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 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 and 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.
Sting is not a sword, "It's more of a letter opener really." And besides, everyone carries a sword, even the wizard carries a sword. The real heroic sword is Aragorn's broken sword that is reforged by the third book/film.
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."
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.
The exception is King Robert Baratheon, who was famous for his skill with his warhammer, and used it to kill crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen during his rebellion.
This fits in its own way: Robert is always described as a brute who's not subtle enough to make a good king.
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.
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.
"You don't even have your weapon."
Richard "I am the weapon."
The Dresden Files has Harry use a sword for the first several books, but as his magic grows, he eventually stops carrying it. He's also the custodian for two swords belonging to Knights of the Cross.
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.
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.
Somewhat 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.