Created By: Stratadrake on September 2, 2011 Last Edited By: Koveras on November 2, 2012
Troped

Story Branching

The player can take several mutually exclusive paths through a given section of a Video Game.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
While Adventure and Role Playing Games are frequently built on plotlines that progress in only one scripted direction, sometimes a video game developer offers the player a choice about which direction a given segment may proceed, by offering multiple paths that run paralell to each other.

Story Branching occurs when the players' choices determine which levels, objectives, and other choices they will face later in the game and which will be Lost Forever (at least, in the current playthrough). This makes them distinct from optional Side Quests, which do not so much drive the central plot forwards as detract you sideways (though particularly long side-quests can feature story branching of their own); and from Plot Coupons, which you can often collect in any order--but the overall plot only progresses once you have all of them. Also to distinguish is "cosmetic branching", wherein your choices only affect superficial things (like clothes or NPC reactions) while the game railroads you into essentially the same level, objective, and "choice" progression.

Subtropes include Multiple Endings (where plot branches occur at the finale, leading to different denouments) and Multiple Game Openings (where the story starts along a branch). Compare and contrast Choose Your Own Adventure, the manner in which branching plotlines appear in other media.

Examples:

Adventure Games
  • Maniac Mansion lets you choose two of six player characters to accompany mandatory player character Dave Miller (canonically, Bernard Bernoulli was one of the two, but this does not necessarily have to be the case). Each has a special skill that the others do not; this limits your options for reaching and taking care of the Big Bad accordingly, with five distinct endings possible based solely on who went into the mansion.
  • In LucasArts's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, early on the player must choose one of three paths: The "Team" path has Sophia Hapgood join Indy as backup, the "Wits" path has a plethora of complex puzzles, and the "Fists" path has lots of action sequences and fistfighting. Each path has a different plot, including different Cut Scenes and locations to visit.
  • Heart of China by Dynamix. At intervals throughout the game there are plot branches, where the action you take determines which path you follow. You can take a different action and follow a different path the next time you play the game.

First-Person Shooters
  • Marathon was planned to have this based on how many civilians (Bobs) you managed to save, but the idea was dropped (probably because the Bobs are damn hard to keep alive) and the different ending terminal messages praising or criticizing you based on your performance are what's left of the idea. The game engine still had the capability to do it, though, a feature several Game Mods took advantage of, most notably Rubicon.

Flight Sim
  • Two Ace Combat games included major story branching: Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere and Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception. However, only the former had Multiple Endings, while in the latter, all branches converged for the final mission. Minor branching was present in other games, as well, but it usually availed to one or two mission-long branches, which converged back again into the linear storyline.
    • Ace Combat 5 branches off at two different times before converging back into the main story. Your wingman Chopper asks you a question in the middle of a mission and your Yes/No answer determines the choice. The questions he asks has nothing to do with anything relevant to the missions.
  • Escape Velocity: Nova had six major and two minor storylines. Some of these storylines have multiple paths and/or endings and at certain points it's possible quit one storyline and start another.

Platform Games
  • Subverted in Epic Mickey, where the player's Exposition Fairy explicitly hints that they may solve puzzles and defeat Bosses in multiple ways (typically with either Paint or Thinner) and the player must pick a course of action; this affects NP Cs' opinions of Mickey throughout the adventure, but it has zero effect on the adventure itself, nor its ending (though ending cutscenes do reflect the actual choices made).

Real Time Strategy
  • StarCraft:
    • Brood War's Terran campaign branches briefly during the invasion of Korhal based on whether in the previous mission you destroyed Mengsk's missile silos or his physics labs. This has the effect of accordingly denying Mengsk use of either nukes or battlecruisers in the next mission, though he'll use the remaining option in an Alpha Strike against your base.
    • The two Enslavers bonus campaigns fork based on choices made during the second mission.
  • StarCraft II allows you to choose to either free the Spectres from The Alcatraz at the end of Tosh's mission line, or side with the Dominion and prevent a jailbreak. This results in gaining either Spectres or Ghosts as playable units.

RPG -- Eastern
  • In Chrono Cross, there are three ways to sneak into Viper Manor early in the game, depending on which character the player asks for assistance. Each route progresses through a different area and gives the player a different party member in the process. Afterwards, the decision of whether to save Kid affects another set of characters added to the player's party. Another branch in Chrono Cross happens when you must choose whether to save Kid at the cost of destroying an ecosystem. Again, the choice you make will determine the characters at your disposal.
  • Subverted in the second chapter of Final Fantasy X-2, the player is required to hand an important MacGuffin over to one of two rival factions before the plot continues. While this has only a cosmetic effect on the main plot, it does affect the availability of certain (faction-specific) sidequests available later.
  • Persona games all have some degree of Story Branching, for example, the SEBEC route in Persona, and the Female Protagonist Route in P3P.
  • Not just Persona but a number of Shin Megami Tensei games have branching paths where you choose between Law, Chaos, or Neutral allegiance.
  • Radiata Stories splits into two very different stories depending on a choice made mid game.

RPG -- Strategy
  • Tactics Ogre, Ogre Battle, and Tactics Ogre Advance all have dranching stories that terminate a single ending, though Ogre Battle gave you an additional ending based on your alignment and actions.
    • When Tactics Ogre was remade for the PSP, the "Wheel Of Fate" was added, allowing the player to see the shape of the story so far, and upon completing the game, allows them to go back and remake key decisions to see how it would have effected the story.

RPG -- Western
  • The Witcher has a major story branching in chapter 5, depending on which faction (if any) Geralt sides with. The branches only converge again towards the end of the Epilogue.
  • The Witcher 2 also has a major choice, but it is made fairly early in the game. Based on your choice there, the storyline develops in one of two rather different ways which only come together again in the final chapter.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 offers you a choice when you get to Neverwinter. You can either side with the Watch or with the Shadow Thieves. Either choice eventually gets you into the nobles' section of the city to advance the plot, and gives you different defense options during your murder trial in Act II.
  • In the original Video Game/Gothic, you could decide which camp to join after starting the game, opening up different quest lines which eventually converged back into a single plot.

Shoot 'Em Ups
  • After completing the game once in Star Fox Command and receiving a relatively mundane ending, the game unlocks alternate story paths the player may select after completing each mission - these progress through different areas (with different party members), branching and interleaving to yield a total of nine distinct Multiple Endings.
  • Shmup G-Darius was all about branching levels that took you to one of several Multiple Endings. The opportunity to choose a level occurs in the middle of the level that you are currently playing.
  • In Contra: The Hard Corps, at the end of the first stage you have the choice of either going after Deadeye Joe or saving the alien cell. At this point, the only impact it has on the game is the second stage (which depends on the choice you make) and whether or not Deadeye Joe appears at the end of the fourth stage. Afterwards, you have the choice of surrendering or fighting to the end. This choice, along with the choice at the beginning of the game, determines how the plot unfolds for the rest of the game. Also, there's a secret story path that doesn't regard the first decision, and it is hidden in the third stage.

Survival Horror
  • Resident Evil Outbreak had several scenarios where the plotlines would branch and you could take a different path of escape.

Visual Novel
  • Visual Novels in general thrive on this kind of thing. One could say that story branching is the only kind of gameplay there is to them.

Will go under Videogame Tropes and Visual Novel Tropes.
Community Feedback Replies: 31
  • September 2, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    • Tactics Ogre, Ogre Battle, and Tactics Ogre Advance all have Branching Plotline stories that terminate a single ending, though Ogre Battle gave you an additional ending based on your alignment and actions.
      • When Tactics Ogre was remade for the PSP, the "Wheel Of Fate" was added, allowing the player to see the shape of the story so far, and upon completing the game, allows them to go back and remake key decisions to see how it would have effected the story.
    • Persona games all have some degree of Branching Plotline, for example, the SEBEC route in Persona, and the Female Protagonist Route in P3P.
  • December 9, 2011
    BearyScary
    Would the Dead Rising games be an example, since they can branch way earlier than at the games' final stages and get you different scenes and endings?

    I'm not sure, but the Guilty Gear games may be an example too due to the nature of their story modes; different win conditions lead to multiple branches in the story, not just at the ending.

    Not just Persona but a number of Shin Megami Tensei games have branching paths where you choose between Law, Chaos, or Neutral allegiance.

    • Resident Evil Outbreak had several scenarios where the plotlines would branch and you could take a different path of escape.

    • Shmup G-Darius was all about branching levels that took you to one of several Multiple Endings. The opportunity to choose a level occurs in the middle of the level that you are currently playing.
  • December 9, 2011
    morenohijazo
    Another branch in Chrono Cross happens when you must choose whether to save Kid at the cost of destroying an ecosystem. Again, the choice you make will determine the characters at your disposal.
  • December 9, 2011
    Arivne
    • Heart of China by Dynamix. At intervals throughout the game there are plot branches, where the action you take determines which path you follow. You can take a different action and follow a different path the next time you play the game.
    • Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis by LucasArts. Early on the player must choose which path to follow: Team, Wits or Fists. In the Team path Indy has Sophia Hapgood to back him up, the Wits path has a plethora of complex puzzles, and the Fists path has lots of action sequences and fist fighting. Each path has a different plot, including Cut Scenes and locations to visit.
  • June 9, 2012
    Stratadrake
    YKTTW Bump. This could be ready to launch, and should not be confused with the other YKTTW for multiple game openings.
  • June 9, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    Visual Novels in general thrive on this kind of thing.
  • June 10, 2012
    Shinr
    • Marathon was planned to have this based on how many civilians (Bobs) you managed to save, but the idea was dropped (probably because the Bobs are damn hard to keep alive) and the different ending terminal messages praising or criticizing you based on your performance are what's left of the idea. The game engine still had the capability to do it, though, a feature several Game Mods took advantage of, most notably Rubicon.
  • October 12, 2012
    Koveras
    Multiple Game Openings is another subtrope.

    • The Witcher has a major story branching in chapter 5, depending on which faction (if any) Geralt sides with. The branches only converge again towards the end of the Epilogue.
  • October 14, 2012
    Koveras
    Stratadrake, get your lazy bum back here. An awesome trope idea goes wasted here.

  • October 14, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Not lazy, just distracted. :)
  • October 14, 2012
    surgoshan
    • True Crime Streets Of LA lets you fail at missions, and depending on where you fail, can cause you to arrive at different endings.
  • October 15, 2012
    Stratadrake
    That only counts if winning/failing a mission affects what other missions you get offered in the future. If its only effect is to influence what ending you get, it's Not An Example. (Compare the Epic Mickey example, which is a subversion).
  • October 15, 2012
    StarSword
    • Neverwinter Nights 2 offers you a choice when you get to Neverwinter. You can either side with the Watch or with the Shadow Thieves. Either choice eventually gets you into the nobles' section of the city to advance the plot, and gives you different defense options during your murder trial in Act II.
  • October 15, 2012
    shimaspawn
    • Radiata Stories splits into two very different stories depending on a choice made mid game.
  • October 16, 2012
    Koveras
    @Stratadrake: When troping games, I usually find it easiest to speak of levels. In these terms, this trope is present when the player visits mutually exclusive levels depending on their earlier decisions or how successfully they completed earlier levels.
  • October 16, 2012
    m8e
    • Escape Velocity nova have six mayor and two minor storylines. Some of these storylines have multiple paths and/or endings and at certain points it's possible quit one storyline and start another.
  • October 16, 2012
    lu127
    Stratadrake, you've been an editor for quite some time. Seeing lack of Example Indentation and namespacing in your drafts is a shame. Please fix that before launching.
  • October 17, 2012
    DRCEQ
    • Ace Combat 5 branches off at two different times before converging back into the main story. Your wingman Chopper asks you a question in the middle of a mission and your Yes/No answer determines the choice. The questions he asks has nothing to do with anything relevant to the missions.
  • October 17, 2012
    Stratadrake
    ^^ I have always disagreed with the namespacing system, and I tend to view at Example Indentation in the "more guideline than actual rule" manner.
  • October 17, 2012
    NESBoy
    In Contra: The Hard Corps, at the end of the first stage you have the choice of either going after Deadeye Joe or saving the alien cell. At this point, the only impact it has on the game is the second stage (which depends on the choice you make) and whether or not Deadeye Joe appears at the end of the fourth stage. Afterwards, you have the choice of surrendering or fighting to the end. This choice, along with the choice at the beginning of the game, determines how the plot unfolds for the rest of the game. Also, there's a secret story path that doesn't regard the first decision, and it is hidden in the third stage.
  • October 17, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^ The moderators consider Example Indentation to be an absolute rule. Tropers have been suspended/banned for not doing it correctly. See for example:

    Suspended/banned just for doing Example Indentation incorrectly

    Incorrect Example Indentation was a factor in being suspended/banned

    And that's just the first thirty pages.
  • October 18, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Well, on Example Indentation I do agree that having:

    • Work Name: Example A
      • Example B from same work

    ...is bad style since it looks a lot like "comment-reply" formatting, and main articles aren't venues for discussion.
  • October 18, 2012
    MattStriker
    • The Witcher 2 also has a major choice, but it is made fairly early in the game. Based on your choice there, the storyline develops in one of two rather different ways which only come together again in the final chapter.
  • October 18, 2012
    Fighteer
    Stratadrake, Example Indentation is an absolute rule. It is not a guideline, and you can be banned for violating it. Especially if you do it deliberately.
  • November 1, 2012
    Koveras
    Since Stratadrake is obviously still, quote, distracted, unquote, I took the liberty of expanding the write-up and updating the examples list..
  • November 1, 2012
    Stratadrake
    And the distractions happen to be multiplying this week.
  • November 1, 2012
    StarSword
    Real Time Strategy
    • StarCraft:
      • Brood War's Terran campaign branches briefly during the invasion of Korhal based on whether in the previous mission you destroyed Mengsk's missile silos or his physics labs. This has the effect of accordingly denying Mengsk use of either nukes or battlecruisers in the next mission, though he'll use the remaining option in an Alpha Strike against your base.
      • The two Enslavers bonus campaigns fork based on choices made during the second mission.
    • StarCraft II allows you to choose to either free the Spectres from The Alcatraz at the end of Tosh's mission line, or side with the Dominion and prevent a jailbreak. This results in gaining either Spectres or Ghosts as playable units.
  • November 2, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Maniac Mansion lets you choose two of six player characters to accompany mandatory player character Dave Miller (canonically, Bernard Bernoulli was one of the two, but this does not necessarily have to be the case). Each has a special skill that the others do not; this limits your options for reaching and taking care of the Big Bad accordingly, with five distinct endings possible based solely on who went into the mansion.
  • November 2, 2012
    Sligh_Br
    The multiple-choice prologue to Dragon Age.
  • November 2, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Is covered by a subtrope, Multiple Game Openings.
  • November 2, 2012
    Koveras
    Looks good for launch, gonna do it on Saturday, barring any last-minute objections.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=1kcswfqkh3efv6jre8gw5de4&trope=StoryBranching