Number 5 – Hiroya Hatsushiba

To start the list, an almost unknown developer: Hiroya Hatsushiba; in my opinion, he’s one of the genre’s great promises for the future. He is the director of 3 extremely interesting and, above all, innovative, different and stylish games: “Baten Kaitos”, its sequel, and “Eternal Sonata”. It might seem weird to put in such a small list a designer that has only directed three games, but that just serves the point, he’s that promising.

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Though the “Baten Kaitos” games had a series of shortcomings, like a somewhat clichéd plot, it had this huge amount of style and substance: a quirky card-based combat system, an epic storyline, high artistic and production values that rivaled the “Final Fantasy” series, and some of the craziest level design I’ve seen in a game (there were some crazy levels in that game, believe me). “Baten Kaitos” was a great game, not a masterpiece, but still, much, much better than most of the RPG’s I ever played.

But what really led me to put Hatsushiba on this list is “Eternal Sonata”. Though from a gaming perspective, the game didn’t try anything different, it did so in other areas. Besides the wonderful aesthetic visuals and music, “Eternal Sonata” featured a groundbreaking concept: to delve into the last dream of famous composer Frederick Chopin. Now, for a Japanese developer to create a whole game around an allegory surrounding the death of a famous Austrian composer is, by itself, completely insane. But this guy did it, and he actually made it into a good game! But if that wasn’t a big enough risk, he created a game with a plotline that doesn’t explain itself, that defies the player to interpret, analyze and question the story, its concepts, meanings and philosophical ramblings: for a game to even attempt this is nothing short of visionary. In my opinion, games need developers that try and push the envelope, that try to achieve higher ground on the artistic context, to evolve like other means have done before… developers like Hatsushiba.

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The complex storyline of “Eternal Sonata” is almost as profound as the Animes by Hideaki Anno (“Evangelion”), Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell”) or Satoshi Kon (“Perfect Blue”), which just serves to show the huge amount of ambition of the game. If all RPG’s strived so high, the genre would clearly be much more interesting than it is today. So that’s why Hatsushiba is on this list: his games are different, fresh, ambitious and show a great deal of potential. He hasn’t been able to create his masterpiece yet: “Baten Kaitos” lacked a good plot and “Eternal Sonata” a good gameplay engine; but when he finally ends up fine tuning his skills… what day it’ll be for gaming.

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    • Jay
    • February 4th, 2010

    While I agree Hatushiba is a very promising, I don’t agree with your shortcomings about Baten Kaitos or Eternal Sonata. I’m rather sick of people saying that a story with elements that are stereotypical is automatically cliche. What matters is how these elements interact with the setting and each other to make a coherent story that should determine the level cliche-ness. Yes, Baten Kaitos had an evil empire and an evil sleeping god, but the story was presented in a way and featured a setting and mini-arcs that really didn’t make it cliche. And that’s only the first half of the game; the big twist and subsequent events blew anything resembling cliche out of the water. I found Baten Kaitos to have an excellent story and while not a genre topper indivually (but definitely top ten, if not five), when combined with Origins (which had an even more originality in story and an essentailly equal quality story) with it’s wonderful, subtle connections, it makes an unprecedentedly great RPG saga. So I would say BK is masterpiece level.
    As for Eternal Sonata, I don’t regard it as a masterpiece, but the battle system certainly was. Only three or four other times have I played an RPG (two of which are the BKs) with a battle system THAT boredom and repetition proof and that exhilarating and fun.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 4th, 2010

    Hi Jay. It’s all a matter of opinion. I think Baten Kaitos lives and dies by its aesthetic and somewhat bizarre world (which I fear isn’t as explored as could have been). Even in its subplots and interactions, I feel BK is cliched – bland dialogue, poor voice acting, archetypal characters, generic plot (as you so point out), and while the final twists improve a lot, it’s still not enough to make me like the storyline that much. I am also not a big fan of either’s battle systems (not tactical/strategic enough, and a bit shallow as time passes by). But I still hold their author in high esteem for being creative through and through. His worlds and ideas are different, and I wish only to play more of his J-RPG’s. Cheers!

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