I can’t honestly defend certain attempts at dialogue in video games. Between some bare-bones plots and early attempts at translation, there have definitely been a few “winners” over the years.
But you know, I’d wager there are far more novels on the market that boast worse conversation. Part of that is simply due to a disparity in quantity between the two forms of entertainment; but be that as it may – I’m here to defend the validity of video games as a study-able art form, and dangit if I won’t throw literature under the bus to accomplish that!
Wait…maybe I should reconsider my approach…
Two things your dialogue must, must, must do: convey a character’s communication style (i.e. personality) and establish how s/he fosters relationships with others. After that, your own personal flair is just gravy on the potatoes. Since we all differ in general communication style, it follows that authors will approach dialogue in their own ways as well. But in case you were looking for a little inspiration…
..here’s an unsung story whose transcript can’t be beat.
Now, in some ways this game (and others in its series) works against my argument for the brilliance of video game dialogue.
Stay with me here, though. See, Lufia II knew how to make dialogue work for its characters in a way that even some mainstream RPGs at the time didn’t manage. Oftentimes dialogue was relegated as a vehicle for plot: Characters could have personality and backstory, but these aspects mostly funneled the story and gave little wiggle room for expression. This in itself isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can sometimes make for clunky exchanges.
Lufia II‘s characters, by contrast, speak with a natural, conversational tone. They talk like friends, like rivals, like spouses. They don’t (usually) respond to each other in non sequiturs or in stilted fashion. You can actually hear the manner in which they communicate.
Our lead Maxim tends to be serious and straightforward; his wife Selan is direct and confidant; Guy is the wisecrack of the group; Artea brings solemnity. As the four primary party members, these characters receive ample opportunity to interact, fight, tease, and come to a stronger understanding of each other. Even the extended cast lend dimension and personality – however briefly they enter the scene.
Why is this representation of conversation so important? Well, Lufia II was one of the first games where I felt like I really knew the characters, and much of that had to do with the dialogue flow. They were presented as people instead of something like vessels for an overarching message or theme. Sure, they referenced the plot as necessary for the progression of the story, but Maxim and Selan would also just stop and squabble as a married couple on occasion, allowing a glimpse into their life unrelated to the hovering ultimate destruction of mankind. (It was all the rage in JRPGs back then, you know.)
Though there’s nothing wrong with dialogue used as a tool for plot, I like the tales that permit time for character expansion for its own sake. If anything, it gives more fodder for the fan fiction, right?
Lufia II is the property of Natsume Inc. You can play this classic game with a Super Nintendo and cartridge…or settle for the remake.