This is the conclusion I reached after playing through Suikoden IV and V recently, though it extends to just about any other recent game.
WARNING. RANT MODE ACTIVATED. COMMENCE EVACUATION OF THE PREMISES.
The concept behind the silent dude was so that the player could “better integrate with the character”. To be honest, it always felt to me like an excuse not to write a script for the main character, but it never really bothered me that much because… well, some SPs actually managed to get their message across with just body language or simply a timely nod or shrug like Crono, Serge or, although not quite as well, the Ryus from BOF I-IV. In addition, although having a talking protagonist was generally better (Maxim), it by no means suggests that they are ALWAYS better than the silent ones, as some of the most modern games began to prove. I’m talking to you Cloud and Squall.
The problem came with voice acting. Nowadays, pretty much every game has nearly every single character voiced, which is great, but the fact that everyone else is talking does nothing but emphasize the fact that the main character isn’t. It’s laughable to see a scene with full-blown 3D characters going…
Generic Soldier #1: Sir! The enemy is here!
Generic Soldier #2: They outnumber us by a hundred to one! What should we do!?
Silent protagonist: glance nod point nod
Everyone: Sir! Yes, sir! Brilliant as always sir!
C’mon, I can’t be the only one who finds this ridiculous.
Speaking now individually, Suikoden V suffered particularly because of this. Suiko IV’s story was so mediocre that it helped mask most other stuff (And I still liked it better than Suiko III), but Suiko V practically contradicts itself: On one hand they tell you to believe you are the Prince, and on the other hand they give the Prince an appearance that I imagine nobody even remotely has, give him an array of facial expressions and responses to situations which he uses regardless of your command and, the most pathetic part, during a few scenes his lips actually move even while he’s not saying anything. If I were adept at lip reading, Japanese lip reading at that, I imagine I would discover he was saying “GET ME A FUCKING VOICE ACTOR!”.
Somewhat unrelated, but at least they somewhat managed to circumvent the problem of the name not being spoken (Scenes like “Lyon! [Blank]! Georg! Wait up!”) by having mostly everyone calling him Prince or Your Highness, but it still showed up once or twice. Nobody has pulled a Tidus quite as well ever since FFX.
What IS the point of this anymore anyway? A good reader doesn’t need to be able to believe he is the character to care about what happens to the character. When I read a novel, I fool myself into believing everything actually happens and thus feel sad/happy/angry/whatever in accordance to the situation, I don’t fool myself into believing I’m the one that those things happen to, because the moment the character in the novel does something I wouldn’t, the illusion is destroyed. And now with the ever-increasing usage of meticulous 3D-rendering based on anime-styled art (Read: Just barely recognizably as male) and the now practically mandatory voice acting, who on earth can possibly fool himself into believing he is on THAT guy’s shoes?
Well, that’s about it. I just needed to get that out of my chest.