The video game industry has long broken the constraints of having fully voiced characters, but does that make silent protagonist a step backward?
I was replaying Final Fantasy VIII on my PlayStation 3 last week, and it was the type of game that had no voice over at all. This was okay in the 90’s since not a lot of games had voice over work for their characters. Sometimes there would be, but it would mostly be during CGI cut scenes if ever. However, innovations in technology have allowed game developers to break whatever constraint to fully utilize VO in video games. Thus, having voiced characters in video games have become a standard for most titles especially triple A ones.
The first Dragon Age game had a silent protagonist with the exception of a few battle cry phrases. The sequel featured fully voiced protagonists for each gender and the third actually features a variety of voices for their protagonists. It makes me wonder if BioWare would have gotten away with it if they suddenly went back to doing silent protagonists. Will they be criticised for taking a step backwards or is it just a matter of style?
The obvious answer to the question above is it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes a silent protagonist does fit a particular game like RPG games or ones where players shape the protagonist even in the most minimal way. We see this in games like Skyrim, BioShock, and Dishonored to name a few.
When Dishonored’s creative director Raf Colantonio was asked about Corvo being a silent protagonist, the dev said that: “It’s really more about you, and whenever there is dialogue he says things that are slightly tonal, but it’s very light so there’s a lot of space to project yourself on him.” It makes sense since your actions and decisions influence people and events in the game. You wouldn’t want a mild mannered voice if you decided to be lethal and vice versa. Since the character is pretty much up to the player, it’s difficult for developers to project what they of voice work is needed.
I’ve had this problem while I was playing Dragon Age II since I found it difficult to connect with the voice of male Hawke. I felt like he was different character than what I was trying to project in my head even if the voice actor changed his tone for each dialogue choice. It was the voice itself. I felt like playing an entirely different character than the one I made.
However, there are games like the Mass Effect series wherein they manage to provide excellent voice over work for the protagonist in an RPG title. Of course, there are people who just don’t like Mark Meer’s or Jennifer Hale’s voice for the same personal reason I didn’t like male Hawke’s. You can’t satisfy everyone though, and I feel like these were only the minority of fans. Anyway, games like Mass Effect show how you still can create and project yourself towards a character even if a protagonist is voiced. I’m sure there are a number of other titles to exemplify this as well. I feel like these games make having voiced protagonist a standard in the video game industry nowadays because of what they’ve achieved.
With that said, could giving players room for “character creation and development” a valid excuse for not having voiced protagonists? Or is it laziness if other games have managed to marry these concepts together?
The only other reason I’m thinking of to justify having silent protagonists is if it’s set in a game that’s meant to have a “throwback” or nostalgic feeling amongst its players. It’s like watching that Academy award-winning black-and-white silent film The Artist. There was a reason for having silent characters in the film. If you pull that on let’s say modern films like Argo or 22 Jump Street, it wouldn’t work so well since the industry has moved towards “talkies” decades ago.
In the end, I feel like a lot of gamers wouldn’t care too much if the next Elder Scrolls game had another silent protagonist. Most gamers are 18-35 and I’m guessing a large portion of it grew up with silent characters in video games like myself. I believe that it’s next generation of gamers that’s going to start being outraged by it. I don’t think that the Dragon Age series will ever go back to mute protagonists ever again especially since they’ve transitioned into featuring voices in their recent games. Now that’s going to be a step backwards indeed if they did.
How do you feel about this?