Storytelling in RPGs has evolved greatly over the last several decades. From using a fully scripted linear story to having branching paths based on actions or conversation choices, to merely being an observing main character bearing witness to the events around him. The silent protagonist, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting storytelling options in these games. Today, I’m going to talk about some of the ways that this system is used well, and what it brings to the table.
Read on after the break!
The silent protagonist is defined as a main character, or the character that the game assigns you to play, that spends the entirety of the game with minimal or no scripted lines of dialogue. He can at least be provided with one line decisions that can affect the story, or those around him, but these words are never really spoken. Some examples of Silent heroes include any Tenkai Star from the main Suikoden titles (except Suikoden III), and the protagonists of Persona 3 and Persona 4.
So what make these characters memorable when they barely even speak? Well, for starters, it lets you take on the supposed emotions being felt in the story. Take the heroes of Suikoden for example. These people have become victims of circumstance, and witness so much pain and loss. All in all, they are not the happiest people in the world. Every time I see something traumatic happening before their eyes, you can basically feel what they are feeling, thus immersing yourself into the story more. Being that emotionally invested is a sign of great storytelling.
The effectiveness of a silent hero is strengthened when his silent nature may be open to interpretation within the story. Still using Suikoden as an example, let’s look at this scenario: Tir McDohl is around 15 years old, and becomes the leader of a resistance movement that declares war on the empire he once was a part of. You essentially have a war council that includes strategists, generals, and leaders of other nations. Having no experience with war, what is he actually going to say? It’s easy to assume that Tir, and several other Suikoden heroes, were the faces of their respective armies, and nothing more. They technically had all the power thanks to their True Rune possession, but nothing more. They were made into heroes by those around them, regardless of whether or not they wanted to be.
In Persona 3, the protagonist is very silent throughout the game from the start. He is seen with his headphones on, drowning out the world around him with music. My interpretation is that he has been incredibly anti-social throughout his life, until he starts forming bonds with this dorm mates, and eventual new friends he makes throughout the city. When socializing, he gets one or two choices at a time for things to say, but he never really gets a chance to express himself the way a fully voiced protagonist might.
There are plenty of other examples that I could make here, but I feel that these really illustrate my point in the effectiveness of the silent protagonist. Again, whether the hero speaks or not is entirely up to the storyteller. There’s no right option and one is not inherently better than the other. I’ve always just found the silent hero to be so fascinating and deep, even though one barely expresses oneself.
How do you feel about silent heroes? Do you have a favorite? Comment below and tell me about it!