Planescape: Torment is a monumental game, in every way. I wish that was a literal sentence. In a perfect world, there would be a small bakery on every single street corner, everybody would wear a beret all the time (all the time), background jazz would constantly play in public, and there would be a monument to Planescape.
Criminally, I had largely ignored the game until about a year ago. This, more than anything, was the one game people would talk my ear off about. Once, at my brother's engagement party, his best man spoke at me for a good three hours about it. Now, I don't know about you, but I usually find that the quality of any given piece of media is usually inversely proportional to how good people tell me it is. For example, a lot of people told me Anchorman was the greatest film they'd seen in a long time. Then I watched it and wondered why they would lie to me.
Yes, it is certainly a game with a reputation - and you know what? It's the only game I've ever played that's lived up to the hype for me. That creep who ranted at me for three hours couldn't have been more right. Rarely do I find myself breaking out of my inured world weariness to really take something to heart, but I'll be damned if Planescape wasn't everything I was told it was going to be and more.
It isn't without its flaws. Nothing ever is. The mechanics are clunky. It feels like Baldur's Gate, except without the pause function. That is, to say, you know it's a turn based game at heart, but it's going through a phase, and it's wearing black shirts, doc martens, listening to Cradle of Filth, and sticking it's fingers in it's ears shouting "la la la la I can't hear you I'm a real time action rpg la la la."
Then there are the character stats. Charisma, intelligence, and wisdom all have a direct effect on conversation options. Which is great, in a way. When you're playing a character with a high intelligence, and you actually feel like the game is reinforcing that choice, that's good. What's bad is that, mechanically, a lot of that dialogue isn't useful.
Oh, it helps the odd side quest here and there, but, really, there are quite a few times where it isn't an option. So it's very possible that you're going to end up with an awful character, all because you were interested to see more of the dialogue - one of the game's better points.
Now, I get that there's a distinction between a social character and an action man. Fallout 1 executed that brilliantly. It's possible to get by on dialogue, without being hindered too badly. Sure, it's tricky. Probably harder than just putting all of your points into "hit things better", but every choice was viable. You could still operate effectively.
In Planescape, not so much. You can still soldier on, certainly. I played a fighter who had much more points in intelligence, wisdom and charisma than in strength, consitution or dexterity. So, essentially, I was a fighter who was pretty awful at fighting.
I almost felt like the game was punishing me for wanting to see more of the dialogue. Which is a bit of a shame, really. I'd be lying if I said I hungrily lapped up every word the game had to offer, but you compare the writing here to Dragon Age, and a bit of confusion sets in as to all of the praise Bioware gets there.
That's the attraction of the game. The narrative, the characters, the setting, the dialogue, the concepts at work... all of it is so well polished, so very clearly handled with love. For me, that made up for any of the flaws, tenfold. Not often at all do I play a game that's utterly unique, but I've never played anything else quite like it. Planescape is just wholly in its own category, doing its own thing, and I couldn't be happier about it. I think that this and Morrowind are about the only two games I've played that I sincerely think of as completely bizarre.
Personally, the one thing that made the whole game was Morte. Morte is the best companion style character I have ever encountered. Your character, The Nameless one, wakes up in a morgue type structure, with Morte right by your side. He's a floating skull. Right off the bat, he tells you that he's your friend, and he reads you a tattoo on your back, telling you to find a man called Pharod.
Now, initially, I hated Morte. I really did. I was honestly looking for the button to kick him out of my party. The two of you stroll around the morgue, and he expresses an overt fondness for the zombie laydays.
One of the things I hate about rpgs is how clumsily they treat relationships. People are complicated, by their nature. That's how they work. It's really, really hard to condense a person down into something small enough to fit into a game, I understand that. But take Dragon Age.
Morrigan is a witch. She was raised in the woods by a crazy old witch lady, so, she's supposed to be pretty socially retarded. That's good. That's interesting. It's a bit different, and it leaves a lot of room for development.
What's not great is that they devolve your relationship with her into a point system. Point systems don't work. At all. It's the same reason ethical systems are horrendous. You can't simplify something this complex into a black and white good points bad points set up. It doen't work. At best, it feels slightly awkward, at worst, it feels insulting, and ruins any emotional investment.
So, even though she's supposed to be rather socially malformed, and you're the first friend she's ever had in her entire life, and you don't really share enough time to build up something approaching an honest intimate relationship, you get to bang her. I don't know how long it translates to in the game, but it can't be many hours at all in real time.
It just never felt natural to me. I mean, I can feel an emotional investment in characters. I really felt connected to Pay'j in Beyond Good and Evil. Hell, you never speak a single word to him, but I had a sincere emotional attachment to your friend in Another World. But bangin some chick just because I think she's a bro? Sorry. Maybe I'm just not as much of a huge slut as Bioware expects me to be, but that's jumping the gun a bit, I think.
With that poisoning in mind, I expected much the same out of Morte. I assumed his character was going to be the "lolsexjokes" comic relief. How wrong I was. It didn't help matters that the start of the game is infuriatingly slow. I actually dropped the game, to be honest. It was so onerous that I just dusted my hands and called it quits.
The shame is buried deep in my heart. I wince at the thought of what I could have missed.
It moves at a glacial sort of speed. It tricks you into thinking it isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but then you turn your back on it, and it's built up enough momentum to crush you into dust.
Things pick up after you meet Pharod, the man referred to by your tattoo. He sends you to find a magical macguffin, and off you go on your generic adventure into the catacombs. One of the halls inside contains inscriptions on the walls. A lot of messages, left by yourself, in a past life.
Yes, your character is immortal, but every time he dies, he loses his memory. Reincarnation, but not. Brilliant, spectacular concept, and it's the only instance, alongside Kotor, where I've found myself able to excuse amnesia as a character trait. Then there was Kotor II. Oh dear. But that's a whole other story.
Among the inscriptions is one matching your tattoo, except with an extra line at the bottom; "don't trust the skull." That point, right there, was when I knew shit got real. There was no going back. This game was going to be big. You can confront him about it, but you don't really get a whole lot more information. He essentially asks you to trust him anyay.
Later on, you end up getting the full story out of him. You travel to the pillar of skulls, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's on one of the planes of hell, and it's where especially naughty boys and girls wind up. You go there for information, and you end up learning more about Morte.
In one of your past lives, you previously visited the pillar. Morte was a skull trapped in it, and he begged you to take him with you. So, being the shitbag you were at that point in time, you made him swear an oath to serve you forever. He agreed, and you became besties.
Then you died, though. So what happened to Morte? You lose your memories each time, he could have easily run off, which would have been consistent with his character. Why did he stick around?
Because he felt sorry for you. He saw all the pain you went through each time, trying to figure things out, and having to start all over again. All that effort, all that energy, all for nothing. Sympathy. Not because you had x good points. Because of an emotional state.
He says you didn't always come back the same, either. Sometimes you were angry as hell, all the time. Sometimes crazy. He even admits to being scared by some of them, and yet, he's still there, still sticking by you.
How honest is that? It's raw emotion. A complicated relationship that grows into a genuine friendship over the course of the game. The character that I thought was going to be nothing but sex jokes ended up moving me at my very core. It hit me full-force, like a knife in the gut when he explained himself. It felt like a real moment of togetherness when we had that conversation. It trumps every line of dialogue I saw while playing Mass Effect or Dragon Age.
Morte taught me quite a lot about the nature of relationships, about sympathy, and pity. I know I would have fewer people in my life as of now had I not played the game. It moved me with his character in such a strong way, and I don't think another game has managed to do that in the same way for me.
Not only that, but the main narrative of the game taught me something as well. The main notion of the game is "what can change the nature of a man?" and it does the best thing a game can do; it doesn't designate one answer as the correct one. It leaves it up to you to decide.
Yes, that managed to leave a mark on me too. I learned that I personally value love over the rest, and that that was what can change a man. It might not have been your answer, but like I said, there isn't a designated correct one. Just your one.
Planescape is bohemian, in every way possible. It is the last word in rpgs, and I can't believe I almost didn't play it. A friend of mine said he enjoyed Baldur's Gate II more. I can't really fault his decision. It certainly worked a lot better mechanically, but I still smiled a sly smile to myself. Baldur's Gate II might be a more fun game to kill orcs in, but it certainly didn't change me.