Speak Up, Protagonists!

Speak Up, Protagonists!

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m writing this. Or, more accurately, I can’t believe that this problem actually persists today. For God’s sake, the current generation of consoles is in its prime, all three gaming titans are at each other’s throats with their “next big thing,” and the WiiU has already kicked off the coming generation of gaming goodness. Today’s gaming industry practically oozes innovation, yet I’m still forced to watch my character nod his head, blindly gesture, and stand around like some demoniacal shut-in on par with Jack the Ripper. Seriously, developers, why, in December 2012, am I still fumbling through communication-heavy realms as Captain Silence?

Think about it: Has there ever been a game that wouldn’t benefit from some quality voice acting? Just to name a few recent additions to the annoyingly long list, let’s pick on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Dead Space, Borderlands 2, Dark Souls, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Before you grab your torches and pitchforks, let me give a little disclaimer: All five are great games. Unfortunately, they are also prime examples of developer laziness and incomplete characters.

Before you retrieve your torches and pitchforks, consider the following. How am I supposed to understand Isaac Clarke if the man won’t even speak? His health bar isn’t that talkative, and I just can’t seem to hold a steady conversation with a Necromorph—despite my best efforts. Lilith and the gang finally got over the chronic tonsillitis they apparently had in the original Borderlands, but it seems Pandora’s new vault hunters caught the bug. And why does my Undead Hero hold his tongue when the merchants of Lordran are so awesomely quirky?

Speak Up, Protagonists!

You’d think that somewhere along the lengthy development process (Bethesda spent roughly four years on Skryim) somebody would stop and think “Jaw-dropping graphics? Check. Coherent, interesting plot? Check. Main character? Stoic and creepy. Wait, maybe we should fix that last one.” Sounds simple, right?

I’m not asking for some gamer dream-world populated only by voiced characters—though it is awfully tempting. I just want to see some real attention to detail in the games that need it. Nobody cares that GLaDOS does all the talking in Portal, or that the JRPG genre is defined by walls upon walls of text because silence is an effective tool when used correctly. But if a game’s plot is even marginally important—by which I mean it has more depth than the SEGA Genesis’ Sonic the Hedgehog titles—then the character should speak. Otherwise, the game’s believability is obliterated every time the protagonist gets some screen time. And I’m not just talking cutscenes here.

Leaving the protagonist mute is not only lazy, but just plain stupid. Every game is competing with every other game for a turn in the spotlight, and offering a better character is a serious edge—especially in the RPG department. For example, take a look at Dragon Age II versus The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Both are enormous, open-world, western RPGs with near-limitless options. But wait, what’s that I hear from Dragon Age II? You guessed it: Hawke’s voice. (Thanks for breaking the monotony.) See what I’m getting at? Before comparing any other elements of the two—a wise choice, since the debate would rage for eons—EA is already a step ahead. So, fundamentally, a mute protagonist is bad business sense. How’s that for some incentive?

Speak Up, Protagonists!

Wheel-based dialogue choices and body language aren’t cutting it anymore; I’ve had enough of the immersion-shattering awkward silences. I’m willing to wait an extra month or two if you’re willing to stretch that budget and give me a character that I can actually identify with. And although gamers are a difficult crowd to please, I’d be happy with nothing more than a handful of voice presets. We already spend half an hour on our RPG hero’s appearance; why not throw some voice sliders our way? After all, a voiced character is always a welcomed addition, as long as they sound better than Shadow the Hedgehog.

Heck, while you’re at it, let me input my own voice into the game. Wait, this is still the 21st century. Damn. Well, a man can dream, right?

Austin Wood
Freelance Writer
Date: December 18, 2012

*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*

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