Every year in the month or so leading up to Christmas, I end up pulling a game that I haven't played in years out of the depths of my collection. This year, I decided to restart the Playstation version of Grandia (a game I have mentioned on this blog before) and finally sit down and beat it. It didn't take me long to be reminded how long it takes to talk to everyone in a town in this game. Since a town can have two or three dozen characters, and each character has anywhere from one to five things they say, it can easily take an hour or more to properly talk to everyone in a town. In the first ten hours of the game, I spent significantly more time talking to people than exploring dungeons or fighting monsters. Yet, I don't regret doing so in the least, since the NPC conversations in Grandia are almost always entertaining.
Unlike in many RPGs, where NPCs just give a few lines of generic back-ground information to the player when talked to, talking to NPCs in Grandia is used to help flesh out and develop the main characters. Instead of just quietly listening to the NPCs, the main characters of Grandia talk to the NPCs, ask them questions, and make jokes to each other. If an NPC mentions a future dungeon, Justin (Grandia's energetic main hero) will respond and talk about how excited he is at the prospect of going there. Seeing the characters' reactions to this kind of information really helps flesh out their motivations, interests, histories, and random personality quirks, without dumping all of this information on the player as part of the story. Since the main characters talk to each other too, it helps develop what the relationships between the main characters are like as well.
The NPC conversations in Grandia also do an unusual good job of revealing how famous the main characters are in the community and what their reputation is. The NPCs always address the main characters directly, often by name (if they know it), and often talk about what they know or think about the characters' actions. For example, when the party first arrives in a town, most of the locals point out that the main characters look like they are not locals, and the main characters are usually full of questions about the town. However, after some events and dungeons, the locals have become more familiar with the main characters and their exploits. They become more familiar with the main characters and start praising them for their heroic actions. Since the main characters are generally treated with the levels of respect and recognition that they deserve in these conversations, there is something very genuine about them that makes the world of the game more engaging. It also helps reinforce to the player that his actions have had an effect on the game's world.
Finally, the conversations in Grandia are entertaining because they are usually hilarious. Like in many Game Arts games, the characters in Grandia run the gamut from cooky to eccentric to downright insane. The witty, light-hearted nature of Grandia is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.