Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here. Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium. But try as I might, I can’t really do that today. Not with this piece. I absolutely love Bastion. And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal. It connects with me in a particular way. A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with. But maybe some of you reading this would! So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today. But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.
The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash. In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks. Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.
One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character. This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration. Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly. As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on. Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything. All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work. The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.
It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with. The setting is a very interesting and unique one. It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European. The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world. They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them. The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master. Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres. The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull. One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here. That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.
The story’s really solid as well. It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution. You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well. In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well. It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing. Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out. It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions. It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully. It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart. As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.
Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar. This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade. The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel. They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece. The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well. So yes. Music. Marvellous. Dig it.
And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot. You’re probably wondering about the gameplay. And you know, it’s good. Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid. Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character. The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks. There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations. You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile. It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality. You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well. If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well. Navigation is a bit of another story, however. Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going. Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind. You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses. It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.
The visuals of the piece are kind of ok. They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences. I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here. Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing. It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.
But yeah. Less of a review. More of me raving about a thing I really like. But I REALLY like it. And now you know. So there.