I've always loved the name: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and The Lost Ocean. So ebullient! So verbose! It hints at an overarching mythos that will be archived in novels, comics, and a half-dozen sequels - tributed into eternity by a legion of dedicated cosplayers and otakus, its lore calcified by infinite GameFAQs debates. None of that came true, of course. Baten Kaitos is a 2004 card-driven role-playing game developed by Monolith Soft and tri-Crescendo and published by Namco. It was released exclusively to the Gamecube and scrounged up a decent, replacement-level 80 percent on Metacritic. Today the game has something of a cult following; known best for its active, off-kilter combat and tastefully baroque soundtrack. Namco returned to the Baten Kaitos series one last time in 2006 with the release of Baten Kaitos Origins, but since then the franchise has been dumped into the spiky-haired memory hole that doomed so many other Gamecube JRPGs, like Evolution Worlds, Lost Kingdoms, Virtua Quest, et al.
That probably would be the game's fate to this day, if it wasn't for the hard work of Julien 'Baffan' Jaffrès, a French speedrunner who's crowning achievement is his 100 percent completion clear of Eternal Wings and The Lost Ocean. He holds the world record: 341 hours, 20 minutes, and three seconds. Yes, you read that right. Clearing out every facet of Baten Kaitos literally takes longer than a fortnight. It's a curiosity that's made the game a legendary part of speedrunning lore, and while Baffan is the only competitor in the bracket, he still has his eyes on the prize.
"My ultimate goal is to reach sub 340 hours, which is gonna be hell," he tells me, over email. "For now I would just love to do sub 341 in the next run. I would be happy with that."
As you might expect, Baten Kaitos has the honor of being the single longest 100 percent run in speedrunning history. If you're unfamiliar with the scene's diction, "100 percent" requires a runner to collect every single doodad, kill every boss, complete every side-quest, and make it to the end credits knowing you've squeezed out every single challenge a game has to offer. ("Any percent," on the other hand, just means making it to the end credits, and naturally Baffan holds the Baten Kaitos world title in that category too.) 100 percent runs are normally reserved for games that are tenable and non-modular - you will never see a completionist route for World of Warcraft or Civilization - but Baffan was undeterred. In early 2015, he had hit a ceiling in his any percent Baten Kaitos runs, and he was struggling to beat the record he had set in the format a year earlier. He had two options; either theorycraft a new any percent route from the ground up, or attempt something far more audacious. Baffan chose the latter, and dreamt up a way to make it through Baten Kaitos with every item in his inventory. The feat seemed genuinely impossible - unprecedented in a way that things rarely are - which is exactly the kind of challenge that attracts a single-minded speedrunner.
"Surprisingly, it worked!" he says. "The run was awful, but it was a success! My route was decent and I didn't forget any items, which relieved me a lot because there are easily at least 50 items that you can permanently miss if you don't take them at a specific moment in the game."
The reason Baten Kaitos requires such a ridiculous time commitment for 100 percent completion can be boiled down to a single item: Splendid Hair. RPGs of this era were notorious for their grinding requirements, but Namco took things to a whole new level by time-gating the usage of some of the cards in your inventory - Clash of Clans-style - which forces the player to idle for hours on end waiting for them to proc. In order to acquire Splendid Hair, you first need to track down an item called Shampoo. That isn't a problem, because you'll pick up that Shampoo 50 minutes into the game.
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Unfortunately, Shampoo takes literally two weeks to evolve into Splendid Hair. Before you ask, no, you can't do any in-game clock manipulation cheese to shorten those thresholds. (Mr. Resetti, eat your heart out.) What's even more frustrating is that those item timers pause whenever a player goes into a menu. Obviously, given Baten Kaitos' CCG nature, you'll be spending a ton of time in the pause screen, which naturally extrapolates the 100 percent deadline.
"You are menuing nearly all the time: when you want to change your decks, when you select your loot at the end of fights, when you are in a shop, which can very quickly add tens of hours when you play casually," says Baffan, when he explains his strategy to me. "That means you have to minimize absolutely every menus in the whole game, and you have to stay outside of menus when idling. Besides the Shampoo that takes the longest time to evolve, the second longest item 'only' takes 72 hours. So as long as you have a good route, the Shampoo is the main focus, timewise."
This puts Baffan in a funny position. When he does his two-week Baten Kaitos marathon, he's effectively finished with the game after about 80 hours. The rest of the time is spent simply sitting around for eight days straight, twiddling his thumbs until the Shampoo spits out the Splendid Hair he needs to officially earmark the 100 percent completion ratio. In this sense, despite it's astronomical length, Baten Kaitos is one of the more low-key speedruns in the scene. Over the course of a run, Baffan will play for about once per day for about six hours, all while letting that Shampoo cook in the oven. "I was able to have lots of fun while being able to take it slow on certain days, talking with the [Twitch] chat," says Baffan, annotating his schedule. "I started playing around 5 PM for me, taking a break at 8 PM, resuming at 9 PM, and finishing around 11:30 PM, more or less depending on the days."
Right now, Baffan is gearing up for what will be his sixth completionist Baten Kaitos run. He says he'll start once he upgrades his internet, and increases his Twitch sub count past 100. Baffan is protective of his record, but he's also only competing against himself. There aren't a ton of fertile speedrunning communities for niche GameCube JRPGs, much less ones that require 300 hours worth of commitment.
But that's the thing with Baffan; a two week speedrun is ridiculous, wonderful, and proudly excessive, and while its lone adherent refuses to take himself too seriously, his craft still requires a ton of practice and theorycrafting. When I caught up with him, he had just discovered a new trick that will shave 20 minutes off his final time. Yes, 20 minutes is a drop in the bucket when you're talking about a 300 hour campaign, but it's nice to know that there are ways to min-max, even on the most extreme of margins. Baten Kaitos might be a global speedrunning meme, but that doesn't change the fact that Baffan is a reigning, defending world champion. He'll defend that truth to the death.
"I wish I had a challenger. But I'm never gonna let them steal my record. I know there is plenty of time to save in the run, and if I don't do a run every month it's because I don't have the biggest motivation due to a lack of a challenger," he finishes. "But if someone was seriously aiming for my record, I would certainly strike back."
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