Spoiler Warning for Bastion
It’s hard for me to nail down what exactly counts as a boss character in Supergiant’s Bastion. Creatures like the Anklegator showed their boss form in Queen Anne and the Gasfellas had their Foreman, but they’ll always just be another feather in the cap of enemies you face in the wake of the Calamity. Throughout Bastion’s story you fought creature after creature, listening to Rucks describe the world and its inhabitants before the Calamity. You heard of the Masons defending the Caelondian city, the Kid’s second term on the Rippling Walls, but most importantly; the ever-growing mistrust between Caelondia’s native citizens and the Ura. The significance of this wariness is what shapes the story of one of Bastion’s villains, Zulf. Though his arc will begin as the quiet survivor of catastrophe, he soon becomes a man driven by scorned zealotry.
You first encounter Zulf in the Hanging Gardens level. He stares at the sky with a hopeless expression. Since the Kid is the first person he’s seen since the Calamity, it doesn’t take much to make him come back to the Bastion with you. There you can show him items the Kid picks up throughout the game, giving you a viewpoint into the world of the Ura. You also learn of his past through Bastion’s challenge level the Kid’s Bedroll. Before the Calamity Zulf was orphaned quite young, having to survive pickpocketing. One of his marks was a Caelondian missionary whom eventually caught him in the act. Instead of punishment, the missionary took Zulf in and raised him. Zulf dedicated his life to spreading a message of peace and forgiveness to the Ura for the Caelondian’s poor treatment of them after a war waged 50 years ago. During his work, he fell for a Caelondian woman whom he proposed to the night before the Calamity. Upon waking up the next morning, the woman was gone. And all Zulf could do was stare at the sky.
Zulf’s arc begins to take a turn when a second Ura is encountered, Zia. With her she brings a book written by her father in the Ura’s native language, one neither Nia, the Kid nor Rucks can decipher. However Zulf takes up reading the journal and discovers the true cause of the Calamity; Caelondia’s leadership. Caelondia was led by the Mancers, a group that took great caution should the Ura ever decide to rise once more. One of the countermeasures they began work on was what the Calamity became; a way to remove the Ura’s home, the Tazal Terminals, from existence. They employed the help of an Ura Mancer named Venn to construct such a weapon though it was to their own downfall. Venn disagreed with the Mancer’s methods though through coercion and the framing of his Ura daughter Zia, he was forced to continue progress. He instead chose to modify the weapon to turn on the Caelondians and cause the Calamity.
And so Zulf, now armed with this knowledge, leaves the Bastion to rally his Ura kinsman into taking control of the cores needed to power the Bastion. He launches an attack that leaves the Bastion in disrepair, leaving the Kid to retrieve more cores and Rucks to repair what’s left. After enough cores are collected, the Kid ventures to the Tazal Terminals to confront Zulf and take the final piece needed to complete the Bastion. After cutting through dozens of soldiers, the Ura quickly turn on Zulf in blame of him allowing the Kid to follow him back here. They mortally wound him and run at the sight of the Kid. From here you’re given two choices; Keep moving or take Zulf over your shoulder.
When I played Bastion this felt like a choice I never had to make. For a game that told stories of fierce monsters, Zulf was a creature I took pity on. His tragic past before the Calamity was his justification for the harm he brought to who he once called friends. But I didn’t think he was inherently evil. Learning of the Caelondian leadership coloured his judgement of those around him, and to leave him bleeding out in the snow would make me no better than the leaders that forced an Ura to create a weapon intended to murder his people. He was afraid of what we might do when the Bastion was finished, but I wasn’t going to let that fear kill him. The fight was choosing if the time Zulf wasted was enough to let him die alone, but to me that spoke volumes of the strength Bastion’s writing and characterization has. It didn’t feel right to leave him to his demise, so instead I picked him up and soldiered through the rest of the level to Darren Korb’s track ‘Zulf’s Theme‘.