Some of the core mechanics of building an RPG world typically includes a system of shops, inns, and other ways for the player to stock up on items, upgrade your gear, and recover from a long day of travel or questing. To accommodate this, NPCs are developed that serve those functions. Sometimes, these NPCs go above and beyond their assigned role, and are given their own back story, adding depth to the NPC, as well as the world you are playing in itself. This storytelling mechanic can be used to add content to your gameplay, or just spice up the story. It’s something I would love to see in more RPGs in the future.
Find out what I mean below!
There are several ways that this can be done, and each method is effective. The first method is when an NPC has a direct connection to some of the main plot. To explain this, I direct your attention to Suikoden V. Early on in the game, you meet a woman named Marina, who has become quite smitten with a gladiator named Belcoot. Not only do they become quite well connected, but she is also kidnapped by thugs, and is used as blackmail to have Belcoot throw his next gladiator matches. Later on in the game, you come across their path again, and Marina is recruited as your innkeeper. Without this involvement earlier in the story, Marina could have just been another face in the crowd, lacking the substance and personality she has been able to show. Another example would be the group of detectives that you are able to recruit. While this is an optional piece of plot, you can join them in a very plot relevant investigation. You can choose not to join them, but the investigation happens either way, making it still significant. Following them also allows you to recruit them to your army much sooner. By allowing these direct interactions with your playable characters, an NPC can be more than its base function, and means that a lot more care was taken with the creation of the story and setting for any RPG.
NPCs can also add to the gameplay experience by having their own side stories. While these do no impact the main plot or gameplay, they add flavor to the world with the intention of making your experience more enjoyable. The best example of this comes from Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. The city of Kavoc is home to several different shops. On several occasions, when you visit a shop, you will get a scene with that shopkeeper. One of the shopkeepers, Veola, you slowly get to know over time and you learn she is trying to make a dangerous item called a Chronolex. The more often you visit, the more you learn what she wants to do with this item. Norman the bartender is constantly looking for new dishes and drinks for his menu, and uses Delsus to taste test all the booze. Blaire is a baker in a different town, who is having a bit of a tiff with her sister, and you help with that issue the more you visit them. This really shows that the world is full of life and emotion, instead of a bland world full of NPCs that have one sentence lines spoken over and over again.
When I play an RPG, I often forget that NPCs and shopkeepers are supposed to be people. It doesn’t help that a lot of them are named “Innkeeper” or “Blacksmith” and so on. Much like a “Red shirt” from star trek, an NPC needs to at least have a name to be memorable. Otherwise, they’re just another face in the crowd whose life is inconsequential. I would love to see this happen with more RPGs down the road, and it’s a shame that many classic games did not implement this addition to their respective worlds.
Any memorable NPCs that you like? Let me know about them!