When it comes to speedrunning, the act of playing through a video game as fast as possible, we often think in terms of seconds, minutes, or hours—not days. But in order to speedrun a complete run of Baten Kaitos, a cult classic card-based JRPG for the GameCube, it took Julien Jaffrès a whopping 342 hours, 19 minutes, and 56 seconds, or a little over 14 days.
"When you discover speedrunning," said Jaffrès, speaking from his home in France, "the first thing you think is, What kind of game I could speedrun? And then I saw Baten Kaitos and said, 'I love this game, but I'm pretty sure the speedrun would be extremely long. How would it be?'"
As it turns out, about two weeks.
There are, generally speaking, three different kinds of speedruns: any percent, low percent, and 100 percent. Any percent involves finishing the game as fast as possible, by any means necessary. This is what most people think of as a speedrun; it often involves ridiculous glitches and other means of breaking a game. Low percent requires the player to beat the game using the fewest items or upgrades as possible. The exact requirements depend on the game and what the community agrees upon. But 100 percent, the kind of run we're talking about here, asks players to find and do everything possible in the game. Every upgrade, every secret, every sidequest—everything.
Baten Kaitos is a lengthy game, no matter how you slice it. How Long to Beat, a website that aggregates player completion times, marks 55 hours as the bare minimum to beat the game. Jaffrès, who also holds the fastest any percent speedrunning time for Baten Kaitos, was able to finish the lengthy RPG in 13 hours, 30 minutes, and 21 seconds, as of seven months ago.
One hundred percent is a completely different beast, however, and there's a reason only one other person has even tried to do it. (To date, Jaffrès has completed a 100 percent run on four separate occasions.) It's not that Baten Kaitos has 14 days worth of content to find; it's that the game's mechanics do everything in their power to drag out the timer. In order to upgrade items in Baten Kaitos, you have to let time pass, and time only passes in Baten Kaitos if the game is turned on and running. If you turn the game off, they stop upgrading. If you're in a menu, they stop upgrading. One item in particular, the shampoo, takes two weeks—336 hours—to upgrade.
(If you removed shampoo and a few other outlier items, the game would still take between 40 and 48 hours to finish 100 percent, according to Jaffrès.)
Further complicating matters is the lack of meaningful glitches in Baten Kaitos. Many speedruns rely on bending and breaking what's possible in the game, letting them skip whole sections of the game. None of that is possible for Baten Kaitos, especially on the 100 percent run. You have to play the game the way the developers intended, which means being very patient.
"If you need to focus for 13 hours, you need to prepare some snacks and some water bottles. You need to know exactly when you can do bathroom breaks."
Because of Baten Kaitos's unique gameplay mechanics, Jaffrès isn't in front of his GameCube for the entire run. Since much of the run involves just waiting for time to pass, he's able to sleep during the process. Still, there are moments when he's stuck playing for hours at a time.
"If you need to focus for 13 hours, you need to prepare some snacks and some water bottles," he said. "You need to know exactly when you can do bathroom breaks."
Yep, bathroom breaks. For the rest of us, heading to the bathroom is a simple as hitting the pause button and coming back. For Jaffrès, they're closely timed to unskippable cutscenes in the game, moments where he can't do anything to play any faster.
"There is one bathroom break I do, which is at something like seven or eight hours into the run, but I only have like 40 seconds of cutscene," he said. "But I take two minutes [to go to the bathroom]! So I lose one minute and 20 seconds, but I still save 40 seconds because I use the cutscene. In my game, I have some cutscenes that I cannot skip. I know that some of my friends that speedrun long games don't always have this luxury."
But bathroom breaks are only factored in after the runs start to matter. When Jaffrès began experimenting with Baten Kaitos, adding a few hours to his play time to walk away, go to the bathroom, or take breaks wasn't a big deal; he was still figuring out how to speedrun.
See, Baten Kaitos isn't a game beloved by millions, one that's been poured over for years and years. If you decided to start speedrunning The Legend of Zelda today, there are tons of guides to help. Jaffrès, however, was faced with a game that no one had broken down into the components really necessary for proper speedruns. Instead, he personally scoured official strategy guides and message boards to begin constructing what a 100 percent run would even be.
"It took me two weeks to think about every item," he said.
Though Jaffrès' accomplishment is on speedrun.com, one of the more popular places to archive record times, he's expressed anxiety about calling it a speedrun in the past. Due to his limited setup, he doesn't record (or stream) every moment, especially when he's sleeping.
"I could hardly call that a speedrun because I considered that the fact of not being able to watch it entirely made it not a speedrun," he wrote in a FAQ explaining his process, after finishing his most recent 100 percent run of Baten Kaitos. "From the point of view of the stream on Twitch, nobody can humanly and physically watch the same thing 340-plus hours without dying."
During the months he's spent refining the run, however, he's come around on the term.
"I have a timer," he said. "I had to get the Shampoo as fast as possible, I need to do my menus as fast as I can, when it evolves I have to complete the game as fast as possible, and I have to route this entirely, without forgetting any of the items you can miss."
That's a speedrun, in my book. It's also a speedrun that he's hoping to improve on. To date, Jaffrès' has completed four 100 percent speedruns of Baten Kaitos, and he's currently preparing to embark on a fifth journey. His goal is to beat the game in under 341 hours.
"The second [biggest] reason why I lost so much time [in previous runs] is because I had to check my menus if I didn't miss anything, to account for every item," he said. "When you are doing that, the aging of the item is paused. When you stay two hours in the menus, you waste two hours, basically. That's a major thing I need to fix for future runs."
He could probably use a time machine, too.