Silent protagonists are video game heroes who never speak. Whether or not they make noises, perform actions, or are completely void of any expression, they are all silent protagonists, so long as they do not speak words. Despite being unable to speak, some of them have plenty of personality, while others succeed in forming a connection between the player and the character/game. This list names the top 10 silent protagonists, whether they found their way to the top 10 through charm or effectiveness is irrelevant.
Super Meat Boy
Doom Guy (Doom)
Will(Illusion of Gaia)
Isaac (Golden Sun)
Samus (Metroid Series[Before Other M])
#10: Red Ė Pokemon Red
Red is the famous pokemon trainer from Pokemon Red. You never actually see him say anything, even though other characters will react as if he does. Regardless, the game manages to distance itself from the character, instead making you feel like the trainer that fields the 6 pokemon in battle. This makes the player focus instead on the pokemon as his characters which helps form a bond between a player and his starting 6 creatures. You always hear people talking about how good certain pokemon are, never Red. Ironically enough, thatís also what makes Red such a good silent protagonist.
#9: Jack Ė Bioshock
I realize Iím cheating in two places when I put Jack on this list. First off, heís not completely silent, as he does utter 19 words in the opening monologue. Secondly, Iíve not actually finished Bioshock. I have gotten quite a ways in though. Despite these factors, Jack has to get a place here simply because of the immersion reached in the world of Rapture simply because of his silence. When you first discover Rapture, itís like another world is opening before your eyes. Wonder, imagination, and confusion are all running through your head, and because Jack is silent, it makes you feel like heís experiencing this for the first time. Comments from him would only help take you away from experiencing Rapture for yourself. Instead, it would feel like you were being guided or shown the world of Rapture. Since I donít know the ending of the game, I have no idea if his silence has anything to do with the plot, but I certainly know his silence plays a major role in the immersion and unique wonder that is Rapture.
#8: Isaac Clarke Ė Dead Space
Isaac Clarke is a special case on this list because unlike anyone else, heís fully voiced in the sequel. However, in the original Dead Space heís completely silent. Though I donít necessarily compare the two games in terms of which version of Isaac Clarke was better, I do strongly suggest the first game NEEDED a silent Isaac Clarke. Itís a special case for silent protagonists because you never feel like you are the character. At no point did I really feel a connection, but in this case it wasnít a bad thing. The over-the-shoulder viewpoint, back story, personality, and a sense that you are not privy to knowledge Isaac was, always kept you from really connecting to him. At the same time, without his silence, the game would neither be as scary, nor would the plot be as effective. Because of the use of silence as a plot device, Isaac Clarke deserves to be acknowledged.
#7: Crono Ė Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved RPG games ever made. So it should come as no surprise to hear that Crono is one of the most popular characters in said genre. He represents the typical silent RPG hero that starts the game as a normal kid/man and due to his courage, gets involved in an adventure beyond anything seen before. While Crono doesnít speak, there are certain actions he performs, like a fist pump and dance move, that give Crono some personality. The character art of Crono is made by none other than DBZ artist Akira Toriyama. The art style gives Crono a great look that only helps create a subtle personality in him. Crono really is the representation of an entire genre of silent protagonists and is on this list, if for no other reason than, because heís the best of his genre. When given the choice to continue the game without Crono, most people couldnít bare to continue without him. While no voice could have been given, dialogue would have only ruined his silent-courageous persona.
#6: Link Ė The Legend of Zelda (Series)
Probably the most popular silent protagonist on this list, Link is a classic. Beyond his yells and grunts when he takes damage or yells, Link is silent. Iím only counting the Nintendo Zelda games, not the Cdi ones and the t.v. show, both of which have Link speaking. Regardless, Link being silent is critical to making the player feel like heís the one embarking on the adventure. The adventure becomes much more personal when the player feels like he is Link rather than just guiding a character through the game. In a game like Ocarina, you even experience Link maturing, making you, the player, feel stronger. Being adult Link even makes you feel more mature somehow. Heís the classic silent video game protagonist, and has continued to be one even today. While he isnít filled with personality, heís not an entirely blank slate like a certain boy we know.
#5: Ness Ė Earthbound
Ness is used as a vessel for the player to embody throughout Earthbound. The choice to make him a silent protagonist makes sense because he is just a regular boy. Link may do the same thing, but thereís an inherit disconnection based on the adventure they each go on. While Link occupies a fantasy setting, rides a horse, sails, and uses weapons like swords and hookshots, Ness opts for the simpler things. He is a regular boy with a mom, a dad that travels, a dog, baseball cap, and only a baseball bat and yo-yo as weapons. Sure, he has some psychic powers later in the game, but thatís pretty standard stuff compared to most games. More importantly, he occupies a world not unlike our own, and, unlike characters like Crono, seems to have no real personality. Ness is you, you are Ness. His blank silence is imperative in making the connection to the player.
#4: Limbo Boy Ė Limbo
The boy in Limbo exists in a world devoid of voices, text, or any other real form of communication. The game manages to make you connect with the character regardless. After all, he is completely devoid of most any defining characteristics. He is simply a silhouette with blank holes for eyes. Nothing is known aside from the fact that youíre in Limbo, and based on what developers have said, you are looking for your sister. This purposeful decision to leave the player completely devoid of information was no doubt to allow for interpretation and personalization of both the character and the story of Limbo. The Limbo boy is simply a vessel in which the player can interpret both the character and the story into whatever they wish.
#3: Gordon Freeman Ė Half Life (Series)
The Half-Life series is one of the defining FPS series of our generation. Part of this has to do with the main character, Gordon Freeman. His silence is adored by most Half-Life fans, and in an FPS it makes a lot of sense. Considering that you already take the viewpoint of the character, it isnít a stretch to make a connection between the player and character. Most of the characters in the game are looking right back at you as they speak to you, so Valve essentially cut out the middle man by not giving him a voice. An FPS in which you never see or hear the character is the perfect blank slate for the player to take the role of the hero. The fact that Gordon Freeman manages to still top the list of many Best Video Game Hero lists is a testament to the use of his silence, considering as a character heís blank.
#2: Mario Ė Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Mario has always been somewhat of a silent protagonist. You may be saying, ďheís not silent, he talks!Ē. Well, youíd be right to a degree. While he does occasionally say one liners either for sports titles, to let the player know that it is indeed him, or for whatever other reason, he does not do any of this in Super Mario RPG. To put simply, you will never feel like you are Mario. Mario has grown far beyond being a vessel for the player and has become a global phenomenon with a very unique personality. That is why the Mario present in Super Mario is so loved. While he is silent, he is by far the most expressive Mario to date. Instead of speaking, he acts out whatever he is trying to say by imitating other characters and events that take place. Itís essentially Mario playing charades, and itís downright adorable. When it comes to silent protagonists with personality and charm, the Mario from Super Mario RPG is hard to top.
#1: Chell Ė Portal (Series)
Chell, much like Gordon Freeman, works as a silent protagonist mostly because of the point of view being first person. The blank slate of a character is again used to the gameís advantage as Chell is just another test subject. The game leaves the player to fill the role of Chell, instead focusing on creating an incredible antagonist in Glados. By keeping the focus on Glados, Chell becomes the perfect vessel for the player to enjoy the game and not dwell on who they are playing as. The fact that the game is a puzzler and requires no real back story to understand or play, it is the ideal game for a silent protagonist, and Chell pulls it off admirably. While Gordon Freeman came first, Chell fits into her game as a much more natural silent protagonist, and nobody has ever yearned for her to speak.
Although there are far fewer silent protagonists now then there were 10 or 20 years ago, the quality has certainly not suffered. Perhaps itís the shift in viewpoint towards first person or better quality writing(for other characters) that accounts for this. Honestly, I couldnít tell you. All I know is that there are, and will always be, great characters that keep their mouth shut. And in the spirit of Canadian Thanksgiving, for thatÖIím thankful.