With big name companies like EA, Activision, and even Square Enix putting the focus on crossing The Uncanny Valley, story has recently taken a back seat to how realistic and flashy a human face or explosion can be made to look. Bastion takes the opposite approach. I’ve not seen a story weave itself so seamlessly into a game since I-don’t-know-when. Final Fantasy has its jarring splits between journey and cut scene, cut scene and battle. The Legend of Zelda often suspends story entirely for the sake of dungeon completion, and don’t even get me started on games like Call of Duty where the story may hardly exist at all.
In Supergiant’s Bastion you play as a hero known only as ” The Kid”, in the aftermath of a Calamity that has struck the kingdom of Caelondia. He wakes up and discovers that the small patch of land immediately surrounding his bed is all that’s left. The Kid gets up, looks around and knows there ain’t no way things are ever gonna be normal again. He takes a step, the ground makes itself whole again under his feet. He don’t stop to wonder why…
You see, Bastion has a narrator; an older man by the name of Rucks, who tasks you to aid in rebuilding the Bastion, where everyone was supposed to go in case of such an emergency. Too bad there aren’t many left by way of survivors.Rucks tells the story as you play it, sometimes commenting on what you do, and sometimes adding in the details about the world that was. Bastion follows a group of only four main characters, and this works in it’s favor. The player is able to attach themselves to each of them, from the silent Kid, to the narrator Rucks himself, an easy favorite for me. Bastion gives off vibes similar to Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Four lost souls, alone in their broken world, just tryin’ to make a home for themselves on their little flying piece of rock. I daresay that most people would be hard pressed not to find a way to connect to these characters.
The narrator weaves himself into the gameplay as well, making little quips and comments when you fall off the side of the world, or for standing in one place too long. At one point, after swinging my weapon non stop for five minutes, Rucks made note that more of my swings hit air than anything else. I laughed.
Bastion is an action RPG in the way that Zelda is an action RPG, and in truth I enjoyed Bastion more than any Zelda game I’ve played since Ocarina of Time. Bastion has clear cut levels that are tied together by the narration, and most of the gameplay involves finding plot items, and fighting enemies. At any given time, you have two weapons, which you are able to customize and improve. As with many of these kinds of games, you’ll probably find yourself with two super powered weapons, while leaving most of the others in your forge. I was particularly fond of the machete and bow combination.
Despite the game consisting of mostly levels and timed survival events, (dream sequences where you fight waves of enemies while Rucks narrates a character’s past) I never once got bored or wished for anything else. There are also challenges in the game dedicated to each weapon, which allow you to win prizes. The game also includes a “Shrine” system. Invoking gods, by enabling their idols, makes the game substantially harder, but provides ample reward for your efforts (for example, one idol increases damage done by enemies, but you’re rewarded with bonus experience and cash).
The game is not without its flaws. For example, it has an auto save feature. Only an auto save feature. There are no multiple save points, and trust me, you’re going to wish there were. Another problem I had was with the camera angles. This can get especially annoying when you are prone to falling off the side of the world and losing health. I remember being stuck behind a part of the Bastion for a half hour and not being able to get out, (you don’t lose life in the Bastion). I had to reset the game.
For the love of everything good and wholesome: buy this soundtrack. The music, created by Darren Korb, is strong, heartfelt, and catchy. Again, Firefly immediately comes to mind every time I hear it. The background music never becomes repetitive, and melds so soothingly into the game that sometimes I even forgot it was there. But it was the mesh of drastically different sounds that drove me relentlessly towards my goal. Terminal March, for example, meshes techno and computer generated noise, with twangy Old West string plucking, and what my non musically inclined ears can only describe as Arabian guitar.
My favorite song, by far though, is Build That Wall, which I imagine is a working song sung before the calamity struck. Build a Wall was voted best song in a game at the Spike 2011 VGAs.
The only thing I have against the sound is that the grunting sounds the kid makes while swinging the machete can get annoying. Small nitpick, really.
Aforementioned camera problems aside, I love the way this game looks. The crisp but ultimately cartoonish avatars and surroundings were, to me, reminiscent of the original 2D Zelda games. Bastion is a game that isn’t trying to win any awards for looking the most realistic, and uses its hand drawn style to its greatest effect. To me, the real highlight of this game’s visuals are the environments that come to life under your feet. Tiles place themselves in front of you, remnants of the now destroyed Caelondia. The design and artwork for Bastion feels incredibly second-hand; scratchy, old, and more than a little rough and worn around the edges. And you know what? This works great! It’s a rough and tumble world literally putting itself together beneath you, it’s not supposed to look clean and polished!
Maybe I have a soft spot for indie games. Maybe the narrator was funny or had a super sexy voice. Maybe I love the music or maybe this game just brings back fond nostalgia of my beloved Firefly. I don’t know. What I do know is I had about a thousand times more fun playing Bastion this year than The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Skyrim combined, whose CDs are still collecting dust in my Wii, and PS3 respectively. Nintendo and Bethesda, no, the gaming industry as a whole could take a lesson from Supergiant, and their masterpiece.
Bastion was developed by Supergiant games, and is available on PC , Xbox Live Arcade, and Google Chrome Browser.