For tonight's game and blog posting to accompany it, I chose to play one of my most favorite games from the last few years - Bastion. I heard it brought up on a podcast I was listening to today, which seems to be a major source of inspiration for the games I pick these days, and so I decided to go back and revisit it.
When I played it for the first time, I had no idea I would fall in love with it the way I did. Going back and playing it again tonight, I felt that same charm and allure that I did back then, which is comforting and energizing, as well as refreshing to know that it wasn't just a fling I had with the game, but instead, a true love.
I want to do something different for this blog post, however. I want to share with you all the review that I wrote for it back when it was released, because honestly, I can't recapture how I felt about the game as well tonight as I did back then. I wrote with pure affinity and admiration for what I played and experienced, and so, I want to share that with you all.
Remember, I wrote this when the game came out, so keep that in mind as you read it, for context purposes. Hope you enjoy!
Every story has a beginning. Every game needs a narrator…
The annual Xbox Live “Summer of Arcade” event kicked off this year with a surprising title called Bastion, a game that not only shatters expectations of “Arcade” titles, but comes dangerously close to breaking down the fourth wall as it’s known in the process.
Bastion is classified as an action RPG game, and that was my first concern. Admittedly, I am not much of a fan of games from that genre, so going in I had reservations about the game play. Seeing previews of the game beforehand, I knew what to expect, and I was hoping the gorgeous visual design and ever-so-intriguing narrator would be enough to make up for the style of game it actually was. My somewhat low expectations were quickly smashed within the first few moments from the game, and by the time my character first stepped foot on The Bastion (a floating battle hub, if you will), I had already forgotten what I was worried about in the first place.
You play as a character known simply as “The Kid,” and the game starts off with you waking up on a floating rock. As you wiggle the joystick to move for the first time, the narrator who just got done explaining that every story has a beginning, somehow notices that you have awoken and gotten up. In his raspy, Marlboro Man voice, he begins to not just narrate the story, but narrate The Kid’s every action. As the ground begins to form under your feet from the world down below, the narrator walks you through every step of your journey.
The seamless transition from how he is seemingly explaining to The Kid what his purpose of being there is, to almost talking to you, the player, what The Kid is encountering, is nothing short of spectacular. And don’t think the narrator is just there to streamline the story … he will comment on all aspects of the game play. If you accidently roll off the ledge of the floating pathway, the narrator will chime in, saying something like, “They have meant to build guard rails there…” or “… and The Kid falls to his death. Just kidding…” (as you reappear back on the path, slightly lower in health). One time I got carried away smashing everything I could to collect some extra fragments (the main currency in the game.) After a while of smashing and not advancing the story, the narrator interrupted the mayhem, saying, “The Kid keeps on smashing everything in sight … like he is going to get a special reward for doing so.” Needless to say, I immediately stopped my destruction spree and moved along, feeling almost shameful for keeping the narrator from doing his job, like I had interrupted the flow of his story for my own guilty pleasure.
Never has a video game made me feel bad for how I played it. But then again, never has there been a game quite like Bastion with an intangible quite like the narrator … and that is what makes this game special.
Once your character reaches The Bastion, you meet Rucks for the first time, who it turns out is the mysterious voice who has guided you there. How could an actual character have been narrating your journey? Before that, you assumed the narrator was an ominous-type being, but the fact he is in flesh, right in front of you, only brings up more questions than answers. And that seems to be the reoccurring theme throughout the game.
As you progress, you get more and more information about what is going on. Something called the “Great Calamity” has all but destroyed life as you known it, allowing dark creatures to infest the ruins of your now-shattered world. The more you play, the more of the story you get. Trying to explain what is going on halfway through the game is an impossible task, as it is not until the final moments of the game where everything seems to make sense … or does it? Personal interpretation of what you just played seems to be the catalyst for describing the story.
As open as the story is, the visual aspect of the game is as sharp as it is whimsical. The game looks like a cross between a cell-shaded game and a watercolor painting. The colors are bright and vibrant, especially for being about the last remaining life. As the path builds stone by stone, it is easy to get lost in the design and forget that games can be beautiful and simple at the same time.
Another thing easily forgotten is the fact that it is still an action RPG. All the basic fundamentals are there, from upgrading your weapons, to obtaining XP with every kill or item collected, and even being able to customize your two-weapon/one-special ability load out. The game plays like your normal dungeon crawl game, as enemies lurk around every corner of every path. Between every level, you recharge back at The Bastion, where after constructing the buildings, you can change which weapons you will head out to battle with, as well as upgrade them with acquired materials. You can also activate drinks that add different abilities or health to your character, with more slots available as you level up your character with XP.
To add even more customization to the game, you collect different idols throughout your journey that represent different Gods. If you choose, you can activate one or more of these idols, which will evoke the selected deities to add different degrees of difficulty to the game. Naturally though, the more idols you activate, the more XP you get as you play. What fun would it be to make the game hard be if you weren’t rewarded for it, right?
Long story short, the game has all the classic elements of an action RPG, but the overall experience of the game makes you quickly forget that classification. If all games were as good and fun as Bastion, I would be an action RPG super-fan.
The game also sounds as good as it looks, if not better. Aside from the amazingly-awesome narrator, the soundtrack is fantastic. There is one level in particular where a song is playing in the background that is simply captivating. To be honest, I don’t even remember how the level played, but I do remember turning up my TV as I got lost in the song. Arcade games usually have no business in making soundtracks this good.
Speaking of being an arcade game, it has only 200 achievement points out there to get. I am proud to say that this is officially the first game I have ever completed every achievement for, and while I only had to play through the story twice, I enjoyed every step of the way. Unfortunately, however, now that I have completed everything there is to do in Bastion, I don’t ever foresee returning the captivating world of The Kid, his personal narrator and his quest to undo what was done.
There are online leader boards for the main story, as well as the three dream quests found in the game, but unless you are uber-competitive, the only real reason to strive for high scores is to top your friends. Taking into consideration the fact that there is no real explanation as to how point totals are given, the leader board concept seems flawed at best.
For such a special game, I feel a little slighted by the fact that once you are done, you are done. I wouldn’t mind having Rucks tell me that I’m wasting time smashing meaningless stuff again, but there just isn’t the reason to do so. But I wish there was, because I had so much fun exploring the destroyed world, hearing the story and making some tough choices at the end of it all.
As someone who doesn’t normally like or play action RPG games, Bastion stole my heart and made me an instant fan of the genre. The narrator gives Bastion that “it” factor every great game has. The visual representation of imagination is simply breathtaking, and the soundtrack is riveting, if not down-right beautiful. While the game doesn’t offer much once all achievements are completed, the want and desire for more is a clear indication that the team at Supergiant Games made a great game, and one that I feel I drastically under paid for at the Xbox Live price equivalent of $15. So much for the normal summer drought of good, quality games, huh?
XBLA = The Noyse
PSN = the_noyse
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3DS F.C. = 3007-8109-2329
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Games played for project : 365