I had always been reluctant to buying independent games. Even with most of them being at affordable prices on the various digital stores. It was difficult for me to choose an ‘indie’ game over an older triple A game on sale for a similar price.
My perception changed a bit with the advent of the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo’s e Shop offers an absurd amount of ‘indie’ games at even more absurdly cheap prices. Bastion, the subject game of this review wasn’t one of those cheaply priced games. At $14.99 (though I believe I bought it on sale at 9.99), Bastion had to compete against Okami HD for my money.
For some strange reason, though I love Zelda, and Okami seems to be a game designed in that line of gameplay, I just can’t find the game an enticing buy at this point. Thus I invested my money on Bastion, an independent game developed by Supergiant Games.
Supergiant Games released Bastion as their first studio effort in 2011. At the time, the independent studio was a start up company, and their first title garnered immense critical (and commercial) acclaim. I remember the game being featured in the reviews section of Game Informer magazine. Not an easy feat for an independent game but Bastion’s combination of artwork, music, gameplay, and story earned it a solid reputation along with a number of game awards.
More is Less, and Less is More
The mistake I feel that some indie game developers make, especially on the RPG front, is that they try to make a Final Fantasy copy in two dimensions. The indie games that I have played are usually very inferior to the SNES FF games of yesteryear, which is a bad thing. I feel that even though Bastion is categorized as an ‘Action-RPG’ as you do gain experience with every monster kill, and the game camera is fixed on an isometric view; it is quite a unique experience. It is no Zelda, or Diablo clone. Bastion is its own thing.
Relatively short in length, 6-7 hours, but with an addictive New Game Plus mode (and two endings), Bastion doesn’t overstay its welcome. I was actually left wanting more as soon as the credits rolled. Supergiant games didn’t add unnecessary filler, and repetitive areas in order to squeeze more play time out of players.
Every level is distinctive, featuring new weapons, and challenges. There is always something new to see, and do. In fact a wonderful jumping ability was added to the main character’s repertoire of moves in the last stage of the game. It turned the game into a surprisingly fun, and precise platformer for a section of the stage. Isometric view platforming can be difficult (see Alundra) but somehow Supergiant Games got the controls for this mechanic just right.
What boggles the mind is that I was expecting a longer section of platforming after gaining this skill, and yet none came. In other words, before platform jumping got tedious or even repetitive Supergiant Games took the platforming session away. I only had a chance to enjoy the awesome parts of the skill, the same happens with weapons, you are always given a new one. I really liked my hammer though, so I made efforts to keep it equipped for the most part as my primary weapon. Because you can only equip two weapons at a time, you are always encouraged to test new weapons in nearly every stage. It might sound tedious, but it is a blast in practice and nearly necessary as the weapon that you get in a stage is usually very helpful in said level.
Weapons can be upgraded in exchange for currency, and key items at the forge located in the Bastion . The Bastion is the home stage, or hub world from where you can travel to new stages and testing zones. It is in the Bastion where you shop and switch skills.
Bastion as a game doesn’t reinvent the wheel as far as action RPGs go, instead the game streamlines the wheel and makes everything more accessible. What I am about to say is high praise, but Bastion in many ways reminds me of the Zelda series in the way that it takes elements present in other games, and makes them more intuitive. A simple thing such as blocking with a shield and countering feels natural here. Creative new weapons such as a mortar gun, and bazooka are easy to use within seconds.
I suggest for anyone trying the game for the first time, to just go ahead with the normal mode. I don’t think you will experience the true brilliance of the game’s design in the easy mode that the game offers.
Less is More…Really!
I don’t quite know what to make of Bastion’s storyline. The game has a nice premise and setting. The aftermath of the ‘Calamity’, a post apocalyptic event that threw the world into chaos, sees our silent hero aptly named ‘the Kid’ traversing through numerous, and perilous lands in order to restore the Bastion. To do this the Kid must engage a diverse cast of enemies, rescue anyone who might have survived the cataclysmic event, and collect the Bastion cores in the process.
It isn’t exactly the most amazing story set up ever conceived, but it is a passable tale and one that is elevated to engrossing status by the sole act of having a fully voiced narrator chronicling the events taking place during the Kid’s quest as they happen.
Having the narrator was a brilliant tactic, and it is quite possibly the most unique aspect amongst a plethora of unique elements within the game. I don’t know that I ever played a game where the story relied as wholeheartedly on a Narrator’s presence. More importantly, there has never been a game in which the implementation of such a storytelling style has delivered the same spectacular results.
The narrator mechanic as a vehicle for storytelling also solves some issues that are prevalent in low budget games. First, pedestrian voice acting by not having the proper budget to hire professional actors is never an issue in Bastion because the developers just had to worry about hiring the one ‘right man’ for the job. Second, the lack of expensive CG cutscenes often used as a tool for plot exposition, and lore in games is a non issue here. The Narrator not only keeps the player informed of current events, but also delivers bits of information about every area’s history, and even the background of our silent hero.
The narrator also softens the monotony of dealing with a silent protagonist, in fact he adds character to ‘the Kid’ with his descriptions and commentary. Supergiant Games thought outside the box in terms of storytelling and by doing so provided one of the more interesting stories available in an action RPG.
As I played I didn’t quite realize how involved I had become with Bastion’s story until I reach a few crossroads near the end where I had to choose from two possible outcomes at each plot intersection. The fact that I had to stop to think things through is a testament to how brilliantly the game handled its somewhat simplistic story.
Some of the most interesting music you will hear in a game
Darren Korb is a name that I will remember for a long time as he is Bastion’s composer. There is a flawless mix of cords and synthesizers on the music tracks that felt just right on the ears. The few voiced tracks are also well produced, and of the highest quality. Bastion might have had a small budget but the game didn’t cut any corners when it came to the more artistic elements of game making, and it shows.
I am not surprised that a physical soundtrack was released due to fan demand and that it sold 30,000 copies. The music is really that good, and Korb deserves all the praise and money that went/ and will come his way.
A distinctive art style
Bastion has to be one of the most gorgeous ‘2-D’ games ever made. Everything in the game is hand-drawn, and lovingly crafted. The quality of the visuals cannot be understated, the hero’s design itself is fantastic. It has been a while since I enjoyed a 2-D game’s visuals as much, perhaps more than a decade.
While one could blame budgetary issues for Supergiant Games going this route, the truth is that Bastion’s design was meant for 2-D, and I am glad that the developers went that route because the games looks absolutely majestic.
Just like the hero, the monster design is original, and very different in appearance from other monsters we have seen numerous other games. There is a nice variety of Ghostly foes, Plant based enemies and ones with animalistic properties. All look different but completely at home with the world design.
Bastion is truly one of the greatest looking games ever made within its art style, and direction.
An undeniable classic
Bastion is worth every penny, and feels right at home on the Switch. The game can compete with any 3 AAA title in both its artistic direction, and its delivery of great gameplay. It is important to approach to Bastion as not just one of the greatest indie games ever made, but perhaps one of the greatest action RPGs ever crafted. I loved my time with Bastion, and think any one willing to pick it up will too.