So what's a hero to do? Fighting the Evil Overlord alone is usually not an option (only losers do that), and neither is seeking out other, less preoccupied allies. That leaves The Hero with the job of rescuing his allies from their difficulties before he can recruit them. Written well, this is a great way to pull off a Debut Queue, introducing the cast while establishing the Hero's magnet credentials. Written badly, you might find yourself wondering why the One Man Party hero spends so much time and energy trying to get the help of people who cannot or will not help themselves.
This trope has long been a staple of the Role-Playing Game and Action Platformer genres, as well as games in other genres where team-based gameplay is mixed with a narrative. For the action platformers in particular, it's a bit of a tradition that you'll have to complete some challenge with the characters you have to acquire new characters.
See also Sealed Cast in a Multipack, which has an ambiguous relationship to this trope, and Avengers Assemble, its supertrope. Contrast Defeat Means Friendship and Defeat Means Playable, which are roughly the opposite of this trope (although there are some occasions where they overlap).
--Editors, take heed: there's a lot of these, so try to keep them alphabetical.
Many BioWare games use this method of party-gathering.
Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions used this trope often, typically by having you stumble onto a potential party member when they were in the middle of a fight.
Both Knights of the Old Republic games require you to get most of your party members out of some kind of jam before they'll join you. Often, you'll need to help them in order to accomplish some goal of your own.
The Mass Effect games generally have a few characters you can recruit like this, following the KOTOR model of "helping them to help yourself", plus a few party members who will join you for no cost.
Dragon Age has about half the party members recruited this way. Of the group, one needs to be gotten out of prison, another has to be unfrozen, a third is missing his wife, and a fourth is stuck in a tower full of possessed mages and won't leave until it's been reclaimed. There's also a poisoned war dog who needs an antidote.
Three of the party members for the expansion pack Awakening are also rescued. Oghren (the same one with the missing wife, above) is encountered while fighting too many darkspawn to handle alone, Anders the apostate mage is rescued first from darkspawn and then from templars (it's his seventh escape from the Circle of Magi, and it's implied that they're likely to execute him this time), Nathaniel is busted out of prison (where he was sent for trying to assassinate your Player Character), and Sigrun of the Legion of the Dead is rescued from a Fate Worse than Death at the hands of the darkspawn (or disgrace and execution as a deserter by her comrades). Dragon Age II only uses this trope with Aveline, who is rescued from darkspawn in the prologue; the other party members get into (abundant) trouble only after you recruit them or in Back Story.
Arcanum had a few characters you'd recruit like this. Most would join if you were sufficiently persuasive, but the more powerful and hard-to-find guys demanded you do a sidequest first.
Some characters in Baldur's Gate usually would join with you at the outset, with the expectation that you would help them with a sidequest of their own; if you refused to do the sidequest, they would eventually leave you. Others, like Viconia or Mazzy, needed a more direct and immediate kind of rescue.
Planescape: Torment used this a lot. On a few ironic occasions, you'd actually need to rescue your party members from a problem that you, personally, had caused in a previous incarnation.
Fallout2 had a healthy number of recruits gathered in this way. Vic needed to be saved from raiders, Sulik needed to have his debts paid off, and Goris had to be broken out of an Enclave prison.
John Cooper's crew in Desperados is gathered in this manner. Sam's on the run from an angry landowner, Doc is about to be hanged, Kate fell afoul of some poker players who believe she cheated, and Sanchez needs to be broken out of prison. Only Mia joins the group without being done a favor first, and she's got the excuse of having nowhere else to go.
Two of your companions in Diablo III are recruited this way:
You rescue Kormac, the Templar, from a demon cultist magical torture ritual and help him get his gear back from said cultists. You then have to help him take down a rogue Templar turned necromancer.
When you come across Lyndon, the Scoundrel, he's in a bit of a fix -- the Thieves' Guild of some major city wants a relic that his friend has, and has sent a group of assassins to kill her and take it, and you have to help him fight them off.
Karyna, the lady you rescue from the Spider Queen, was also planned to be a companion (before her role as a "mystical" companion was taken by Eirena the Enchantress in Act II).
Starting with the big DK alone, you had to rescue the other apes one by one from K. Rool's cages in Donkey Kong 64.
Also a standard in Fire Emblem. When you're not recruiting characters straight off the battlefield, you're rescuing them from enemy forces, which prompts them to join your roster.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards used this as well. The other characters weren't "party members" as such, but they'd start helping you through levels after you'd gotten them free of the Dark Matter's influence.
Mini Ninjas used this; part of the game's backstory is that the Ninja Master sent out each of his more experienced ninjas one by one to defeat the Evil Samurai Lord, until only two were left. With those two, you have to rescue the others on the way to finish their job.
Pretty much everyone you recruit into your group in Persona4 has to be rescued from the TV world and their Shadow taken down so that they can gain a Persona to join you in the hunt for the killer who's been throwing people into the TV world.
In Puzzle Quest Challenge Of The Warlords, you get half of your party members this way: You rescue Seraphne from an Arranged Marriage, Flicker from minotaur slavers and Patch from assassins. Winter joins you after you help clear his territory of Lord Bane's minions. In the Plague Lords expansion (or the iPhone version, you rescue Galnoth from the Dark Elves. You also first meet Darkhunter when you help him fight off an orc, though he won't join you until after you help him with his current manhunt.
In Secret of Mana, both of your allies are recruited this way. The princess joins you after you save her from being cooked alive in a goblin's giant pot, and the other member joins you after you save her from getting the snot beaten out of her by someone she had just swindled.
Most of the potential followers in Skyrim will follow you after you have completed a sidequest for them (although not all sidequests involve getting them out of a tight spot).
In Sonny, Sonny befriends Veradux as a new travelling companion when he helps the latter defend himself against the soldiers he stole some experimental armor from.
In Starcraft II, Ariel Hanson joins for a few missions after the colony she is on is rescued.
Suikoden II: Ayda is recruited by using one of your Listening Runes on Feather, which triggers an event where the party must help Ayda defend him from a flock of griffons. If you successful, she expresses her thanks and stays behind at the Forest Village, to treat his wounds. Return to your castle and spend the night. Ayda shows up the following day with Feather, in tow, and both join your party.
Suikoden V: After a lengthy quest, involving the people of Lordlake, that involves unravling truth behind the uprising, the theft of the Dawn Rune, and finally a naval battle to destroy the Hate Fortress, all of the Lordlake related characters join your cause and your party.
The same is true for the people of Sable, who are beseiged by an imposter of the Prince, along with a group of bandits, and the Dragon Calvary, who fail to come to Falena's defense due to Dolph taking over the dragon's den and threatening to destroy their eggs. Each involves a story related quests that require the Prince to come to their aid, after which, they side with his army.
This is Captain Luffy's recruitment MO. Pretty much every member of his crew got a Story Arc dedicated to solving some problem of theirs that prevented them from committing fully to Luffy's quest to find the titular One Piece.
Ronin Warriors started with all five heroes being sealed away. Mia and Yulie rescued Ryo in the second episode, and then Ryo proceeded to rescue the other four Ronins.
In Eraser, Kruger saves people from the mob by faking their deaths and then setting them up in the Witness Protection program, telling them that they'll owe him a favor later. During the film, he pulls in those favors, gathering a team.
This is how Leia is recruited in the first Star Wars movie. She went from Damsel in Distress to Badass Damsel as soon as they got her out of the cell and continued to be an active member of the Rebel Alliance and Luke's team of friends.
Technically also how Anakin was recruited in the prequel triology, a whole ac was devoted to Obiwan and Qui Gon saving him from Watto's ownership, including a long side quest about how Anakin was the equivalent of a racecar driver, even though he was a slave.
Angel: Fred joins the Angel Investigations crew after Angel rescues her from the alternate dimension of Pylea.
In a late episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Brisco & Bowler recruit two of their Magnificent Seven Samurai plotmates in this fashion: they promise Pete Hutter he'll be given a full presidential pardon for all crimes oustanding (he's in prison sharing a cell with a Scary Black Man who forces him to press his pants), and they pick up Whip Morgan as he's in the middle of being lynched by a sheriff for dating (or more) the sheriff's daughter.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. Dorothy rescues the Scarecrow from hanging in a field, oils the Tin Woodsman to rescue him from rust, and talks the Cowardly Lion out of his insecurities. All of them join her on her journey to the Emerald City.
This is how Illyria, the titular queen of the Secret of the Unicorn Queen series assembles her band of outlaws
In one of the Dungeons & Dragons novels featuring the iconic characters, Regdar and Jozan end up recruiting Lidda when Jozan decides to save her from being hung by a lynch mob. Then later it's inverted when Naull decides to join them after happening to be in the right place at the right time to save them from being killed by giant spiders.
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