The excellent Fan Remake of King's Quest II does this with several NPCs. Perhaps the best is Valanice, who was rewritten from her original flat, MacGuffin-esque Distressed Damsel portrayal to a character more in line with what's seen in her later appearances in the series, who — although a prisoner — is hardly a helpless shrinking violet. Similarily, the vampire (originally Dracula; Caldaur in the remake) is turned into a sympathic character with personality, depth and motives, who will end up aiding the hero if you help him in return. Seeing as his original role was to hang out in his castle until the hero showed up to kill him for no apparent reason (other than needing the key he had), this was a definite improvement. And in the original versions of the series, Rosella was given her own adventure to star in after appearing briefly in the previous game as the Distressed Damsel, and later on she co-starred alongside Valanice as the heroes of King's Quest VII. Princess Cassima, meanwhile, was introduced near the end of King's Quest V and was later ascended to being a major character in King's Quest VI.
Waluigi is a mild example. Originally showing up in Mario Tennis as a fill in for Wario's partner and Luigi's rival, Waluigi's shown up in virtually every spinoff since then, and is the only regular character that hasn't ever been in a platformer to do so. He's either loved for being insane or loathed as an auxiliary character.
The starring character of Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser is a very exaggerated example. In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, he was just another Goomba who you fight after a tutorial that teaches you about First Strikes, didn't speak, was not different from any other Goomba in the game, and never appeared again afterwards. In this game, he's the main character, and contributed a lot more to the plot of Superstar Saga then you may think.
Every pre-WoW bit of Warcraft material had a lot of lore that may or may not have appeared on screen, and may have had little if any effect on the plot, that end up becoming major characters in a later game or when Blizzard needs material for an expansion pack or raid dungeon. In the most extreme example, Sargeras went from a generic bit-part monster to THE Big Bad of the entire universe (albeit a Big Badwho's long dead, as such. Word of God says his spirit is scattered across the Twisting Nether in limbo, but not gone for good).
This has also happened in response to the players falling in love with random NPCs. For example, Hemet Nesingwary was once a minor quest-giver put in as a Shout-Out to Ernest Hemingway. Players either liked or hated him so much that in the first expansion he was moved to Outland and given more quests, and in the second there is an entire faction devoted to fighting him, a third of an area taken over by his crazed former compatriots, as well as yet another group of quests from Nesingwary's hunting party.
High Overlord Saurfang, pre-expansion, served no purpose in the game or the story except to put Nefarian's severed head on a stick and look like a total badass. He's since become one of the most prominent Non Player Characters in the game, even becoming the new racial leader for the orcs after Garrosh was overthrown as the warchief of the Horde. Do not piss off this orc. Otherwise, he'll Cleave everyone.
And the Alliance equivalent of Saurfang, Bolvar Fordragon, started out as a stand-in for the disappeared King Varian Wrynn and earned some major cool points for fighting off Onyxia's entire elite guard. When Varian came back, Bolvar played a major role in the Dragonblight campaign, pulled a Big Damn Heroes for you, and died during the Forsaken betrayal at the Wrath Gate. Later however it was revealed that he had survived and was held captive by the Lich King, who was trying to torture him into submission, intending to turn him into his champion, in place of his original candidate Tirion Fordring. It didn't work. After Arthas was defeated by Tirion and the players, Bolvar took it upon himself to become the new Lich King, essentially acting as the jailor who would keep the Scourge army contained in Northrend so that they could never threaten denizens of Azeroth again, all the while he too would remain trapped within the Frozen Throne. He later returns in Legion, offering to help the Knights of the Ebon Blade in their efforts to defend Azeroth from the Burning Legion, but as the players progress through the death knight storyline his intentions become more and more...questionable.
Nazgrim starts out as a forgettable NPC giving out a handful of quests in one Northrend quest hub, trying to make a name for himself. He seems to have succeeded, since he later appears as the leader of a squad of Kor'kron aiming to lay claim to a new island risen by the Cataclysm. After the mission goes heavily south, apparently his rather clever and valiant efforts to salvage the operation attracted more attention and he's now a general, and leads the Horde (including the player) in Pandaria until the Warchief personally arrives. Later, as Garrosh grows more and more power hungry, Vol'jin starts a rebellion that together with the Alliance forces sieges Orgrimmar. Despite knowing that Garrosh is going too far, Nazgrim refuses to break his oath to his warchief and leads the city's defenses until he is killed by Gamon and the players. He is later brought Back from the Dead in Legion as one of the Ebon Blades new Four Horsemen.
Taken to extreme levels with Chen Stormstout and the Pandaren. Chen was originally nothing more than an amusing piece of April Fool's Day art that was beloved by the developers enough to be given a minor role as one of Rexxar's companions in Warcraft III. His general hilarity and his enigmatic homeland were eventually considered interesting enough to be the focus of an entire expansion of World of Warcraft.
Vol'jin is a crowning example of this happening. He started in Warcraft III as a quest giver before doing a whole lot of nothing in World of Warcraft. That changes with Cataclysm with his speech in the Troll starting zone, in which he tells the then-warchief Garrosh exactly where to shove it. From there his popularity skyrocketed to the point of being named Warchief of the Horde at the end of Mists of Pandaria. Unfortunately his reign didn't last long as he was mortally wounded at the Broken Shore and passed the leadership of the Horde to Sylvanas Windrunner before dying at the start of the Legion expansion. However, it seems that he's returning in some form or another in the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion.
Tirion Fordring counts, too. In Burning Crusade, all he did was give you a few quests. Come Wrath Of The Lich King, however, and he's in charge of pretty much anything attacks on the Scourge. In one of the first things you'll likely see him do, he decimates a massive army of Scourge monsters and redeems a whole batch of Death Knights.
Similarly in Star Trek Online, numerous minor characters are revisited, most of whom were mere babies when they were shown on screen. Notable examples include Leonard James Akaar (mentioned above in Television) and Miral Paris, who was born in the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and Thomas Riker, Will Riker's transporter double whom the writers of Deep Space Nine cruelly abandoned in spite of fan outcry. There are villainous examples as well; Gul Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter appears, and one of the more enjoyable boss fights is against Gul Madred, the one who tortured Captain Picard.
Because of the nature of Suikoden games all being in the same world, there's usually recurring characters. A number of them are Ascended Extras, frequently as a result of She's All Grown Up. Notable examples are Apple, Futch, Luc, Sasarai, Georg, Lilly, Clive etc. Resulted in a lot of Ensemble Dark Horse.
The Addams Family game for the Turbo-Grafx 16 stars "Tully Alford," of all people, as the main character. Confused? Tully was the villainous Addams family lawyer in the 1991 movie (played by Dan Hedaya) making him an example of a Villain Protagonist, as well.
In Sam And Max Hit The Road, the protagonists may optionally enter the convenience store near their office (which has no bearing on the plot or any puzzles) and save its owner, Bosco, from an armed robber. The interior of the store is never seen and Bosco is never seen nor heard. When the sequel was canceled and Telltale Games was formed as a result, due to his not-legally-a-character status, Bosco was the only character from Hit the Road (besides an appearance of the Human Enigma on a poster, due to an appearance, also on a poster, in the original Sam & Max: Freelance Police comic book series) who could legally feature in their new episodic Sam & Max: Freelance Police series. Indeed, he became a major recurring character, with appearances in all but one episode in the first two seasons and a backstory that is revealed and resolved in Season 2.
While he may seem like one of many other characters the player can pick to go with them in Maniac Mansion, Bernard arguably fits this trope, becoming the hero of Day of the Tentacle, which suggests that the canonical trio includes him.
In the first Mega Man Star Force, Damion Wolfe and his FM-ian, Wolf, are just Bonus Bosses you can challenge anytime you want. In the third game they were promoted to secondary characters, helping our heroes in an occasion or two. In the anime he was also promoted, but to a "villain" (well, he softens up later).
Mega Man Battle Network has Tory Froid, who is nothing more than a generic, nameless NPC but was upgraded to one of Lan's friends for Mega Man NT Warrior and given a unique design. IceMan is his Navi in the anime but is his father's Navi in the game.
Bass in the first Battle Network was just a Bonus Boss, but became one of the villains in the two next sequels. Battle Network 4 and beyond then turned him into an extra again, but at least he gets dialogue. He was important in the anime and manga adaptations, too.
The weapon salesmen from the first Spectrobes game gets redesigned in the second with his own sprite, cutscene, and name. It's Dave, of all things.
The Happy Mask Salesman was only part of a minor subquest in Ocarina of Time. He became an unlikely major character in Majora's Mask.
As far as gameplay goes, collecting masks was just a minor sidequest in Ocarina of Time. In Majora's Mask, they are one of the main gameplay features.
In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Agitha appears in the Castle Town as a somewhat crazy bug enthusiast and gives you the game's "collect things to make large amounts of Rupees" sidequest. Come Hyrule Warriors, she's a plot-important NPC during the Twilight Princess arc and is one of the game's unlockable fighters.
Impa appears in the manuals of the first two games as the old advisor who sends Link on his quest, but has no named in-game presence. In Ocarina of Time, her identity as a Sheikah, Zelda's guardian and eventually one of the Sages is revealed. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, her guardian role is expanded into becoming a foil for Link, and she has far more relevance to the plot than first apparent. And then she is the second playable character obtained in Hyrule Warriors.
The Sheikah race as a whole were notably obscure despite being around since their debut as a race in Ocarina of Time. Impa (or Impaz) was the only Sheikah that appeared in many games, and was often stated to be the last of her kind. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, not only does the lore of the Sheikah expand greatly, but the rest of the Sheikah tribe finally appear for the first time ever, with Impa herself being portrayed as having a sister and a granddaughter. They even got an Evil Counterpart in the form of the Yiga Clan.
The Legends port of Hyrule Warriors has King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. Formerly the ruler of the sunken land of Hyrule in the Era of the Great Sea, now he utilizes his alternate form, the King of Red Lions, and said form's mast and sail in battle.
Wario, Meta Knight, Pit, Olimar, and the Pikmin first appeared in the series as trophies in Melee, then all became playable in Brawl. Bowser Jr. was also a trophy in Brawl (His "brother" Ludwig was also a sticker in the same game) before becoming playable in the 4th game.
The ducks from Duck Hunt appeared in Melee as a trophy (Which had two ducks) and a sticker in Brawl (Which only had one). They would later team up with the infamous dog from the same game in the fourth installment. Oddly though, this was the first time the dog appeared in a Smash game.
King Dedede was just a background character in Smash 64 and Melee (Also having a trophy in the latter), then becoming playable in Brawl. Several human villagers from Animal Crossing could appear in the background of the Smashville stage before they would be playable in Smash 4.
Squirtle was a stage platform in the Poké Floats stage in Melee (While also having a trophy) before being playable in Brawl as one of Pokémon Trainer's Pokémon. Unfortunately, like Ivysaur, it was cut from Smash 4 and only appeared in that game as a trophy, while Charizard, another one of Pokémon Trainer's Mons, becomes its own fighter.
Charizard and Little Mac appeared as Assist characters in the first 2 Smash games and Brawl, respectively. Come the third and fourth installments in the series respectively, and they're upgraded to full-fledged playable Smasher status. (The former was a part of a 3-in-1 pack in their Smash debut, though)
Palutena only appeared in Brawl as a background character that appears whenever Pit uses his Final Smash (And 2 trophies, too). She then becomes playable in Smash 4, and because of that, Pit gets a brand new Final Smash.
Wolf started off as only making a cameo in the introduction movie in Melee before eventually becoming playable in Brawl. That unfortunately didn't last long when he became a trophy in the fourth game and completely missed his chance of becoming a DLC fighter.
The Capcom vs. Whatever series ascended many minor characters from both Capcom and the rival companies:
Yami is the final boss in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and the given explanation why all the characters in that game meet up together. Protagonist Amaterasu had to wait until Marvel vs Capcom 3 for her first appearance.
This also applies to others like Dan Hibiki (who started off as a throw-away character in one piece of artwork) and Sakura (who was originally a Joke Character and got her own manga).
Street Fighter Alpha 3 introduced the plot point that Cammy was one of a long line of female clones created by Bison, complete with a lineup of twelve of them, each named for a month in a different language. Only Juni and Juli received any attention at the time... until over fifteen years later, when Ultra Street Fighter IV gave sudden attention to another one, Decapre. She not only became playable and got her own storyline, but later had a role in Street Fighter V's story mode as well.
The Unreal universe has a lot of this. First are Malcolm, Brock and Lauren, who were simple skins a player could choose on the first Unreal Tournament. Then, Unreal Tournament 2003 showed that Malcolm was the winner of the Tournament, with Brock and Lauren as part of his team. Since that moment, Malcolm is considered the face of the Unreal series. Unreal Tournament 2004 and Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict also ascended Gorge and Arclite, (and later, many others, through a patch) from the same game.
Half-Life has about three "skins" for all of the scientist models, all of whom exist solely to provide exposition, open certain doors and/or die horribly and thereby show the player how not to die horribly. Two of these skins were later used as the basis for two of the main characters of Half-Life 2, which has led to interesting arguments about which of the scientists is the "real" one (Eli is explicitly stated to be the first one to talk to Gordon after the Resonance Cascade; Kliener is generally considered to be the only scientist seen wielding a weapon, appearing at the end of the "Lambda Core" level). Barney, a character similarly based on model skins, this time of the security guards (of which there was only one originally) is more of a Mauve Shirt however.
In Dark Fall: The Journal, Nigel is basically someone you have to rescue. In the spinoff game, The Lost Crown, he is the main character.
Before the final boss of The King of Fighters '94, a blonde woman escorts your team to Rugal's chamber. After a number of victories in KOF '95, a brunette woman informs the unseen Rugal of your team's progress. These two otherwise unremarkable secretaries would go on to become playable characters in KOF '96 under the names Mature and Vice, complete with relevance to the Orochi storyline. And even though they were both killed at the end of the game, they still proved popular enough to return in full-cast compilation games and intercompany crossovers.
In the remakes of Final Fantasy II, Prince Scott of Kashuan, who dies less than an hour into the game, is one of the members of the "Soul of Rebirth" bonus scenario.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Yearsloved this trope—numerous party members were minor characters in the original game, and one such party member was so minor as to be an NPC that only appeared in the ending. Meanwhile, The Dragon ascended from being a one-of enemy in a short sidequest exclusive to the original game's Gameboy Advance release.
In the original version of Final Fantasy V, Enuo was mentioned once as being the one indirectly responsible for the plot and never showed up at all. In later versions, he was made into the game's ultimate opponent.
Tseng of Final Fantasy VII. In the original game, he is the leader of the Turks, but you never fought him, and he only appears for a short while. Come Crisis Core, he becomes Zack's Turk partner, and could fight alongside him in a DMW sequence. And Vincent Valentine in the original game was just a optional player character. In Advent Children, he's one of the main character along with Cloud and Tifa and he finally got his own spin-off game Dirge Of Cerberus.
While he's not technically a person per se, the Blue Badger in Ace Attorney. He goes from a little plush toy in the first game, to the police mascot and key plot device in the second game, and by Ace Attorney Investigations he's got an entire family and a stage show as well as being the Gatewaterland Mascot.
Also, Gregory Edgeworth. Besides being the deceased father of one of the main characters, and the victim in the DL-6 Incident, he doesn't get much fame...that is, until you play a case as him in Ace Attorney Investigations 2.
In addition, the nameless chief prosecutor who gave von Karma his penalty right before the DL-6 incident appears in AAI 2 as one of the Dragons to the Bigger Bad.
Johnny Sasaki from the Metal Gear franchise. In the first three games he is shown as a purely comedic character with bowel issues. In the fourth entry he ends up as Meryl's love interest and more or less evolves into a Badass Normal.
Master Miller, one of Solid Snake's minor allies in Metal Gear 2and impersonated by Liquid Snake in the first Metal Gear Solid becomes a major character in Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes/Phantom Painas Big Boss' right-hand man.
In the Total War series, when an army goes into a difficult battle without a general to lead it, and comes out victorious, the army's captain (up to that point a non-entity) can ascend to General status and become a valued member of your royal family (and a powerful unit in his own right).
In the series, Dogi the Wallcrusher was at first a minor character who busts Adol out of jail at one point in the first game and disappears until the end of the second game. However, his bravado and infamous wallcrushing skill instantly turned him into a fan favorite and Dogi became the constant companion of Adol who follows Adol in his later adventures, always busting wall at one point to save Adol in each game. And in Ys Seven, he is a playable character.
Zygarde is an unusual case as it was initially presented as one of these, but it never became the star of a third version (Game Freak opted to remakeRuby and Sapphire). Instead, it became a little more prominent in Pokémon Sun and Moon and had a whole sidequest dedicated to it, but it still isn't the main focus.
Since its debut in Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, Deoxys was a Mythical Pokémon - a Pokémon only attainable through real life events, and all but impossible to get if you play the game after the event(s) passed/live in an area with no Wi-Fi connection* Well, unless you use a Game Shark or manage to get one in a trade that is, but that's besides the point. Furthermore, its presence was almost entirely ignored in the stories of the games. However, in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Deoxys is elevated to the status of Final Boss at the end of the brand new Delta Episode, and is now catchable no matter where or when you play the game.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon does this to a few characters that were merely side characters in the original Pokémon Sun and Moon games. For example, Mina, a Trial Captain hadn't invented her own trial in the original games and just gave you her Z-Crystal. In the Ultra games, she has her own established trial. On the flip side, a few characters who were more prominent in Sun and Moon were Demoted To Extras.
Deekin ascended to party member near the end of Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, and played a significant part in Hordes of the Underdark as well.
Merril in Dragon Age II. In Dragon Age: Origins, she was a Guest-Star Party Member for the Dalish Warden's prologue. Like Isabela, she becomes a love interest and party member in the sequel.
Also Anders to a lesser degree, he was a party member in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening as well, but his role was greatly expanded on and his character was fleshed out much more in Dragon Age II.
The entire Qunari race. We saw two or three in Origins and heard a little about their culture, in Dragon Age II the plot of a third of the game centers around them. Dragon Age: Inquisition takes it even further, as they join the humans, dwarves and elves as a playable race.
Cullen. In Dragon Age: Origins, he was a minor NPC with only two scenes (three if the player chooses the Mage Origin). In Dragon Age II, he returns as a fairly important NPC. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, he returns as an advisor, a role that has nearly as much dialogue as a party member, and is a love interest.
The (formerly) nameless Avvar Sky Watcher encountered during a side-quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition became a playable Agent in the Dragonslayer multiplayer DLC.
Samson was a washed-out ex-Templar and lyrium addict in Dragon Age II, who showed up briefly in two sidequests. In Inquisition he's the Dragon to the game's Big Bad if the Herald sides with the mages.
Animated Adaptations of video game franchises seem to be fond of expanding bit players. This was especially common in earlier shows due to the usually basic (or near non-existent) storyline and character involvement in the original material, and thus writers relying on creating extra depths for what cast it has (or in some cases original additional characters):
The SatAmSonic SatAM animated series was intended to develop the initial games "small animal" cast (only generic animals that jumped out of badnik enemies in the game itself) into a team of heroes assisting Sonic. Alterations were made to the core cast in the final revision, however the show still used a redesigned Sally Acorn (aka. Ricky Squirrel in the east) who was arguably the most prominant protagonist other than Sonic himself.
Additionally the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog series expanded some of the badnik enemies from the original games and converted them into recurring henchmen for Dr Robotnik. Scratch (based largely on Clucker from Sonic 2), Grounder and Coconuts frequently appeared as comic relief in the show.
This position was reversed around with the promotional SEGA Genesis title Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, that not only includes said recurring characters as opponents, but uses numerous original badnik characters from the show, the large majority of them background characters from the pilot episode that weren't even given a name or speaking role in the show itself.
And then there's Ada Wong, whose offscreen role in the first game was simply serving as a three-letter name in a memo that provided the solution to a puzzle (a scientist's note mentions that his girlfriend's name is the password). Resident Evil 2 expanded on that bit of trivia to introduce her in Leon's storyline as an important supporting character with a Dark and Troubled Past, and then Resident Evil 4 elevated her all the way up to a full-fledged Dark Action Girl and Leon's Dating Catwoman adversary.
The Daedric Princes have been around since Daggerfall, offering special sidequests and granting legendary artifacts as rewards for completing them. A few, like Azura and Mehrunes Dagon, have been involved in the main quests of the games that followed. However, some have also gotten A Day in the Limelight "episodes", especially during the expansions and DLCs of the games that followed. To note:
Bandana Dee from Kirby Super Star was an extremely minor character, appearing only in the Megaton Punch minigame. In Super Star Ultra, he was given a speaking role and a boss fight in the Revenge of the King arc, and he's playable in Kirbys Return To Dreamland.
Gooey from Kirby's Dream Land 2 was originally a simple health restoring item that sometimes showed up instead of an animal friend, but in Dream Land 3 he was promoted to Kirby's partner in co-op mode (or an optional computer-controlled ally in single-player).
In another branch of the series, you have Alisa, novice priestess to the Harvest Goddess. IN her first appearance in Island of Happiness, she's was merely the cute assistant to Good Shepherd Nathan. In Sunshine Island, she was one of your potential love interestsnote Though that turned out to be a cruel fake out on the Dev Team's part. In The Tale of Two Towns, she one of two unlockable female love interestsnote with yet again another catch - you can't have a child with her..
Thanks the the experience-based promotion system that Battle for Wesnoth uses and the ability to recall units from previous battles onto the current map, any unit with multiple promotion tiers can go through this in the campaigns, going from "just another generic recruit" to a strong, powerful, and pivotal member of your army.
Mike from Drawn to Life is a minor NPC in the original game, but in the DS version of the sequel, it's revealed that the events of the game have been taking place in his head as the result of a car crash-induced coma.
EDI actually fills this trope in full: She was the rogue VI in Luna in the first game, or at least she was built from it.
Cerberus itself, who go from sidequest baddies to major players in 2 and 3.
Admiral Hackett went from being a Voice with an Internet Connection who calls in to deliver sidequests in 1, to appearing in a single DLC in 2, to becoming arguably Shepard's most consistent and trusted contact for the entire Reaper War in 3.
While they were squadmates in the first game, Garrus and Tali had a noticeable lack of focus on them compared to some other squadmates. Come the second game, on account of their popularity they were Promoted to Love Interest (with the actual Love Interests from the previous game being demoted) with much more influence on the plot. It's also notable that they are the only two characters in the series who can be squadmates for the entire trilogy without DLC (joined by Liara, who becomes a temporary one during Lair of the Shadow Broker).
While not as much of an extra as most, Joker was essentially just a part of the scenery for most of 1. In 2, he gets way more fleshed out as a character and is established as one of Shepard's most loyal followers.
This happens quite often in the Dynasty Warriors franchise, given the historical nature of the setting and the numerous amount of installments that build on the previous one. All characters in the series are largely based on history, so even the generic Non Player Characters are based on real people. Oftentimes, the more prominent NPCs in one installment could very well end up becoming a fully-fledged playable character in a future installment, as proven time and time again. They usually get a design overhaul too.
Back in the first Samurai Warriors, there's one certain generic officer named Honda Tadakatsu who stood up in defense of Tokugawa Ieyasu during the battle of Mikatagahara, and Takeda Shingen refers him as one of Ieyasu's luxuries. Then Xtreme Legends get announced to have 4 brand new playable characters, two of them are Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Imagawa Yoshimoto who already got unique character model despite being NPC in the vanilla version, one of them is a brand new archer babe called Inahime, whose father is... Honda Tadakatsu, who is the last playable character and ascended so great he practically became SW's answer to Lu Bu.
In Hyrule Warriors, many of the minor characters that have appeared throughout the Zelda franchise make their appearance in this game's roster as playable Warriors. In fact, this was one of the major selling points of the game, in which Zelda fans can finally kick some ass as someone who isn't Link.
One Piece:Pirate Warriors 3 has 3 installments, each of which builds upon the roster of the one before it. Many of the new additions in each installment were characters that have already appeared in previous games as Non Player Characters, before becoming fully playable.
The Arslan crossover game also features some playable characters that players may not have even remembered from the TV anime, due to how minor of a role they served.
The Berserk crossover game features Wyald as a playable character, who only appeared as a minor antagonist in one arc.
Both The Witcher and its sequel enjoy using this trope. Side characters from the books, such as Triss and Zoltan, get upgraded to main characters in the games, with the former even becoming the protagonist's main Love Interest. Other characters who largely existed as names dropped in the text, like Iorveth, make actual appearances and get fully fleshed out.
Understandable given that the games are officially the continuation of the books now, per the original author.
At the very beginning of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Geralt exchanges a few lines of dialog with a vagrant named Gaunter o'Dimm, who gives him a lead on his next quest objective. More than thirty levels and a hundred hours of gameplay later, O'Dimm reappears as the primary antagonist of the Hearts of Stone DLC expansion.
Butt-Monkey Bang Shishigami was treated as a joke by a wide variety of characters, the sole exception being Hakumen. However, an offhand comment by Rachel about an inactive Nox Nyctores turned out to be more than met the ear as Bang ground his ass off and turned into a Minor Major Character as a result - as Chrono Phantasma is moving into Ikaruga, the fans are undoubtedly going to be quite pissed if he doesn't get a significant share of the spotlight this time around. He may still be an over-the-top anime ninja pastiche with a loud voice and a scruffy face, but that's why he is a beloved.
Makoto Nanaya was little more than a bit of Noel, Jin and Carl's memories in CT, but she had significantly changed from the Fun Personified role by the time she arrived in Kagutsuchi in CS. A rumor passed around the internet that she was made DLC in vanilla CS due to plot relevance rather than popularity (not that she isn't popular - far from it), but the full extent came out bit by bit up until Extend - there are reasons why Slight Hope in totality is considered an episode of badassery, and with that degree of involvement in the main story, she is clearly not going away.
Tsubaki Yayoi, Valkenhayn R. Hellsing, and Relius Clover also got the relevance treatment - mere mentions or brief appearances turned into characters with full-blown stories behind them and connections to the plot at large.
Kokonoe is a subversion, since she was plot-important even before she became playable. There was still much rejoicing when she did.
Nyarlathotep started out as merely Kandori/Guido's Persona in the first Persona, and wasn't even a final boss. Come Persona 2, it's revealed he is more or less the Personaverse's Bigger Bad, personally responsible for everything bad in 2 (both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment), and everything that happened in the first game. He's MIA during subsequent games, though many fans suspect that he's still pulling something from behind the scenes.
A variation in the Playstation Portable re-release of Persona 3: In the original and FES releases, the male protagonist had Social Links only with the female members of SEES (and Aigis wasn't even among them in the vanilla release), all of them with an inevitable romantic ending, along with a slew of classmates and other adults. The arguable biggest reason as to why the new female protagonist for the PSP release was well-recieved is that she has S. Links for the male members of SEES along with the girls, including the dog, as well as a plot-important NPC that shows up late in the game. The male protagonist could only do social interactions with the male members of SEES when walking Koromaru (again, absent in the vanilla release). The most standout example is Shinjiro, who could have his death prevented (replaced with being comatose instead) entirely if his S. Link was completed; also helped by the fact that he's only playable for one in-game month until that point.
In the original Parappa The Rapper, Sunny Funny's dad, General Potter, made a single non-speaking appearance in the introduction for the final level. In the sequel, he's one of the main characters, recruiting Parappa and friends to help stop the Big Bad from turning everything into noodles.
Parappa's father was only slightly less of an extra than General Potter in the original, having a few spoken lines in the third level's introduction and appearing several times in the intro to the final one. Nevertheless, he receives much more screentime in the sequel, where he's revealed to be an Absent-Minded Professor and good friends with Sunny's dad. He also spends most of the game trying to perfect a machine that will stop the Big Bad.
Boxy Boy only appeared as an Easter Egg background character in the original. In the sequel, he's the game's tutorial character and the host of Versus Mode.
In the Super Famicom version of Ys IV, Karna is only a minor character that Adol runs into a couple times. However, in the PC Engine CD version, she is a badass Action Girl and a major plot driver.
In the original Little Busters! game, Sasami and Kanata exist primarily as Satellite Characters to Rin and Haruka respectively. In Ecstasy and the later sequels, they're fully-fledged love interests with routes of their own.
Name any character from Touhou that was playable at least once. Chances are she debut as a boss character you only see in one or two stage. Notable examples include:
Ice fairy Cirno. She starts out as a Stage 2 boss of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil with no importance to the actual plot at all. She became playable in the ninth part of the series, in a fighting spin-off, got her own spinoff and was declared as playable in a yet in development game.
Tewi Inaba. She debuts as a stage 5 mid-boss with no dialogue in Imperishable Night. She's a playable character in the next game Phantasmagoria of Flower View and becomes a main character in the Gag MangaSpin-OffInaba of the Moon and Inaba of the Earth.
Mima also counts, before she disappeared off the face of Gensokyo. In her first appearance in Highly Responsive to Prayers she's just a Stage 10 boss (roughly equivalent to Stage 2 or 3 of later games) and like other characters, have no dialogue. Comes the second game Story of Eastern Wonderland, where she's the Big Bad. She also appears in the third and fifth game as a playable character.
In the firstHalo game, Sergeant Johnson was just a Played for Laughs NPC who happened to be handy with a sniper rifle. He becomes a major supporting character in the rest of the main trilogy, and was one of the protagonists in the novel Halo: Contact Harvest. In part to reflect his growing importance, Bungie went so far as to reveal that he was actually a Spartan-I.
Team Fortress 2 has a habit of ascending characters that appear in promotional material:
Saxton Hale, the Australian C.E.O. of Mann Co., started out as a gag parody of a 1940's Charles Atlas advertisement. The community then embraced him as a Memetic Badass, even giving him a mod where the whole RED team fights him in his honor. Although still not officially in the game, he is a major character in the Mann Vs. Machine arc, hiring the mercenaries after they lose their jobs working for RED and BLU.
In the Australian Christmas update, the justification for the characters being sent back in time to DeGroot Keep is that "the Soldier angered a magician." In the next Halloween update, said magician, named Merasmus, is revealed to be the Soldier's roommate (as well as the one responsible for the Demoman having only one eye), and they both hate each other. The Halloween update after that, Merasmus finally loses it and becomes that year's Halloween boss, and this time, he means business.
Sergeant Merrick has a minor NPC speaking role in the original campaign of Dawn of War II. For the Imperial Guard campaign of Dawn of War II: Retribution, he is finally, and thankfully, playable.
Techmarine Martellus goes from the Mission Control in the original game, to a playable character in the Space Marine campaign.
Several of the survivors of the Eldar warhost play roles in Retribution as well. Ronahn and Veldoran are playable in the Eldar campaign, and both were present in the original game, during the Eldar attack on Angel Forgenote Ronahn was the sniper who shouted "Nemerian was the best of us, humans", and takes potshots at your squad from a watchtower, and Veldoran was likely Idranel's second in command Warlock. The female Howling Banshee Exarch who attacks you at Angel Forge is also present as a minor antagonist for one of the optional missions in Retribution.
The crossover game Dissidia: Final Fantasy ascends several characters from several different games. The Cloud of Darkness is upgraded from a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere with no personality to a thoughtful individual whose true desire is to keep the balance between the light and dark. The originally Flat CharacterShinryu got to be a major player in the game's backstory. And Cid of the Lufaine from the first Final Fantasy game (who was introduced into the game retroactively) became the instigator of the game's central plot.
In the original Five Nights at Freddy's, the Golden Freddy was an Easter Egg, and it was possible to finish the game without even seeing it. In the sequel, however, that's not the case; Golden Freddy is likely the most difficult enemy in the game.
In Mutant League Football, all players have the same portrait and quotes depending on their species. When Mutant League Hockey rolled around, several of the best players from MLF gained unique portraits and quotes, including Bones Jackson, KT Slayer, and GIL-9000. They're even mentioned by name in the opening credits ("Mutant League Hockey, featuring..."). See also the cartoon, where most of the mentioned players were main or recurring characters. Also on the show was the Razor Kid, who while a standout on the Screaming Evils in Mutant League Football wasn't in Mutant League Hockey and thus didn't get the "star" label like the others.
In The Matrix: Path of Neo Switch and Apoc are given slightly bigger roles from their original status as RedShirts in The Matrix in that they speak more than a few sentences. Along with offering and being help against the SWAT teams in the sewers. Plus, in an earlier level, Apoc, without Switch, helps Neo fend off some SWAT and find the group.
Ratbag the Coward from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was simply one of the possible generated orcs from the Nemesis system from the demos, but, in the game proper, he's been promoted to an actual story character, the first orc you have at your command. The devs had apparently loved his personality too much to leave him dead from a failed assassination attempt on his master.
The protagonists of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! consist of characters who appeared in previous games as either bosses (Wilhelm, Nisha) or questgiving NPCs (Athena, Claptrap). The exceptions are "Jack" (while a Handsome Jack impersonator was in Borderlands 2, it's unlikely to have been the same character) and Aurelia (whose estranged brother Sir Alistair Hammerlock was a quest-giving NPC instead).
The video game adaptation of And Then There Were None promoted Fred Narracott the boatman from a minor character who drops off the story's main cast on the island and leaves, to the protagonist who investigates the killings. A necessary case, as putting one of the original ten characters under the player's control would break the novel's premise that all ten are both suspects and targets.
Pradda Nsu-Yeul was briefly mentioned in the datalogs in Final Fantasy XIII, but became a plot-critical character in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Nevermind Serah being elevated to a main character in said game.
Several minor characters that gave out side missions in Saints Row 1, specifically Tobias, Laura and Mr. Wong, would go on to play bigger supporting roles against some of the new gangs in Saints Row 2. Tobias and Laura (two drug sellers that would go on to get married to each other) help out against the Sons of Samedi, and Mr. Wong (a Chinese man who enlisted the Playa's services as an assassin) plays a major role late in the game against the Ronin.
Rilo Dopplelori from Noitu Love started out as nothing more than an evil robotic duplicate of the game's Mission Control character, who appeared just in time to be the stage boss of Level 5 and disappear right after. In the sequel, she's now the second playable character of the game (while the character she's built to imitate is long dead,) with her trying to get to the bottom of who reactivated her and the rest of the Darn Army and eventually destroying their hidden base and deciding to rebuild the Darn Army under her control.
One of the companions in Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, Voghiln the Vast, previously showed up as a gladiator who players could briefly fight alongside, but who had no real plot role.
The Big Bad of Splatterhouse, Henry West, was the one who kidnapped the protagonists girlfriend. But he never actually appeared onscreen, and was first created following the console import. When the series was rebooted, West makes his appearance and has a fleshed out story to boot.
In Overwatch, Doomfist was originally intended to be a throwaway name in the cinematic trailer. But due to overwhelming fan request, he (or they) eventually became a major figure in the overarching story and was later made into a playable character.
In the original game, Kevin Sweeney was nothing more than a regular operative, a Recon specialist who joined up about halfway through the game. In Raven Shield he's gone on to being one of Rainbow's top advisers, giving you advice about the mission alongside the head of the entire team.
For that matter, Ding Chavez was treated the same as every other operative in the first three games - notable for a high Leadership stat and being an important character in the book, but otherwise mostly interchangeable with the other Assault specialists. Come Lockdown and he's the primary protagonist, the player character for every mission - and then in Vegas he's gone on to become the new head of Rainbow.
In the PC-98Fighting GameSword Dancer Extra Edition (a Spinoff based on the Action RPG of the same name, released almost two years earlier), main female character Setsuna is Promoted to Playable, along with an NPC girl briefly seen in the first town of the original game...and the developers even included the Female Shopkeeper from the same game!
Fallout 3 has Mayor R.J. MacCready, a foul-mouthed Bratty Half-Pint who must be persuaded to let you into Little Lamplight so you can progress through the game's main story line. Fallout 4, which takes place a decade later, finds the now adult MacCready as a mercenary sniper in the Commonwealth with Gosh Dang It to Heck! tendencies. He is one of the companions available in game and will accompany you around for a small fee. If he likes you enough, MacCready also offers a quest to follow, in which you find out more about his past, including that he's a widower with an ailing son he was forced to leave back in the Capital Wasteland.
In Crusader Kings II, similar to the Total War example above, there's a small chance that one of the nameless soldiers will distinguish himself in combat, which turns him into a proper, named character who joins the player's court and is then treated like any other named character (can hold titles, can participate in factions and be their target, can command armies, and so on).
The men who killed Tommy Angelo in Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven appear in Mafia II as its protagonist, Vito Scaletta, and his best friend, Joe Barbaro. One level even features them killing Tommy as a mission.
Peter Grogan is a very minor character in Batman lore, usually as the police commissioner between Gillian Loeb and Jim Gordon, with the only thing known for sure is that Gordon notes in Grogan's initial mention in Year One that Grogan was even more of a Dirty Cop than Loeb. In Batman: The Telltale Series, he's the commissioner throughout the first season.
In Shovel Knight, a bored-looking woman named Mona kills time in one of the inn's rooms in town and offers Shovel Knight a money-making minigame where he knocks flasks into targets. Come the DLC "Plague of Shadows", she's been upgraded to an experienced alchemist, the front for Plague Knight's activities in town, and most of all the motivation for his entire quest.
Kingdom of Loathing did this with Ed the Undying, combining the trope with Breakout Villain. He was originally a semi-important boss several steps removed from the Big Bad, with his only gimmick being that you have to "kill" him several times (he's a very persistent mummy). But he was popular enough to get his own "Challenge Path" where you play through the whole game from his perspective, defeating your normal human character at the end instead of the usual final boss.
In Dishonored, Daud is the assassin who murdered the Empress Jesamine Kaldwin. He appears at the beginning of the game to do the killing, and again near the end to confront Corvo after the Loyalists betray him and dump him in the river near Daud's hideout. The game's two story DLCs - "The Knife of Dunwall" and "The Brigmore Witches" focus entirely on him (Corvo doesn't appear outside of a dream until the very last seconds of "The Brigmore Witches") and what he was doing while Corvo was exacting his revenge. Also doubles as Hero of Another Story.
In Final Fantasy XIV, players first learned of eccentric Gentleman Inspector Hildebrand Manderville's father Godbert Manderville through text in the Hildebrand missions in 1.0. He finally shows up in 2.2's Hildebrand mission but tends to stay here despite being mentioned as one of the heads of Ul'dah's ruling Syndicate, leaving that role to scheming Lalafells like Lolorito. He makes his presence known in the main story, to the surprise of many, in Patch 4.1, when Sultana Nanamo ul Namo seeks him out and he helps her with a solution on how to get the liberated Ala Mhigo back on its feet.