I was tempted to just act like a narrator for this entire article. Heck, Tophat told me too, although I think that was a joke. Actually it probably wasn’t because Tophat is insane. Bastion has a narrator! He is the hook of the game, the idea of having a dude say everything you do on-screen somehow makes it more interesting. It’s an interesting premise for sure but it’s not one that sold me. When Bastion went on sale a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a shot, weird narrator and all. It turns out that the narrator isn’t anything like I thought he would be. Bastion at its core is an action RPG, but the real heart of the game is the atmosphere and cryptic story. The narrator? He’s important, but he is not a gimmick. Neither is the game. It’s the real deal, kid.
So the first thing that I need to talk about in Bastion is the narrator. I was under the impression from what little I had read and word of mouth that he basically never shut up. This is false. He’s telling the story of the character you play as, known only as “The Kid”. The game starts with you waking up in your bed and finding quite literally the world as you know it has been torn apart and only your bedroom remains. You get up (“The kid gets up”) and discover that a makeshift path will grow in front of you, so the only option is to press on. This is never explained and even the narrator comments on how it’s happening but nobody really knows why. Commenting is a good way to describe the narrator. He does not say “the kid shot his gun” every single time you attack. He’s telling the tale of The Kid’s journey, so what we as players end up hearing is background on areas we visit, technology behind the weapons, or information about the various enemies we encounter. It’s an organic and fun way to become engaged in the world, not to mention the fact that Logan Cunningham does a fantastic job in being the games voice.
Game play is traditional but expertly done. The Kid can carry two weapons and have access to one “secret skill” at a time. Any combination can be used but the game is most definitely designed around having one melee weapon and one ranged weapon. The choices here are impressive. The ranged weapons in particular are varied, ranging from normal machine gun or rifle to crazier stuff like flame throwers or mortars. The melee combat isn’t quite as varied, but the hammer, machete, or spear all play very differently. Throw in an upgrade system with 5 different levels for each weapon, and a choice of upgrade that you can switch at will at each level, and the load outs The Kid can venture out with all feel vastly different. I used a machete and rifle almost the whole game, but my entire experience could have been different with the spear and flamethrower. The combination of melee and ranged combat works well, although the targeting system can be wonky at points. You can cycle targets with the bumpers but it still takes too long to land on the enemy you need to hit sometimes, which can result in a few frustrating moments.
Bastion if big on customization not only in weapons, but in the setting. The Bastion itself is the hub world in which everybody was told to go if something bad happened. Well, the Calamity happened (world torn asunder, very Final Fantasy 6 vibe) so naturally the Kid makes way his there. Never mind the fact that the only other person alive at first seems to be the narrator, whose name is Rucks. The bastion becomes home to a few other npc’s, some human and some not, as well as one of my favorite parts of the game; the small city you build. As the Kid collects cores and shards to rebuild the world, they enable the Bastion add-on buildings. The arsenal lets you choose your weapons and skills. The forge houses all the upgrades. The memorial serves as a in-game achievement system, giving you challenges that reward the games currency. The shrine houses idols you’ve collected, which make enemies stronger when you invoke them. Doing so also grants an experience and money bonus, which means Bastion can be as easy or as challenging as you want. It’s a small thing to place structures in one of six predetermined locations and have them do what could have been an accomplished in menus, but I am a sucker for any kind of city building simulation in a game. Ruck’s narration of what each building did was also spot on.
Sound in Bastion, be that voice acting, noises the weapons and enemies make, and especially the music are all amazingly well done. The soundtrack still pops in to my head now even a week or so after I finished. There’s even a fully voiced honest to goodness song that isn’t terrible. Considering the XBLA origins of this game, the level of polish is really impressive. The music itself is hard to describe…..the phrase swampy noir comes to mind. Some of it is uplifting, some is mournful, all of it is good.
I highly recommend Bastion to anyone who is a fan of action RPG’s. The story, revolving around why the Calamity happened, who survived, and what the future could look like for those who did, is an excellent mystery. Ruck’s narration is actually sparse, making every time he does speak meaningful and valuable. Bastion’s world is one I actually wanted to learn more about, to the point where I was lamenting there wasn’t in-game codex system. Add in training courses for each weapon, a new game plus mode, and challenge rooms that throw waves of enemies at you and there’s a ton to enjoy here. A game that doesn’t shut up had the potential to be annoying. It’s a credit to Bastion that I wished everybody talked more.