Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sneaky and unassuming NPCs part I: Jianmin from Shenmue II

Behind those wrinkles hides a martial arts phenomenon! 
None player characters (NPCs)...pretty much every RPG has them in one form or another. Historically the NPC species can be split into two predominant groups; the first are your average run of the mill town folk, who will spend their days and nights aimlessly milling about villages and cities sharing snippets of (often crucial) information, running shops and inns or generally just misbehaving (ala Johnny from Final Fantasy VII). Common traits amongst these characters include looking identical to their neighbours, having their houses pillaged by adventuring types and kind of just being there to make up the's not a prestigious existence but someone has to do it, right?

The second group, is brimmed with much more interesting and alluring personalities. It's here we find the characters that are chosen to make up the core of the story and fulfil vital roles within it's plot. Beings in this most hallowed NPC group can range from the angelic to downright satanic, usually each one will have their own distinct persona, a properly developed back story and outrageous dress sense. These are also the characters responsible for some of the most famous moments in RPG history...the wondrous Leknaat reviving the ever faithful Gremio in Suikoden for instance (guaranteed to make fans of all ages weep with joy!).

Generally speaking, it's easy to spot when one of these alpha NPCs is about to get unpleasant or is plotting the hero's demise. It is often signalled by a sudden dramatic musical score or a sweeping cut scene, occasionally though one or two will catch us out, and that meekly innocent non player character will turn to be a bit of a sly dog.

The classic text book example of this unassuming NPC has to be Jianmin Tao from Shenmue II. Although he looks very much like your typical Chinese pensioner going through his daily exercise routine, Jianmin is actually a master martial artist. And after a brief introduction he subsequently decides to teach our hero Ryo a comprehensive a lesson in speed and counter attacking, much to his own amusement it seems!

After leaving Ryo sufficiently bemused by his speed and guile, the roguish old codger decides to teach the naïve young warrior his awesome Iron Palm technique of the Tai Chi style. Aside from looking the business, this move is also powerful enough shake the very leaves from the trees! Who'd have thought it eh...

Jianmin can be found day or night (where he lives is somewhat of a mystery), practicing his Chen style Tai Chi in the beautiful Lotus Park, located in the South Carmain Quarter of Wanchai...which incidentally is also home to some of my favourite music from Shenmue II. And although his role in the game's story is ended when Ryo learns the Iron Palm technique, Jianmin is always ready for another sparring session should you wish to engage him, good luck besting him in combat though.

The South Carmain Quarter itself remains one of my favourite areas in the entire Shenmue saga. It's faded glory really captures the depth and real life feel that Sega painstakingly attempted to portray to the player. The run down and built up streets are completely without glamour and it's oppressed residents display that stoic heroism often synonymous with decaying and deprived inner city areas. Also hailing from the South Carmain Quarter is Jianmin's friend and resident Shenume II battle axe, Guixang Lee...this stern old lady also happens to be a master of Tai Chi so best be polite to her.

So the next time you're wandering around an RPG town or city, remember to keep a beady eye on the quiet and retiring NPC in the never known what surprises they might have in store for you!


  1. Nice post sir! It certainly gets one thinking about other possible examples :) I must confess, I haven't gotten around to playing Shenmue yet (despite being a big DC fan) but this makes it seem more interesting!

  2. Cheers mate, kind words are always welcome. I can't recommend Shenmue highly enough to be honest...though if you do get around to playing it, be sure to clear a few weeks from your calendar, it's easy to get lost in the game for ages!

  3. Haha, yeah, that's why I haven't 'dabbled' yet - I've barely got time to play a game for an hour, nevermind a day! Boo hoo :(