LTTP: Planescape Torment (Spoilers abound)

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
I finished this game a few days ago. Like many others I've heard of Planescape spoken of in the most reverential of terms for years, but it was always more of a myth than an actual game to me. When I finally sat down to play it, I was immediately intrigued and the further I got into it the more I understood.

I understood why it may have underperformed in its heyday and also why a lot of people now might not want to give it a shot. The combat, while not the worst I've experienced, isn't particularly exciting or enthralling. Most of the time it felt like blind people hitting at each other in the dark hoping something would connect. It's not enough to ruin the game by any means but given how most people are conditioned to expect that most RPG's will revolve around a combat loop, it's undoubtedly going to be something of a turn-off for many people.

The game has visibly aged in a lot of ways. While the backgrounds have some nice art direction that gives a lot of character to the game, the UI is whack (wtf are those multicolored health bars lol, the 90's were weird) and the character designs generally leave a lot to be desired. At best they're passable but not particularly spectacular (the ugly 3d character models don't help), at worst they are downright egregious like Annah and most of the other female characters. It's rather jarring and kind of disappointing given what the rest of the game is like, and indicative of the far more exploitative and indulgent direction this game was apparently going to have originally (seriously, the original design document for this game is shockingly embarrassing to read through), and by far my biggest complaint about this game. In this regard the top down view with the relatively small sprites actually masks a lot of this, since you rarely see the character designs up close. You'll only ever see them in detail if you go read the profiles in the journal.

This is also probably the most text-heavy game I've ever played. It feels wordier than any visual novel I've experienced, and most of the time it feels like an interactive book rather than a game. If you aren't the type of person who enjoys reading for long amounts of time in games, then this is definitely not the game for you.

I also understood why this game is so well-regarded even now.

The introduction to the game held my attention immediately. It's very common to use mystery as an element to get the player interested, and amnesia is among the biggest clichés of any RPG eastern or western. However, what makes Planescape stand out is how thoroughly it commits to this idea. Many games may use amnesia but it is very rare for it to be the single driving force of the narrative like it is in Planescape. The first parts of the game in Sigil play out almost like a detective story, where TNO runs around Sigil questioning people, following leads, and learning more about his surroundings. I really liked this because it felt like I had to make an actual effort to talk to people to find out where to go. The game always gave me an idea of what I should be doing but I had to make the effort to find the people and places I needed myself with very little handholding involved.

What helps is that the world of Planescape itself is extremely interesting and unlike any other videogame world out there. It is so bizarre and alien and filled with all manner of things from pregnant alleys, giant rat hiveminds, demons roaming the streets, portals that open at seemingly random, death cults, brothels that sell good conversation instead of sex...it legitimately feels like a place where anything can happen, and it's obvious that there was a huge amount of effort put into fleshing out the setting way beyond what was "necessary". I say this because a lot of the information you can acquire from talking to people and doing quests is not only optional but completely superfluous. You will hear about the Lady of Pain many times while exploring Sigil in the early parts of the game, but she doesn't actually do anything in the main storyline and you never really see her unless you go deliberately out of your way to piss her off, and even then you don't actually find out anything more about her. You frequently hear about events and places that are only tangentially related to your story and just exist to flesh out the setting.

What makes this truly great though, is that it contrasts nicely with what the game is actually about. The game does an excellent job of conveying the idea that the setting is truly massive and that there's a whole world out there that exists beyond anything that you or your party is able to experience or influence, but in reality, the story of Planescape is not about massive world changing events like the fate of the world or whatever. Those events exist, but only as a backdrop to the intimate, personal story of TNO and his self-discovery. A good example of this is Carceri. Saving a town from ruin is RPG 101, but the main reason this scenario exists is less because of the need to have the player live out a righteous power fantasy but because TNO needs to confront Trias for information. At the end of the day, it's all about TNO's journey to find out who he is and be rid of his immortality.

TNO himself is unquestionably the best silent protagonist of any game I've ever played. There are many reasons for this.

The first is the roleplaying aspect. I confess that I'm generally not a fan of the type of labeled "good and evil" choices in games, usually I find them to be ridiculously binary and uninteresting and at worst they can be downright jarring when a game considers something to be "good" when it simply isn't. What was cool about Planescape's implementation of this concept though is that while it does label these options in this way, it does give you a lot more leeway and nuance in what kind of good or what kind of evil you are. The game had a ridiculous amount of effort put into giving you different options and different consequences for those options in a way that I have not seen with any other game. Moreover, there is a certain weight and power to the evil options in this game that is totally lacking in most others. While I generally don't choose to be evil in games, it's rare that the writing is good enough to take the "evil" actions seriously because you feel more like a cartoon villain than anything else. Not the case with Planescape, which enables you to do some truly heinous and unspeakably evil things.

But what REALLY cinches it for me is how this aspect is tied into the very core concept of the story and TNO's character. Because TNO has lived many different "lives", each time as a completely different person. No matter what you choose to do, there's an incarnation in the past that was the complete opposite. Finding out about TNO's past was one of my favorite parts of the game because I was not prepared for how awful a person he really was in many of his past incarnations. Some of them like his teaching of Ignus and strangling the linguist to death legitimately made me feel sick. The game does such a good job of making you identify with Nameless One through the amnesia hook that you feel like it was YOU who did those awful things that you can't remember, and even beyond that, it's something that's very relatable and powerful. Even if (hopefully) you haven't done anything on that level, I think many people have done things in their lives that they aren't proud of, things that they might not even be able to undo the damage of. It's one of the strongest emotional hooks I can think of.

It speaks to what's so powerful about Planescape for me. Beyond all the philosophy and weird meta stuff, it is an emotional, personal story about loss, regret, responsibility and the cycle of abuse. My interpretation of TNO was a good man who was deeply regretful of his past and tried his best to make the world a better place and right his wrongs, even if he can't make it right in the end. The backstory surrounding TNO was so effective that it affected all the choices I made as him. Which is only reinforced at the end of the game when you meet the three past versions of you, and you find out that the only reason this all happened was because of the exact same feeling I was shouldering the whole game, wanting to atone for past mistakes, except in The Good Incarnation's case he only made everything worse. By refusing to take responsibility, or trying to take responsibility in a horrible way, he only made things worse for himself and everyone else. Which is as believably and achingly human as it gets. Everything about TNO's situation is his fault. All the people that died and became hateful shadows so that he might live, all the people who he killed or ruined directly or indirectly, the torturous cycle of being in a journey to find himself that never ends because he is doomed to forget and repeat all his past mistakes, the growing feeling of emptiness and despair, it's all a prison of his own making. The ending is perhaps the best example of this: it is possible, if you have the requirements and choose the right options, to will yourself out of existence. Realistically I think this is something many people would do, because nobody wants to suffer in an endless war for eons upon eons. But if you do that, then your companions, who were unflinchingly loyal to you and followed you to the bitter end, will remain dead. All it is, is TNO refusing to take responsibility one last time and the people who were closest to him paying the price, as they always do. The only way to save them is for TNO to finally accept his punishment; not only does it allow him to save them, but it finally gives him closure. In the last cutscene, despite being aware of the fact he's fighting in a hellish war that will last far longer than countless human lifetimes, he seems at peace with himself. The game seems to be implying that in trying to dodge his punishment, he created a punishment of his own that was in its own way far worse.

Even beyond TNO the character writing in this game is generally pretty solid. With nearly every party member and even a number of NPC's there was at least one moment where I was either caught off-guard or legitimately touched in some way. For Morte, this was finding out the real reason why he follows TNO and sticks beside him no matter what kind of abuse he endured. For Ignus it was finding out how TNO helped turn him into the person he is. For Fall-From-Grace it was the implication that she might be the most tortured out of all your party because she decided to become something that's completely counter to everything her people are, down to the very essence of what they're made of. For Ravel, the entire encounter with her was brilliant, finding out that she loved TNO (and having Annah be the one to say it after her staying silent the whole time beforehand) and being asked the central question of the game again, seeing how many answers there were and seriously considering what to say.

If I had one disappointment in that regard it would be Annah. I felt that her attraction to TNO didn't really "make sense" and almost felt like it came out of nowhere, and beyond that her backstory and character just isn't as satisfying as I would have hoped for given her introduction. It's a shame because of what a memorable first impression she makes and how entertaining a lot of her banter with the rest of the cast is.

There is actually quite a lot to this game I missed out on apparently. I didn't recruit Vhailor (I knew about him but didn't want to bother leaving Nordom behind), didn't explore most of the factions in Sigil, and there are many memories and questlines that I apparently completely overlooked. I don't know if or when I will replay the game but I don't feel bad about missing out on those things, in fact I think it's great that this game is so open-ended that many people will have completely different playthroughs.

Overall I really enjoyed this game. Despite its age and some of the complaints I made, its story has mostly stood the test of time (very impressive for a game that's like 2 decades old at this point) and deals with the exact kind of thoughtful, interesting themes that I love and it does it beautifully. I'm glad I gave it a chance. I don't know if I would call it the absolute BEST story in games, but it's certainly earned its place as a GOAT.
 
Last edited:

jonjonaug

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,575
But what REALLY cinches it for me is how this aspect is tied into the very core concept of the story and TNO's character. Because TNO has lived many different "lives", each time as a completely different person. No matter what you choose to do, there's an incarnation in the past that was the complete opposite. Finding out about TNO's past was one of my favorite parts of the game because I was not prepared for how awful a person he really was in many of his past incarnations. Some of them like his teaching of Ignus and strangling the linguist to death legitimately made me feel sick. The game does such a good job of making you identify with Nameless One through the amnesia hook that you feel like it was YOU who did those awful things that you can't remember, and even beyond that, it's something that's very relatable and powerful.
The longing orb is probably my single favorite piece of writing in any video game.
 

HK-47

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,569
The Practical Incarnation is probably one of the best written character in a game. A very refreshing take on a completely toxic and evil person that isn’t really an antagonist to the player character but is to everyone else he touches. One of the best examples of a sociopath you could come across
 
Last edited:

Jintor

Member
Oct 25, 2017
14,955


one of my favourite things, which I'm yet mystified that a lot of RPGs don't do very often, is include the same answer in both lie and truth incarnations so that you can better direct and mold your own interpretations of your character.

I did, yes. Which only made it more fucked up when the Practical Incarnation told me it was just some bullshit he made up.
imho that just feeds further into the theme of *belief*.
 

Neilg

Member
Nov 16, 2017
342
I tried playing this for the first time recently. I found it bewildering - couldn't figure out how to break open the chests for hours, then when someone told me I went outside to then find out i'd missed 2 quests in that first area completely. That kind of shit gives me anxiety, I think i need to play it with a spoiler free walk through.
The idea that I could finish and someone says 'did you see this bit, it was my favourite', and I didnt, already annoys me.
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
one of my favourite things, which I'm yet mystified that a lot of RPGs don't do very often, is include the same answer in both lie and truth incarnations so that you can better direct and mold your own interpretations of your character.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention this but this was a detail I loved. I never chose the "lie" option, but I thought it was fascinating that the game gave you this level of nuance in how to respond.
 

HK-47

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,569
I tried playing this for the first time recently. I found it bewildering - couldn't figure out how to break open the chests for hours, then when someone told me I went outside to then find out i'd missed 2 quests in that first area completely. That kind of shit gives me anxiety, I think i need to play it with a spoiler free walk through.
The idea that I could finish and someone says 'did you see this bit, it was my favourite', and I didnt, already annoys me.
I mean, that’s what gives your choices meaning. You’ll get an amazing story even if you somehow manage to miss every piece of optional content. Most of the very best pieces of writing are unmissable.
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
From my recollection the only parts of the game that have missable content is in like the last third of the game. There's mutually exclusive options where choosing one thing will lock you out of another but that's not a bad thing in my opinion.
 

HK-47

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,569
From my recollection the only parts of the game that have missable content is in like the last third of the game. There's mutually exclusive options where choosing one thing will lock you out of another but that's not a bad thing in my opinion.
There are a lot of cool optional skill checks, especially for the cerebral stats, that you might miss out on with different builds.
 

Pascal

The Fallen
Oct 28, 2017
4,157
This has to be the most badass conversation in video game history:

Vhailor: When the injustice is great enough, Justice will lend me the strength needed to correct it. None may stand against it. It will shatter every barrier, sunder any shield, tear through any enchantment and lend its servant the power to pass sentence. Know this: there is nothing on all the Planes that can stay the hand of justice when it is brought against them. It may unmake armies. It may sunder the thrones of gods. Know that for ALL who betray Justice, I am their fate...And fate carries an Executioner's Axe.

The Nameless One: I see.

Vhailor: No, you do NOT see. Pray you NEVER will.
God this game is so good.
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
Oh that's another thing I forgot to mention: for what seems like a low budget production they actually had some pretty high profile VA on this game. Rob Paulsen, Charlie Adler, Tony Jay, Keith David, John de Lancie, Dan Castellaneta...pretty much every actor is a heavyweight.
 

KyouG

Member
Oct 26, 2017
83
Oh that's another thing I forgot to mention: for what seems like a low budget production they actually had some pretty high profile VA on this game. Rob Paulsen, Charlie Adler, Tony Jay, Keith David, John de Lancie, Dan Castellaneta...pretty much every actor is a heavyweight.
Sheena Easton for Annah!
 

HK-47

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,569
This has to be the most badass conversation in video game history:



God this game is so good.
That’s good but the best writing in the game belongs to Deionarra’s sensory stone. The sense of dread you get in her shoes being around the Practical Incarnation, knowing what happens to her, is just amazing
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
If we're talking favorite bits of writing, I think the first bit that really got to me was the Nameless One's tomb.

I suspect that we will continue to die and be reborn until we finally get our life *right.* I do not know what we have to do to bring that about, though. And therein lies the frustration.
Is it some sort of karmic cycle? As I gather, some incarnations have committed terrible crimes but also there have been a number of incarnations where we have labored to do nothing but good. Are these incarnations intended as punishment? I don't know. And that is the only real truth I can offer in these carvings: I do not know.
At what point does the *I* get separated from the *we?* At what point am I freed of the shackles of the actions of these other incarnations? At what point am I allowed to be *me,* without the weight of these past lives?
And then you read the instructions that were printed on your back again. Except there's one more line.

Don't trust the skull.
 

jb1234

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,041
That’s good but the best writing in the game belongs to Deionarra’s sensory stone. The sense of dread you get in her shoes being around the Practical Incarnation, knowing what happens to her, is just amazing
It's been a while but I remember that being crushing. Hell, just the title of it filled me with dread before I even saw it.
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
The sensory stone was great but I also really liked talking to Deionarra's father. Specifically, when you let him see the legacy she left you.

"You... meant very much to my daughter. She was willing to give up her life for you."
 

Camwi

The Fallen
Oct 27, 2017
2,836
Good write-up.

I still maintain that Dak'kon alone has a better storyline than most entire RPGs.
 

closer

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,556
excellent game, I wish we had more games that had space for this type of writing!
fall from grace's character was really well done imo, i love the way she plays with the weight of being an emotional laborer that contextualizes her character, exists as a paradox of sorts, but also firmly asserting constantly that everything she does as done w/ agency. such a weird character, her dialogue at the end of her romance option is so excellent too

one thing that planescape did well over all others is create that nyc feeling for me, living in an aprtment and hearing ppls lives through the sound of the wall, every single body having their own massive lives but also coming together to form this massive thing, cant say the same for games like bg2 or visual novels (which torment often gets lauded as). tno has that whole thanos where did it lead you back to me vibe, but at the same time there are so many things moving around him
 
Last edited:

Xagarath

Member
Oct 28, 2017
1,539
North-East England
Seconding many other voices on Deionarra's stone being the highlight.

I didn't know about the original design document before now - a lot of the final design is in there, but the attitude they use to try to sell it is downright painful.

after playing Baldur's Gate 1 and his horrible writing, is planescape better ?
Significantly. Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape are both huge improvements over BG1, with some of the best writing in any RPG.
 
Last edited:

Doomguy Fieri

Member
Nov 3, 2017
1,175
When I first became *online* I posted all over the place with Dak'kon as my avatar. Had his quote about *knowing* as my signature, the whole nine yards. One of my favorite characters of all time.
 
OP
OP
Glass Arrows

Glass Arrows

Member
Jan 10, 2019
1,068
should i install mods for it if I already have the EE ?
I didn't install any mods because I thought that they were mostly only compatible with the old version of the game. For the most part the game is pretty playable vanilla, the only annoyance for me was some of the pathfinding was kind of bad.

Apparently there are a few mods since I last checked, although the most famous mod that restores some of the dummied out content, Unfinished Business, isn't available yet and in the process of being ported. This link highlights a few of the mods. To be honest for a first playthrough the only ones I would choose are Reveal Hidden Gameplay Options and Tweaks Anthology, but I don't think they're mandatory or anything.
 

Thrill_house

Member
Oct 27, 2017
4,720
The ending hit me hard. Once you started piecing everything together and come to the realization YOU were the biggest monster after all and then so many things afterwards...It was such a great twist. Still my favorite story in a game. The only other that came close was spec ops: the line.