An indie darling of 2011, Supergiant Games’ Bastion is undoubtedly a work of art. Late to the party as usual, I only just played it for the first time a few months ago. Knowing its reception and legacy, I can safely now say it’s a self-contained masterpiece in terms of gameplay and style. It’s hard to say whether or not it lives in the shadow its spiritual successor, Transistor (or vice versa), but Bastion stands firmly and proudly on its own legs. And with a game of such brilliance comes a soundtrack to match.
Now, I’m not afraid to admit that Bastion‘s modern musicality didn’t immediately win me over. Unlike with some background music in game, Bastion‘s background music isn’t what I’d call ambient. It’s omnipresent, loud in some respects, and quite different from what you might expect in a spritely, colorful, isometric RPG. Well, it was quite different from what I expected anyway, which was something along the lines of quiet and orchestral. This assumption was based only on what little I’d seen of its gameplay, so shame on me for being so judgmental.
While Bastion‘s soundtrack is an overall winner just in terms of “good music,” I chose fan-favorite “Build That Wall” or Zia’s Theme here simply because it’s an outstanding piece that helps to elevate the game’s soundtrack as a whole, as well as the game itself.
The lush guitar of “Build That Wall” floats throughout the world of Bastion. There are levels in which you can hear it strumming softly in the background only to have its sound build as you reach specific points. The theme accompanies a character in the game named Zia. (In fact, you first find her by following the sound of her song.) Zia is a survivor, along with The Kid (your character) of the terrible Calamity that befell the land of Caelondia, the fractured world of which provides Bastion’s backdrop. The lyrics of “Build a Wall” apparently touch upon the tumultuous history and war between Zia’s people – the Ura – and the Caelondians. It’s a song tinged with such melancholy that it almost belies its crisp, clear vocals.
Expounding upon notion of doing something different, “Build That Wall” is hardly the type of song you’d expect to hear in a game while bashing enemies and picking up potions. And yet, somehow, the song’s acoustic guitar and stripped-down sensibility melds perfectly with the game’s broken landscapes. And as the game is quite literally about building a safe haven, a bastion — building it from the rubble left by the Calamity — how fitting it is to present a song that says, sure you can go ahead and build that wall, but someday, that wall is going to fall. It’s inevitable and cyclical. The real question then is not who’s going to build the next wall?, but who’s going to do something different? Supergiant Games did just that by including this song in Bastion, and just look at how “doing something different” paid off handsomely in the end.