UniqueProtagonistAsset Unique Protagonist Asset YKTTW Discussion

Unique Protagonist Asset
The protagonist's unique ability that sets them apart from other characters/mooks/red shirts.
(permanent link) added: 2014-06-03 19:04:40 sponsor: Mr.Movie (last reply: 2014-06-12 09:08:40)

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Being the protagonist has its perks. You escape all manner of danger however slim your chances, get your soul mate, hang out with some pretty cool people, don't have to answer for most of what you do, achieve your goals simply because Prophecies Are Always Right, and almost always get a Happy Ending.

However, one final perk may be having that one thing that makes you specially enabled in your quest to resolve Conflict, and that is your Unique Protagonist Asset.

It can be anything. Material objects such as weapons, clothes, or tools count. Abilities such as superpowers, Le Parkour, Improbable Aiming Skills, and Implausible Fencing Powers count. Vehicles can count as well, as can any special modifications these vehicles may sport. Literally anything can count as long as it fits these three criteria:

  1. The asset must be unique, endowed upon an individual or only small parts of the cast. But there are four exceptions to this rule:
    • The first exception is if the protagonist has the same kind of asset as everyone else, but has a much better version than everyone else has (i.e. everyone in the setting is packing heat, but the protagonist has a modern assault rifle while everyone else has muskets).
    • The second exception is when the protagonist has the same kind of asset and to roughly the same degree as many people off-screen, but the story puts him/her around people who don't the asset or to a lesser degree. See Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.
    • The third exception is if the protagonist has the same kind of asset and to roughly the same degree as everyone else, but for some reason he/she is one of the few people who actually do something useful with it (i.e. Red Shirt ninjas getting slaughtered left and right by the antagonist, but the exact same ninja training the Red Shirt Army had is exactly what the protagonist curb stomps the antagonist with).
    • The final exception is when the protagonist and his/her companions all share an asset, but there are other groups/cast herds/ensembles/bands of characters that don't have anything special about them.
  2. The ability must be relevant to the story's Conflict in some way. Puzzle solving skills in a mystery novel are this trope, combat prowess in a romantic comedy is not. However, this asset does not necessarily have to directly lead to the conflict's resolution (i.e. the protagonist has a powerful Super Mode that helps out in combat, but the villain is defeated by a Deus ex Machina instead). The ability must also be noticeably demonstrated. Informed Ability, Off Screen Moment Of Awesome, and implied cases are not true examples.
  3. The character must be the protagonist. While antagonists may have special assets used to cause conflict in the story, the nature of conflict-causing abilities and the way they are used is often of a different nature than many special assets protagonists have.

If Mooks have this ability, they would be called Superpowered Mooks. May overlap with Road Runner PC if this ability is superior mobility and the protagonist is in a video game, as well as Protagonist Power-Up Privileges the main character acquires their UPA instead of having it right from the start. Possibly the reason why someone is a Born Winner. Almost every superhero within the context of their own stories has a UPA, although shared universes containing dozens or even hundreds of other supers cast a shadow on this trope.

Compare Standardized Leader and Designated Protagonist Syndrome, where the protagonist is rather generic in terms of ability.


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     Anime & Manga 

     Fan Works 

     Film - Animated 
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup is the only person riding a Night Fury. No one else has one.
  • The Furious Five from Kung Fu Panda subvert this trope, being set up as master martial artists who go out to defeat the movie's villain but suffer a Curb Stomp Cushion. Po, however, plays this trope straight (albeit subtly) in that his special ability is to learn extremely rapidly when food is a motivation.
  • In The Sponge Bob Squarepants Movie, the Patty Wagon plays a crucial part in getting SpongeBob and Patrick to their destination.

     Film - Live-Action 
  • The Green Lantern is gifted with his Green Lantern Ring, and although he's only one of many Lanterns, he's the only one that makes a big difference in the conflict.
  • Superman in Man of Steel is the only non-villainous character with superpowers.
  • Batman throughout the The Dark Knight Saga stands out due to his ninja training, martial arts prowess, and gadgets.
  • Neo from the The Matrix is the one to end up with Matrix-warping powers at the end of the first film.
  • Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man has superpowers with only the main villain having powers as well.
  • Subverted in A Beautiful Mind. At first, we are made to think John Nash is a genius mathematician who is the only person skilled enough to crack Russian spy codes, but it turns out he's just insane and it is all art of his mental illness. Double subverted when he uses his genius intelligence to realize that his hallucinations are not real, thus curing himself.

  • In Venus Prime, Sparta was trained from birth and surgically altered to become the epitome of human intelligence and skill.
  • Temeraire: A lot of things wouldn't happen if Temeraire wasn't a particular breed of Chinese dragon who (a) had a reason to visit China and see how dragons are treated differently elsewhere and (b) was basically a prince. Cue Laurence getting caught up in all sorts of international intrigues and going Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right as a result of new perspectives.
  • Tortall Universe
    • Daine of The Immortals has an unprecedented amount of wild magic, allowing her to communicate with (and eventually turn into) just about every animal. This proves to be critical to winning the Immortals War, as animals make great spies and she can communicate with non-humanoid immortals.
    • Beka Cooper of Provost's Dog can speak to lingering ghosts and hear the sounds that collect in dust spinnersnote  at street corners. This leads directly to the Dogs cracking a decade-old serial murder case in the first book and materially assists her investigations in the next two.
  • Circle of Magic In the first quartet, the kids' ambient magic and subsequent bond allows them to survive and then deal with the threats they face—without their ability to combine their magic, Gold Ridge Valley would have burnt to the ground and Rosethorn would be dead, among other things.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In Dollhouse, Echo has something in her spinal fluid that allows her to retain memories from her imprints.
  • In the 1950s The Adventures of Superman TV series Superman is the only person with superpowers we ever see (and by implication the only one on the entire planet).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is gifted with superhuman abilities as a Slayer.

     Video Games 
  • God Hand: the player character Gene has the titular God Hand that gives him the fighting chance against the crooks in the game. Though it's revealed later that one of the bosses, Azel, possesses the other God Hand (the left one, to be specific). Mirror Boss ensues with the two.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II, the Jedi Exile is one of the few surviving Jedi and the only one who's actually still Jedi-ing in public rather than hiding or working secretly. This attracts all sorts of enemies, particularly the Big Bad Duumvirate that is the primary threat to the Republic. Also, the Exile draws their Force powers from other people, allowing them to make Force bonds really easily, which results in most of the party being Force-sensitive and thus potential new Jedi.

  • In the text-based RPG Mobile Armored Marine, you are the only person with Powered Armor on your mission.
  • In 'Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, The Hero has the ability to generate a power ether field. This allows him to lead a team into the Labyrinth to hunt the source of the monsters. Before he was around, the Disciples were forced to wait outside the labyrinths and kill monsters as they came out.
  • In Watch_Dogs, the main character has a hacked cell-phone which gives him access to much of the city's infrastructure. While the police can access some of the infrastructure, they cannot control as much and have to call into Mission Control to do it, while you can do it much quicker.
    • Aidan's Bullet Time effect is also unique to him. In-universe, it represents his quick reflexes.
  • Faith in Mirror's Edge has Le Parkour on her side, and possibly Super Strength as well (seeing as how she can take out a fully armored police officer in only a few hits).
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: Captain Titus has an innate resistance to warpcraft that is never really explained in-game.
  • All the main protagonists of the FEAR series have a Super Reflexes power (either from the start or as a Second Hour Superpower) which manifests as a limited ability to enter Bullet Time and is implied to be possible thanks to Psychic Powers.* The player characters in both Persona 3 and Persona 4 have the ability called "Wild Card," letting them change their Persona at will.
  • The Player Character of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a Dragonborn, a rare individual who can permanently destroy the otherwise immortal dragons by consuming their souls. Seeing how Skyrim is currently under siege by the dragons, the Dragonborn represents the only hope its inhabitants have of beating them back.
  • The Player Character of Dragon Age: Inquisition is sucked into the Spirit World at the start of the game and branded with mark that lets them quickly close even the largest breaches between reality and the Fade, which The Legions of Hell are using to invade. Since the Inquisitor is the only one with such power, they are instrumental to defeating the demons.
  • Rico in Just Cause has a grappling hook gun, which makes vehicle hijacking easy, enables Rico to reach high places, offers both ranged and melee attack options, and can be combined with a parachute to achieve Not Quite Flight.
  • John Martson from Red Dead Redemption has Dead Eye Targeting, which slows down time and enables the player to aim and shoot at a practically superhuman level.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Mario was at first distinct due to the fact that he could jump (unlike the Goombas) and could run relatively faster than his enemies.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog, of course, is THE Road Runner PC, with the unique ability of insane running speed.

     Western Animation 
  • The heroes of Super Why! help the helpless heroes of other stories through the ability to change stories by directly altering the text of the books they enter.
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