Essential RPGS

27 May

Essential RPGs
New list
Ff4
S2
P4
Togf
Som
To
Eb
Ps4
Wa
Lufia 2

Honorable Mentions
Tales of Vesperia
Yuri is the man. No nonsense main characters are cool. I wish the PS3 version was translated, but this was the best game on the 360. It’s likely the only reason I still own that system. Vesperia was one of the first games I started achievement hunting, so I spent a lot of time in this game. It’s a long game, but well worth it.
Tales of the Abyss
The Tales series is usually known for its great battle system and shoddy story or characters that aren’t too memorable. Abyss gives you Luke, one of the most annoying main characters ever. He’s whiny, spoiled, entitled, and thinks he knows everything. He’s the worst. Luckily, this was the intention of the creators. Luke gets one of the best redemption arcs, I’ve ever seen for a character. His life gets thrown upside-down, he is betrayed, his friends leave him, and he gets humbled and starts righting all the wrongs he foolishly did in the past. He turns from ignorant youth to competent leader over the course of the game. It was quite the ride. Well done.
Final Fantasy 6
Widely regarded as one of the best RPGs ever, FF6 is a great game. I replay it every now and then. It has excellent music, and a wonderful cast of characters, one of the largest casts in the series. Kefka
was a great villain, but he set such a high bar that I don’t feel any FF antagonist since has been able to reach his level of villainy.
Ogre Battle
Fight it out! The Super Nintendo had some obscure gems. I’m not even sure how I found this game. Maybe I rented it on a whim or saw an article on one of my Nintendo Power magazines, but I’m glad I did get to play it. Ogre Battle happens to be the game that started my strategy guide collection. It’s just a shame my dog decided to eat the front cover of that guide, but I still have it to this day; no cover and all.
Breath of the Wild
I love this game! Some might not consider this a RPG, but its close enough dag nabbit! This overtook ‘A Link to the Past’ as my favorite Zelda game, and I keep finding new things I missed during my first play through. It’s one of the most expansive and intricate games I’ve ever played. It’s the newest game on this list by far. Well deserved.
Final Fantasy XI
FFXI was my life for about 5 years. I know its cliché, but I met so many wonderful people playing this game. It was my first online game and it was a wonderful, frustrating, taxing, infuriating, mind-numbing, euphoric experience. Despite some of its flaws, I wouldn’t change anything about my time playing this game.
Chrono Trigger
Square did right when they made this game. This will no doubt be on a lot of people’s list, so I’ll just say that I loved to obliterate Gato and his stupid metal joints for hours.
Secret of Evermore
After Secret of Mana’s success, this game drew me in. There something about this game’s atmosphere that keeps me entertained every time I play it. It doesn’t have as an extensive list of weapons as Mana did, and there is no multiplayer and your only other character you an control is your pet dog, but this game is still loads of fun.
Phantasy Star 4
One of the first RPGs that I played that had artistic anime stills before I even really knew what anime was! This was another trailblazer in the RPG community where the story was ahead of its time. One would have thought that after such a spectacular game, the shining force series was gearing up to be another great RPG franchise. This was the last numbered title in the series. The games that came after this were more online oriented or had other oddities about them; they never followed up on IV’s success. Shame…
Witcher 3
I never played the Witcher games until the 3rd installment. This game is huge! I’m sure I ran around more then I needed to in this game, but I enjoyed trying to explore everything while ignoring the main story. I did this for over 100 hours. Gwent was a lot of fun too.
Unranked Honorable Mentions
Mass Effect 2
Punching female reporters has never been this much fun!
Castlevania: SotN
Crissagrim ruins this game, but dammit if I can’t help but use it.
Link to the Past
If you don’t go into the dark world, get the hammer, escape, and then explore the world before beating all the dungeons, you are playing this game wrong.
Chrono Cross
I loved when Norris met Norris. The game should have caved in at this exact moment.
Wild ARMs 4
The grid battle system is so much fun. I love manipulating it so that Raquel becomes a death goddess.
Shadow Hearts 2
Yuri Hyuga is back and better than ever! He just has a couple thousand of demons (internal and otherwise) to deal with. You will enjoy the ride.
Alundra
Zelda clones aren’t always good. This one is.
Grandia
I struggled with which Grandia to nominate. I chose the first game due to Rapp picking his nose sometimes.
Tales of Xillia 2
[Spoilers] This game lets you play the previous games final bosses. Getting to play as Gaius was rewarding enough. [/spoilers] This game rocks!
Lufia 2
After the first game I thought, man, wouldn’t it be cool to see Maxim and companies adventures before Doom Island? Well Taito heard my prayers and then gave me this game which also introduced Dekar. Winning.
End Tally of Systems:
SNES: 9
Genesis: 1
PS1: 8
PS2: 5
360: 1
PS3: 3
PS4: 1
Switch: 1
PC: 1

#1 Chrono Trigger

10 Mar

#1: Chrono Trigger – Twenty-Six 1st place votes

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I remember my first encounter with this game. Nintendo Power showcased this game early and often in the amazing RPG corner section of the magazine. Needless to say, when the game finally dropped, I was hyped and had my mom buy it for one of my birthday presents. I ran into my room and popped this sucker into my SNES, neglecting all the kids and family that were in my house celebrating my 12th birthday.

The game was so captivating. It felt like the best themes from Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana all wrapped into one wonderful game. This game even dealt with time travel and things you did in the past could affect the future. It was one of the first games that I remember having multiple endings and new game plus. Both were pretty mind blowing for the time.

The characters were all great too. You could name everyone that joined your party and while you controlled the silent protagonist, Crono, you felt emotionally attached to him as the game progressed. You even had the option to have one of the games early villains join you late in the game, or you could exact swift justice and have the tormented swordsman, Glenn, (seriously, if you left his name Frog after knowing his story, you are a horrible person.) get his revenge on the prophet.

Chrono Trigger made my list, but it didn’t need my vote to make it to the top of the list. It had over 100 more votes than second place, so it ran away with this poll. Needless to say, it is widely regarded as the best RPG, evident by the amount of people placed it on their list.

Favorite Moment: So many to choose from…I’ll go with reclaiming the Masamune. Seeing all of your hard work collecting all the sword’s pieces along with the excellent music really paid off.

previous: Final Fantasy VI

#2 Final Fantasy VI

10 Mar

#2: Final Fantasy VI – Twenty-Six 1st place votes

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I was still a scrub RPG gamer. My stepbrother was the person who gave me much of my new RPG information. He got me hooked on Final Fantasy II (well, it’s the 4th game, but for us, back then, we knew it as FF2).

Final Fantasy II (part 6) was the new game. It had him hyped, which in turn had me super-ultra-mega hyped. I would sit in the Publix magazine section and scan all the game books for a glimpse of this game. Eventually, it came out, and I did not have it initially, but my brother did. So the first memories I have of FFVI are me being on the phone with my brother as he played the game. I remember him talking about fighting two giant cranes as his team was trying to flee the empire.

Man did this game sound awesome. I could not wait! So, once I did play it, I became mysteriously sick and had to miss a couple of days of school. It was the first game I remember playing where I did an all-nighter. Watching the sun come up as I was traversing the Esper cave was a surreal moment in my life. I couldn’t put the game down.
FFVI made every party member so customizable that you could place your favorite characters in whatever role you wanted them to be in. The characters were interesting, and it introduced a villain that destroys the world. How cool is that!?

The game had so many memorable moments, it struck chord with so many gamers. That’s why it’s easy to see how it tied Chrono Trigger for most first-place votes in this poll.

Favorite moment: I’ll say getting the Falcon in the World of Ruin. The dreary music changes, and now, you sense…hope.

previous: Persona 4

up next and the number one RPG from my poll results: Chrono Trigger

#3 Persona 4

10 Mar

#3: Persona 4 – Twelve 1st place votes

Image result for persona 4

The drop off from 2 to 3 on this list if you are vote counting is huge (around 300 less votes), but that doesn’t take away from Persona 4’s greatness.

This game drips of style. The Persona series was one I got into late in its run, but I am glad I got to play all 5 games (The 2nd game was broke up into two separate games.) Every game has its charm and the 4th game really felt special.

This game feels different because its entire story revolves around a murder mystery. It has you guessing until the killer is finally revealed to you. The characters you interact with on your year-long adventure are all interesting and diverse. The social links that were introduced in the 3rd game are back and just as memorable. Your classmates, party members and random encounters around the city can all become closer to you if you fulfil their special requirements. It also makes you stronger in battles, so there is no good reason to not look for each and every tarot card relationship.

I think my favorite dungeon in the game has to be retro gaming dungeon. It throws you in here looking for the murderer, but you notice something is different the second the loading screen clears and the music starts. It’s bizarre and a nice callback to older games of yesteryear.

Speaking of music, Persona 4 has plenty of great tracks. The game even released a Vinyl record of some of its better songs. If I were a vinyl enthusiast, this would have to be something I owned. Hell, I don’t own any records and I STILL want to add this to my collection of nerdy things.

Favorite moment: A lot of the social links are heartwarming endeavors if you can get them to the max level. The Hierophant social link involves the main character and his relatives Nanako and Dojima. If you get that particular SL to the max level you see the two of them accept Yu (that’s his default name) as one of their family members.

previous: Final Fantasy Tactics

up next: Final Fantasy VI

#4 Final Fantasy Tactics

10 Mar

#4: Final Fantasy Tactics – Twelve 1st place votes

Image result for final fantasy tactics

If Tactics Ogre didn’t exist, this game would have easily made my top ten list.
Final Fantasy Tactics was a game I desperately wanted to play. After the success of FFVII, the PlayStation was getting ready for a boon of RPG titles; some might say it was the Golden Age of RPGs. FF Tactics was one of those games released around that time. It did not disappoint.

I was familiar with strategy RPGs thanks some of the gems the previous generation had provided, and I always felt that Final Fantasy needed a good strategy game in its library. I remember being upset at a Blockbuster associate who wouldn’t let me rent this game, even though they had the game in the back, because it wasn’t scheduled to be put out on the floor until the next day. The nerve!

As far as tactical games go, this game offered you a bevy of customizations. Final Fantasy was really hitting its groove around this time, and boy did they want the player to be able to play these games however you wanted. Wanted a White Mage who could also, wield Swords; you can do it. Want a Ninja who knows math; grind long enough and it’s yours. Want a Chemist who can dance and turn the enemies into confused frogs; sure, why not!

The cast was great too. I am personally fond of the Lion King, Delita Hyral’s story, a boy from rags to riches. I like a good schemer, and Delita, was fun to watch as he worked his way up, screwing everyone along the way.

Favorite moment: Killing Algus. Seriously, screw that guy.

previous: Suikoden 2

up next: Persona 4

#5 Suikoden 2

10 Mar

#5: Suikoden 2 – Seventeen 1st place votes

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I was an eager beaver when I worked at Publix, which is where I got much of my early RPG news. I saw the Suikoden 2 article and I knew I had to buy this game. Suikoden 1 was a game I rented until I completely completed it, and it had a charm that I had not seen in many RPGs. I knew its successor would be special. And it was.

Suikoden 2 is a marvelous game and I am thankful I had the chance to play it. The game makes you fall in love with its vast array of characters, everyone the game introduces has a personality and if you don’t think they do, just ask Richmond, he will help.

It also introduced Luca Blight, one of the more sinister and scary antagonists that has ever appeared in a RPG. Seriously, the characters are so great, and what makes it better is that Suikoden even had characters from the previous game show up. It blew my mind that Flik and Viktor had survived (spoiler alert!) the events of the first game.

The story of the 27 True Runes may stay incomplete forever, and that’s a darn shame, but this game will serve as one of the highest points a RPG can reach. Fun gameplay, great characters, memorable story, interesting side quests (the cooking quest was so vast and different; who knew Hai Yo had such a dark history!), excellent music and a place in my heart until I draw my last breath, Suikoden 2 is special.

It’s a damn shame that I no longer own a physical copy of this game. I blame thievery, but I can now access it through the PSN network and can once again play this game and bask in all of its chibi glory.

Favorite moment: Luca’s final battle. It’s exhilarating to watch multiple armies try to defeat The Mad King of Highland.

previous: Final Fantasy VII

up next: Final Fantasy Tactics

#6 Final Fantasy VII

10 Mar

#6: Final Fantasy 7 – Eleven 1st place votes

ff7 art

The hype surrounding this game was insane. The first Final Fantasy for the PlayStation, it was funny seeing Final Fantasy III come out and then FFVII immediately follow it. Like, what the hell Square? The American audience was probably thinking, “Where are 4,5, and 6!?” Glad Square retroactively fixed that moving forward.

This game changed the genre. Before FFVII, RPGs were a niche group of games that sold less than everything else and game stores held fewer copies due to consumers not knowing what these games were all about. FFVII was an instant classic and made RPGs mainstream and really helped companies push out quality titles moving forward. Games that would not normally get translated began coming out in the states due to this games popularity and developers were allowed to experiment which led to amazing new series.

The story of Cloud battling Jenova in search of Sephiroth’s shadows, while trying to discover who he truly is, resonated with so many gamers. It was square’s masterpiece and they treated it as such. Spinoff after spinoff and now a remaster of the ’97 classic have come and gone. While not my favorite entry in the Final Fantasy library, I understand its importance. The music is my favorite part of the experience.

Favorite moment: When Nanaki goes home and finds out that his father was not the coward he thought. Seeing his father’s husk, poisoned and turned to stone was well done. Watching the lifeless body begin to shed tears as his son is howling, maybe with regret, perhaps with newfound respect for his brave warrior father; it was a well-done scene.

previous: Final Fantasy X

up next: Suikoden 2

#7 Final Fantasy X

10 Mar

#7 Final Fantasy X – Five 1st place votes

Image result for final fantasy x

Final Fantasy X was the launch of Final Fantasy games on the PlayStation 2. By this time, Final Fantasy was one of the most well established games in Sony’s library and everyone was eager to see how the series would fare on the next generation consoles.

I won’t lie;  I played the hell out of this game. The story was whatever, but it was the battle system that had me coming back for more, even after beating the game. This was a game where every character (except Kimahri) had a role in battles. The sphere grid was easily exploitable and it even introduced the ability to break the damage cap that normally maxed out at 9999 damage. Battles were fast and fun, and before I knew it I had spent 200+ hours running around this game fighting things.

I haven’t touched FFX in a long time, but strangely I am looking forward to playing it again on my PS4. The introduction of trophies really appeals to me. I can’t wait to get a trophy for dodging 100 lightning bolts in the Thunder plains! Hopefully, this HD port has scene skip.

Final Fantasy was the first main title to spawn off a sequel. I played through FFX-2 briefly. The opening concert was a deal breaker, and I barely gave it the time of day ever again. Still, this was something that other titles in the Final Fantasy library would use moving forward. For better or for worse, FFX experimented with continuing the story of its characters. FFIV, a game that was made 10 years prior, spawned a sequel and the 13th game produce a trilogy of sorts.

Favorite moment: Yuna could sit back and let her magical pets do the bulk of the work in fights, and the game offered plenty of Aeons for you to fight with. One of the nice Easter eggs was the inclusion of the Magus Sisters from FFIV as a secret trio of Aeons for you to control and obliterate the enemies with.

previous: Baldur’s Gate 2

up next: Final Fantasy VII

#8 Baldur’s Gate 2

10 Mar

#8 Baldurs Gate 2 – Ten 1st place votes

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(This entry was submitted by Grefter)

Just focusing on the core “trilogy” of games written and published by Bioware, Baldur’s Gate as a series covers a lot of ground in the 3 years from the original’s launch to the launch of Throne of Bhall, the expansion for BG2 that closes out the story. It is a ride that will progressively tick off different types of adventuring and stock roleplay scenarios, which can hold some appeal even if you don’t actually have the nostalgia of playing the tabletop games yourself.

You start off the series as a weak and fragile level 1 character of any of the core Advanced Dungeons and Dragons classes with only a Chaotic Good Rogue childhood friend Imoen to back you up. You start off small, seemingly unimportant and vulnerable, though the plot sequences early on will suggest otherwise, but the world at large doesn’t pick up what the plot is putting down until you have earned it. The first game is a fairly big open adventure of low level adventuring in a map of two dozen or so areas that you can mostly approach in any order you want. It is the big open world nature of roleplay where you are free to do what you will as a low level adventuring party essentially making a name for yourselves. You can follow the central plot and it will all make sense, but it ties in as a nice overarching plot arc for the side quests and a wide open story where the alignment of characters is left open to be anywhere on that D&D spectrum of good vs evil/law vs chaos (assuming you stick to it, you could break alignment in dialogue all you feel like for the whole series nearly). The story is light gossamer ultimately of little consequence to get you jumping through hoops in a linear fashion that is strung up through what these days would be a more “open world” style environment. Here is a bunch of maps, you can go here if you want to progress the story, but feel free to just explore, and you will run into something to do.

Also worth noting, all this discussion has been about difficulty and balance and less about Role Playing. At its heart Baldur’s Gate is still fairly combat heavy and less core “RP” part of your RPG, this is no Worlds of Darkness, story comes first plot fest, but it is also still big on a story and lots of dialogue going on, so it isn’t full on Tomb of Horrors, no plot all gameplay dungeon crawl (that would be the Icewind Dale branch of games). As a side effect some of this mixed with the open exploration design, the early game can be quite difficult. So following the main plot at first is definitely the recommended path going in where you will be pitted more against Kobolds and Goblins with Ogres as a big standout foe rather than running into a pack of Sirines who will charm half your party in the opening volley. Eventually though you will get a few levels under your belt and the difficulty has levelled out. Everything is set to be “about right” from level 3 upwards and if you are going to do ALL the content in the game, you will be ahead of the curve for most of the game until you go to do the very first expansion for the series.

Tales of the Sword Coast is an odd piece of history in gaming that is easy to lose if you aren’t completely immersed in the history of it. The core experience seems to slot in fairly seamlessly, a few more areas and dungeons doesn’t really upset the apple cart. It is clearly more difficult and is in some ways that Tomb of Horrors experience being tested before Icewind Dale would hit the market. The content has some interesting side quests and the big central plot of Durlag’s Tower part of it would late be used by Beamdog as part of tying together the original game and Baldur’s Gate 2, but that is the better part of 2 decades (over 15 years later!) after the fact. The actual interesting part of Tales of the Sword Coast though is something most people will never see or experience any more. BG1 came out before you could reasonably assume your customers had any kind of internet connection, so patching games was not really how you could assume people would receive the games. Bioware did have a presence online and did release patches for the game (the updates for Tales of the Sword Coast were available online without owning the expansion, just none of the extra content), but with Tales of the Sword Coast they could also really push some big changes that if you have never played the game unpatched seem completely mind blowing. The big ones being, nearly everything was doubled in speed. Time still passes the same, but characters used to move at about half the speed, projectiles as well. Now if you have ever played the readily available versions of the original games (as opposed to modded up version in the BG2 engine or the Enhanced Editions), that is the sped-up version and after future games even that feels slow. The impact of making everyone move faster reduces some of the scope of some of the big areas of wilderness you were exploring but is well worth it to reduce the downtime and mindless wandering of bad pathfinding AI scripts. Even with being sped up the game is still an enormous meaty slab of content and well over 3/4 of it is there open from the moment you are out of the tutorial.

So at its heart, Tales of the Sword Coast not much of an actual impact to current games, but it does make for an interesting point in history.

So between that and the release of Baldur’s Gate 2 you had both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale come out and those give you completely different Role Play experiences, with Torment being about as deep into “Role Play” as D&D computer games really try and Icewind Dale which for all its plot, is essentially one big epic set of trial by fire of combat and death traps. Baldur’s Gate 2 manages to be different again from the first game, but still slot neatly in between those two extremes while ultimately being about the same length and size. Also, you move faster in this over even what you do in the original game, it is a godsend for the pacing and general accessibility of the series. There is a reason this is the version of the engine everything since is based on.

Baldur’s Gate 2 opens with tragedy, there is some plot during the tutorial sequence that show your main character living it up in Baldur’s Gate, successfully having made a name for themselves and living for what passes as the upper crust of that part of the Sword Coast. Then in the actual core game itself you start in medias res with your party ambushed and your travelling companions trapped and the entire group tortured. There is some core assumptions made about who you were travelling with from the party members that can join in the first one, and while they do trend towards Good and Neutral, the party still works fairly cohesively even for an Evil character. Baldur’s Gate 2 is essentially where the type of story being told and the adventure you are on pivots. You are a force in the story now, you are noteworthy and a piece on the board that people will take note of, but you aren’t a power player yourself yet. You will affect change, but you are still a free agent essentially. This setup starts with you in a beginner sort of dungeon to ease you into the game style, but isn’t a “click here to attack” style tutorial, in all honesty it is a bit painful on replays to jump through this sequence of hoops. There is a lot of hoops because it is all tied into the narrative setup for who the main antagonist is and the set piece of the overarching plot, but it is essentially the size of 1.5-2 of the big dungeon maps from the first game and it is all completely on rails and is just corridors upon corridors with some enforced backtracking if you want to get everything from it, which you probably do because it has some useful loot in there.

Once you escape that Childhood Friend from the start of the first game gets arrested for using “illegal magic” along with the main antagonist. Leaving you having been captured and taken to a strange city Athkatla, well south of the setting of the first game, beaten, tortured and all things being laid out, you once again have a vague enough set of motivations to get good, neutral and evil along the main plot path. Whether it be rescue, interest or just vengeance you will be tasked with gathering money to hire the local thieves’ guild to take you to the magic use prison Spellhold. That leaves you with a hook to once again have an open world to wander around and do generic D&D questing, but this time instead of it being bread crumbed along a main plot, the side quests for this portion of the game ARE the main quest. Take this group of tried and proven adventurers and be some local people’s Problem Solvers. You gain a few more levels, you gear up a bit and between monetary rewards and selling off loot you don’t want you will get enough money to progress the main plot. Ultimately there is a bit less you can do off the bat here than in BG1, less of a map is open to explore and more specific places you can go to Do Big Things. The scope is just bigger, it is less about the journey and exploration and more about capital “A” Adventure.

This enforced side questing lets you get a Stronghold based on your main character’s class and effectively some kind of presence as a somebody in the local ecology mimicking similar experiences you could do in Tabletop. Ultimately they don’t boil down to much, just some free mid-range loot and they are all tied into side quests everyone else has access to just as part of the normal open quest structure there that you are pushed a bit harder towards, but it is big enough a feature that you see it come up time and time again future RPGs from Bioware and similar studios, whether it be your own big castle or a small group of mercenaries that you send off to get crafting materials for you in an MMO, it comes up with some regularity.

Along the way your party members will periodically chime in with their own special quests, they are mostly just time based triggers and then are a stock standard quest, but it is usually filled with nice character beats and is part of fleshing out party members that were mostly devoid of personality other than hard scripted lines and random barks of following command or complaining about the area you were in.

As you gather the money to progress the plot you will become entrenched in local politics with the thieves guild, they will lower their price and try to keep you on side as some fresh competition tries to nudge in on their territory, where you will ultimately get to choose between siding with the thieves and having to clear out a Vampire nest or you can side with the Vampires and try to purge a world famous Thieves guild.

Either way you are then funneled out of the open quest structure into the other bulk of the game that makes up the equivalent parts of BG1. There is a long linear path through about two thirds of the plot. You go to Spellhold, the antagonist has taken it over and you get captured again. You try to escape, you find out that the Vampires from before are in league with that main antagonist, you can save Imoen (or not), you find out you have more of a shared heritage than both being orphans and growing up in the same monastic fortress. Your soul gets stolen. It turns out you can turn into an avatar of a dead god, you can be betrayed by a Thief party member built to fill in for Imoen while she was arrested, it is all a bit busy. Essentially you escape and then get two choices, you can follow the antagonist to the Underdark or you can take the same boat you travelled there in back to shore. Taking the boat lets you get ambushed by Sahuagin (its fish dudes) have to fight your way through an underwater Sahuagin (it’s still fish dudes) city as they resolve a dispute over the line of ascendancy to determine who is going to be the next Sahuagin (yeah its fish dudes again) King. Then you end up in the Underdark anyway.

The Underdark is both a really famous part of Forgotten Realms setting stuff and a really famous part of Baldur’s Gate 2. It is where you start getting branching options again. You need to get out somehow and there are a few different approaches there. You have the option of just putting everything to the sword and fire and fight your way through the whole damned place essentially if you want, killing an entire Drow City is a bit extreme, but if it works for you, knock yourself out, I am pretty sure that involves killing a Silver Dragon while you are at it. Otherwise, you can assist a Silver Dragon to save her eggs and have an illusion cast on your party so you look like Drow and then you get to do covert ops pretending to be Drow as complete outsiders (barring the possible Drow party member who fled because she was big into a different kind of dark goddess than the rest). Within the scope of that you are given many options on how you complete the tasks assigned you currying favor so that you can try and get to a situation you can rescue these eggs. Ultimately you make a choice on which side area of the Underdark do you want to go on a killing spree on. Do you want to go to a Mind Flayer layer where you will immediately be captured and have to escape through wave upon wave of brain eating enemies with Fuck You I Ate Your Brain attacks that bypass your HP and Stun attacks that ignore magic resist? Because your other option is a fight with like 6 Beholders at the same time (and then optional clearing out of an area full of Beholders); or you could take the easy route and kill some more Fish Dudes (Sahuagin again), but that is for softies.

Whatever approach you take you are out of the Underdark and are free to return to open questing you didn’t finish up before, but the game will really be pressuring you to finish up that main plot. You will have to purge that Vampire nest (either for the first time or doing it properly this time), save an Elf city under siege to find that antagonist. Kill him and go to hell to get your soul back. In Hell you are put to a series of trials where being Evil will get you rewards of stats and loots and change your alignment, or you can be good and self-sacrifice, which will still get you rewards, but not much loot and will cause some stat drains but you will maintain your alignment. Sucks to be you if you are Neutral now I guess, this is really the only point in the series where it doesn’t feel like they at least succeed at going through the motions with the alignment, but it is also the first time you will also shift Alignment for doing bad shit.

Throne of Bhall makes it really hard to not talk about spoilers I have deliberately stepped around so far, but suffice to say you might be ascending to the Throne for a reason. What the expansion does from here on out is a fairly linear story from here on out that is mostly completely isolated from the core BG2 experience. The only really optional side content at this point is a big dungeon called Watcher’s Keep that was retroactively introduced into the base Baldur’s Gate 2 game as well with the expansion installed. So especially if you have already cleared it (hard but doable) Throne of Bhall is a lot smaller than either of the core games, but there is a lot more of substance over Tales of the Sword Coast. The main plot is essentially a high fantasy version of the Highlander plot line but the end goal is Godhood.

There isn’t much to talk about in specifics, but the campaign is a culmination on the shifting scales I had been talking about earlier. You are more than just a force in the setting now, you are a mover and shaker, you aren’t just a piece on the table; for all that people still try to use you as much. You are set to be driving changes; you are a ludicrously high level by AD&D standards. There is no real optional side content to speak of, there is some quests, but they are all in areas you are absolutely going to. The plot is still setup to be fairly responsive to your alignment choices, you can be seeking power for yourself, you can be seeking it just to keep it out of the hands of people that will miss use it or you could be out to do good, but it is clear that going off and doing nothing is not an option.

Essentially you will go around and follow the plot until there is Only One, you will be betrayed by the character introduced at the start of the expansion and do a final boss fight and then ascend to godhood; or maybe not. You are still given a choice right at the end as to what to do. Even the most linear hack and slash chunk of BG2 is still really pushing and trying to support player expression of choice and riding that plot and dialogue to the end.

At the end of the day that is really what shines through with Baldur’s Gate, it might be middle of the road on extremes that RPGs can be in focusing on combat or plot, but it does it well. It is early enough that it still has a ton of really weird off the wall charm (some that it inherits from AD&D, some that is all of its own making), but it is big enough budget and high enough profile that it has an enormous amount of polish for its vintage. Lots of why it rates high on lists is nostalgia, but it was there at the time for a reason.

I don’t think it is a Must Play for everyone getting into RPGs today, but if you have a tolerance for the style of game and the vintage then they are well worth a look. The Enhanced Editions really help keep them up to date and fresh (i.e. they run without doing any funky voodoo to get going), but they don’t change nearly enough for them to be like a full modern remake.

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#9 Planescape: Torment

10 Mar

#9 Planescape: Torment – Eleven 1st place votes

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(This entry was submitted by Grefter)

Planescape Torment is a flawed masterpiece of a game. It is an adaptation of AD&D’s Planescape setting which is vast all-encompassing and essentially the top down view of all other settings in D&D. Which given this is talking about the peak of new spin off IPs being generated for D&D with everyone with a name that worked on the property canonizing their homebrew settings, that means Planescape is enormous. It is essentially every religion, every source of evil, every banal attempt at making “neutral” meaningful in a setting where you have clearly labelled absolute good and evil, all of it is in one big melting pot and there is a means to travel between them all. At the heart of it all there is a city that is kind of neutral ground enforced by an ambivalent dictator known as the Lady of Pain.

Making a video game about that was always going to be a bigger calling than you could realistically deliver, so Black Isle did the smart thing and didn’t make it about the setting. The setting is set dressing for a story of a single character that deeply explores the themes of the setting.

That character, The Nameless One, is essentially a blank slate personality in a body with a past and the player is able to shape their personality through some of the most expansive dialogue trees in an RPG to date (for a reason, the development team that worked on it had nightmare times tracking all the branches in the trees and even they swore off doing that extreme again). Your choices and behavior will slowly drift you around on the D&D alignment axes of Lawful – Chaotic and Good – Evil. You don’t pick it at the start of the game, but your actions will dictate where you sit on the spectrum, ultimately meaning very little, but it is part of the system and is explicitly there to state where your character stands. Your choices aren’t just a binary choice on asking for a reward for doing quests or addressing “is killing orc babies good or evil?” it is down to individual dialogue choices. Do you lie? Do you use people entirely in a bid for power of some kind? Are you sorry for prior actions that you don’t even have knowledge of? The individual character of The Nameless One is built up progressively as you play from multitude of choices you make. The classic example being the big climax in the middle of the game where you can be presented with around 14 dialogue choices, some of which lead on to deeper discussion paths down a tree of dialogue. When I say a blank slate, I mean it completely. The opening sequence of the game is The Nameless One waking up on a slab in a mortuary with no memory of his past or how he got there while he gets pestered by a talking floating skull.

What I am trying to say is Planescape: Torment is an RPG where the non-combat parts of D&D are really emphasized. You will spend a lot of time walking around the main city of Sigil doing lots of talking, maybe beating up some street toughs, but you mostly won’t be going off to kill a village of Xvarts because hey they have a Staff +1 that sells for a few hundred gold and you are Level 2.

In Planescape setting the heart of everything is Belief. Belief gives gods power, it also empowers mortals. Belief in oblivion after death will mean you die for good, belief in reincarnation being your chance to come back as something better is what will do that for you, but it goes even deeper than that. Belief that a person exists is important. Remembering back where I mentioned you can lie, one of the weird little side things that can happen in the first arc of the game is you are often presented with a chance to tell people your name is Adahn when you first meet them, it is a blatant and specific lie you can keep going back to. If you lie to enough people, eventually in a bar somewhere an Adahn will come into existence based entirely on the strength of enough people being told that ‘Adahn’ exists and believing it. You have a nice chat with him, he knows you, and he knows what you have done and gives you a Ring thanking you for giving him a chance to exist.

Without going into specific spoiler details of an incredibly story heavy game, that is the best parts of Planescape Torment and why I love it. It is an RPG that is about metaphysics and it came out in 1999 when morality scales based on player choice was barely a thing and we didn’t have an environment where you could spin out a neat indie game exploring the nature of strained relationships and find an audience for it. This was a big budget RPG for the time from a big publisher and it was outright weird.

This brings me back to the bad points that anyone going into this now needs to know. The game still has the hack-and-slash D&D computer game ruleset and mindset slapped in there. The Nameless One is immortal, character death means nothing but fussing around with resurrecting your party members, resorting inventories and flushing time down the drain. Also it uses the same engine as Baldur’s Gate, so combat plays out in Real Time which you can pause and is mostly just watching your player avatars mash up against computer opponents and occasionally pausing to cast some broke as hell D&D magic because your level scale in Torment is enormous compared to Baldur’s Gate. This part is pretty trashy and there are arcs of it. The back quarter of the game is made up nearly completely of it. It still maintains that exploration of metaphysics and the nature of belief and the planes, but at a certain point you leave Sigil and start going too far more explicitly hostile environments.

That said it is also the game where you help an Alleyway give birth, so it is always going to be fairly unique and that is what I love it the most for. To me it was an interesting game that plays with themes and concepts that we don’t see explored in Video Games much. It does a passable job for a piece of entertainment as well. It isn’t going to replace any Philosophy textbooks, but it is also significantly more engaging than them for a teenager like I was back in the day.

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