The problem with the silent protagonist in Persona 4 Golden
I just wanted more emotion!
I finally reached out to the truth. It happened. It only took me over a year, what with an energetic two year old, other games to review, traveling, and whatever other excuse I can't currently think of. But thinking back, I'm sort of glad it took me this long, because it just means I got spend that much longer in Inaba with all those fantastic characters.
By the end, having all my main social links maxed out, I feel like I legitimately formed a bond with these characters. After all it was my input, my involvement in their lives, that changed it for the better. They were no longer afraid to reveal their true selves. But even though I affected all these people on such a personal level, I felt like by the end of the game, my character just didn't give a damn.
The game often gives you multiple choices on how you want to answer various situations. During conversations, you have the ability to answer in multiple ways. You can either answer in a very friendly manner, as a jerk, or take a very non-commital stance. Either way, what remains the same is that your character doesn't really ever say a word. What this did help in shaping your character's personality. Even though you could never actually hear him respond, by choosing the answers you did, you got a pretty good sense of what kind of a person he is.
Throughout the game, I was pretty OK with this, as the answer options were more than enough to characterize my main character, but it was at the very end of the game that I felt that his silent nature didn't fit the narrative at all.
One of the final scenes you get to watch, if you get the good or the true ending, is your main character having a heartfelt goodbye with all of his friends, his uncle and his little cousin. Throughout this entire emotional exchange, the main character just smiles and nods. Even when Rise, the gorgeous pop idol who is head over heels for the main character yells out "I love you!" the main character once again just smiles. Even Han Solo's "I know" had more emotion and passion in it.
It's this scene that caused me to look back at the game, and really evaluate whether the hero being a silent protagonist ultimately hurt the overall experience.
Watch for yourself (start at the 5 minute mark)
After everyone says their goodbyes, all the main character does is say "Hm" and nods. Wow. This was the same person who taught Kanji it was OK to not be ashamed of his craftiness, the same person who made Teddie realize that he's much more than a Shadow, the same person who ultimately helped his younger cousin, Nanako, cope with the loss of her mother and get closer to her hard-working father. Instead we're simply left with a completely emotionless goodbye, that could have easily been much more emotional, had Atlus opted to give the main character at least some speaking roles, or at least ones where it made sense.
Even Kanji's like "WTF dude?!"
I get that silent protagonists are a staple of many games, in order for the player to feel more in-tune with them, allowing them to answer for themselves and not let the game dictate what kind of persona (ha!) they have. Link in The Legend of Zelda games is one of the best examples of a silent protagonist that simply works. He doesn't need to say a word in order for us to know how he feels. He also doesn't necessarily build long lasting relationships outside of Princess Zelda. His yells and grunts are all we need to simply "know" Link's character. But in cases like this, where basically the entire game revolves around building up relationships with other characters, it simply doesn't work.
Ironically enough, Persona 4 eventually got its own anime adaptation, which of course not only gave the main character a name, Yu Narukami, but also a voice. And while Yu never gives any sort of grand speech at the end when he's ready to board, he does actually talk, providing a much stronger emotional connection between him and his friends. It's a small change, but ultimately a much better one.
What's even more ironic is that spinoffs following Persona 4, such as both Arena fighters and more notably, Persona Q, characterize Yu even more. Persona Q gives him full on dialogue sequences. Just take a look at this quote from Persona Q.
"My friends faced their own Shadows and came out stronger for it, but I never met mine. To make up for it, though, I've had my friends to help me mature. It's my companions that I draw strength from in all of this." -Yu Narukami
Even something like this helped me understand Yu a lot more. And it proves that he cherishes his connections and bonds to his friends above anything else. This fact alone makes the ending of P4G stand out even more.
Don't get me wrong, I still think Persona 4 Golden is one of the best JRPGs I've played in a while, and wholeheartedly recommend anyone with a Vita or PSTV to pick this up, but it was one of the first instances where I legitimately disliked the silent protagonist characterization, and that it even carried over to the cutscenes