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Golden Path
Some video games have a linear set up. Others, usually games with RPG elements, give the player many choices as to where to go and what to do, and when and what things are done can have an impact on how the game unfolds, some times in huge ways. The Golden Path is the path that will offer the player the best gameplay, story, rewards and/or secrets the game has to offer. The Golden Path usually leads to the Golden Ending in Multiple Endings games, and sometimes is the only way to get there, although this is not always the case. Some single-ending games can have a very rewarding Golden Path, usually by using hidden secrets and story elements. Developers can try to avert the creation of a definitive Golden Path by creating unique content for each possible player choice.

See Guide Dang It if following this path isn't intuitive or requires the player to do everything in a specific way. Compare 100% Completion for which this path is almost always a necessity, see also Story Branch Favoritism which is one of the biggest causes of this trope.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action 
  • The Mega Man (Classic) games are prime examples of this, more so in the first two games, in which it was not possible to replay a robot master's stage, and there were items and power-ups that were only accessible using a certain weapon or ability the player may not have possessed yet.
  • Averted in Star Fox 64. There are two endings to the game, each with its own final level. The paths to get there, however, branch all over the place because almost every single mission has a normal and a good victory condition.

    Adventure 
  • In Scratches, at one point the main character must call the bank while impersonating someone in order to get information; the outcome doesn't affect the ending, but with the right dialog choices, it's possible to learn some very insightful information.
  • In King's Quest VI, after resolving the Beast subplot, Alexander can either head straight for the Castle of the Crown, or get there by a longer path which involves retrieving Cassima's parents from the Realm of the Dead. The long path is required for the best possible ending, of course.
  • Fahrenheit includes the possibility of an interactive Optional Sexual Encounter with your former girlfriend if you make the right choices at one point of the game. After that, it's Lost Forever.
  • Primordia has numerous minor choices and puzzle solutions that determine which characters will follow Horatio if you choose to return to the ship at the end of the game. Gathering them all requires a lot of work throughout the entire story.
    • There are two ways of getting that ending, one of which offers a bit more of a "victory" feeling than the other one, in addition to having Horatio learn his true identity. Accessing it, however, requires getting an extra item very early in the game by way of a correct puzzle solution, and then not losing it partway through. This point is known to frustrate some players who, upon being handed a datachip with Horatio's memory files near the end of the game, realize that they can't do anything with it due to missing said item, provided they know it existed at all.

    Fighting 
  • In Digimon Rumble Arena 2, after each match, the player can choose between two different settings for the next match with different difficulties. If the player primarily chooses harder matches, they unlock some of the best Digimon in the game, including Malomyotismon. If the player chooses primarily easier matches, they unlock weaker characters or a new stage.

    Puzzle 
  • The Grow series from Eyezmaze.

    RPG 
  • Like many RPGs, the Mass Effect series features many sidequests, but what makes this one special is the ability to import your character from the previous game to the next, along with all the data on the decisions and quests completed, which allows the player to experience follow-up quests that would not be there if you hadn't imported the character.
    • In Mass Effect 2, the way to earn the best ending is to upgrade your ship's armor, shields, and weapons, recruit all the possible squadmates, and complete each and every one of their loyalty missions before boarding the derelict Reaper, then doing the last loyalty mission for the squadmate found there, then going through the Omega-4 relay immediately after your crew is abducted. During the final mission, you'll have to pick the best squadmate for each task and leave the toughest characters behind for the Final Boss, in order to keep everyone alive. Doing so will net you the "No One Left Behind" achievement and the longest ending in the game.
    • Bioware recommended taking this in Mass Effect 3 to get the best ending, which means taking plenty of time to do sidequests, explore the galaxy, talk to people, and in general Take Your Time. Many of the sideplots also require an imported save from at least Mass Effect 2 in order to get the best resolution.
    • Back to the first game, it's way better to do Therum first in order to have Liara in your party as soon as possible, as possibly leave Virmire for last.
  • In Persona 3 and Persona 4, it is possible to max out all of your social stats and social links in a single playthrough. This is nearly impossible in 3 (you have no leeway at all), slightly less ridiculous in FES, and still not that easy in 4.
  • In the first Knights of the Old Republic game, it's best if you complete either Tatooine or Kashyyk first and save Manaan for your third adventure and leave Korriban last. Because on the first two planets, the characters HK-47 and Jolee Bindo may join your party and you'll have more chances to know them better, there's also a sidequest that involves Jolee on Manaan; if you attempt to do Korriban any time before that Bastila will stay in the ship during it, so the fact that she will be captured after completing three planets reduces the impact of her absence to zero, at least there.
    • Furthermore, the enemies you have to fight on Tatooine and Kashyyyk are much less nasty than the trouble you run into on Korriban, where almost every enemy is throwing around Force Powers and fighting with lightsabers and those who aren't venture into Lightning Bruiser status. Manaan's enemies don't have the sheer power of Korriban's, but they're still higher-end than you'd run into on Tatooine.
    • In addition, The Reveal will occur after finishing the third plot planet, which will gives you more dialogue options. Leaving Korriban for last will make the level much more interesting.
  • It's usually a good idea to go to the mage tower first in Dragon Age: Origins, because not only will you be able to pick up the designated party healer right away, but you will also be taking full advantage of the numerous, permanent stat bonuses that you can get there. In addition, it will also allow you to Take a Third Option when facing a Sadistic Choice later on in the game.
    • In Dragon Age: Origins Awakening, it is best to leave Blackmarsh for last, since completing it before will skip the Grey Warden initiation of the companion you hire last.
  • Valkyrie Profile Lenneth is a rather obnoxious example. The game boasts 3 endings! Except... One of the endings is nothing more than a fancy Game Over, the normal ending bypasses a lot of the interesting stuff, and is about 2 lines long ("Congratulations! Go to sleep; BTW, this game has more stuff"), and then there's the good ending, which is both the Golden Path and Guide Dangit. Averted in Silmeria, which has only one path, and Convenant of the Plume, in which all 3 paths are satisfying (well, the A Path ending was kind of rushed...) and need to be played for the full experience.
  • Radiant Historia centers the plot around this. Stocke has to jump back and forth along two different timelines, working out the kinks to produce the "True History" that will prevent global desertification. This is made more complex by another time traveler actively working against him, and by the Golden Path in question being incredibly precise and fragile. Mishandling certain sidequests is enough to send things off track and doom the entire world in that permutation.

    Visual Novel 
  • Frozen Essence has multiple paths, but the only one that solves the mysteries of Mina's lost memories and dreams and explains a lot of things that show up in other paths is the Water Path, which is unlocked only if the player doesn't fulfill the requirements for any other path. Interestingly, the game's proclaimed "True End" is actually on another path (the Life Path), but explicitly states that Mina never regains her memories, hence still leaving the player in the dark about much of the game's backstory.

Golden EndingThe Gilded IndexGolden Super Mode
Arbitrarily Serialized Simultaneous AdventuresInteractive Storytelling TropesGotta Catch Them All
Kyu and Dan RanksVideo Game RewardsGood Pays Better

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