidentally, we've reached out for official comment and will report back with any response we get.)

I'd love to see the return of one of Monolith Soft's weirdest and most beautiful games because it would be a chance for a wider, Xenoblade-loving audience to grab it with both hands. There are some throughlines you can see from this stunning game — creative world design, very specific lore that only applies to that universe — that go right the way through to Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Whether there's anything to these rumours or not, a remake that makes the colourful character models pop even more, refines the battle system, and redoes the voice work would make for a dream come true. And hey, why not follow it up with Baten Kaitos Origins, too? We never even got that one here in Europe!

Let us know what you make of this particular rumour below, and just how much you'd enjoy seeing Baten Kaitos make a return on modern consoles.