Monday, October 03, 2011

Bastion Review

Bastion is an amazing game.

On the surface, it's an isometric action-RPG that's about 6 hours long. It's available on Steam or Xbox Live for $15 or so. You play The Kid, who's exploring the world after a Calamity struck and destroyed the existing civilization.

And yet, that description comes barely scratches the surface of Bastion. I saw another reviewer describe Bastion as three games in one: the game you see; the game you hear; and the game in your mind. This description is so apt that I am going to steal it.

The game you see is the basic action RPG. You can equip two weapons from an arsenal of about ten. Each weapon is different and can be upgraded in a different manner. You go around levels and fight various bad guys, find new weapons and secrets, gaining experience and "treasure" you can use to buy new items or upgrade old ones. That's the basic game-play.

The game you hear is the element which immediately separates Bastion from other games. The main conceit or innovation is the omni-present narrator. This gravelly-voiced narrator tells the story of the game as you play through it, reacting to what's happening on screen. It feels a bit like an old Western or noir-style film. The narration is superbly written, and adds an amazing amount of depth and pathos to the game.

In addition to the narration, the music is very well done, and adds a great deal to the experience. One interesting thing about the game is that even though we're praising the sound, there's almost no dialogue. It's entirely narration and music that creates the game we hear.

The game in your mind is the way all these elements come together to serve the story of Bastion. And Bastion's story is outstanding. It's very sparse, with a bare handful of significant characters. But the resulting story is beautiful.

The final hour, in particular, is a tour-de-force. The choice at the end is so much better than the standard good-evil choices in most games. Both choices are arguably right, and yet they are opposites. The game ends extremely well.

Bastion is not perfect, though it comes very close. In particular, I would like to single out one sequence for disapproval. For most of the game, the space bar causes you to do a rolling dodge. But late in the game, that's changed to a jump, and a platform jumping-puzzle sequence happens. It's completely out of place, is pretty much the only time you have to jump, and is extremely annoying. But at least Bastion is very forgiving when you fall off, so it's not like a true blocker.

But, aside from that jumping sequence, Bastion is superb. The basic game-play, the narration and music, and the story all combine for one of the best gaming experiences of the last few years.


  1. I sadly could not handle the constant voice-over narration. The game itself is pretty good (and cheap) but I did not enjoy that feature at all. T

    oo bad for me, because it's a great piece of software.

  2. Every review of Bastion is a love letter to the game. I guess I should try it, it seems to bring such joy to everyone who seems to play it.

    Well except for maybe Loque...

  3. It is indeed innovative, because it brings a new "dimension" to the game mechanics. The vocal narration can keep you tied to the story... or just make you hate the narrator.

    I usually enjoy background musics and hate long chit-chats. In this specific case... the vocal part is THE game.

  4. Yeah, what Loque said, though not as extreme.

    I wasn't a big fan of the voice artist. Which is a shame, because when I first heard about that feature, I loved the idea. I loved the voice-over narrations in the second-generation Prince of Persia games, and the DM voice-over in DDO. But Bastion's narrator sounded too gruffy for my taste. Gruffy isn't necessarily bad, but the constant talking was a bit much, and it totally clashed with the cheerful graphics for me.

    It was something I couldn't fit together, it almost sounded like a badly dubbed anime to me. ;)

  5. Now that I think about it, I want to add another point. The narration felt very procedural, and it was a nearly constant talking. "The the kid does this... then he does that". You probably need some sort of procedural-ness if you want to be flexible, but it felt very obvious to me.

    It took me maybe 5 minutes to realize that a couple of text blocks had a tendency to repeat again and again, and it actually did not feel lively, but rather the opposite. Like listening to a machine talk.

  6. How far in did you get, flosch? It did that at the very beginning, probably to get the point across.

    But as the game went on it, the narration got a lot more general, and less focused on the Kid's specific actions.

  7. I played the demo. So probably not very far. Maybe you're right and it gets better later on.

    But I assumed if they have a demo, it will be representative of the remaining game, so I decided not to buy it after I had played through it.