Play It By Ear #3 – Baten Kaitos

Hello all! Welcome back to Play It By Ear, a weekly column where every Friday I discuss my thoughts on a different video game’s soundtrack.

You can see the list of upcoming games and their corresponding playlists here. I will try to focus on lesser-known games or games whose soundtracks I feel can be a bit overlooked, but some of the bigger games may sneak their way in.

Today’s Game: Baten Kaitos (aka Baiten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean)

Suggested By: Bloomed Wings

Release Date: December 5, 2003 (Japan); November 16, 2004 (North America)

Composer: Motoi Sakuraba

Other Works by Same Composer: Golden Sun series, Tales series, Star Ocean series, Mario Golf series, Mario Tennis series, Dark Souls series

Availability: YouTube

Playlist Link

Number of Songs: 57

Approximate Total Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

Played the Game? No.

What Kind of Game Is This? Baten Kaitos is a turn-based RPG developed by Monolith Soft for the Nintendo GameCube. Taking place in a world where people evolved wings and live in the sky after a god stole their world’s oceans, its gameplay is unusual in a few important ways. For one thing, you don’t directly control the protagonist and their party – instead you play as a guardian spirit that is guiding them on their way. Gameplay and plot is also heavily centered around magical cards called ‘Magnus’ that represent various objects in the characters’ world. Battles are fought using decks of these Magnus.

A remaster of the game and its prequel (confusingly named Baten Kaitos II in Japan, more understandably named Baten Kaitos Origins in North America) are scheduled for release on the Switch later this year.

Top Songs or Songs of Note:

To the End of the Journey of Glittering Stars

Despite not knowing the context, I really like the progression of this one, the ebb and flow between the harp and the more bombastic strings.

The True Mirror

Perhaps one of the most ‘Sakuraba’ songs on the soundtrack, the combination of drums, violin, synth, and (I think) organ really makes this battle theme stand out as something special.

Vitriolic a Stroke

Sakuraba’s rock roots are very evident here, and it’s hard to hear this epic boss theme without feeling all pumped up.

Gentle Wind

I’m always on the lookout for good relaxing video game music, and this song definitely fits the bill – in particular, I love the flute melody that periodically kicks in.

Castle in the Sand

One of the more unusual and interesting tracks from the game, the rock influence is clear on this song just as with ‘Vitriolic a Stroke’ but is used to much more atmospheric effect.

Survival from the Force

A dungeon theme that sounds more like a boss theme, this feels reminiscent of ‘The True Mirror’ (likely because of the organ), but with a bit more kick to it a la ‘Vitriolic a Stroke’.

Addressing the Stars

I’m always a sucker for songs that put piano at the forefront, and the piano is definitely the star of this piece despite all of the other instruments that get layered in.

Honorable Mentions: Nadir’s Whale, Condemnation of Darkness, Soft Labyrinth, Bellflower, Flighty Spirits, Divine White Bell, Enshrinement, Supreme Rule of the Nine Heavens, Violent Storm

Least Favorite Songs: There aren’t any songs I strongly dislike. If I had to choose, though, among my least favorite would have to be ‘Holo Holo’. I don’t hate it – I quite like its use of percussion – but there just isn’t much to it.

On that note, I will also mention ‘Azure Soul Fountain’. It has some interesting sounds going on (is that a didgideroo I hear in the background?), but it feels a bit too discordant at times and, again, it doesn’t really feel like it progresses.

Overall Thoughts: As a huge fan of the first two Golden Sun games and their soundtracks, I was surprised to find that Motoi Sakuraba’s music is somewhat polarizing in some corners online. One of the main complaints I see is that some people find his soundtracks repetitive and generic, especially for the Tales series and later Star Ocean games. As I am not very familiar with either series, I can’t really attest to that. I did see three series regularly come up as examples of his best work, however – Golden Sun, Dark Souls, and Baten Kaitos. Having now listened to the soundtrack of Baten Kaitos (at the suggestion of Bloomed Wings), I can definitely see why it would be held up as one of his best achievements.

One of the biggest hallmarks of Sakuraba’s style is the influence of progressive rock on his work. This influence is obvious throughout the Baten Kaitos soundtrack, particularly in the battle themes like ‘Vitriolic a Stroke’. Even so, there is a surprising amount of variety on display here. Songs vary from heavy rock to inspiring orchestral instrumentals to beautifully relaxing themes, sometimes even within the same song. Despite its relative length, the variety on display manages to keep the soundtrack interesting and engaging the whole way through. (Although I did feel that beginning third and final third were perhaps stronger than the middle.) There is an epic scope to everything that hooked me right away. I am really glad that this soundtrack was brought to my attention, because I likely would have overlooked it otherwise and that would have been a shame.

Bonus Prompts:

  • Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the soundtrack?
  • Are there any tracks, that I mentioned or didn’t mention, that you would like to further discuss?
  • What game soundtracks have you been listening to recently? What’s been grabbing your attention?
  • Are there any game soundtracks that you would like me to cover in the future?

And there we have it! Thanks so much for reading and for listening to this soundtrack with me.

Last Week: Chameleon Twist 2

Next Week: Lila’s Sky Ark