Arbitrary Mission Restriction

Missions, quests, objectives, goals; they go by many names. Whatever name is used, virtually every Video Game ever made has them. But some games don't just give the player an objective; they also give the player conditions. When a Video Game sends the player on a quest to complete an objective in an arbitrarily specific way, that's an Arbitrary Mission Restriction.

There are two main variants of this trope. The first is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A condition required to complete the mission, even though it doesn't have an in-universe justification or simply doesn't make sense in context. The game may send the player to assassinate a target, but require that a specific weapon be used. Or the player may be inexplicably forbidden to use vehicles for a level in a game that has an integrated vehicle mechanic and no real reason for vehicles to be excluded. Or the player may be required to complete a mission wearing a specific set of armor (or lack thereof), common in "infiltration" or "heist"-type missions where a normally-armored character must go in disguise.

The second variant is commonly called "optional objectives", which is when the Arbitrary Mission Restriction is not required to complete the mission, but will grant some kind of extra reward if the player goes the extra mile to complete it. In contrast to the first variant, which is usually unjustified, optional objectives are often justified with some sort of explanation along the lines of, "This is a more challenging, and thus more impressive, way of doing the mission." The rewards are, of course, just icing on the cake.

While this trope crops up most commonly in Video Games, it can appear in other mediums as well. If a character does a task in a needlessly specific way—with "one hand tied behind his back", as it were—it probably falls into this trope as well.

This trope is not when a game hobbles the player In-Universe. If the player-character is imprisoned and has all her equipment taken away, and has to escape the prison without her equipment, that's not this trope. But if the player-character is told to infiltrate a fancy party, but forbidden to run as it will break her cover, that is an Arbitrary Mission Restriction. In general, if there's an In-Universe justification for why the player must do something a specific way, because it's impossible to do it any other way, it's probably not this trope. But if the game leaves all options available and decrees that using one or more of those options will result in a failure, and the conditions imposed are not the point of the mission (such as "Don't let Alice die"), then it is this trope.

This trope is also not when the player has an objective, but they get extra rewards for doing it better. An example of this would be a hostage rescue mission where the player obtains better rewards if all the hostages survive, but can still succeed by rescuing only one hostage. That is not this trope, because the hostages are actually the point of the mission. (However, if the mission is to assassinate a prison warden and the player can get optional rewards for freeing prisoners during the mission, that is an optional objective.)

Compare and contrast with a Gimmick Level, which is when overall gameplay is not changed, but something about the visuals, layout, or abilities necessary to win the level are radically different from usual. Related to Fake Difficulty; many optional objectives can drastically increase the difficulty of a mission for players who want an extra challenge. Tends to overlap with Gameplay and Story Segregation when the restrictions don't have any In-Universe justification, and also frequently overlaps with 100% Completion, since a lot of "optional" objectives are not quite as optional if you want 100%. Likewise, the optional objective variant is often part of an Achievement System.

See also Self-Imposed Challenge, which is when a gamer imposes one of these on him- or herself.

Not to be confused with With This Herring, though that trope's Trope Namer is technically an example.

Video Game examples

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     Action Adventure  

  • Metroid: Other M plays this trope painfully straight with a paper-thin justification. In most Metroid games, Samus finds new items throughout the game which she uses to power up her suit and then has for the rest of the game. In this game, Samus has ALL her powers from the beginning, but depending on the point in the story or section of the game, she can only use the power-ups her commanding officer Adam Malkovitch allows her to use. If you believe the dialog, it's because some of her weapons are too powerful to bust out carelessly given that you're trying to track down any survivors, but it starts veering straight into Voodoo Shark territory when you realize that this restriction also applies to her defensive and mobility upgrades. Most (in)famously, Adam doesn't give her the go-ahead to enable her Varia Suit at first upon entering a heated area, causing Samus' suit to take damage as she navigates it.

     Card Battle Games  

  • The Card Wars mobile game based on the card game of the same name from Adventure Time features a series of matches that can be repeated as many times as the player wants. The player can earn up to three "quest stars" on each match. The first star is earned by beating the match for the first time, but to earn the second and third stars, the player must fulfill conditions like "Beat the opponent without using any Building cards" or "Destroy at least 5 creatures before winning". Failing to meet these conditions doesn't result in a loss, but they are necessary to earn all the quest stars.

     Fighting Games  

  • Some of the challenges in the Super Smash Bros. series fall into this sort of thing—some challenges are even the same as other challenges, but with added restrictions. For instance, in the Wii U game, one challenge is to clear All-Star mode on normal difficulty or above without healing; another challenge is to clear All-Star mode on normal or above without healing while playing as Captain Falcon.

     First Person Shooters  

  • The BioShock Infinite DLC Clash in the Clouds requires the player to defeat 15 waves of enemies on each of the four maps, and each wave has a different specification, such as "Kill all enemies with the shotgun" or "complete the wave in 60 seconds".
  • Borderlands 2: An early sidequest chain has players learning about E-tech weapons by pilfering one off the corpse of Dr. Zed's rival Doc Mercy (after turning him into a corpse, naturally), and then using it to kill a certain number of bandits. Unfortunately, the weapon's got pretty low damage, and its ammo economy is dreadful; assault rifles aren't very ammo-efficient in the first place, and this one, like most E-tech weapons, consumes 2 ammo per shot. Since you're unlikely to have purchased many upgrades for rifle ammo capacity at this point, you'll probably run out partway through unless you carefully weaken enemies with a better gun and finish them off with the one for the mission.
  • Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4:
    • Both games have "Hunting" and "Assassination" Side Quests that require the player to track down specific animal or human enemies and kill them, but the deed must be done with a specific weapon. This is in stark contrast to most of the game, which encourages the player to use whatever tactics and equipment they see fit. Stealth-centric players aren't likely to ever touch a shotgun during the campaign, but some of these side missions require it. The Assassinations, at least, were handled slightly better in Far Cry 4 where they were Hand Waved into "Eye for an Eye Missions": the target killed the Quest Giver's loved one with <specific weapon>, so that's what you're required to kill the target with.
    • Far Cry 4 also features the "optional objectives" variant on some assassination missions, where an extra cash bonus can be obtained by hiding the target's body in a specific location before fleeing the area afterward.
    • In what is probably an unintentional example, Far Cry 4 has very restrictive ideas about what constitutes "out of the mission area", to such an extent that some missions make it very difficult to use a "long-range sniper" play-style, as the game simply won't let the player get far enough away before failing them for going out-of-bounds.
  • Some achievements in the Halo games fit the bill. The "Good Shepherd" achievement in Halo 3: ODST requires the player to complete the campaign without killing any Engineers, making things harder because Engineers give their teammates energy shields. Also from ODST, the Vidmaster challenge requires players to complete the final mission on Legendary difficulty without using any Warthogs or tanks, but to alleviate the challenge, the players are given Mongooses with near-infinite ammo rocket launchers.

     Real Time Strategy  

  • This trope is fairly common in RTS games in general. The campaign modes of many games often severely restrict the types of units the player has access to early on, slowly introducing new unit types in successive missions so the player isn't overwhelmed by having to learn so many units' strengths and weaknesses at once. Frequently little, if any, in-universe justification is given for doing so.
  • The Ardennes Assault expansion of Company of Heroes 2 features a couple missions with arbitrary restrictions:
    • In one mission, victory is tied to each side's kills, but only kills made by vehicles count.note 
    • One mission's objective is the destruction of enemy command vehicles, with the caveat that being spotted by enemy IR searchlights will increase the enemy's alert level. For unexplained reasons, calling in off-map artillery or airstrikes on either the command vehicles or searchlights will also increase the alert level, while attacking them with any ground unit outside the searchlight's beam will not.

     Role Playing Games  

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood questline uses the "optional objectives" variant. Players are free to kill the targets any way they please, but with every target after Rufio and Captain Gaston Tussaud—until the player becomes Lucien Lachance's Silencer—there's a bonus added to the payment (usually a magic item) if the kill is carried out in the specified manner (e.g. to Make It Look Like an Accident in "Accidents Happen").
    • Brought back in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's Dark Brotherhood quests; for example, a Frameup quest requires you to kill the victim in a major city so that the incriminating letter you plant on his corpse will be found in due time.
  • Fable: Anniversary, the Updated Re-release of the original Fable, features "Boasts" for most quests. Before embarking on a quest, the player may pick and choose any or all available Boasts to attempt, which include conditions like "Don't take any damage," "Do the entire quest naked (i.e., without any armor)," or "Do the entire quest in a chicken suit." They aren't necessary for the success of the quest, but completing them grants extra gold and renown.
  • Every dungeon in Final Fantasy Record Keeper has a number of conditions that must be met in order to obtain "Mastery", with silver and bronze medals for those who fail to score high enough. Aside from the bragging rights, gaining Mastery nets the player better rewards. Specifically, every dungeon is ranked on damage taken, party members knocked out, and number of actions taken (i.e., if a battle drags on, the score will drop). Additionally, all boss stages are ranked on whether any party members are knocked out, and most bosses have additional requirements. Common ones include "Exploit the boss's weakness to a specific element," "Afflict the boss with a particular Status Effect," "Defeat the boss before it uses its Signature Move," and so on. It's not necessary to get a perfect score in every requirement to get Mastery, but it's always necessary to do well in most of them.
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days lets the player replay previously-completed missions as "holo-missions," simulations provided by the Organization. After a certain point in the game an Ordeal Badge appears in most missions that, when collected, gives the player access to one of a set of holo-missions called "challenge missions." The mission can be completed normally, but it also has an optional objective that will earn the player "Challenge Sigils" that can be redeemed for in-game rewards. Challenge missions also impose mandatory restrictions such as raising the level of enemies/putting a Cap on the player's level, disabling attack magic, disabling healing, and so on. A few missions also have an "Ordeal Blazon" to collect for access to an even harder challenge.
  • Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ has three challenges for each quest, along the lines of "Defeat all enemies in 1 turn" or "Complete without opening treasure chests". These conditions are optional, but they provide rewards if completed. Proud Mode quests take this a step further, as in addition to the three optional challenges, each Proud quest has a mandatory Keyblade choice, as well as mandatory conditions that dictate what special attacks can be used.
  • In the Inevitable Tournament of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the player is asked to meet certain conditions in each match in order to advance, rather than just defeat the enemy. These include things like "Appeal three times," "Don't attack for three rounds" or "Only let your partner attack." One of the NPC opponents also gets a condition: "Do a triple flip and meow."
  • Several of the Tales Series games, including Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Xillia, include titles and/or achievements for not using any Gels until a certain point in the game, and Symphonia includes a title for not changing out the main character's starting weapon—a pair of wooden swords—until a certain point in the game.
  • The World Ends with You has special "Pig Noise" enemies that must be defeated in very idiosyncratic ways. Some require a specific pin to be erased, some must be beaten in under ten seconds, some must be beaten in a particular order, and one actually requires you to close your DS in order to be erased.

     Simulation Games  

  • The Ace Combat games often include at least one mission where the player is required to fly through a trench, staying below the lip of the trench. It usually has one of two justifications: Either the mission is a stealth-recon mission, and flying above the trench will result in detection and immediate failure, or there is heavy anti-aircraft fire that can't reach the player in the trench, but will instantly kill them if they fly too high.

     Stealth Based Games  

  • Since Assassin's Creed II, every Assassin's Creed game has had optional objectives for every mission. Some are actual restrictions (like "Don't get into open combat"), while others are merely extra tasks that must be completed during the mission (like "Get five Head Shots on enemies"). Other such conditions include "Assassinate your target with the hidden blade" (as opposed to any other weapon), "Don't touch the water" on missions that take place on or near bodies of water, "Perform three double assassinations," and so on. Completing them results in extra "synchronization" on the mission. Since the Framing Device for the game is that the player is reliving a historical figure's memories, these are loosely justified as being "the way the assassin actually did it". And of course, completing all of the optional objectives is a requirement for 100% Completion.
  • The Landing Zones in Metal Gear Solid V. Where, exactly, the helicopter can drop you off varies wildly between the story missions and the Wide Open Sandbox mode, to the effect that the same area may have dozens of available landing options in free roam but only one or two during missions, without even so much as a "too many enemies in the area right now" Hand Wave.

     Tabletop Games  

  • In Dead of Winter, if the main objective is completed successfully before a loss condition is triggered, all players collectively win the game. However, each player also has a hidden individual objective. A player can only achieve individual victory if the group mission is successful and the player fulfills their own objective. Many of these individual goals can go counter to the group goal, since they can require the player to hoard vital supplies or play in a sub-optimal fashion, while still trying to achieve the group goal. This is Inverted if a player gets a Betrayer objective, which means that they can only win if they fulfill their individual objective and the group fails.
  • Odds Chess is a variant of chess in which more experienced players will give themselves an arbitrary restriction, to give amateurs a better chance. For example, two of the stiffest traditional handicaps are known as the "capped knight" and "capped pawn". These challenges specify that the odds-giving player (the more experienced one) must checkmate his opponent with his queen's knight or king's bishop's pawn; otherwise, he loses, even if he checkmates his opponent with a different piece.
  • Published Shadowrun adventures sometimes have Mr. Johnson put these type of restrictions on the shadowrunners. For example, if the run involves sending a decker into the target's computer system to retrieve a file, Mr. Johnson may order that the decker is not to look at or copy any of the other files in the system, or keep a copy of the file for himself.

     Tower Defense Games  

  • The Plants vs. Zombies games feature several examples:
    • The first game has a New Game+, in which on every normal level, the first three choices of plants are randomly imposed by Crazy Dave.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time:
    • "Save Our Seeds" missions start the player with several pre-placed plants that will fight like normal. The mission is, as always, to defend the left side of the screen, except that if any of the pre-placed plants die, that will also result in a loss.
    • "Locked and Loaded" missions that require the player to complete the stage using specific plants.
    • Certain levels force additional restrictions: How many plants you can use, how many plants you can lose, how much sun you need to produce, how long you must last for without planting (pre-1.7), how many zombies killed within a period of time, where you can or cannot plant (mould colonies, before the objective description change), and how far the zombies can walk, which is marked by a row of flowers. If you fail any of these restrictions, the player will lose the level and force to restart just like if the zombies ate your brains (after the 1.7 update) or not get a star (1.6 and below).

     Web Original  

  • Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation sardonically refers to this trope as the "sandbox paradox", referring to Wide Open Sandbox games in which the player is given complete freedom to do what they like outside of missions, but within missions must precisely follow a linear series of instructions.

     Wide Open Sandbox  

  • The entire Grand Theft Auto series since at least Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has featured these restrictions on story missions, such as mandatory stealth or no-killing restrictions that are sometimes only vaguely justified if justified at all.
    • Grand Theft Auto V is the first major release of the series to introduce optional secondary objectives on missions, usually as little more than bragging rights for the Rockstar Games Social Club, though of course required for 100% completion.
    • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony was V's immediate predecessor and the "true" first title of the series to feature optional secondary objectives.
    • Grand Theft Auto IV (and V) has restrictions on not letting a vehicle "get away" even when the target vehicle may be on a predictable road with nowhere else to go, usually because the developers wanted to force you to follow in close pursuit in a scripted sequence.
  • Saints Row 1 has Hitman missions, requiring you not only to locate and take out a specified target but also to use a specified weapon in doing so. The Hitman missions in the sequel drops the specific weapon requirement.
  • Saints Row IV has Mayhem missions, in which the player must inflict a certain amount of property destruction in dollars by using a specified weapon, superpower, or vehicle.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla has missions that require the player to destroy a building within a time limit, using explosives and other tools that are provided. These range from simply using the tools quickly, to spotting a building's crucial structural weak points, to solving puzzles.

Non-Video Game examples


  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail Parodies this trope when the Knights Who Say "Ni" demand that Arthur cut down the mightiest tree in the forest—with a herring. Of course, it overlaps with With This Herring, since the tool is not only arbitrarily specific, but also totally inadequate to the task.

     Western Animation  

  • In Aladdin, when the eponymous thief enters the Cave of Wonders to fetch the magic lamp, he is allowed in, but told to "Touch nothing but the lamp." Upon entering, he finds a massive trove of treasure, but he abides by the condition. Fully justified in that when his pet monkey Abu does touch some of the treasure, shit massively hits the fan, they almost die, and then they are trapped in the cave and must find a way to escape.
  • In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible is told to destroy the deadly Omnidroid, but also to not completely destroy it, as it's a very expensive piece of hardware. Mr. Incredible does pretty well within the parameters, as after the fight is over the robot is still mostly intact.

     Real Life  

  • Most mathematics classes will administer tests requiring students to find the correct answer to a problem using some specific method, when the problem might be solvable by multiple methods (an obvious instance would be "using long division" as opposed to "using a calculator"). Justified, as the purpose of such a test is to see how well they've learned the course material, not merely whether they can solve a problem using any method at their disposal.