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Planescape: Torment

Publisher: Interplay Developer: Black Isle Studios
Reviewer: Ybhan D'Ari Released: 12/99
Gameplay: 96% Control: N/A
Graphics: 86% Sound/Music: 89%
Story: 100% Overall: 99%


Baldur's Gate is remembered as the game which singlehandedly revived the RPG genre on the PC. Planescape: Torment should be remembered as the game which represented its pinnacle.

In a stark contrast to the fantasy- or science fiction-themed settings of the vast majority of RPGs, P:T instead places the player in a sort of central hub of the universe...a massive city where a wrong turn could lead you to the depths of hell or a far-flung mechanized dimension (indeed, these places are explored in the game). The main quest of the game also slaps the face of RPG convention. Instead of "saving the world" or "rescuing the princess" you merely have to discover your true nature. As the Nameless One, waking up on a stone slab with no memories, this is a daunting task indeed. What makes it so entertaining?

Graphically, P:T uses the now-dated Infinity Engine. Nevertheless, it still manages to deliver highly detailed visuals. While not up to par with the 800x600 goodness in Baldur's Gate 2, the larger characters and carefully crafted scenes beat out any other Infinity Engine RPG. Regrettably, the higher-level spell effects are usable for only a tiny fraction of the game, and yet deliver some of the most astounding pyrotechnics this side of Final Fantasy 8.

Unlike the masterful compositions of Squaresoft's best (Final Fantasy Tactics, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 6), the music in P:T is merely excellent. A few memorable songs, such as Deionarra's theme, stand out. The sound effects, however, are a different matter--they are atmospherically astounding. The voice acting, though sparse, is some of the best in any game...you will remember the husky growl of the Nameless One, the computerized tones of Nordom, and the Scottish lilt of Annah.

Graphics and sound are merely trappings on the real meat of the game...how does it play? The combat engine is a refreshing mix of real-time and turned based combat, allowing you to pause the game at any time to issue orders to your party of up to six characters. It manages to capture most of the strategic complexity of turn-based masterpieces such as Final Fantasy Tactics while still retaining the fast pace of something like Zelda.

The big difference of P:T compared to almost any RPG out there is the way conversation bolsters the gameplay. Unlike other D&D games where your basic persona is determined at the beginning of the game with a character generation screen, P:T allows you to modify the Nameless One with each line of dialogue uttered. Want to play the noble, yet tortured hero? The sarcastic and reluctant adventurer? The selfish scumbag? You can do all of those. Similarly, character classes are acquired throughout the game. You can switch freely from a mage to thief to fighter without any penalty.

Experience points are acquired not primarily by combat (although that is an option) but by clever verbal trickery and thoughtful solutions. When combat is necessary, your party's host of special abilities, weapons and spells will make it more than a simple hack-and-slash affair. Overall, the gameplay is simply stellar.

Plot, quite simply, is the area that makes Planescape: Torment one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The storyline avoids almost all of the clichés apparent in the genre, while making every little plot detail uncovered a pure joy. The characterization is second to none--characters like the zen-calm Dak'kon and the fiery Annah will leave you longing to discover everything about them by the time the game ends. Not to mention the player's main character, the Nameless One--by the time you discover his true nature at the end of the game, you will be left speechless. Saying any more would be criminal, as each new unfolding of the storyline will stun you with its depth.

The writing of the dialogue and descriptions rival any fantasy novel, and is unhampered by the difficulty of translation (considering the game is made in English). Quite frankly, even the wonderful plots of games like Xenogears and the Final Fantasy games are like the crude scrawlings of a moronic child compared to the sheer mastery that is Planescape: Torment.

Planescape: Torment is a rare game...one that both innovates and executes with nearly perfect skill. A few bugs can hamper the gameplay, but they will be unnoticeable once you begin to immerse yourself in the journeys of the Nameless One and his companions. With astounding gameplay matched only by an elite few RPGs and a plot unmatched by any game (and most novels), Planescape: Torment is unsurpassed. Buy it, now.

Ybhan
D'Ari

Planescape: Torment uses the Infinity Engine to render the characters in the game.

The gameplay is remeniscent of Baldur's Gate.







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