Narrative and gameplay have what one might call a ‘complicated’ relationship.
They’ve consistently refused to be married; preferring brief, passionate flings where casual onlookers comment on what a good couple they make. But inevitably one will attempt to overshadow another, and the affair will sour. Often they’ll retreat to separate rooms; emerging only to glare bitterly as they pass each other.
It’s times when they bury the hatchet, and go out for an exciting night on the town, that we remember why narrative and gameplay make the best of teams.
Bastion contains perhaps the best combination of gameplay and story to date.
You play the nameless ‘Kid’ who awakens one morning to find the world has ended. The Calamity has struck the city of Caelondia and killed most of its’ inhabitants. The Kid must make his way to the eponymous Bastion which supposedly has the power circumvent the Calamity’s effects.
Players control the Kid as he travels to different parts of the ruined city to recover the cores and shards which power the Bastion. During each level the Kid must fight through various types of enemies using a myriad of guns, bows, hammers and swords.
Mechanically Bastion is a typical three-fourths view, top down, action-role playing game. Monsters are beaten for experience, health and mana are supplemented by power-ups and tonics, and weapons are upgraded to do more damage.
What sets Bastion apart from the rest of the rabble is the game’s narrator. From the moment the Kid wakes up, the narrator’s gruff tones accentuate the player’s every action. Falling somewhere between Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, the narrator brings the game world to life.
In any other game like this, you’d end up traveling to a level, and fighting a bunch of monsters until you get to the end. When you get to a level in Bastion, the narrator tells you exactly what that area of the city was once used for, the kind of people who lived there, and how its’ been changed by the Calamity.
It makes the world feel like people actually lived there, and somehow manages to forge a connection and a degree of empathy toward people you never actually meet.
It’s therefore impressive how real this world feels; considering how cartoonish Bastion is graphically. The small bodied, large headed Kid battles monsters that are barely worthy of the label. Most of the time you’re stuck fighting larvae like ‘squirts’ and ghost-men affectionately called ‘gas-fellas’ by the narrator.
These aren’t intimidating enemies; they lack sophisticated artificial intelligence. The game often resorts to throwing large hordes of enemies at you rather than ones which require rote memorization of a pattern in order to triumph.
But what you’ll remember about Bastion, more than the painted graphical style and deformed characters, is the excellent and memorable soundtrack. Each track has an acoustic-snyth feel to them, and will have you humming them in your head for days. The ending theme, “Setting Sail, Coming Home” is one of the only tracks that contains vocals, and its’ quality is on par with any major commercial song.
Bastion isn’t very long, with a little patience you can complete it from anywhere between a couple hours to an afternoon. Ultimately it’s a story about the lengths a person will go to in order to belong, and finding your place in a broken world. Bastion is the kind of game that sticks with you; its’ timelessness is what makes it memorable.