Golden Sun: Dark Dawn follows a tradition that has been a part of the Golden Sun series from the beginning and part of countless other RPGs as well: the primary hero never speaks.
While this isn’t always a problem, in Dark Dawn the developers didn’t handle it well. Matthew is put on the spot multiple times and his companions must explain his silence. Matthew’s character development is crippled by his silence, and this is poorly hidden by an arbitrary mood selected by the player.
Tret: “You. You are Isaac’s son. What is your name?”
Tret: “What was that? You’ll have to speak up. I didn’t catch your name.”
Karis: “He’s kind of quiet. His name is Matthew.”
Quotes like the one above shouldn’t happen. It is an avoidable situation that forces a different character to talk for the hero rather than letting the hero speak for himself. Dark Dawn already suffers from poor character development without this problem. Instead, in the meeting with Tret, Matthew should not only have introduced himself, but also explained at least part of the situation.
While Dark Dawn’s character development is lacking, the game does provide basic identities for the characters. Matthew is a “man of few words,” the son of a hero, and determined to complete the quest he is on no matter what happens. I wish there was more, but any other emotion Matthew may have shown while I played through the game will be completely different when someone else plays because of the player controlled emoticons.
During several conversations, you are given the option of deciding how Matthew feels about the situation. The problem isn’t that the system is in place, but that the system doesn’t do anything. Matthew can be angry at Tyrell for using the Soarwing at the beginning of the game or Matthew can be glad that Tyrell is using the Soarwing. You choice has no lasting effect on the game whatsoever. The characters will treat you the same in future situations and the events will play out the same way. The only effect your choice has at all is slightly changing the next comment from a different character (who will either agree or disagree with your choice and then move the story in the same direction it was going before).
Developers often choose to use silent protagonists as a way to create a link between the player and the character they are controlling. The Legend of Zelda took this a step further and gave the name “Link” to the protagonist to symbolize the link between the player and the game. Unfortunately, the link between Matthew and the player is, at best, broken and hurts the game more than it helps.
The emoticons should have had a more profound impact on the game’s conversations. A leader who is always sad will interact differently with his team than a hero who is always happy or angry. Instead, the opinion you select is mostly ignored. The developers have already selected a personality for Matthew, but the game fails to display it prominently.
In future Golden Sun titles, I believe it would be better for the main protagonist to not be silent. Far too much explaining and decision-making is left up to less important characters when the leader of the team should be leading. The game’s narrative and character development – particularly that of the main protagonist – will be better for it.