Sometimes, things work out just right.
You can slave away on a project for months, and it'll only come out 'merely okay'. Pour your heart and soul into it, and it'll be recieved as strictly normal. That's always a possibility of the world. Just how it goes.
But then sometimes, it all just works perfect. The right people working on the right things at the right times with the right help. It all comes together into something amazing.
Such is what I like to think is the case with today's subject: Bastion.
Now, I will fore-warn you right now. There will be spoilers to this. And believe me; you'll want to come into the game fresh. Plus, not much of what's being said will make much sense if you don't know the context.
Once again: IF YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED THROUGH BASTION, COMPLETELY, STOP RIGHT HERE. GO PLAY IT. IT IS WORTH YOUR WHILE. Seriously, this game is fantastic.
That means you, Billy.
Let's start with quite posisbly the most famous, the arguable best, and certainly most easily shared aspect of the game: The music.
But wait, I can't! I've no idea where to begin with it! I can't! So, as I talk about the rest of the game, I'll be interjecting my thoughts of how the music impacts that part of the game in question.
So, the graphics. I can't imagine how busy the artists to this game were. There's so many wonderfully drawn 'tiles' that appear out of nowhere that mesh perfectly with one another. Basic though they are, they're all definitely of a similar style. All throughout, you start noticing a particular little swirl to a bunch of things. And while some places get a liiiittle repetitive with the backgrounds a little, they still give a strong sense of setting. Even if you never really and truly see it, you get such a good idea in your head of what Caelondia looked like in its prime. Did you ever see any obvious part of it throughout the game? Well, perhaps that bit where Kid finds Zulf, but that's still barely a glance. Streetlights in a park are not indicative of a sprawling city of tired workers and rushing housewives with goodness knows what kind of vehicles zipping around on the streets.
How the music makes this better: Listen to the beginning tracks of the game. If you have the soundtrack, take note of the tracks Bynn the Breaker, Twisted Streets, Terminal March, Percy's Escape, Spike In A Rail and of course, A Proper Story. The most prominent part of these songs, at least to me, is the very strong percussion behind all the various kinds of string instruments that twang away above it all. I don't claim to know half of the instruments involved in the making of these songs, but I love how... Bombastic these songs are. There's such great oomphs and thuds to them. (I am clearly a music professional) I like to imagine that this style is indicative of Caelondia as a whole. Their music style is very prominent and powerful, making a great loud show for all to enjoy. Perhaps this also spoke for how the people themselves worked. Putting on a pleasent front to hide the darker things that lay underneath. Putting on a strong front while they drown their sorrows in drinks.
I emphasize: There's no indication that I noticed of to say this in the game. I just thought too much about the music to come up with that.
But since I'm thirsty: The drinks. I find them to be a very interesting twist on the Level Up system. Sure, per level, you get the standard HP boost, but I think that's it. (I'll have to look up if attack power increases at all) But each drink has a different effect, and it has a little bit of text describing what the drink was used for in the game's world to justify its use when people were at work. For one, what kind of society is it that allows the use of alcohol while at work? Is the morale of your workers so low that you need to bolster them with booze just to keep'em going? Perhaps the drinks have an effect needed to achieve something for the work that wouldn't really be possible without it. But then, the question is raised again: What kind of society allows that? A drunken worker that can slam a hammer into place with the force of a speeding train to get the right brick in place? It seems like something I would rather not think too hard about, and yet I'm facinated by the thought of a society that's just brought its workers down so low.
How the music makes this better: "Listen. All this takes a lot of gettin' used to. And you do get used to it... After a while. (...) I miss the songs. Folks from Caelondia knew how to carry a tune. Sure, we got some songs on the ol' grammophone, but tryin' to imagine what they sounded like, playin' to a room full of fine people, unwindin' at the Sole Regret after a hard day's work. Those were the days..."
(yeah, it's not a song, it's from the soundtrack. Shut up, it counts) For note; I missed a few lines for the sake of pacing.
Also: The Sole Regret. That song is the perfect fit for a barroom full of tired people drinking away their sorrows.
This simple introduction at the start of the soundtrack speaks so much of the world within the game. In such subtle ways. A brilliant stroke of writing.
Oh hey, and look at what I'm gonna talk about next: Writing! Hoooo boy, y'all know me. What Bastion's writing does best here: Minimalism. Never does the game go into more detail than it needs. When it gives you a description of something, it often evokes a sense of familiarity through a descriptive mood. It also gives you so tantalizingly little about the world and what's happening. It's almost infuriating to hear a bit about the culture of Caelondia or about the Ura, and yet we barely get a sentence about it. It gives you barely a swallow of information when you're parched for it and you're wanting more. GOD I love it.
That and the delivery helps incredibly. The internet has sung the praises for Logan Cunningham's so much since Bastion came out, and for good damn reason. The man's silken rasp of a voice emotes so much through so little, playing to the minimalism even more. The voice is that of a natural-born storyteller, which is, of course, the role that Rucks plays throughout the entire game, in a a literal and kinda meta way.
Oh! And: How many other games are able to explain how replaying it again works? Can't think of any? That's cuz Bastion has the monopoly on that. It's brilliant! You play through as normal, you beat it, and you're thrust with two descisions. Continue onwards in the world as it is, or turn back the clock and try it again, hoping this time it works out better. Protip: It doesn't, but Rucks theorized that the people on the Bastion would remember what happened. Spoilers: They don't, but when you're replaying Bastion, in subsequent replays, occasionally Rucks' narration will pause and go "Haven't I said this part already?" Further confirming that replaying Bastion is just another turn on the wheel. Rucks has probably narrated all this to Zia many times over.
Another part of the writing that I love: Foreshadowing. How the heck is the Bastion able to reverse time? Well... Remember when you were going through a mine, with lots of quartz-like crystals coming out of the ground with Windbags hammering at them? "There's something else to the rocks here. They remember things." How the heck that works, I don't know, but it's a great little explanation on the side for how that all works. I love it. I'll leave other such examples for you to find. Keep an eye open when you replay it!
How the music makes this better: One of the vocal songs: Build That Wall. The first time you hear Build That Wall is when you're going through the absolutely beautifully-executed Prosper Bluff. "And then, Kid hears something he ain't heard in a looong time." The song plays as a quiet mumble off in the distance as the Kid slogs his way through switches, birds and monsters. It's barely audible over the chaos, and as the level goes on, the song gradually gets slightly louder. Then, once you make it through the level, you're left with just the picture of a small camp, a little campfire, and this girl playing her song.
This was the level that had convinced me that Bastion was a true keeper. I'd liked it beforehand, but THAT moment sold it for me.
But then, later...! In the hallucination level, after a series of grueling tortures ("I don't know what happened down there. Kid never wants to talk about it."), it's wrapped up by a replica of the end of Prosper Bluff, but with only the Kid packing up the camp. The only sound beyond your footsteps is Rucks' voice, humming out a little bit of Build That Wall while the Kid works. It's kinda surreal, but to me, it's like Rucks is somehow calling the Kid back to the world with his voice. "Follow the voice, Kid. Yes, my voice. Aww yeah, you know you wanna hear more of it. Come just a little closer and you can listen to it all the time."
Heck, that would work for me.
Take note also of the lyrics to Build That Wall. If you recall, one of the things Rucks says during Zia's Who Knows Where, he says this about her past: "She learned more history through music than she did books." Now, knowing her Ura heritage, take another listen to Build That Wall, and pay attention to the lyrics. Read along, if you can find a print version. Kay, done that? Kewl. Notice how it seems like the song is talking about something? Or to someone? Now, picture this: What if it's a song the Ura wrote to Caelondia? Suddenly, this soft, pleasent song that was introduced so beautifully in Prosper Bluff is now a not-so-thinly veiled threat to an entire people. Blew my mind, when I first learned about that.
Also! Remember how I mentioned previously that the sound of Caelondia's music has a very bombastic, percussion-heavy sound to their tunes? Scroll up if you don't remember. Ready? Okay, so, looking at the soundtrack as a whole, notice how only the beginning songs in the soundtrack have that sound? Well, when Caelondia is the primary place that you're going around in the beginning of the game, that makes sense. As you work your way out of the country, and more into the brushes of the wild, the music takes a more... Um... Southern? Raunchy? Wild? I'm not sure how to describe it. The music in the Wilds involves fewer percussions, more banjo's, a more 'country' feel. Sorta.... Hard to explain. And then, as you inch towards Ura territory, the music gets a bit calmer and introduces more harps into the mix. Considering also that Zia uses a harp, and is an Ura, well, coincedence I'm sure.
And now we get to... The gameplay! Here's where Bastion could have used a little more polish. Don't get me wrong! I absolutely love the gameplay! Combat is quick and filled with tension. Getting around is quick with the ever-useful dodge. It's a strange way to get around, y'know, rolling around on the ground with a huge gear on your back, but it seems to work. It definitely helps keep the amount of buttons being pressed to a minimum. And of course, dodging is absolutely essential in combat. The quick acceleration of it lets you avoid a very large percentage of what's thrown your way, saving health.
But that's all obvious. A very well-used execution of the dodge move? Taking it away. No, really! Let's use an example. The scene I mentioned before, at the end of Prosper Bluff, when you first meet Zia? When you step into her little grove, you can't dodge. Thus, instead of speeding towards her and immediately moving on without thinking, you're basically forced to take a second, snap out of the adrenaline of combat from just before, and slowly waltz towards her, absorbing the full clarity of the song that prior was barely a whisper. This is also done in several other occasions, such as when you revisit that spot in the hallucination bit. Going around the camp and packing things up, it'd be handy to quickly zip around, but you're made to walk, further absorbing the moment.
Y'know what? I've gabbed on about this game enough. It's a cheap game! It won't give you 200+ hours of enjoyment like an epic RPG or a game with amazing multiplayer, but for something that'll take about 10 hours to beat, maybe, ish, it's worth the price of entry. About $15 on Steam for PC, or the equivalent amount of points to get it on V-Box Live Arcade for 360, or if you don't have any of those, heck, you can buy and play it in the web browser Google Chrome. About the only thing you can't get it for is Playstation 3, for some reason. And it's often on sale, and included in the Humble Bundle packs at times.
So go! Play Bastion. Absorb the story. Think about it. Let the music flow. Buy the soundtrack! These bitty companies could use support. Even though Bastion has been making money hand over foot since it came out... But y'know what? If Supergiant Games is able to make games of this quality, they deserve the money. They made me ever so happy with their product.
Perhaps they will for you as well.