I’m a sucker for deep character work in video games — things like side quests where you learn things about a person’s back story, dialogue that reveals a party member’s quirks, or game mechanics that simply let you get to know characters a little bit better in your down time. This is why I absolutely adore the Private Action system from Star Ocean: The Second Story.
The Private Action system was an optional feature that allowed your party to split up whenever you got to a town, causing individual party characters to appear as NPCs that you could converse with. Each might have a line or two about the local shopping, or about wanting to find some food, or about the weather. You could also pickpocket from them, which would lead to entertaining mental conversations when one of them had a particularly powerful item.
However, the PA system shined brightest when it gave access to small character scenes. Maybe you would have the option to answer another character’s philosophical question. Perhaps you would have the opportunity to go shopping with another character, and your decisions on what to buy or what not to buy might matter.
This allowed for dialogue that had no impact on the plot but allowed you to get to know individual characters better. For example, Ashton has a weird obsession with barrels — he’ll go on about the make and model, or the design, or some other long, drawn out rambling about how great the barrel is — a fact you might never learn if you choose to not use the PA system.
It also had an effect on which ending you would get. Each character had an invisible Romance and a Friendship meter that rose or fell based on a number of factors, such as actions taken during Private Actions and things done during combat. Each character had a Romance and a Friendship ending with other characters, and there was also a different ending based on which characters’ Romance or Friendship meter was higher.
Star Ocean: The Second Story is probably one of my favorite JRPGs of all time, which is in no small part due to the Private Action system. I’m surprised it never became a staple of the genre.