In 2012 an independent developer released Bastion, a somewhat clumsy platformer and arcade style third person shooter for the computers. The gameplay and the art style, while interesting, did not make quite as big a splash as its soundtrack.
With good reason too, most videogame soundtracks don’t aim to do a lot. Like movies, a videogame soundtrack usually complements the action. Videogames do not always match their cinematic counterparts. Movies at least tend to get a full soundtrack that follows each step of the action. Some videogames settle at a few tracks blasted on repeat. Most videogames face a much harder task too, given that games last longer than movies. The length of a game depends on the player while a movie runs the same regardless of the viewer. Most videogames will need a great deal of audio to fill all the space. Even with an excess of songs a soundtrack could still easily fall short. Bastion’s soundtrack feels so resonant and impressive because it seems like the game was made for it.
The soundtrack integrates inseparably with the story. The silent protagonist awakes to a city falling through endless skies. The music starts off slow as you gain your bearings. The sound shifts into something sad and mysterious as the full ruin of society pans into view. It morphs into heavy mechanical techno pounds out once you start to battle corrupted elements of a collapsing city. As terrain collapses and forces the play to run for their lives the music adjusts accordingly into something harrowing. When you finally reach two key characters in the city the game gives them both unique themes to fit their background and role. The heavy pulse of rhythmic computerized beats settles into sweet and plucky strumming. Low key and simple guitar rhythms accompany soulful female vocals. She sings a folk song encompassing the brooding resentment between two warring people. The lull in the intense battle music brings out the full beauty of the song and feels like a respite from a long violent path in the game itself. Few other scores blend so perfectly with their product. Bastion’s soundtrack blends so well that it truly seems a game made to fit a soundtrack.
The soundtrack does not even need the pacing of the game to come together. It sounds wonderful entirely on its own. Each song blends so well into the next that it feels natural to absorb it all in one sitting. The parts of the album vary from heavy techno to emotional folk songs to western style romps. The whole thing culminates with “Setting Sail, Coming HomeÛ. The final song ties every disparate element together and captures the theme of the entire album in one swoop. Playing the game does help though. Alone it might come off as cluttered. Two layers of vocals fight for the spotlight while separate guitar riffs weave in and out between plodding electronica. When it comes after the whole album it is easy to catch the elements of the album meshed together and get a feel for it. At the end of the game it comes to remind you of everything that you did and the ending you reached.
All of this matters because Bastion represents something truly unique. Bastions won’t pop up all over the place. Games usually do not pace themselves to their soundtracks so that the music tells as much a story as the writing, the imagery, and the gameplay. Videogames with a soundtrack built to fit a certain pace so well that it can stand alone don’t appear often. This soundtrack sounds so great, it matters.