The lights are on
Video games are defined by their aesthetic, their gameplay, their art, their music, their atmosphere, their visuals, and their contemporaries. These pieces combine to create the immersive world of the game, and if they are capable then they support one another. A game that practices gestalt, in this manner, is Bastion. Bastion, on the surface, is a top down brawler infused with RPG elements to liven the action. Experience is collected, and the story is more linear than not. However, the true depth of Bastion is a reciprocal phenomenon. To myself, and perhaps others, whichever of it's many facets you devote yourself to concerning the game is going to become strongest to you. The true strength of the game, in my opinion, is it's ability to empower you as the player to determine what makes it great.That being said, there are many things here that make Bastion great in a typical sense. For starters; the story. Bastion's narrative is a now lauded "active narration" in which elements of gameplay are mixed in while the story is being told to you. As a result your actions dictate the course of the plot, act cruel and the "Stranger", as the narrator is known, will comment. This extends to choice of weaponry, enhancers, and the difficulty-increasing idols. Free will is a decisive factor in the frame set by the narration. It's much like a determining how you'll reach an end that isn't in sight. You are simultaneously guided, and free to make your own way.The top-down perspective of the game is deceptive. The mechanics initially lead you to believe that the experience is more shallow than it actually is. Gradual introduction of tertiary systems such as weapon modification, spirits (which enhance or modify specific aspects of combat such as critical chance), and idols (which increase challenge) are all introduced a step at a time. Basics are given, variety comes in, specialization follows, and challenge is last. Until that point when idols are unlocked your ability at the game eclipses the difficulty set forth. So as a bonus you are given the choice as to whether or not you want to experience something more challenging.
Visuals for Bastion are interesting. It is not a technically powerful game, but the artwork certainly fills in any gaps left for immersing the player. The picturesque world is like a painting. Landscapes that are distinguished by color and tone are shattered by devastation. Through the footsteps of the player pieces reassemble as you walk froward. Through your path the remnants of civilization can be rebuilt. This visual style is somewhat reminiscent of Braid, another lauded arcade game.
Now, the most striking part of the game to most: sound design. Accompanying the narration, which in it's own right is fantastic, is the soundtrack to the game. The ecclectic mash of folk, techno, and rock are delivered to increase the emotional impact that the combat has. In addition to these instrumentals are the occasional vocalization. Though scarce, these arrive at critical moments in the story and completely blow the emotional impact out of the park. Truly, the soundtrack alone is worth it.
To me the art of Bastion is the most inspiring. The idea of a broken world that forms around your movements, a narration that is crafted from your exploits, and choices that let your playstyle shine are all exemplary in an industry where free will limits itself to arbitrary inclinations of right and wrong, or how to go about doing something. Both of which may indeed have little to no impact on the tale being told. Bastion separates itself from games like that, everything you do and choose becomes part of the story in progress. Bastion is legitimately the best experience available on the Xbox Live Arcade, and also one of the best gaming experiences of 2011.