Want to know who is The Hero and The Leader of a group? Look for the guy with the sword!
The sword is a sign of the mighty warriors and nobles. It's a central part of codes of honor like chivalry and bushido, symbolizing nobility, leadership, justice, and power. In a group of fighters, the one wielding the sword will be the leader, with his subordinates wielding axes, spears, bows — all weapons more associated with the commoners.
This trope can take two main forms:
The leader or hero of the group carries a sword, while other characters carry other weapons.
A character receives a sword as a symbol of their status as hero, similar to a Knighting ceremony. Inversely, losing their sword signifies the loss of that status, similar to a Sword-breaking ceremony◊.
The Gundam series tends to show this as well, with early series units with a beam saber being the hero. However, if a group of pilots all have beam sabers, then it's the one with the unique blade of the bunch that's the hero.
You only have six cartridges, but I have only my sword! Follow me!
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker receives a sword when he is about to leave his life on Tatooine to become a hero.
According to George Lucas, this was the entire rationalle behind the Jedi light-sabre. Even in a setting with laser pistols and force fields, real heroes must use swords, or the hi-tech equivalent.
Snow White & the Huntsman: Snow White is the only important character who wields a sword. Everyone else uses axes, bows, daggers, a cane, and so forth. The only exception is her father, the King.
Subverted in Kull the Conqueror, The Dragon prefers swords, and mocks Kull for using a big axe. Kull uses a sword most of the movie, and does fine with it, but doesn't win against the villains until he returns to his axe.
Meanwhile, sword-wielding Aragorn is the designated leader of his three-man band once the Fellowship is split up, while Gimli favors an axe and Legolas uses knives and a bow.
In Pacific Rim, Gipsy Danger's "Sword" (no fancy names, just "Sword") is remarkably effective against class 4 Kaiju compared to other complicated weaponry.
Black Crown averts or plays this straight depending on who you define to be the 'hero'; in 'Black Crown', King Valerius fights with a sword, but his rival King Marion fights with an axe.
Conan the Barbarian almost always uses a sword, although never the same one since they tend to break on him or get lost. Occasionally, however, he also uses spears, hammers, and axes.
Not surprisingly, given the setting, this comes up in the Deryni works:
While the heroic characters can and do use other weapons (Morgan's stiletto is practically an extension of his arm, and he, Kelson, and Dhugal are among those shown shooting bows), the heroic characters are shown to use swords often. Even Duncan McLain keeps in practice, despite having taken holy orders.
In the short story "Trial", Morgan uses his powers to find the real culprits in a rape/murder case, freeing a foreign swordsmith who was falsely accused of the crime. In gratitude, the smith offers to make Morgan a custom sword and asks to join his service.
Used several times in Heirs Of Alexandria, in various ways, even though gunpowder weapons are starting to dominate the battlefields.
When Benito and Marco gets introduced into the Venetian upper circles, they have to wear swords and are trained with them. However, they never use them in anger.
Duke Dell'Este signals his alliance with House Dorma of Venice by sending one of his honour-blades to Petro Dorma.
Funnily deconstructedandreconstructed in the Inheritance Cycle. The dragon riders have swords made of Thunderbolt Iron. They are way superior to any other weapons, so it makes sense to always use them. But the smith make a long lecture lampshading how stupid it is, always using the same sword. Even if you may have a favorite weapon, using the same regardless of the kind of battle is far from optimal.
Lampshaded and deconstructed in The Last Hero, when Carrot faces down Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde. "One simple sword in the hands of a truly brave man would cut through a magical sword like suet." Elsewhere in the series, the narrative discusses Carrot'sAncestral Weapon — nothing magical, just a simple steel sword so utterly mundane that it has a kind of power all its own. It's somehow more real than everything around it.
In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn goes from being a ranger among others and someone fighting a losing fight to the man who will be King of Gondor and a member of the party that will win the war. This transfer coincides with the re-forging of Narsil and him claiming it as Andúril.
For that matter, in The Hobbit, the first step in Bilbo's transformation from helpless Everyman to brave adventurer is when he receives the blade Sting from a troll hoard. By the time he uses it to kill a Great Spider, he's accepted by the Dwarves traveling with him as a hero.
In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians novel(la) series, the titular character Percy Jackson is unskilled at nearly everything, minus sword-play and canoeing.
In the sequel series Heroes Of Olympus, this is embodied in the chosen 7 who are supposed to save the world: The two main heroes/leaders of the group are Big Three demigods Jason and Percy, who use swords. The only other main character who uses a sword is Hazel, and its unwieldly unless she's on her horse.
Nearly all of the important, heroic characters in A Song of Ice and Fire use swords, and many of them are named. Axes, maces and polearms are generally relegated to mooks and characters who don't fit the heroic mold. Tyrion uses an axe, as do many of his highland bandit henchmen.
An exception is King Robert Baratheon, who in his heyday was famous for his skill with his warhammer, and used it to kill crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen during his rebellion. This fits his Boisterous Bruiser personality, but is also a symptom of the series' fondness for Combat Pragmatists — a warhammer is a rather better choice of weapon for a strong fighter facing an opponent in plate armour.
Brienne of Tarth also prefers a mace for this reason, but she's very much aware of this trope when given a Cool Sword and sent on The Quest to find Sansa Stark. She finds it effective enough against the lightly-armored outlaws she's confronted with.
In The Stormlight Archive, the ruling lighteyes caste of the Alethi use swords (most mundane swords, a handful the famed magical shardblades), and certainly consider both themselves and the weapons heroic. However, it's made plain that the majority of the lighteyes have fallen far from their ideals, while The Hero is Kaladin, a lowborn darkeyes who uses the weapon of his caste, the spear, and is very good with it.
On the other hand, back in the time of the Desolations, all of the Knights Radiant carried Shardblades, immensely potent magical weapons which are the only practical way to fight some of the monsters they faced. So heavily Justified.
Deconstructed in Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. The nobles of the city take lessons in swordsmanship and carry swords, but they are never expected to use them themselves. Instead they hire professional swordsmen to fight duels and entertain for them. These swordsmen are usually common-born, and treated like disposable celebrities.
In The Wheel of Time, Rand al'Thor is most proficient with a bow, but he receives a sword as he leaves home for the quest. When this sword is melted in his fight with Ba'alzamon at the end of the second book, he uses a blade wrought with the One Power from fire until he gets his signature weapon ''Callandor'' from the Stone of Tear. He is accompanied by two friends and followers: Mat Cauthon uses a bow and a staff, while Perrin Aybara uses an axe.
The Sword of Truth. In universe, the Seeker of Truth is this, leading to a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when everyone figures out that Richard has control of the magic of the titular sword even without having the sword itself.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In season two, Buffy's given a sword blessed by the virtuous knight who first slayed the demon Acathla. She has to use it to stop him from awakening a second time.
Somewhat averted, however, in that throughout the series Buffy is given a number of different weapons to use, including stakes, axes, daggers and a axe-like weapon called a "Scythe" for some unknown reason. In Angel, they also fluctuate between swords, axes, and other weapons.
Super Sentai, and by extension Power Rangers, generally plays the trope straight with either the Red Ranger getting a sword as his personal weapon and/or the entire team getting swords as a standard sidearm.
Lampshaded in Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger vs Super Sentai. Yuusuke lectures Gaku on the sword wielding heroes in the series, and most are the Red or Sixth Ranger. (Gaku is a rare case in that he has a sword while being neither; he's GaoYellow.) Afterwards, Yuusuke tests Gaku in a sword fight.
King Arthur received a sword twice. When he pulled the sword from the stone he proved he was the King, and then he received Excalibur after his first sword was broken.
It's not unusual at all for tabletop RPGs to err on the side of making swords the de facto best melee weapons available, period, which then kind of naturally leads to this trope among player characters. For example:
In GURPS, swords and knives are the main class of melee weapons that can actually be used to both attack and defend every turn. Something like an axe will likely have to be used in conjunction with a shield because it is "unbalanced" and requires a Ready action after each use before it can be used to either attack or parry again, while a sword can freely do both at once turn after turn.
In Dungeons & Dragons, swords tend to be among the weapons with the best stats — sometimes with an accuracy bonus to-hit compared to others, sometimes simply the best damage-to-weight efficiency, depending on edition —, and magical weapons are very typically more likely to be some kind of sword than any other type. The Holy Avenger is a particularly blatant example, being specifically a sword that only a paladin (so, basically a heroes' hero) can wield to full and then devastating effect.
At least in early editions of The Dark Eye, swords — and specifically one-handed ones at that — were essentially the only type of weapon that didn't come with an inherent penalty to attack, parry, or both.
In the Revolutionary War drama Horn In The West, Dr. Geoffrey Stuart (the protagonist) carries a sword at the end when he leads the American settlers against the British in the Battle of Kings Mountain. He is the only one carrying a sword; all the others have guns or clubs.
The heroes in the Tales Series all use swords, with two notable exceptions: Senel from Tales of Legendia, and Jude from Tales of Xillia, both of whom fight with their fists. In Jude's case, you can choose to pick Milla as the main character instead of him, which would play this trope straight since Milla uses swords.
In the first game the strongest weapons, Excalibur and Masamune, are both swords. Unlike most swords, Masamune can be wielded by all twelve classes. The representative of FF1 who appears in Dissidia, the "Warrior of Light", is also a swordsman.
Final Fantasy IV: Cecil, as captain of the Red Wings, uses swords, which don't exactly seem suited for aerial combat. Interestingly, after his job switches to Paladin, he can equip a larger array of weapons.
Final Fantasy VII: Despite how technologically advanced and futuristic the setting is, the heroic characters always prefer a sword. A specific sword, in fact.
In the original game, Cloud can only equip swords, while his initial weapon, the Buster Sword, is a Tragic Keepsake from his deceased friend, Zack.
Crisis Core has Zack starting the game with a sword, which seems the preferred weapon of 1st class SOLDIER members. His dream is to become a hero. At some point, he inherits the Buster Sword from his mentor, Angeal. In this context, the Buster Sword seems to symbolise dreams and honour passed down from one man to the next.
Final Fantasy VIII: Squall's gunblade is a Vibro Weapon looking like the combination of a gun and a sword, a weapon only usable by the elite SEED members. Along with his perpetual lion motif, it symbolizes his status as a heroic and proud figure.
Squall's gunblade is actually an in-universe example of this. Gunblades are Awesome, but Impractical and so not used very often, however it's also said that one day a hero will save the world wielding one. Most gunblade users chose the weapon in hopes of being this hero. Though Seifer is a bit more complicated.
Although it's a job class game, the protagonist of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Brandt, is depicted with a sword. He also has high natural growths in Strength and HP, giving him a natural inclination to swordwielding jobs.
In Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, two of the three lords (each one being the main character at one point during the "normal" mode) use swords, and the other gains the ability to use swords upon promotion. The game also discusses and attempts to defy it briefly: Sain insists early on that "the lance is more heroic. A knight should look heroic, don't you think?" and so refuses to use a sword against the axe-wielding bandits they're fighting. It doesn't last.
In a series-wide example, the class named "Hero", promoted from Mercenary, primarily uses swords.
Also, those two characters are the only characters in the game to use the typical straight-bladed, one-handed European longswords, other than the giant Knights. The skeletons wield curved, sabre-style swords while every other enemy wields a mace, club, axe, or hammer.
The protagonist of every game in The Legend of Zelda series has a sword. He's usually given one at the start of his quest, coinciding with learning he's the Chosen Hero. It will be replaced with the Master Sword, his fated weapon, in time to fight the Big Bad. In some games, he gives up the sword at the end, signifying that a hero is no longer needed.
In Odin Sphere, though three of the five main characters, including the one you start with, use a spear, crossbow, and chain, the two male heroes do in fact both use swords.
In Rusty Hearts, Frantz and Angela both use swords, though they get axes and scythes respectively as secondary weapons.
Shadow of the Colossus subverts it: while Wander does carry a sword, and while the sword is the only thing that can kill Colossi, one look at how he wields it demonstrates that he has no idea what he's doing. It is heavily implied that he stole the sword, so it makes sense he has no training with it. His actual weapon of choice is his bow, which he shoots like a master.
The Star Ocean series alludes to this in every game:
Star Ocean 1 has our medieval hero Roddick use swords, even though he comes from an isolated small village. The remake elaborates on this by explaining that he learned from his late father.
Star Ocean: The Second Story plays with this. Rena believes in the prophecy of a hero holding a sword of light. When Claude uses his Phase Gun to vanquish a monster that attacks her, she takes it to be the prophesied sword. After his gun is broken, Claude is forced to equip swords, as he's stuck on an underdeveloped planet. The rest of the journey has him overcoming his father's shadow and becoming a real hero.
Star Ocean Till The End Of Time has Fayt using a sword because he is stuck in a medieval planet, and that in the battle simulator video game he always prefers a swordsman avatar.
Star Ocean The Last Hope has two examples discussed in the story. Edge chooses a sword-type weapon because it was the only thing he could reach for to defend himself against a group of alien bugs. He noticed beforehand that blasters and laser guns were useless against them. Later on in the story, Edge is asked about it and says he's gotten used to using swords at that point. There's also the fact that, as a Seed of Hope, his reflexes are so good that he does very poorly with ranged weapons because he'll instinctively aim for where his target is going to be, rather than where they are. However, his reflexes work perfectly with a melee weapon.
Suikoden III has all three main characters wielding swords. Hugo's is closer to a dagger/main gauche, since he's younger than the others and requires a smaller weapon, but a sword it still is. To top it off, Thomas, star of an optional secondary scenario, wields a sword too.
Taiga in Duel Savior Destiny gets a shortsword (though it can change shape) while his allies get a staff, tonfa, a book, nothing, a magic glove and a bow respectively. Of course, it turns out the girl who had nothing also has a sword, but then she seems to have been the leader of her group originally as well!
Dragon Quest heroes always wield swords, which is given a twist in Dragon Quest V. There, the protagonist is always depicted as wielding a staff. Yet the Zenithian hero's equipment you spend much of the game looking for includes a sword, and it's said that the legendary hero will wield one. This is your first clue that the protagonist is not the Hero in question—that's his son.
Averted in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, where Klein the alchemist (and hero) wields canes and maces, as well as being a powerful magic-user and healer. The most "hero-like" sword-user is Arlin, who turns out to be more of a taciturn Ineffectual Loner.
The hero in each Sakura Wars game uses dual katanas. And in all but one of the games, the primary female hero uses a katana as well, including the titular Sakura.
In the Persona series, many of the characters, naturally, use swords rather than the diverse arsenal of their teams; Tatsuya Suou and Yu Narukami from Persona 2 and 4 respectively specialise in greatswords, while in promotional material and in the Persona 3 Portable Updated Re-release Minato Arisato uses single-handed swords, sabres and rapiers. In teams wielding boxing gloves, knives, bows, guns, battleaxes, fans and chairs(/flat bludgeoning weapons). Played even more straight when you realise that the former leader of the SEES, Mitsuru Kirijo, is also a sword-user, though her style is more like fencing. Subverted by Fe MC in Persona 3 Portable, who exclusively uses naginatas, and Maya Amano from Persona 2: Eternal Punisment, who wields Guns Akimbo.
In both Legend of Legaia and its In Name Only sequel, Duel Saga, the hero and main character of the story uses a sword as his weapon of choice.
Subverted in .hack: the usual indicator of the main hero is dual shortswords (or long knives) held in a Reverse Grip, not a single larger blade (that's usually carried by The Lancer, oddly enough). Primary protagonists in the series have also wielded spears, staffs, and scythes.
Jesse Cox: "He's the leader, he has swords. You know he's the leader because he has two swords."
Invoked in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): when Splinter makes the turtles switch weapons around as a training exercise, Michelangelo gets Leonardo's swords and starts claiming that means he's the leader now.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): He-Man is given his Sword of Power by the Sorceress of the Castle, and uses it when leading his fellow warriors into battle. Even though Teela is seen teaching Adam how to use a sword, she often uses wrist-blasters, a ray gun, or hand-to-hand in battle. The other Masters frequently use their... natural abilities.
ThunderCats: Lion-O receives the Sword of Omens from wise Jaga when he becomes leader of the Thundercats and ruler of the Thunderians. His companions use a whip, staff, nunchucks, slingshots and capsules, a hammer, and hand-to-hand. His allies the Warrior Women use archery and short knives.
Thundarr the Barbarian: Thundarr uses the Sun Sword that can slice through or damage just about anything. He is usually the leader, decided where to travel and who to fight. His friend Ookla uses his massive strength, while his other friend Ariel uses her magic, learning, and brains.
Parade dresses of officers and the regalia of royalty often include swords. Sword-breaking ceremonies◊, when an officer is stripped of their rank, also draw on this trope.
Historically justified in that for most of recorded history, a good sword was a massively valuable item. Anybody carrying one was either rich and powerful, or good enough to have been given one by someone rich and powerful, or good enough to have taken one off the above category and kept it.
Also, in general swords require more training to use effectively compared to spears, axes, or bludgeons. Thus in many cultures they served as the mark of a privileged warrior class who had the leisure time to practice martial arts, as opposed to levees or conscripts recruited from lower classes. This is especially true if honour duels are an element of the culture.
However, even knights and samurai used polearms, axes, or bludgeons as their primary weapons since all but the heaviest swords do very poorly against armored opponents. It's only when facing unarmored foes such as duelists, sailors, Napoleonic soldiers, or peasants that anyone used a sword as their main weapon on the battlefield.