Going along with the old game series I’ve had going on for a while now, we’ve come to the grand daddy of all rpgs, save perhaps the Baldurs gate series. If you’ve seen any list of the greatest rpgs out there you probably saw this one on top or adjacent to it. However it got there by throwing away every conventional wisdom developers learned up to that point and going a whole new direction that few managed to reproduce or none that could do it justice. Now This is an old game its going to turn 21 this year, so it can basically be considered adult in most of the worlds countries. Which is just as well since it tackles some of the more philosophical themes of the human condition, but it does so in a matter-of-fact way that’s truly unique.
This is the meat and potatoes of any rpg worth it’s salt and this one delivers. You start out as a scarred man on a metal slab being tended to by the morticians as if you were dead, yet you hop off the slab with an unusual grace and vigor for a dead man, soon you learn a lot about yourself, chiefly that you cannot in fact die. This choice which drives a large part of the story is also extremely unique mechanically, as every game up until then had a state which was considered a failed state. You died, you failed your mission, you weren’t quick enough etc. Planescape however doesn’t bother you with those problems, you’re immortal why would you worry yourself if you’re a bit late, you’ve lost memory of how long you were alive, what’s a few more hours. But while we’re on a subject of memory you’ve also somehow managed to lose all memory from before you woke up on the metal slab. While there are certain clues, the main motivation for a good chunk of the game is simply finding out who you are, who you were and what’s going on with you, the world around you, the people who seem to follow you … I don’t want to go too much further into the story as i believe everyone should experience it for themselves at least once and there are plenty of articles speculating on whats really going on.
The themes of this game at first glance seem to be pretty shallow, it seems it’s a simple hack n slash game that sees you murderhoboing your way through the world. However this is flipped on it’s head pretty early in the game, when you meet a ghost of a woman who seems to know you from before you woke up and seems quite upset by what you’ve done. Are you going to try to console her, are you going to find out what you did to upset her or are you simply going to go about your business not worrying about her ? The obvious theme is also finding out about the player and their thought about who character is rather than the character the game want’s you to be. This is shown in many scenes where you can answer truthfully in many ways and more importantly is that you also can usually say the same thing, except you lie. The outcome in the game is mostly the same, it’s there to let you make your intentions clear, if to no one else then to yourself, by letting you promise to keep a secret earnestly or to lie about it. Another example that’s given of this and probably the masterstroke of the game is where a rather significant character asks the main player the lauded question : “What can change the nature of a man ?” and there are 25 possible answers 12 truthful ones,12 lies and a simple “I don’t know”, the character will accept any answer, it doesn’t really matter to her what you say, it’s about what you believe can actually change the nature of a man. It’s because of moments like these in gaming that i consider gaming a true art and not just a way for children to pass the time. This game will make you think about your very existence, if you simply give it the chance to pose the questions it wants to pose.
Gameplay is what you’d expect from an isorpg, it’s a top down view with you controlling your character and up to 5 people in your party. You level up and acquire new skills and improve your attributes, it’s the old DnD formula. However the gameplay is not what sets this game apart and it can be considered the worst part of the game. Graphics as well while quite pretty for its time are similarly dated today, do keep in mind however that the game is about 21 years old. As far as i know there is an enhanced edition, by Beamdog games, however i haven’t played it. If it’s untampered and the same experience with simply touched up engine and graphics i wholeheartedly recommend it, however if they changed the story at all i would avoid it like the plague. Sometimes you just don’t mess with a masterpiece.
In conclusion this game can’t be called the backbone of the rpg genre since it does everything “wrong”. But it does it in a way that lets you see the bigger picture, the painting in the artists head instead of the one on the canvas and it does so in such a masterful fashion that it deserves every praise it gets. I consider it the pinnacle of gaming with a few gems trying to catch its coattails yet none quite making the same impact.