Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: Classification: PG Release Date: 20th Jul 2011 Platforms:
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The Good bits
Great music. I'd buy the Soundtrack
Art style is heavily reminiscent of Secret of Mana
Narrative makes it feel like you're actually changing the world
Lots of weapons adds variety
Only 1200 MS Points
The Bad stuff
Story is laid on a little thick
No real incentive to use different weapons
Bastion is probably going to be this year's Limbo in the sense that a great deal of its charm comes from the aesthetic choices - the combination of sound, graphics and atmosphere in Bastion is phenomenal.
Where Bastion beats Limbo is in its gameplay - by using the Action RPG template made famous by the likes of Secret of Mana, Bastion manages to stay fresh throughout its 7-8 hour campaign.
You play 'The Kid' - a typical hero on a mission he couldn't understand. Everything you know about yourself is told to you by a voice in your head - a narrator who tells the game's story as you play.
The story is simple enough to spoil in just a few words - but I'll do my best not to anyway. The Kid wakes up in a world which has been broken. It's up to you to not only find out how it broke, but to put it back together. Along the way you wind up being forced to confront your own sense of morality - but it also forces the designer's concept of right and wrong on you.
The game world has a sort of Western/Fantasy mash-up charm, similar to how Firefly mashed up the Western and Sci-Fi genres.
What makes the story special is that the narration changes on-the-fly, depending on your actions. Near the beginning this is demonstrated a few times - when you fight your first enemy the voice in your head will either describe how you vanquished your foe with ease or how you took some hits putting him down.
Because the narrative is explicitly tied to your actions, it makes you feel like you're actually affecting change in the universe - like you are 'The Kid' in question. The game reinforces this idea in the way it creates the world - blocks form up beneath you in the direction you're heading - giving you the feeling that the world only exists because you make it so.
Ignoring the inherent existential crisis this might impose on a more introspective protagonist, this also allows you to get a good sense of the direction you are supposed to take - the world doesn't make paths to places you can't go.
This doesn't mean the game is entirely linear - though there is a significant amount of linearity evident. The game will still offer branching paths - instead of being different directions to take though, these alternate paths lead to bonus items and more monsters to fight.
In case the 'Secret of Mana' reference didn't make this clear earlier, Bastion is mostly about fighting monsters. The leveling takes a backseat to collecting different weapons and upgrades for those weapons, but it still plays a role in increasing your health points and allowing you to equip more drinks.
Drinks are used to assign passive abilities - they're always on and you can assign a new one each time you gain a level. Also, they're all alcoholic - but the fact that by level 5 the kid is constantly drunk on three different types of booze is never really dealt with.
Werewhiskey, for example, gives you 100% critical chance when your health drops below 33% - I spent a lot of time deliberately dropping to one third of my health solely to take advantage of this. Others increase your ability to pick up old world pieces (the currency of the game) from afar and assign bonuses to counter-attacks (plus heaps more).
There are two types of weapons - melee and ranged. The melee weapons balance across range, speed and damage - I favoured the short, quick War Machete over the likes of the medium length, medium speed Hammer or long, slow spear.
The ranged weapons differ by way of reload speed, aim speed and damage - the highest damage weapon in the game lacks any sort of Auto-Aim, making it truly difficult to fire reliably, while the lowest damage ranged weapon - the Duelling Pistols - acquires new targets without you even pressing a direction (my choice again).
The game is only seven to eight hours long, but there's quite a bit of replayability available. There's a new game plus mode which lets you continue to build up your vast fortune of old world pieces - and make different choices when the end of the game roles around. There are also challenge areas - an action RPG equivalent of the horde mode shooter fans have come to love.
Another interesting feature is the ability to beseech the Gods to bless you. The Gods in question aren't actually very happy with you, so instead of helping you out they will make the game harder - further increasing the challenge in the game.
It's not all great - Bastion makes some mistakes. The heavy-handed nature of the story is in direct contrast with the otherwise fluid way that story is told. It plays into a few obvious cliches before the ending.
This is one area where Bastion definitely doesn't compete with Limbo - which is odd, because it forces you to draw your own conclusions when you do reach the end. Limbo's approach was to simply let you work it all out, but Bastion seems to get caught up in its own intelligence - perhaps the writers were afraid that people might not 'get' the story if they didn't explicitly spell it out.
The gameplay offers quite a bit of variety, but I didn't find it incentivised me to take advantage of that variety - so by the end it grew a little stale. The nature of this type of game encourages you to pick a weapon and get used to it - meaning you'll find little reason to change once you find something which works.
Another odd addition is in the last level, where your dodge button - A - is changed to the Hop button. Instead of rolling away from enemy attacks you started flipping out of the way, but the timing was slightly different, which threw me off. It's exacerbated by the fact that it happens in the last level - where the enemies are tougher and you're accustomed to it the game ends - and you return to rolling in New Game Plus.
Bastion is definitely a must-play game. It delivers some truly great music, a narrative built around your own actions and a huge bang for your buck. It combines those with nods to the Western genre and Japanese ARPGs, and while it lays the story on too heavily in parts it still creates a universe you actively want to learn more about.