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Baten Kaitos II

Baten Kaitos wasn't exactly wheeled out with much of a fanfare, which, frankly is a something of a shame considering it's easily one of GameCube's better RPGs. Even if it was a little, well, odd. Soon, the oddness will continue in Baten Kaitos II.

On the surface it's a fairly traditional RPG. A vast, sweeping epic played out on pre-rendered backdrops. You have the obligatory towns in which to purchase items, meet characters and further plot development, and between these you have the game's paths and dungeons, areas where you fight for experience, solve simple puzzles, and do battle with bosses. That's where the similarities end, though.

Take the fighting system as an example. Baten Kaitos is a card battler at heart, but where the likes of Pokemon and Magic The Gathering are quite slow, turn-based affairs, Kaitos manages to add a free-flowing, more action-oriented twist to the proceedings.

You see, cards (called Magnus) are a metaphor for every item in the game. Food, weapons, armor, elements, magic, etc, can all have their essence trapped into a card.

These cards can then be organized into decks which you then call out in the course of a battle to attack, defend, heal, cast, and so on. Where it gets clever is in the way you deploy them.

You see, each turn for a character has a strict time limit. You have to look at the cards in your current hand, and submit them into play within a very small window of opportunity, all the while taking into account the card type and their number value in order to create devastating combos and unleash the most damage.

Because your brain and your hands have to move so quickly, it makes card battling seem far more exciting than in other RPGs based on the concept of deck-building.

You can still expect all-new regions, of course, but the game will also revisit many of the same continents as the original title. Rather, it pre-visits them - familiar sights and cites will have been given a rather drastic makeover, primarily because Kaitos 2 takes place 20 years in the past. In a particularly nice touch, you can also expect to see some familiar faces; younger versions of Sylvana, Geldoblame, and paddle-wielding meathead Gibari have all been confirmed thus far.

Pleasingly, one thing has been kept exactly the same: the astonishing quality of the pre-rendered environments. It's also nice to see the almost-regal atmosphere and setting continue. We're hoping for some stronger side-quests this time around. In the last game, they felt a little tacked on, and amounted to little more than collecting quests, which just didn't stand up to the quality of the main quest.

No American release has been announced as of yet, but Nintendo has confirmed a U.S. release. We're just waiting to learn a release date.

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