Bastian: What is that?
The Childlike Empress: One grain of sand. It is all that remains of my vast empire.
Bastian: Fantasia has totally disappeared?
The Childlike Empress: Yes.
Bastian: Then, everything’s been in vain.
The Childlike Empress: No, it hasn’t. Fantasia can arise anew, from your dreams and wishes, Bastian
Bastion was the first release for Xbox Live ‘s Summer of Arcade 2011. I don’t know if the game was heavily marketed or not. I know I didn’t start hearing about it until the game came out and what I heard from friends and others was an inability to describe what exactly made the game so compelling… Comments like “It’s kinda like Soul Blazer because you build a world, but not really,” and “the narrator adds so much! He tells you exactly what is happening on screen,” or “What is with this narrator? I know what is going on I’m playing the one playing the game!” I made a few attempts to get clearer definitions from the makers of these comments but to no avail. All I learned was that it was an action-adventure, with a bit of RPG, some sort of world building component, and a narrator. Not much to go on.
My curiosity was piqued; I downloaded the game and began playing. The game itself is a competent 2/3 pseudo isometric view action-adventure game wherein players control the protagonist, “the kid,” through a world destroyed by the “Calamity” and attempt to rebuild it through the magical powers of the Bastion. If we left it at that there wouldn’t be much to write about… Bastion’s ability to keep you playing lies in its narrative and how it is conveyed to the player. As you explore each level a narrator describes what your on-screen character is doing, what he is seeing, it’s in-world context, and moves the storyline forward. An odd feature, I’ll admit, what does it add to the game? Well, between the actions of “the kid” (your actions) and the narrator’s words the world of Bastion, the world that at the beginning of the game is gone, is rebuilt before the player’s eyes. Each level begins as a discrete lone room floating above a water-colored nothingness. As “the kid” moves around the world hallways, doors, rooms, and buildings spring into existence. Just as Bastian (I don’t believe this game’s name is a coincidence) in the Neverending Story is tasked with renaming the childlike Empress and rebuilding the world of Fantastica with his imagination the player in Bastion is tasked with re-creating the world of Caeldonia.
The idea that words, written or spoken, have the power to create and destroy is an incredibly old one. Various forms of mysticism and magic centered around the learning of correct names in order to control invisible beings, both benign and malignant. It’s an idea that for some reason appeals to human nature, that by organizing the world, by labeling it humanity can exert some measure of control over it. Bastion taps into this idea and uses it to build a beautiful world and a deep story about loss, betrayal, the horrors of war, and the redeeming nature of mankind, all without extensive cut-scenes or text-boxes, and presented in such a way that you don’t feel as if you are playing a game, or watching a movie, rather the image I walked away with was listening at the knee of a talented story teller.
There’s a good game to go with the story and narrator. Bastion has near on the fly difficulty and challenge adjustment , branching story lines, customizable/upgradeable weapons, a new game+ feature, beautiful visual, and lovely music. That isn’t what kept me playing the game though, I kept playing because I wanted to see Caeldonia restored, I wanted to hear the end of the story.