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.
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.
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.