How to Win at Baten Kaitos Origins

Or, Please Don’t Sue Me Jeff Rovin.

Back in the day all RPGs really had the same battle system. The names might change, but in the end, you Fought, you Magiced, you Itemed, or you Ran, and if you didn’t like it you played Mario.

Towards the end of the PS1 era, though, developers started to realize that this was causing their games to blur together, so they began hunting for ways to make their games stand out in a genre that had quickly become overcrowded in the wake of Final Fantasy VII’s breakout success.

“How about game sequences that aren’t stiflingly linear and plots and characters who aren’t lifted directly from either Star Wars or whichever shonen anime the writer watched last night?”

Bite your tongue. No, if RPGs wanted to stand out against the crowd, they needed a fancy new battle system that dispensed with Fight/Magic/Item/Run in favor of something much weirder. It’s from this that you get things like Chrono Cross’s stamina system, the Tales series’ simplistic real-time-brawler combat, the plodding swap-o-holic fights of Final Fantasy X, and the hexes of Wild ARMs 4. All you need to do is give it a pretentious name and you’re set.

Now, the weirdest RPG battle system I’ve ever played is the one in Baten Kaitos Origins, which was released to almost no fanfare for the Nintendo GameCube in late 2006. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played… its prequel (in terms of release date; it’s a sequel in terms of the plot), Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, used a card battling system, but one that merely took standard RPG Fight/Magic/Item/Heal and randomized it — rather than always having access to your characters’ commands, you had to put those commands into their decks and hope they drew into it during combat. It was unusual, but slow-paced and kind of boring, especially given that it was prone to snags where your characters drew a hand full of cards they couldn’t use and thus wasted their turns. This could be mitigated somewhat by proper deck design, but it was always a risk.

This is not the case in Baten Kaitos Origins, which has extremely fast-paced, exhilarating combat that requires constant focus. The game is also damn hard — you’re healed to full after every battle, but that just gives the game license to toss some truly tough foes at you. Even random battles in this game can kick your ass if you’re not paying close attention.  Every battle in BKO is a race to wipe out the bad guys before they can take you apart. It can be overwhelming, especially given that the battle system bears no real resemblance to Fight/Magic/Item/Run that RPG gamers are used to. Thankfully, I’m here to explain to you how the battle system works, and how to succeed at it.

For most of Baten Kaitos Origins you battle with a three-person party: Sagi, Guillo, and Milly. Unlike most RPGs where you have extra characters you can swap in and out, that’s the entire party; you’ll be using this team the entire game. Each of these characters has a specialty: Sagi has the most HP and is great at destroying single enemies. Guillo has the highest attack power, but the fewest HP and the weakest defense. He’s the best at destroying crowds. And Milly is the weakest character on offense, but is excellent at scoring extra hits and building the MP meter. Combat works similarly to Active-Time Battle from Final Fantasy’s SNES days: Whenever a character takes an action, they have some turnaround time before they can move again. The longer and more involved the action, the longer they have to wait before they can again act.

Rather than fighting with menus, to act in BKO you have to play cards. Unlike BK1, where each character had their own deck and hand, the party in BKO draws from a communal deck and plays cards from a communal hand. During battle, your hand is always visible at the bottom of the screen — the number of cards in it starts low (four, I think), but gradually raises as you add cards to your deck. Once your deck hits 40 cards, you reach the maximum hand size of seven, and you should stop adding cards at that point; instead start swapping them out.

There are two types of cards: Numbered and unnumbered. Unnumbered cards are one-shot deals: The character plays the card, and that’s it. Whatever the card does happens, and they can’t play anything else. All healing items are unnumbered, as are all “strategies” (taunting, fleeing, etc.). Other than healing items, you’ll not want to bother with unnumbered cards.

Numbered cards are where it’s at. When you play a card with a number, you can follow it up with any card that has a higher number, and so forth, until you’ve reached the highest number (7) or you run out of playable cards in your hand. In other words, the best play you could possibly make is to start with a card numbered “0” and go 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. This is called a combo, and it’s the center of BKO’s battle system.

You can also skip numbers… for example, if you’ve got a 1, a 3, and a 6 in your hand, you can go 1, 3, 6 and that will still work. This isn’t as good as the full straight, though. Not only are you dealing less damage (as you’re playing fewer cards) but you’re also generating less MP. More on this in a second. You should always strive for full straights if it’s practical to do so.

As a card’s number ascends, so does its power. Cards with a “0” actually do no damage at all, while 7s are the strongest super moves in the land. The numbers shake out this:

0s are weapons and armor. They don’t hurt your enemies, but rather improve your characters in some way. Weapons cause the equipped character to deal more damage for as long as the weapon is activated, and each character has their own unique kind. Armor reduces damage and sometimes has other special effects. Most armor is character-specific as well, but some (mostly helms) can be worn by anyone.

I don’t like the character-specific items. They can be godly if you draw them in the right spot, but they have a horrible habit of showing up in your hand at the worst possible time. The universal equipment is quite a bit better, but I still wouldn’t recommend playing more than three — one for each character. With that kind of setup, you’re assured that you’ll never draw useless equipment.

1, 2, and 3 are the basic attack cards: Weak Attack, Medium Attack, and Strong Attack respectively. They’re the equivalent to “Fight” in every other game, and they form the backbone of every deck you’re going to use in this game. You’ll need as many as 30 at the beginning of the game, but the more advanced cards will almost always come at the expense of these. By the end, you’ll be looking at about seven of each. Every character can use these, but each uses them slightly differently — Sagi slashes with his sword, Guillo blasts the enemy with incandescent magic, and Milly clubs the enemy with her maces.

These also come in fruitier-colored alternate forms, creatively dubbed Weak Attack B, Medium Attack B, and Strong Attack B. They’re mostly identical, but the attack animations are different, and they can sometimes trigger EX Combos that the normal versions can’t.

4, 5, and 6 are special techniques — super moves, essentially. These are much stronger than basic attacks, are cooler looking, and have awesome names like Transcension, Impyrial Wildfire, and Arabesque. Many of them can hit multiple enemies, which basic attacks can never do, and most have elements, making them the most convenient way of hitting enemy weak points. Their power comes at a price, however, as they cost MP to play.

In the bottom right corner of the battle screen you can see your MP meter. Whenever a player plays a card in battle, the meter fills a little. When it’s full, you go up a level (you can’t miss this, because the announcer shouts it at the top of his lungs whenever it happens),and the cycle repeats. The max level is five.

Super moves cost MP to play — 4s cost one level, 5s cost two, and 6s cost three. This is why it’s always important to play full straights when you can — a straight will give you much more MP than just playing cards in any old order. (At high levels just playing a super move as part of a long straight will earn you more MP than it took to play it in the first place.) More MP means more super moves, and super moves are where the real damage is at in this game. Each character has their own set of super moves, with no overlap whatsoever. The optimal construction here is one super move for each character for each number — one Sagi 4, one Sagi 5, one Sagi 6, one Guillo 4, and so on. As with armor, this is so they don’t clog your hand as much. You never really need two, say, Milly 5s at once, so putting two in your deck is just tempting fate.

7 is the level where the hidden special techniques rest. There are only two of these in the game, Sagi’s The Godling’s Rapture and Guillo’s Aphelion Dustwake. They work exactly the same as 4-6, except that the manual goes out of its way to pretend they don’t exist, so I guess they’re supposed to be special? They do ludicrous damage. Milly doesn’t get one…

But don’t feel bad for her, because she gets special actions instead! These four cards — Pegasus Jump, Mirage Turn, Canyon Wind, and Rabbit Dash — are special attacks that only Milly can use. Pegasus Jump and Mirage Turn are labeled “1+”, and Canyon Wind is labeled “2+” — you could take that as meaning 1.5 and 2.5 respectively. (Rabbit Dash is a straight 3, but it’s so strong that you really need to use it, even if it’s dead to Sagi and Guillo.) Milly can use Pegasus Jump in between playing a Weak Attack and a Medium Attack, or in lieu of either one — this makes her by far the best character at charging the meter so that the other two characters can use their stronger attacks — she essentially gets two additional basic attacks.

But wait, there’s more! There are two other wrinkles to think about here. The first, and least important, is EX Combos. Some specific combinations of cards will produce a unique combo called an EX Combo. These are significantly stronger than their component cards would be in isolation, and some of them have additional bonus effects. Milly’s Horse Prance, for example, triggered by playing Weak Attack, Pegasus Jump, Medium Attack B, slightly improves her turnover speed. There are about a hundred of these things, and most of them aren’t worth bothering with. As for the ones that are, though, you should shoot for them whenever you can.

In particular, one EX Combo is laughably powerful and turns most of the game into a joke. That combo is The Apotheosis, and it’s triggered with Weak Attack, Medium Attack, Strong Attack, Scension, Ascension, Transcension, The Godling’s Rapture. This thing does crazy amounts of damage and fully heals Sagi, making it your go-to attack against all the late-game bosses.

The other, and more important, element to consider is Relay Combos. It’s no exaggeration to say that the entire battle system of BKO is built around these things. In a relay combo, once a character has performed a full combo, one of his teammates can jump in and start their own combo as soon as he’s finished, but before the target has time to recover. To trigger this madness, you’ll need to have a Weak Attack in your hand and the trailing character ready to act as soon as the first character is done with his combo. So, for example, say I’ve got Sagi and Milly active, and my hand consists of two Weak Attacks, two Medium Attacks, a Strong Attack, a Scension (level 4 Sagi super), and a Swallowtail (level 4 Milly super). I can go Weak, Medium, Strong, Scension with Sagi, then immediately have Milly follow up with Weak, Medium, Swallowtail, and all seven cards will play out as a single combo.

Relay combos are critical for two reasons:

  1. In regular fights, they allow you to lard up on Technical Points. The game gives you much more TP if you use a lot of long straights and relay combos. Earning enough TP will allow you to raise your class level, which means you earn more MP from playing cards (as well as a few other benefits that are outside the scope of this article). We’ve already discussed the MP -> Supers -> Damage progression, so I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this point any further.
  2. In boss fights, they allow you to break defenses. Most bosses will block most of your strikes, reducing the damage… but scoring enough hits against them will break their guard, allowing you to deal more damage. However, you’ll likely be at the end of your combo by the time you dealt enough damage for a guard break — but that’s where the fresh character comes in.

Oh, and one more thing: When you’ve maxed out your MP meter, you’re given the chance to activate something called an “MP Burst”. This action gives you infinite MP for the duration of one combo, allowing you to play as many supers as you can get your hands on. You can use this to dish out some hellacious damage (it’s the only way to play really long combos), but you won’t be able to raise any MP at all for a little while after you’ve used it, so don’t go too crazy with it.

And that’s the gist of BKO’s battle system! But just in case you’re still hungry for more, here’s a few other bits of unrelated trivia:

  • BKO’s a bit of an odd game in that you can have the skeleton of your final deck within a few hours of starting the game. It won’t be finished, of course, but the basic attack/supers/healing item structure is easy to set up — you can do it by your first shop — and will serve you the whole game. All you have to do is swap out basic attacks for more supers and Milly actions and keep your suite of healing items up-to-date, and you’ll never have to worry about deckbuilding. This is a major change from BK1, and one that I’m ambivalent about — but not during combat itself, so.
  • Do not be afraid to discard. Any card that’s not in your hand or currently being played has been shuffled back into your deck, so don’t worry about dumping powerful cards that you can’t use right this second. If you need it later, you can dig for it then. I’ve discarded far, far more healing items during battle than I’ve ever used. Compared to BK1, BKO gives you unparalleled freedom to sculpt your hand, so abuse it!
  • Go crazy with relay combos… but watch yourself against bosses. Some bosses have the ability to inflict knockdown, and if a character who’s been assigned to participate in a relay combo is knocked down, the combo is broken. Against some bosses which can really dish out the damage, it’s wise to have one character always stand back and heal while the other two attack — don’t have your healer participate in relay combos if you can help it.
  • What’s the most powerful sequence of cards in the game? Vajra the Indestructible, Weak Attack, Pegasus Jump, Medium Attack B, Canyon Wind, Rabbit Dash, Emerald Thrush, Diamond Drop, Phoenix Dive, Laevateinn the Flameking, Weak Attack, Medium Attack, Strong Attack, Scension, Ascension, Transcension, The Godling’s Rapture, Deluge the Seaband, Weak Attack B, Medium Attack B, Strong Attack B, Icefan, Sigil Cry, Zeniver Cascade, Aphelion Dustwake.
  • If you’re looking for hits, though, you’ll want: Any weapon, Weak Attack, Pegasus Jump, Medium Attack B, Canyon Wind, Rabbit Dash, Sevenstar Dust, Arabesque, Open Your Eyes, Any weapon, Weak Attack B, Medium Attack B, Strong Attack B, Cliffsunder, Red Padma, Rime Blade, The Godling’s Rapture, Any weapon, Weak Attack B, Medium Attack B, Strong Attack B, Icefan, Sigil Cry, Heavenlapse, Aphelion Dustwake. That’s good for 95 hits.

Finally, a sample endgame decklist:

Warrior’s Scarf
Thunder Helm
Star-Shaped Earrings

5 Weak Attack
2 Weak Attack B
Pegasus Jump
4 Medium Attack
2 Medium Attack B
Canyon Wind
4 Strong Attack
2 Strong Attack B
Rabbit Dash

The Godling’s Rapture

Sevenstar Dust
Open Your Eyes

Sigil Cry
Zeniver Cascade
Aphelion Dustwake

High Potion
First Aid Kit
Book of Mana
Fate’s Cordial

Whelp, just wrote 2500 words about a game nobody cares about except me. Well done Tanto, you have spent your time wisely.


4 Responses to “How to Win at Baten Kaitos Origins”

  1. 1 a baten kaitos lover February 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Hi, this post is so useful.
    I’m french and i just bought a gamecube from the USA to play BKO because I loved the first one so much that I couldn’t stay without the second one even if BKO is only in english…
    But when I started playing I was a bit lost with the new battle system and hopefully I found your post. Thx a lot I will be able to understand what I have to do during a battle xD.
    You aren’t the only one who cares about it.


  2. 2 Krista April 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    written in 2010… well maybe you’ll see this comment, maybe not haha. either way, i love and adore baten kaitos, and i was having a wee bit of trouble with this second game. the system is so ridiculously fast paced i barely had time to figure out what i was seeing. this guide was very helpful. thanks :]

  3. 3 Tharick Abras Kulaif January 1, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    It actually helped me a lot.

  4. 4 Vladrich December 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    This is a fantastic game that was really overlooked because it was at the end of the gamecube life-cycle before the Wii came out. This is a fantastically fast paced game with an original story line that should have gotten much more praise than it did. The game will kick your butt if you don’t pay attention even for a split second, and except for the boss slug-matches you HAVE to get your momentum going before the common monsters wipe you out. The game is still gorgeous even when compared to current generation games, although in fights you won’t have the time to focus upon that as your attention is split between your hp and plotting your next attack. I would love these to be remade or a new game developed for the 3ds, I could only imagine the fun of rapidly tapping your chosen card rather than frantically scrolling through the menu.

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