Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
On Silent Protagonists

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 28 Sep 2010 16:00
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The ur-example of mute heroes is, of course, Gordon Freeman. And while I do think the Half-Life games are superb, I always thought it was an odd decision to make Half-Life 2 extremely character-based. Half-Life 1 was the exact opposite - virtually every character you interacted with was cloned from a tiny gene pool of generic scientists and security guards, most of whom either just died or pointed you in the direction of your next objective. Freeman's personality never really came into it. Then in Half-Life 2 everyone's running around with unique faces and names and trying to engage with you emotionally, which makes Gordon's silence paint him as a bit socially inept ("Man of few words, aren't you?"). Ordinarily you'd expect someone totally unexpressive to be a mood-killer, but everyone seems thrilled to bits every time he walks in the room. Maybe he's got the most expressive face in the universe.

But getting back to Samus Aran. Another reason why a character keeps shtum would be if they were a carry-over from a previous era when voice-acting was less tenable. This would apply to most of Nintendo's standbys like Link and Mario, give or take a few grunts and snatches of Italian, and Samus would be no exception.

Suddenly changing the status of a previously mute character will probably always be jarring, but I don't think it can't work. The example that comes to mind is Saints Row 2. While silent in Saints Row 1, the protagonist gains a voice in the sequel. In fact, they gain several voices. You pick one as part of the absolutely insane level of character customization, and this may sound weird, but even though your actions are always the same, different voices and appearances imprint a different personality on those actions. It made me strangely appreciative and attached to the character I'd created. My favorite scene in the game is made quite wonderful by the dialogue and personality of my anti-hero. I won't spoil it, but if I say the words "You could have offered me more than twenty percent," you may know the scene I mean.

Now, while Metroid games have relied on a mute Samus up to now, there was some writing on the wall. The Metroid Prime games were becoming increasingly narrative-centric, with Metroid Prime 3 having several quite considerably characterized NPCs with voiced dialogue. Metroid Fusion had a focus on personalities, dialogue and internal narration almost comparable to Other M, but lacking audible voice tracks people made less of a fuss. The world of Samus has been gaining more and more personality, and so has she by extension. The move to actually voicing her was one that was not only predictable but perhaps advisable.

So basically I didn't have a problem with Samus' voice in itself. The problem I had was that the voice they picked was that of a woman recording her own will after taking fifty codeine tablets. And the only possession she owned was a small jar of grey slime. And she was leaving it to her pet brick.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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