Shut your mouth!
Back in ye olde 8-bit video game era, voice acting couldnt really happen. Many games sported the now-cliched silent protagonist, a hero that acts without speaking. Even when dialogue appeared in text boxes, characters didnt always speak directly. Earthbounds Ness and Breath of Fires Ryu didnt speak even one word to their parties!
So in todays world, why would developers go back to the silent era? Let the likes of Nolan North and Troy Baker flex their golden pipes all over gaming, you say. But sometimes, a silent protagonist breaks his silence for a reason--a single profound quote, a burst of excitement. Here are eight reasons why silent protagonists let words slip out of those tight-lipped mouths...
Jak gets moody (Jak 2)
At their core, Jak and Daxter are a classic comedy duo. Jak is the straight man, and Daxter is the comic. Jak conveys this in the simplest terms by not talking, and much of the games humor comes from his stone-faced or blinking reactions. Hes like a silent film star.
This isnt the case now, as Jak literally found his voice after the first game. Jak 2 sees him grow away from the originals comic roots, turning irritable and evil. This cant be expressed with facial expressions alone, so Actor Mike Erwin (Hulk, American Pie 2) lends his voice talents to Jak for some of the sequels. Although he has since been replaced, Jaks silence has forever been broken.
Samus Aran talks to her commander (Metroid: Other M)
Metroid heroine Samus Aran couldnt speak in her NES debut, and Nintendo made the choice to give her no text dialogue either. In fact, most players had no idea she was even female until they finished the game, surprised by the 8-bit bikini under her Varia Suit. She had a little text dialogue in other games, but it was within her own head, never toward another person. Grunts of pain came with the Super Smash Bros. and Metroid Prime series, but she still never broke away from internal monologue.
Then came Metroid: Other M, the first Metroid game with full voice acting. Samus was finally given a voice, provided by actress Jessica Martin (Grimm, In the Pines). While it came across as annoying and unemotional, Samus at last got to break her nearly 20 year silence by speaking with Commander Adam Malkovich. Their shared, checkered past is conveyed only through voice acting.
Isaac Clarke finds love (Dead Space)
Isaac Clarke is an everyman just like BioShocks Jack. The games horror works so well because we can insert ourselves into Isaacs space suit. In the original game, he doesnt speak, and we hardly ever see his face. Screams of terror and grunts of pain are the only things that pass through his lips.
This changed in the sequels. Gunner Wright, who provides Isaacs moans in the first game, lends full-on voice talent for Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3. Without this voice, we would have never experienced his relationship-building conversations with those games leading ladies. Though we lose the ability to insert ourselves, we watch Isaac lead his own relationships, something only achieved through voice acting.
Jack quotes his parents (BioShock)
BioShock makes a lot of right moves. It sports an emotional soundtrack, a dark atmosphere, and a fairly likable protagonist. Jack is accessible because of his silent, everyman quality; we can insert ourselves as the hero because we dont hear, or see him. He silently follows orders over Raptures PA system, taking him deeper into the labyrinthine dystopia.
Of course, Jack is only silent after the games opening. Many forget, but BioShock actually begins with a brief monologue from Jack, all about the great things his parents said hed do. Great things indeed, and a filmic way to begin a masterpiece of a game. He fights Big Daddies, rescues Little Sisters, and confronts the truth about those loving parents. Golf, anyone?
Alcatraz is assimilated (Crysis 2)
Crysis has always been about the Nanosuit, allowing us to leap long distances, turn invisible, and run at super speeds. The focus is always on the powered-up gear, not the soldier inside. Its actually quite easy to forget youre controlling a squish human. Crysis 2s protagonist Alcatraz even relies on the suit to keep him alive. A previous mission gone-wrong results in heavy damage to Alcatrazs upper body, damaging his lungs and vocal chords. Thus, he doesnt--and cant--talk.
But at the games climax, the Nanosuit fully assimilates with Alcatraz, feeding him memories of the previous wearer, Prophet. While lying unconscious in a crater in New York Citys Central Park, he communicates with Prophet himself. When he awakens from the crater, he is asked for his identity. The answer? They call me Prophet. Alcatraz finally speaks, but in the form of another soldier. Deep, man. Deep.
Bomberman rescues a friend (Bomberman Tournament)
Bomberman never speaks for a number of reasons, but the biggest is that he doesn't need to. Bomberman games are never about story, but about blowing up friends in tricky, symmetrical arenas. The Bombers dont need to talk when you and your friends are swearing at each other during Battle Mode.
That changed with Bomberman Tournament on the Gameboy Advance. The game is guided by an RPG structure in its story mode, beginning with a disaster on the planet Phantarion. When bomber Max goes missing, Bomberman is called into action--his fellow bomber could be in danger! Then, the same head-wrapped, only-eyes-on-his-face Bomberman actually gets to speak with dialogue boxes. He breaks his silence out of concern for a friend. Very noble, Mr. Bomb.
Quote remembers his name (Cave Story)
Quote is the robot protagonist of Cave Story, and although his world is filled with other talking bots, Quote himself remains quiet. He and his partner Curly have amnesia--this explains their rare speech--and remembering things is key to completing Cave Story. Quote utters a password to open a door, but he can say one word more with the help of Curly.
Scavenge the games Sand Zone, and you can find Curlys Panties (not a joke). This unlocks Curly Mode, which allows you to play as the lady robot herself. In this mode, you can acquire the Ma Pignon mushroom during the story and feed it to Quote. When you do, hell remember his name--a reward for your exploration. At least he can say that much.
Link finds a mirror (Zelda II: The Adventure of Link)
Nintendo titles dont use voice talent as often as other developers, so its common for the likes of Mario and Luigi to spout strings of nonsense, understandable only thanks to the text balloons on screen. Less talkative is Link, the hero of The Legend of Zelda. Aside from grunts of pain or sword swings, he doesnt speak.
Except for that one time in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. In the Water Town of Saria, Link can find a mirror item called the--wait for it--Mirror (pretty basic naming there). When he discovers it, he states, I found a mirror under the table. Outside of that one sentence, he speaks to no one. Actually, hes the only one in the house when he finds the Mirror too...is speaking to his reflection? Kinda dumb, Link.
These heroes rarely speak, but when they do, it is to make a point or evolve as a character. Do you know of other soft-spoken protagonists? Is there a silent character you wish would speak up? Let us know in the comments below, and keep those words flowing!