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Thread: Good Silent Protagonists

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    Witch of Theatergoing Karifean's Avatar
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    Moogle Good Silent Protagonists

    They say actions speak louder than words. While some silent protagonists serve as little more than self-inserts, others do have a lot of personality to them that makes them stand out as their own character in spite of their lack of dialogue.

    What are some of the silent protagonists in RPGs you feel were done best?

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    Now Dig On This Lone Wolf Leonhart's Avatar
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    It's probably safe to assume people can pick characters like Link who don't talk but let out audible noise when they swing their weapon.

    My pick is Ryu in Breath of Fire III.

    Even though he doesn't talk, the other characters can understand him and his intentions.

    It also helps that RPGs tend to have a lot of cutscenes, so a character such as this one will take his own actions that don't require player input. The game also shows exaggerated physical expression like flailing, and the thought bubbles above characters heads indicating things like a light bulb to indicate an idea, sweat drops, etc.

    One of the things I've seen discussed in books about "psychology in video games" is the idea that people grow especially fond of silent protagonists because they can assert themselves onto the character. Give them a personality of their choosing, things of that nature. It's an interesting read if you can find the books and articles on it.


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    I find this a hard question to answer as there is no case where a silent protagonist couldn't be improved by *not* being a silent protagonist.

    As such 'characters' go, Joker is pretty decent. And Ludger from Xillia 2 has an incredibly interesting story, his is a really weird case where before the player takes control of him, he seems to live a rich, full life as an established character. Then when the player takes over he is a blank slate with no personality. Similar kind of thing with the player character from KOTOR; they have a really interesting story attached to them, but no real character.

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    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    I’m honestly okay with silent protagonists in general, as they mostly give me some room to insert myself into them and roleplay, but I think those that leave the most lasting impression are those that can emote, to the point that they actually do have a personality - it’s just a non-verbal one. I also disagree with Fox that there is no case that a non-silent protagonist wouldn’t be an improvement, as I believe these cases really help make your immersion better than a protagonist saying stuff you’d never say would.

    So anyway, Crono, any of the Ryus, the Persona protagonists, the Golden Sun protagonist, and heck, Mario and Luigi fell their handheld RPGs have all been memorable for me and I loved stepping into their shoes.

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    I agree that those that emote a lot are the best of the bunch as it gives them a personality, but at the same time that puts them in this weird halfway point. They have a definitive personality of their own, so you can't do all the self-insert roleplay, but they're not taking part in conversations, making them weaker characters than the surrounding cast.

    I will add Bioshock guy to the 'good' list because of the way they built the game's narrative around your unquestioning obedience to instructions. In that instance it was critical that the player thought of everything they had done in the game as their own actions, not those of a character they were roleplaying as. That and Stanley of The Stanley Parable are probably two of the only exceptions to my rule.

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    A lot of silent protagonists could probably be made better by becoming speaking protagonists, but on the flip side, they could also be made worse by it. Perhaps more than the self-insertion idea, which never resonated with me, having a silent protagonist is a decent way to mitigate risk of having a hated protagonist. Think about it. When you look at the FF leads, who all speak, there always seems to be some hatedom associated with them. Who the heck hates Crono though? Since other party members tend to not be in as much of the game and there's often an option to exclude them from your active party, keeping the protagonist silent helps prevent a disliked character from ruining the experience of the game.

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    I'm in the camp that thinks talking protagonists are better (when done well, obviously), but with that said i do think that among silent protagonists, there are some better than others.

    Which one do I think is the best? That'd actually be the player's character in FFXIV, the warrior of light. Out of all the silent protagonists I've seen and played as, s/he shows the most personality and the widest range of emotions.

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    Memento Mori Site Contributor Wolf Kanno's Avatar
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    I've never had problems with silent protagonists, it may have to do with the fact that I can list more bad character protagonists who sunk a game than a silent one that did. It usually depends on the type of story as well because when you think about it, not all main protagonists are really the main character of their tales, so if the plot is going to focus more on secondary characters anyway, having a playable protagonist that can emote a little bit is often just as good as one who has actual dialogue.

    I remember people being annoyed with Xenoblade Chronicles X for having a silent protagonist, but when I really think about it, I actually felt like Shulk would have been more likable as one in Xenoblade itself because he's honestly the most boring member of the cast despite the twists that connect him to the plot. Star Ocean would also work out better if the MC's were silent heroes as they're often the most unlikable members of the team.

    Likewise, I've generally always liked the main protagonists of a Persona game despite all of them being silent protagonists, and I feel the impact of those games would have been diminished a bit had they become talking characters, in fact the largest valid complaint against P2: Eternal Punishment is switching around two characters from Innocent Sin as the silent hero and talking support character. Most fans agree Tatsuya was far more likable when he didn't talk, whereas others missed having chatty Maya suddenly become comically stoic.

    As for best examples, I'll simply echo what's been said. Persona, Shin Megami Tensei, Suikoden, Breath of Fire, and the Chrono series are all good examples of a silent protagonist working. Whether it's because the characters emote well like Ryu or Chrono/Serge; the game giving you wonderful flavor text choices to really give identity to them like Persona, Mass Effect, and Suikoden; or if the premise of the story really falls into making the player actually feel like the MC and their choices matter such as Shin Megami Tensei.
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    the game giving you wonderful flavor text choices to really give identity to them like Persona, Mass Effect, and Suikoden
    In what world does Mass Effect have a silent protagonist? xD

    I actually felt like Shulk would have been more likable as one in Xenoblade itself because he's honestly the most boring member of the cast despite the twists that connect him to the plot
    I shudder to think how the most boring member of the cast would have been if he had even less to say. And I definitely feel like his relationships with Reyn and Fiora in particular would have been severely compromised in that scenario. Also, I would suggest that having an 'unlikable' character is a good argument for a better character, not a silent one.
    Last edited by Fox; 05-28-2019 at 08:17 PM.

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    Memento Mori Site Contributor Wolf Kanno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fox View Post
    the game giving you wonderful flavor text choices to really give identity to them like Persona, Mass Effect, and Suikoden
    In what world does Mass Effect have a silent protagonist? xD
    Conceptually, they are one. Shepard really never talks much without being prompted by the player, the fact their dialogue is spoken out loud doesn't change the fact that they are nothing more than a player surrogate like any other silent protagonist.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fox
    I actually felt like Shulk would have been more likable as one in Xenoblade itself because he's honestly the most boring member of the cast despite the twists that connect him to the plot
    I shudder to think how the most boring member of the cast would have been if he had even less to say. And I definitely feel like his relationships with Reyn and Fiora in particular would have been severely compromised in that scenario. Also, I would suggest that having an 'unlikable' character is a good argument for a better character, not a silent one.
    I honestly don't think people would notice since the majority of their scenes together have the other party actually doing most of the talking just like with a silent protagonist. Like a SP, the player is only aware of the nature of Shulk's relationship with others by reacting to what they say. Hell, the most poignant scenes are the Heart-to-Hearts which are mostly just the player reacting to the actual chatty party members like a normal SP prompt. So yeah, I really don't think Shulk is an improvement since he comes across incredibly dry and vanilla in personality. This is what I feel is the real problem with chatty main characters, they're personalities are often the most bland of the party because they have to be made as inoffensive as possible in order to be likable and not accidentally cause the player to stop playing. Even some of the most interesting protagonists are often softer around the edges than their supporting casts can be.
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  11. #11
    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Honestly, kinda agree on Shulk, even though I do like him as a character? But considering how many cues this game's story took from Chrono Trigger, it was almost awkward at certain points to hear him talk.

    Also: less to say =/= less personality.

    While we're at it, I think it's important to point out that silent protagonists are ever outright mutes. They definitely talk and the characters around them react to it, which forms the basis for you to fill in the gaps, which I feel is what makes them the more immersive option of the two.

    I will concede that the silent protagonist was handled poorly in XCX though, as much as I enjoyed the game. I'm gonna chalk it up to the character models just being very unexpressive, coupled with the character creation, which resulted in something that was ultimately kinda lifeless? Though with the revelations at the end, perhaps that was the point.

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    The Alpha and the Omega WarZidane's Avatar
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    I'd sooner put Joker in the "speaking protagonist" section than Shepard in the "silent protagonist" section, to be honest.

    And I don't think "but x and y characters were bad and would've been better if they were silent" is a great argument. Bad characters should be fixed by better writing, not going "well let's just pick the lazy safe way and make them silent, better no personality than an annoying one!"

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    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Honestly, I'd consider a good silent protagonist anything but lazy. If anything, it takes more effort to make them compelling. And yes, that includes better writing (as I mentioned, the writing around the character is just as crucial in establishing them than what they themselves say).

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    At least the lazy safe way is one that most developers should be capable of making. Good writing clearly isn't.

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    The Alpha and the Omega WarZidane's Avatar
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    I'd rather have writers make a good attempt (even if it fails) to become better, rather than using silent protagonists as a crutch to avoid having to write a better protagonist

    But maybe that's just me

    And I'm not saying silent protags are necessarily lazy, but when the argument is "a silent character beats a badly written character", that's a lazy decision

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