Monday, September 5, 2011

Bastion tells the story right

I've been playing Bastion over the weekend. Brilliant game, and well worth the $15 it costs. Now normally I'm mostly looking at gameplay in a game, but in that respect Bastion doesn't revolutionize the genre: You get one weapon on the left mouse button, another on the right, plus one special attack, and the possibility to heal yourself with potions. And then you go and kill enemies and smash inanimate objects to find hidden loot, getting xp, and various upgrades. There are a lot of action adventure games with similar gameplay.

What makes Bastion special is its unique style. And a lot of that comes from the way that Bastion tells the story of the game: With a narrator who is talking about YOU all the time. The whole story of the game is told while you play, and in comments that are in direct relation to what you do. It is a bit like a sports commentary, with you being the only player on the field. Places, NPCs, items and events are explained as you encounter them. And even if you just fool around, the narrator gives an appropriate comment to that.

That style of narrative works extremely well to get you interested in the story, because you get the feeling that it is YOUR story that is told. You aren't just some interchangeable hero, some secondary actor in the scripted story of somebody else. There are no quest-givers telling you various boring versions of various boring reasons of why they want you to kill 10 foozles. The story is something that happens while you play, not an intro before playing that you'd rather skip.

There have been a lot of games that promised a revolution in story-telling. Bastion passes on that hype and goes directly to delivery. It turns out that it isn't just the difference between written text and voice-acting that makes you involved in the story, but the timing and subject of the story. In the end you want to be the hero of an adventure game, and that only really works if the story is about you and what you do, and not about some fictional characters and events you don't really care about.

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