This is the second of a three-part series on what exactly makes the Xbox Live Arcade game Bastion one of the most affecting video gaming experiences since video gaming could be, you know, affecting. The first part mostly steered clear of spoiler territory. This part will do no such thing; if you’re playing Bastion, and you’re going to read this, I hope you’re getting close to the end. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
“The Kid” wakes up in a (presumably his) bed, surrounded by nothing. He gets up, as narrator Rucks helpfully tells us when we move the joystick for the first time, and he begins to rebuild the world. As he runs from place to place, the world appears under his feet. Fulfilling as this sounds, however, discovering and rebuilding the world of Bastion is a transient experience until you actually arrive at the Bastion itself. Your travels have a lasting impact on the Bastion, an impact you can see every time you return. You amass pets, trinkets, and buildings that help you prepare for each of your journeys into the world that once was.
The pets seem like the least important things there. A miniature gasbag (a “squirt”) spins around in a circle when you interact with it; an anklegator understands basic commands like “come” and “stay”. They serve no immediate or obvious purpose, existing only as toys in the tiny little hub town that you happen to be building.
Even so, it’s the pets that prime you for what’s to come.
There’s a reason that the storytellers over at Supergiant games have you wake up alone: When you’re alone, you haven’t had the chance to build an allegiance to anything. Bashing away at the many destructible parts of the world doesn’t feel like a problem, because it’s not your world at this point, it is simply a world. That goes double for the creatures in that world. “Self-defense”, you’ll plead, if pressed. They’ll kill you if you don’t kill them. And yet, sometimes, they become friendly. Some of them you can reason with via a special “attack”, turning them on each other. Eventually, a squirt becomes a pet, brought back to the Bastion for the sake of some semblance of company.
Here’s the point at which things begin to get complicated. Once you’ve domesticated a squirt, going off to destroy hundreds of other squirts is like owning and loving a dog at home while yelling things like “10 POINTS FOR LASSIE” when you’re a passenger in a car headed straight for someone’s beloved collie. There’s a little bit of sympathy for them all of a sudden, a twinge of “I’m sorry” as you hack them to powder. Even old, wise narrator Rucks contributes to this feeling, telling us at one point that these beasties “ain’t much different from you and me.” Not only can they be domesticated, they are slowly revealed to us as beings with feelings, and eventually motivations, and the sense that we are participating in a sort of systematic genocide only bubbles closer and closer to the surface.
Still, at least the baddies at the beginning of the game have the good grace to disappear when you kill them.
(…and I’m going to make you click on something here to see the rest, because now we’re well into spoiler territory.)
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