Something I’ve noticed about XBLA games is that they come in two types. Some center around unique ideas that only lend themselves to short experiences and a downloadable format at budget price. Quadrupling the play time of Limbo and putting it out as a retail title for example, would almost completely ruin the experience. Others though, are bite-sized versions of games you would already be able to find on retail shelves and which seem to be made with those precise games in mind, only with a much smaller budget. Just as Costume Quest is a smaller, more compact imitation of a Japanese turn-based RPG (in terms of gameplay at any rate), Bastion has a similar relationship to western RPG’s. It’s a faster, tighter, simpler and easier experience than you would normally find with this type of game. Unfortunately and unlike with Costume Quest, the simplification of that game style is its biggest misstep.
If the addictive nature of Western RPGs could be summarized in two words, it would be “loot lust”. At a basic level, it is human nature to have at least a minor gambling addiction and few people would say “no” to a lottery ticket, especially when it doesn’t cost anything to play. The idea that at any moment, you could randomly find a helmet, or shoes, or sword better than the one you already have prays on that very addiction and is responsible for me losing more sleep than I’d care to admit. Bastion has none of that though. In fact, there is very little that makes Bastion an RPG in the traditional sense of the word. Sure there are weapons and upgrades strewn across each level, but they are all sitting on the ground at a pre-determined place. If you happen to miss one, it is immediately purchasable for next to nothing back at the main lobby area (called ‘the Bastion’).
The game also lacks any sidequests or other things to encourage exploration, a concept which would be impossible anyway seeing how linear each level is. Bastion is easy enough and leveling up yields few enough rewards that there is never any reason to take your time and kill straggling enemies. What I’m getting at here is that without a reason to extend your stay in any given level, the game quickly turns into a meaningless race through one after the other. That is at least until you realize what your character is doing and why you should care, something that I had no idea about until the game was nearly over.
That’s my other main problem with Bastion: it features little to no exposition or explanation as to what’s happening at any given moment. Even having beaten the game, I only have the vaguest of ideas about what actually happened in it. One of Bastion’s premier features is that the levels form up around your character as you move. This effect is pretty cool, but the environments which materialize are little more than meaningless jumbles of random crap inexplicably piled miles above a swirling abyss. There is very little explanation as to why any given level needs to be explored by you. As a result, each level feels pretty much the same as any other level and until very near the end of the game, you’re never given reason enough to care about why you’re there. Enemies have little to no personality, identity, or reason to exist other than to be killed by you, contributing even more to my overwhelming apathy about what I was doing at any given moment.
Bastion features one of the most entertaining narrators in any game. His lines are well written and he has one of those voices that just makes you want to spend hours listening to him ramble about nothing. Sadly though, I feel like that’s exactly what happened. Combined with the excellent musical score, it always feels like he’s telling a deep story. The problem is that the story he’s telling feels like that of a totally different game from what you’re actually playing. He can constantly be heard describing the storied history and once thriving population of an otherwise unidentifiable patch of ground floating in space or telling you how important that random piece of junk you just picked up was. Almost none of what he says has any impact on the actual plot and about 95% of it is never mentioned again. Whatever the voice is talking about at any given moment feels completely disconnected from the game itself.
The story of Bastion is a 10 minute intro and 30 minute conclusion with 5 hours of random meaningless content filling the space in-between. A lot of games fall into the trap of starting slow and petering out at the end. The opposite happens here though, as the game has a fantastic beginning and end, but the same can’t be said of what there is in-between. If you go out to dinner, a delicious appetizer and desert can’t do much to distract from a bland and tasteless entre. That said, the ending is in fact, very fulfilling. What story exists is wrapped up in a satisfying way and leaves you thinking hard about the meaning and implications behind what you saw. Just be prepared to trudge through a fairly mindless hack-and-slash experience on your way to that conclusion.
- Excellent beginning and end
- Amazing audio design
- Interesting and distinctive art style
- The story feels disconnected from the game
- Gameplay is simplistic, as is character customization
- Very long load times for a downloadable title