For the Love of an NPC

The original Baldur’s Gate is a landmark game. It was the begin of the rise of the great role-playing game developer Bioware. Along with the original Fallout, it sat at a high water marker of RPGs, sparking an entire branch of games. To this day, the game rates highly despite aging mechanics and graphics.

While there are a multitude of great features in Baldur’s Gate, one stands out above the rest: the characters. As any long term Bioware fan can tell you, the characters are always the best part of their game experiences. In fact, their latest game, Mass Effect 2, is almost entirely focused on your party members. You spend the vast majority of the game recruiting them and earning their loyalty. Each one has their own personality, their own hopes and dreams, flaws and failures.

To me, no one better symbolizes this than ranger Minsc. Generally when you meet him in BG, you have generally already met five potential party members who fit into simply categories. Imoen is the loyal childhood friend.. The couple Jaheira and Khalid are good to a faut. Xzar and Montaron are equally polar, though in the opposite direction.

Minsc, though officially of a good alignment, is far more of an enigma. He willingly joins the party, but desires the hero helps him rescue his ward Dynaheir. Failure to do this in a timely fashion will actually lead Minsc to attack the party. His dialogue is both interesting and random, with a liberal does of insanity thrown in.

Which leads us to Boo. Minsc, as a ranger, has an animal familiar that he describes to the players as a miniature giant space hamster. When you first meet Minsc, he ask you to halt so Boo can properly evaluate the group before they decide to join you. His famous catch phrase in battle is “Go for the eyes Boo, go for the eyes.”

Mechanically, there is no advantage to having Boo. He has no special abilities or powers. The truth of his description as a miniature giant space hamster is not explained. In fact, Boo is actually a disadvantage: he takes up one of Minsc’s quick item slots. He is impossible to remove from that slot, forever limiting Minsc to only two items there. Since combat does not pause when inside the inventory, this can have actual game play effects.

But this penalty is accepted without a second thought by every person I have ever known to play the game. Minsc is, almost universally, the only character everyone picks up. Even with the requirement of rescuing and keeping the less than steller Dynaheir (though some players have intentionally got her killed so she doesn’t take up a slot). And the developer’s recognized this, making him officially one of the canon companions from BG going into the sequel.

Compared to modern role-playing game characters, Minsc is a light-weight when it comes to story. We know little of his backstory, and the interactions with him are limited. Alistar from Dragon Age says more in the first hour you know him than Minsc says in two whole games. But what is given implies a great deal, gaps the player gladly fills out, creating a character that is more than simply the words on the screen. A character that we love long after the game is finished.

A character that just might make us believe in miniature giant space hamsters.

-That is all.

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