[SPOILER WARNING: I'll be going over some pretty crucial story elements of Bastion here, so if you're trying to save it, quickly go play it and come back! (Although I've heard that enjoyment of an event is not diminished from spoilers so you should probably read on anyway). Also, I would recommend at least a basic understanding of Bastion's story to get to most out of this article]
Released in 2011, Bastion was an exciting new game developed by Supergiant Games. It details the adventure of "The Kid" as he explores his homeland of Caelondia, which was recently destroyed from "The Calamity". Over the course of his journey he meets a few other characters as they search for the cause of the calamity. There was some significant anticipation for this title and it was released to critical acclaim. It was praised for it's striking visuals, intriguing story and unique soundtrack. Composed by Darren Korb, this soundtrack includes a vast mix of timbres and draws on sounds from many cultures from around the world. Along with this, Korb has skilfully included songs into the game, which really give it an extra push in terms of world building. The way sound and music is handled in Bastion has definitely made it that much better than if it weren't to have such an inspired soundtrack.
With regards to instrumentation, the music of Bastion mainly invokes three different environments: The Wild West, The Middle East/India, and a Dystopian Future. These three places are present in most tracks and definitely help to define the world in which the unnamed main character is living (or at least, used to live in).
The guitars, both electric and acoustic invoke the spirit of the west and american country. With various bent notes and open chords they create a picture of a developing nation, with business booming. Right next to this is the middle eastern and indian influence. Throughout many tracks one can hear some middle eastern lute-like instruments, Egyptian sounding reed instruments and Indian sitars and tablas. Underneath all of these real world cultural references are harsh, distorted, overdriven breakbeat(ish) drums. This percussion track, which undercuts almost everything used in the main levels is a representation of the destruction the calamity has caused, not only to the landscape but to the entire Caelondian culture. Accompanied by stings to fill out the texture, these elements allow the world of Caelondia and it's neighbour, the land of the Ura to embed themselves in real world contexts and give the player a more immediate and accurate depiction of what these worlds were like before they were brutally obliterated.
There are some more subtle uses of sound design when looking at Bastion. The main example of this is when the player enters one of the buildings in the Bastion. The music is softer and dampened. This gives the impression that the music is being produced outside these structures and once again gives the world a more authentic presence. Similarly the sound and visuals become blurred and hazy when the player is affected by poison gas or darts. This makes the players vision and hearing impaired which is a good analog for what The Kid is actually experiencing.
However effective the soundtrack is in the background of the game, it's when it's brought to the forefront through songs that it really shines. There are two main songs heard in Bastion, "Build That Wall" and "Mother, I'm Here". Both of these songs have an extreme amount of significance within the game, as they each represent a survivor The Kid finds on his journey. The first, "Build that wall" is played when you discover the second Ura survivor, Zia. It's implementation into the game is really something else. In the beginning of the level "Prosper Bluff" there is no music, just some voiceover from Rucks talking about the area. But then Rucks says, "Then The Kid hears something he 'aint heard in a long while" and the song begins to play. When playing this I felt I instantly knew that there was someone else in the level and I had to find them. The level itself is somewhat maze-like, forcing you to hear the entire song and making the urge to find this mystery singer even stronger. The song itself is a part of the games world and is most likely a folk song which talks about the war between the Caelondians and the Ura many years prior to the events in the game. The "wall" referred to in the song most likely refers to the the "Rippling Wall", the first level of the game. This wall, is one of the city's defences against Ura attacks and was designed by Rucks. The holes are probably Ura dens, which the war memorial in Caelondia is designed after. This integration of folk song into the game adds another layer of lore onto the game and really drives home how well developed the backstory is to this game.
The second song is entirely missable within the game. There comes a point where the player can decide to save Zulf from the Ura forces or leave him. If the player chooses to save him, the song plays. It's melancholy nature makes it seem like it's Zulf's final words. He has accepted that he might die and he may join his mother in death, also it might refer to the fact that he is potentially going pass away in his motherland (all of this is is all just speculation on my part).
But that's not all. When the game ends, the two songs are merged together in "Setting Sail, Coming Home". Zulf may or may not be present during this closing sequence, depending on the players choice, so this combination changes a little depending on the context. With Zulf present, it is a duet between the two Ura on the Bastion and almost a reconciliation between the two lands. With Zulf not present, however, it takes on a kind of double meaning. In part it's a memory of Zulf (however in this case the player hasn't heard the theme in relation to Zulf) and it's also the three characters thinking about what could be coming next.
Bastion's soundtrack truly is a gem. It is extremely well informed and makes the world the game takes place in seem so much more real by using real world musical references and integrating a musical culture into the lore of the game. The music conveys so much about every aspect of this game it's hard to imagine Bastion without it's beautiful songs and striking score. Bastion is a testament to making music a part of the world and expanding the lore through song.
What do you think? Was Bastions storytelling though music a little too subtle? Or were the soundtracks vastly different influences a little too eclectic? What musical ideas are you looking forward to in Supergiant's next release, "Transistor"? I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading.
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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014
Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!
I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.
I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.
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Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!