Silent characters are a mechanic that occurs in games from time to time. However, it is not always appropriate. When the trend first started, it was more of an innovative way to make it easier for the player to associate himself with the hero. Today, silent playable characters are not used as skillfully as they used to be, and, on the contrary, can destroy the immersion and the story as a whole. Astral Chain for Nintendo Switch is a prime example of this, according to Gamepressure, which discusses why silent characters in games often spoil games. Despite its unique combat system, beautiful visuals, anime style clearly inspired by Nier Automata and a good story, all this pales in comparison with the silly decision to make the main character of the game mute.
This trick destroys the perception of the plot
To be honest, I can't stand the main characters who don't speak at all, and I think that this approach should have long since faded into oblivion. I can understand why developers use it in role-playing games where we create a character from scratch. Not every studio will go to the decision to voice the character because it is by definition difficult to write down a huge number of combinations of dialog lines, especially in games where you have tons of text.
Astral Chain, however, is not a huge RPG and does not allow you to create your own character. Moreover, the main characters have voice actors. How so? Well, the plot is about a brother and a sister - at the very beginning, the game allows us to choose which of the two to play as. And no matter which choice we make, the character under our control will be silent, and the character you have not chosen will be able to talk.
And as a result, I was unable to fully immerse myself in the game. Even when there was a spectacular scene on the screen, all the magic was dispelled as soon as the camera focused on the doll I controlled. This is hardly a character, just an empty shell, devoid of any personality! Every meeting with my talkative brother is so puzzling and annoying: the dialogues are recorded anyway, the studio clearly had a budget. It was only a matter of making a decision. Why was this done?
Remnant of the past
The silence of the protagonists is rooted in the very history of video games. Forty years ago, nobody expected the eloquence of Pacman, Mario, or Link.
As games become more complex, stories and characters become more important. The first games in which the storyline was more important than just an information line for the sake of a tick, began to appear in the 80s. This led to an increase in the number of iconic characters. Those with a good sense of humor, charisma, and personality were attractive to gamers. Mario games are iconic in the history of the industry, but the mustachioed plumber is not the most beloved character, as he cannot speak. Guybrush Threepwood, on the other hand, was the idol of many teenagers decades ago.
In the nineties, when games came out in 3D, story-driven projects took on a whole new quality - they became cinematic. The new school created by Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear Solid, among other things, changed the rules: a good story is not enough, now the game should be like a movie.
Of course, some games challenged this trend and stuck to the old, tried-and-true formula, or revolutionized other aspects with little cinematography. Take shooter heroes, for example. The plot in shooters was rudimentary, just an excuse to mow down enemies, and details such as the personality and voice of the protagonist were considered inappropriate. Doomguy and Bijay Blaskovets were supposed to exterminate hordes of enemies, not make inspiring speeches, at least then.
And although the silent protagonists are criticized here, I do not want to throw insults at the first Doom or Wolfenstein - these were completely different games. If a project makes it clear from the start that it doesn't care about the story, no one expected the protagonist to be chatty. It's like expecting a deep story from a Reiseng.
But now we are approaching a historical moment, at the beginning of the 21st century, a new trend has emerged in the industry, suggesting that you can have a silent hero and a fascinating story. This trend has been called "plunge".
You are a hero!
Immersion is the feeling of being fully involved in the game world. In other words, we are talking about the maximum possible participation in the game. For several years, developers have been trying to make us feel like we are killing a dragon, infiltrating enemy territory, building a base or looking for new missions.
Branching dialogues [moral decisions that shape the story], exploration of the open world, costemization of characters that are mercilessly monetized these days, or the silent protagonist are some of the ways to achieve this.
Unfortunately, for reasons I don't understand, someone once decided that the silent hero heightened the sense of immersion. And that if he does not get a vote, the player will imagine that he himself can speak for the hero. So what? Should we read lines of dialogue aloud?
As for me, the main component of correct immersion is the coherence of the world and the environment, which create the illusion of immersion in another world.
I would even say that it is trite to explore the world with the help of a well-written charismatic character than playing as an empty vessel that we must fill with our own personality.
Video games give us the opportunity to become someone more powerful: a magician, a thief, a soldier or a superhero. I argue that it is much more interesting to play as a character who is actually a soldier or a magician with clear character traits than a goofy log, whose personality is formed only by the comments of others.
The famous and popular silent hero is Gordon Freeman. For some reason, the fact that he didn't speak a single word in Half-Life 2 did not negatively affect the perception of what was happening. But I think it was not some unique recipe for success, but rather a feature of the time the game was released. In 2004, cinematic storytelling was still not as widespread as it is today, and virtual worlds weren't nearly as realistic, so we could accept some convention. The more conventions in the game, the easier it becomes to dismiss some of the absurdities of the game. And if you play Half-Life 2 today, it is quite obvious that the game is old, and therefore it is much easier to agree that Gordon is dumb.
Today, to understand the problem, just look at the Metro series. Although Artyom's silence was not a problem in the first two games, the third game has already been criticized by players who said that his silence was repulsive and interfered with the immersion.
Rockstar Games is a company that quickly realized just how harmful the silent hero can be. 2001 Grand Theft Auto III was the studio's last game with a protagonist who doesn't speak. And although the game is now still resting on its laurels of fame, the plot has never been considered a big advantage. GTA: Vice City was only released a year later. But Tommy Vercetti talked there, and today players love the game.
The Quiet Vanguard
However, there are never barriers to experimentation. There have been a few games that simply justified the characters' reluctance to speak, effectively making them work for immersion and coherence.
The two parts of Portal are great examples of creative use of the silent hero. Chell, the protagonist of this episode, never speaks a single word, a fact often criticized by Glados, her main opponent. She calls Chell a psychopath and wonders if her brain has been damaged.
In developing Portal 2, the developers wanted to go even further, forcing Chell to resort to using a voice command for the terminal in the final battle, and until then she simply would not need to talk to Glados. In the end, this decision was abandoned, because the testers were discouraged by the heroine's voice and could not associate it with her.
The creators of Square Enix's infamous The Quiet Man have also experimented with the silent protagonist. The precondition for the silence was that the main character was deaf and dumb. And that could be a very cool mechanic. Despite the interesting concept, the game, unfortunately, turned out to be a rather pretentious piece of garbage.
It is a pity that, apart from these two projects, the silence of GG was not justified at all.
More charisma points
And only one thing worries me: are there players who really love the silent protagonists? Does this enhance the immersion for someone? At the end of the day, there must be some excuse why the developers resort to such a solution if they have the resources for voice acting in the same Astral Chain, Metro Exodus or Jump Force.
I, for example, cannot accept it. When I ask my fellow gamers about this, most of them agree. Why, then, do developers resort to a solution that is usually just annoying? I don't know.
The Topic of Article: Silent characters ruin a good story.