A very common character archetype is the silent protagonist. These strong, thoughtful types are seen in many games. There are multiple reasons developers can choose to make their characters silent, from trying to put the player in their shoes, to simply being a design choice. However, not all silent protagonists should remain wordless. Sometimes their silence is a poor choice. These Top 5 Silent Protagonists would suit their games much better if they were finally able to find their voice.
5. Chrono (Chrono Trigger)
Tom Folino / SpeedDemoArchive
First off, let’s just specify that I don’t think Chrono is going to appear in any more games. Chrono Trigger has been his one and only appearance (excluding its sequel, Chrono Cross, where he made a small cameo). Despite this, in the small chance that Chrono is going to appear in any more games, I definitely hope that he will have some lines. Also, as a warning, this passage delves into spoiler territory for Chrono Trigger. If you’re afraid of 20-year old spoilers, then I suggest you skip over to the next character.
In Chrono Trigger, Chrono is a character who journeys through time with his friends in an attempt to save the world. All of the other party members had lines and fleshed out personalities, except for Chrono. Chrono had some basic workings of a personality, but really his character didn’t extend beyond a very typical teenage JRPG hero. He was strong, silent, loyal, sacrificed himself for his friends. You know the type. The issue is that in a game which was so lovingly crafted, Chronos absence of lines seems very out of place.
One of the best aspects of Chrono Trigger was the plot. It was an epic tale of time travel and world saving, and both the dialogue and characters were wonderfully written – each was crafted with a lot of heart. Except Chrono. He just… existed in the universe. You controlled him, and you fought with him, and you connected with him on some basic levels, but he never really clicked as a character. For example, one of the key plot points of the story is Chrono sacrificing himself to save his friends from death. This moment barely landed on an emotional level, but it definitely didn’t fulfill the potential it had to really emotionally wreck players as it would have if Chrono had lines. Gamers didn’t connect with him enough for his death (and eventual resurrection) to hit home in any meaningful way. For this reason, I’d love for Chrono to have a voice if he ever returns in any more games.
4. Ness (EarthBound)
Smashpedia / Ness
Friendship is one of the biggest themes in EarthBound (also known as Mother 2 in Japan). The story focuses on four children who turn out to be legendary heroes. They embark on an epic journey together to save the world. Of these four children, Ness is the leader. He is the one who begins the journey, and goes around recruiting the other three. As a character, he grows and develops great friendships which allow the four to defeat great foes. And yet, he never utters a single word.
It isn’t hard to see why the developers chose to keep Ness silent. He is meant to be an everyman. The developers want us to feel like we are Ness, experiencing his magical adventure firsthand. In fact, the game even goes so far as to ask you for your favorite food, and then puts it into the game! Having the character speak lines different than what the player is thinking would break this illusion. However, in a game that has such a strong identity, with such strong humor and well-developed characters, Ness’ silence has the opposite effect. Without words, Ness seems slightly out of place, and loses part of his identity. This silence distances him emotionally from the player. Earthbound‘s stellar writing (and localization) salvage whatever player connection remains, but Ness’ wordlessness reverberates throughout. This effect can be seen especially in some of the weirder sequences of the game, like the Magicant area. Magicant is the first time since the start of the game that Ness is alone. Magicant exists only inside Ness’ mind, and you journey through Magicant seeing old enemies and allies, interacting with them and going to fight the evil part of your identity. Since Ness is talking to, and interacting with all of these aspects of his old life, it seems absurd at this point that he unable to talk back to anybody. Ness’ silence in Magicant is a perfect example of how a silent protagonist can completely break a player’s engagement into a game. If Ness had been given lines, gamers would have been able to connect directly to the game without being taken out by scenes like Magicant, and consequently would have connected with him a lot more, leading to many of Earthbound‘s more emotional plot points coming across a lot stronger.
Of course, Ness does have a voice in Super Smash Bros., but I hardly think that yelling out PK FIRE counts as strong writing! Hopefully if we see Ness in any more Mother titles, he will be able to speak up!
3. Samus Aran (Metoid)
Samus Aran is pretty much gaming’s biggest badass. She fights her way through hordes of pirates, Metroids, giant dragons, and any other evil space-farers that get in her way. What is more impressive is the fact that her reputation has been built up entirely through games in which she doesn’t speak. However, I think Samus is long overdue for a voicebox.
The most recent Metoid game (Other M) featured a voiced Samus. However, there were a lot of complaints with Samus’ character development in this game, partly due to poor writing, and partly due to the direction that Samus’ personality was taken. Samus was very dependent on other characters in the game, and was unable to take any initiative or solve any problems by herself. This came entirely through the dialogue in the game, partly Samus’ dialogue. This was the wrong direction for Samus to be taken, and it ran counter to Samus’ character as it had been established in previous Metroid games.
Since game didn’t do as well as expected, and there hasn’t been another Metroid game since. This leads me to believe that should Samus ever make another appearance, she will probably be reverted to her silent protagonist days. This would definitely be a mistake. With more care paid to her character and her dialogue, Samus definitely suits being voiced. Giving her a strong, powerful and independent set of dialogue (one which matches her strong, powerful and independent character) would facilitate stronger plot in future Metroid games, while also progressing Samus Aran as a character.
2. Pokemon Trainer (Pokemon)
Pokemon Wiki / Pokemon Trainer
Pokemon games have been very similar for a very long time. In fact, since the very first game, there really hasn’t been that much innovation in the core Pokemon game series. There are a things that Pokemon does well, like fun exploration gameplay and well balanced combat. Unfortunately, there are also a few things that Pokemon doesn’t do so well, like plot and character development.
The reason that the Pokemon protagonist is silent is again to try and maintain the role playing feel of the games. Unfortunately this comes at the cost of a complex, or even well-crafted plot. With all the effort that is put into designing each individual pokemon, spending a little more money on developing an interesting plot with strong characters (including a speaking main character) would really help set apart any future Pokemon games. A Pokemon game which manages to keep the player engaged without disconnecting them through a silent protagonist would be easily the best Pokemon game. While Pokemon definitely excels at things like strong map design and excellent music, the ability to have a Pokemon Trainer who can speak would help further the plot of these games. Dialogue in traditional Pokemon interactions (like some lines when challenging a gym leader) could help give the Trainer more of an emotional identity, helping to give the gamer a stronger connection to their Trainer.
In fact, why not take it a step further. Pokemon X and Pokemon Y started to introduce character creation aspects into the franchise. Expanding on this to allow you to choose more than the traditional gender, name and rival’s name would help tie the player to their trainer even further, and we would no longer need a silent protagonist. Having something akin to Tomodachi Life‘s personality trait selection to determine how our character speaks would be incredible, and would provide further means to develop plot and characters without sacrificing the identity of our Pokemon trainers.
1. Farmer (Harvest Moon)
Harvest Moon Wiki / Back to Nature
Out of all the silent protagonist characters in all the games that I’ve played, the farmer from the Harvest Moon games seems the most out of place in their games. The main reason I think this is that one of the key parts of Harvest Moon is the relationship building aspects between your character, the townsfolk and your potential husband/wife. It baffles me that even in the most recent iterations of these games, your character is only able to manage a few measly facial expressions as responses in conversations, especially since you are supposedly forming life-long bonds with new friends.
I don’t know about you, but I have formed NONE of my friendships by simply giving them a gift that I looked up online beforehand to see whether they’d like it. The same gift every day until they like me, and a color of grass more often than not. Relationships and friendships are not built like this, they are built through conversation and common ground. The lack of any kind of conversation tree, or any conversation at all, seems to be a relic from a long-bygone age. In fact, in a game which basically boils down to being 50% a dating sim, it seems absurd!
I understand that Harvest Moon is meant to be a game where players live out their dreams of owning their own farms. I understand that Harvest Moon isn’t meant to have an incredible plot, or any character development. I understand all of that, and yet it seems like with just the slightest bit of effort from the developers, the actual friendship and relationship aspects of Harvest Moon could be completely fixed, and made into a more interesting and/or more challenging feature of the game.
It seems that developers often forsake speech for their protagonists. Whether done as a device to allow players to connect and identify with their characters, or simply done for stylistic reasons, the fact remains that it is not always the right decision. Hopefully in the future, and with characters like the ones listed above, developers can put more thought into whether their characters should be able to speak rather than just defaulting to a silent protagonist as a lazy design choice.