Genshin Impact shakes up the JRPG formula with its new NPCs
There is a joke among weaklings that you can always tell who the main character of an anime is. Are you looking for a teenager with the brightest hair or impractical clothes. Young heiress Dunyarzad, a newly introduced NPC in Genshin Impact, hardly fits the bill, so I didn’t think much about her when I met her. She was quiet and didn’t have any personality quirks. During our first meeting, I practically forgot about her as soon as she disappeared from view. However, the humble heiress quickly became a fan favorite. Genshin community. “[The quest] it was so great and even makes me cry”, tweeted one player. “She’s literally the best NPC in Genshin.”
Dunyarzad may be the daughter of a wealthy family, but she is not destined to inherit that wealth. From birth, she struggled with an incurable disease that could kill her at any moment. Despite this, she defies social conventions to bring back the Sabzeruz festival, a tradition her compatriots have long abandoned. She feared that she might soon die, and her only wish was to see her god’s birthday dance.
When I met her, I assumed that our paths would soon part after she pointed me in the right direction of my search. Instead, I was dragged into a multi-hour questline in which she played a prominent role, eclipsing popular playable characters like Neelow and Dehya. Every aspect of the carefully crafted main quest centered around Dunyarzad, and she had some of the most emotional scenes in the Sumeru region. Her best line: “There will always be disappointments in life, but I know that the meaning of life is not to leave behind any regrets.” I promise it’s sadder in context.
Her courage left such strong impression on the Genshin players that even her English voice actor recognized that the community wants Dunyarzad to join Genshinsuper powerful roster of playable characters.
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I started to adore her, but I hope Dunyarzad never becomes a playable character. Giving her the divine “Vision” (an amulet that allows the player characters to use magic) would be an oversight. Dunyarzad is named after Queen Scheherazade’s younger sister Thousand and One Nights. Although Dunyarzad is not as famous as her sister, she literally the reason Scheherazade survived her murderous husband. HoYoverse chose her for the main quest because of the new theme, which Genshin tried to convey in his latest updates: Ordinary people matter. And the studio is ready to invest real resources (for example, in voice acting) in showing players that mundane characters have an inner essence, and not just make bloated anime speeches about it.
I’ve always been worried about how many NPCs function in JRPGs. Sometimes they are faceless to save development time. Often they die off very quickly to help develop the protagonist. There’s a reason NPCs were co-opted into right meme: because many NPCs lack the freedom of action compared to playable characters. Whenever a heroic character tells me that I need to protect some villagers, I feel obligated to do so out of a sense of nobility. ‘Cause that’s what a hero is supposed to do, and not because I consider these wooden figurines to be my equals.
But Genshin ramps up NPC involvement in the story, starting with the Inazuma storyline. Some of best stories in the last district, an academician, a village boy and an ordinary soldier told. A massive update to The Abyss even more openly spoke about the important role played by powerless people in the world of Teyvat.
“I don’t really regret not having the Vision,” said Yangbo, a soldier in the local army. “Those who do not have the power based on the Vision are the vast majority of people, and those who can truly understand and protect them are also ordinary people. As an ordinary person, I am proud to be among those who can protect many.” He did not just resign himself to the fact that the gods bypassed him. He was the only insignificant drop of water in the ocean, and he was justifiably proud of it.
I thought about this conversation as I watched Dunyarzad bring his community together. She was too weak to fight the evil that Teyvat controls, and history does not remember her name. And yet she was so determined to achieve her small, insignificant goal – to throw a holiday that no one (including her god) asked for. NPCs need more than just important story roles; their game must treat their lives with dignity and respect.