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What do you think of Silent Protagonists?

Gingerbread_Witch

I just really like botw
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Thought it would be interesting to ask this in a Zelda forum :P

I personally kinda like Link because in some games it feels like he still has a lot personality. Wind Waker, especially.

However, Byleth in Fire Emblem: Three Houses just didn't feel right at all for me. And with Astral Chain having a silent protagonist, I'm a bit apprehensive as to how it will work out.

What do you think? In what instances does/doesn't a silent protagonist work?
 
I don't think silent protagonists work very well at all.

If they're starring in a story based game like Zelda or Fire Emblem then it looks weird as hell to see people talking at them rather than with them.
This gets really dumb when in the likes of Skyward Sword we see Link conversing with people with full body language motions but we just don't hear him.
Byleth is even worse, you'd think a master strategist and teaching professor would speak up every now and again.
Even Mario Sunshine had this problem, with characters talking around Mario and him not saying a damn thing.

Silent protagonists are supposed to be avatars for the player but as someone who plays games primarily for story it is always jarring to have the main character be a none element.

Even then the idea of an avatar for some silent protagonists, in my opinion, is a fundemetally flawed idea. I am not a medieval elf boy and nor am I a fat italian plumber, so the fantasy is shattered for me before I even begin.

Shy of a robust character creator and a good reason for the character to be mute i really don't buy silent protagonists as a worthwhile archetype.

The closest I've come to accepting one is Wander in Shadow of the Colossus but he isn't really even a silent protagonist, he talks to Dormin and spends ths rest of the game with no one to talk to other than his useless horse.
 

Dio

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If its first person game with no cutscenes featuring the main protagonist like Skyrim or fallout. It kind of works because you are actually behind the eyes of the character and you select dialogue options from a big list. You kind of imagine the characters voice in your head that you designed. Apart from that it generally doesn't work.

In Zelda for example it does look odd when Link is being talked at and never contributing to conversations even though he definitely has the ability to speak and is even animated as speaking yet no voice is coming from his lips.
 

5 golden Plinks

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I don't think silent protagonists work very well at all.

If they're starring in a story based game like Zelda or Fire Emblem then it looks weird as hell to see people talking at them rather than with them.
This gets really dumb when in the likes of Skyward Sword we see Link conversing with people with full body language motions but we just don't hear him.
I think it’s for the best that link is silent.

I mean remember last time he talked?
 

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it depends on how the storytelling of the game works. if a lot of it is done through text and dialogue, like fire emblem, it does seem kind of out of place for the protagonist to separate himself from everyone else by not talking. zelda feels a little less jarring but i think its because the game started with less text and as text boxes became a staple, it was mostly through walking up to people and pressing the interact button: its a monologue rather than a dialogue, so link not speaking doesn't really interfere with it.

when the storytelling is done visually or environmentally or through other less direct means, text and dialogue is less important. therefore, the protagonist doesn't really need to talk, and other npcs don't necessarily have to either, but if they do talk to the player, it'll return to the whole monologue vs dialogue idea.
 

mαrkαsscoρ

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honestly I don't like the idea for much of the reasons spirit stated, I'd much rather the main character be a part of the story than some blank slate for you to put yourself in
 

toonlink

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Silent protags are great for games that don't focus much on the MC, but their interactions with the world, since your actions communicate their character as yours, like in Zelda, Pokemon, and Etrian Odyssey. Protags that are more chatty usually do really well in games that focus on the protag, usually offering less story relevant choice, like Yakuza, Spiderman PS4, and Nier. If the goal is to make you the hero, silent usually works better, but if your goal is to put you in the hero's shoes, a talking protag works really well.
 
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I feel like they work better when the protagonist is more expressive, like in Wind Waker.
 
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I've always felt there is something not quite right with silent protagonists. It seems very odd that there are loads of mutes that would happily, blindly go on quests and not had a single shred of opinion for themselves. I guess the idea of YOU are the character works if said character is a generic one, (so... basically any FPS that is set in a War environment) but established characters like Link, for example, who have since grown to have their own identities just seems outdated since voice acting is commonplace nowadays.


I'd rather play as a protagonist who has their own character and interacts with others, I think it helps better immerse yourself with the game world and the story it tells. I'd rather follow the story of Sora who goes on a journey to save his friends than follow the story of any playable Pokémon Protagonist who doesn't even give a hint of emotion as to what they are feeling and to what's going on.

Byleth is even worse, you'd think a master strategist and teaching professor would speak up every now and again.
That is one thing I don't get about the game. While Fire Emblem Three Houses is an outstanding game, the portrayal of Byleth was quite an odd one, to say the least. Fire Emblem Heroes made it out that Byleth would be a fully voiced character who despite being the player character, would have a character of their own, just like Robin and Corrin. But when you actually play the game, it's only during battle where you fully hear his/her voice.

I don't get why he/she doesn't speak during cutscenes, heck there are even times where he/she inner monologues to themselves, and still you don't hear them speak their lines. I don't get the decision making in that regard. This feels very backward when you have the likes of Robin and Corrin who are fellow Avatar characters and speak at every given opportunity.
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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It can work very well, some examples including:

Dr. Gordon Freeman from Half Life, Doomguy/Doom Slayer from Doom, Point Man (from F.E.A.R.), Jack from BioShock, and Corvo Attano from Dishonored.

However, it can be done oh so horribly wrong.

It depends really.
 

Castle

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I've always seen it as a missed opportunity. Here's a character who could've been fleshed out with a personality and quirks and motivations and contributing to the plot, but instead they stand around gaping like a hole in a fence the whole time.

This idea that a silent protagonist helps with immersion is bupkis. Of course, characters like Freeman, Jack, Corvo, et. al. don't have to talk, but being silent does nothing to help foster immersion. I'm not a nuclear physicist, space marine, plane crash survivor or royal bodyguard in the first place.

Let's compare a silent protagonist to Garrett from the Thief games. Garrett is seldom seen (even by the player, being a first person game and all) but often heard, at least in between-mission briefings and cutscenes where his voice is the primary vehicle that drives the plot along. Garrett is voiced brilliantly, and his voice is the major defining aspect of his character. Garrett is a thief who spends the entire game sneaking around stealing things unseen, but his vocal expression really brings him to life. Imagine how dull the game's story would be if he never said anything.

The only games where the silent protagonist schlickt is done effectively are the Myst games, because in those games you are the protagonist. In the contest of the game, it is you who are exploring these mysterious islands and the game goes to great lengths to never forego that pretense by assuming anything about the personal aspects of the player that aren't true. Whenever the player is directly referred to, it is through ambiguous terms such as "stranger" or "my friend."

Of course, players have no way of expressing themselves through vocals in the game. Whatever actions the player has is limited to environmental interactions. There are no dialog wheels or trees. Any story decisions are determined by what actions you take.

Still, even here it is rather jarring to assume that on the few occasions you do have direct face time with another character (these moments are rare in the series) the other person is just going to be allowed to stand around and monologue when you - the player - reasonably have about a million pertinent questions for them.
 
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