The Kid Gets Fatigue: As-I-Play Bastion (Part Four)

Last we left the Kid, he was only barely surviving the Fort, gaining a shotgun, and being generally crabby about having made a poor choice at the beginning of the game to limit the number of times he can die before having to completely restart a level. When we rejoin him, he’s just splatted face-down on the grass in the Bastion.

Rucks says that “Kid shows up just as Zulf’s tellin’ me about his own journey to the city,” so I guess that means that things are going to be about Zulf for a little while. I’m okay with that. So I found a smoking pipe in the last level, which happens to belong to Zulf. When I approach it (it has the tell-tale little exclamation point over it that says there is something to be explored), “Kid passes out after the first drag,” and I end up in “history,” presumably some sort of flashback, although I have yet to determine if it’s the Kid’s or Zulf’s.

The Kid’s, mostly. Apparently his white hair is some freakish thing, as Ruck explains that his mother had the same hair and he had to get tough because of it. He also entered the military (went to protect the walls), and his mother was either dead or dying when “his time was up.” Okay, sad story. The Kid has had a tough life. Now if I could just get through this level to figure out why this is important…

And nevermind. Three restarts in a row is more than enough to make me not have any interest in completing that little trip down memory lane. Yes, yes, I could have played this on an easier difficulty, but I didn’t make that choice and so this is going to happen to me. Okay, I get that, but at the same time, I am not at all inclined to start all the way over just to remedy that little mistake. This is one big argument I have for games allowing you to shift difficulty levels partway through; if I could just slog the rest of the way through (because, as with the Fort, I’m pretty sure that I’m actually pretty much at the end of it), it would be fine. But I can’t quite make it and I am not at all inclined to keep trying.

Here’s the thing about failure in games: it’s supposed to teach you something. You’re supposed to learn that the path you’re on is the wrong one, that you need to master a new skill, what order you need to complete a set of tasks, where to shoot the boss monster… something. All I’m learning from Bastion is that I’m terrible at this sort of combat and even worse at not falling off things. The two combine to make a terrible feedback loop of death. Now if I were enjoying the combat of the game, then the whole experience would be different—even if I’m bad at it, if I find it enjoyable, then the constant repetition of the exact same level over and over might actually be fun. But I don’t, so it isn’t.

So instead, I head back to the Bastion, very irritated. I plug in the core from my last mission, then build a Memorial, since my other construction option is a Shrine, and that whole business with the bull-god did not work out so well for me. I have the distinct feeling I’m going to have to deal with more gods eventually, which is not contributing to my desire to keep playing this game.

In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether I will finish this game. It’s already longer than I was expecting it to be, and each hint that gets dropped makes me start to despair that it’s going to be over any time soon. I definitely have Bastion fatigue, and in this game—unlike in Borderlands 2—there is no intrepid Mike to come and get my butt out of it. And I really, really, really do not want to start this game over again.

As a habitual completionist—about everything, not just games—this is a painful process. I don’t want to “give up” on the game, but I also really don’t want to keep playing it. It doesn’t stimulate the reward centers in my brain—I feel relief when I finish an area because then I can justify to myself that I can be done playing it until the time comes for another post, and then I grudgingly go back.

And that’s the fundamental problem with this particular game, for me. And it really is all about me, here (I know, the quintessential break-up line). It may seem trite to say, but Bastion is not a bad game. It has great music, which I enjoy listening to while the game is paused so that I can type up these posts. It has an interesting narrative concept in terms of the customization for each player’s experience. The characters and enemies aren’t that bad, either, although I’m not wowed by any of them, and some of them are pretty clichéd (like Zulf and Rucks). (Side note: Ruck is also the name of a character in Dragon Age who is a dwarf gone mad from lyrium exposure and Blight who is much more interesting—and repeats his own name constantly—than the Stranger, but that’s who I think of every time I see the word.)

I also want to find out what happens, and just can’t bring myself to watch the rest of it on YouTube (which is my go-to solution for not playing through Dragon Age seventeen times to see all the possible options for choices, endings, and romances). So instead I’ll ignore the stupid pipe, and head to the Langston River, which “flowed free and wild until the Calamity drank it all up.” Hopefully this will go better.

This level takes place mostly on a barge named Nelly floating through air (although I can hear water), with other barges bringing by windbags or turrets or whatever. Once the Kid grabs the core, he gets attacked by birds, which apparently also “have their eyes on the core,” although neither Rucks nor I can fathom what birds would do with it.

Back on Nelly, the barge—at least, that’s what it sounds like from Rucks’ description—has built a pair of turrets on herself to defend both her and me, which is useful getting through the next wave of enemies. At the end, the barge is severely damaged, and crashes “with her last breath” on an island overrun by birds, at least until the Kid gets done with it. But instead of getting to fly back to Bastion, there’s a hole in the ground, and I have to go through there.

This takes me to Prosper Bluff (which reminds me of Prosperity Plaza in Bioshock Infinite, which was most definitely not a happy place, although perhaps I am supposed to think of Prospero from The Tempest, although that’s even less comforting given his propensity for self-justification, abuse of power, and general cluelessness about the way the world works).

“The city was the most beautiful place in the world,” Rucks remarks. “We were all told that. But some folks just yearn to see the things they can’t.” The Golden Apple. Pandora’s Box and the Fruit of Knowledge and Promethean fire. All stories about how people want what they can’t have and it comes back to bite them. I’m sensing a similar Pyrrhic ending here.

As the Kid approaches another switch to open a gate, a song begins, and Rucks narrates: “The Kid hears somethin’ he hasn’t heard in a long while. How’s that go again?” The song intensifies. “Yeah, that’s it.” It’s an old spiritual about the city on a hill… also reminiscent of Bioshock Infinite for me (although yes, I know that this game predates it), this time in a good way (Infinite still has my favorite soundtrack of any game I’ve ever played). Nevertheless, the song’s focus on the city on a hill tells me that this is definitely a game about overreaching, Icharus and the Tower of Babel all wrapped together.

And since flipping the switch has caused the walkway back to disappear, the Kid has no choice but to take the skybridge, which just throws him back to where he needed to be. Okay, that was much less dramatic than I was expecting. Good to know. Happily, the song continues.

Okay, maybe after a while this song does start to get on your nerves. At any rate, this level has a million narrow wooden bridges with no railings, and if you thought I was bad at staying on nice, broad pathways, you ought to see the disaster in this level. I may actually have to start over because I can’t walk in a diagonal line to save my soul. Seriously—the birds I can handle. The falling off, not so much.

Here’s hoping that the girl playing the lute (and, presumably, singing) on this last island is going to let me get the hell out of here before I fall to my permanent death. Yes, it is. And the Singer agrees to come back to the Bastion, where there’s even more good news.

First, the Singer is Ura, like Zulf, who is very happy to see another Ura. Rucks says that we all become friends, because “Calamity tends to do that to people.” Then he tells me that there’s only one core left. Happy day! And then he says this: “Kid was surprised to hear there was only one core left. I shouldn’t a’ believed it, either.” Damn.

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