I wanted to write something real quick about Transistor because its 5 year anniversary was on May 20th. I wanted to publish something the day of the anniversary, but I got overwhelmed with my emotion for the game and pushed it off. Is it weird that as I write this I am tearing up? Transistor is a masterpiece.
When I saw the trailer, I was hooked. The music? Beautiful. The voice acting? Stellar. The main character, Red? Compelling. I am not lying when I say I rewatched that trailer over and over. The game developer, Supergiant, had already made a successful game in Bastion a few years prior. But here they were, three years later, making something that still had that Supergiant feel, while also seeming incredibly fresh and new. Where Bastion featured a young boy, Transistor starred a young woman. Bastion has real-time action; Transistor is turn-based.
And clearly there are other differences and similarities among the two, being from the same company, but what makes Transistor so special to me is Red. She is a popular singer in the city of Cloudbank. Her voice is an asset, and one that is targeted by a group known as the Camerata. Red is attacked by the group and nearly assassinated. She escapes her demise, but discovers that her voice is trapped inside the sword that almost killed her—the transistor. Though it missed Red, the transistor killed a man, stealing his voice and consciousness. Red takes the sword as her companion as she leaves the city and tries to take down the Camerata.
Red, throughout the game, is a silent protagonist, but her voice is so, so big. All she can do is hum, and yet her humming weighs a ton. It’s cliché, but it’s true: Her actions carry the weight of her words, of her music. Even with the sword, the slain man, as the narrator, Red controls the story. Red is the protagonist, and even that doesn’t seem heavy enough of a word. Red is the leader. Red speaks, even when she does not speak.
Link is a silent protagonist, for example. He throws out a few grunts, and few screams and shouts, but those sounds feel paper thin. He’s shouting because he’s hurt, because he needs that vocal push to let out his sword, but something doesn’t feel as necessary.
Samus, like Link, is mostly silent. A few titles have allowed them to speak out, but most of the games feature them as quiet, save for some grunts and groans. Samus is a silent protagonist in the Metroid Prime series, except when she is hurt. The many times I accidentally jumped into lava or acidic water, Samus would scream. It sounded like she was gritting her teeth, trying so hard to not let the pain get to her. Those screams hurt me so much, I tried my hardest to never hear them again.
I’m thinking, too, about those moments in Metroid Prime where the light would flash and suddenly we could see Samus’ face, her round, blue eyes. Even that had sound. Even that told a story. Link overuses his voice; Samus and Red savor it.
I can’t ignore the fact that the two examples I value the most are of female protagonists. Maybe I feel the weight of Samus and Red’s voices because I am a woman, and so I hear them in me. But I felt honored to help Red in her journey to get her voice, and to stop the Camerata. I bought the game the day before its release, played it, played the final boss multiple times because I didn’t want to say goodbye to the game, to Red. I didn’t know when I would find another woman like her in a game. Even in 2014, female protagonists were a rarity, and I didn’t want to give Red up.
But I’ve realized, by writing this, that I have never said goodbye to Red or Transistor, because her voice is still sitting in my throat, and resting in my heart. It’s a game I can’t recommend enough, and one I will never forget. Thank you Red, and Happy Anniversary, Transistor.