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Baten Kaitos II

Gameplay is another place Baten Kaitos II veers away from the norm. Before we launch into the fact that you use cards in battle, let's stop for a moment and remind you: cards aren't evil. They don't make you a geek, and playing a game with them doesn't mean you're going to suddenly have to start to watch Yu-Gi-Oh! and take it seriously.

That said, the developers were obviously aware that the complex card-based mechanics of the last game scared some people away. Still, the cards, called Magnus, definitely return in the new game. The battles, though, are "streamlined" - or maybe "dumbed down." Depends on your perspective.

In each encounter - the enemies are on screen as you explore, so they're not random, by the by - you're dealt a hand of cards from your inventory. Each has a number, and you can only play cards that are at least one number higher from the last: one then two then three, or two then four, for example. In the original Baten Kaitos, the rules were more flexible, and based on poker hands.

Most cards are weapons or spells; some are special equipment that last for a few hits before dissipating, which can add elemental damage. The whole thing sounds a bit complex - like any RPG - but it's pretty easy to understand once you've run a few enemies through the grinder.

Perhaps the best change from the first game to the second is simply that the characters seem more likable. The first game's cast was mostly comprised of drooling idiots who coasted on luck. Sagi and Guillo, at the very least, have attitude. The world seems darker and more threatening than the candy-coated original game too. But the spirit of the original game hasn't been lost, by any stretch the imagination. Whether it's a winner will depend on if the story pulls together, and how that new battle system works in the long run. What is certain is that another distinctive, dreamlike adventure is coming to the GameCube, and that's something worth celebrating.

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