A Bastion All Your Own
In the world of cinema, there are certain films which transcend both genre and era. They are highly regarded amongst many who appreciate the medium, the works that define our culture through expertly crafted storytelling. If Bastion were a film, I would safely mark it down as such.
Don't get me wrong, I had my fair share of doubts going in to Bastion; and for the first half hour I played, I feared the game would grow into a steady fest of smash this, listen to narrator, move forward. Luckily, upon reaching the “Bastion” for which the game was named after, all fears were allayed. The Bastion, which acts as a hub world from which you return to after quests, is lovingly crafted and truly shines as the focal point of the story. Here you can do typical things per the genre, such as upgrading your equipment, changing your loadout or the spirits you take with you (a set of perks to choose from).
But it isn't just combat or the RPG fare, in which Bastion stands out. The game is rich with a very detailed presentation. Not only are you introduced to a living, breathing world to explore, but the world is growing around you. As you set foot, the narrator voices your actions aloud, as if thinking your characters thoughts, and the level begins to form up right beneath your feet. This not only serves to constantly stimulate you to push forward in the level and appreciate each beautiful set piece that greets you around the corner, but also seems to allow the designers to focus more detail in smaller areas, without creating a world of clutter. Of course almost all of the walls, boxes and wagons that litter the landscape can be smashed if you fancy, allowing you to roll off the side of the level at the cost of some damage and hurt pride (Legend of Zelda style)
Another unique feature of Bastion's presentation is the narrator's commentation throughout the game. Logan Cunningham's character rich voice accompanies you through your romp in Bastion and does an excellent job at detailing every area you visit both sensory and historically. As standard for the isometric hack n' slash, your character (interestingly known as “The Kid”) is completely silent thus the narrator fills in the gaps of communication between what The Kid is learning and you should know as a player. This style of narration will be familiar to those who have played a session of Dungeons and Dragons under a Dungeon Master who when describing a scene around you, must do so as rich and flavorful as possible. Cunningham can not be praised enough for his work in the role, which also serving as a character in the game, who is damn near the only voice you hear all game. His smooth twang fits the setting to the "T" and serves as a constant reminder of the world you live in. In fact, the narrator always seems to have a word to say about your weapon selection or the predicament you're currently in, and because of his superb work, the voice never drones on, but rather compliments the scene.
Luckily, not only does the narrator's voice lock in to the setting, but his lines hit just as hard and deep. The writing in this game is absolutely phenomenal, truly showing this work as a labor of love. The history reveals all the rich life to a world that is, ironically, dying around you. The narrator's character has that gritty tonality of an old soldier, which really fits the overall story Bastion seems to convey about the tragedies of war. Although it's quite possible to burn past all the story being subtly introduced to you while you're hacking and chewing your way through waves of enemies, for those who are interested there is plenty to listen and understand about not only the world's history, but the history of each of the few characters involved in pushing the story forward.
Although the game starts off simple enough, the story gets deep (very deep). It's quite spectacular that in comparison to a full 60 hour game, you will probably only spend around 1/6th of that time playing through Bastion, yet you feel an instant attachment to the characters and world you've invested so much hard work into. The writing is so superb that when it comes time for you to make very important world-altering decisions, you will care about what's going to happen to the the town you've lovingly crafted. At times you are trying to decipher what really happened to the world around you to leave it in such devastation and at other times the story seems to take on a very 'sins of the fathers' bent, which is oddly appropriate for a character named “The Kid”. This will mostly be given to you in spoonfuls of course, as you're killing baddies, so if you're particular about not missing out on what's being said, turn those subtitles on.
The combat plays out wonderfully, each weapon feeling like a true addition rather than a variation of something previously used, though you can only choose two to take with you at a time outside the safety of Bastion's walls. There are ten weapons in all, which can each upgrade five times, but as it requires a special ingredient per weapon per upgrade and many fragments (the collected currency of Bastion) you'll probably not find yourself upgrading every weapon through on one playthrough. The art for the creatures is just as stunning as the visuals in the rest of the game, reflecting each baddie's unique combat style which you must adapt to fight. Alongside all the beautiful scenery, is an amazing soundtrack which can range from an upbeat jam to a hauntingly eerie acoustic guitar. There were times during my playthrough that I simply stopped, grabbed a guitar and began to play along.
There are a few complaints to be had with Bastion, though I do place the weight of the blame on the system through which I had to play the game rather than the actual game itself. The load times are a bitch, some nearing 45 seconds, though this is after a full days play, which may have affected it. I can only imagine that these load times are a result of some of the amazing art assets in the game, and that they would be dramatically reduced in a PC version. The other complaint is that some of the games later ranged weapons don't seem to agree with the analog stick (trying to line up long range shots). The game has a lock on feature, through which you are able to pick and choose targets, however, it only extends so far and faster moving creatures can quickly evade your attacks at the longest of it's stretches. This was only readily apparent during some of the games “weapon challenges” in which you must meet certain criteria with specific weapons to unlock goodies.
If my glowing review hasn't been enough to convince you to buy this game, BUY IT. I have rarely been so pleased even with full price games, and for the 8-10 hours of quality gaming and storytelling this offers, 1200 MSP is measly by comparison. The voice work, the superb story and writing, the art style which speaks for itself and one of the most beautiful soundtracks I've heard all figure in to why I give this game a perfect 5 out of 5 stars. My only hope is that other developers, both mainstream and indie can learn a few things about story crafting and apply it to their work. This is a game we should be talking about years from now, recommending it to those who wish to play the best of what our medium truly has offered.