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Topic: Lack of main character identity in Nintendo franchises

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Shantephan

Hi all,

I wanted to know some opinions on the fact that many, if not most, of Nintendo's protagonists are suffering from a severe lack of identity. For the most part, we have no idea who these characters are, only their (sometimes vague) motivation for saving the day/princess/world/fruit...
Now, I don't consider this much of a problem with characters like Mario and Kirby, but I think Link for instance would really benefit if he was given some more personality, especially in BotW. Same with Samus. Most of Nintendo's main characters are just blank slates, which is a real shame if you ask me. Other companies tend to do a much better job with this.

Take Shantae for instance. The reason why I love her so much is not because of her games, although they are great as well, it's because of her interactions with the townsfolk and some of her enemies. The banter, her expressions, the way she gets excited sometimes, or angry or disgusted all make me know her a little better with every new game.

Anyway, any thoughts about why Nintendo doesn't seem to care all that much when it comes to this? Do you care? Or are you fine with how the way things are right now? Let's discuss!

Shantephan

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nintendawesome

Link has plenty of backstory
Untitled

nintendawesome

Kimyonaakuma

@Shantephan It never annoys me that much, as most Nintendo characters just seem to exist to be there for the gameplay. I think this serves Nintendo well though because gameplay is what they're best at.

I thought Link had a lot more character and backstory in BotW compared to the previous ones, but Link is more of a role or a symbol instead of a character.

I really enjoy Shantae's interactions with her world, but humour makes up a large part of the personality of the series. That isn't really part of the main part of any Nintendo series in my opinion, except the occasional reference done by the localisation teams.
Personally the only series that is consistently humourous to me from Nintendo is Paper Mario, but it mainly managed that by making fun of the quirks of the main series.

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subpopz

I don't think it's a shame.
I like having them as they are, it lets me fill in with imagination. I did not like it when they started making Samus talk and she didn't match up with what I had imagined her as being for all the years previous. I never want to hear Link talk and at this point, if they try to give Link an identity and having him talk and interact with characters, I don't think it would go over very well with many. It would change what he's been for 3 decades. There's a lot to be said for having characters you can fill in yourself. Sometimes less is more.
It can be very game dependent. Shantae worked well and I love that whole series, but thats what those games are. Many games are like that, but others benefit from blank slate characters. Like Half-Life would suffer if they gave Gordon Freeman a voice and personality. It works a lot better with him being silent as it helps you immerse in the role.

subpopz

Shantephan

Alright, I can see why it would be tough to give a character that has been around for decades a personality all of a sudden. But what about the Arms characters? Why not build a story mode around them? Doesn't have to be much either. Just a couple lines of dialogue between the fighters before each match, and it wouldn't have to be spoken dialogue either. Do some know each other? Are some of them friends or arch rivals perhaps? Or why not give them a backstory as to why they are fighting in this championship besides proving they're the best? Missed opportunity?

Also, I'd like to point out one instance where Nintendo did give an established character some more personality and succeeded fairly well: Kid Icarus Uprising. So it can be done.

(Edit: typos)

Edited on by Shantephan

Shantephan

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NotAceAttorney

With Arms, you can expect characters to be fleshed out in a potential sequel. It has become pretty standard for fighting games to have a proper story mode now.

I think Nintendo should explore more interesting and focused stories in their games, just in general. Even the more story-heavy games like Fire Emblem are still pretty tame compared to other games in the genre. Sure, Nintendo games have great gameplay and are pretty polished, but having interesting characters can't be a bad thing.

Even if they want to keep Link a silent protagonist, there are far more interesting ways of doing so.
Edit: Spellingz

Edited on by NotAceAttorney

NotAceAttorney

Maxz

I'd say that blank slate characters - rather than being a missed opportunity - are an opportunity in themselves. It's precisely because they're a blank slate that they can be drawn with the players own ideas of who they are.

It's probably because of the 'light touch' approach to character building that I can slip into the worlds of so many Nintendo characters so easily, while feeling actively put off other games because the main character's overbearing personality feels like an obstacle to immersion.

And that's not to say that Nintendo's characters don't have... "character". I feel that Wind Waker's Link managed to say more with just his left eyebrow than modern Sonic has with a thousand 'cooler than cool' statements.

I'm not saying character-building can't be done well in video games, but in my experience it misses a lot more and it hits, and a lot of what I think what makes Nintendo's mascots so timeless and universally appealing is about what isn't stated as much as what is.

Edited on by Maxz

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Arminillo

@Shantephan
Samus did have personality. Everyone hated it.

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Haru17

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Dev

I know you're implying Mario is an exception, but I used to think it was a missed opportunity to give him a bit more personality. What makes people like Luigi so much is that he's actually a more developed character than his older, more famous brother. Look no further than Luigi's Mansion and especially Dark Moon. However, I think Super Mario Odyssey has done a great job making Mario more expressive.

I agree that the ARMS characters could use some more background information, but I guess we'll have to learn it from other sources like a graphic novel coming out next year, or a sequel down the road. I also agree that Pit is a great example of a Nintendo character with personality.

While they're obviously not playable, I wish we knew more about Splatoon 2's Off the Hook. We know more about ARMS characters than we do about Pearl and Marina! It's a far cry from the Squid Sisters being a major part of the story mode from the first game onward. What little information we do know about them from dialogue and Sunken Sea Scrolls implies they have very interesting back stories.

Edited on by Dev

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subpopz

ARMS was probably a wasted opportunity. Pit, I think, is an exception rather than the rule and it probably helped him that he has not been a very prominent Nintendo character at all (by comparison), so people really didn't associate him as anything before his 3DS outing. Mario...well he's been more in the spotlight than any other Nintendo character. Even back in the late-80s and early 90's in comics, shows and whatnot we had a personality for him. He's had a voice since Mario64 (I think that was his first speaking game, correct me if I'm wrong). Mario also doesn't need an extensive backstory....his games are about the gameplay, not in-depth story and character development.

Arminillo wrote:

@Shantephan
Samus did have personality. Everyone hated it.

Samus suffered the same problem Link would if they gave him more of one. It wouldn't have mattered what personality they gave her, people would have hated it. She was silent for so long, a lone wolf on the hunt that people filled in their own personality for. It's jarring after decades to suddenly have a personalty and voice for a character you imagined being a certain way. In the same way people would hate whatever they did with Link, if they ever tried it.

subpopz

Snaplocket

@subpopz I think part of the issue was they chose to make Samus an obedient stick in the mud, who always did as she was told and suddenly get intimidated or defeated at random moments for really no reason. For a character usually portrayed as a no nonsense bounty hunter, making her someone who always obeys the orders of her male superior, no matter how illogical was..... not the smartest choice.

Snaplocket

GoldenGamer88

I think it comes down to the fact that Nintendo, more often than not, focuses on gameplay over story in their first party games. And while I need a good mix between the two in my RPGs (!), I think for the majority of games they develop, this is fair.

Now where the blandness of a protagonist really bugged me was in Sun/Moon (so GF/TPC is responsible for that one). No matter how dire and serious the situation is, my trainer just keeps up her dumb bright smile and stares straight ahead. Sure, in the few really animated cutscenes, she does emote a bit, but it just takes me out of it, when (spoilers for Sun and Moon) Lillie was just kidnapped and Gladion and Hau join you on your rescue mission. 'Dah, my friend is in serious danger but gosh, I'm just dead and lifele- I mean, happy.' Or when Lillie leaves for Kanto. Kukui and Hau both wave goodbye with Hau even crying afterwards. All you do is stare dead ahead. At least Mario, Link and company emote and show actual concern and determination.

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NotAceAttorney

@GoldenGamer88 Yeah the main character's facial expression in S/M suuuucks. Gamefreak has a lot of work to do for the Switch game...

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Shantephan

Arminillo wrote:

@Shantephan
Samus did have personality. Everyone hated it.

Haru17 wrote:

"A sexist got to write a female character this one time, so let's make sure female characters never get any development ever again!!!"

Yeah, Metroid Other M isn't a great example. Not only didn't her voice work for me, it was primarily the afwul writing of her character and the overall story of the game that made me hate it. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try it again, should they? If Nintendo would actually put some effort into it, I believe it could work.

GoldenGamer88 wrote:

Now where the blandness of a protagonist really bugged me was in Sun/Moon

OMG yes! The main characters of the Pokémon series have always been boring and lifeless, but the updated graphics in Sun/Moon elevated that problem to a whole new level. The rest of Sun/Moon is fantastic, but my God those protagonists... How can you possibly like a character like that? Because of looks maybe? Because there sure as hell isn't any other incentive to like them.
Pokémon games in general go like this: You talk to dozens if not hundreds of people on your quest to catch them all, you battle these great gym leaders, travel all around the continent you're in and defeat the bad guys who want to take over the world or something, and all your protagonist does is stay mute all the time and in Sun/Moon's case stare blankly like a zombie on Rohypnol.

One more thing I'd like to add to this: if you're creating new protagonists for each Pokémon game, why not give them different personalities as well? The possibilities are endless here.

Shantephan

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NotAceAttorney

@Shantephan I feel, personally, with Pokemon, Gamefreak have yet to truly challenge their capabilities. They've developed an established formulae that is guaranteed to sell at least 10 mil copies, each time they make a game. They also always get reviewed very highly. They haven't had that shock to the system, that can sometimes make you do a 180.

But to be fair, they have been trying to push the narrative a bit more with the 3DS games. There's still too much focus on hand-holding, but they're getting there.

NotAceAttorney

erv

Interesting thread. I just wanted to point to something that is a principle in cognitive psychology that few people know. I use it all the time in my job.

It's commonly done as "intentionally blank", for lack of time to explain in-depth. Meaning, you are free to fill in the blanks with whatever you do. People do it all the time, yet we think we don't. Common examples are all over the place, in games, politics, entertainment, sales... you name it. Especially when there's a larger group of people involved - it's sure to give you a statistical upside. Examples include "this game should get 9/10 scores". For what? You hear gameplay, the other hears art style, yet another hears uniqueness... fill in the blanks.

It works in character development a lot. In ocarina of time, you could name link yourself. Most people chose their own name. You got addressed through your name. You became the hero of time for crying out loud. Nobody thinks consciously that you're bonding emotionally just "because they know my name" - yet the science says that is exactly what you do.

The more generic a profile the easier it is to project your own identity in the blank space. It results in quicker buildup of a psychological bond to the activity you're doing. A lot of it is by design.

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Haru17

erv wrote:

...few people know.

Literally every thread about Link's voice acting or character has 10 people posting the blank slate excuse over and over. Why did I read that? Lol, they might be distinct concepts in your field but, like, read the fourth post in the thread, it's saying the same thing that 'few people know.' Moreover, human instincts are a terrible argument for art. We're animals, the same argument could be used to justify murder. Art of all things should be more than just the sum of its parts.

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Snaplocket

@Maxz I think modern Sonic has a very well established personality thanks to his voice work AND his animations. The moment he starts moving and talking, you immediately get the idea that he's a cocky, impatient teenager who loves cracking one-liners and making fun of the bad guy, no matter how dire the situation is. It's the kind of attitude that any kid can immediately notice and grow attached too. It's certainty more personality and says more then say, WW Link's "left eyebrow" like you established.

Snaplocket

shaneoh

Shantephan wrote:

Other companies tend to do a much better job with this.

There's your problem. Nintendo isn't other companies (in this instance).

Valve has done fine with silent protagonists in Portal and Half-life.

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