Planescape: Torment

Developer: Black Isle
U.S. Publisher: Interplay
U.S. Release: November 30, 1999
Platform: PC, Mac

Games | PC | Planescape: Torment

Article by Nich Maragos? | September 15, 2009

What can change the nature of a gamer? What can convince a dyed-in-the-wool devotee of Japanese RPGs, weaned on a steady diet of gesticulating sprites and random encounters, to go beyond his comfort zone into the weird, confusing world of PC RPGs? Well, broadly speaking, it would have to have two chief components.

It would have to have a familiar shape, with the engrossing story and fascinating characters our player expects from an RPG. Nowadays, western RPGs, particularly those produced by their standard-bearer Bethseda, have lost sight of this principle: The throughline of the plot is an afterthought at best after the initial sequences, and the main attraction is the sideshow. But while Planescape: Torment has no shortage of side paths and rabbit holes to lose yourself in, thereís also a solid three-act story tying it together that finishes every bit as strong as it starts. And it starts with the main character getting up off a slab in a morgue, so thatís saying something.

Thereís also a gallery of colorful characters to meet and, in some cases, recruit; few RPGs let you control characters anywhere near as winning as Morte, the wisecracking disembodied skull you canít ever really trust, or Falls-From-Grace, the retired succubus who now maintains a Brothel of Intellectual Lusts. But Planescapeís greatest trick is avoiding the trap that modern games of its sort fall into of trying so hard to make the player feel like they are the main character that they fail to create any sort of identification point for him or her. Planescapeís approach, to make the Nameless One a predefined character, is something Japanese RPG aficionados can appreciate, but it also takes a step beyond that legion of mute-but-spunky heroes to provide the hero with a history and personality thatís all too absent from those spiky-haired ciphers.

But these are the things our Ultima-slinging, Drackee-slaying player already knows. Theyíre not what effects the change in his fundamental view of the genre. No, what does that is the way Planescape offers all this and more. Itís not just that it has engaging characters; theyíre also engaging characters who get to deliver the best-written dialogue the industry has seen. Itís not just that itís a well-told story; itís also a well-told story which takes place in such a vast, thoroughly imagined setting that you could set an entire lesser game in any of its locales, and the gameís closure just feels like the beginning of some larger tale. Itís everything our Japanese RPG fan wanted and also everything he never knew he did.

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