Towns in Lucid Awakening 2 are different than the ones in most RPGs. For me, towns are some of the most memorable parts of RPGs; I think of the ones from Final Fantasy 6 in particular. But there was always something about towns I didn't like--my OCD would kick in and I would have to talk to every NPC in the entire town and check every barrel, crate, and pot for treasures. While this is something exciting and memorable, there was still a feeling of anxiety that would come with visiting a new town--"Oh no, I'm going to have to spend 15 minutes doing everything I can in this new town...."
In Final Fantasy 12 towns were different. The cities were absolutely huge and the amount of people there was more than I'd ever seen before in an RPG, yet something made them much less stressful for me--not all NPCs had something to say; only ones with a mark above their head were ones you could talk to. I used this as inspiration as I started making my very first town today on LA2.
I've always had trouble with towns and NPCs when making RPGs, but I think I finally did what's just right for me as a developer and designer.
Instead of being able to explore an entire town, there will be important locations in the town that you can visit via a menu; also, you cannot visit a location until you have learned about it from an NPC or story event. For example, in the town I was designing today you begin in the pub. Your character asks the bartender where a good place to sleep is, and the bartender tells him the Redstone Inn (which is marked in red, signifying that you have just learned a new location). When you leave the pub you are on the outside of the building and even though it may look like a typical RPG town, it's not. Once you step onto a crossroad next to the Pub, a menu pops up that lists all the locations you know about. Choosing a location will instantly take you there.
This is where I borrowed from FF12. There are a lot of NPCs, but very few are ones you can talk to. This saves the player from a lot of meaningless chatter. The NPCs you can talk to will usually be standing still. The ones you can't talk to will be moving around, and not just wandering aimlessly, they have a set path and when they appear is random.
Look at the screenshot. That flying black bird comes up from the bottom and makes a noise as it flies over the inn. That old couple comes out from the right side of the screen and walks down another path. That blue haired guy is waiting for his girlfriend, when she comes they talk for a little, and then walk off to the right. That one is different from the others too, because the guy is standing there from the beginning, but when his girlfriend comes is random. Also, all the other ones can repeat, but the guy and his girlfriend won't happen again until you leave that location and come back.
I really think that these things together make a beautiful town that seems huge, real, and living. I feel that doing it this way gives me the ability to make each location seem like a beautiful painting, or a small snapshot of a much larger picture. It's important to leave some stuff to the imagination. The player can imagine the stories behind each NPC and why they do what they do; the player can also imagine what the entire town looks like as a whole, since I'm not mapping the entire town, just several locations within the town.
P.S. I have about 20 minutes of gameplay for LA2 done...I think a demo isn't too far off =]