Well maybe not the first, but definitely the one that caused me to develop the most trust issues.
Like many 90s children, I grew up with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Nintendo Power magazine. I’d rush to the mailbox after school to see if the latest issue arrived; since the magazine only came once a month, there were always a few days where I would get really antsy leading up to when I thought the magazine would arrive. When it finally did, I’d park myself in the corner chair in the living room and read the whole thing cover to cover. Sometimes I’d skip strategy guides for games I didn’t have yet. I always skipped anything about sports games (I didn’t understand them; still don’t). My favorite previews, reviews or strategy guides were about role-playing games.
I loved fantasy and fantasy games when I was younger. If it weren’t for Nintendo Power, I never would have played Dragon Warrior or Breath of Fire. The magazine helped open my eyes to a world I barely knew existed. I trusted Nintendo Power, to the extent that an impressionable 11-year-old can trust a magazine whose entire purpose was “how can we promote Nintendo games to the exclusion of everything else”.
When I first read about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, I was convinced it would be my new favorite game. The screenshots in the magazine looked unreal to me. It seemed like a fully realized fantasy world, with different political motivations and interesting characters. I’m sure Nintendo Power did a better job detailing the gameplay than I’m giving it credit for, but I barely remember anything about the card battling system. All that caught my attention was the visuals, and the promise of an epic adventure on the GameCube unlike anything I had ever seen before.
I was in the games thrall. So much so that I asked for it for Christmas that year. This is way back when, when I could reasonably ask for just one video game and expect to receive it for Christmas. Maybe a GameBoy game too, if I was extra good that year. I realize that I was a pretty lucky kid; for the most part, I grew up pretty privileged. I was safe. I was happy. I could get the games that I wanted, most of the time.
But damn if it wasn’t a disappointment to hope for something to be so good, only to have it let you down at almost every turn.
Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with Baten Kaitos knows that the opening introductory cutscene does a terrible job at selling the game. Very little that goes on here shows up for a good long time. Instead of flying through the air, engaging in swordplay and blasting enemies with powerful magic blasts, I watched one of my bread cards turn moldy and then disappear. I barely understood what was happening and I was really frustrated. When do I get to fight the Empire? I hope I can leap off a building and fly around soon!
My excitement about starting this game quickly gave way to bafflement, and then an inexplicable sadness. I didn’t know how to tell my mom that this game I had waited months for wasn’t any fun for me. She had chosen it out, specifically, because I had asked (practically begged) for it. Every time I would steel myself to give the game another try, I would run into another wall: the story had a slow start, I could never draw the cards I wanted, some obscure mechanic was beyond my grasp. My mom never really pried into my gaming habits but I can’t help but feel like I should have shown her that I appreciated the gift she had given me by making more of an honest effort to play the game more.
I wrote recently about how people should never feel like they have to complete something just because they bought it or any other contrived reason; but for Baten Kaitos, I really, really wanted to love it. It never grabbed me. I never finished it; I barely scratched the surface of it. I kept it for years before eventually selling it a GameStop or something, and I felt shame when I did.
I buy video games with my own money now. I haven’t asked for or received a game as a gift from my family in years. I read sites like Kotaku and Polygon, and gather my own opinions on games instead of having them preached at me from the top down. I don’t take many risks buying games these days; if I’m going to purchase something, it’s because I’m reasonably certain that I’ll like it. Baten Kaitos is probably one of the last games to really pull one over on me. One of these days, I’ll have to give it another go. And I’ll tell my mom thank you. It’s been a few years, but thank you for an amazing childhood.