A well-made indie action RPG with a minimalist story, beautiful graphics and fun gameplay that’s a treat to play on Vita.
Supergiant Games; Blitworks
Yes – NA only (LRG)
World-building & Story
A cataclysmic event known as ‘The Calamity’ has ravaged nearly all life in the city of Caelondia and ‘the Kid’ awakens at the start of Bastion believing himself to be the sole survivor of this tragedy. He travels to the titular Bastion – the fabled meeting place he was told about in the event of disaster where he discovers an elderly stranger and together the pair go about attempting to rebuild their shattered world.
In one of the game’s most unique elements, the stranger (named Rucks) acts as your narrator, explaining to the player what is happening on screen and providing wise proverbs and little tid-bits of information about the world and the events that led up to the Calamity. His dulcet, soothing tones help set the mood and act as a brilliant framing device – at first I found his cryptic mutterings somewhat irritating, but it definitely helps add to Bastion’s inherent charm (and a particularly unique story device employed sees you fighting waves of enemies in combat arenas while he reveals more and more about a certain character – it works very well).
It also brings a strange layer of mystery to playing, where things aren’t always fully explained and instead left up to your own interpretation – this is a title where you’re going to have to pay attention to unlock its true potential, which is very rewarding if a little confusing at times. With that said, the base story here is fairly incredible – definitely not what I was expecting, a tale with plenty of unique reveals about the true nature of the relationship between the Caelondians and the distant Ura which eventually led to the world being ripped apart. It all ends with an emotional choice that feels perfectly judged, capping off a stunning journey.
It’s the beautifully realised world here that’s the real star of the show – a scattered wasteland you traverse by fantastical skyways, traipsing through trap-laden jungles, stunning regal corridors that construct in front of you and frozen tundras that house your sworn enemies. Every nook and cranny of it feels cleverly designed and like a tonne of love has been poured into it, a feeling I rarely get from videogames these days.
Presentation & Sound
Made up of colourful islands in the sky just begging to be explored, Bastion is a visual treat that looks stunning on Vita.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the game is the way the world builds around you – as you run towards areas that look only like endless space, building blocks of platforms and grassy verges will suddenly appear in front of you and create a path (which is an incredible effect that never failed to impress me). It helps that every area you’re in is usually some kind of floating wonderland, accented with a stunning and vibrant colour palette that really helps the world pop off the screen.
Each environment is filled with bizarre elements that really help sell the atmosphere here – the majority of places you’ll run through will have been wrecked by the Calamity, meaning the ruins of buildings are scattered everywhere and there’s just a general feeling of death and destruction (exemplified by the petrified remains of humans that the Kid can smash). Yet for all of these there’s real moments of serene beauty too – like beautiful lakeside views with willow trees and coloured fireflies in the foreground, which looked more like a watercolour painting than a videogame.
Character modelling is a collection of well-drawn sprites (they’re also represented in some gorgeous 2D art scenes) with unique designs, like Zulf’s crazy pants or the Kid’s mysterious aura thanks to his face-covering scarf. It’s the enemy designs that are really clever though – giant floating balls of air leave trails of slime as they move, horrifying big plants slam their tendrils down as you desperately try to dodge out of the way and enemy Ura stab their spears with lightning fast precision. It’s easy to get sucked into the action here thanks to the fantastic design.
The aforementioned narration definitely helps with immersion too, while the stunning soundtrack really frames the on-screen action in a thrilling way – there’s some beautiful tracks here.
Gameplay & Content
Offering deep action RPG gameplay that rewards smart decision making and good timing, Bastion is an enjoyable addition to Vita’s library.
You’ll play as the Kid, a nimble character who is easy to get to grips with. His basic actions are to roll, block (perfect timing can deflect an enemy’s attack while blocking their charge will briefly daze them) and to attack with whatever he has equipped. In fact, weaponry plays a big part of the game’s appeal – aside from being able to switch between his two arms of choice, he can also launch special attacks that range from summoning domesticated monsters to fight alongside him to shooting shrapnel into the sky to rain down on enemies.
Each level you visit usually contains a new weapon to add to your arsenal that offers context-specific strengths and weaknesses. There’s melee stuff like hammers (big hitter but slow) and machetes (fast and can be thrown but low damage) and a vast range of guns from shotguns (massive damage up close but no range), muskets (useful at either range but had to lock on first) and rocket launchers (can cause splash damage to you if shooting too close). Playing around with the different combinations of these never stopped being enjoyable, keeping me playing until the end just to see what I liked the most.
You’ll need to learn what works for you because the variety of enemies you’ll come across in each area are no pushovers either. Whether it be the Squirts who tend to swarm you needing a good aoe attack to take them out or the gasfellas who slowly slam their hammers or charge at you requiring good timing to block, your skills will usually be challenged and careful play can mean you make it through unscathed (although there are health potions and special attacks to help you out in a pickle).
Enemies drop little shards, which can be used back at the Bastion to buy a variety of things. The Bastion acts as your home base that you slowly rebuild as you recover cores, creating shops and shrines which allow you to do things like upgrade your weapons, buy new tonics which can give passive buffs and fulfil quests giving more shards. There’s also a Shrine where you can invoke various idols to increase the difficulty (things like enemies deflect attacks or hit harder) which is a really nice system to let you choose how to play.
There’s also special arenas (entitled ‘who knows where’) that invariably take place inside the mind of the Kid. These are narrated by the Stranger and have you facing waves of enemies while he explains the backstory of one of the characters – I really enjoyed these as they pushed forward the story while giving you combat arenas to hone your skills in, a perfect balance of gameplay and plot. It helps that you can repeat them as often as you’d like, meaning you can try out different combination of weapons, skills and idols for a real challenge.
In terms of levels, the majority are standard a to b traversal with enemies and obstacles along the way, although some land you in the middle and allow you to explore outwards in whatever direction you choose. There’s also ‘proving grounds’ that act as training for each new weapon you come across (providing high score challenges) meaning there’s a solid variety here, keeping Bastion feeling fresh throughout a playthrough and allowing plenty of different ways to play around with the tools you’re given (although things had just begun to feel stale by the time I reached the end).
It’ll take around 6-7 hours to see the game through although I would recommend running through it a second time to get the most from the story. Beyond this you can replay with higher difficulties using the idols (to unlock trophies), meaning there’s plenty to dig into if you’re up to it.
By using a fantastic hands-off narrative approach to tell a deep and intriguing tale and mixing it in with some gorgeous watercolour-esque graphics and enjoyable action-RPG gameplay based around a sea of weapons, Bastion makes a memorable impression that sticks with you long after finishing.