Monday, April 3, 2006

General RPGs' Silent Protagonists

We all know'em--they're the main heroes of a game, leading their band of do-gooders and the like against the forces of evil, righting wrongs, defending truth, justice, and the American way...all while letting nary a word pass their lips. From the protagonist of Crystalis to Crono to Rudy to Ness to Link to Ari to so many more, we all have played at least one RPG where our leading lad never deigns to speak (female protagonists don't seem to ever have this problem, at least ("Women Are Chatty" stereotype detected?)).

And I just have to wonder, why the hell do they do this?

It's been suggested at times that this is done because it gets you more into the role. Helps you identify with the guy you're controlling, as he has no personality whatever save that which you give him. Well, I can't say that ever worked for me, because frankly, I have trouble identifying with someone who doesn't SPEAK. I use verbal communication daily, rather than relying on pantomimes and having my friends interpret them like concerned parents trying to figure out that Lassie's trying to tell them Timmy managed to fall down into the well. Again. You'd think they'd just board the goddamn thing up so it'd stop happening, really.

It's really always been something that bugs me, these silent heroes. I mean, okay, fine, you get a few like Crono (Chrono Trigger) or Toan (Dark Cloud 1) who at least have a vast array of exp​ressions and movements to kinda give you an idea of what they're like. Not a very good idea by any stretch of the imagination, but an idea. And Link (Legend of Zelda series) at least has 60 different kinds of grunts and battle yells...too bad that doesn't really give you much idea on his character at all save what he'd sound like during constipation, but whatever, it's still something. But sometimes, you just don't even get that much, and your character just sort of walks around at the front of the group while all the people who can speak English trail along behind him, having to shoulder the burden of both their own characterization and their leader's when they interact with him (see: Breath of Fire 1 through 4).

By all rights, the person you ought to know BEST, and who ought to have at least one of, if not the, most interesting personalities and histories, is the guy you're playing as for the whole game, right? RPG developers thankfully seem to be mostly behind this silent protagonist nonsense by now, but it still crops up every now and then. They really need to stop being lazy and just characterize their own goddamn heroes. It just about always works better, even when you end up creating a largely unimpressive one.


  1. Silent protagonist are suppose to make you identify yourself as the character rather than the person controling them and explaining why you can pick things for them to say but this obviously does not work if they actually do have a personality to work with.

    I've seen some weird variations of this

    First is Persona 2 in which the silence actually manages to passed around between games when the Heros swich roles

    The Second is in Pokemon Mystery dungon in which the Protagonist is silent(Most of the time) but you can always see his thoughts

    1. This idea doesn't resonate with me, a silent protagonist more identifiable as my avatar. The silence has very little to do with me identifying with a character. Unless I've had a hand in the creation of the character, the character is always the same for everyone, so what makes him or her special for me?

    2. That's actually a really good point, Zenic. Wish I'd thought of that when I was writing this rant.