If you're an avid video game fan who's been plugging away at the pastime for years, then you know the unique privilege of playing a game out of lukewarm curiosity, only to have it uplift your soul. For me, one of those games is Bastion.
Though Supergiant Games' action RPG was originally released in 2011, I didn't get around to playing it until 2015, when I downloaded it because of one of those Steam sales that slash prices to the bone. Within the first half hour, it delivered a roundhouse to all my senses. Bastion is gorgeous to look at, it's satisfying to play, its story is simple but deeply engaging (thanks to its unique background narrative, delivered by the copper-voiced Logan Cunningham), and its soundtrack is sublime.
Earlier this week, Jeremy reviewed the 2LP soundtrack for Supergiant's follow-up project, Transistor. I've yet to play Transistor -- I downloaded it on Steam, but my ornery computer spit it right back out at me -- but seeing as Bastion and Transistor are first cousins, I think now's a good time to shine a spotlight on one of the former's best-known songs.
Bastion's soundtrack is composed by Darren Korb, a musician who knows his way around a set of steel strings (if you don't believe me, listen to A Proper Story, also off the Bastion soundtrack). He's also pretty decent at composing lyrics, as today's highlighted tune, Setting Sail, Coming Home, demonstrates.
Plenty of games have big, sweeping songs that contain lyrics. Even Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom has a Jpop opening -- an impressive feat for a cartridge-based game. But in-game lyrics, especially for older games, tend to be a bit on the cheesy side. They're typically anthems for love, friendship, and hope.
That's not true for Setting Sail, Coming Home. The song, which is loaded with purpose and emotion, is an amalgamation of two other songs that appear in Bastion: The somber, dirge-like Mother, I'm Here and the cheerier (but still dire) Build That Wall, sung by Ashley Barrett.
Though it's not immediately apparent from the outset, Bastion is a game about two warring peoples: The Caelondians (a city-dwelling race that includes Bastion's main character, The Kid), and the Ura (a subterranean warrior race). A mass-extinction event at the start of the game comes close to wiping out both races, and the subsequent events follow a small handful of survivors: The Kid and an old Caelondian named Rucks, as well as two Ura named Zia and Zulf.
When you first meet Zia, she's singing Build That Wall, which she learned from her father. As a Ura raised amongst the Caelondians, she's seemingly innocent to the fact Build That Wall is an Ura war anthem, even though a quick examination of its lyrics reveals it as such:
I dig my hole, you build a wall
Some day that wall is gonna fall.
The "wall" refers to the ever-expanding wall wrapped around the city of Caelondia, which is engineered to keep the Ura out. But as Zia's song asks, what good is a wall against a race like the Ura, which is proficient at tunneling? Doesn't matter how high Caelondia builds that wall; the Ura will just scurry under it.
Mother, I'm Here plays at one of Bastion's most poignant moments, a moment that's difficult to talk about without spoiling the game's story. That said, Korb specifically composed the song to be sad and mournful, like something you'd hear at a funeral.
As a consequence, the blending of Build That Wall and Mother, I'm Here in the game's end credits still carries a great deal of weight, but it's also a little bit more upbeat, like it carries a glint of hope for a peaceful future between the Caelondians and the Ura.
That's because both endings for Bastion (yes, there are two) do offer hope for both races, but with enormous compromises on each side. Not everyone gets what they want -- or what they deserve. That's the nature of war, conflict, and of life in general.