Well, guys, last year I played my first Independent RPG, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch,* and I really enjoyed it. In fact, I’d like to say, again, that you should definitely think about buying it. It’s only $9 now, and it’s quite a hoot. Also, the only way I’m going to see its story continued is if it makes enough cash to warrant a sequel, so go and buy it. Now!
This year, I’ve played my second Indy RPG, Bastion, at the suggestion of my longtime chum Queelez. And I liked it, and since it’s another Indy RPG and thus could definitely use the support of even so tiny a group as my readership, I figured I should do a rant on it just as I did for MLRotB.
So! What do you say about Bastion? A lot, if you’re a long-winded word bag like me. First things first. You can find the game’s homepage here. You’ll find there what options you have as far as acquiring the game. It’s only $15, which these days is, what, the cost of lunch for a couple days? There’s even a free playable demo, so you can make sure you won’t outright hate it before you commit to purchasing it.
Bastion is a very artsy action-RPG that culturally grounds itself in a Wild West mentality while...um, while really not being Wild West-ish at all. It’s hard to explain. The music, the plot progression, the narration, a significant foundation to its world, they all have clear inspiration in the old Wild West ideals, culture, and history, but at the same time, the world is its own, with a plethora of interesting ideas and exotic locales that you can’t really attribute to the Wild West (at least, not that I can really see). There’s also a bit of Steampunk mixed in there, although I’ve always had some trouble distinguishing Steampunk from Wild West anyway, so where the one ends and the other begins I couldn’t really tell you. It all comes together very well, though, and creates a world that is new, different, and interesting, and yet at the same cool and engaging in a comfortable, familiar way. There’s also a highly unusual element mixed in here--that of the post apocalypse. Now granted, you see a lot of stuff that’s post apocalypse, but to my knowledge, you don’t often get a post apocalyptic scenario combined with a Wild-West-Steampunk-and-also-quite-original venture very often, so that adds one more interesting aspect to it.
The story of the game is quite neat, being overall quite simple (but not pedestrian), but told in a pleasingly complex and involved way. At times the plot’s revelations are overt, and at other times they’re quite subtle and require you to put 2 and 2 together, but either way, the story’s execution is quite good, going at exactly the right pace throughout, with just enough layers that you’ll be interested in at least one replay just to pick up on any of the subtle details and connections you missed. There’s a lot of good underlying themes in Bastion, too, particularly about the follies of mistrust and hostility between peoples of different cultures, which of course ties back in with the Wild West themes, since the (usually poor) relations with Native Americans figures heavily in Wild West culture. Finally, Bastion’s conclusion is satisfying and appropriate (regardless of which ending you choose), which, after the insufferable travesty that the recent Mass Effect 3’s ending was, is something I have lately come to appreciate more than ever before.
The voice acting for the game is quite good. Now, normally, you wouldn’t see me mention this so quickly in a rant like this--after going over the story, my next stop would be the characters, since those 2 aspects are more or less always the most important aspects of an RPG (and most other things). But in Bastion, the voice acting is intrinsically tied to its plot, as 99% of the game’s plot, characters, themes, history, and so on are told through the voice of one narrator. When everything your creative venture is is narrated by a single person throughout the venture’s entirety, you better darn well be sure you get a fine voice actor to do the job. Bastion’s Logan Cunningham is just that voice actor. Onto his vocal shoulders falls the hefty job of providing every narrative detail of Bastion’s considerable story and setting, and he’s definitely got the tone, the talk, and the talent for the role. His voice fits his character and the game’s world perfectly, and you’ll be eager to hear every line from start to finish from him.
Character-wise, Bastion is both good and bad. Its few characters have their histories fleshed out pretty well in the optional dream sequences, which is good (except for Rucks, annoyingly; his dream sequence is just about fleshing out and recalling the world of Bastion). In the actual present of the game, though, only Zulf gets any real character development (most of it subtle and understated, but it’s good stuff all the same), with Zia maybe getting a tiny bit as well. Rucks’s character isn’t really explored at all, and while the Kid (Bastion’s protagonist) has a dream sequence that gives him a back story, there’s almost no personality given to him or his interactions with the other characters. It ultimately goes back to my problem with Silent Protagonists in general; the Kid becomes little more than an automaton, albeit one with impressive exploits that Rucks reports. Still, it’s all done quite artfully, so in this case a Silent Protagonist really is not a serious problem like it is in most other RPGs, and overall the cast of Bastion is decent.
The details of the game are pretty much all positive to report on, too. The music for Bastion is perfect for setting its tone from one part to the next (which is important to a game with as much atmosphere as Bastion), and a lot of the tunes are by themselves pretty cool. Graphically it takes a little getting used to at first, but it’s not a big deal, even if you assume visuals to have any significance in an RPG to start with. Which I don’t. The art for the game is stylized and pleasing, coordinating well with and helping to set the tone of Bastion. Finally, the gameplay has reasonable complexity governing it, allowing for a fair amount of customization to one’s style of play, but ultimately is pleasantly simple and straightforward.
Bastion’s not perfect, I suppose. It’s pretty short, clocking in at about 10 hours from start to finish, and unfortunately, it does leave one wanting more. That’s not to say it feels rushed, or incomplete, or anything of the sort--it tells its story at its own pace, and accomplishes everything it sets out to do in that regard. Still, it wouldn’t have taken much to keep it going just a bit longer--1 or 2 extra missions thrown in that failed to yield the sought-after Cores or Fragments (plot doohickeys) could have extended the game’s life by another hour or so, and that time could have been filled with a bit more development of and interactions between the main characters. The brevity of Bastion is helped a bit by its strong replay value, but even then, you’ll probably acquire and experience pretty much everything you want by the end of the second playthrough, and of course that second playthrough will take much less time than the first did, so you still won’t have spent much more time on the entire game as you might on a Fallout DLC of less price. That, and the fact that I wish there were more character development are probably the game’s only flaws.
But really, as I said, the character development issue is still positive overall for Bastion, and so what if it’s short? Is a game’s worth measured by its length or its content? You can spend 50 to 60 hours playing La Pucelle Tactics, or Final Fantasy 8, or Star Ocean 2, and that sure as hell doesn’t make any of them better than Bastion. Hell, I would’ve preferred it if those games were a great deal shorter; it would have meant fewer hours of boredom and/or torment.
Overall, Bastion’s an artsy game, an interesting game, a thoughtful game, and a solid, all-around good game. My tiny forays into the world of Independent RPGs has been very encouraging so far, and if this genre has any more gems like Bastion, I’m going to enjoy my further explorations of it. I thank Queelez for recommending it to me, and I’m forwarding that recommendation to anyone and everyone who reads this blog. Go give Bastion a shot; I think you’ll like it.
* Assuming you don’t count Kingdom of Loathing. Which I guess DOES sort of count, but that’s more like an Independent MMORPG, and here I’m just talking about your regular RPGs.