Now that the crew is back and kicking, it's time I returned with another editorial for you guys as well.
To start things off, I'm going to assume that a lot of you know what I'm talking about when I say the words "Mystic Messenger."
Yup. This game is actually what inspired our topic of the evening. I think that it's one of the best examples of a visual novel featuring a "bland" MC in recent memory.
As much as I love learning about and trying to connect with the character I'm playing as, I nevertheless feel that there can be an advantage to having a sort of blank slate as your lead every once in a while. I shall explain.
The idea of having control over an action in a story is a big thing for players; sometimes it does make sense to have less control, yet other times it's admittedly frustrating. There are instances where your character will do the opposite of the choice you thought you made, or they will act in a way that's totally unreflective of how you personally would've handled the situation. The VNs that use these devices for conflict are usually the ones with less gameplay/choices.
Once we cut down on - or eliminate entirely - the MC's dialogue, we're able to make more choices that are more likely to be in line with things we'd probably say or reply with, which is something that I think Mystic Messenger does really well. We're able to play more as ourselves, and less like the MC. It gives a chance for the characters we interact with to be fleshed out more, and for us to learn so much more about them. We're better able to get inside their heads, and maybe even find ourselves in their shoes. They feel a lot more real to us.
That's the other thing about many VNs with fully-developed MCs. I often find that the development of other characters kind of suffers in favour of excessive internal dialogue. Though at the same time, I acknowledge that it really depends on the goal for the VN. Mystic Messenger's system definitely wouldn't work for Lucid9. Regardless, Lucid9 manages to keep Yama's inner thoughts concise so as to allow for that nice balance between introspection and interaction (thanks to Dia's direction and our writers' clever wordplay *wink*)
I actually read a post-apocalyptic VN called Aloners recently (maybe some of you know about it), and the way it handles characterization is pretty cool. You essentially develop your character's personality and attitude towards things through decisions you make, even though you character has her own thought process from the very beginning. As the story goes on, you learn more about her backstory and what's become of the situation she's currently in. You give her a voice. This is wonderfully balanced with the development and "dimensionalization" (as I'll call it) of your companion, with whom you choose what sort of relationship you'll have. This tells me that maybe there's a way to combine player insertion and the VN's world after all; this is a particular technique that I'd like to see used again in VNs.
That being said, it may - understandably - depend on how many characters you're dealing with, because it really boils down to focus. At this point, blank slates seem to be most effective in stories that don't involve established backstories and motives prior to the actual objective of the VN, so that the player can literally be that person and direct their attention to making more meaningful connections with characters - as themselves.
I could be wrong, though. Is there a VN you've read that you believe does something innovative with the "bland" MC?