December 31st, 2008


Silence Is Golden, Like a Dragon's Treasure Hoard

To begin with, happy birthday to k1cup!

Having played a fair amount of Chrono Trigger recently, I thought the time might be right to address the role of the silent protagonist in video games. Crono, who has no dialogue in the game (except apparently in one ending I haven't seen), is one of the most famous examples of this concept. This has led to some jokes about Crono being mute, but I really don't think that's the intention. Rather, he's the viewpoint character, and I think you're supposed to be filling in his lines yourself. It's part of the whole role-playing thing, you know? I understand that Crono DOES talk when he makes a ghostly cameo in Chrono Cross, although I never got to that point in the game myself.

Now, there are plenty of games where the hero doesn't talk, but it doesn't really count when no one else does either, except occasionally to inform you that their princess is in another castle. And we've heard Mario speak plenty of times since then. Interestingly enough, in Super Mario RPG (which appears to have been largely inspired by Chrono Trigger), he DOES have the silent protagonist role. I understand that the later Dragon Quest games tend to go with the silent protagonist idea, but most of the Final Fantasy ones don't. Cecil in 4, Bartz in 5, and Cloud in 7 are all main protagonists and viewpoint characters, but they all have readable dialogue. Of course, pretty much every RPG has SOME dialogue from the hero that doesn't appear on the screen. When you talk to a person, you usually only see their response, but I don't think that's supposed to indicate that you're just staring stupidly at them. It's just that seeing your lines every time would get tedious, and take up a lot of unnecessary space. (I'm reminded of the crappy Who Framed Roger Rabbit NES game, which has Eddie Valiant saying, "Can you help me?" to every person he meets.) What I think makes characters like Crono unique is that the other characters in their games all talk quite a bit, while he doesn't.

I don't know what the first game to use a silent protagonist was, but I suspect Link was one of the earlier ones. I believe it was Shigeru Miyamoto who said that the character's name came from his being the LINK between the player and the game. And even though the first Zelda game didn't have much dialogue at all (yeah, you got the occasional "Buy somethin', will ya?" and "Dodongo dislikes smoke," but not much else), I'm pretty sure they continued with the tradition of Link never actually talking (although he does yell and grunt sometimes). Yeah, he talked in the Magnavox CDI games, but those are about as canonical as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

And if I might share one more video-game-related link before I post this, check out this spoof where Garfield meets Final Fantasy.