Despite the genre being around for decades, Bastion actually manages to do something new in not only the realm of action RPGs, but also RPGS as a whole by providing the player with constant narration. If you fall off the screen or slay a monster, you’ll hear about it. Items found in the world and major locales aren’t just explained via text, but with thorough narration that explains everything in a surprisingly organic manner. When I read about the narration covering basically everything, I thought it would be kind of stilted - like when Randy Newman sang a song about what the Griffin family was doing at that moment in Family Guy.
Instead, everything sounds pretty natural, which is fitting since the narrator is an in-game character who knows the world and the characters you interact, so he should be able to explain things fairly casually. It’s a little thing, but it adds credibility to what’s going on. As “The Kid”, you’re thrown into a world with no idea what to do exactly until the time comes, in part, because you’re actually new to the game, but also because the game’s world is constructed around you in real-time. And not just in the beginning, but throughout the whole adventure. Eventually, you find out that the world has been torn apart by an event called the Calamity leaving few survivors and seemingly fewer answers. However, if you find power cores in the dungeons, you can rebuild society bit-by-bit and continue to rebuild the lone peaceful area called the Bastion that acts as an expandable hub world.
The real-time world construction mechanic changes things up a lot more than you’d think. For one, the idea of planning a strategy based on the environment around you is largely thrown out the window, and yet it doesn’t hurt the game at all. If anything, it adds to the whole adventure because you never know what you’ll see next. You might find yourself in the center of a large circle surrounded by cannons and enemies, or you may have to navigate a narrow passageway. The latter requires some platforming skill to survive, and the ¾ overhead viewpoint can make them tricky. However, there isn’t much health loss with that, and anyone used to either Light Crusader on the Genesis and Dark Savior on the Saturn should have no trouble getting right into the action. However, action RPG fans used to Zelda’s overhead or behind-the-back 3D view may have to take some time to get used to things.
Even by action RPG standards, this is a fast-paced game. With the exception of some mid-level breaks to re-equip yourselves, dungeons are all-action, and are usually broken up into shorter areas instead of large, hulking ones. After conquering them, you can visit training areas to get more items or upgrade your weapons depending on just how well you perform. Some, like the one that requires you to defeat X amount of enemies quickly, can be simple, while others, like one that requires you to hit all the targets with as few bow and arrow shots as possible, are much tougher. The rewards for excellence are great though, and include sizeable upgrades to your weapons, skills, and of course, will make you a better player in the process.
Those who fear a lot of RPG filler in action RPGs should rest easy in knowing that the closest thing you get to wandering through a town is exploring the Bastion. Over time, this area will go from just having one type of shop available and the narrator to a few, with a more robust population, a challenge-based bulletin board, and a pair of areas you can use to test your skills against waves of enemies. The Bastion looks more beautiful as you find more cores and unlock new shops for it, but conflicts also rise as more people enter, resulting in it being far more than just a typical hub world.
The control layout is perfectly-suited for the 360 controller, and they’re very responsive as well. B is your roll, LT blocks attacks, RT summons a special attack, while A and X are your primary attack buttons. It sounds complicated, but in execution, it isn’t, and the layout is intuitive - it’s easy to switch from defending to attacking, or roll to evade and then swiftly attack a foe. Even though there are, at most, only three attacks available at any given time, there’s quite a bit of depth to the gameplay, especially when it comes to defense. This might not be immediately apparent in the main dungeons, but believe me, you’ll need to have perfect timing when deflecting enemy attacks in the hallucination stages, which throw waves of enemies at you and act as not only tests of your skill, but also tell you more about The Kid’s backstory.
Bastion’s hand-painted world stands out immediately and features some incredibly-detailed characters, but especially brings out the beauty n the backgrounds. Despite taking place in what is essentially a dystopian world, the game’s environments are full of color - they just aren’t all bright and cheery. Some stages have that, sure, but many also have a lot of shades of browns, greys, fog, and other signs of wear and tear on them to show the damage done to it. Character animation is also very good - not the smoothest you’ll see in a game, but certainly much better than any ¾ overhead RPG I’ve played.
Beyond helping the game stand out, the narrator fleshes out the game’s world, its plight, and its inhabitants - both human and monstrous. His scruffy, New Orleans-accent reminds me a bit of Waylon Jennings from the Dukes of Hazzard mixed in with some Tom Waits. I went into the game expecting the narration to bug me, but it didn’t. It really adds a lot to the experience, and while I don’t think it would fit every game, here, it works as a perfectly fine means of conveying the story. However, while the narrator winds up being the star of the game due to the sheer size of his role, it isn’t the only aspect of Bastion’s audio that warrants attention. The soundtrack deserves plenty of praise as well. It’s filled with peaceful instrumental tunes, but also faster-paced music to get your blood pumping, and even a beautiful lyrical arrangement when you find The Singer lost in a dungeon. The Bastion’s another one of those games where I immediately wanted to hear the soundtrack after an extended play session, and even had the latter song stuck in my head long after playing it.
The Bastion is an absolute must-own for anyone who has enjoyed action RPGs in the past. The ever-present narration adds a lot to the overall experience, and the core gameplay is very well-executed. Controls are sharp, dungeons aren’t too difficult, and players craving a greater challenge will find it in the enemy wave-filled hallucination areas. Anyone on the fence should try the demo out because it actually packs a sizeable chunk of the game in it. You’ll be able to tackle one dungeon, learn the battle system, hear some nice instrumental music and the narration, how it works within the game, see the beautiful graphics for yourself, unlock the Bastion, and even get an achievement should you choose to buy the full game. It’s really the absolute best kind of demo one could hope for because it gives you enough of every major aspect of the full game to see if you’ll like it or not without also giving too much away.