As I place the last core from the Hanging Gardens in the center, Ruck (the Stranger) says, “The Cores remember. That’s why this place is comin’ together. That’s why things are gonna be all right.” I am… skeptical. He may well be right that that’s why the island we’re floating on is “comin’ together,” but I really doubt “things are gonna be all right.” If they were, there wouldn’t be a game, for one thing, but since I always tell my students not to state the obvious, I’ll go one deeper. If things were going to be all right there wouldn’t have been a massive calamity which killed pretty much everyone Pompeii-style and I wouldn’t be a nameless Kid hanging out on a floating island with a Stranger and a black-and-white alien.
There’s some commentary here about industrialization, the destruction of the environment for corporate greed, the destructiveness of human ambition, something along those lines. Magic and technology are often corollaries in fantasy worlds, and floating islands (cough Bioshock Infinite cough) are almost always an indicator that someone has gone all Icarus and flown too close to the sun.
Before I leave the Bastion this time, I am given the option to found either a Memorial or a Lost-and-Found. While a Memorial is very psychologically important (and, I’m guessing, will be meaningful to Zulf for some reason), I’m more practically-minded (and, let’s face it, I’m going to build the Memorial eventually anyway), so I build a Lost-and-Found, a place where I can take fragments of things and “make them whole again.” I sense a theme here.
I upgrade my Fang Repeater and my War Machete, and remind myself that I have grenades, although at the moment I can’t remember how to use them. I’m sure I’ll accidentally hit the button at some point. (I really don’t play this game very often, and, to be honest, the only reason I still am playing this game is because I committed to write this series. I don’t really hate it, but I don’t like it, either, and there are other things I could be playing.) But upgrades are good and make it more likely that I’ll manage to survive.
My choices now are either a fort which is billed as difficult (ugh) or a temple. Temple it is, although as soon as I land the Stranger tells me that I don’t have time for praying, which I then apparently do anyway because I don’t start moving right away because I’m tying this. Okay. I’m hoping at least there will be interesting content here. Temples usually have interesting content.
While wandering around, I pass a shrine to Pyth, a bull-deity, then find a small Pompeii-ed boy offering up a plush Pyth to the deity. I can take the plush, and the Stranger says, “The gods don’t have much use for trinkets. But the Kid ain’t a god.” Very true, Stranger. Very true.
“Pyth stood for somethin’ once. Somethin’ real. In time, though, the bull stopped standin’ for somethin’, and started bein’ decoration.” That’s a warning if I ever heard one. And, sure enough, the next effigy attacks me. Okay. Kill it. (And forget how to heal, so I die and get a warning that I don’t get to keep dying.) On the far side is a shrine, and I’m given the option to pray to Pyth or not. Praying to Pyth makes enemies harder to kill, which is NOT something I need, so I skip it, and the Stranger narrates that “The Kid don’t need favor from the likes of Pyth,” which is immediately followed by a remark that the gods might be annoyed with me, and a slew of regular enemies to kill.
This game is not growing on me.
And after all that, there’s not even a core in the Temple, and Zulf gets a little snooty about my Pyth plushie, remarking that the gods are not to be trivialized by being made into toys. Zulf is also not growing on me.
Back to the skyway and the Fort, which is every bit as full of enemies as I was hoping it wouldn’t be. At one point, after I’ve slaughtered a lot of windbags, the Stranger remarks that “Windbags aren’t that different from other folks. Just lookin’ for a warm place to stay and a decent meal.” And now I feel bad about killing giant floating commas with eyes. Which I’m supposed to, I know, but I’m now also irritated that I’ve been made to feel this way.
Here’s the thing about good gameplay—or, at least, about gameplay that one enjoys—finding out that the Geth in Mass Effect weren’t evil caused me a very minor amount of distress, but I wasn’t ever annoyed at the game for doing that. I’m annoyed at Bastion for telling me that the floating commas are people with feelings because it isn’t giving me a choice about killing them and I’m not enjoying the gameplay. I have absolutely no desire to kill the floating commas so instead of feeling bad about killing them, I’m just even more irritated that the game is making me do so. I will give it this—I hadn’t ever really thought about how the gameplay really feeds into the way I feel about plot twists like this one, so I’m actually glad that Bastion did that. Just not for the reasons they probably intended.
The Fort gives me a new gun, which I hate, so I put it away the first chance they give me, and the Stranger of course has to comment on how I’m going back to something familiar. I’m getting a bit irritated with the constant remarks. I do still like—at least in theory—how the game’s narrative is “customized” to your actions as the Kid. I really do think that’s a great way to adjust a simplistic narrative to be much more personalized to the individual player’s ludonarrative experience (sorry, a little academese slipped in there). I just can’t help but feel like some of the time it’s passing judgment on my inability to play this game. Like when he says “Good thing the windbags don’t know the Kid’s fresh out of health tonics.”
Hey, Ruck, let me introduce you to my little friend here, the Fang Repeater. Yeah, it’s an old “familiar” weapon, but you don’t have one, now, do you? And yes, I am aware that I have bloody grenades.
Oh, good. This time, I’ve finally fallen off the world too many times (six today, but who’s counting?) and I actually die and have to restart the Fort, which makes me so happy. (Sarcasm, just in case you missed it, which I’m pretty sure you didn’t.) Huzzah. I now get to do all that again. (And yes, I know I could have chosen easy difficulty, but I didn’t, and I am most certainly not going to restart the game in order to do so now.)
So this time I play through the level keeping the stupid shotgun, which means I have to just run through the areas where I used the Fang Repeater to snipe the turrets before they could shoot me. Which is annoying as all get-out, especially once I get back to where I died and it was literally the last fight of the level. Ugh.
I have to say, at least I really enjoy the music in this game. There was a point on that last play-through of the Fort where I was actually shotgunning things in rhythm to the music, which felt really intuitive, and I have to therefore give serious props to the sound folks. That was a nice moment.
I made it through this time and got the core, so I guess it was worth it (no, it wasn’t). This game is a valuable lesson for me in genres-I-do-not-like. I do not like this one, yet at the same time, I am very aware that for this type of game Bastion does a lot of really neat stuff.