Hello everyone, and welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to tell you about Bastion, an action-RPG set in a fantastical floating world. I played Bastion on my PS4 Pro and I’ll be keeping this writing piece spoiler-free.
Originally released in 2011 and ported to the PS4 in 2015, Bastion was the first game released by developer Supergiant Games and will probably be the oldest game to appear in this season of Late to the Party. Back when Bastion was first released it got talked up by a number of the gaming personalities that I followed at the time, and it certainly looked cool in the video reviews I watched, but since it took so long for Bastion to come to PlayStation it fell off my radar. In January of this year there was a large sale on PSN and while scrolling through the games on sale I noticed Bastion, now heavily discounted. Remembering the interest I had in the game, I purchased Bastion and added it to my gaming library. Over the last few months I repeatedly postponed my time with Bastion, but a little over two weeks ago I finally fired it up and worked my way through it.
In Bastion you play as the Kid, a young man who wakes up to find his entire civilization has been upended by a disaster known as the Calamity. Everyone he knew has been turned into ashen statues and formerly subdued creatures are now running amok. Fighting his way through the remains of his city, the Kid makes his way to the Bastion, a floating island with a device that can make everything right. The only problem is that the Bastion isn’t complete. Ever the dutiful hero, the Kid sets out to find the magic crystals needed to power the Bastion and undo the Calamity. Throughout his entire journey the Kid never speaks a word, but instead a man called the Stranger narrates everything that the Kid does and everything that happens in the story. With a voice and cadence that make him sound like he’s from a Western movie or TV show, the Stranger infuses a ton of character into his narration and I never got tired of hearing him speak. I especially appreciate all the little quips the Stranger makes, like how he’ll throw in some playful jabs if the Kid repeatedly makes the same mistake. Having the Stranger narrate everything was a pretty novel experience that worked very well due to the Stranger’s talent for storytelling, and helps mask the fact that the story itself is good but not what I’d call great, however I do have one major complaint about Bastion’s story in that I would have liked to get the Kid’s perspective on what’s going on. It’s clear from what you learn about the Kid that he’s a well-disciplined young man whose fortitude comes from his rough upbringing, but it would have been nice if the Stranger narrated some of the Kid’s thoughts on what was going on. I mean, the Kid’s world has been turned upside down and I would think that he has something to say about it.
Perhaps if the Kid did speak about his world he’d note how good the game’s art direction is. Bastion’s fantasy visuals are beautifully detailed with a color pallet evocative of both stained-glass windows and watercolor paintings. The game’s aesthetic reminds me a little bit of the environmental art of Odin Sphere, but Bastion is definitely a game with a look all its own. Add in Bastion’s great soundtrack to its artistic charm and you’ve got a game that’s a real audio-visual pleaser.
Just like the narrative, Bastion’s stages have an interesting twist. At the start of each stage the Kid arrives by falling out of the sky and face planting into the ground—which I found both amusing and strangely endearing—and then as he moves forward the world assembles around him. This encourages the player to explore, both to find the way forward and to see what the world looks like when fully reconstructed. Since all of Bastion’s stages are floating in the sky there’s always the danger that you’ll fall off the edge, but thankfully doing so just results in the Kid dropping back onto the stage and losing only a sliver of health (any maybe a little pride if the Stranger jokes about it). Unfortunately Bastion can be inconsistent with how easily you fall off a stage. Sometimes it felt like there were invisible guardrails keeping me on the path while other times I seemed to easily go tumbling over the edge.
As you go through and explore each of Bastion’s stages you’ll be spending a lot of time fighting. In combat you have two weapons, a shield, and a secret skill. After some experimenting my preferred loadout eventually was the musket and a second ranged weapon, along with the Squirt Lure skill that summons an ally that both distracts and attacks enemies. While having both a ranged and a melee weapon would have been a more balanced approach, I found my loadout to be so incredibly effective that I never died during my playthrough and rarely got down to low health, even in the tougher sections of the game. It certainly helps that Bastion’s game engine never chugged a single time, so even when enemies were swarming me I could keep the Kid dodging and shooting without interruption. I do wish, however, that I could reassign the manual reload button to L3.
In between story stages you’ll be brought back to the Bastion where you can level-up your weapons, buy and equip new abilities, and slowly restore the place. As you gain new weapons you also unlock challenge stages where you can prove your skills with those weapons and gain rewards. To really accelerate turning the Kid into a one-man army, however, you’ll want to go the dreamscape called Who Knows Where. In it you can grind out XP and currency shards by fighting waves of enemies, and because there’s no penalty for being defeated in Who Knows Where it’s also a great way to test out different weapon combinations and secret skills. If you want to up the difficulty, as well as the rewards, a pantheon of deities can be invoked to add modifiers to the gameplay.
All together I got about 11 hours out of my time with Bastion, and I’ll admit I wasn’t all that efficient in my playthrough. In addition to the main story, I did most of the side tasks and put some time into grinding XP and shards in Who Knows Where. Once you finish Bastion you unlock New Game Plus, which you’ll want to do if you’re looking to completely max out the Kid’s upgrades and complete all side activities, and after all of that you can see the other ending you didn’t pick the first time through. If you’re the completionist sort I’d estimate Bastion can give you about 18 to 20 hours total.
Bastion is going to go down with games like Batman: Arkham Knight in that it took me some time to convince myself to play it but when I finally did I was hooked. Bastion is an 8.5 out of 10, and I’ll definitely be replaying it either this year or next year to see the other ending and try out New Game Plus.