One of the things many people found quite outrageous about Metroid: Other M – beside its general hideousness – was the decision to give Samus Aran, a character who was a silent protagonist in all previous appearances, a voice. Such choices inevitably annoy the fans, who always, always, always oppose any decision to change something they’ve gotten used to. That’s what makes it all the more odd that Other M, a prequel backstory obviously aimed at fans, did so.

Indeed, Samus’ controversial throat noises become even more bewildering in that they’re so aggressively needless and watery. Most of her dialogue is in her narration which, as I said in the video, does nothing but clarify the plot for idiots, and she rarely says anything of consequence in-game. It seems like it would be childishly simple for a dedicated modding team to delete all her voice files from the game, turning her into the silent protagonist everyone knows and loves without making the story the slightest bit harder to understand. Then they’d only have the terrible plot, hideous controls and overall pointlessness to worry about.

Now, while Metroid: Other M personally offends me on a great many levels, I didn’t go into the game feeling that giving Samus a voice was an inherently bad decision. Silent protagonists present an interesting artistic discussion point. They’re a phenomenon virtually unique to videogames as a medium, and their precise purpose and necessity is something I’ve often wondered about. It really comes down to the kind of game you’re making.

The first and most basic case of silent protagonist would be in games like Myst and most text adventures; the characters are silent because they are literally supposed to be you, the player, projecting yourself onto the character and manipulating it to reflect your own emotions and decisions. That’s a perfectly valid reason and therefore uninteresting to dwell on.

Another main reason for silence is when the game isn’t the least bit character-based and has virtually no reliance on dialogue-driven in-game storytelling. Like, say, Gordon Freeman in the original Half-Life, or Daniel from Painkiller. “Wait, didn’t Daniel have a voice in Painkiller’s cinematics?” I hear you cry. “No,” I cry back. “Shut up. Painkiller didn’t have cinematics. And if anyone says it did you should stab them in the throat.” Keeping in mind the Golden Rule of “show, don’t tell,” I hold in higher esteem games which create a story without needing dialogue exposition, in which stable I include Metroid Prime, and that’s another reason why Other M can choke on owl pellets.

Actually I’ve just thought of another reason to have a silent protagonist while writing this. In an FPS like, say, Modern Warfare, where the action is intense and you can expect mustachioed generals to be barking instructions in your ear all day, then – unless it’s patiently established – it can be difficult to tell if any of the clashing voices drifting through the battlefield belong to you or not, especially if everyone’s having a gravelly-voice competition. So, logistically, it might be smarter for your character to keep his mouth shut. A similar problem occurs even if the game occasionally cuts to third person but everyone is wearing expressionless helmets so you can’t see their lips moving. This is incidentally a problem I’m having with Halo:Reach.

So those are the scenarios in which it makes sense for a protagonist to be silent. There may be more, but I can say for certain where it doesn’t make much sense at all: When the game is character-based, full of fully-voiced non-playable characters, and when a name, personality and reputation has been assigned to the mute. And especially when the game is trying to take itself seriously. Because in a world of rounded characters, silence just makes you seem like a mental deficient or a stubborn, aloof prick.


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

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