Sliding Scale of Gameplay/Story Integration
How well do the gameplay rules get along with the story rules in a video game?
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(permanent link) added: 2012-03-05 05:52:37 sponsor: MrGuy edited by: morenohijazo (last reply: 2013-08-31 16:32:16)

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Intended working title (too long for YKTTW): Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration

Video games (and games in general) are a unique storytelling medium in that they demand active participation by the audience (read: the player) in order to advance the narrative. Historically, however, the massive age gap between traditional, non-interactive storytelling and the rapidly evolving medium interactivity gave rise to a dichotomy between pure gameplay and storytelling in gaming, which can be defined as follows:

  • Gameplay is the type of interaction between the players and the video game where the players input commands to overcome challenges the game throws at them. Historically, most common type of gameplay is combat, but it also includes stealth, Character Customization, etc., etc.
  • Story is the type of interaction between player and video game where the game narrates a story[[note]]Not just the main plot, but also character arcs, themes, and setting exposition.[[/note]] to provoke an emotional reaction in the player. Traditionally, video games narrate via cutscenes and dialogues (even though interactive dialogue overlaps with gameplay).

Another definition would be that the gameplay ultimately revolves around numbers and is governed by mathematical rules, while the story revolves around words and symbols and is governed by the rules of emotional narrative. Either way, it is virtually impossible for a video game not to have any story whatsoever (think Pong level of storylessness) and, even more so, any gameplay (though this depends on whether you count Kinetic Novels as games), and these two aspects are usually integrated at least a little--after all, you can hardly put pony-breeding gameplay against the backdrop of a galaxy-spanning war story.

But here is the catch: Despite the medium's youth, video games have already developed a rather standardized set of general and genre-specific gameplay conventions. While definitely not as old as storytelling conventions, they are not fundamentally different and game designers borrow from them without considering how they fit In-Universe. Indeed, very few players stop to ponder why the Player Character's well-being seems to be divided into exactly one hundred equal chunks but the only one that matters is the last, because it's an established gameplay convention and most developers no longer feel the need to justify it. This becomes even more obvious when the game's gameplay rules are adapted from an external source, such as a Tabletop Game ruleset.

This leads to situations where gameplay rules blatantly contradict the story rules--and such instances are usually easily identifiable and listed on Gameplay and Story Segregation page. But again, very, very few games segregate their gameplay from the story completely: there is usually overlap at least on the contextual or thematic level. Likewise, there are practically no video games where the gameplay and the story are integrated so tightly that they become indistinguishable, simply because the technology for procedurally generated narratives does not yet exist. It is thus more accurate to speak of individual instances of gameplay and story integration/segregation, as a single game can provide examples of both--therefore, "gameplay and story integration" is less of a dichotomy and more of a continuum, wherein games can be sorted depending on whether integration instances outnumber segregation instances or vice versa.

The Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration is then defined as follows:

  • Perfect Integration: The gameplay is the story. This is more of an idealized image to cap the scale on this end than a well-defined category, but nevertheless many Arthouse Games strive to be placed here.
  • Deliberate Integration: Here, the developers take a critical look at both the gameplay and narrative conventions they employ and use one to reinforce the other.[[note]]Ironically, the more formulaic the genre-specific gameplay is, the easier it is to reflect the story events in it.[[/note]] See below for a list of common tricks to get a game up here.
  • Natural Integration: The vast majority of games falls in the bloated middle of the scale, where the gameplay and the story draw from separate convention pools but there is enough conceptual overlap for the player to just ignore small internal inconsistencies.
  • Conspicuous Segregation: Games this far down the scale are featured prominently on the Gameplay and Story Segregation page. Note that even when the discrepancy between the gameplay and the story becomes glaringly obvious this far down, the two still remain integrated at some level.
  • Total Segregation: Where the gameplay has nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

Off this scale lie the aforemention games that lack either the story or the gameplay of any kind, as well as the phenomenon known as "Emergent Storytelling"--the Holy Grail for some developers, wherein the game's generic ruleset facilitates the players inventing and enjoying stories all on their own. Some would argue that this is what the Perfect Integration sector of the scale is all about, but then again, so are non-kinetic Visual Novels.

Things to look out for:

Common tricks for gameplay and story integration include:

  • Translating plot-specific injuries into gameplay terms, such as:
    • A plot injury limiting gameplay options in a unusual way: if the Player Character breaks an arm or two, certain abilities or even actions may be disabled for a few levels; after suffering a (partial) blindness or brain damage, massive Interface Screw can be expected; being suddenly rendered mute may prevent the character from casting spells, initiate dialogue, and play automatic voice snippets (like battle cries and victory quips).
    • Alternatively, injuries sustained during cutscenes/dialogue can simply stick with the character in form of a Hit Point loss or Standard Status Effects that are ordinarily sustained in regular combat. This is usually done immediately before a fight for additional challenge.
  • Tweaking the AI to make characters behave differently in gameplay, not just the story:
    • Individual enemy AI can be tweaked to reflect their personal agendas: e.g. an enemy may concentrate on a party member he considers his Arch-Nemesis and ignore everyone else, or, coversely, never directly attack a particular party member at all.
    • Non-Player Companion AI can be tweaked to reflect their personality quirks, allegiances, and relationships. For instance, a party member may prioritize healing and buffing allies based on their Relationship Values, or spontaneously try to take a bullet for another party member.
  • Using the Game System as canvas, i.e. defining plot elements in terms of the underlying gameplay rules:
    • Accurately reflecting characters' story characterization in their gameplay stats and, conversely, the stats in their story-relevant abilities. While it is trivial that a melee fighter would have a high Strength score, it is much less common for him to use that strength for anything except bashing skulls (e.g. for lifting a fallen tree to free someone trapped under it). Particularly common is the use of the Luck Stat to reflect a character Born Lucky or Unlucky, since the latter tropes can be exploited for a number of subplots or simple Running Gags.
    • Giving individual supporting characters unique perks or special abilities that reflect their Back Story and/or Character Development.
    • Having characters use the same abilities in cutscenes as they would in actual gameplay--better yet, have them only use said abilities to the extent that they have developed them in gameplay terms up to that point.
  • Adding alternate NPC dialogue (or even cutscenes) based on the state of the Player Character that is usually irrelevant to dialogue, such as:
    • Being badly wounded or suffering from certain status effects
    • Approaching a friendly NPC with weapons drawn or an enemy, with weapons sheathed
    • Wearing or not wearing certain pieces of equipment (often body armor), or not wearing anything at all
    • Having high Skill Scores that have no impact on normal dialogue
  • Introducing a Plot Coupon That Does Something, i.e. an item that not only moves the plot along but also comes with interesting additional gameplay mechanics.
  • Having cumulative Stat Meters (e.g. Karma Meter or Sanity Meter) affect both gameplay (e.g. in the abilities that the player can use) and story (e.g. in the endings the player receives).
  • Basing Story Branching not only on explicit decisions but also on how the player solves challenges, e.g. on whether they prefer stealth or combat, weapons or magic, etc.
  • Removing some of the player’s abilities after plot events transpire that should render them useless.
  • Taking an established genre gameplay convention (such as level linearity, Hit Points, Experience Points, Relationship Values, Super Drowning Skills, etc.) and justifying it in-universe, usually with an intent to outright deconstruct it further down the line.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay, often revolving around dangers of handling weapons the way video games usually handle them (i.e. always carrying them in the open, pointing loaded firearms at civilians, etc.).

Instances of Deliberate Integration:

Action Game
  • Asura in Asura's Wrath has several different Super Modes, and a heavily weakened 'armless' mode, all of which are triggered by storyline events. When you're attacked by an enemy immediately after breaking your arms fighting a planet-sized enemy, you have to fight using only kicks and headbuts. In a later, similar situation, you can't counter several normally-counterable attacks, because doing so would require, y'know, ARMS. Conversely, fighting someone who's seriously pissed you off is liable to make Asura break out his Six-Armed form for added asskicking... or even his Berserker Form.
  • Nearly everything the player does in Iji -- from how many enemies she kills to which logbooks she reads -- has at least some influence on how the story unfolds, how dialogues proceed, and even how characters react to Iji's presence. Indeed, the ending of one subplot (which can only be followed by reading a series of seemingly unrelated logbooks) relies entirely on how the player treats a single specific enemy she has no way of knowing is at all significant at that point in the game.

First-Person Shooter
  • The utter linearity of the Half-Life series is a major plot point, representing Gordon's complete lack of control, whether it's because of the G-Man, the Vortigaunts, or the player. Also, Half-Life 2 and its Episodes begin with Gordon not at full health, due to him being injured from a scene in the previous game.
  • Similarly, the original BioShock explored and deconstructed the notion of gameplay linearity throughout its plot. It turned out that you, as the Player Character, have been mind-controlled into a single deterministic path throughout the entire game by the Big Bad.

Platform Game
  • In Super Mario Galaxy 2, during the playable credits, you can't use the Spin because the Baby Luma, who originally gave you that power, has gone home.
  • The first three endings in Demon's Crest add generous amounts of Lampshade Hanging. After finishing the first level, you can either fly to the second... or head right for the Phalanx's castle. In fact, you get there so quickly the final boss hasn't even finished setting up the final Death Course, hasn't figured out how to use his crest, and dies after one round. If you go to the last level after the fourth, the level will actually be ready, and Phalanx is stronger, but he still can't use the crest fully. If you go there after finishing all the levels, he'll finally have figured out how to REALLY use it, going One-Winged Angel at long last.
  • In Psychonauts, Raz's Super Drowning Skills are the result of a curse on his family which is an important part of the game's backstory. Also, if you enter the Mental World of someone with a mental disorder, the gameplay will reflect that disorder in some way, for instance:
    • Boyd has Paranoid Schizophrenia, which causes almost everything in the level to look at you or sneak up on you in some way, which will make some players think that the level is trying to attack them.
    • Edgar suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which is represented by a bull that keeps knocking you back to the start of the level, causing you to repeat parts of the world over and over again.
    • Gloria has Bipolar Disorder, and you can change the mood lighting in the world to literally swing the mood of the stage between comedy and tragedy.
    • The level that takes place within Raz's own head is also insanely difficult. The fact that it's nigh-impossible to solve your own mental problems without outside help is the entire reason Psychonauts exist.
  • In Mega Man 7, when you first encounter Bass, you have to fight him and depending on how much damage you give/take, his opinion towards you and dialogue will change.
  • In Mega Man X5:
    • When X touches the floating Sigma Virus found in the levels, he'll get damaged periodically. In story, X has the "Suffering Circuit" in his system which (along with Dr. Light's 30 years of testing) will prevent him from doing unethical things and keep his mind on track. The Sigma Virus will make any of the infected slowly go insane and homicidal (as with the bosses). X, with the circuit, will resist those urges, and the programming overload results in his body slowly damaging itself. Apparently the Reploids, based on X, all have flawed Suffering Circuits courtesy of Dr. Cain's incomplete understanding of X's design.
    • Meanwhile, Zero will instead get stronger and eventually invincible after absorbing enough of the virus. In story, the Sigma Virus is a derivative of the Maverick Virus found alongside Zero's hibernation capsule, and said virus (according to a flashback in Mega Man X4 and later on in the fifth game's bad ending) apparently is a key to a programming in Zero's mind which designates his purpose: the total destruction of society. There's also some hints in the game that the Maverick Virus may or may not contain the consciousness of Zero's creator, Dr. Wily.

RPG -- Eastern
  • In Tales of Vesperia, character AI also prioritizes healing based on personality and character relationships. Flynn will spam healing on Yuri. And the Death Seeker Lovable Sex Maniac Raven prefers to heal women over a dog over men over himself. The game also gives a explanation for the world's Ghibli Hills and all their Random Encounters: all the towns in the world are shielded underneath giant energy shields that keep monsters out, and only highly trained professionals (like the party members) are allowed outside.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Kratos loves to spam healing and support spells on Lloyd the most--and this isn't an issue of him being the tank; even if Colette is in melee range, he'll use it on Lloyd first. Because it's actually an act of a father-looking out for his son. Another example (though only tangentially related to gameplay) would be when Colette loses her voice for plot reasons, she stops Calling Her Attacks in battle and the victory quotes for her aren't shown.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Rude of the Turks confesses to his partner (and the player, and the party hiding nearby) that he has a crush on Tifa, one of the heroes. In fights against the Turks, Rude will never attack Tifa, and if she is the only one standing, he'll give up and walk away.
  • Final Fantasy IX:
    • All of the character's classes are highly integrated into the plot. Vivi's ability to shoot stuff with fireballs with black magic becomes very important, the hidden Summons inside Garnet are a MacGuffin unto themselves, and Freya, a dragoon, is able to leap to the tops of roofs effortlessly in cutscenes as easily as she can leap into the sky to use her "Jump" ability. Sometimes even their personality traits become gameplay mechanics; Zidane, the Chivalrous Pervert, has a "Protect Girls" skill that lets him jump in front of a female party member to protect her.
    • Also applies to at least two battles (one of which is mentioned below) in which the boss is coded to only target specific party members: Your three aside from Dagger in the fight with Black Waltz Number 2 (to the point were he'll cast AOE spells that in every other circumstance would hit all your party members only on those three), and Dagger specifically in a battle with the bounty hunter Lani. The former is tasked with returning Dagger to her mother, and if he succeeds in killing all of your party members aside from her, he'll cast a spell to put her to sleep and the game will end.
    • Also when Dagger loses her voice in the plot. During game-play, her ability to cast spells is impaired: every couple of turns will fail with a "Can't concentrate." She gets better, though.
    • Most characters will also skip their post-battle victory poses during plot circumstances that concern them in some negative way, including Garnet losing her voice described above.
  • Final Fantasy XII has one scene where Fran gets induced with extra strength and near insanity, causing her to break free from her restraints. The fight after this scene reflects this by inducing the Berserk status on Fran.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning runs around with a portable anti-gravity device in the inventory that is never used outside cutscenes... except that she is the only player character who never takes damage from falling (when hurled into the air by an enemy). This is actually a remnant of an earlier concept, where Lightning's powers were all based around gravity manipulation.
  • In Lunar: Eternal Blue, Lucia's character is a major example of gameplay and story integration:
    • Lucia's development of human emotions happens concurrently with her deveoping new tactics in battle. For example, after a plot point wherein she returns to Hiro because she misses him (though she doesn't understand that), she begins casting healing and protective spells on other characters, favoring Hiro, in fact. Prior to this plot point, she would only cast these spells on herself.
    • When you first get her, she's, well, a Physical God, with absurd stats and the ability to solo any group in the dungeon you find her in within a single turn. Once she's injured by Zophar, however, her stats are reduced to nearly nothing and she spends the game recovering, even in battle.
    • And then there's her mana supply - or rather, the "lack" of it. Lucia is a pure spellcaster, and doesn't possess a physical attack--at the worst she'll chain-cast a single-target damage spell on an enemy. However, her MP supply reads "null", just like any pure physical-damage warrior. And then you realize... oh yeah, she's a Physical God, her mana supply is infinite. The game doesn't bother tracking it because she'll never run out.
  • A rather funny, though subtle example occurs in Persona 4. Yosuke is incredibly unlucky, with him getting kicked in the nads within minutes of the game starting for breaking his friend's CD. He ends up falling off of, and crashing whilst on, his bike BEFORE he's even named, and to top it all off, his crush gets killed very early on. If you check his stat profile, you'll notice that he has the lowest Luck stat of any of your party members.
  • No More Heroes as a whole is an interesting example: even though Travis imagines his life as an assassin to be awesome and glamorous, nearly every portion of gameplay outside of the ranked battles shows just how much of a loser he is by being outright boring: Santa Destroy is a frustratingly boring place with nearly nothing to do; Travis has to drive everywhere himself; he barely bothers people he runs over on his motorcycle and goes flying if it even so much as touches any solid object; he has to do repetitive, boring and irrelevant jobs in order to earn money; he saves the game on the toilet; he rummages through dumpsters for collectables (including clothes!); and at the end of the day he ends up right back at the same stinking motel he's always lived at.
  • The primary motivation behind the first battle with Melody in Wild ARMs 3 is Clive's speech on true beauty. In the battle, she will always attack Clive, if he's still alive. Combine this with some liberal use of the Revive spell, and the battle becomes trivial.
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, the Hero is under a curse so powerful, other curses (like the Baleful Polymorph placed on his hometown) don't affect him. He is, in gameplay, immune to the "curse" status effect. To even further emphasize this, a Bonus Boss that you can defeat to unlock the second ending has a sort of a "Seal" attack that he starts with. It will not affect anyone except the Hero because he is the one that placed the original curse that the Hero lives with.
  • Pokémon Black and White make it mandatory to catch your version mascot to move the plot along. The pre-battle dialog says it's testing you, but wants to be caught; accordingly, it's fifteen times easier to capture than a normal legendary. [[note]]Most legendaries have historically had capture numbers of 3, Reshiram and Zekrom have capture numbers of 45.[[/note]] However, the developers didn't account for a certain sequence-break where the mascot can be skipped; even if you do encounter it later than usual, the catch rate of 45 is still there.
  • In Star Ocean: The Second Story, Ashton has abyssmal luck and somehow manages to get the two-headed dragon he was trying to kill grafted onto his back: his natural luck stat is a mere 17 regardless of how high his level is, and this is in a game where most endgame stats easily break quadruple digits.
  • Parasite Eve 2 does this for a lengthy cut scene that occurs before the final battle. Aya gets shot during the scene and after the scene ends, her gunshot wound has her current HP lowered to reflect this.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, in some cutscenes, enemies will strike at you in mid-cutscene. To drive home the point that you're dealing with an entity you don't want to screw with, not only does the game narrate you being hit, your entire party takes damage.
  • In the Touhou fangame Touhou Mother, Yuuka is described as hating high speeds. During a cutscene, you have to fly very fast to reach a certain location, and during the trip, Yuuka is described to have taken "mortal damage". Sure enough, if you check your stats after the cutscene ends, Yuuka will have just 1 HP remaining.
  • In Kumatora's introductory cutscene in MOTHER 3, she uses a PSI attack to fend off some enemies (PK Freeze, I reckon, not sure). If you check her stats after she has joined the party, you can see that the corresponding PP has been deducted from her totals.

RPG -- MMO
  • EVE Online's completely player-driven nature outright deconstructs many of the common MMORPG mechanics, superbly addressing and explaining via some very elaborate and convincing-sounding tech lore. How can you constantly die? Clones. How are you singularly operating a ship with effectively no crew? Capsules. The backstory has become so in depth that it has sparked what you could describe as 'lore within the lore;' cloning has caused discussions about transferals of consciousness, and the fact that capsuleers can indefinitely clone has in-game, as well as outside consideration about the fact that since they have clones, can do anything, and cause large amounts of destruction, that capsuleers are effectively immortal, sociopathic, all-powerful demigods. To put it shortly, it's pretty much the most effective, in depth, and descriptive Hand Wave ever.
  • Mabinogi:
    • Player characters, aka Milletians, are presented as spirits from outside the game world, who are temporarily incarnated within it. Because they are not normally part of the world, they do not "die", but simply lose the body they were using, which can be restored by a particular NPC. NPCs are aware of your status, and will casually mention it from time to time. This is actually made a significant story point for Elf and Giant characters.
    • In the semi-prequel Vindictus, The fact that the Giant Polar Bear is such a popular target is referenced in a quest, where it is suddenly attacking more areas than before and you are the prime suspect because you bother, I.E. use it to grind, so much, and are thus demanded to either calm it down or prove that you weren't the one that caused it to get even more angry. You weren't the one who made it mad.

RPG -- Western
  • In Planescape: Torment, your Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma scores are useful for far more things than just getting cool spells. A high intelligence directly affects your ability to solve problems and outsmart other characters, for example. Charisma and Wisdom technically don't apply to the trope, because the Nameless One is restricted to being a Fighter, Mage, or Thief--all classes where those stats really don't matter. However, Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity (normally stats that really only impact combat) do occasionally benefit the player outside combat, just like Intelligence, Charisma, and Wisdom.
  • A Dance with Rogues has some impressive instances of Gameplay and Story Integration, ranging from your attributes (including primarily combat stats like Strength and Dexterity) and Skill Scores (including Pickpocketing and Tumble) having major impact on the outcome of dialogue, to integrating the Player Inventory into the story (e.g. if you wear a Spy Catsuit in public, the guards will come after you; if you carry weapons in the open, they will demand that you unequip them--unless you are of the Ranger class, then they leave you alone, since Rangers are considered law enforcement; some puzzles can only be solved by taking off your armor, but if you are caught without your armor outside during a rain, you get the Decease status effect--and NPCs will comment on your cold, etc.).
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    • The Relationship Values are the gameplay manifestation of a plot ability that the main character is revealed to have--namely, to subtly manipulate people that they're close to. As a consequence, the more influence you have with a party member, the more their alignment mirrors your own and vice-versa (with due consequences to bonuses/penalties to Light- and Dark-Sided Force powers). This actually veers into "story and story segregation" territory, since even if you turn a Light-Sided character to the Dark Side with your influence, he will still object to your Dark-Sided decisions and lose affection for you.
    • Similarly, the XP system, where you grow more powerful by killing enemies, is revealed to be the result of the main character's "rift in the force" growing more powerful by feeding on the destruction she causes. Pretty rough revelation if you are a Light-Sider.
    • Furthermore, some of your party member's characterization traits turn up as actual abilities in battle. Atton has improved saving throws the closer he gets to knocked out from half health and below, and he can get back up in battle from being knocked out, provided somebody else is still standing, Kreia provides EXP bonuses to the party, Mandalore is immune to mind-affecting powers (though the only enemies that use such things are bosses the player character fights solo), and that's just the start.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Dagoth Ur's rising power doubles as Anti-Grinding, with stronger ash creatures and blighted fauna appearing more and more as you keep leveling up. Also, in the Imperial Legion questline, your superiors will refuse to give or accept quests unless you are in uniform--i.e. wearing body armor of a specific type that Legionnaires must wear while on duty.
    • You start off in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion without a class, but after you complete the Tutorial Level, one of your allies will guess your preferred class based on how you beat the tutorial (e.g whether you sneaked past the enemies or fought them, whether you used magic or weapons, etc.). Your class plays no further role in the story, but the NPC's dialogue changes dramatically.
    • At the start of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can't understand dragons...but later on, they start speaking to you in English. This is actually because as the Dovahkiin, you start learning words of the Draconic language--which are, in gameplay terms, combat superpowers.
  • Similar to Planescape: Torment, Fallout 3 gives you a few occasions where a sufficiently high Strength stat allows you to intimidate certain NPCs into submitting to your will. There is also the Terrifying Presence perk, which gives you the option to frighten NPCs in dialog by reminding them how tough you are.

Simulation Game
  • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War:
    • The AI of your Violently Protective Wingwoman Kei Nagase will often ignore direct orders to disperse and engage enemies at will and instead stick to your tail as if the Cover command was given. This is because Nagase is still reeling from her original squadron leader Taking the Bullet for her, and this behavior actually goes away after several missions, as she mostly gets over it and accepts that you don't need her protection all the time.
    • Similarly, Hans Grimm is introduced as a Child Prodigy who takes off in the middle of an air raid and holds his own despite not even completing his basic flight training. Indeed, if you check your wingman stats towards the end of the campaign, Grimm has the highest kill count of all your teammates.

Sports Game
  • In Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii, you get special damage-reducing headgear after 100 losses. In Title Defense Mode, Glass Joe, who starts the game with 99 losses before you beat him, gets the same headgear for the rematch fight, as he now has 100 losses himself.

Stealth-Based Game
  • During Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the hero has his eye shot out. After that, if you go into first-person mode, the far-right of the screen is darkened and your depth perception is off, forcing you to relearn how to aim.

Strategy -- Real-Time
  • The Corruption level of your team in Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising affects both the abilities and equipment they can use and some major plot points, like which of them turned out to be a traitor and the ending. The vanilla campaign also has Tarkus: his introduction on a loading screen image mentions he was awarded Terminator honors for his performance during the prequel's campaign.[[note]]Space Marines are big on Honor Before Reason and wouldn't use said armor without being awarded the privilege first.[[/note]] This explains how he can pull his Big Damn Heroes moment in Terminator armor without the Terminator Honors perk other squads need to level up and unlock first.
  • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, the Allies use their Chronosphere to send a strike team directly to Moscow, bypassing the Soviet defences. You can then use it during the attack itself to bypass the local defences.

Strategy -- Turn-Based
  • A mild, but quite clever example comes in the DS remakes of the first Fire Emblem games. So in Shadow Dragon, you have to sacrifice one of your units to disguise as Marth and distract powerful enemies come to kill him. This unit is removed from gameplay the same way anyone who dies normally does; and it's stated that the unit died at the end of the chapter, so everyone figured that they were Killed Off for Real. Word of God has confirmed the fan theory that indeed, Frey is the canonical sacrifice due to his blue hair (making him mistakable for Marth at a distance), and how he was not in the original or even in the remake if one starts at Hard Mode. When the player gets the Aum staff much much later in the game, a lot of peoples' instinct was to use it to revive Frey, because he is the one unavoidable death in Shadow Dragon. Except that you can't, for some reason. Yet the remake of Fire Emblem III on the DS shows Frey alive and well. And his dialogue with the player character states that he was indeed the sacrifice, but upon finding out that they were duped, his captors didn't kill him, they just beat him up and left him for dead and he was later rescued. So in actuality; you couldn't use the Aum staff to revive Frey, because Frey never actually died in the first place!
  • In Fire Emblem 6, Douglass, Lalam's adoptive father, will attack anyone in your army except her in Chapter 16. This makes her very useful for the purpose of blocking him into one of the rooms with only one entrance/exit, enabling you to avoid both accidentally killing him and placing one of your own at risk against his mighty Silver Axe.
  • L'Arachel in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is Born Lucky, to the point that she can win a coin toss even if the coin's loaded. Her stats reflect this, and she will often max out the Luck Stat.
  • Micaiah in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has "Sacrifice", which is a miraculous healing ability in the storyline, and can also be used in-game, though in-game it doesn't have any abilities beyond a simple heal staff, and as the name implies it hurts to use it. It's seen as a miracle because she can heal without being a member of the clergy. In essence, it does have power potentially superior to that of a staff, since she manages to save Lehran (if you managed to get him), who was literally an instant away from dying; whereas staves appear to function primarily on healing flesh wounds, Sacrifice uses Micaiah's own life force, which implicitly has stronger effects on living beings. In game, Sacrifice also allows Micaiah to heal status effects. Whether or not she can do this for a character at full HP, though... She's never been shown using Sacrifice in this manner in the story, however.
  • Disgaea:
    • In Disgaea, Laharl is allergic to large breasts and optimistic sayings. After a cutscene featuring an excess of both, his stats are cut in half for the next battle.
    • Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories:
      • Adell and Rozalin start out having a 0% combo rate on their attacks (which is more or less impossible to get with any other combination of characters), being at this point enemies and utterly unwilling to directly help each other. Their combo rate starts rising as the game goes on and the two grow closer, eventually capping at 99% near the end.
      • In an odd meta example Etna claims she hacked her title so it says "Beauty Queen" instead of "Demon Lord". Titles are programed in such a way that you can indeed make custom titles (rather than give a character another existing title) with a Cheating Device.
      • The game has a feature called "Reincarnate to Atone for Sins", which will remove your felony records. Turns out Overlord Zenon did this, setting the plot in motion.
    • From Disgaea 2 onwards, particular character traits often manifest as stat alterations. For example, Adell gets a damage bonus against higher-level opponents and Tink gets +2 to movement (for running away, of course).
  • The Potentials in Valkyria Chronicles tie in directly with the characters' stories, and more are opened as you learn more about the character. For example, Freesia starts out with one Potential called 'Desert Bred', marked by how she was raised and has lived in the desert areas for some time. After you learn a little more about her - that she's not used to living for anybody else and doesn't work well when people are counting on her - she gains the 'Under Pressure' Potential, cutting her defence and accuracy is she uses the last CP of your Phase.

Survival Horror

Visual Novel
  • Many examples in Galaxy Angel. Forgetting the Cutscene Power to the Max in the first game, Eternal Lovers gives you missions where you need to destroy the enemy flagship before reinforcements arrive, thus reducing your time limit to 10 minutes instead of the usual 15. Another is after the Elsior was hit by the Chrono Break Cannon from the stolen Unit #7, and thrown into an ambush position immediately afterwards. In this battle, the Elsior starts with 60% HP unlike other battles. Then there's the conditions of your Angels; if the plot demands them to be depressed, expect them to fight poorly and vice versa.

Other Games
  • In Demonophobia, a game with a lot of interesting ways to die, you don't 'die and respawn' in the usual way; instead, the protagonist is revived some time later, with no memories of her deaths. This becomes important at the end of the game, where these memories are returned to her.
  • Part of being a good GM for almost any Table Top Role Playing Game is realizing there is no such thing as Gameplay and Story Segregation. Players should have the opportunity to feel that their choices matter within the story, and you should be ready for canny players to save the prince who was supposed to die, steal the data that was supposed to be given to the Corrupt Corporate Executive, or kill the villain you expected to survive a bit longer. A good GM will recycle the work he did on antagonists, introduce a new plot twist or element, and let the fun continue while still allowing the players a moment of feeling awesome. The same holds true when the players fail spectacularly. There's no Nonstandard Game Over, only the players trying to carry on as best they can now that the prince is dead, the data is in the hands of the Big Bad, and so on.

Non-Gaming Examples

Instances of gameplay and story integration and segregation in the same game:

Action Game
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, every move that Batman does in cutscenes is available to him in actual gameplay--except the explosive gel-powered punch.

Action-Adventure
  • The core gameplay element in Journey is the flying scarf, with very simple rules: it's charged up by contact with other cloth, extended by finding glowing symbols, and shortened by getting hit by the Guardians. These rules work for most of the game, except in the very end, where you lose your entire scarf to icy wind, get it restored and maxed out by the Ancients, and lose it again, just as you reach the summit. That, especially the maxing-out part, is a perfect example of gameplay and story integration, since the story mandates a dramatic change and the gameplay rules are bent to allow it in a spectacular manner. On the other hand, the White Robe has no justification in the plot and seems to have been mainly added for gameplay reasons, being a mild case of gameplay and story segregation.

Role-Playing Game
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Tellah's maximum MP will never go above 90, unless the player exploits a bug in certain remakes of the game. Meteor costs 99 MP, so when he needs to cast it for a scripted battle, he has to spend his life force to do so. On the other hand, spells cannot be Cast from Hit Points in the gameplay proper, making it also an example of Cutscene Power to the Max.
  • Final Fantasy V:
    • Early in the game, you have to get a medicinal herb for your Dragon, but you get ambushed by a pair of Hunters who are after it. In the pre-battle cutscene they shoot a Poisoned Arrow at Leena, and sure enough, she starts the ensuing fight already poisoned.
    • The party members attempt to use the strongest healing items and spells at their disposal on a character who has been Killed Off for Real to no avail. Fighting at 0 HP rendered him Deader than Dead. On the other hand, it's possible for characters in that cutscene to try to use Curaga and Raise on Galuf even if they haven't gained a single level in any White Magic-related jobs. Or to use Phoenix Downs even if you don't currently have any in your inventory. As for how they got that far out without white magic, who'd actually try that?
  • Chrono Trigger: Setting aside the scene where it cleaves a cliff face in two, never to display that kind of power again, there are two battles where the Masamune displays power that it was said to have in cutscenes and dialogue. In the battle against Magus, the sword, which was said to be one of the few weapons that would allow them to defeat Magus, bypasses Magus's Barrier Shift trick and drops his magic defense stat. Later on, the team uses a red knife to drain Lavos' power out of the Mammon Machine. The red knife then turns into the Masamune. If you use the Masamune on the Mammon Machine when you fight it later, the sword bypasses its defense boost trick and heals Frog, by way of draining the energy from it, just like it did before.

Examples that need improvement or removal:

Action Game
  • Needs to focus more on in-universe explanations of game mechanics, not game quirks.
    Brutal Legend. Everything gets an in-universe explanation, from why Eddie is an expert with a battle axe despite never touching one before, why he is able to fly around the battlefield issuing orders, why he is able to build a functioning car from parts dug up out of the ground, to why said car has a radio in it.
  • Not a particularly illustrative example (simply Natural Integration).
    In most Grand Theft Auto games, enemies that are said to be wearing armor just have their health super high so you need to put in a ton of bullets in them (this is usually on boss characters). In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Big Smoke is shown to be wearing body armor in the cut scene before the fight (yet the armor never physically appears on CJ's model if he has armor on). Like with real life body armor, the boss' torso is protected so shooting it does less damage, but shooting him in the head or anywhere else that is not protected will damage him a lot faster.

Fighting Game

First-Person Shooter
  • Needs elaboration on how much "story" was written before the class balance was established by players.
    In Team Fortress 2, the respawn system is canon (according to Poker Night at the Inventory, Heavy recalls it as a series of nightmares). Also, each character's personality, weapons, tactics, and movement style are all closely related, and the relationships between characters in canon are related to how they interact in-game: gameplay nemeses Sniper and Spy are bitter rivals (and Foe Yay targets) out-of-play, and popular in-game team-up Heavy and Medic are confirmed Heterosexual Life-Partners and a hinted couple.

MMORPG
  • Needs specific examples.
    Runescape in almost all cases. If your character is in a Cut Scene everything about them is there when they are shown. They just place limits on what can be with you on a few.

Platform Game
  • All There in the Manual is of dubious story relevance.
    In the original Super Mario Bros., fireballs and thrown shells wouldn't affect enemies that had just walked offscreen, due to technical limits. The manual suggested this was because they were doing something sneaky where you couldn't see.
  • Ditto.
    In the manual for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, a gameplay hint suggested that Robotnik had outfitted the environments themselves with inescapable traps that would require you to reset your MegaDrive/Genesis. It then suggested that, to avoid this, to not run too fast when under the effect of Mercy Invincibility.
  • Needs elaboration on what that skill is and how it's tied into the story.
    In Heart of Darkness, what seems like a simple powerup/magic attack skill for a good part of the game becomes an important plot point later on. The skill stays your most important weapon in gameplay combat, but during cutscenes, the hero and his friends find numerous ways to use it creatively as well.
  • Can a simple Framing Device really count as G/S integration?
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time sees its story being told by the eponymous prince. Whenever you die he basically says "No, that's not how it happened". Dude must be a terrible storyteller, his narrative is full of "And then I fell to my death for the thousandth time. Wait, no, I'm still here..."
    • If Farah dies, he says that she didn't die. She eventually does, but he reverses time. Oddly, he doesn't acknowledge that he's telling this story to Farah herself.
    • If it makes you feel better, interpret it as Farah interrupting with a "bad end" every time you die. She certainly isn't all that helpful during your story, anyway.
  • Insufficient explanation of how this relates to gameplay and story.
    In the opening of the GBA version of Donkey Kong Country, Diddy Kong is able to defend the Banana Hoard from Kremlings until a Krusha shows up. In-game, Krushas can only be defeated by Donkey Kong.
  • Needs to establish connection to the story.
    In the original New Super Mario Bros, Super Mario turns into Small Mario in an offscreen scuffle with Bowser Jr. This handily explains why Mario doesn't start the game in his Super form. The other games in the series, however, fail to take this into account.
  • Ditto.
    Dragon Quest V: When a party member dies in battle, s/he can be ressurected at a church, with their overworld icon becoming a small coffin. So when there's a wedding, the vows don't go "as long as you both shall live" but "as long as you both shall be resurrected from death in the church". Additionally, the major deaths occur via ridiculously huge fireball that reduces the target to cinders, so you really can't bring them back.

Rhythm Game
  • Needs elaboration on the gameplay for the uninitiated.
    In Elite Beat Agents, the gameplay is the story. How well the Agents perform determines how each story's protagonist behaves in the screen above, and how the plot twists until the end of the song. More specifically, music and dance are the only effective weapon against the alien invaders in the last mission.
  • Weblinks Are Not Examples.
    Loco Roco often attempts to integrate cutscenes to be as close to gameplay as possible. In this cutscene, even the 2D world is Lampshaded.

Role-Playing Game
  • The current write-up is an example of Breaking the Fourth Wall, not this.
    The amateur game Sensible Erection RPG features quite a bit of lampshading and parody of the cliches of Japanese RPGs. Before the final confrontation, a party member that had been killed in a cutscene returns as if nothing had happened, and his companion declares, "I used a 1up on him. What's the big deal?" To which the boss responds, "See? I told you, [we live in a] videogame."
  • Needs elaboration on how this story events relate to regular gameplay.
    In Phantasy Star IV, party members try various healing items on Alys when Zio poisons her. Subverted later with the same situation; while a moderately powerful attack, GiRes cures everyone else just fine.
  • How is this not just Cutscene Power to the Max?
    In the intro of Shadow Hearts, the main character, Yuri, fights his way through a dozen or so Imps, shrugging off their scythe-attacks like the minor annoyance they are (they only do something like 10 HP damage). Then he enters a cutscene where the Big Bad sics an imp on him. Who cuts off his right arm. At which point Yuri regrows his arm in a split second, and crushes the imp with his left hand like the annoyance it is, at the same time. Though, that regeneration power of Yuri's never shows up in gameplay, zig-zagging the trope.
  • Needs elaboration on how the transformation powers work in gameplay.
    In Tales of the World: Narikiri Dungeon 3, the villains pull off many of their plans only because they have the main characters' transforming powers. The game being a Massive Multiplayer Crossover, being able to transform into various Tales characters and bosses and play as them is pretty much the only reason the game exists, and is simply also worked into the Excuse Plot.
  • How do the "original forms" affect the gameplay?
    Tales of Innocence implements the Reincarnation storyline by letting the characters transform into their "original" forms for Limit Breaks. This gets a tad amusing when you consider that Angi's previous life was a man. The characters of course mention this in a skit.
  • Needs elaboration on how this relates to gameplay.
    In Tales of the Abyss, when you use Ion's extension of Luke's first mystic arte, he'll waver and collapse instead of just disappearing. If Anise is in the party, she calls for him, and he stutters "I-I'm... fine...". Additionally, if you don't have Luke and Jade in your party, when Anise uses Final Fury, she yells "I'll kill you bastards!" Instead of the usual "O ravaging tragedy!"
  • This references the Person 4 example but needs a full write-up.
    The same goes for the Hero of Dragon Quest V.
  • The games are set within a game so the example may be too meta. Is it?
    In .hack//G.U., it is told in-universe that the class that Haseo takes, the Adept Rogue (or Multi-Weapon in original Japanese) levels the slowest and is generally all-around master of none, despite being potentially flexible like hax. If you play normally, without crazy grinding, by the beginning of the third game, there's a very good chance that all of your party members have gained access to the final skills of their job, and you haven't. Not only that gaining proficiency for each weapon is slower than ordinary classes, Haseo has three (later four) weapons, so this definitely increases the time required gaining skills.
  • Ditto.
    The Star Ocean series has a tendency to break the fourth wall once in a while. Edge even speaks the words "Item creation" out loud at one point during Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Of course Star Ocean: Till the End of Time reveals that the entire series' continuity takes place in a giant MMORPG called the Eternal Sphere and while the characters are mostly oblivious to this, having access to status menus and being able to make a cake by purchasing a single egg at the shop and invoking a Cooking ability learned by beating up some monsters probably seems perfectly normal to them.
  • How is this related to story?
    Black Sigil actually lets you use white magic to heal all the fallen soldiers during a siege. It costs you MP, of course, but saving them all gets you a reward.
  • Needs to establish connection to the story.
    Oracle Of Tao, the main character Ambrosia gets powers as an Oracle. They're powerful but time-consuming, making her a Mighty Glacier spellcaster. So, you can only cast every other turn, and this can be sealed entirely in certain battles. At some point, Ambrosia gets God's power, and she can now cast every turn, and does not have to worry about being sealed.

Simulation Game
  • Needs elaboration on how spawn rates work in X3.
    At the end of X3: Reunion, the Terran military steamrolls the bulk of the Khaak fleet. Khaak ships are correspondingly much less common in the Expansion Pack X3: Terran Conflict. The destruction of the Khaak hive nearest to the Community of Planets during the TC plot Operation: Final Fury reduces their spawn rate to almost zero, and by the second expansion X3: Albion Prelude the few remaining Khaak have apparently died: AP has no live Khaak, and there are Khaak derelicts floating around provided you get lucky with the derelict spawning code.

Shoot Em Up
  • Needs specific examples, as only Natural Integration is obvious from the current write-up.
    Touhou's use of Bullet Hell is not only the reason everyone in Gensoukyou can be so belligerent without plunging the region into all out war, but also why some of the more ludicrously powerful characters don't simply press the "I win" button all the time, as it is literally not allowed, the Spell Card rules (which manifest as clouds of colourful bullets and lasers and such) turning fighting into a game and responsible for all of the Non Lethal KOs.
  • Needs explanation for someone who's unfamiliar with Shoot-Em-Ups.
    Seihou has an interesting example: In the Comiket 67 version of Banshiryuu bosses would occasionally pull of a special attack which they were invincible for the duration of. These are SE attacks, and they're also the player's bombs, which work the same way. In the C74 remake, boss SE attacks are closer to Touhou style spellcards, generally not conferring invincibility... but the player versions don't make them invincible either. Though neither game explains why player SE attacks clear enemy bullets.

Stealth Based Game
  • Too meta again?
    Assassin's Creed takes place in a video simulation, created to allow the protagonist to re-live his ancestor's memories, called the Animus. As such, all the artifices of the video game interface were specifically programmed by the villains to make the simulation intuitive.
    • And in the sequel, the heroes fixed "that water bug" in the first game.
    • A nice bit of this is present in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. In the first game you're using Abstergo's Animus. Whenever the artificiality of the world you see is on display, such as in loading screens or menus, you see blue fog punctuated by white wisps and flickering bits of visual garbage like molecule diagrams or bar codes. In Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood, however, you're using a different Animus belonging to the Assassins, which has a motif of white colors with no visual noise aside from straight lines at 90-degree angles. However, when you enter the Multiplayer menus in Brotherhood, it's back to the blue fog and flickering white garbage symbols. This is because according to the meta-plot of the Multiplayer mode, the games you play are training sessions of Abstergo agents using Abstergo Animi.
  • Isn't this trivial?
    In the Famicom version of Contra (not the NES version, which had no cut-scenes at all), the cut-scenes will show Bill or Lance depending on the character the player is using. If both players are present, then the cut-scenes will alternate between either character.

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