Bastion Review

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Title: Bastion
Developer: Super Giant Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download:  962 MB
NA Availability: 
Digital

EU Availability: Digital
PSTV Support: Yes

Back in 2011, there was a certain isometric Action RPG on Xbox Live that got really popular really fast.  It was one of those “everyone is talking about this” games.  2011 was back when indie games weren’t as immensely popular as they are today.  Sure, Minecraft had been out for a couple years at that point, but it wasn’t like indies were flooding the console world back then.  So, it was a pretty big deal.

The game got popular enough to be ported to a lot of different systems and, overtime,  the game has also made its way over to the PlayStation Family.  Having been announced for quite awhile now, this game has finally released on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation TV as of last week’s PlayStation Experience Press Conference.  Here is my review of the Vita version of Bastion!

Story

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Bastion is a tale around a man called “The Kid”.  The Kid was a worker for the walls on a high, secluded city.  On his patrol, the ground crumbled beneath him in a catastrophic event known as “The Calamity”, that essentially was an apocalypse for that city high above the ground.  After he comes to, he heads towards The Bastion, a sanctuary that the city-folk were told to go to in case of a disaster.  When he gets there, he finds it in ruins with only a single other survivor there, waiting for him.

Upon getting there, he sets out on a journey outside the city to find energy cores to power the Bastion to essentially undo the damage the Calamity has done.  All while uncovering the history of what, exactly, The Calamity was and how it came to happen in the first place.

The storytelling in this game is made in a way that it sounds like someone retelling the story and having it play out in front of you while you play the game.  There is constant narration being done as you go through each stage, talking about the world, The Kid and other characters, The Bastion, etc.  It feels kind of like a story being told.

Despite all of this, the story in this game could have been more clear and more in-depth.  While there is a lot to be know about The Bastion and the background of The Calamity, the story isn’t something that’s going to grip you for the majority of the game.  Honestly, the story gets pretty good near the end of the game, but it isn’t until the end of the game that it really is all that interesting.

Gameplay

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Bastion is a western-developed Action RPG that pits you in isometric environments as you explore and fight enemies to find key items and exit the stage.  The core gameplay is an Action RPG, though I can’t really think of a specific game I can compare it to.  It’s almost in a class of its own, especially among the rest of the PS Vita library.  Let’s just call it an Action RPG.

Progressing the game will have you going from your Home Base, which is a Hub World of sorts, and the various levels where the game is played out.  The Hub World is The Bastion, where you have a few NPCs you can talk to as well as various areas where you can grow and build facilities.  There are also some items that appear here that let you enter “Reflection” Gauntlets that have you fighting waves of enemies as you learn the background stories for each major character.

Every time you retrieve a core, you can build a facility.  There are several types of facilities.  There is an Arsenal, where you can change out your weapons and a Forge, where you can use materials to upgrade and enhance your weapons.  There is a Distillery that lets you equip spirits as you level up to enhance your skills and a Shrine that lets you invoke ancient gods to create challenges.  There’s also a Lost and Found shop where you can buy materials for new skills and upgrades and a final area that lets you claim currency from completing certain tasks while out on missions.  We’ll touch more on these later.

When you go on a mission, you can go to unlocked areas on the world map.  These areas basically have two types: The first is an explore-able map where you can find a Core to advance the story.  The second is a gauntlet-type mission based around a specific weapon that has you going through a challenge with only that weapon.  Getting high scores in these missions nets you materials that let you upgrade your weapons without having to find and/or buy the materials, yourself.

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The main missions have large 2D/3D areas that you explore, fight enemies, and claim key items, namely Energy Cores.  As you walk through these areas, the floor will appear in front of you as you walk along.  So, if the floor stops in front of you, you’re going on the wrong path.  There are also areas where rooms will be blocked off, requiring you to either flip switches, ride on barges or sky bridges that propel you to another platform, defeat a wave of enemies, or destroy objects and obstructions to create a path to where you need to go.

As you go around these areas, you will find items, materials, and weapons that you can take with you.  Weapons are a special kind, because when you find a weapon, you automatically switch to that weapon and be told how to use it.  You can only carry two weapons at once, so finding a weapon means the game will unequip one of your weapons for the new one.  If you don’t like it, you have to find an Arsenal in the level to re-equip yourself.

Materials are taken with you for upgrading at the Forge, but other items are in the form of Health Bottles and Black Flasks.  You carry 3 health bottles with you that you can use to replenish some of your health.  Some enemies drop extra bottles you can use to heal yourself or add to your inventory.  You can also find fountains that will refill all of them for you.  Black Flasks are used to activate skills.  Each weapon has secret skills that you can equip.  The rapid-fire Fang Repeater gun has a skill that fires shots in all directions around you, while the hammer has a skill to let you spin yourself around, launching all nearby enemies away.

Enemies will come at you in waves, and they are where the game’s difficulty comes from.  Every enemy type attacks differently and requires different strategies to fight.  Some you just have to time dodge as you attack them.  Other, you have to constantly defend and block shots until you get an opening.  Later on, you might even get enemies that you have to have precision jumps to avoid and counter-attack enemies that can only be damaged from behind.  When you get a horde of different strategic enemies in the room with you, you’re in for quite the challenge.  I won’t say the game is painfully hard, but there are some sections that can get pretty tough.

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When you defeat enemies, you will gain experience and currency.  Currency is used to upgrade weapons, and buy materials.  Experience is used as it is in most RPGs.  Gain enough experience and you level up.  Unlike most RPGs, your level can only go up to 10 in Bastion, and levels are associated with how many spirits you can equip yourself with.  Spirits are skill enhancements, like increasing your maximum health or your critical hit rate.  This is very slow and you shouldn’t expect to reach Level 10 by the end of the game.  When I finished my first play through the game on Normal, I was only Level 5.

Instead of level-grinding, the progression focus is on weapon-upgrading.  Once you get a Lost and Found Shop, you can access specific materials pretty easily.  You need the same material each time you upgrade a weapon, and upgrades can make a huge difference in battle.  I used the Fang Repeater the most in the game, which is like a semi-automatic rifle.  Upgrades to that increased damage, clip size, and other things.  Clip size can mean the difference between taking out an enemy quickly or running out of ammo and dodging around attacks for a while as I reload and start firing again.

As I’ve already discussed difficulty, let’s talk about the game’s length.  This may be an RPG, but it isn’t a long one.  One trek through Bastion will likely only take you about 6-7 hours, give or take.  While this sounds rather short for an RPG, after having played it that long, I can see why it’s only that long.  It may only be a 6 hour game, but it just feels right being about that length.  I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the game as much if I’d still been doing the same thing for 15-20 hours.

Controls

The controls are one thing I should make a note of.  First of all, there aren’t any special controls on the PlayStation TV, nor are there any touch controls.  One thing to know is that the controls are preset.  You cannot customize your controls.

The Left Analog Stick is used for moving around and the D-Pad is used for manually reloading the Fang Repeater.  The Right Analog Stick is used to move your aim while you’re attacking and defending.  The L trigger is used to defend with your shield and the R trigger is used to activate your secret skill.  X us used for dodging and jumping.  Square and Circle are used to fire with either of your equipped weapons.

Presentation

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There are no complaints with how the game looks.  The unique art-style transitions very nicely over to the Vita and the PSTV.  It might take a little getting used to if you switch from the big to little screen, but it looks pretty nice.  Very crisp and beautiful.  The sound is done really well as well.  All of the voiced songs can really tug at your heart strings once you get closer to the end.

Performance is where things get a little messy.  First of all, load times can get pretty lengthy.  I’ve had several times where loading a level or the game itself can be as long as 20-30 seconds.  The other is the thing that most Vita gamers worry about: Frame-Rate.  In many areas, especially boss fights, the frame rate chugs along at a slower pace than other areas.  I won’t say that it’s unplayable, but it gets pretty jumpy, and often.

Summary

Bastion is a game that is 5 years old, but a lot of people still talk about and love.  The story isn’t as great as it could be, and the Vita version has some annoying frame rate and loading problems.  Still, the game itself is very charming and fun, yet different Action RPG that’s worth a play or three. 

7/10

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