originally posted on Literature After Hours
Recently I came upon a rather impressive surprise in the form of a video game named Bastion. It’s a game I probably would never have discovered on my own: I became aware of it with the Humble Indie Bundle, a special offer name-your-own-price bundle of independently developed video games that is offered every now and then and is absolutely worth keeping an eye on. I myself knew nothing about Bastion, but I had heard from a handful of blogs that it had a killer soundtrack and deserved paying attention to. So when I bought the Humble Bundle, I decided to start with that game.
It of course had a lot of what I expected from the hype. It had fantastic music, striking art, and a great deal of fun gameplay. But in spite of it all, not everything I had come to expect would prove good. I had assumed that it would be one of those games that was just too cool for its own good, too wrapped up in being impressive to actually deliver on anything substantial.
It’s an easy assumption to make, because if one thing drives this game, it clearly is the concept of cool. A soundtrack made from a damn good blend of blues, folk, electronic, post rock, country, sitar and atmospheric accompaniment. A sole narrator describing your every movement with a voice like a blend of Keith David, Morgan Freeman and Barry White all sitting around a campfire, passing around a fifth of bourbon and trading tales of the Wild West. A setting filled with an unexplained blend of fantasy, science fiction and steampunk elements. Weapons like an automatic crossbow made out of a small reptile skeleton, a machete that can be thrown and split into three blades, and a bellows that spits flames. A setting consisting of ground that flies up to meet your feet rather than staying in place. It’s easy to think that with this sort of disregard for logic in the face of greater awesomeness that things like story and character would take a back seat for smashing up “Gasfellas” and “Anklegators” with a hammer the size of the protagonist. Which is why it came as a great surprise to me when the ending had me almost in tears.
The whole game has a shocking subtlety to it, and it develops the characters actually fairly well that they become worth saving, the efforts you put into building the eponymous Bastion seem hugely important, and your actions all feel like they have consequences. For example, throughout most of the game, you’re beating up outlandish creatures and plants that have it in for you and disappear as soon as they’re defeated, like enemies do in most games. But then, as you start to realize that the creatures have similar goals to you, the game hits you with a curve ball. Without spoiling too much, the game eventually puts you against other humans. And unlike the Windbags and Peckers and Pincushions that you battle most of the game, the humans don’t disappear when they’re killed. It’s subtle. It’s never mentioned. It’s possible to miss it completely. But when you deliver a final blow on someone who’s attacking you, and instead of flashing red and vanishing, they just fall to the ground dead, the gravity of what you’ve done hits you like a meteor hammer. But you don’t get to stay and contemplate it right away, because the next attacker is coming for you.
This game could have so easily been an excuse to destroy exotic enemies and customize ridiculous weapons like in Borderlands or the early stages of some Final Fantasy games. But somehow, Bastion makes an enormous impression. A phenomenal soundtrack, incredible voice acting, a unique visual style, and challenging and enjoyable gameplay all make this a game worth playing. But its careful use of storytelling and consequence of action make this a game worth talking about. And that, more than anything else, is what we need right now.