Even if its graphics and narration will be the strongest memories players will have regarding the game, these two elements are likely to work as hooks that will bring to the surface delightful recollections of adventure and combats
Through players’ long and winding journey in the gaming world, they get to experience more titles than it is possible to count, and due to a biological quirk in the way human brains have been engineered, the memories they have regarding those experiences will most likely fade away with time. Consequently, in the long run, gamers are left with having to hold onto one or two details of the adventures that truly left a mark on them, and those recollections are likely to trigger memories related to how wonderful that particular quest was. In the end, the games that stick in one’s mind as the most unforgettable ones are titles that are able to stamp powerful memories onto players’ brains, therefore causing a sweeping sense of awe to emerge when those mementos are brought forth. Every remarkable piece of software has a signature trait: the spherical worlds of Super Mario Galaxy; the mesmerizing 3-D dungeons of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; the discovery of how the main weapon of Portal works; among others. Bastion, as it turns out, is one of those games that is bound to be remembered very dearly by most who give it a shot, not because of its flooring visuals, not because of its great gameplay, but because of how the developers chose to tell their story.
“Now here is a kid whose world got all twisted, leaving him stranded on a rock in the sky”, players will hear from a deep rough distant voice as they glimpse Bastion’s world for the first time. At this point, it is likely most people will sit back and ready themselves for some narrated storytelling, but after a few seconds of silence, gamers will grow impatient and try to move the protagonist. To their surprise, the boy will get up, and the low-pitched voice will return, narrating his every action in great detail. To further the shock, as the character walks out of the rock where he stands, which seems to be isolated from everything else in the universe, the world will start building itself as he goes, in a fantastic real-time arranging of blocks and objects that will form beautiful scenarios on the fly. And as the hero moves down the hallway, the narrator will keep talking; describing not only the kid’s actions, but his thoughts, his past, his present and what is going on in the world around him.
Bastion could be one of those immersive lonely games that puts a sole warrior against all perils of the world, but instead, it chooses to be an adventure whose main character will always be accompanied by an omnipresent voice. Most titles will add breaks to their gameplay in order to explain the story to players, but in Bastion the plot is laid out at the same time as the quest moves forward. The kid will be battling hordes of enemies while gamers listen to important revelations, learn details about the location where the hero is, and even get a glimpse into the protagonist’s thoughts; a fact that turns the experience into a rare instance when a game fully dives into a storytelling style that recalls that of a third-person fable. The narrator is an integral part of Bastion, and he adds layers and layers of dense atmosphere to an already impressive game, as not only will he make sure to point out how mighty the kid is as a warrior, but he will also foretell tense gameplay moments by dropping quotes such as “He then notices he is being watched” or “Little did he know what was waiting for him ahead”. It is a feature that, therefore, goes beyond its storytelling purpose, and leaks into the gameplay itself.
Directing praise solely towards Bastion’s most amazing feature would be quite unfair to the game, though. As players will come to learn, the kid’s world has been destroyed by an event called the Calamity. And as an agreement between the population, in the case of an emergency, all people were expected to run in the direction of the titular bastion. The kid, therefore, heads there. However, upon arriving in the vicinity, the hero only finds an old man, who goes on to tell him the now broken structure must be rebuilt, and that to do so the protagonist must travel to different locations around the world – which have been ripped out of the earth and tossed into the sky, now standing as floating islands – in order to acquire mighty cores whose power will put the bastion back together and unlock its mysterious world-saving power. As one would expect, initially, the story leaves a lot of questions unanswered; and as time goes by and the journey progresses, the narration will make sure to enlighten gamers on what exactly happened that brought forth so much doom upon the world.
With the excuse for adventure set up, players will find, in Bastion, a nice blend of RPG elements with a hack and slash gameplay that is presented in an isometric view. The game has a considerably large arsenal that grows as the kid reaches new locations, and all weapons are either melee tools or long-range guns. Since the title allows players to choose two weapons and a special skill, which can be switched at specific spots, before going out into the wild, it is possible to always set out with a balanced character, something that is absolutely vital since the game’s enemies are challenging and have different sorts of attacks that are best handled with one specific kind of weapon. Character customization, however, is not limited those three assets. As the kid’s level rises, new spots open up in his inventory, and these can be filled with magic tonics that will give the hero certain abilities, such as increasing his critical hit ratio, giving him a few extra chances to continue the game after dying, avoiding strikes that would have killed him, and so on. Additionally, earning money and finding unique materials will allow the kid to use the bastion’s forge to upgrade the many weapons he carries around with him. Consequently, the game puts many bigger and more ambitious RPGs to shame when it comes to inventory options.
For a game that flirts with the simplicity of the hack and slash genre, this amount of possibilities is unexpected and very welcome. It is not, however, the only area where the work shines. Graphically, for instance, it is hard to find a title as gorgeous and artistic as Bastion. Its levels are absolutely mesmerizing in their visuals; everything seems to have been hand-painted by a very talented artist. As a consequence, watching the world of Bastion move is like witnessing delicate tridimensional character models wandering around and waging battles on a flat painting, and this contrast between 3-D and 2-D is a sight to behold both during the quiet moments and when players are busy slashing hordes of dangerous enemies coming from every side and launching different attacks. And alongside the title’s strong audio, which carries an epic tone not just in its narration but also in a set of songs that perfectly captures the grandeur of a colorful world of medieval fantasy, they create an adventure that is technically impressive.
Despite offering a more strategic variation of the hack and slash gameplay, Bastion could still have easily fallen victim to the main issue that frequently afflicts examples of the genre: the lack of variety in level design. That risk is especially vivid due to how progression through the game’s stages is highly linear, and as a consequence of that lack of exploration, the core of Bastion’s experience turns into an endless alternation between walking and battling. Thankfully, though, developers were smart enough to add a few unique characteristics to each segment; and these go a long way towards making all portions of the quest stand out individually. As such, it may be quite obvious the kid’s central activity in all of them is pretty much the same; that is, beating down enemies and avoiding death at all costs. Yet, the varying formats in which that simple gameplay is presented keep the journey fresh all the way to its conclusion, as the game succeeds in surprising even if it operates inside a scope that is clearly limited.
As a game that came to be during the early days of the indie digital-only wave, Bastion’s length is still quite respectful, clocking in at about six hours for those who rush through the adventure. On top of that, though, the title does quite well in inviting players for another round of enemy-obliteration. Bastion features various endings; collectible objects that add depth to the story when acquired; and situations where the narration will change according to the kid’s actions. Moreover, and as a feature that is made available perhaps a bit too late, it also allows players to toy with its challenge by going into the bastion’s sanctuary and activating a myriad of options that have multiple difficulty-rising effects, such as making enemies attack faster, stopping them from dropping tonics, and others. Finally, as a pleasant appendix, the game carries specific challenges for each weapon that has been acquired, and these demand that players kill all enemies within an arena in a certain amount of time, testing the skills of experienced gamers in exchange for nice prizes. With all of that, it is easy to see that Bastion could become a fifteen-hour game in the hands of its most dedicated fans.
Ultimately, though, the features that make Bastion remarkable are intimately connected to its presentation, be it in the unique manner it chooses to broadcast its plot or in its visual and musical splendor. And those are, in the end, the traits that are bound to deeply mark those who play it. Still, below that shiny surface, lies a quest supported by very strong mechanics. In injecting the options and customization usually available in role-playing quests into a combat system and progression style commonly found in hack and slash titles, Bastion strikes an engaging balance between action and strategy. And although its core does carry a high degree of simplicity, it succeeds in dodging the traps of repetition thanks to how it is always building levels around different scenarios that slightly affect gameplay. For those reasons, even if its graphics and narration will be the strongest memories players will have regarding the game, these two elements are likely to work as hooks that will bring to the surface delightful recollections of adventure and combats.