Question time: Silent protagonists vs. voiced protagonists

The mechanics of an RPG may wildly vary from title to title, but they share a common ground in that the genre is generally known for telling great stories. How the stories are told however also varies just as much as the mechanics.

For the next episode, we want to talk about silent protagonists and contrast them with voiced protagonists. Which immerses us more, and which is better for telling a story. A small example would be between how Final Fantasy IX tells its story versus Mass Effect. Final Fantasy IX has an excellent script that sort of goes above and beyond to convey it’s tone to the player. We don’t know what Zidane sounds like, but he has such a clearly defined voice anyway. On the other hand, a game with acting has nuance on it’s side. You have conversations with Garrus in Mass Effect and you never really get terribly lengthy answers, but you can understand where he’s coming from really well because of tone. A character like Legion might not work without the voice work because his style of speaking is so stilted. You would see him as just a robot to start and that might never change, but of course the whole thing with Legion is he’s more than that.

So if you want to add to the conversation or ask a question, place do so in the comments below!

10 thoughts on “Question time: Silent protagonists vs. voiced protagonists

  1. I’ll ask 2 questions, although chances are that you answer the first one during the course of the podcast anyway.

    1. In your opinion, what are the limits for what can be classed as a “silent” protagonist? The best example that I can think of is obviously Link, since the most we ever hear from him is “HYAA!” However, a lot of people refer to the Persona protagonists as “silent” since they do not have any voiced lines outside of battle shouts, but they do have dialogue options and are frequently seen doing “talky” animations towards the other characters. So the question really becomes, is a silent protagonist one who is silent in universe, or just silent towards the person playing?

    2. When it comes to voiced protagonist, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to RPGs, but any game where you have dialogue options, would you prefer it where you get to choose each individual line of dialogue (think Fallout), or something along the lines of The Witcher where you choose one line every now and then, and the rest of the conversation fills itself in? In my opinion, the latter creates a more natural flow of conversation as opposed to completely stopping time while you think about your next choice (Which is also why I appreciate the ‘ticking clock’ choices in Telltale games, even if their writing isn’t always the best).

  2. Voiced protagonists tend to draw the ire of fans more often than silent ones, with miscast roles or poor VA direction being common complaints. The protagonist of Tales of the Abyss for example is often cited as being very annoying because of his whiny, grating voice, though some would say that his whiny behaviour served a narrative purpose. Do you feel that all protagonists should be likeable? And would you say that silent protagonists tend to be more endearing?

  3. For games with silent protagonists does giving a defined gender or character preset matter and should it effect the story?

  4. What breaks you out of the immersive experience given by an RPG? A silent protagonist who converses with the cast with single sentence responses? (Like Persona or Dragon Age: Origins) Or a voiced protagonist whose answers may not match up to the dialogue choice given? (Like Dragon Age 2. Many dialogue options say one thing, and Hawke would end up saying something that sounds totally different, usually resulting in an unwanted response)

  5. How do you build characterization with a silent protagonist, especially when other, voiced characters may have more directed characterization and may distract from the protagonist? Chrono Trigger comes to mind.

  6. Games often adopt a silent protagonist in order to immerse the player themselves into the game, but end up having to break this immersion by having preset responses to NPC generated questions/quests, or having the character have to vocalize certain actions (Skyrim comes to mind). However, there have been games with ‘true’ silent protagonists- like the Stanley Parable, and have been able to achieve good characterization and player immersion despite the character themselves not speaking. Do you think that it’s possible to have a massive game, like Skyrim or Persona, have a true silent protagonist? I suppose the Legend of Zelda series DOES have a true silent protagonist, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on how that might improve or break immersion in a massive title

  7. When a silent protagonist has a player-chosen name, designers must figure out a workaround during voiced dialogue. For example, Mass Effect uses the mandatory “Shepard” last name, whereas Persona 3 avoids the name whenever possible during voiced dialogue and has the actors say “he” or “him” in place of the name when it does pop up. Which workarounds work best to sustain immersion and natural-sounding writing and which ones don’t, if any?

  8. Hey guys,I wanted to know your opinion on modern Bethesda Game Studios RPGs ,and how they approach dialogue in a similar way to dragon age origins,but now with fallout 4 it will look more like mass effect with a dialogue wheel and a voiced protagonist.I feel like it’s a modern trend that if you don’t have fully voiced characters (both protagonist and NPCs) your game is just not triple A enough.What do you think about that trend?

  9. For those familiar with Tales of Xillia 2, how did you feel about the change to a silent protagonist in that game and the weird design decisions surrounding it? The MC of that game, Ludger, was the first silent protag in the series. However, he randomly had voiced dialogue in certain cutscenes and skits. He also could have all his choices dialogue (think Mass Effect) be voiced if you picked that option for New Game +, so it was confusing as to why they made him silent when they had already recorded a ton of dialogue for him.

  10. Are games losing their way with regards to freedom in storytelling?

    During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we saw what appeared to the ‘golden age’ of dialogue driven storytelling, led by folks like Black Isle Studios (now Obsidian) and a young Bioware team. Games like Planetscape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, and now Pillars of Eternity were critically lauded for their unparalleled level of immersion, even though they played more like interactive books than games. On the other side of the coin, most games today seem to follow the Mass Effect strategy of having a more simplified ‘four way’ dialogue tree, seemingly making the transition between story and gameplay a little smoother, at the cost of some player agency.

    Its interesting to note that while having much more options in the older games, most if not all the lines were not voice acted, while today, almost everything is voice acted. I think that is mostly due to hardware limitations of the time like lack of disk space forcing developers to get more creative.

    From a game design perspective, I don’t believe that either system is inherently better, as they both have plus and minuses. What do you guys think? Do you like the current trend of studios choosing to focus on shorter, simpler dialogue for the sake of getting back to gameplay faster, or would you like to see more of those slightly stuffier, book like games? Or better yet, do you think there is an effective way to marry the two in a way that actually works?

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