My brother bought a copy of Eternal Sonata the other week, so taking advantage of the 'multiplayer' mode, I played it with him. Despite being about Chopin and girls in frilly dresses who are dying and can use magic, I noted that certain aspects of it were similar to another game I had played ages past: Baten Kaitos. So of course, with the memories of that game in my mind, I tracked down a copy and bought it.
There's nothing really special about the story, and indeed, it's typical Japanese RPG fare. Perhaps the point that stands out the most is that you don't play as the main character per se. Instead, you play as a Guardian Spirit assigned to the main character, Kalas, at the beginning of the game. Oh, and you're a Guardian Spirit with amnesia.
Kalas is on a typical quest, to avenge the deaths of his grandfather and brother when he rescues a girl named Xelha from death by giant monster. As it turns out, Xelha is on a quest to warn the world of an evil scheme to resurrect an evil god who was thought to have made the ocean disappear. They begin tagging along together, meeting interesting folk and whatnot. Did I mention Baten Kaitos takes place in the sky? Personally, I'm a sucker for games/movies/etc. that take place in the sky, so I forgave any weaknesses in the plot because of this.
The thing I like the most about Baten Kaitos (and indeed, I think this was the main selling point) is that its combat system features a unique turn-based card battle system. Unlike those Japanese RPGs which involve hammering the confirm button over and over again, the player's success in Baten Kaitos relies heavily on quick thinking, card management, and a good amount of luck.
The cards, known as Magnus in the game, come in several different flavors, such as offensive, defensive, equip, and quest. The tricky part of this system is that some Magnus will evolve over time. This can either be advantageous or disastrous. For example, while a common item such as a 'Cedar Tree' may be useless for a fair bit, it will eventually turn into 'Cedar Tree Sap,' which can heal up to 380HP. On the other hand, several healing items will rot.
Of course, there are several opportunities to gain new Magnus of every type. To ensure your success in battle as the game progresses, you must obtain Magnus that have higher offense and defense ratings and ones which can heal more HP.
Leveling up does not happen automatically. To gain levels, you must access the Church via the blue flowers scattered throughout the game world (which also act as save points). The Church not only allows you to level up your character but also allows you to increase your class, should you have the special Magnus required to do so. A character's class is important as it determines how many cards appear in his/her hand at once and how many cards he/she can play in any one round.