I came to like Silent Protagonists over the years. Some of my favorite RPG heroes have no lines in-game. But what makes a Silent Protagonist good? Here are my thoughts on this topic.
What's Silent Protagonist?
A Silent Protagonist is a type of player character in Video Games: This main character type has little to no in-game lines in the stories/dialogue of their games. Most of Silent Protagonist act like the player's avatar but some of them have their own character.
The "silence" of Silent Protagonists enhances immersion by having their part of the conversation imagined by the player. This main character type is more common in Role Playing Games and First Person Shooters.
Visual Novels have another type of Silent Protagonists who have a good deal of lines but for the same "immersion" effect, those aren't voiced despite every other main character having fully voiced lines. I'm not talking about this type in this article.
The Importance of Dialogue for Immersion
I don't think having the protagonist being Silent does anything to increase immersion compared to the other option. At least not for me. I always think of my player characters as separate entities from me. That doesn't change for Silent Protagonists.
If I was asked: Do I generally prefer this type?" No, I prefer protagonists who contribute a lot to the story, I prefer to see them participate in the conversation. I love to decipher the hints to their complexity & depth from their dialogue!
Most of my favorite RPG protagonists have distinct personalities. Characters like Cloud of Final Fantasy VII. He's proud, aloof but ultimately broken. He couldn't be a silent protagonist because most of the foreshadowing of his emotional state could be seen in his dialogue.
FFVIII's Squall can't ever work as a silent protagonist. Not only his dialogue is essential for the game's story to work, his thoughts (who are presented to the player) are also essential. Most of Squall's character development happens in his own head, and you can't imagine a story like Final Fantasy VIII with a silent protagonist.
Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia, (a game I played recently) is an anti-hero whose actions are the driving force of many parts of the plot. That makes his dialogue very important to the story.
I can list many more examples... What I mean is that most of my favorite stories can't work with a Silent Protagonists, but those who are that type are always well executed.
Silent Protagonists are the Best: (If) Done Well!
But when I think of games I like with Silent Protagonists, I think of Chrono Trigger & Dragon Quest V. In both cases having the main character with no lines enhanced the game! Crono felt an extension to me as the player. His lack of in-game lines coupled with the simple story, makes it easy to imagine what's going in his head.
Dragon Quest V is another great game with a silent hero. It's a coming of age story. You follow the protagonist's life since his birth, following his journey to find the Legendary Hero. You experience his whole life, including getting married and have children up to the discovery of the Legendary Hero's identity.
The personality of the DQV protagonist can be anything you imagine: He can be arrogant or humble. He could've willingly accepted his cruel fate or frustrated by it. There is no dialogue to judge one way or another. The only thing we know about him is being a person who ultimately helps people.
Serge, the protagonist of Chrono Cross suits the story very well. What makes him fascinating as a Silent Protagonist is that his story is very personal, and the scope isn't as high as other JRPGs of that time. Being silent worked surprisingly well for him.
That's one of the powerful things a silent protagonist can do. Less is more. Ambiguity drives intrigue. Not knowing what he thinks adds a mystery to him, in a game driven by mystery. His relationship with Kid could be interpreted in many ways as such. Doing such a story with a Silent Protagonist requires great skill. The writers have my respect!
Some gaming fans call Silent Protagonists outdated... But even when the JRPG genre was in its beginning, having a Silent Protagonist was an artistic choice more than a necessary limitation.
Persona 5's Joker! Perfecting the Silent Protagonist?
When thinking of Silent Protagonists in the modern-day, I always come back to Persona. *I think the progression of this type of character from Persona 1 to 5
Persona series is a spin-off of the Megami Tensei franchise. All the main titles & direct spin-offs of the franchise have Silent Protagonists. While most titles have the protagonist character being nothing more than the avatar for the player. Persona series tried to experiment with its protagonists.
The first two Persona games had a shell of a person as the protagonist. The story was complex but a Silent Protagonist worked for it somehow. The third game: Persona 2: Eternal Punishment experimented with turning an already established character with an upbeat personality into a Silent Protagonist with mixed results.
The fourth entry: Persona 3 went back to the protagonist character being the avatar for the player. They experimented with making them more involved with the story and improved on his relationship with the main cast. Social Links added the personality he lacked otherwise.
The protagonist in the sequel Persona 4 had more personality. Most of the dialogue choices in the story and interactions with other characters had a sense of humor. He's a good friend. The Social Links are much more involved if a bit lighthearted. While his role in the story is less essential than the P3 protagonist, he plays his story role more naturally.
Then comes Joker! The protagonist for Persona 5. The developers took what they learned from P3 & P4 and improved on it. Everything about his design, his story role, and his interactions was made to add a theme of mystery to him. The designer compared him to cat: Attractive, stylish with both Public and Hidden sides. This explains the stark difference between his Joker & Normal Student personality.
Unlike Persona 3 protagonist who has no meaningful interactions. Unlike Persona 4 protagonist whose whole life in Inaba was shown in the game. Persona 5's Joker has parts of his life intentionally left out of the game's story. We don't know what he does off-screen, (I always imagined him calling his parents.) That was true for the others before him too, but there's enough context to makes us feel like "this guy has more to his life than what we see."
Maybe that's the reason Joker is so beloved. Not only he works as the player's avatar perfectly well. He has enough personality to be instantly recognizable, but he plays his
I haven't played many modern games with Silent Protagonists, (looking at you DQXI) but I'm willing to claim that Joker is the best implemented silent protagonist in the modern JRPG era.