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Topic: Lack of main character identity in Nintendo franchises

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erv

Spanjard wrote:

Woof woof.

I agree.

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Shantephan

Alright, let's bring this back to topic shall we? Someone's cat that is reading this might get offended if we think they're less than humans.

To make things absolutely clear: Nintendo's games are the pinnacle of gameplay design, that is beyond question here. This topic raises the question whether or not their games could benefit from characters with more defined personalities and identity.

Edited on by Shantephan

Shantephan

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Maxz

@Snaplocket I genuinely think Link's eyebrow animations in Wind Waker are wonderfully emotive and expressive. I was only being slightly facetious with that example. I think he and Grommit (of Wallace and Grommit fame) are two really great examples of how much you can do with a just character's brow to convey emotion. A slightly more modern example of character/ world building done well without dialogue might be Wall-E, which is voiceless for the first 20-30 minutes. A more modern example still would be The Red Turtle (although it's a bit 'art-housey' so perhaps shouldn't be used too earnestly in comparisons to wider pop-culture).

I don't dispute that modern Sonic's personality is well established. We know exactly who he is (which is why he can be so acutely and frequently mocked). But I don't think this is the only meaningful factor in creating a video game protagonist. I'm not saying it's 'wrong', or that the blank-slate approach is inherently better in all cases. But I also dispute that the blank-slate approach is inherently 'wrong' either, or that it constitutes lazy character development because the characters are left unfinished.

Given that the defining aspect of video games that separates them from most other media is 'control' - that we guide the protagonist actively rather than watch them passively - I don't think it's unreasonable that many game developers choose to leave their characters similarly open to interpretation.

Again, there's more than one way to cook an onion, and different developers will make different creative choices with regard to the reticence of their main characters. But I'd argue against the notion that Nintendo has to start filling out their characters in order to the 'get with the times'. To me, it's precisely because the concept of 'games as interactive movies' is gaining more traction that I value Nintendo's characters remaining somewhat undefined.

People seem to have different takes on what constitutes 'escapism', which is interesting. Some people like really tightly defined worlds, as they find them more 'believable' and thus easier to become a part of. Others like their fantasies painted with broader strokes and fewer lines, leaving them the space to fill in the details, or just float away into the abstraction. It's hard to state which is 'right', as this has more to do with the player that it does the game.

We may all be animals, but we're all different.

Edited on by Maxz

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Snaplocket

@Maxz I do agree that it's possible for a blank slate to have personality (an oxymoron right there). I just don't think you should immediately write off adding dialogue and voice acting as a bad idea. Part of what makes Mario and Link iconic ARE there voices after all. Say what you will about the quality of the games, but Sonic's definitely a character that manages to have a strongly defined personality thanks to both his lines AND his animations.

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Maxz

@Snaplocket Yeah, I mean, they're not truly 'blank slate' characters. I'm not sure if anyone is (true 'blank state' characters would probably be very bland). I suppose it's more of a useful turn of phrase that gets a general idea across.

And I'm definitely not "immediately writ[ing] off adding dialogue and voice acting as a bad idea." In both posts I've made some concession like, "I'm not saying it's 'wrong', or that the blank-slate approach is inherently better in all cases", which I believe. Different games make good use of a slightly more 'cinematic' or explicitly narrative-driven approach.

What I'm really saying - and what we're both probably saying - is that there's room for both approaches in video games as a medium. I've got no great desire to see many of Nintendo's characters become super wordy and 'fleshed out', as in many cases I feel their reticence is a part of what I like about those particular games. But there are other games where I enjoy the characters being a bit more fully realised.

Edited on by Maxz

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NEStalgia

The Nintendo approach to story telling could best be summarized by the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet (on which Miyamoto more or less invented the idea of story telling in video games, which previously did not really feature story progression of any kind, DK followed the exploits of Jumpman(Mario) chasing after Pauline as DK dragged her higher and higher up the construction site.

They still use that almost "silent film" type of story telling. Which is no less valid than what Sony brought to the table with cinema style story telling (Sony is a cinema production company, so that's the background they brought with them to video games.)

Mario has tons of personality, as does Kirby despite not having a moody backstory and tons of dialogue. Samus....fans reacted badly when they tried to give her more direct character....yeah they did it badly and turned her into an anime stereotype...but that certainly chilled further development. But we'll see what they do with MP4.

Link.....Link's entire purpose (and thus the name link) is that he's the link between you and the game world. If he has too much personality he breaks the link. Though he's gained quite a bit of personality as a silent protagonist. He's like a Penn & Teller act.

But you don't need well defined character leads to be successful. Nintendo's silent characters are the most iconic (and merchandisable) in the business. They're doing something right. I haven't seen any Nathan Drake lunchboxes and body pillows.... (wait....don't answer that....don't prove me wrong......please don't.... )

But loads of games, look at Skyrim don't have defined characters, your character is your own creation....like a more anonymous Link, and are tremendously successful. In a lot of ways the "You" character is a Western design before Sony dragged Hollywood cinematics into the forefront of game design. If you look at classic Western games, from Doom & Quake to Unreal, to Populous, most games featured a "link" character the make you the player in the world, not just the puppeteer of an interactive moviestar.

And of course online multiplayer gaming is the center of the "Games as a Service" the western studios and XBox as a platform has been hyping. No defined leads there at all.

NEStalgia

Agriculture

Shantephan wrote:

Alright, let's bring this back to topic shall we? Someones cat that is reading this might get offended if we think they're less than humans.

To make things absolutely clear: Nintendo's games are the pinnacle of gameplay design, that is beyond question here. This topic raises the question whether or not their games could benefit from characters with more defined personalities and identity.

It's far more offensive to say human beings are nothing but animals. I didn't start this side discussion, but I will respond to such comments.

Anyhow, Nintendo aren't the only ones doing this. In the original Doom, the main character was designed as a blank slate so the player could feel they are Doomguy when playing. I think the pinnacle of this idea is the many rpgs that now exist where you can fully chose everything about your character, from looks to abilities and equipment. That way you can more fully explore the game world.

Most players want to be in control, not watch what the player character does. If the player character has a strong personality it collides with the player being in control.

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shaneoh

Agriculture wrote:

It's far more offensive to say human beings are nothing but animals. I didn't start this side discussion, but I will respond to such comments.

So are we vegetable or mineral then?

Snaplocket wrote:

I just don't think you should immediately write off adding dialogue and voice acting as a bad idea.

Well Nintendo tried with Zelda, it was definitely a bad idea.

Edited on by shaneoh

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Snaplocket

@shaneoh I thought the voice acting in BOTW was pretty good and really added to the characters and cutscenes. Cutscenes in Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess were so awkward with out voices. It was a very welcome and long overdue decision. What you said was just your (and probably a small group's) opinion. It was a great idea.

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MarcelRguez

There's a time and a place for everything.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what the game is setting out to do. Nintendo doesn't have a lot of narrative-driven titles, so they'd rather focus on polishing other aspects of their games. Zelda gets a pass because of tradition and forging an identity around Link's muteness, but I agree with others about the downright uncanniness of Sun/Moon's entire cast, not just the protagonist. And about ARMS as well: as good as the character designs are in that game, the lack of interactions between them brings the entire experience down a notch.

Kid Icarus Uprising, on the other hand, is a very odd exception that's very worthy of discussion (personally, I think the game is excellent thanks in no small part to its script and VA work). That one game aside, people seem to be forgetting about Nintendo's other series, like Fire Emblem, Xenoblade or Project Zero/Fatal Frame, which have better-defined characters in spades. It's worth noting that all of these games aren't developed internally by Nintendo proper, but still.

So yeah, for me it's a game-by-game thing. Focusing on the protagonist too much can mess up the whole experience in some instances (Metroid) while other series would benefit greatly from a more character-driven approach, or at the very least from stronger character interactions (ARMS, every Mario sports game).

Edited on by MarcelRguez

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LuckyLand

I like Nintendo characters. I don't think they lack identity or personality, it's just that their personality is not shoved down your throat like many other companies do with games that try to be much more similar to movies than they should.

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NotAceAttorney

I know Modern Sonic was brought up, personally, I feel that the silent story-telling from the Genesis titles are stronger than what we have now with Sonic. I think that the dialogue in Sonic can get borderline cringe, especially with all the talk about "friendship". Kingdom Hearts had this problem too. Certain scenes would have been more effective, had no one said anything.

That's sort of the drawback with adding dialogue. You have to do a really freaking good job to write believable characters. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't there some backlash against the script of FE Fates? I think some people were re-doing the translation (but gave up or something).

NotAceAttorney

Snaplocket

@NotAceAttorney I think the cringe factor fits Sonic's character very well. I don't see anything in classic Sonic that makes him any different or more interesting then modern Sonic. If anything, modern Sonic's character is much better established since it shows that while he is cocky, he's still the kind of guy that makes friends easily, like your best bud in high school.

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MarcelRguez

@NotAceAttorney From what I recall, Fates' backlash had more to do with the localization team removing some tropey anime conversations that could be taken the wrong way by Western audiences than with the accuracy of the translated script as a whole. Not sure if some backstories were altered as well (that was a thing with Awakening's localization, at least).

MarcelRguez

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NotAceAttorney

@Snaplocket I agree, I really like Sonic from Unleashed. But as the games went one, I personally felt he was overdone, and the friends kept getting worse.
@MarcelRguez Ahh I see. Well the anime stuff doesn't interest me much, which is why I didn't enjoy Awakening as much as the GBA ones. But there's a huge market for it, probably why XC2 took that route.
@subpopz Honestly, it was so well done. I also love the transitions between levels in that game. Flawless.

NotAceAttorney

kkslider5552000

LuckyLand wrote:

I like Nintendo characters. I don't think they lack identity or personality, it's just that their personality is not shoved down your throat like many other companies do with games that try to be much more similar to movies than they should.

This. Sometimes they could do with more characterization and personality but if you think Link in Skyward Sword is as much of a blank slate as he was in OOT, for example, you're just wrong.

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MarcelRguez

@NotAceAttorney Yeah, I'm on the same boat as you regarding the recent FE games. About XC2, the original was anime as hell to begin with, so at least there isn't a huge change in tone from XC to XC2, it's just the artstyle that's changed. I'm guessing XC2's anime looks are just easier to sell in Japan, and they're also easier to pull off on handheld hardware.

MarcelRguez

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NotAceAttorney

@MarcelRguez Absolutely, not only is it easier, but this stuff sells in Japan, and is gaining a pretty decent market elsewhere. It's just disappointing to me because a lot of Japanese RPGs have been sacrificing interesting art styles and creative directions. For every gem like Persona 5, there's 10-15 tropey "filler" games.

Note: Persona is anime, yes, but the style is still very creative and looks fantastic.

Edited on by NotAceAttorney

NotAceAttorney

Chandlero

shaneoh wrote:

Snaplocket wrote:

What you said was just your (and probably a small group's) opinion.

Read some of the comments here. It's not such a small group.

Yeah, totally the majority of the 5 million BotW players....

I really liked Zelda's voice and the voice acting overall was very fitting. However, that is not the topic here.

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