Monday, December 4, 2006

Baten Kaitos 1's Inclusion of the Player

Baten Kaitos 1 is quite an interesting game, with a neat setting (floating islands, as I've mentioned in a previous rant), a pretty fair plot, a card-based battle system that DOESN'T suck ass (I think this may be the ONLY RPG where this is true), and several really great and original characters. One of the most interesting and unique parts of it, though, is that it actually includes YOU, the player, in the plot.

Now, it's not that I haven't experience this sort of thing before, on a very tiny scale. I mean, in Earthbound, the only way for Ness's crew to defeat the universe's ultimate evil is for Paula to eventually pray to the player him/herself to intercede and whup Giygas's ass. A kinda neat idea, too, that they're fighting an evil so monumentally unbeatable that it takes a being from a higher dimension to destroy it. And who hasn't seen or at least heard of that old televised Peter Pan play thing, where Peter asks the audience to clap and believe in fairies so that Tinkerbell can be saved? There're a few instances scattered here and there of the player/viewer/reader/listener/whateverer actually being included in something for reasons other than a quick joke.

But you know, I don't think I've EVER seen a game or show or movie or book or ANYTHING that takes it to the level that BK1 does. In this game, the player is represented as a Guardian Spirit, a sort of wandering soul that has taken residence in the main character Kalas (and for a brief time later, Xelha). Kalas and Xelha frequently actually interact with you, talking to you and asking you questions, and even the other party members occasionally talk to you. It's often noted that it's your presence that makes Kalas such a formidable and successful fighter (making reference to both the fact that you are controlling his actions and thus leading him to victory through your strategy, and that your presence can allow the main character to perform special attacks which far outclass all the other abilities in the game). And when you're temporarily banished from the BK1 world, the screen goes black--you actually cannot witness what's happening until the Guardian Spirit representing you is eventually called back later.

This involvement of the player really adds a neat and enjoyable angle to the game. It's fun to be directly thanked by the game's characters for helping them out, to have a direct hand in the game's affairs rather than just be an unseen watcher who happens to also play. And as I said before, it's a rarely-explored idea, probably because up until the medium of video games, the observer of a story, be it a book's or show's or movie's or whatever, did not have an interactive nature with the medium. With video games, though, you already are interacting with the game's mechanics, so with a little creativity, as BK1 demonstrates, the player can be made to directly interact with and influence the story as well. I hope at least a few more RPGs recognize the potential for this idea and also adopt it.

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