I might have a personal soft spot for Baldur's Gate 1, but it's impossible to deny that Baldur's Gate 2 is far more influential. It's tectonic: a game that codified a model of RPG making whose influence is still felt today, and it's in large part down to how it handled its companion characters.
Where BG1's party members were mostly a collection of tropes and barks—resources for you to make use of until they got gibbed, at which point you'd replace them with some other unfortunate—BG2's were full-on people. They had personal motivations, sprawling quests, and desperately needed therapy.
And it turns out we have one game in particular to thank for that: Final Fantasy 7.
In a chat with Rock Paper Shotgun, BG1 and 2 lead James Ohlen mentioned that we apparently owe the game's more complex and well-rounded companions to a particularly uninhibited Interplay producer named Dermot Clarke. Clarke had been playing FF7 and, during a smoke break alongside Ohlen, mentioned that the JRPG's characters made the ones in the Baldur's Gate games look flat and undeveloped.
"I'm very competitive," Ohlen told RPS, so he went and "played Final Fantasy 7 and was like, 'Oh my good god, these characters make ours look like a bunch of cardboard cutouts. This is terrible.'"
And so BioWare decided to take its companion writing up a notch for BG2, creating personal narratives for pretty much everyone in your party that made them feel like actual people you could become attached to instead of bundles of stats you directed towards your enemies. There was Imoen coping with the trauma of her abduction, Jaheira dealing with the death of her husband, Keldorn torn between love and duty, and Jan, a small man who sold turnips. Who needs 'Aerith'?
There are plenty of excellent things about Baldur's Gate 2, but it's the companions that make it for me, and presumably for plenty of other people too. BioWare continued to double down on creating loveable and neurotic companions in pretty much every game it made thereon, eventually reaching a crescendo—if you ask me—with Mass Effect 2, a game more about its companions and their quests than it is about its notional 'main story'.
So I guess we owe those games and the ones they inspired—Baldur's Gate 3 included—at least in part to FF7. They're some of my favourites ever made, so I guess this coming January I'll be another person celebrating Final Fantasy 7 Day.