Monday, August 22, 2011


Oops. We forgot to post for a while. This doesn't bode well for when classes actually start up again... Oh well. We'll figure things out. Anyway. The topic for today is Bastion, an indie game that recently came out on XBLA and Steam.

The long version:
In Bastion, you play as 'the Kid' (Yahtzee suggests that the Kid is actually named Sebastian, so I'm going to use that), who wakes up one morning to find that the world has been destroyed by an event called the Calamity. You must collect cores from what remains of the world and use them to rebuild the titular Bastion, a sanctuary of sorts where survivors were supposed to gather. Along the way you'll encounter other survivors, collect a variety of weapons and abilities, and learn more about the world as it used to be and the few people that survived the Calamity. Although Sebastian is silent and interaction with other characters in the game consists entirely of showing them objects you find in the world, the story is very strong, though I haven't yet finished it (hence the INCOMPLETE title tag).

I usually don't put much weight on the presentation of games, it just doesn't affect my opinions much one way or the other. Uncharted has amazing graphics and great music, but I like it because of its gameplay, the presentation is mostly just a nice bonus. Frozen Synapse has rather subpar graphics and I can't even remember what the music is like, but I still think it's an amazing evolution of the turn-based strategy genre. However, in the case of Bastion, the presentation is what makes the game truly amazing. The game has gorgeous and very distinctive art, and for something that just went through an apocalypse, the world is remarkably lively. It's amazing to see the world literally form beneath your feet as you wander through a dungeon, though it does unfortunately get a little easy to fall into the abyss when trying to find more hidden paths.
More than the graphics though, Bastion is the first game where I remember being so greatly affected by the sound. One of the characters in the game, 'the Stranger', narrates the game as you play, explaining what Sebastian needs to do, who the characters are, how the world used to be, and what happened to it. It becomes a little heavy handed at times, but the narrator's voice is perfectly done (and incredibly sexy), and adds emotion to the game in a way that text or cutscene based expositions would be hard pressed to match. I would describe the music style as somewhat befitting an old western setting and it is phenomenal, perfectly matching the mood of whatever scenario you happen to be in at the moment. Steam is also selling the game's soundtrack, and within hours of starting the game I had gone back to Steam and bought it, and I have absolutely no regrets.

Gameplay-wise, Bastion is an isometric view action RPG. As you traverse the lands, you'll find a large variety of weapons, ranging from hammers to bows to shotguns to spears, to use fighting off hordes of monsters. It's possible to just button mash through most fights, but the combat system has a surprising amount of depth if you choose to try to master the optimal timing for using each weapon and learn the timing for enemy attacks. I haven't tried it, but it's probably possible to go through the entire game using only the shield, which requires precise timing to counter enemy attacks.
Each weapon can be upgraded using specific items found in levels and shards earned from killing enemies and smashing things, and there are multiple tiers of upgrades, with each tier offering a choice between two different bonuses (you can switch between the options at any point). You can also find special abilities to use in conjunction with certain weapons, and each weapon has a corresponding training area where you can earn upgrade items and an ability for the weapon. Sebastian also earns XP from killing enemies, which allow him to gain levels and increase his max health. Also, as he gains levels he becomes able to bring more spirits (as in alcoholic drinks) with him into the field, which provide very helpful buffs such as increasing max health, critical hit rate, health tonic capacity, and so on. The cores you collect from levels unlock important buildings in the Bastion, such as the arsenal (change your weapon loadout), the forge (upgrade weapons), and distillery (manage your spirits).

Another building you can unlock is the shrine, where you can worship idols to make the game harder in return for greater XP and shard gains. It is a little easy to forget that you set idols for training/grinding before entering a new level, in which case the easiest solution is unfortunately to just die and start over, but this is a minor gripe. All in all, this makes for nearly endless replayability, between the various weapon/skill and idol combinations. However, up to where I am in the game, it doesn't seem that most levels are easily replayable, since they become locked after completion. This makes sense in some cases, since sometimes taking the core causes a level to start crumbling away at your feet, but it's particularly irksome for the weapon training grounds, where it'd be fun to try and improve my skills even after earning the best prize.
Short and simple:
Bastion is a fun game. Every weapon is fun to use, and between the weapon/skill combos, upgrade options, spirits, and idols, there's no end to the gameplay possibilities. But what makes Bastion truly amazing has to be the music and narration.
Pros: Fun action RPG gameplay, endless replayability. Incredible soundtrack and narration really adds to the experience
Cons: Not many. Bastion isn't perfect by any means, but it doesn't have any major flaws either.

My 'Score': 11 (number of weapons in Bastion)

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