Bastion and the Importance of Aesthetics

We start out the week with the introduction to new Poster, Jason Thompson. He introduces us to Bastion and talks in depth about this new game from Super Giant Games.

            Back in the days of the SNES, there was a game called Actraiser. Although this game didn’t get a great deal of notoriety around the time of release, it was seen as a wonderful and unique combination of aesthetic elements that brought the game to life. Some of these aesthetic elements contributed to a sort of cult following around the game, especially in Japan. The gameplay, a combination of side-scrolling action and Sim City-esqe god game, combined with the soundtrack, so good it was later rearranged for a live orchestra, succeeded very well in driving the story and making the player feel connected to the work and involved in the game. Recently, Supergiant Games entered the gaming scene with their first project, Bastion, which greatly resembles the same sort of effects great aesthetics can add to a game.

            Throughout the game, all the action, events in the world, and plot points are described through the eyes of a narrator. All the important events in the game and how the main character, only known as “the kid,” handles the challenges that face him are described as though the narrator is telling a story. However, since the player’s information about, well, everything, is limited from the start, the player quickly feels like a contributor in the creation of the story, especially up to the ending (no spoilers, sorry!). The mystery of what happened to the world in an event only known as “the Calamity” fuels the background of the story as the kid presses on to fix everything for whatever motive really drives him.

The unique design of the world, where land rises up to meet the kid as he travels along, adds to the intrigue of the Calamity and the feeling of creation present in the beginning of the game. The subtle elements of a narrator telling the story of the game as well as the theme of building and creating the world as you progress feeds into similar experiences I had playing Actraiser.

Coincidentally, Actraiser featured these same elements from the city-building phase of gameplay to the angel narrator who helped guide the player. Actraiser used moments in the action to draw the player in and establish a sense of caring about the people the player leads as their god. One particular moment was in Kasandora, where a lone person wanders off in the desert, and the people ask you, their god, to find him. Once you do, the city’s leader is so saddened by this that he creates “music” in the dead man’s honor. It’s a truly touching moment that endeared me to the people in the game and moved me to feel more like their protector, like their god. Bastion has several personal moments throughout the game whether it lies in trips to “Who Knows Where?” to find out about the background of a main character, or descriptions about the different creatures enemies the kid encounters in each level. All the subtle detail really makes the story personal for the player, and indeed, Bastion very much becomes a game about a story. The game certainly does an effective job of coercing you to feel as though you’re a central part of this story.

  1. Bastion Soundtrack – Listen here or

In terms of the music, Darren Korb deserves a hailstorm of high-fives or a huge cake for this soundtrack. As I said previously, the soundtrack for Actraiser was amazing. Not only was it one of the best soundtracks ever made, it was rearranged for a live orchestra. The music in that game was highly effective at punctuating the action and moving the player’s mood between stages and events. In like manner, the music Darren Korb has composed helps set the mood extremely well. The wild west-style music compliments the kid’s characterization as well as the feeling of “one man against the world,” and even some of the weapons in the game. There is music for more emotional, personal moments, music for simple traveling, music for tense moments, and music for tougher battles. In addition to complimenting and completing the aesthetic effect of the game, this is one of the best game soundtracks I’ve heard in years. Even if the game doesn’t sound personally appealing, the soundtrack itself is worth checking out on its own.

I have to take a moment and say even with all the fantastic aesthetics and art that went into the game, the gameplay is extremely tight. It feels like an action-RPG similar to the Secret of Mana with the smooth evasive maneuvers and combat of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The game’s difficulty can be greatly ramped up by invoking the gods once you find the shrine, and there’s a great deal of weapons and upgrades to be unlocked in addition to challenges to complete. The length of the game is very satisfying at maybe 8 – 15 hours, depending on play-style. The endings (yes, more than one) close the story well, whichever one you pick.

Overall, this is certainly one of the best games of the summer, if not the whole year. The music, art, story, and gameplay all accomplish exactly what they were meant to do, and the seven-man core development team at Supergiant Games should be very proud of their work. This is definitely a development team I will be watching in the future, and I strongly recommend playing this game. It’s a definite gem that stands out even in a lively and thriving indie market.