A video game playable character has quite a few sprites (2D) / skins and models (3D) to deal with, which makes it hard to justify changing that valuable art for something as fickle as his equipment. Drawing a 2D hero in the starting armor and the most powerful armor alone would double the sprite count for every frame of the hero doing everything in almost every direction; this only gets worse with combinations of different types of equipment. Some 2D titles ameliorate this by superimposing sprites on top of each other, or relying on Palette Swapping. Three-dimensional models make this far easier to avoid, since you can simply change textures/skins, or bolt extra models onto the same skeleton, while reusing animations.
As a result, the hero you see on the game screen usually doesn't represent the hero you see on the equipment screen. It's become so ridiculous that some games will just skip giving the heroes any body armor at all, which is okay because they're heroes and heroes are Made of Iron. Still, by the end of the game, it can be hard to excuse your hero bumbling around in his civilian clothes as he goes up against the 10-story Bonus Boss.
This trope seems to be fading as 3D graphics become more common, space becomes cheaper, and game engine-rendered realtime cutscenes become more prevalent. 3D models are completely free of the exponential increase in artwork that plagued games with single-sprite 2D models, as each additional piece of equipment can be simply added rather than having to re-create every permutation of animation; on the other hand, weaponry and equipment not currently in use are often ignored in third-person games so a player character doesn't look ridiculous having four full-size rifles dangling off various parts of him. In addition, armor is often intentionally left Informed Equipment to maintain a recognizable image associated with a character and avoid hiding their face.
Compare No Cutscene Inventory Inertia, where occurrences of Informed Equipment are limited to cutscenes, and the more general Limited Wardrobe. Contrast Rainbow Pimp Gear when every outfit change you make is visible...and you really wish you'd thought it out more.
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Dust: An Elysian Tail limited passive items to things that logically wouldn't show up on the player character's sprite (pendants worn under his cloak, rings worn under his gloves, and sharpening items for his one and only sword) for exactly this reason; the sprite is hand-drawn and uses frame-by-frame animation.
The first four games in the Quest for Glory series did this: your character's sprite was always shown wearing a leather jerkin, despite the fact that the Fighter class was supposed to sell the jerkin in the very first game in exchange for a chainmail vest. In the fifth and final game, which was the only one to use 3D models, the hero's in-game appearance changes every time he puts on a new piece of armor.
Party members in Fallout 2 have static sprites that doesn't change when you give them new armor. This is to make them more distinct, since they (mostly) have unique appearances (Cassidy uses the standard "guy in leather armor" sprite). Averted with weapons, which are shown properly.
And still only a few weapons show up, because there aren't sprites for all of them. For example, the player loses the tribal clothing long before he can find a minigun, and tribal NPCs don't carry miniguns; therefore the "tribal with minigun" sprite has no reason to exist. This means Sulik won't ever equip miniguns.
Nevermind the fact that many characters are described very differently from their sprite. In the first Fallout, for example, Tycho's sprite is of a regular character in combat armor; his description in text makes him out to look a lot like the Courier from New Vegas.
First Person Shooter
Infamously present in many early shooters: The marine in Doom netgames was always shown carrying the same rifle normal zombies used, making it impossible for other players to tell what they were up against.
There are some people working on combating this, for some Doom source-ports.
A variation on this is the inability to tell what items a multiplayer opponent is carrying in reserve, allowing someone to romp around seemingly helpless with a pistol only to whip out a three foot long BFG at the last moment. Halo 3 and Call of Duty post-Modern Warfare has fixed this to an extent by showing carried weapons (although not grenades and ammo), and the latter also has the odd issue of pistols being stowed on a character's back rather than in a holster.
In Duke Nukem 3D, the sprites did not update to show you what gun the player was holding. However, there was a toggle key which would make an icon appear over their head to show you, making it appear as if Duke was having a very violent Idea Bulb.
The Quake and Unreal series only make distinctions when the character is powered up (or has shielding in Unreal). Otherwise, their poly model appears the same regardless of their armor state or health. Toss in a few custom skins, and the trope is in literal, sexy effect.
Unreal, and Quake from the second installment onward, had proper weapon models in the hands of the player(s). Quake I, on the other hand, showed the player always with the same gun, though at least there was a separate model for when the player was wielding the axe.
This is also usually the case for the first-person view itself; games like Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl and Unreal Tournament assume your character is always wearing fingerless gloves, no matter what armor in the former or model in the latter you're using. Later games have managed to avert this in various ways - some (Unreal Tournament 2004) don't show any hands on your gun at all, while others (Left 4 Dead and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sequels) change the appearance of the arms holding the gun depending on what character you play as.
Even with the ARMA series' focus on realism, this can happen on occasion - Operation Arrowhead adds a few guns that can load different types of magazines, from normal 30-round boxes to 100-round dual drums. However, the game doesn't make a physical distinction between the two and will appear to load the standard 30-round magazine at all times.
Command & Conquer: Renegade tried to avert this, wherein while holding one weapon, the next one in sequence would appear on your character's back. Of course, that ignores that you're still lugging around upwards of ten weapons at any one time. Averted further for enemies in singleplayer, however, who typically only have their one weapon, and will wear it on their back while at ease if you manage to catch them when they're not armed and ready.
City of Heroes follows the trope by making the player's appearance almost completely independent from their superpowers. While you may be wreathed in flames or partial covered with stone when certain powers are active, you never have to compromise between wearing a cool outfit or effective armor. Most players of the game love that they can look how they want no matter what level they are and what powers they took.
And now the game allows you do even chose the colors of most powers, select from different weapon models, and in some cases different attack animations.
This of course leads to some rather interesting events in game, such as "Task Force: Fabulous", in which the entire party runs a Task/Strike Force in Cowboy Boots, Swimsuits, and Glitter.
DC Universe Online follows the example City of Heroes does and expands it by allowing you to keep the armor you're wearing, but be able to swap it out for a previous look. Your cape gives you better defense, yet you want to keep your Green Lantern-inspired look? Just make the cape invisible!
Star Trek Online plays it straight... for the Klingons and Romulans - they've yet to get models for the in-game armor, so they're still wearing their usual clothing. Federation players avert this as their armor and gear will appear on them, but you can set it so that it goes back to their normal outfits.
World of Warcraft plays with this for certain races, where boots are concerned. Tauren and draenei both have digitigrade hooves (on which traditional footwear would look odd); worgen in wolf form also exhibit a digitigrade stance (which would again make traditional footwear look odd; the boots appear normally when the worgen are in human form). Trolls simply prefer to go barefoot. Unlike other examples of this trope, however, equipping boots for these races actually does result in a graphical change; the footwear covers the ankles and part of the shin, but stops before the part of the foot that actually touches the ground.
The tendency for trolls to go barefoot is referenced by a special transmogrification which turns a player's footwear invisible—"troll style", as the item's flavor text states. This item literally makes your boots Informed Equipment.
Played straight with options to hide your character's helmet and cape which, if used, make those Informed Equipment. Also, smaller items (rings, trinkets, and amulet) are not rendered.
Kingdom of Loathing semi averts his. Most of the time, your character image is the default for your class and gender. However, if you assemble and wear an entire outfit, it will change to that one. This is used in game to disguise yourself to infiltrate places.
Vindictus both averts this and plays it straight. Major equips such as armour and weapons are fully present and modelled; not only in-game, but also in cut scenes and the character loading screen. Minor equips such as earrings and belts, by contrast, are never visible. This despite the fact that armour and weapons are often covered in all sorts of little dangly bits that fully utilize the capabilities of the physics engine, as do nearly all hair and fur (but not water) effects for both PCs and monsters.
Eden Eternal has entire sets of cosmetic armor unlocked as a character reaches certain job levels. The character's appearance is determined by said armor rather than what he or she has equipped. Cash shop items do show, however.
Dragon Nest has some kinds of armor show on the character while others are invisible. There are also many armor pieces that show on the wearer's model but look completely different from their icons.
In Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, Wonder Boy's sprites show the same sword, armor, and shield no matter what he has equipped... except in his Lizard-Man form, when he had no visible equipment and his inability to use or sword or shield was relevant to gameplay, but he could still equip them normally and still got stat boosts from them.
Role Playing Games
Goes all the way back to Dragon Quest I. The first armor in the game? "Clothing". And you can go into battle without it. Despite this quite literal fighting in the nude, the sprite nonetheless showed the hero wearing a full suit of armor.
But it's also averted in the game, as the sprite isn't holding a weapon or a shield unless you have purchased one.
Taken to an extreme in Lufia & The Fortress of Doom and Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. While even the most basic games in the NES era made at least slight changes to weapons so that someone with an axe would attack with an axe, the characters in Lufia II would be still be holding a sword as they attack with a bow, or a whip as they attack with a sword.
Improved - slightly - in Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals: Dekar is now the only person who can wield multiple weapon types, and it does show him equipping different types, but all weapons of a type still look the same during combat. Except Dual Blade, of course.
The Final Fantasy Legend games let your party members wear up to eight pieces of heavy equipment, but no matter what you wear, your humans look heavily armored and your mutants look bare.
Final Fantasy has shown different appearances for weapons in battle since the first game. But not armor, at least until Final Fantasy X. And even then only shields get displayed in the non-MMO games. This means characters could be wearing Diamond equipment over their whole bodies and still be shown wearing their street clothes. The 8- and 16-bit games are the worst offenders, naturally, since various characters' sprites could show them wearing full plate armor yet having nothing actually equipped.
In Crisis Core Zack's outfit doesn't change with his materia and equipment loadouts either. Though he does change his uniform appearance partway through the game, as well as his weapon later.
Final Fantasy VIII doesn't even have different armor, as the characters use junctions to boost defense and everything else. In the only cases where changing clothes was important (the formal SeeD attire and the Galbadian uniforms) visibly different models were used.
Final Fantasy X-2 took this to a further extreme, as the characters never changed weapons - only character class, as embodied via Dresspheres. Of course, they were their normal selves outside of battle...
While Final Fantasy XII allows you to change weapons as much as you please, without even restricting which characters can use which weapons, and even allows you to equip armor and hats, the characters keep their default clothing models through the entire game. This is taken to absurd levels when your characters, who start off in rather minimal clothing in the middle of a desert, use same clothing in the middle of snow storms. It's also unfortunate, in that Final Fantasy XI had selectable models for your weapons AND hat, body armor, pants, shoes, and gloves.
In Final Fantasy V and VI the shields (and Elf Capes) actually do get shown... but only when the character is actually blocking an attack with them. Surprisingly, they don't all look the same, given the small 16-bit sprites, but the variation is mostly just color.
Played painfully straight in The World Ends with You, where fashion is one of the key themes in the game. You could have Neku clad head to toe in punk clothing, bargain bin quality threads or even wearing a pink frilly dress, but he'll still be wearing his normal garb ingame and in cutscenes.
Oddly enough, there's a point in the game where your objective is to talk to a support Reaper while fully dressed in clothes from one specific brand. The dialogue you get when talking to said Reaper has him comment on how the outfit you put together suits you well. Even though that brand has nothing to do with Neku's cutscene outfit.
In Eternal Sonata, neither weapons nor outfits make any visible changes on the characters, despite the fact that said weapons and outfits are often specifically described in terms of their colour and general appearance.
Ultima VIII, one of the last games released on disks rather than CDs, had only room for one isometric sprite set for the hero - which came with a pot helmet all the time.
Ultima VII, on the other hand, didn't have separate sprites for the various kinds of armor and cloaks one could wear, but did have an actual nude sprite for characters.
Ultima VII Part II: Serpent Isle did have a potent paperdoll system that depicted every piece of armor and almost every other item equipped, but the sprite showed no differences other than the weapon equipped. The Exult engine allowed this function for the previous The Black Gate too, which had one humorous side effect; if you recruited thirteen-year old Spark, his paperdoll was still the default "huge muscular guy", with the head of a small boy.
In Persona 3 most armors or certain clothes won't change the characters appearance. Besides the bikini.
The Tales Series usually displays weapons and, if the character wears any, shields. The original SNES Tales of Phantasia would show only the type of weapon Cless was wielding (sword, axe, spear or halberd) and just the presence of a shield, but the remakes changed that.
Then, in Tales of the Abyss, the weapons would change in the cutscenes to the ones that are equipped.
Back to straight in Tales of Hearts. Each character just has one evolving Empathic Weapon, but despite the shape of the weapon changing as it goes up in tiers, the battle sprite remains the same until you reach one of the final postgame forms.
Tales of Vesperia displays the character's weapon and special equipment (Rita's spellbook, Karol's bag, etc) but still no armor, headgear or accessories.
The PS3 port of Vesperia featured DLC that changed the characters' costumes, so they would look like they were wearing their most powerful armors. This is still only cosmetic, however; you can still have crappy armor equipped with this costume on.
Planescape: Torment plays this straight with two characters and averts it for one. If you put a robe on the Nameless One (who normally wears what seems to be a combination loincloth-toolbelt-backpack and a pair of boots), or get him made up to look like a zombie, it will show up on his in-game model. However, if you put different outfits on either Annah or Fall-From-Grace their appearance will not change; even though the only difference between their various outfits is a palette swap you will not see a change in the color of their rendering.
While you can equip armor and equipment in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, none of it actually shows up on the model. This gets somewhat ridiculous when you equip a hammer, but it still doesn't show up. Only equipped Chao can be seen in battle, where they float behind the characters in your party.
Chrono Trigger falls into this trope as well. While weapons change and the characters actually draw them when they start a fight, armor is still non-existent. I'll be damned if the game can show you Crono and Frog equip the same Nova Armor... And Crono's mop still shows up as a katana when he uses it.
The main characters from the Final Fantasy Tactics series will still be in their artwork clothes, even though they change their job classes.
In early versions of Neverwinter Nights, the only equipment that appeared on the character's model was the weaponry and armor. They later released a patch to make the cloaks appear too.
Pokémon: Until the third generation of games, all Pokemon on the Party menu were represented with rather generic sprites (with the exception of Pikachu in Yellow, and Gyarados in Gold and Silver). Starting with Ruby and Sapphire, each Pokemon had two sprites of their own for the party menu.
The use of held items and special abilities. If the battles were perfectly realistic, it would be incredibly easy to determine whether your opposing Pokemon had a special pair of glasses which boosted Special Attack or was holding a berry which constantly restored health; in the games, there's no way of knowing without the use of a special ability or a move. Similarly, while it should be easy to tell if a Bronzong has the ability to levitate (which makes it immune to Ground-type attacks), there is no indication of its ability.
Dubloon is rather egregious with this. Not only are any helms or armour equipped invisible, so are the weapons.
In the Baldur's Gate series, multiclass fighter/mages use the fighter model, but can still equip mage robes because of their experience as a mage. This isn't shown on their character model, and fighter/mages end up standing around casting spells in their underclothes. Same thing happens when you equip a thief with the use any item ability with armour heavier than studded leather.
Exit Fate. Whether it's fighter types depicted with heavy armour (including females in a rare aversion of Chainmail Bikini) regardless of daytime and occasion, mages wearing robes, a dancer turned mage wearing a skirt and bikini top, and plenty of people wearing casual clothes or fine dresses, they'll always wear that on their portrait and sprite regardless of what they have actually equipped in gameplay terms.
This appears in Dungeons of Dredmor, too: During the animations, regardless of what they look like in the inventory, all swords look like normal iron long swords, all potions and drinks are in the same red bottle and the hero is always wearing a leather cuirass over a white shirt. The last point is a bit odd, because you can't equip more than one torso armor piece, and you might not even start with either of those things.
All over the Realms of Arkania trilogy. Especially noticable in the third game when the whole party is dropped stark naked into the final dungeon due to a shrinking spell but you still see them wearing robes and armor during the fights.
Played straight in all Super Mario Bros. RPGs ever made (Mario & Luigi, Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG). You can equip them with a ton of gear, badges and other things, but with the exception of the L and W emblems in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, you never see any of this stuff equipped on the character models/sprites. Then again, given how you never see what said gear even looks like outside an identical icon in the menu (based on gear type), it could be that every possible piece of clothing in the kingdom looks 100% identical to Mario and Luigi's normal clothing. Which raises even more questions.
Though in all honesty, could you imagine Mario walking about in Iron Pants and Luigi in School Slacks or whatever? Or in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team where you can equip overalls, socks and gloves and say, you don't have any on?
Machine Knight plays it quite straight. Of note, Frain's portrait shows him carrying a sword on his back at all times, even at the start of the game when he's just an unarmed scientist, making the trope work both ways: it informs you he's going to get a sword before you ever see battle.
Happens in Project X Zone. No matter what you equip your characters with, or how high they rank up, they will have the same 2D sprites throughout the game: equipment only affects stats. What's more, you can equip against type: characters who canonically don't use weapons (Akira/Pai), dislike weapons (Heihachi), or are more powerful than most weapons barehanded (Heihachi, Ryu/Ken), can be equipped with any manner of guns and swords, and said equip will often improve their stats, sometimes more than the character it was "meant" for.
Maybe because you were attempting to deceive your enemies about your plane's equipment.
Animal Crossing series averts this with clothes but plays it straight with tools: carried but unequipped tools are invisible.
X-Universe: When you fit a gun to a slot on a ship, a cannon appears in a corresponding spot on the ship's model. It looks exactly the same no matter what gun you put there. Other equipment doesn't even do that much.
Due to the game using sprite-based graphics, nothing you fit to a ship in Escape Velocity ever appears on it.
In the first four MechWarrior games, the in-game models of your 'Mechs did not reflect what weapons you had loaded on to it. Living Legends and Online have since fixed that.
While Resident Evil 5 allows your characters to wield a variety of weapons and outfits, only their outfits will change in cutscenes. Throughout the game, Chris and Sheva are shown wielding only their default handguns.
Which sometimes leads to unintentionally funny scenes, such as Sheva holstering her pistol on her bare thigh.
Isaac Clarke of Dead Space has a suit of RIG servo-armour that changes as you upgrade it, but his weapons are apparently stored in his groin, meaning that a pulse rifle just pops out of nowhere when you decide you're running low on plasma cutter ammunition.
In fact, this is largely a given if you're using miniatures for any RPG. Players strapped for cash might even resort to using whatever's on hand in place of minis.
It's also not unknown to just not use miniatures at all; some players prefer to have the entire game play out solely in their collective imaginations, so a character may end up never being visually depicted at all or get at best a character portrait if their record sheet provides room for that and the player feels artistically inclined. This is of course one of the reasons many tabletop player characters end up carrying around implausible amounts of equipment — since nobody ever quite sees it except as a line of text with maybe an encumbrance value somewhere, it doesn't really "count".
Actually somewhat averted for the Pathfinder Iconic characters; Their portraits◊ show them carrying quite a lot of gear, including multiple backup weapons.
Any table top game using miniatures, like Heros Quest, Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer has this unless you customize the miniatures. A pack of clanrats holding swords can be upgraded to have spears but will still be holding swords, obviously.
Though at least in Warhammer (Fantasy and 40k) the tournament often has rules that says that the models must have the equipment that you have upgraded them with (the rule is most often called WYSIWYG or What You See Is What You Get), you can get away with some exceptions to the rule but not a whole lot. The most notorious being the rule that red Ork vehicles go faster - there's a point cost to it, but the real cost is that, in order to invoke this rule, your models must actually be red.
morphE is styled like a visual novel and many times the text will describe a character holding something which is not on their sprite. Exceptions are made for equipment which is always on a certain character such as cellphones, notebooks or in one case a gun.
The Legend of Zelda. Not only the 3D games, but even the 2D ones had different sprites for most equipment.
However, all items other than swords, shields, and clothing items are still hidden until you take them out. Link has a quiver for his arrows, but you can't see it - you only see the bow itself, and the arrow currently in use. This trope is particularly obvious when using the Skull Hammer in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, as the hammer is not only invisible when not in use, it is as big as Link and cannot possibly be carried on his person unless he has Hammerspace pockets.
Similarly, in games that feature the Iron Boots, he is only weighed down by them when actually wearing them. Carrying them on his person does nothing to affect his mass.
Though The Legend of Zelda cartoon show actually showed in one episode that they DO have Hammerspace pockets, with the items shrinking in appearance to fit inside, then growing when they were taken back out.
Title character of Legacy of KainBlood Omen - the first game in the series, made by Silicon Knights for PlayStation and PC - had a rather extensive collection of visually distinctive weapons and armor suits each of which altered the way Kain looked, despite the game being completely 2D.
Played straight in the pre-rendered cutscenes, though(obviously), Kain would always be wearing his starting equipment, the iron armor and sword. Kind of justified in certain instances; walking into the court of the king wearing a suit of armor made out of bones would probably look suspicious.
Averted in Ōkami about half the time and played straight the other half, bizarrely. In some cutscenes, Amaterasu will have whatever weapon she has equipped, and in others, she'll have her default weapon. The cutscenes are all in-engine, so this doesn't make very much sense.
In Symphony of the Night, almost everything Alucard can equip will show changed art on his model. However, even if you completely unequip his cloak, he's still visibly wearing one. Since it's much harder to avert this trope with Game Boy hardware than PlayStation, the GBA games tend to only show changes to characters' weaponry.
Present in even the DS games such as Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Even though the best armor for female protagonists is typically a wedding dress (in fact, several fancy dresses tend to be superior to plate armor once you start getting the high-end gear) Shanoa and Charlotte remain in the same outfits they start out in, perhaps because the Fetish Fuel would not overwhelm the Narm of someone kicking vampire ass in bridal gear.
Secret of Evermore averts it for weapons (though different weapons of the same typenote barring the femur just show up as Palette Swaps, looking nothing like their icon) but doesn't show armor.
In Hand Of Fate, Xanthia goes through roughly a dozen outfits as she goes to new places (as the prior ones are either damaged in the transition or unsuitable for the new climate), but she doesn't have an unlimited supply, as she mentions at one point that she's running out of clothes. In the previous game she tells Brandon that she's "not giving up [her] wardrobe spell", implying that they're just stashed in an extradimensional space or something.
In Faxanadu your character's sprite would display the armor he equipped, which was a pretty cool feature when the game debuted in 1987.
The Warriors plays the trope in both ways. If your character is holding a weapon, it won't show in a cut scene. However, any hats that they happened to pick up and wear will always show up in a cut scene.
Also inverted in Tekken 6, where only certain clothing and accessories found in Scenario Campaign actually give you a stat boost. Narm frequently ensues, as the current best combination of stat-boosting items often makes your character look completely ridiculous.
First Person Shooter
In Borderlands 2 other players can see your character's gun in your hand, your previous gun on your back, and your shield, grenade mods and relics on your back.
The sprite-based Marathon games featured a peculiar solution to the problem in the form of split sprites: there was one set of sprites for the legs and lower body, and another for the torso (including the weapons carried thereon).
Averted in some cutscenes in Goldeneye 1997 for the N64. The end of the trainyard level has Bond (James Bond) killing two guards on the train itself. It's a bit of a different action for whatever gun you are wielding. In other cut scenes, the game keeps track of grenades.
Also averted in the ARMA series - one of the above-mentioned guns that can load different types of magazines is the G36 series, which normally use transparent magazines. One can clearly see the number of rounds within decrease as it's fired, though after about 15 shots they're obscured from view by the gun itself.
As gaming technology gets better, more and more developers of shooters are realizing that it is indeed possible to model translucent magazines with bullets in them that actually disappear as the player fires them - Rainbow Six: Vegas and F.3.A.R. are other examples.
RAGE alters your guns' and cars' models accordingly depending on what upgrades you pick up. It also alters your character model twice: once when you get the armor for your Ark suit, and again when you ditch the Ark suit for wastelander clothes.
Hack And Slash
In Diablo, there were very few models, though there were some different ones for different kinds of armor: specifically light leathery armor, medium chain-y armor, and heavy plate armor. Diablo II made a branch between early games with no or few extra models and later ones with piles of them, where each class had its own style of armor, and different types of armor each had a different look on each class. Items with abilities that associated with a particular - such as deep green for poison - reflected those colors on the character's model, as well.
Handled ingeniously by splitting the models into different sections and sprites to have more combinations of equipment.
Which ends up causing different parts of the character's body to be dyed in accordance with the item. Masks specifically end up dying your Necromancer's normally white hair various colors, and certain one-of-a-kind items will turn a Sorceresses hair into something that looks like a giant bleach-stained towel taped to her head.
Totally averted in the Diablo II-inspired Titan Quest. Every individual piece of equipment appears on your in-game character. In fact, Titan Quest takes it one step further, if a particular monster has a unique item in its inventory to be dropped upon its death, the monster will be shown using that piece of equipment, with the item's model appropriately placed.
World of Warcraft (and many other MMORPGs): Every weapon, piece of armor, and article of clothing is rendered fully on each character in the game, excluding jewelery. Because of the overwhelming importance of having the ideal stat combinations from gear, however, this often resulted in Rainbow Pimp Gear for characters at all levels of the game. The Transmogrification feature introduced in patch 4.3 helped to resolve this by allowing players to customize their gear by replacing models and skins with those of other pieces of gear in their possession, with certain restrictions such as requiring both items to be of Uncommon or higher quality. Before transmogrification, roleplayers often kept separate sets of gear worn only for their appearance rather than their combat effectiveness, and many continue to maintain such sets due to incompatibilities with transmogrification's restrictions.
Behind the scenes, this creates a great deal of additional work for the art team, as all new character models and changes to existing models must be compatible with every existing item model in the game, and new item models must be compatible with thirteen races times two genders (not to mention non-player races that make use of player armor, such as pre-Cataclysm goblins).
Played straight by shapeshift forms, such as druids' animal forms and many gag items. Most shiftshifts have singular appearances (although druid forms have multiple color palettes) that use the same armor models (or lack thereof) regardless of what the player has equipped. Weapons typically still avert the trope, save for the case of druid forms (except for moonkin), which hide equipped weapons entirely.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. Also you can literally fight in the nude, being able to strip male or female characters down to skimpy (and anachronistic) thongs. Yes, you can see nipples.
Yahtzee had quite a bit of fun with this feature: Determined to see how long he could go without ever putting any armor on at all, he picked the necromancer class, set all the character sliders to their minimum possible values and dubbed his character Thinderella the Necromantic Naturist.
NeoQuest II updates your characters' appearance (clothes and weapons), on the field and in battle, to reflect what armor they're wearing.
Dream Of Mirror Online (DOMO), allows to see your character weapon, shield and armor any moment, cutscenes included. When naked, characters still wears underwear (very skimpy for the Shura/Felin race). anyway, the exact look of an armor changes due to race or gender. Most notably the "newbie clothing", that change from a bathsuit to a formal man robe, based on your character creation.
Mabinogi. Player characters are fully modelled with all their gear (except accessories, which are effectively too small to see at game resolution), even in cutscenes.
Metroid, suit upgrades are visible on the model in all games. In the 3D games, the model even changes for weapon upgrades, and in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the suit also reflects Samus's Phazon corruption.
The Mega Man X series utilized sprite overlays for each of X's armor upgrades, in addition to the traditional palette swaps for his alternate weapons.
The two Sonic Adventure games show any bits of equipment collected on the character's models. Since the gear cannot be removed, it's completely impossible, for eg, to get Knuckles to take off his sunglasses once he's picked them up.
Wonder Boy In Monster Land had separate palette maps for armor, weapon, shield, and footwear (but they all behaved exactly the same in relation to the frames of animation).
In the Genesis version of Wonder Boy In Monster World, most weapons and shields have unique sprites. (In the Master System version, swords have different sprites from spears, but that's it.)
All games in the Ghosts N Goblins series will show Arthur running around in his boxer shorts if he's not wearing any armor (i.e. got hit).
Terraria shows your character with whatever armor they have on, and there are also social slots now. If armor is put in these slots, that's what you see your character in, but gameplay-wise you are still wearing the non-social armour.
Real Time Strategy
Command & Conquer: Generals, where the 3D model was updated depending on upgrades. A missile upgrade for a jeep resulted in that missile showing up on the side of the jeep, etc.
In Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War, any equipment added to your troops is reflected on their models, including weapon and miscellaneous wargear additions. These changes are also visible on their persistent corpses (that can lay there forever, with the appropriate config menu setting).
This makes a lot of sense since some of the tournament rules for the tabletop game require that any wargear be shown on the plastic/white metal/resin models.
Units in Age of Mythology would be shown holding different pieces of equipment depending on the armory upgrades purchased and units with line upgrades would look different in each age the upgrade was purchased.
Units in Medieval II: Total War are shown in better armor and carry the better weapons that are researched for them in their cities of origin. Also, the individual units are semi-unique, averting the usual "clone army" look of the typical RTS.
Starcraft II: Zigzagged: while some upgrades result in changes to the unit models (the zergling speed upgrade gives them insectoid wings, marine combat shields show up, etc.), most need to be moused over to be verified.
In Heart of the Swarm's campaign, several units have a permanent upgrade that gets a different model (the zergling Raptor strain has wings, as mentioned above, while the Swarmling grows a great big dorsal fin) with a general green or purple color scheme.
Warcraft III: It's not seen in the basic game, but the game engine does allow you to avert this trope by attaching special effects to various parts of a unit (head, weapon, offhand...). Many RPG custom maps use this, though it eats up a lot of space (requiring a specially made weaponless, armorless model, not to mention the weapons themselves).
Averted in Doom The Roguelike, at least as much as possible for a game with ASCII graphics, as the the color of the @ which represents you changes to match the color of your equipped armor.
However, played straight with the enemies that can equip armor they come across. Since hell knights and barons of hell can also equip armor, this can cause a nasty surprise or two.
Actually averted in the roguelikePowder, which bolts images of whatever you're wearing to the image of your character. It helps that there isn't any animation to speak of.
And averted again in the PS2 roguelike Baroque. A full set of equipment consists of a coat, a pair of artificial wings, and a sword (or the Angelic Rifle), all of which show up over the nameless protagonist's normal clothing and are carried over into cutscenes.
Role Playing Game
Neptunia won't show your armor (as they're just bracelets and other rings), but any changes to your weapon, accessories, outfits or processor parts for the CPUs will appear in battle.
Final Fantasy X had most of its cutscenes rendered via the in-game engine, and thus changes to weaponry were acknowledged; armor, meanwhile, was handled entirely via shields and other small items. Weapons rarely ever appeared in the prerendered sequences.
But when it, it's almost always a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Just imagine Auron fading to Pyreflies with the Masamune on his back, or Tidus facing down the Final Boss with the Caladbolg. Or any other weapon you have equipped.
In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time this trope is averted, as any armor, helmet or weapon you equip on any character actually shows, although you can't remove any of these, so no running in the nude or fighting barehanded. However no matter what a character is wearing, the icon of their face (next to their HP and MP on the top screen) remains the same.
Played straight in the scene before the Thousand Heartless battle and the pictures in Jiminy's Journal, where he's shown with the original Kingdom Key, and in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, where Roxas always has the Kingdom Key in cutscenes despite the Gear you may have equipped on him.
Also played straight in the first game's ending; Sora is shown to be using the Kingdom Key regardless of which Keychain you have equipped.
Neverwinter Nights changes characters' models for armor and weapons, though the game isn't detailed enough to do anything more.
In Neverwinter Nights 2 most, if not all, equipment appears on the characters, and magical weapons will usually have a relevant magical effect. Certain pieces of head equipment, such as circlets, also appear on the character portrait.
Fallout is notable, being fully sprite-based. Every armor in the game has its rendering for each of the available the player models, and each weapon is represented by the class model (small arms, spear, big arms, etc.) visibly wielded by characters. NPCs in the game are generally rendered according to the armor they wear; NPCs in the party, however, never change their looks.
And averted in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas where every armor used, even on NPCs will be shown and the same thing with the currently used weapon.
Also prevalent in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, where, like Oblivion, it stopped short of Nudity with a loincloth. NPCs didn't seem to notice this. In Morrowind, people would tell you to put some clothes on if you were naked, and in Oblivion they were oblivious (pardon the pun) to you running around starkers.
Add in the fact that some creatures are actually modeled with something under the loincloth...
And the same with Skyrim. But you won't see a backpack or any of the potions, food, non equipped gear you're carrying. Also if you're dual wielding, you'll only see both weapons when drawn. When sheathed, only one weapon is visible.
Knights Of Xentar takes the aversion to the logical extreme. Not only do the various types of armor, shield and weaponry you can equip show up on your character in battle (and, for that matter, when wandering around the map) - but if you de-equip everything, your characters do, indeed, Fight In The Nude. Including that cute sorceress. It's little quirks like these that help to make the game a perfectly valid RPG, if you can get past the fact that every five minutes you'll be staring at a pair of badly drawn breasts.
On the other hand, Ultima VII (and part two, and the expansion, and part two the expansion) have nude sprites available for the protagonist, which are shown at certain points as required by the plot, but cannot be accessed by simply removing all of your gear.
The game series Kouryuu Densetsu Villgust - when a character gets a full set of next-level equipment, their battle sprite changes (usually just colors, but in some cases a headband or extra armor gets added) to reflect it. However, only in the equipment screen is each piece of equipment rendered (in a Paper Doll style) - in battle, if you have all the members of the "blue" set and a "green" helmet, for instance, you usually still appear green.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura - not only does equipping no armor or clothing leave your character running around in his or her underwear, but most people you meet refuse to talk to you until you are decently dressed.
Dark Cloud 2 avoids this by not having armor; the characters clothing can be changed, but it bears no stat advantages. Similar to the Grand Theft Auto example above, the clothing differences are worked into the cutscenes.
Fable. Your character will always appear to be wearing whatever clothing or armor he currently has equipped. If you unequip everything, he will be forced to run around the game world clad only in his underpants. Almost every quest has a bonus if you do it without any equipment, in fact.
Despite being an NES game, Crystalis altered your character's look depending on whether he had shields or armor equipped.
However, there was no difference based on what armor you wore, or what shield you had, so other than the beginning of the game, you were almost always wearing fur armor. Similarly, all four swords look the same in combat, even though the item screen implies them looking rather different (especially the water sword)
Legend of Legaia. Every weapon and armor was represented. In fact, you had numerous different types of armor along with those weapons, so as you progressed through the game, you got to see the characters in constantly changing outfits, though these outfits would mostly match the base clothes in style. You didn't get anyone in the nude, as the default armor was what they wore outside of combat, but considering how old the game is, it was a refreshing change to see all the different armors and weapons shown in battle. Not to mention that the equipment could look genuinely intimidating. Yes, even Gala's battle earrings.
The sequel, Duel Saga, only has different models for the characters' weapons. Characters who don't use weapons have no changes whatsoever.
Gothic, where the player character's changes of clothing show up in-game and in cutscenes, and the Mentor putting on his old armor is a FanServicey nostalgia moment in Gothic II. Unfortunately, if the player for some reason decided not to wear the magic armor during the final boss fight in Gothic, this created a plot hole at the start of Gothic II where it's revealed that the armor saved his life when the cave collapsed.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has a semi-aversion with its weapons, but much like the above the clothing does not change. However, this was changed in the sequel Ring Of Fates, the first DS entry. Every piece of equipment you equip changes how the on-screen characters look.
Dragon Quest VIII has unique weapons for each character, but mostly plays the trope straight as far as armor is concerned. A few armors or armor combinations do change the character sprites, though (though most of these are for the one female character, for some reason.)
This is mostly the case in Persona 3 during mission sequences (outside of missions they wear whatever is appropriate), but every character has a couple of outfits that change the character model's clothes as well. For instance, females can wear the High-Cut Armor, and each also has a separate maid outfit. Lampshaded; when you assign these armors to the characters, they tend to get a bit flustered. Some of the unique male armor also gets a less dramatic reaction (since none of it is anywhere near as Fanservice friendly). Note that this only happened in the FES version - while the outfits do exist in the vanilla game, you can only get the reactions from the characters while their clothes stay the same.
Persona 4 is only a little better; while the characters in Persona 3 have seasonal school uniforms and summer vs winter day clothes, they always go adventuring in their winter uniforms. However their weapons are all unique, with the ultimate weapons being extra cool-looking. The cast of Persona 4 actually do go adventuring in their summer uniforms if they're wearing them in the game (though you still can't go adventuring in their holiday clothes).
4 is pretty good about this: The Inaba Scoobies use their school uniforms to smuggle equipment into Junes (The big department store that the gang likes to use as a base because it houses the safest entry to the TV world) because Youske and the protagonist once got arrested for waving around weapons in there. This is actually a fairly conceivable Handwave, as all the armor is usually magical or wearable under clothing, and most of the party members carry weapons that can be easily concealed. Nevertheless the Protagonist somehow sneaks enormous swords/baseball bats/golf clubs into Junes and Kanji is even worse. His first buyable weapon is a DESK.
In the remake, Persona 4 Golden, "Outfit" became a seperate equipment slot and each character could wear different outfits that they had previously purchased or received, including swimsuits, holiday wear, and more.
Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology averts this to such a degree that equipping a piece of armor that would theoretically cause major overlap issues on your character automatically de-equips the offending piece(s) upon equipping the new one - with each change shown on your character's model, remembering how large each piece actually is comes in handy.
Sudeki averts this completely, partially by virtue of each character only having 3 sets of armor (that are awarded at fixed points in the plot, no less), but each weapon has its own unique model, appearance, and in the case of ranged weapons, projectile. Some, like the Chainsword, even have their own noises.
In Radiata Stories, every armor changes the character's appearence (at least one also change the hair), including cutscenes.
Knights of the Old Republic shows different types of weapons and armor as different models, though some are just different-colored versions of similar armor or weapons. You can, in fact, strip your character to their undies, and it happens at least once in each game whether you want it to or not. You even start both games in your undergarments.
Siege of Avalon shows every piece of equipment you put on your character except for the Hand equipment slots, which are presumably either worn under the Gloves slot (and too small to see when not wearing gloves) for rings, or just not shown for books and scrolls. There are a couple dozen different garments and pieces of armor for each armor slot, and at least twice that for the weapon slot, even ignoring the ones that look the same but have different stats.
Wild ARMs 5 has pieces of armor which will change the character's model.
In Mount & Blade and the CRPG mod, all the different types of weapons and armour are clearly or somewhat distinguishable, considering there are hundreds of each this starts to matter very little, as most of armours or weapons of the same class tend to be pretty much the same with only slight differences. Its again not as helpful in multiplayer and even worse in CRPG as anyone wearing armour which has a metallic colour on it is probably too armoured for you to have hope of beating with your handful of rocks and pitchfork. All the horses have different appearances but are all the same to a player on foot as they attempt to dodge the instant kill lances.
Zig-zagged in the Inazuma Eleven series. Each character has a 3D model for close-ups and a separate miniature (2D sprites in the first three games, replaced by 3D models in Inazuma Eleven GO) for more distant camera angles. The miniatures play the trope straight, but the close-up models avert it; shoes and goalkeepers' gloves are all texture swaps, and accessories are added to the model.
Mass Effect. Every armor suit and gun is individually rendered. However, your squadmates do still show up in their starting armor in a few cutscenes when they are not currently selected as active party members. Some of the alien squadmates will also show up in default armor while on your ship, the others wear either civilian clothes or crew uniforms.
However, Private Jenkins' model doesn't change based on his equipment. Given that the only ways you can have different items to give him are a New Game+ (where you know not to bother) or using cheats, this is definitely reasonable.
All equipped gear in Xenoblade is visible on your character model, in both the gameplay and cutscenes. It's also accurately reflected in the flashbacks.
Jagged Alliance games altered the characters' appearances based on the weapon types they were equipped with although pistols and SMG's looked identical, same as shotguns and rifles. The armor equipped, however, had absolutely no effect on appearance, which became rather ridiculous when the mercenaries were technically wearing full Spectra outfit, complete with a helmet and a gas mask, yet still appeared to wear the same t-shirt they had at the beginning of the game
Weapons-only aversion in the Disgaea series. Armor isn't shown, but every single weapon (except the Fist-type and monster-type weapons) has a unique sprite. Also, each weapon can be either legendary, rare or normal, and the sprites are recolored to show this.
Played Straight and Averted depending on which Fire Emblem game you're playing. Some of the Fire Emblem games use one or two sprites/models for all weapons (Fire Emblem doesn't have "armor" as an item, basing defense purely on a character's stats) of each type in-battle, while others have unique sprites for each weapon. The first two games and portables generally fall in the former, while the SNES and later(non-portable) games fall in the latter. Interestingly, in the games where a single design is used regardless of the particular weapon a character has, the design itself tends to be different according to the class of the character using it, leading to two characters using the same weapon having it appear completely differently in-battle.
Wide Open Sandbox
Excellently avoided in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in which you can change the main character's clothes and hairstyle, give him tattoos, and even alter his basic body shape (though this last is a long process, involving overeating to get fat or exercise to get muscular). Any changes to the character's appearance are worked seamlessly into all of the game's cutscenes. Body armour, on the other hand, is invisible, even if you are naked from the waist up.
Oddly averted in Grand Theft Auto IV. When Niko confronts Dimitri in the Revenge ending, the weapon he holds in the pre-execution cutscene is the same one you used to get the last hit. What makes this weird is that many players used the rocket launcher for its area-effecting ability to get around cover, so in the cutscene, Niko walks up to point blank range and waves the launcher in Dimitri's face like it's a pistol. Aside from that, the game works the same as its predecessor.
Similarly, when facing Pegerino 2 missions later (in the Revenge ending), no matter what weapon you were using in the preceeding firefight Niko will have an AK-47 in the scene (even if you had the Carbine Rifle, which takes up the same weapon slot as the AK).
In the end of The Lost And Damned no matter what pistol you have when you reach Billy, Johnny will be holding the automatic pistol in the scene.
In Grand Theft Auto V, body armor is invisible. In Grand Theft Auto Online, however, any character that's supposed to have armor on will be seen having the appropriate type of armor over their shirt. Wearing a jacket can cover it up.
Similar to the San Andreas aversion above, Saints Row 2 incorporates ridiculous levels of character customization, including four separate layers on the chest alone, all of these changes will be visible in cutscenes along with six different voice sets for the player character. But, it does play this trope straight in one very bizarre way. Throughout the game you can obtain alternate handguns, shotguns, assault rifles and the like, but, while every cutscene will accurately depict your character in almost every way, their weapons are prescripted. This can (and does) result in the player character using pistols they aren't carrying on a fairly regular basis.
Scarface: The World is Yours. At one point you chase down and confront the evil Sheffieldm your lawyer. The death scene plays out differently depending on what you use but oddly, only three ways are available at this point. Using your opponent's clearly seen weapon is not possible, sadly.
The Godfather 2 averts this. Upgrades you get from owning certain business types, such as body armour and knuckledusters, are clearly visible on your character.