essay, video games

True Voice

[Note: Major spoilers for Bastion]

One of more remarkable things about the game Bastion is how the narrator speaks to you. He tells what the characters is doing. He says what is going on during the game, the story. He speaks about all number of things that are and have happened. The only problem I have with the narrator is that the you he is speaking to all the time isn’t me.

I’ve written about it before. It was in a post where I questioned who the narrator is speaking to and from where he is talking. And, having finished the game a few hours ago, I think I now know. He, The Stranger or later known as Rucks, is talking to Zia, another person in the Bastion, having been rescued from Zulf and is listening just before The Kid goes off to confront Zulf and end this whole conflict.

To add some context to the situation, let me say that a Calamity happened. Now you know just slightly less than I did for most of the playing session of the game. It turns out that there are two peoples. Several decades ago they had a war. Both are now at peace. At peace in that most of each group has been wiped out by The Calamity, the world-wide event that takes place right before the game starts. It was this Calamity, this catastrophic event that brought four people together.

Upon meeting The Stranger at the Bastion, The Boy goes off to other areas in search of cores, the parts that power the Bastion. it is during this expeditions into the wilderness that is left of the world where he finds first Zulf and the Zia. They are of the other race of people. The Stranger and The Boy are of one, Zulf and Zia the other. And the world would have stayed that way had The Biy not brought back a journal detailing how the world ended, that the Caelondians, Rucks and The Kid’s people, tried to get rid of the Ura, Zulf and Zia’s people once and for all.

Rucks says that the Caelondians just wanted to avoid war. He says that the solution that a refugee of the Ura, a man named Venn, came up with was to launch the place where the Ura live into space, forever separating the two peoples. This had the effect of tearing apart the plant and causing most of the people to die out right. All but four people, the four people who were at the Bastion when Zulf got to reading the journal that The Boy brought back. Venn detailed what he did and how he did it, that they forced him to use the device he devised and launch most of the Ura into space.

Zulf, as you can imagine, doesn’t like this attempted genocide. He goes back East, back to his native lands and rounds up the survivors. He starts to steal the Shards, an alternative source of energy for the Bastion. He even warns The Kid that it is too late, that the Bastion will never work again. Of course, The Kid settles everything. He goes back to the Bastion to see it in rumble but there is still time to save it, to make it finally work.

What is the Bastion exactly? It has the power to do two, mutually exclusive, things: it can launch the platform, start a new life for whomever is on it, or it can reset the world back the way it was before The Calamity happened. The truth of those two options don’t appear until the very end of the game though. It is not until The Kid faces off against Zulf and recovers the final Shard that the player is even given the choice of either ending to the story. Before that, The Kid must rescue Zia and leave her with Rucks.

It is during this period, the time between when Zia has been rescued and returned but the game has not quite ended that the story is being told. At least, I think so. Rucks says that while The Kid is away, is too far for contact, that something must be done to pass the time. His solution is to tell stories, to talk about the world. I think it is during this period of equal sharing that I think the story is being told to Zia. This makes sense for a couple of reasons.

The most obviously reasons this fits into the story is that Rucks is heard to say several times “You remember what happened…” or “No need to talk about this…”. During each part, Zia is part of the story. The first is when The Kid runs into her the first time and the second quote is from a time when The Kid rescues her. Both seem to be in the past progressive and thus are actively taking place but not in the present time period. For her not to be told part of the story, it must be that she, as a character in the story herself, has knowledge of it.

The second reason is that they are telling stories. I mentioned that before when I was talking about the time of sharing that they are having together. This, more than any other time, has to, if it is to be justified in the story, the period during which both Rucks and Zia would have time enough alone for Rucks to tell her of all the activities that The Kid has been up to until this point. Of course, he might just be catching her up on the latest bits of the story too.

So, regardless of the reasoning, Rucks talks of The Kid getting the final shard. That during the period that he was not in contact, he went and confronted Zulf and got the last shard. If he brings Zulf back, another choice that the player is given, then Zulf is there at the very end. If the player leaves Zulf there, he stays and the player escapes. One of two happen with The Kid leaving the area and going back to the Bastion. Upon doing that, the player is given the final choice between the Restoration of Escaping.

Even if the player chooses to rescue Zulf, he will not appear in the inner chamber of the Bastion, the place where Zia and Rucks wait for The Kid. He has that choice to make. Before he does though he can listen to monologues about the things he collected and how they can be seen in different lights. That’s right. There are two monologues. If the player chooses to talk to Rucks about the items, he says that The Kid should ignore anything that he learned and just reset the world. That is the only solution, he says.

However, and this is the major spoiler, if the player chooses to talk to Zia, she talks to the character. For the entirety of the game, the player listens to Rucks part of the story. He wants the world to rewind, to go back to the way it was before the world ended and everyone died. He wants to use his invention — yes, his — and restore the balance to the world. Zia, however, does not.

If the player chose to use the objects in the Bastion prior to the final battle, Rucks may have spoken on how Zia’s life was not very good. Venn, the very same person who created the device that ended the world, was her father. He was very busy, she was left alone. Even when she met a friend who wanted to know more about her, she was ultimately betrayed and her father was forced into work in order to save his daughter. For her, this chance to continue to live this life, this post-Calamity, existence is the best for her. She does not want to go back to the person she was and the situation she was in. Even if no one else is around, she wants to continue with The Kid and Rucks, out into where he people might be waiting.

This presented me with a problem. For the entire game, I was told how great the world used to be. How great the gardens were. How huge the mines were. How, generally, the world really sucks now. Wouldn’t be great to see all this at its height? At its best? The first answer would be to say “yes, turn the world back.” Yet, learning of Zia and The Kid’s backstory makes the player not want to act out that proscribed pact. Both had rough childhoods. The Kid spent all his time on the Walls, the main defense. Zia was left to herself too.

Both want a new life. In fact, it is split in a way. Rucks wants to reset the world, to go back to the way it was. So too does Zulf. His world ended when the greater world did too. But his heart really broke when he learned that the Caelondians were trying to kill his and all of his kind. He changed and became violent. He raised an army to fight against the Bastion and against the few people left in the world. Zia, however, does not want to do back. She wants to go into the future and into a time and place where she does not have to be alone.

The dividing vote is left to the player. Should the Restoration happen or should the Bastion leave and doom the planet? Should I listen to the voice from the entire game, the one telling me how great the world was and how it could be that way again? Should I continue to listen to the person that might have gotten everyone in this mess to begin with? What if he is wrong? What if this all happened again? No one will remember what happened. This Calamity could occur again — will probably occur again. Does that seem like the right answer? Even Rucks cannot say what will happen after the button is pressed. He invented the machine but could never test it. How can you test a machine that resets the world?

That leaves the world that Zia wants. The Ura fought even to the end. Zulf might have gone to them and told them the truth, but they chose to continue the war even after the world ended. They chose to continue the conflict and to continue stealing the shards, the energy for the Bastion even after they too learned that it could reset the world. They could have gone back to the way it was. They could have their rewind, their do-over, but chose to fight The Kid every step of the way and through every area. What world is that? What crazy is that, even in the face of the end of the world and its possible salvation, would continue to fight against their enemy?

The first time, I chose new life. Let us set off together to see this new place, to see the stars. Any place has to be better than this crumbling world, this failed utopia. I was tired of the voice of an old man and his memories. Everything was rosy to him, the pain eased away by time. He did not remember all the hurt that the past world held for The Kid and Zia, even Zulf. He wanted to go back to the glam and the glory. The world has ended, this is not time to give into pride and see how some new device works. Let us sail into the great beyond and see the sights. I even brought Zulf along, having rescued him from the Ura and dragged him back to The Bastion before we took off for the future.

The second time, I chose to reset the world. What happens if it all just goes back to what it was? What happens to everyone and everything changed by The Kid? Do they even remember? Does the Calamity happen again? Even if their is no memory, surely the world will be a better place the second time around, right? Giving everyone a second chance, even if they are not aware of it, is the best course, right?

Even now, having beaten the game twice, I am not sure which is the best ending, the true one. If the world resets, it seems, at least according to the game narrative, that The Calamity happens again. Venn makes his discovery. The Caelondians act on it. The world mostly ends. Over and over again. When The Kid wakes up at the beginning of the game, that is the cycle repeating itself. If that is so, then the true voice, the one speaker to listen to, is Zia. When the player gets that one glimpse, those few seconds of her voice, then that is the voice that should been narrating the game, the voice pointing to the true path. Still, the player is given the choice: The End or The Beginning.