Four years ago, a small team of six known as Supergiant Games introduced themselves to the world with their debut game, Bastion. Bastion layered a nostalgia-heavy isometric action RPG over an impressive audio experience with a narrator that reacted to the on-screen action and an amazing soundtrack that I still spin every chance I get. It rightfully earned a place on hundreds of “Best of 2011” lists (including our own) and is often considered one of the best titles the Xbox Live Arcade has to offer.
Does it still hold up in 2015? Yes, it most certainly does.
Publisher: Supergiant Games, WB Games
Developer: Supergiant Games, BlitWorks
Genre: A Yarn-Spinning Action RPG
Release Date: April 7, 2015
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
I thought then, and still think now, that Bastion’s action RPG frame is the least interesting part of the game. If you have experience with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Secret of Mana, you’ll know what to expect. Like those two games, the star of Bastion is a mute young man known as The Kid, who is also a soldier in the Caeledonian army. A “Calamity” has fractured the world into a series of floating islands, and The Kid is one of the few survivors. Along with The Stranger and The Singer, The Kid searches through each of these floating islands looking for Cores to power a device, the titular Bastion, that might be able to save the world. Naturally, each of the islands is a separate landmass and The Kid travels through each one in a very linear fashion. So while Bastion doesn’t break any new ground among action RPGs, perhaps this was by design. The bare bones gameplay elements give the incredible in-game narration provided by Logan Cunningham room to breathe as he tells The Kid’s story.
As I said in a 2011 review, Cunningham voices Rucks the Stranger, a mysterious old man who clearly knows more about The Calamity than he lets on. The main character, known only as The Kid, travels further into the wasteland of the world that was, as Rucks talks over the action to describe the events on screen. He’ll comment on The Kid’s choice of weapon (“The Kid swings that hammer”) or what might be down the path he chose when the trail splits (“The Kid wants to make sure he didn’t miss anything”) or some little detail about a boss character that’s up ahead (“The Kid’s never seen an Anklegator before…”). Cunningham ‘s deep “seen it all” voice is perfect for this kind of narration and it brings the game alive in a way that you’d never expect. I often found myself pushing forward just to see what the narrator would say, and his silence was deafening in more ways than one.
The narration is connected to everything, which helps some of the more generic portions of the game to stand out. Throughout the course of the game, The Kid will collect an increasingly abundant cache of weapons, each with a surprising amount of lore behind it. Starting out with his trusty hammer, new weapons are doled out at a pretty steady clip including a variety of guns, a sword, a spear, a bow, a flamethrower, and even a rocket launcher. The weapons all feel solid and mixing and matching them (along with the game’s screen-clearing “Secret Skills” and a variety of powerful potions) will allow players to meld The Kid’s fighting style with their own.
Bastion’s story of loss (and possible redemption) is helped along by several original songs from composer Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett. Dubbed “acoustic frontier triphop” by Korb, the music shifts between lively tunes that beg for adventure (“Terminal March”) and melancholy dirges for a dead world (“Setting Sail, Coming Home”) over the course of the game. Korb and Barrett teamed up again last year for Supergiant’s Transistor, but their first collaboration really set a new standard for game soundtracks.
While the PS4 release of Bastion is mostly unchanged from before, it does expand and improve on a few parts of the game. The game’s hand-painted graphics have been bumped up to 1080p, which makes the visuals pop off the screen like never before. Bastion always had a storybook quality to its art style (and the narration certainly helped sell it), but the graphical upgrade makes the world of Caeledonia, and The Kid’s quest, feel even more ethereal and dreamlike. And speaking of dreams, the “Stranger’s Dream” downloadable add-on is included right from the start. It also felt like Supergiant tightened up the controls, as The Kid’s movements felt more precise than ever before, especially when going toe-to-toe with enemy waves in the four Dream levels.
In the future, the PS4 release of Bastion will also be Cross-Buy and Cross-Save compatible with the game’s Vita debut. So if you’ve ever wanted to take Bastion on the road, now’s your chance.
In the years since its release, my appreciation has only grown for Bastion’s unique mix of narration, music, and storybook-like visuals. There’s not enough new content to justify repurchasing the game if you’ve already played it elsewhere, but if you’ve never experienced Bastion before, it is an essential addition to your PS4 (and eventually, Vita) collection.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Bastion was provided by Supergiant Games for the purposes of this review.