Bastion, with full-on Spoilers. Stay away if you haven't played.

Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

Again, stay away if you're even vaguely interested in playing, or haven't yet completed it. I'll also be talking about a lot of the permutations that one-time-through players may not realize, so bear that in mind too if you want to revisit it and try out other things.

A bit like Bastion itself, my knowledge of the game came in bits in pieces. Early on I was warned away from spoiling the game for myself by diving into the promotional materials, though I did skim a few thankfully tangential reviews when it finally came out. I never watched Building the Bastion, and I avoided the damned thing so well I'd forgotten about it, if I'd ever known it existed. The most I ever participated in the feed was Jeff Gerstmann's attempt to dethrone Brad in the "arena", with the narrator's voice down low and the subtitles off.

Now I've played through to the end, doubling back to finish the third of the back-story areas and seeing what happened if I reversed the damage instead of my initial choice, to move on and forge a new life. This new choice felt so melancholy to me that I decided to play the last part AGAIN to leave it where I wanted it, on the original ending I'd chosen.

A story told well does not have to be new, or even pretend it's trying to be new; all it has to do is honor the tradition of storytelling to become an explosion in the mind of the reader/viewer/player. "Less is more" is one of the keys to that, I believe, and Bastion does this very well, with its partial descriptions and hints that make the world feel bigger than the screen. There comes a point toward the end where I'd grown a bit tired of this, that I became a bit frustrated with what felt like red herrings flitting about, still, after things were so close to being done. I think part of the problem was that I'd heard that the narrator was unreliable-- it was something I'd already picked up on my own, but progressing further knowing this from someone who'd beat the game changed my perception of what was going on, having me wonder if there was still some other twist lurking beneath that would force me to re-assess what had come before. Didn't really work out that way, so there are a few things I'm still unclear on. I think I figured out the most, though, and despite my suspicions, it seems like most, if not all, of the characters aren't really related. I still wonder if Rucks and the Kid are connected somehow, and I wonder if the Kid was somehow connected to the Calamity itself, which is suggested by some cryptic mid-to-early game words from Rucks. Not sure, though. Maybe it'd be clearer if I play the game again.

I'd also learned that there were choices to be made, but not knowing where or what they were, I tried my best to make choices from the very beginning. I avoided scattering the ashes of as many of the dead as I could, to try to preserve them in case that would have some bearing on what happened later. During the last few areas the tone changed and I was asked to kill Ura soldiers... and I couldn't stomach it. Not sure if it was intentional but it worked well; and so I wound up avoiding as many of them as I could, especially at the end of the game when I got tons of use out of the roll, zipping past everyone to get the narrative, activate new regions, and recover the shard. Made me feel a bit better, though I did have to kill a few to stay alive.

One surprising effect that touched me was the death of two of the rescued animals when the Ura attacked. This was done very well, though I don't know if it's always fated to happen, and it's the only long-term consequence, at least that I noticed, that can happen as part of the action game itself. I was frankly expecting more of this, though it was rewarding that this was even a possibility.

Another moment, the exact moment when I'd been enraptured for a moment by the spell this game was weaving, was upon discovering Zia in the garden. John Walker from RPS had a similar reaction during that point which he mentioned in his review. It's easy to make a moment like that haunting if done right, but like I said, you don't have to pretend to be doing something new to do something right.

When the choices came, I saved Zulf, and got what I feel was the better of the two results on that axis. The game again asserted its narrative strength to me when the Ura let me live. And when I was asked to either rewind the world, or set that possibility aside and start anew, I felt the idea of possibly repeating things forever with no chance to change was a bit too horrifying to contemplate. Rucks had talked about the chance to do things right the next time, but I didn't feel it was strong enough a belief to base my character's future existence on. When a game has you digging into philosophy, I think it's succeeded on a level beyond visceral mechanics.

Those two choices combined may have doomed Zulf to a life of unhappiness, but it set Zia free, and meant that the world could continue in its own way.

That's what I've settled on, at least, but at the time I was rather annoyed that the game was asking me to make these decisions without knowing quite why I was making them, and what the consequences might be, though some might argue that the vagueness was part of the reason the restoration choice wasn't the obviously good idea. I wished a bit more of the running narrative's conclusions had been encapsulated somehow, so I didn't have to rely upon my memory and the interpretation of every word to hash out what I wanted to choose, though, especially since some of the narration was happening while I was desperately fighting to stay alive. Ultimately the two choices were satisfying when I put them in their respective contexts, and neither of them are wholly "right." Checking the other path, Zia was unhappy and Zulf was reunited with his fiancee, though who knows how long the couple would have? Would Zulf still lose her?

Playing a bit of New Game Plus helped me realize that there may be a bit of a renewal, an overlap, but given that you start with the Calamity all over again... yeah, I made the right choice the first time, I think :) Still, as John Teti said in what I think was the only review I read before I played, the endings are such that the player actually chooses what the whole game was really about. I couldn't have put it better.

The game mechanics themselves, now that I feel I've explored a good chunk of them, are fun, though I doubt I have the hyper-kinetic skill to be perfect at them. I gave up on the shield challenge, and didn't complete that bazooka challenge, but otherwise I'd at least beaten the 3 side-stories and all the other areas. I kept a few of the idols active, but found the game to be a bit too much for me with most or all of them switched on. Might be better if I start from the beginning with them on, just to ramp up the difficulty a bit better, but I predict there might be an ability ceiling waiting for me if I stubbornly try to play the whole game that way.

The difficulty system is quite elegant, like many of the features of this game, as is the weapon customization. There were times, though, when a new weapon was thrust into my hands, that I'd find my character a bit crippled, without a special move after its corresponding weapon was switched out. Not very fun to have to deal with that. And some of the side-story arenas were crazy frustrating at times, though since I've beaten all three it stings a bit less.

It's strange to be talking about an action RPG, and not mention the actual mechanics all that much. I'd say that this is a good thing, because they are the decent vehicle that the ideas ride on. I can't imagine this game coming together any other way, which is the definition of a classic.

But I don't think game producers need to rest on this idea, necessarily. I hope more and more people play this game and see its magic, but I also hope that it'll be an inspiration for us to take the next leap forward in how games tell stories. Bastion has its share of rough edges, but you barely notice them: This is a game that washes over you like rain.

Thanks to RagingLion

#1 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

Again, stay away if you're even vaguely interested in playing, or haven't yet completed it. I'll also be talking about a lot of the permutations that one-time-through players may not realize, so bear that in mind too if you want to revisit it and try out other things.

A bit like Bastion itself, my knowledge of the game came in bits in pieces. Early on I was warned away from spoiling the game for myself by diving into the promotional materials, though I did skim a few thankfully tangential reviews when it finally came out. I never watched Building the Bastion, and I avoided the damned thing so well I'd forgotten about it, if I'd ever known it existed. The most I ever participated in the feed was Jeff Gerstmann's attempt to dethrone Brad in the "arena", with the narrator's voice down low and the subtitles off.

Now I've played through to the end, doubling back to finish the third of the back-story areas and seeing what happened if I reversed the damage instead of my initial choice, to move on and forge a new life. This new choice felt so melancholy to me that I decided to play the last part AGAIN to leave it where I wanted it, on the original ending I'd chosen.

A story told well does not have to be new, or even pretend it's trying to be new; all it has to do is honor the tradition of storytelling to become an explosion in the mind of the reader/viewer/player. "Less is more" is one of the keys to that, I believe, and Bastion does this very well, with its partial descriptions and hints that make the world feel bigger than the screen. There comes a point toward the end where I'd grown a bit tired of this, that I became a bit frustrated with what felt like red herrings flitting about, still, after things were so close to being done. I think part of the problem was that I'd heard that the narrator was unreliable-- it was something I'd already picked up on my own, but progressing further knowing this from someone who'd beat the game changed my perception of what was going on, having me wonder if there was still some other twist lurking beneath that would force me to re-assess what had come before. Didn't really work out that way, so there are a few things I'm still unclear on. I think I figured out the most, though, and despite my suspicions, it seems like most, if not all, of the characters aren't really related. I still wonder if Rucks and the Kid are connected somehow, and I wonder if the Kid was somehow connected to the Calamity itself, which is suggested by some cryptic mid-to-early game words from Rucks. Not sure, though. Maybe it'd be clearer if I play the game again.

I'd also learned that there were choices to be made, but not knowing where or what they were, I tried my best to make choices from the very beginning. I avoided scattering the ashes of as many of the dead as I could, to try to preserve them in case that would have some bearing on what happened later. During the last few areas the tone changed and I was asked to kill Ura soldiers... and I couldn't stomach it. Not sure if it was intentional but it worked well; and so I wound up avoiding as many of them as I could, especially at the end of the game when I got tons of use out of the roll, zipping past everyone to get the narrative, activate new regions, and recover the shard. Made me feel a bit better, though I did have to kill a few to stay alive.

One surprising effect that touched me was the death of two of the rescued animals when the Ura attacked. This was done very well, though I don't know if it's always fated to happen, and it's the only long-term consequence, at least that I noticed, that can happen as part of the action game itself. I was frankly expecting more of this, though it was rewarding that this was even a possibility.

Another moment, the exact moment when I'd been enraptured for a moment by the spell this game was weaving, was upon discovering Zia in the garden. John Walker from RPS had a similar reaction during that point which he mentioned in his review. It's easy to make a moment like that haunting if done right, but like I said, you don't have to pretend to be doing something new to do something right.

When the choices came, I saved Zulf, and got what I feel was the better of the two results on that axis. The game again asserted its narrative strength to me when the Ura let me live. And when I was asked to either rewind the world, or set that possibility aside and start anew, I felt the idea of possibly repeating things forever with no chance to change was a bit too horrifying to contemplate. Rucks had talked about the chance to do things right the next time, but I didn't feel it was strong enough a belief to base my character's future existence on. When a game has you digging into philosophy, I think it's succeeded on a level beyond visceral mechanics.

Those two choices combined may have doomed Zulf to a life of unhappiness, but it set Zia free, and meant that the world could continue in its own way.

That's what I've settled on, at least, but at the time I was rather annoyed that the game was asking me to make these decisions without knowing quite why I was making them, and what the consequences might be, though some might argue that the vagueness was part of the reason the restoration choice wasn't the obviously good idea. I wished a bit more of the running narrative's conclusions had been encapsulated somehow, so I didn't have to rely upon my memory and the interpretation of every word to hash out what I wanted to choose, though, especially since some of the narration was happening while I was desperately fighting to stay alive. Ultimately the two choices were satisfying when I put them in their respective contexts, and neither of them are wholly "right." Checking the other path, Zia was unhappy and Zulf was reunited with his fiancee, though who knows how long the couple would have? Would Zulf still lose her?

Playing a bit of New Game Plus helped me realize that there may be a bit of a renewal, an overlap, but given that you start with the Calamity all over again... yeah, I made the right choice the first time, I think :) Still, as John Teti said in what I think was the only review I read before I played, the endings are such that the player actually chooses what the whole game was really about. I couldn't have put it better.

The game mechanics themselves, now that I feel I've explored a good chunk of them, are fun, though I doubt I have the hyper-kinetic skill to be perfect at them. I gave up on the shield challenge, and didn't complete that bazooka challenge, but otherwise I'd at least beaten the 3 side-stories and all the other areas. I kept a few of the idols active, but found the game to be a bit too much for me with most or all of them switched on. Might be better if I start from the beginning with them on, just to ramp up the difficulty a bit better, but I predict there might be an ability ceiling waiting for me if I stubbornly try to play the whole game that way.

The difficulty system is quite elegant, like many of the features of this game, as is the weapon customization. There were times, though, when a new weapon was thrust into my hands, that I'd find my character a bit crippled, without a special move after its corresponding weapon was switched out. Not very fun to have to deal with that. And some of the side-story arenas were crazy frustrating at times, though since I've beaten all three it stings a bit less.

It's strange to be talking about an action RPG, and not mention the actual mechanics all that much. I'd say that this is a good thing, because they are the decent vehicle that the ideas ride on. I can't imagine this game coming together any other way, which is the definition of a classic.

But I don't think game producers need to rest on this idea, necessarily. I hope more and more people play this game and see its magic, but I also hope that it'll be an inspiration for us to take the next leap forward in how games tell stories. Bastion has its share of rough edges, but you barely notice them: This is a game that washes over you like rain.

Thanks to RagingLion

#2 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

@ahoodedfigure said:

One surprising effect that touched me was the death of two of the rescued animals when the Ura attacked. This was done very well, though I don't know if it's always fated to happen, and it's the only long-term consequence, at least that I noticed, that can happen as part of the action game itself. I was frankly expecting more of this, though it was rewarding that this was even a possibility.

It's possible to save them all but it seems to come down to luck mostly. The animals were such throwaway additions to the Bastion it's surprising how much of a bummer it feels like if you lose any.

#3 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@Ravenlight: I think the reason it works is because you get a bit of time to get used to them, and you, or at least I, didn't expect to have my little home invaded. So Bastion sort of felt safe, then seeing these little guys fight for their home, our home, and die for it, never to come back, and have their absence right there in front of you when you come back is all they needed to do to make the point strong. And, I think the fact that it CAN come down to skill, and that you could lose all or none, is a welcome change from everything being about menu choices.

I get the feeling that the animals might have been intended for more than they wound up being, but I'm not sure about that. I'd like to see more games try a bit of this... so many resurrects in so-called dark games, so many plot deaths rather than heat-of-battle deaths, that it sort of cheapens life in a weird way. This made even those little creatures matter to me.

#4 Posted by RagingLion (1365 posts) -

Ahh, I got a thanks ... I wasn't expecting that.

@ahoodedfigure: I completely agree with all of your points about the animals. It touched me too it that same slight way. The idea of messing around with what the player becomes familiar with like Bastion did by the Ura messing up the Bastion should be used in more games, though there are definitely a number that have used it in part now. It's one of the most effective ways for my money of making the world feel alive and getting an emotional response from the player.

Carrying Zulf was one of those special gaming moments for me. The atmosphere and music of the game, the desperation in first thinking I was going to die while carrying out this noble act and then the sombre and so very slow making my way to the exit ... really beautiful.

I thought about particularly the second choice for many minutes, just sat at that screen mulling it over. I partially felt I should continue my refusal of Rucks' plan and world view but in the end the cost of so much life that there had been in the genocide meant that I felt it was worth believing in the slim chance that it could all be changed when doing it again, despite knowing the prospect of a repeating history was almost implied as being a likely outcome.

Going through the last level or so knowing what had happened to the Ura and hearing the narration from Rucks diverging from my actual actions and thoughts for the first time created a really strong effect also.

Did you pick up on the fact that you're basically Zia, as in that's who Rucks is addressing with his story? And that the whole story is being told by Rucks to Zia while the Kid is away during the last battle against the Ura (I think that interpretation is correct). I somehow glossed over the significance of the line that revealed that in my first playthrough but that was quite the revelation and it makes the game an interesting exploration in terms of what perspective you're playing the game from. Are you witnessing history or making it by the act of playing, given it all taking place in the structure of a story.

#5 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@RagingLion: Would have been cool if the second choice would have allowed for a different NewGamePlus mode where you have access to things out of order or something. I don't know how that could have been elegantly done, though.

The more I think about it, the more the restoration seems to be the standard choice, which leads to the narrator's new lines that open happen during the Plus mode of the game. I wonder how far into the replay that goes. A lot of player investment in replays, without reading up on spoilers, is complete faith. I'm glad they added things to the game on replay, but I wonder how much, and would it be enough.

Oh, hey... that's a good interpretation. He even says "no, ma'am" at one point, which I thought was just a stylistic choice but fits perfectly into what you're saying. I wonder if that was added later on when things all made more sense. Sometimes decisions are just made because they're cool ideas, then they're woven together. We all have a weird relationship with any narrator or tutorial in a game. There's a period of orientation usually, but to have a constant narrator there is a bit of a battle going on. Or maybe my playstyle is naturally contentious! :)

That perspective does make sense, though, on the level that Rucks is telling the story of the Kid and in a sense, by acting, the player writes the Kid's story. Sort of like that cool meta-storytelling mechanic that PoP: Sands of Time had.

#6 Posted by oneidwille (149 posts) -

I kept mostly out of "the loop" in the reporting on this game. I tried to go in with a clear mind and just experience it without any hang ups. I just recently completed this game, once through then New Game Plus. I think I am alone in this feeling, not having what some seem to describe a "religious" experience. I'm being facetious, but in seriousness...it only felt like I played a well crafted, isometric hack and slash game. I guess it was above average, but I feel like I missed something. The narration was great. I wish all games that narrated did it in that fashion. But I still feel like I only played an above average game. I don't know, maybe I didn't understand it. Maybe the mechanics were what was so good. I just don't know...

#7 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@oneidwille: Ultimately, a lot of what will shine on repeat playthroughs is exactly what you're talking about. If you like this sort of game, it works well and is fun to play. There's a segment of us who have been hoping, though, for a game that knows how to treat narratives in video games for so long that it's bound to come across as hyperbole to people who aren't so fixated on this question.

As one of those fixated types, I was happy when the game paced its narrative to the gameplay, and that it confidently held back on telling us everything, just telling us enough to help push us forward. It was so rare that it felt like a gift. The high quality music helped too... all this from a small team.

It's common with just about anything to be affected by first impressions; it's one of the reasons I tend to stay away from previews. For many it may not affect enjoyment directly, but when you're exposed to someone throwing a blanket of praise on a game, or hate, we tend to push against that when we experience it for ourselves.

I'm interested to see what impressions of this game will be further down the road, when most of the reviews are forgotten. Games really only become classics, I think, when new players recognize why a game is still remembered, even if the reasons aren't the same as those who initially played. Secretly I hope that a lot of their ideas will be taken up by new designers, such that we'd fail to understand why people liked it so much. Recognizing a that a game was good enough to be copied in small bits by the next generation is a high compliment.

That you didn't get the same experience that others seemed to isn't a bad thing; as long as you liked the game on some level you weren't wasting your time playing it.

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