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Nominal Hero
"According to a loose enough definition of 'hero', we qualify. Well, more or less. The point is that good deeds were done and we were nearby."

Fictional heroes tend to be a diverse bunch, but most have one thing in common: a morally positive motivation. Even morally questionable heroes usually are at least partially motivated by a genuine concern for others, desire for justice, belief in playing by the rules, etc.

The Nominal Hero is the exception to this rule. While at least technically on the side of good, they are neutral at best.

So why are they on the side of good? Usually, it's one of the following:
  • Annoyance. For these characters, It's Personal. Maybe the villain did something to them in the past, or maybe they think the minion's uniform is tacky. They aren't interested in fighting evil, they want to see their opponent defeated. Often overlaps with Enemy Mine.
  • Boredom. These characters are basically fighting for good because they don't have anything better to do. They don't care if the heroes actually succeed, they just enjoy the adventure. A Heroic Comedic Sociopath or The Trickster might have this motivation.
  • Mutual Interest. These characters have selfish reasons to help the heroes succeed. Often, they are characters who would normally be villains, but their future plans are threatened by a mutual enemy. Often an Enemy Mine. A Magnificent Bastard might aid heroes to manipulate events in their favor as a standard tactic. Or a person fighting an oppressive regime for heroic reason might find themselves side-by-side with people who are fighting it simply because they don't want to be imprisoned or executed.
  • Relationships. Not every Nominal Hero only cares about themselves. Some Nominal Heroes have a love interest or someone else they do care about. A Nominal Hero might do something heroic to impress or rescue that someone, even though they couldn't care less if other people die.
  • Reward. These characters want something in return for their help, such as a share of the treasure, or simply something to look good on their resume. They aren't interested in whether anyone else benefits. The Miles Gloriosus is an example of a character type that might choose to join a band of heroes for this reason.
  • Force. Some characters become heroes because they literally aren't allowed to be anything else. Maybe they're on an Explosive Leash or are a Cosmic Plaything, but when they fight for the side of good, it's only because it's their only option other than perhaps death.
  • Lawful examples of this trope, find themselves "stuck" to the good side by a deal, contract or some similar bind, or simply out of a sense of loyalty to the heroes.
  • Other motivations. Not all Nominal Heroes need to have a motivation that makes any sense to others. They might be a Cloudcuckoolander or have Blue and Orange Morality.

This type of hero is rarely averse to working alone, with other heroes. On a team of otherwise conventional heroes, they'll often be in an Enemy Mine, Sociopathic Hero, or Token Evil Teammate role. Other heroes may only work with them because they could use all the help they can get, or specifically to keep an eye on the hero-in-name-only, so that they don't become a more serious threat.

In terms of sympathy, Most of Nominal hero's examples are Noble Demons. Many other tropes about questionable heroes can overlap with Nominal Hero, but most are not true subtropes:

Note: This is for In-Universe characterization. Subjective/Audience Reaction interpretations go in Designated Hero.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Valvrave the Liberator, L-Elf is this, firmly contrasting to the more typical protagonist, Haruto. He's on the good guys side because it will help him get what he wants, and really only sees them as tools, not allies.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta goes through a Nominal Hero phase as part of his slow but eventual Heel-Face Turn, starting in the Namek arc as a Villain Protagonist seeking to overthrow his former master, and in the Cell and Buu arcs, defending earth, but only for his own selfish reasons. After his death and subsequent pseudo-revival in terms of coming back to Earth for one day, he fights for the Earth for the sake of defending it for the first time.
  • In Slayers Lina Inverse and Zelgadis Graywords both fall in this category in different ways.
    • Lina is fully conscious of her status as one of the greatest magical prodigies in the world, and is not above using her vast power to intimidate and extort food/treasure for herself.
    • As far is Zelgadis is concerned, he is hell-bent on changing his chimeric body back to normal, and is even nastier than Lina in the intimidate/extort department. He will help save the world to save himself mostly.
    • Token Evil Teammate Xellos is another example.
  • In Death Note, Mello is solely dedicated to being the one to stop Kira and is more than willing to become a mob boss, kidnap innocent girls, and in the manga, even threaten the President to sabotage his rival so said rival can't catch Kira.
    • Near fits this trope in a similar way; his sole goal lies in "winning the game," and he is far from opposed to putting others in the line of fire or (as Matsuda suggests he might have) using the Death Note himself in order to do it. Unlike their predecessor, both Mello and Near are more preoccupied by personal ambitions and competition than the actual idea of doling out "justice," which is why their target - the Visionary Villain Kira - never develops the same Worthy Opponent respect for them as he had for L.
  • Guts of Berserk during his phase as the vengeance-obsessed Black Swordsman was very much this. An utterly ruthless warrior who cared about nothing except killing demons, and would not lift a finger to help innocents caught in the crossfire, considering them small fry without the strength to truly live, and in many cases, he could be seen as even more horrifying than the Apostles that he was driven to kill. Only after finding Casca again has he been able to move out of this territory (rather shakily in the beginnings, as he was only concerned with keeping Casca safe and non one else), though he still has to deal with a particularly nasty Enemy Within that represents who he used to be.
    • Most of Guts friends and allies, pre-Eclipse and post-Eclipse, are in this territory. The original Band of the Hawk are probably one of the most decent examples as far being mercenaries goes, since they were hired by the Kingdom of Midland and became its national heroes, and you can't really call any of the members bad people. Guts' current True Companions are all following him for various reasons that aren't really heroically charged, but they end up doing heroic things wherever they go.
  • Mugen of Samurai Champloo is a Blood Knight who will frequently abandon his companions in the name of pursuing a good fight, and cares little for his promise to Fuu, instead trying to fulfill his promise to kill his rival, Jin. That said, he goes through a lot of Character Development by the end. Enough so that he honors his companions as true friends.
  • Desert Punk gives us more than one:
    • Kanta has no real redeeming moral qualities and doesn't care about anything except money, boobs and staying alive. However, much of his work ends up being vaguely heroic because of the jobs he's assigned tend to be things like "Take out this gang terrorizing our town." By the end of the series he crosses the Moral Event Horizon and does a Face-Heel Turn.
    • Junko is equally amoral and only not a villain because her job is taking out people who tend to be worse and like Kanta, she ultimately pulls a Face-Heel Turn.
    • Rainspider is a heartless enforcer for loan sharks and implied deviant who has a tendency to abandon his teammates when battles are stacked against them. However, he's hilarious, and always follows his fleeing by a Big Damn Heroes moment at the right time. He's kind of more likable than Kanta, if no morally better.
  • In the Anime version of Afro Samurai, the title character is something of a tragic example of this; he is not without some humanity in him, but ends up burying it in his all-consuming pursuit of vengeance and adherence to his brutal code of honor, to the point where it's not clear whether he;'s a Nominal Hero or a Villain Protagonist. Afro's goals are, effectively, identical to those that he fights, and a strong argument could be made that the audience only sympathizes with him because we saw his back story, and didn't see theirs.
  • In Bleach:
  • In Bastard!!, Noble Demon Dark Schneider has some Pet the Dog moments, but on the whole is an egocentric Jerk Ass and sadist who openly admits that as soon as he takes down the Big Bad of the series, he will subjugate the world through mass-murder and warfare. He also treats almost everyone rudely and gropes girls without any sense of shame.
  • Kyo of Samurai Deeper Kyo- pretty much see the description of Dark Schneider, except in Sengoku Japan and with no interest in world domination.
  • Giuse of Gunslinger Girl. As he reveals to Henrietta, he's only nice to her until things go to hell and Henrietta is "reset to factory settings", leading Giuse to take a very steep dive over the Despair Event Horizon and treat her like he does practically everybody else following the realization that he could do nothing to help her. Later on, though, he thinks his behavior led Henrietta to frag him during the nuclear power plant strike.Unscrupulous Hero in the end
  • Gundam 00 has two; Hallelujah Haptism, the Superpowered Evil Side of Reluctant Warrior Allelujah Haptism, and Nena Trinity in the second season by virtue of being against Ali Al-Saachez and Ribbons Almark, who are much, much worse than her.
  • Gantz features a number of these. Several of the Osaka members are sadists who get off on hurting defenseless aliens who just happen to be their enemies. For the most part they could care less about their own team mates and threaten to kill innocent people who simply irritate them. One is a serial rapist who rapes female aliens before murdering them in order to avoid being imprisoned for rape. They just happen to be fighting for the good of mankind.
  • Hellsing: The only reason Alucard can be considered a hero is that he happends to be bound to the right Kid with the Leash. Not only is he a monster who enjoys shedding blood, but he's also aware enough of this fact to declare that only a man can kill someone like him. Alucard is made more sympathetic by his Affably Evil character and the fact that his enemies are even worse than him, but he is by no means a nice guy.
  • Noble Demon Hiei from YuYu Hakusho.
  • Nao Yuuki of Mai-HiME strongly believes that the Himes should use their powers for whatever they want, but allies with them to stop the Searrs foundation. And then she is attacked by the other Himes when they think she attacked Yukariko, loses an eye and undergoes a Face-Heel Turn.
  • Masaru "Kodama" Kodaka of Bokurano, is fighting to save the world like everyone else, but not only does he not care about collateral damage, he thinks it's a good thing, since he sees people as divided into those who deserve to survive and those who do not, and thinks that his father (of the former type) would benefit from being able to rebuild.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has Panty and Stocking Anarchy, who are incredibly rude and selfish and usually have no desire to help others. They only fight the bad guys because it slowly earns their way back into Heaven.
  • Boa Hancock from One Piece is of the "Relationships" type. She has a Love Interest, Luffy, and some Morality Pets (her sisters and to a lesser degree Nyon and Rayleigh) that she cares about, and she has a genuine Freudian Excuse, but otherwise she is quite the ruthless and selfish bitch who literally kicks dogs (and baby seals and baby kittens) and petrifies people on a whim.
  • Fairy Tail gives us Laxus Dreyar, who is only in the title guild because his grandfather runs the place. That's actually the source of his rage: he believes he's seen as "the guildmaster's grandson" and not his own person. After being booted out and spending six months or so traveling and finding himself, he returns and softens into a Pragmatic Hero.

    Comic Books 
  • Genis-Vell, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, during his "space madness" phase. Genis was, at best, a Villain Protagonist with a severely warped sense of justice and rabid sense of entitlement. Rick Jones, to whom Genis was molecularly bonded, constantly opposed him and (rightly) questioned Genis's sanity. On one occasion, Genis bestowed powers upon a serial killer whom his friend Rick Jones had testified against in order to get the killer to stalk both Rick and his wife, Marlo. After putting Rick through absolute hell to the point where death seemed certain, Genis then executes the serial killer and explains to Rick that all of this was to teach Rick that he only lived on Genis's own whims, and that he was never to question him again.
  • In Sin City, Miho's motives are unknown since she is mute, but she seems to have loyalty almost exclusively to Old Town. She has assisted Dwight in the past only because he once saved her life but that didn't stop her from essentially threatening to kill him if he interfered while she was torturing a corrupt cop in the middle of a street. Otherwise, the best you can say about her is that she doesn't target innocent people.
  • From Watchmen, the Comedian: a laughing thrill-killing Blood Knight torturer, rapist, war criminal and all-around Psycho for Hire.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hyde, Griffin, and Nemo are a pair of serial rapists and murderers, and a psychopathic pirate, respectively, who are offered an official pardon if they'll turn those qualities against the Empire's enemies. In the film version, Griffin is replaced by Loveable Rogue Rodney Skinner, and Hyde and Nemo get a makeover.
  • Deadpool is an Noble Demon Sociopathic Hero. He easily eclipses even the Punisher, as he frequently finds it funny to casually torture, dismember, and murder people.
  • In Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Max considers it a compliment to be called a grade-A sociopath, and was even dubbed the most terrifyingly dangerous force in the universe by the villain in Season One of the Telltale games. The only thing that really seems to keep him in line is his less sociopathic partner.
  • Depending on the Writer, Lobo is sometimes portrayed as one, instead of a Satire/Parody/Pastiche of a Rule of Cool Bad Ass unstoppable villain-full-stop. Considering that he is literally worse than Hitler, without any hyperbole involved, as he wiped out his own Pillars of Moral Character utopian species for kicks and giggles... when he was a teenager, this reveals a lot about media conventions in general.
  • Namor can veer between this and Unscrupulous Hero depending on the book and era. Unless he's the villain of the piece.
  • The vast majority of Gaulish villagers in Astérix are like this. They're only heroic at all because they're fighting against The Empire, which they mostly just pick on, usually for fun, rather than make any serious rebellion against them. They have two reasons for fighting them - they love fighting (even turning on each other when Romans aren't available) and they're incredibly set in their ways, usually even when the Roman way is better. They started out intended more as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits La Résistance, but got Flanderized into this mostly because it's funnier. Asterix, Obelix and Getafix are much nicer people, though.

    Fan Works 
  • Array from the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Chronicles of Harmony's End. He represents Order, and therefore opposes Discord on principle rather than morality.
  • In Iron Will's Foalcon Necrophilia Sex Rampage Iron Will is the only hero of the story. The only other character apart from Sweetie Belle is the computer shop owner who finds Iron Will's stash of foalcon and tries to extort money from him.
  • In Twillight Sparkle's awesome adventure, ADMIRAL Awesome eventually becomes this, although he starts out as an Anti-Hero.
  • Latias Journey has an in-universe example in the Red Ranger. An amoral and borderline sociopathic "superhero" is designated as heroic by Mr. Ford.
    Latias: So you even denigrate your comrades who fight alongside you. You attack a pair of Pokémon who had done nothing to hurt you without provocation or warning, intend to beat me to a pulp to capture me, and are also assisting a madman with his evil plans. You are no hero.
    Red Ranger: Hey, as long as the people of Ever Grande City think I am, and I get paid for my work with money and power by Ford, I don't care what you call me!
    • And the kicker? He's Richie of all people.
  • Nikolos Drakonakos from The Conversion Bureau: The Palladium Wings is the extremely cruel, borderline sociopathic leader of a band of Sky Pirates. He fights against the Equestrians out of sheer hatred and desire for booty. In fact, many of the Sky Pirates have the same motivations that he does.
  • Lieutenant Commander Brokosh, the Lethean protagonist of the Star Trek Online fic Red Fire, Red Planet. He does follow an ethical code of his own making, but he's a mercenary who signed with the Klingon Defense Force for the money, since he's married to a minor Klingon noblewoman from an Impoverished Patrician house and they have a son to support.

    Film 
  • In Braveheart, Steven the Irishman seems to have only joined the Scots because he'll be able to kill Englishmen, not to help the Scots get freedom.
  • Escape from New York: When ordered to rescue the President of the United States, Snake Plissken would gladly hijack his transportation and fly to Canada, but a bomb planted in his body makes him do otherwise.
  • The Expendables as a whole only fought the likes of pirates and dictators because they were paid to do so. They are, to their credit, remarkably easy to talk into doing the right thing even without a paycheck, though.
  • The Heisei incarnation of Godzilla saves the world, or at least Tokyo from other monsters, but it's not clear whether he has any motivations other than territorial instinct and devotion to his son, "Junior".
  • In Hulk, it's not entirely clear (until possibly the end) if the title character really knows and/or understands what he's doing.
  • Starship Troopers. Humanity in this film is a race of arrogant, jingoistic, xenophobic bastards run by an openly fascist and militaristic People's Republic of Tyranny. Their every action in the war against the Klendathu Arachnids is presented as heroic, embodying the film's intended satire on militarism.
  • In The Street Fighter, Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi is a brutal and pitiless man. He sells a girl into slavery and kills her brother when they're not able to pay him for services rendered, and he's not above sacrificing innocents that he's not directly helping. He avoids Villain Protagonist territory by fighting against Yakuza, whom he despises, and working to protect the good guys, even though he does so for his own reasons. In the Video Game version, he's portrayed in a somewhat more positive light.
  • Thor: The Dark World: Loki's reasons for helping Thor defeat Malekith are fairly selfish (Loki wants to avenge Frigga's murder, and this mission offers him an opportunity to escape his prison cell), but he nevertheless puts his life on the line to achieve their mutual goal.
  • Blade Runner. The replicants are escaped slaves. The Blade Runners are bounty hunters who get money for gunning them down. A Blade Runner protagonist makes for an uneasy moral setting at best.
  • Lampshaded and played for laughs in Mystery Men. Captain Amazing is constantly viewed by the residents of Champion City as a great hero, even though he is often rude, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and only interested in making money off his powers. He even brings about the events of the film, unwittingly, by getting his archnemesis released from prison so he can fight someone worthy (and save his sponsorship deals), eventually getting himself killed stupidly in the process. The audience isn't supposed to like him. Their sympathies instead lie with the title characters, who are the underdogs of the superhero world; most of them have crappy superpowers (such as only turning invisible when literally nobody is watching...not even himself), and they're respected by next to nobody in the city they've sworn to protect.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
    Rocket Raccoon: Why would YOU wanna save the galaxy?!
    Peter Quill: Because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it!
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The T-800 is a killer machine with no emotions, only protecting and following the orders of a ten year old because of his programming. By the end of the film he's able to understand human behaviour and emotions, so he becomes a more traditional hero over the course of the movie.

    Literature 
  • Karsa Orlong from Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is just about as anti as a hero can get. Being something of a deconstruction of the Proud Warrior Race Guy, Karsa aims to improve the world... by slaughtering millions of people and smashing civilization back to barbarism.
  • Yarol, the Venusian sidekick in C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories, is heavily implied to be this. The narration never specifies his enormities, but hints that his angelic beauty belies his absolutely evil nature.
  • Senna Wales, the witch of Everworld. She is motivated by her completely selfish goal of overthrowing the powers of Everworld, seizing control over the foundations of reality, and then ruling over the universe as an absolute god. However, she is kept from being a Villain Protagonist because most of the real villains that she opposes (Huizilopocli, Hel, Ka Anor) are monsters, she helps the other protagonists more often than she goes against them, and she seems to genuinely think that Everworld and its people would be better off with her ruling them all.
  • Uhtred Ragnarsson of Bebbanburg, the main protagonist of the Saxon Stories, is this in his halfhearted service of Alfred the Great. Although he would much rather accompany the Danish invaders, certain events forced him to make an oath of service to King Alfred that he refuses to break.
  • Raistlin Majere is this in the original Dragonlance Chronicles triology. Really the only thing keeping him with the Heroes of the Lance is some lingering affection for some of them and the presence of his brother Caramon. Even during Chronicles Raistlin started drifting towards becoming the Token Evil Teammate and the Face-Heel Turn was complete by the next triology Legends. Still he did earn his Redemption Equals Death and had a few Pet the Dog moments.
  • In Ghost, the first novel in the Paladin of Shadows series by John Ringo, Mike Jenkins starts out as this. In later books he tones it down to Unscrupulous Hero. Katya is this throughout the series.

    Live Action TV 
  • Blake's 7:
    • Over the course of his development, Kerr Avon varies from Token Evil Team Mate to a Jerk with a Heart of Gold but loses all sympathetic qualities towards the end of Series 4 when he tries to kill Vila in cold blood. He's still fighting the Lawful Evil Federation but he only cares about saving himself.
    • His reasons for fighting the Federation also change as time passes: in Season 1 he claims to have nothing to do with Blake's revolution other than living on the same ship, in Season 2 he's playing along because he wants the ship, in Season 3 the Federation is a threat to his freedom and by Season 4 he genuinely hates them, though by this time he's sliding down the sanity slope and it's hard to tell what his true motivations are.
    • Most of the other "good" main characters — except Blake, Cally, Dayna and perhaps Jenna and Gan — are being dragged along behind Blake's idealism. They fight because there's nowhere for them to run.
    • Dayna seems to stay with Avon out of a combination of not having anywhere else to go and wanting revenge on Servalan for her father's murder. While the seven more or less end up as Fire-Forged Friends, only Blake and Cally really have anything approaching idealism, rather than being motivated by loyalty or self-interest, and they're both gone by Season 4.
  • Farscape, which was blatantly Blake's 7 with money, was also filled with Nominal Heroes. The only reason why the main characters come together is because they're all being hunted by the oppressive government, but only one of them was anything approaching an idealistic revolutionary. (That one person was not the main protagonist and died just over halfway through the show's run.) In four seasons, they only consciously set out to do something "good" for the universe on two occasions, at the end of the third season and in the Grand Finale Wrap It Up.
  • Dexter: The titular character is at the far, dark end of this to the point where he could fairly be considered simply a likeable Villain Protagonist, being a Serial Killer who was disciplined at a young age to channel his sociopathy toward killing other evildoers. By the end of Season 7, he is 100% Villain Protagonist
  • Father Ted: Father Jack Hackett is a violent, selfish, perverted alcoholic and flashbacks suggest he was once a bullying fire and brimstone preacher and a paedophile. The only thing keeping him from being a Villain Protagonist is that his alcoholism usually renders him too docile to harm anyone. And sometimes it does the exact opposite.
  • Firefly: Jayne is working for Mal only because Mal offered him more money and his own bunk. When given the offer he immediately shot the mercenaries he was currently working for and sided with Mal. He makes it clear throughout the series that he would do the same again if a better offer came along.
  • Kamen Rider OOO: Ankh is only helping Eiji against the other Greeed because it's in his own best interests, and has no qualms about who is hurt so long as he gets what he wants. though he gradually transitions into a Knight in Sour Armor by the end.
  • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: Magna-Defender is like this. He may assist the rangers taking down a monster or two and want to take down Scorpious, but he's only does it for the revenge. This definitely becomes clearer when he tries to destroy Terra Venture because it might destroy Scorpious. Although he gets better, near the end.
  • Revolution: Rachel Matheson reveals herself as this in "The Longest Day", when she directly tells Aaron that she wants to turn the power back on not to help anyone, but to give the other factions the power to kill Monroe as revenge for killing her son Danny.
  • Sherlock: In this 2010 BBC modernization, Sherlock Holmes describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath," and cautions Dr. Watson: "Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist; and if they did, I wouldn't be one of them." This shows that his motivations are not those of a typical straight hero, and that he's possessed of a very cynical worldview. His motivation is quite explicitly boredom and a need for intellectual stimulation.
    Sherlock: I maybe on the side of the angels; but don't, for one minute, assume I am one of them.
  • The Sopranos: Tony Soprano is a con artist, a thug, a womanizer, a thief, a murderer, an extortionist, and an adulterer - and yet somehow it's nearly impossible not to sympathize with him. The only things separating him from a Villain Protagonist are his genuine love for his family, kindness to his friends, and occasional pangs of guilt and moments of vulnerability. Oh, and the fact that his friends (and enemies) are even worse than he is. The redeeming elements of his character are largely absent by season 6B, and especially by the finale.
  • In The Wire many policemen and public servants don't really care about fighting crime or improve the city and would only perform good deeds when it furthers their own agendas.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Voiree Misallo from 8BitGamers. Though firmly on the side of good after a religious experience and a genetic examination revealing her to be born with a semi-sociopathic defect, her motivation mostly has to do with wanting to avoid hell, keep her boyfriend, and remain friends with her True Companions.

    Theatre 
Into the Woods uses this as part of its deconstruction of Fairy Tales. Everything that goes wrong in the Darker and Edgier second act is a direct or indirect result of the heroes putting their own Happily Ever After above the greater good. By the end, the cast admits that they have no idea who's the hero and who's the villain, and the most sympathetic character is the Wicked Witch who was the first act's Big Bad.
The Witch: You're so nice. You're not good, you're not bad, you're just... nice. I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right.

    Video Games 
  • In Marathon, not only does Durandal make it quite clear that he is only fighting the Pfhor as a means of escaping the end of the universe, he is the one who brought the Pfhor to Tau Ceti in the original game, an action that resulted in the deaths of nearly everyone in the colony.
  • In Hexen II, two of the heroes are the Assassin (who wants to prove she can kill the most powerful and best protected being on the planet) and the Necromancer (who has a problem with Eidolon being more feared than him).
  • In God of War, Kratos, to the point that, particularly after the first game, many consider him an outright Villain Protagonist, even worse than the people (or gods) he's trying to kill.
    • In which case the gods themselves become Nominal Hero antagonists. Their motivations for opposing Kratos are purely selfish, and they have little concern or empathy for humanity itself. This gets epically flipped on its head in the finale of the third game which reveals that the Gods were actually heroic until Kratos opened Pandora's Box in the first game to beat Ares. The evils from inside infested and corrupted the Gods and twisted them from benevolent leaders into despotic bastards. Kratos is so shocked by this reveal, as well as the realization that he's caused and inflicted so much pain and destruction in his quest for revenge, that he kills himself and releases the powers of hope in order to give humanity a chance to survive on their own.
  • In Drakengard, Caim is this in the first game. The only thing that made him "heroic" in the first place was the fact that he was fighting against an evil empire that was even worse. Once they're defeated, he defaults back to RIP AND TEAR.
  • In Mass Effect 2:
    • Zaeed Massani is a ruthless revenge obsessed merc on Commander Shepard's team. During his loyalty mission, he burns an entire refinery to the ground while callously disregarding the innocent lives trapped inside just to get revenge on another merc who screwed him over 20 years prior. In Mass Effect 3 he becomes an Unscrupulous Hero through character development.
    • Aria T'Loak is a crimelord who allows slavery, drug running and pretty much anything else as long as it doesn't undermine her power. She is however willing to aid Shepard to some extent, and seems none too fond of Ardat-Yakshi or the Collectors. Probably both for practical reasons and on principle. In Mass Effect 3, she helps you out of self-preservation because, as she puts it, the reapers are a threat to all existence, including hers, so it's "within (her) interests" to help Shepard.
    • This trope is actually a plot point in the first game, where Saren is believed to be a hero throughout the galaxy and is well-liked by many. In reality he's a very amoral Knight Templar who is willing to cause many civilian casualties as long as he gets the job done and is a severe racist. He popularity in the galaxy means that a big problem in the games opening act is actually convincing the Citadel Council that he's not on their side anymore and has to be brought in.
  • In the first three Fallout games, an evil player character could be seen as this, since you have the freedom to blow of civilian’s heads with absolutely zero provocation, enslave children and nuke cities. However, this is somewhat moderated by the main story pitting you against monsters who want to wipe out the vast majority of the remaining human race. With New Vegas, the player has the option of becoming a full-blown Villain Protagonist by siding with Caesar’s Legion, as they bring the region under the grip of a nation endorsing rape, slavery, child molestation and murder for public entertainment.
  • Demitri Maximoff from Darkstalkers. He only confronts Planet Eater Pyron and Dark Messiah Jedah because they are a threat to his plans in conquering the Makai, and treats everyone who aren't his servants with great disdain.
  • Augus in Asura's Wrath only joined the Eight Guardian Generals so he could have exciting battles.
    • 4 of all the Seven Deities are implied to be this
  • In the Metal Gear series, Meryl, Psycho Mantis, and Liquid claim that Solid Snake is a Sociopathic Hero who enjoys combat and killing, with the latter two telling him that he's far worse then they are. However, Psycho Mantis and Liquid are mass murdering psychopaths attempting to 'kill as many people as possible' and bring on a Darwinist 'warrior's paradise' respectively, which makes their attacks on him border on Hypocritical Humor and possibly Unreliable Narrator as well.
  • Reaver from Fable II and III. He tries to double cross the hero at least twice and only helps the hero because the Big Bad proceeds to double cross him when Reaver tries to turn the hero over to him.
  • In the first No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown. The only thing that makes him any kind of hero is that the rest of the assassins are sociopaths. Later, his motivation becomes more heroic.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, Maleficent, while still not "good" in any sense of the word, is allied with the heroes in a common goal.
  • Grom Hellscream and Illidan Stormrage of Warcraft: the first is an amoral Blood Knight and the other is a subject obsessed with demonic power.
    • Another examples are Garrosh Hellscream, the goblins and the Forsaken.
  • In the Super Mario Bros. series, Wario is willing to take on Evil Overlords and the like, but only if there's treasure at the end of the road. Otherwise, he couldn't care less. Word of God notes that Wario doesn't really care about anything, he just wants to keep doing what he wants.
  • In Blood, Caleb spends the entirety of both his games killing everything that moves. The only reason he's the good guy is, excluding a few mimes and other innocents, everything that moves is part of the world-spanning Cabal.
  • In Ace Combat Zero, Cipher on the Mercenary path. As opposed to Soldier, on this path he's willing to take out anything not specifically on his side, be it enemy combatants, disabled enemy units, or even civilians on occasion.
  • In BlazBlue, Kokonoe has a few soft spots here and there, but REALLY has no problems in nuking a whole city just so she can claim the frag of Terumi's head... never mind thousands and thousands of innocents who will die along the way.
  • One of The King of Fighters' main characters, Iori Yagami (introduced in 1995 as the rival of Kyo Kusanagi), plays this role. A loner and a very angry and consumed character, he lives to see the defeat of Kyo and won't stop until that happens. He does do genuinely heroic things (even teaming up with Kyo when the situation warrants it) but only so that he can resume thirsting for Kyo's blood. He has no friends and has attacked his own team members in the past (be it willingly or unwillingly when his Orochi blood goes out of control).
  • Star Wars The Old Republic Lord Scourge a Sith Lord who is a companion to the Jedi Knight class, he sides with the Jedi to stop the Sith Emperor from destroying the entire galaxy. In the back story he was responsible for Revans capture and the Exiles death because he saw that they would fail in defeating the Emperor. By the end of the Jedi Knight storyline, he is credited as a hero of the Republic, which both him and Satele Shan really don't like the idea of.
  • Marisa Kirisame from Touhou is mostly motivated by the prospect of magical artifacts to loot. Remilia Scarlet is more interested in maintaining her power than actually fixing Gensokyo's problems (and she's not the harmless kind of vampire). Sanae is interested in spreading the worship her ancestor-goddesses. Youmu fights because her mistress says so.
  • Sacrifice: The player takes the role of Eldred who use to be a tyrant on his own world, then when his own people turn against him he summoned the demon Marduk to defeat them, then Marduk proceeded to destroy everything else. He is really regretful of having to kill a dragon, but is ok with slavery.
  • The Daemoness in Sacred: Underworld. At the start of the game she gets stabbed in the back by her master, Anducar, and has a prophetic vision that working alongside the other heroes is her best chance of getting revenge.
  • Several of the protaganists of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2. Vhaidra wants to hone her skills as a monk so she can take bloody revenge against the assassins who murdered her family, and Borador, as a result of a debt owed to the elves, wants to get his hands on as much coin as he can. Dorn is a borderline example, since his motivation comes across as equal parts 'make the realms a better place' and 'earn as much glory for myself and seduce as many women as I can.'
  • Dark Pit from Kid Icarus: Uprising. He isn't to concerned with the war between the gods. He just likes beating up monsters. After the time skip he gets more involved in order to make sure Pit remains alive (since he learns his existence depends on Pit's).
  • Conker. Guy's primary interest is in stumbling home in one piece, and (with some exceptions), he's not doing anything heroic without some serious compensation.
  • All of "Team Dark" from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, who only ever join up with the rest of the good guys when something even worse comes along, and it gets too big to ignore. The most straight up example is Shadow, mostly in his own game. After Sonic Adventure 2 had him pull a Heel-Face Turn, he protects the world only because Maria wanted him to, or to boost his ego and superiority over others as the Ultimate Lifeform. Shadow has been shown as willing to cross any line to succeed his mission and goals, which may or may not be for the good of Earth. Most of the time, it is, but it's always about Shadow achieving his own ambitions first.
    • As for the rest of Team Dark, E-123 Omega only ever does anything either because it involves his goal of getting revenge on Eggman for abandoning him for other robots, or because Shadow and Rouge asked him to help them out. Rouge the Bat's main motivation in being a government spy is her obsession with the world's most famous jewels, which she expects to be rewarded with.
    • Eggman is this when he is fighting against the Deadly Six in Sonic Lost World until all the Deadly Six meet their final defeat!
  • In Dragon Age: Origins many of the Grey Wardens. The Wardens will take people of any background with sufficient talents at killing darkspawn from warriors to thieves, to mages, even blood mages as long as they're able to survive the joining. The Wardens have broad powers of conscription that are honored by most governing bodies so many Wardens are pressed into service against their will.
    • Oghren is a warrior who fights because thats what he was trained to do and his training left him going stir crazy in dwarven civilization. He joins you to find his wife and stays with you because it means he can start swinging his axe again. Nothing more.
    • Morrigan is a witch with a dark background and little to no regard for the well being of others. She's only with you because her mother told her to come and only helps because killing the darkspawn is in her best interest (though she can develop an attachment to the main character depending on how you play.)
  • Tyler Smith in Clear Vision, whose motive is sole money and later to save his beautiful wife, in every shooting he does regardless if the targets in question are actually evil.
  • Isaac Clarke, the protagonist of the Dead Space Series. In 1 and 2, he's just an ordinary engineer who wanted to survive the Necromorph Zombie Apocalypse. In the third game, he literally had to be coerced to get back into the fight, and even then only agreed because he learned his ex-Girlfriend was in peril. However, near the end of all three games, he ends up pulling a Heroic Sacrifice, willingly entering a situation that would likely result in death in order to end the greater threatnote .
  • Garrett of Thief doesn't really give a damn about anyone other than himself. He winds up in the "hero" role primarily out of circumstance: the Big Bad is usually (in addition to their main plan) gunning for him personally for one reason or another. Also, it's of no benefit to him if The City is destroyed, then where would he do his thieving?
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny:
  • In the final stages of RefleX, the Phoenix is thoroughly trashed by ZODIAC Virgo and its pilot killed, causing its AI to take over and transform into ZODIAC Ophiuchus. It then proceeds to tear up Virgo, and later the other ZODIAC units. At first, the people of earth hail the Ophiuchus as its savior from the "Winged Menaces", but the Ophiuchus is not interested in protecting humanity, only dueling with the other ZODIAC units until they are all destroyed, no matter how much collateral damage happens in the process. The damage and death toll pile up, and before long, humanity sees Ophiuchus as simply yet another menace to the planet.
  • Joel from The Last of Us. 20 years of hardcore survival in a world long gone to Hell and the death of his young daughter Sarah have left him an extremely bitter and almost nihilistic middle-aged man who will cross any moral line to survive in a harsh world. However, he is given the task to escort Ellie, a young girl who may be the key to curing the plague, to a holdout on the other side of America. He's not at all doing it because he cares about the ongoing factional conflict, or because he cares about Ellie's well-being note  or because his doing so could end up saving mankind from extinction, he's doing it to get his guns back.
  • Luke in Tales of the Abyss for the first third of the game. Our “hero” is functionally a child, having been kept inside and away from people ever since an accident stripped him of his memory, leaving him a moody, selfish and arrogant Sheltered Aristocrat brat with little people skills or knowledge of the world. He is then told that he is The Chosen One, which does very little to help his already over-inflated ego and sense of entitlement. This is made even worse by the encouragement of his mentor, the only person he truly respects. Luke continues to become more whiny and insufferable until the game's Wham Episode kicks in, where he's called out on his actions by the entire party. It takes a few more rather unpleasant experiences all in a row before he finally snaps out of it.
  • Rufus of Deponia. His main goal of escaping the titular trash planet for Elysium is entirely selfish, he is arrogant, rude and beyond egotistical, and much of the first game is him using, manipulating, and outright backstabbing other people in order to achieve his goals. The "intentional" part comes due to the fact he's actually a Deconstruction. Its made clear that nobody likes Rufus precisely because he's such an asshole, most, if not all of the series' crises are directly his fault, and he is constantly called out for his actions. In fact, in the sequel, Lady Goal abandons the other Goals and all of Deponia to certain doom just so she could get away from Rufus after everything he's done to her.
  • The titular Tomba! Sure he's a nice guy and sure he goes out of his way to help a lot of people along his journey, but all he ultimately cares about is getting back his grandfather's bracelet. Had the Koma Pigs not stolen it he'd have been more than content to sit back and relax as they did their thing to the island.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Eugene Greenhilt swore a Blood Oath to defeat Xykon the Sorcerer because the latter killed his mentor, but he was the one who muttered "yeah, whatever," afterwards. He was a horrible father, an inattentive husband, and the small amount of interest he has in Xykon being defeated is only because that oath he swore is keeping him from resting. He's only barely inside heaven in the afterlife. When his son Roy died and went to heaven, Roy was able to get much further inside heaven because unlike Eugene, he actually gave a damn and did everything he could to fulfill the family oath.
    • Belkar Bitterleaf is an unapologetic Heroic Comedic Sociopath with no actual redeeming qualities. At one point, Roy claims that the only reason he keeps Belkar around is to keep him from using his abilities to become a full-blown villain. Belkar's Stupid Evil antics are entirely deliberate on his part, as he finds being his own personal Mook Horror Show is not only entertaining but also an effective way of gaining XP. Later, he shifts to a more subdued Token Evil Teammate role, and gains an actual Morality Pet of sorts, his Right-Hand Cat, Mr. Scruffy.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, any time Bun-Bun does something good in the series, Pete Abrams is always careful to give him a completely selfish reason (usually either that the good guys bribed him, or that the villain happened to piss him off). It's rare that he's implied to do anything solely because he cares about a member of the main cast.
  • The Light Warriors in 8-Bit Theater, except Fighter, are Designated Heroes who only possess the distinction of being protagonists due to showing up at the recruiting station at the right time. Both in - story and by Word of God, they are far worse than any of the monsters they end up facing. The worst of the lot are Black Mage (a pure Villain Protagonist and an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to deliver the world to Chaos) and Thief (a Jerk Ass Miser Advisor who's only in it to screw over as many people as possible). Red Mage is an amoral Munchkin who's in it for the XP but will happily commit atrocities toward that end. Fighter, on the other hand, is an Idiot Hero who is only going along because he thinks they're actually on the side of good.
    • Still, the epilogue has them being credited as the individuals who started the events that led to the world being saved. That is, by being responsible for the world-ending threat in the first place.
  • In Ansem Retort, the only difference between Axel and the villains he fights is that the villains want to destroy all of humanity at once while Axel would prefer to do it one person at a time.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama features a few:
    • Bender is an extremely selfish kleptomaniac, and thus falls into nominal heroism at times. However, much of this can be excused by the fact that as a robot, he does not fully understand human needs and emotions. He also has quite a few Pet the Dog moments.
    • Zapp Brannigan is a cowardly, vain, selfish, ignorant, womanizing Jerkass whose incompetence is of epic proportions, and whose battle plans often if not usually call for callously sacrificing thousands of lives in order to further his own career. Nonetheless, he is a key asset for DOOP.
  • Dr. Venture from The Venture Bros. often falls into this category, sometimes bordering on Villain Protagonist. He's a Brilliant, but Lazy Bungling Inventor with extreme Freudian Exuses thanks to his emotionally abusive father and Hilariously Abusive Childhood. Usually, he still does the right thing in the end, but in a few episodes (The Buddy System, What Color is Your Cleansuit?,) he's "heroic" only in the sense that he is the show's protagonist, and the "good" he does (cloning a child who was killed on a tour of his compound, restoring the interns after exposing them to extreme radiation,) is basically done to keep himself out of trouble.
  • Varrick from The Legend of Korra. He's pretty friendly and helpful to the heroes, but he's motivated by self-interest and the villains just happen to be cutting in on his business.
  • Eric Cartman from South Park can be one of these when he's working with the other boys towards any kind of cause. He usually comes across as helping out for his own personal amusement, but it is just as likely that he simply has mutual interests - in "Kenny Dies" he wanted to reinstate funding for stem cell research. He had 33 aborted fetuses he wanted to sell.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has an In-Universe Show Within a Show example with Captain Ryan, the "hero" of the Star Trek: The Animated Series parody "Space Heroes". He does nothing "heroic" on-screen, with actions like openly stating he brings along the Redshirts so they die, refusing to help two redshirts because "they'll never learn if we keep saving them" (and not caring that this is their first mission and they have no weapons), subtly taunting the Spock-expy about being in love with one of the just-killed redshirts, and sucking a bunch of innocent aliens out into space because he finds their noise annoying. He's played on a meta-level as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath, in that the audience is amused by the fact that Leonardo seems to never realize how utterly terrible Captain Ryan is and tries to emulate his perceived leadership, whilst Raphael and the others recognize that "Space Heroes" is a terrible show because of Captain Ryan's utter lack of heroic qualities.


Knight in Sour ArmorQuirky GoodPragmatic Hero
Knight in Sour ArmorHeroesPragmatic Hero
Fallen AngelHidden EvilPoisonous Friend
"No. Just... No" ReactionAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!No Social Skills
No Good Deed Goes UnpunishedCynicism TropesNo Sympathy
Never My FaultSelfishness TropesNot in This for Your Revolution

alternative title(s): Hero In Name Only
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