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The 10 Best Games Ever (according to me)

Today I stumbled across a post on I Hate Loading Screens about her top 10 games, and thought it was a great idea for a blog post.

So here is my list of the 10 best games I’ve ever played.

Planescape Torment

1. Planescape Torment – I talk about this game a lot. And there’s a reason for that – it’s fucking amazing. I’ve always been a fan of isometric RPGs and Torment is the best of the bunch by far. The story is great. The characters have backstories and personalities and feel as real as video game characters can get. The game is full of lore, every object you pick up can have it’s own story that sends your imagination on a joy ride. It’s text heavy and the text is beautifully written. Gameplay is also strong, and allows you to master different classes and switch between them. It also allows you to choose how to approach situations, with brains, brawn, or subterfuge.

If, by some chance, you like RPGs and have not played this, I can probably hook you up with a GoG code. Comment/message me if you want one.

Pandora Directive box art

2. Pandora Directive – Of all the adventure games I’ve played over the years, this one is the one I’d call the best.  Pandora Directive puts Sam Spade-inspired PI Tex Murphy on a missing person’s case that soon unearths a vast conspiracy. The gameplay combines point and click mechanics with first-person exploration to great effect. During the course of the investigation Tex solves puzzles, makes contacts, and shares wisecracks about everything. Pandora Directive has sharp, funny writing and allows the player to shape Tex’s character through branching dialogue trees (way before Bioware made this popular), which can lead to a number of different endings. All the Tex Murphy games are great, but this one is the best. The combination of noir setting with humour really works for me.

Beyond Good and Evil

3. Beyond Good and Evil – Besides having one of my favourite protagonists of all time, Beyond Good and Evil has an interesting story and really solid, fun gameplay. As Jade, you need to take on the DomZ, aliens who are enslaving humans. The game world of Hillys features a really cool combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements and features stylish visuals and a really cool soundtrack. Gameplay is diverse, featuring action, combat, stealth, platforming, puzzle solving, and hovercraft racing. All of these elements are done really well. It also features a photography mechanic which is used both to gather evidence about the conspiracy going on and to catalogue all the species of Hillys. I’m a sucker for photography in games when it’s well done.

Shadow of the Colossus

4. Shadow of the Colossus – There’s a certain beauty to exploring a vast and empty land and having a story that isn’t really spelled out for you. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most moving gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s technically an action game, but the action is confined to one very specific thing – battling colossi. Each battle is a puzzle, where you need to find the beast’s weakness in order to defeat it. As the game progresses these fights become no less exhilarating, but take on an aspect of sadness and you start to wonder why you’re killing these magnificent creatures.

XCOM Enemy Within

5. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within – Set during a global alien invasion, XCOM puts you in the commander’s chair of an elite organization that represents humanity’s last hope against the invaders. It expertly combines tactical turn-based combat with resource management and strategy. Managing your base is a balancing act of researching alien tech so you can adapt it for your own use, building items and facilities which aid in combat, and reducing worldwide panic by deploying satellite coverage and shooting down enemy UFOs. Everything about this game is compelling, and while I generally play through games like this once then declare “I won,” XCOM is a game that I’ve played through multiple times. Just turning on Ironman mode makes this an entirely new experience.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant box art

6. Shadow Hearts: Covenant – The PS2 was an amazing console for JRPGs and of all of them, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the one that won my heart. Set during WW1, Covenant takes an unlikely group of protagonists across the globe in order to stop a group of sorcerers intent on world domination. Admittedly, it’s not the most unique story, but it’s the game’s execution that makes it special. Shadow Hearts introduces some really likable characters and puts them in some seriously goofy situations. It’s the humour that really sets this JRPG apart, and there’s a lot of it. It also gives some unique character abilities, from having a character who uses tarot cards and aromatherapy in combat, to a puppetmaster whose doll gains abilities from new outfits, to a vampire who changes forms from golden bat to muscle-bound pro wrestler. From a gameplay perspective, one of the best things about the game is the Judgement Ring, which turns turn-based combat into something much more active and interesting.

Star_Ocean_Second_Story

7. Star Ocean: Second Story – Another amazing  JRPG. Like many JRPGs, the story is a bit of a save the world cliche (though it does add a lot of sci-fi elements to the usual fantasy tropes), but it’s the details that make this game great. First, you get to pick your main character. You can be the attractive, broody, sword-wielding young man with spike hair OR you can play as the naive young woman with magical abilities. Okay, I’m doing a bad job selling this. Your choice of character makes subtle changes to the story, including which other characters you can recruit, and changes some of the story that you get to see, so that’s cool. Second, crafting. You can write, you can blacksmith, you can cook, or compose music or create art. It’s a really robust crafting system that lets you create a ton of usable and special items. If you get good enough at cooking you can even compete in an Iron Chef-like tournament, which is amazing. I’m not generally a fan of crafting in games, but in Star Ocean it is so much fun. Third, the combat is really interesting. Rather than turn-based, combat is more active with you controlling movement and actions on the battlefield. Also, 4 characters participate in each battle, and 4 is better than 3. There’s also an emphasis on building relationships with the other characters in your party and Private Actions let you talk to each character individually.

Mass Effect - Commander Shepard

8. Mass Effect – I refuse to pick one game, Mass Effect is best looked at as a series. Why is Mass Effect awesome? Well, primarily because of Commander Shepard and Jennifer Hale. Shepard is an amazingly kick-ass space action hero and Mass Effect is one of the few games where I enjoy both the Paragon and Renegade character development track. In a lot of games the renegade/dark/evil options just make your character into an asshole, but Mass Effect gives options that are pragmatic and direct rather than just being jerky. Character development is great, relationships in the game get into your head and never let go, choices are hard. Mass Effect features some really memorable characters and the trilogy as a whole is an experience that covers not only the thrills and dangers of saving the entire galaxy but also has a ton of smaller, quieter moments that make the games special. Also, it’s a very solid 3rd person shooter.

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

9. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – Set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, VtMB and is an atmospheric and immersive RPG. As a freshly sired vampire you need to navigate through an eternally dark Los Angeles, making friends and enemies, feeding on mortals, fighting foes, and surviving vampire politics. The game is not without flaws, there are some pretty nasty bugs, but the story and interactions in the game more than make up for them. The lore of the game is deep, each vampire clan has its own strengths and motivations. You can choose whether to abide by the rules of the Masquerade and what clans to align yourself with. The writing and voice acting in the game is top notch, and there are some truly creepy moments.

Final Fantasy x-2

10. Final Fantasy x-2 – Final Fantasy X was a great game, and X-2 leveraged the great world and characters it had set up and added some amazingly fun new gameplay. Yuna becomes the heroine and teams up with Rikku and new character Paine to spread girl power throughout the land (and save the world, obviously). Though there are some cringey bits (I find serious musical numbers in games to be immensely uncomfortable), the sheer amount of fun this game offers more than makes up for it. Combat has evolved past that of FFX. It’s faster, it’s slicker. Characters can use numerous different dresspheres which offer completely different sets of abilities and a snazzy new outfits. The mini-games like Sphere Break and Gunner’s Gauntlet are amusing diversions and the quest-focused story works really well.

Well, that’s my 10 (right now). I seem to have a thing for RPGs. And here’s a video where I share some more thoughts on what makes a game good enough to be called favourite.

What are your top 10 games?

Role Playing Game

RPGs are one of my favourite genres of video games, but what exactly is a role-playing game?

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.

That’s not a very comprehensive description, as it could apply to almost any game. Though I control the character Mario in the fictional setting of the Mushroom Kingdom, I’d never call Super Mario Bros a role-playing game. Ultimately, this whole post is about semantics, but I’m interested in how people define this particular genre and what games the RPG moniker it gets applied to.

The first game that really made me question the meaning of RPG was Borderlands, a game that billed itself as a role-playing shooter. The game had a number of mechanics in common with the more traditional role-playing games such as choice of class, a talent tree, and power increases through gear and gaining stats as you level. But for me, nothing about Borderlands made me feel like I was playing a role. Whether I played as Mordechai the hunter, or Lilith the siren, the game never felt any different beyond basic combat mechanics. A talent tree does not an RPG make.

Talent tree for Mordechai in Borderlands

Character building is a huge part of RPGs, and can fall into one of two categories. The first, which I’ll call mechanical character building, happens by gaining experience through quests or combat, which increases your level, which in turn increases your character’s stats or gives you more abilities. Mechanical character building is what makes you feel like your character is getting more powerful. The second type, which I’ll call narrative character building happens by making decisions that affect your character in different ways. Rather than levelling until you get 18 Strength, you’re making decisions that develop your character’s personality, how other characters react to you, maybe even the game world. Without this second type of character building I’m reluctant to classify a game as an RPG.

Druid talent trees

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, but I have honestly never considered that an accurate classification. I know that many people play WoW as an RPG – they create backstories for their characters, give them a personality, and maybe even speak to others in-game in character, but this really comes from their own creativity and imagination. Blizzard developed a lot of lore that people can pull their character stories from, but if you take just the actual game content, there’s really not a lot of character building. As someone who does not RP in-game and is not interested in creating my own stories about my character, my Night Elf Druid is really no different from any of a million other Night Elf Druids. Or Tauren Warriors, for that matter. They don’t talk. They don’t have a personality. They don’t make decisions any deeper than do this quest or don’t do this quest. None of the adventures I have in-game effect the larger world, or the story of the game. We can kill the game’s antagonist on Monday only to have him come back on Tuesday. Choosing to be Resto vs Feral or taking Nature’s Vigil over Heart of the Wild make me feel like I’m developing a stat sheet, not a character. For me, the character building in WoW was 100% mechanical.

Planescape Torment conversation options

Another related, somewhat overlapping component of RPGs is choice and decision-making. You can choose your companions in games like Baldur’s Gate. You can choose to join the Dustmen faction, the Anarchists, or the Sensates (or all of them) in Planescape: Torment. You can choose who will rule the kingdom in Dragon Age. All of these decisions affect the game experience in some way, from making different sidequests available to changing the ending.

FF7 Golden Pagoda

Thinking about RPGs from a decision-making and effect point of view makes me think again about JRPGs. Take Final Fantasy 7 for example. There’s actually very little decision-making in this game. In terms of mechanical character development, you don’t even build your character you really just choose weapons and materia to use. Cloud is Cloud and nothing you do changes his story. You can choose to do certain optional content – recruit Yuffie and Vincent, fight the Weapons, breed chocobos – but again, that doesn’t really impact your character or the narrative. The only part of the game that really provides you with something different based on your decisions is who you go on a date with at the Gold Saucer. Final Fantasy or Shadow Hearts, two series I love, don’t really let me develop a character. The protagonists are written in one way and I’m just along for the ride.

The Walking Dead decisions

So what about games that allow you to make decisions and do a lot of narrative character building, but have no mechanical character building? The Walking Dead is full of choices to make and allows you to shape Lee’s personality, but there is no levelling or gearing up. You don’t get stronger, you just develop the story and cultivate relationships with your companions. Is this an RPG? I personally feel that this kind of decision heavy game provides a much more immersive role-playing experience than something that allows me to adjust 100 different stats, traits, and abilities on a character sheet. But that’s just my opinion.

To me, what makes an RPG is decision-making and character building. Without the ability to have input into the character’s development and choices, I really don’t feel like I’m playing a role. The subgenre of the game – it could be a shooter, or turn-based strategy, or action – doesn’t matter, so much as being able to have an effect on events in the game.