Silent protagonists, from a design perspective, are a device used to get the player to empathize more with other characters. Draw them in, make them feel like they’re right there with everyone, making decisions and demands. It’s also a rather tiring aspect of many RPGs, especially JRPGs, but they do occasionally pop up in other genres. They can mostly be broken down into the following:
Mutes: They are characters that do no speak at all. No text, no voice acting…nothing. They are mimes in a dark, dark room. They are empty husks you move with the directional pad and never grow to care for.
Reactive: These are characters that often don’t get speaking roles, but exist for other NPCs to bounce ideas off of and/or look to for assurance/disapproval. Sometimes get involved non-verbally.
The Roleplayer: Silent only in voice, this leading character is one that the player builds through dialogue options, morale choices, clothing and weapons, stats, and so on. They “speak” pre-determined lines, but only if you choose so.
Some silent protagonists are better than others. Click the “keep reading” link below to see my take on the Top 10 Worst Silent Lead Characters.
10. Jak (Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy)
This platform-hopping boy had to rely on his loudmouth pal Daxter to speak to everyone they came across. All we ever got from Boy Wonder was a raised eyebrow or disgruntled look. The next few games in the series gave Jak a voice, letting him finally state his own opinions, and made for stronger storytelling, even if he went all emo and brooding in Jak II: Grand Theft Vice City. But when it is only Daxter reacting to things in his silly, Disney-esque manner, well…it can be a bit draining after awhile.
9. Wander (Shadow of the Colossus)
Wander loves his woman, that’s for sure. He’ll do anything for her. Even slay giant beasts because a voice in the ceiling told him to do it. That’s love all right. Conversely, unmotivated. Why is he doing all this? Can’t he just tell us? Nope. His only speaking line, which one will hear over and over and over during the course of the game, is, “Agro!” It is clear that the horse, judging by its slow reaction now and then, sometimes even forgets Wander can sorta speak.
8. Serge (Chrono Cross)
Just a youth from a small fishing village that gets caught up in time traveling affairs. Considering a great deal of Chrono Cross focuses on Serge’s mysterious past, it’d be nice for him to speak up every once in awhile instead of Kid and/or Lynx coercing it out of him.
7. Jack (BioShock)
In the game’s intro cinematic sequence, we listen to a voiceover from Jack. Then the plane goes down and he nary says another word while exploring retro-heavy Rapture. For a game bloated with audio recorders and messages, it’s odd that Jack never gets to really question anyone or their actions.
6. The Lone Wanderer (Fallout 3)
Yes, there’s plenty of dialogue trees to explore and put your heart into as a way of roleplaying the Lone Wanderer, but with all the voice acting in Fallout 3 it seems a bit odd that the only sounds your character will make is some oofs and ouchies when getting shot or beaten down by a nailboard-wielding Super Mutant.
5. Claude Speed (Grand Theft Auto II, Grand Theft Auto III)
Mission-giver: Come in, come in! I got a job for you, ‘kay? Take that car out front and go run over thirty grandmothers. When you’re done with that, I want you to find a kitty cat and run it over with a tank. After that, get me some ice cream. Rocky Road. And some cocaine. You can kill the dealer after you get it, if you know what I mean. That’s playing smart. Waitaminute. On second thought, make that thirty-five grandmothers. Do you object?
4. The Hero (Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King)
No, no. It’s cool. I’d rather spend the next fifty hours of gameplay listening to Yangus and his painful Cockney accent, King Trode the toad’s incessant whining, or Medea the talking horse. No need for you to ever utter a word, Hero. Heck, I think Munchie, the Hero’s mouse, has more speaking parts than him. What a waste.
3. The Hero of Bowerstone (Fable II)
At least in Fable II, your hero’s look is how you want them to look. Like doing evil things and casting magic? Get ready for some horns and glowing lines. Into saving lives and using melee weapons? Sparkling white smile and some muscles for you. Want to tell Theresa to get out of your head, freak? Too bad. The only sounds your hero ever makes is during expressions, like farting or flexing your arms. You can’t even properly call over the dog with a, “Here, boy!” Swing and a miss.
2. The Prince of Falena (Suikoden V)
If I was shim, I’d want to talk just so I could clear up any confusion about if I was a boy, girl, or both.
1. Link (Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass)
Link is amazingly patient. Not once did a bead of sweat drip down his brow. Not once did a vein in his forehead twitch and grow to the size of a small tributary. Not once did he throw down his sword and shield to tell Navi to “SHUT THE EFF UP YOU ANNOYING, CLINGY FAIRY FROM THE UNDERWORLD, I HATE YOU SO MUCH, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN.”
Hopefully, one day, he will.
So, did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.