What do you like in a VN protagonist?

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What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#1 Post by hachi-mitsu » Mon Feb 18, 2019 11:45 pm

Hello all, I've been pondering this question myself for a while, and thought it would be interesting and valuable to get other people's opinions on the topic.

When it comes to a VN protagonist, it seems like a very important duty that they be well written and articulated, much more so than the cast since we, the players, experience the story and world through their narration. Even in VNs that allow for customisable names and wide arrays of possible responses to in-game dialogue, the protagonist still has set personality traits of some kind that shine through their narration and basic interaction.

When I play VNs, I find the narration can make or break a game for me. While I love for the main character to have a personality that plays well into the story and character interactions, sometimes a writer can take their traits too far, or allow some of their own language habits to slip in, which I find can take me out of the experience (and dare I say, immersion). Personally, I start to get turned off from a game if there is excessive attempts at humour, or if the writing has a very 'hint hint nudge nudge' style to it (e.g. constant fourth wall breaks, references, acknowledging bad writing but not fixing it).

As a result, I think I know fairly well what I like and look for in a VN protagonist. But what do you like/dislike in a narrator? I think it's valuable to know these things when going out to script your VN. As I write right now, I avoid the things I personally detest, but I would like to know some other things that can repel a player away from your game/story. Yet, also vice-versa; what are some of the things that keep you interested in the narrator, and what keeps you reading?

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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#2 Post by Draziya » Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:14 pm

Hmm. The traits that I dislike the most would probably have to be obliviousness and general naiveté. Some of those traits are okay in small amounts, but when its their whole character its hard for me to take them seriously. Why do they get to be the protagonist? And in dating simulators, what do the love interests even see in that character?

What I like in a narrator is basically the reverse. I want a character that is aware of the situation they're in, and has agency. A likeable personality helps. If they're an asshole, why would you want to see them succeed? However, if it's made clear that they'll have a redemption arc, a less likeable personality may be more manageable.

It might not work for every visual novel, but something that would keep me interested in the narrator is hinting at secrets they're keeping, that aren't explained until closer to the end of the game. Wanting to know what and why the protagonist is keeping secrets from even the reader would certainly keep me hooked!
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#3 Post by Ezmar » Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:10 am

I generally like seeing things that the character knows that aren't immediately made clear to the reader. I find it's a great way to organically introduce character growth even through something that happened before the story takes place. It also helps to develop the protagonist the same as any other character; they're not necessarily special just for being the viewpiece.

Basically, I like when a story doesn't have the protagonist as a sounding board for the events of the story to play off of. There should ideally be some back and forth; the story isn't all about the protagonist, and the protagonist is there for more than just delivering the story.

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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#4 Post by nerupuff » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:12 pm

I like when the protagonist (at least, in otome VNs) isn't the cliche main character that always manages to be "likeable" to all the love interests when there isn't anything inherently solid about their characterization at all. Protagonists that have a strong sense of self and have goals that are properly supplemented by the story make for great main characters.

There's definitely a lot of types of VN protagonists out there, but for me, the good ones are those that have a strong personality that have gameplay choices that reflect how they would react, true to their character. When they narrate the scenes in the VN, they manage to inject their own view of what's happening. They have an inkling of what's going on, but they still look for whatever can help them understand and explain things to the player without seemingly breaking the fourth wall (a trope that I'm not too huge a fan of, unless the VN genre matches it, or if it's cleverly utilized).

Of course, there are some protagonists out there meant to be for self-insert purposes. I don't have a problem with that either, but I usually lean towards story-heavy games, which is why I have my own personal preference when it comes to main characters/narrators.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#5 Post by Katy133 » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:59 pm

For visual novels, I tend to prefer protagonists that have pre-written personalities, instead of being blank slates or characters whose whole/core personality you shape. Visual novels are story-heavy, so it's important for the protagonist to have a clear personality so that they can affect the story, as well as (sometimes) go through a character arc. They need a starting point to go through an arc.

And on a more personal note, I prefer protagonists that can make me laugh. If they can get me to laugh through their wit, their dry observations, their dialogue, and narration, that will make me want to follow their story.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#6 Post by hachi-mitsu » Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:16 pm

Draziya wrote:
Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:14 pm
Hmm. The traits that I dislike the most would probably have to be obliviousness and general naiveté. Some of those traits are okay in small amounts, but when its their whole character its hard for me to take them seriously. Why do they get to be the protagonist? And in dating simulators, what do the love interests even see in that character?

It might not work for every visual novel, but something that would keep me interested in the narrator is hinting at secrets they're keeping, that aren't explained until closer to the end of the game. Wanting to know what and why the protagonist is keeping secrets from even the reader would certainly keep me hooked!
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Hello! I can see where you're coming from. This is actually one of the thoughts I had which compelled me to ask this question! Because for me, I do like it when protagonists are naïve and say, a bit oblivious to love, because I find the eventual reveal to be satisfying, and in general it's just a trait I find cute and likeable, it makes me what to learn how they handle the world around them and grow from it. But the reason why types and 'deres' exist is all because different people are attracted to different personalities. So, I totally understand why naiveté can be a negative/annoying trait for some people, and regardless of my preference for it, I try to not let it override my story, and keep it in small doses. I think what you mentioned about dating simulators is ultimately true; nothing is more distracting than seeing a bunch of girls/guys flock to a blank slate protagonist as if they're a sex god (especially if they're not exactly that good looking either...). Projection can't make up for bad writing!

I too also like seeing foreshadowing in protagonists, it's something I really try to keep in mind. Even though I wasn't very happy with the endings of No Thank You!!!, it was still engaging to come across secret protagonist dialogue and inner thoughts, and it obviously kept me hooked!
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Ezmar wrote:
Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:10 am
I generally like seeing things that the character knows that aren't immediately made clear to the reader. I find it's a great way to organically introduce character growth even through something that happened before the story takes place. It also helps to develop the protagonist the same as any other character; they're not necessarily special just for being the viewpiece.

Basically, I like when a story doesn't have the protagonist as a sounding board for the events of the story to play off of. There should ideally be some back and forth; the story isn't all about the protagonist, and the protagonist is there for more than just delivering the story.
~~~~~~
Hi! I see what you mean. A protagonist should be more than a camera, right? I agree too. I like your comment about the sounding board aspect; in my rewrites, I'm definitely going to make sure my closest secondary characters are properly fleshed out too. Thanks for the reminder!
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nerupuff wrote:
Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:12 pm
There's definitely a lot of types of VN protagonists out there, but for me, the good ones are those that have a strong personality that have gameplay choices that reflect how they would react, true to their character. When they narrate the scenes in the VN, they manage to inject their own view of what's happening. They have an inkling of what's going on, but they still look for whatever can help them understand and explain things to the player without seemingly breaking the fourth wall (a trope that I'm not too huge a fan of, unless the VN genre matches it, or if it's cleverly utilized).

Of course, there are some protagonists out there meant to be for self-insert purposes. I don't have a problem with that either, but I usually lean towards story-heavy games, which is why I have my own personal preference when it comes to main characters/narrators.
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Hello! Yes, I understand what you mean by their choices coinciding with their personalities, especially dialogue responses. I feel like I don't see enough of that! I'm glad I'm not alone in my dislike for gaudy fourth wall breaks.

Personally, I dislike projection as a whole, it just feels awkward to me. So it's natural to me as well to prefer story-driven protags too. Thanks for sharing your preferences!
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Katy133 wrote:
Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:59 pm
For visual novels, I tend to prefer protagonists that have pre-written personalities, instead of being blank slates or characters whose whole/core personality you shape. Visual novels are story-heavy, so it's important for the protagonist to have a clear personality so that they can affect the story, as well as (sometimes) go through a character arc. They need a starting point to go through an arc.

And on a more personal note, I prefer protagonists that can make me laugh. If they can get me to laugh through their wit, their dry observations, their dialogue, and narration, that will make me want to follow their story.
~~~~~~
Hi there! Yes! I feel like once you come away from a, let's say, 'choose your own adventure' type game, you should be able to give a universal description and judgement of the characters. I know this isn't a VN, but I think Until Dawn has that problem. The choices you can make between characters are so varied and extreme that at the end of the day, their true personalities can only really be attributed to their brief 'stereotypical' descriptions in the beginning of the game. Some people love Ashley, others hate her, all due to the differing choices you can pick for and against her. Anyway, I think that it's a good idea to start your game with a solid outline of your protagonist. I particularly think it is more interesting to see what secondary characters can do to influence a protagonist's arc!

And yes, that seems like the golden quality. My favourite humour always comes through two characters interacting/bickering, not only do you get some humour, but you also walk away with more development and characterisation. Double win! I like your specification of wit and 'dry observations'. If a writer is purposefully trying to be funny and Relatable™, it really sours my experience, and I tend to look for the X button :lol:
~~~~~~
Thank you everyone for your replies! They were very interesting to read, and I feel more confident with what I need to keep in mind. Nevertheless, I hope to keep this discussion going! And sorry for the long reply, I didn't want to leave anyone out!

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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#7 Post by jdhthegr8 » Fri Mar 01, 2019 6:35 pm

One thing I want to do well is having a character who is established as having done something bad (not "you're a complete monster" bad but more of "wow, that guy's an ass") while still giving them an opportunity at redeeming themselves. Even if they don't do that however, I want the player to still find some value at being in their shoes and in making decisions as though they ARE that character.

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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#8 Post by Mammon » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:45 am

A protagonist can be the blank slate with amnesia, especially if the world and scenario have to be explained to the reader and need to be explored with a sense of wonder by someone who should already know of these things. But a lot of stories take it too far or too literal, or add the blank slate where there shouldn't be one. A more assertive or personalised character, especially one that has a reason to be in the group and the spotlight, works a lot better most of the time. But to talk about protagonists of all tales is a hard topic, due to its vastness and there being few wrong answers for it.

The narrator, assuming it's not an all-knowing detached one, should be someone who's either invested and biased or just interesting of themselves. If the protagonist is the narrator, the protagonist should be the most interesting and varied person of that cast. The narrator and protagonist should be the Wolf of Wall street who are the centre of the story and its hype, not some blank slate who merely comment upon it without opinion or an opinion that others have given them. Even if the protagonist isn't the most interesting character around or if there's someone else telling them, the narrator should have some investment and unreliable narrator to the tale. Else the omniscient narrator used as sparsely or properly as possible is just a better alternative in most cases.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#9 Post by JayleeJames » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:13 pm

For me, I like for the protagonist to make me laugh. It doesn't matter what traits they are given, but I want to laugh along with them and enjoy being in their head, so to speak. So you can have a naive and innocent protagonist, but maybe she panics anxiously about things, or blurts out dumb lines to impress her crush (I'm imagining Jupiter Ascending - "I love dogs! I've always loved dogs!" haha).

I think the only protagonists I genuinely can't stand are ones who are extremely selfish and treat the people around them badly. I'm thinking of one I played years ago about a spoiled rich girl, and one of the date options was one of her servants... And I absolutely hated her because of the way she treated him. I get that's a trope that some people find appealing, but I don't want to spend time playing as someone who is horrible. And it's hard to be invested in the love story when you kind of think the guy could do better... ;P

There was actually an rpgmaker game I played once called Whisper of a Rose... Almost all of the negative reviews were about how the protagonist treated the other characters in the game. She mocked them, took out her frustrations on them, etc. The game was otherwise fun, but it was interesting to me to see how that kind of personality could cause so many people to "thumbs down" the game in the steam reviews. So while the bland, likable-type character can be annoying, make sure your character isn't a bully or comes across as not appreciating their friends.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#10 Post by Evangeline Ingram » Fri Mar 15, 2019 8:19 pm

I'm going to take a step back and answer the more general question implied here, that being "what makes a good protagonist?", rather than "what do you, personally, like?"

Various people have touched on aspects of it, but here's my attempt to condense it down:

- Protagonists should have character. They are half of the conflict that drives the plot, the other half being the antagonist. In order for them to have a strong conflict, they need to have something to protect. That means they need to have something valuable to them, which means they have a want, which means they have a motivation, and oh no now I've got an entire personality somehow.

- Protagonists should be relatable. This is different from them being good, nice or similar to your reader.

- Protagonists shouldn't be needlessly coy. Don't hide the fact that the MC is a vampire from the person who is playing them unless you have a damn good narrative reason.

- Protagonists should learn something. This one is getting into "what are stories even about?" territory, but - the reason why the beginning of a story is a different place from the end is because something's changed about the protagonist. If you can't identify that thing, your story is going to fall flat for lack of a sense of forwards momentum.

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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#11 Post by Chiaseed » Fri Apr 12, 2019 7:11 am

I think protagonist with personalities that people can somewhat sympathize with (no it doesn't have to be a dark and so on back story). It's more like a more normal character that players can feel as their own. So it is according to your target market really.

However, personally, I think that a character that is well developed and have their own personality is also good. The character seemed more human and not just characters, so much that players would suddenly remember that they are just game characters.

So the more human your protagonist is, the better.

This includes if your character is not a human being. He or she is not human, but people can sympathize because their character is human like.

This is my opinion.

Edit : Making character building is also important. The protagonist is not human like at all in the beginning, but slowly become more human.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#12 Post by Impulse » Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:16 am

If there's anything I hate about a protagonist it's when they're passive (the story happens to them instead of they actively advancing the story through their actions). I also don't like dumb, airhead protagonists (or characters in general) since their actions rarely make sense or feel realistic. Another thing I dislike is when characters are overly innocent or naive. You really expect me to believe a 25 year old woman has no idea what sex is? Or that they see no problem in letting a man they just met sleep over in their bed... in their underwear... after he said he wants to "keep her company"? Like, come on!

In regards to what I like, I really enjoy protagonists that are morally gray with some juicy internal conflict boiling up. I also like independent people who aren't afraid of speaking up or doing what they think is right (notice I said what they think is right, not necessarily what is right). The protagonist should also have some likeable traits. If they're an asshole, at least make them a somewhat likeable asshole. If there are some potential love interests, those relationships should make sense and be realistic. A super hot model and a billionare with his own company won't fight over the bland girl who never leaves her house. I'm sorry, but that's just not how the world works.
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#13 Post by Elsa Kisiel » Sun Sep 08, 2019 9:01 am

I like main character in visual novel to be like a main character in a novel. I don't want a bland personality so I can "project myself". I want a "real" main character, well-written, with their past, their personality, theirs goals, ...

So, now is the question... What do I like in a novel protagonist?

-I want a fair lot of internal conflict. I can appreciate a character that is naive or dumb, if from time to time, that cause them to struggle with the fact they want to believe in everyone, and the fact reality isn't that nice. I can appreciate a character who is evil if they reflect on theirs actions. And so on.
-I want them to learn. Characters that don't learn from theirs experiences are really frustrating. I want to see them evolving with the story.
-I want them to have interesting relationship with others characters. Relation ship that can involve moral struggle, and interesting choices.
-I want them to be "active" in the story. Not to just suffer the story and react to it. (even if I like characters that are more on the "observation" side, they still should take action from time to time.)
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Re: What do you like in a VN protagonist?

#14 Post by Desertopa » Sun Sep 08, 2019 9:33 am

Impulse wrote:
Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:16 am
If there's anything I hate about a protagonist it's when they're passive (the story happens to them instead of they actively advancing the story through their actions). I also don't like dumb, airhead protagonists (or characters in general) since their actions rarely make sense or feel realistic. Another thing I dislike is when characters are overly innocent or naive. You really expect me to believe a 25 year old woman has no idea what sex is? Or that they see no problem in letting a man they just met sleep over in their bed... in their underwear... after he said he wants to "keep her company"? Like, come on!

In regards to what I like, I really enjoy protagonists that are morally gray with some juicy internal conflict boiling up. I also like independent people who aren't afraid of speaking up or doing what they think is right (notice I said what they think is right, not necessarily what is right). The protagonist should also have some likeable traits. If they're an asshole, at least make them a somewhat likeable asshole. If there are some potential love interests, those relationships should make sense and be realistic. A super hot model and a billionare with his own company won't fight over the bland girl who never leaves her house. I'm sorry, but that's just not how the world works.
This seems to be one of the most commonly used conventions in romance games, both targeted at male and female audiences, and I hate it. It appears to be intended to lowest-common-denominator audiences who want to be able to insert themselves into a story and see the protagonist succeeding romantically without displaying any qualities they don't identify with, but I feel that this makes it pretty much impossible, not just to write realistic relationships, but to write interesting relationships. You can't write a compelling relationship between a developed character and a cardboard cutout.

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