"It's a well-known fact that groups look like a distorted version of the most important person from farther away."
In your typical console Role-Playing Game
, the player is usually in control of around half-a-dozen characters (at least)
for a good portion of the game.
However, when walking around the world map, in a city, or in a dungeon, usually all that is seen is the main character, even when the rest of the party is supposed to be with him at the time. Perhaps he's carrying them in his pockets
Some games allow you to chose which party member, sometimes referred to as the active character
, to be visible. In many games, this character may use certain skills when they're active, or will alter the dialogue of certain NPCs when talking to them.
If The Lancer
, White Magician Girl
or other party members are ever needed, either the screen will fade out, then back in with the necessary person(s) now standing alongside the Hero, or in some cases, they will simply walk out of the Hero's body
, do or say what they need to, then walk back in.
Some games avert this to a degree by never showing multiple party members on the world map, such as early Ultima
games, leaving only the question of where your other party members are hiding.
The alternative is All in a Row
. See also Actually Four Mooks
, which is when a Preexisting Encounter
has a Party In Its Pocket
. Related to Hammerspace Hideaway
Goes in and out of Acceptable Breaks from Reality
. From a development standpoint, it cuts cost having less models on the screen at once, lets the player see more of the world, and sometimes having three, four, or more party members on the field at once can clog it. It'd be annoying for a puzzle to get unwinnable because you have to push someone out of the way. Not to mention, All in a Row
can sometimes have pathfinding issues such as characters getting stuck in a wall or accidentally setting off traps.
Beat 'em Up
- Used confusingly in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. You can have both your characters onscreen, but whichever one you're not controlling becomes a sort of magic image; it takes only MP damage and can be dismissed at any time. The game knows this makes no sense and doesn't really try to explain it. But there's a cute lampshading — if you hold Up in front of Vincent with just one character out, he panics, fearing that the worst has happened to your partner.
- "They... They KILLED Johnathan?" "Nah, I'm still around." "You're still here?! I thought..."
- Both, the arcade and NES versions of Double Dragon III, allowed the player to recruit additional characters in addition to the Lee brothers. In the arcade version, the additional characters could be recruited in weapon shops by inserting more tokens into the coin slot and essentially acted out as extra lives, whereas the additional characters in the NES version were boss characters who join the Lee brothers after being defeated and could be switched to at any moment (the trade-off being that all of the game's player characters were shared by both players in 2-Player mode, whereas each player in the arcade version has his own party). At any case, each player only controls one character at a time.
- Kunio-tachi no Banka has the heroes Kunio and Riki being joined by their respective girlfriends, Misako and Kyoko, for a brief period. The player can switch between any of the four characters at any time, but only two of them (depending on whether a second person is player) appear on-screen at the same time.
Hack and Slash
- Shooters with both cutscenes and a co-op mode that doesn't remove them end up with a situation like this, where the cutscenes will usually act as though the singleplayer protagonist is the only person there, while none of the actual players may even be using his model.
- Halo: Combat Evolved has some notable aversions - on the occasions where the cutscenes don't assume there's still only the one Master Chief, the second player will take the place the Chief had in the singleplayer version of the cutscene, with the first player going somewhere else instead. This is most notable in the level "The Silent Cartographer", where two Pelicans drop the player and his allies onto the beach - normally, the player rides in the first one and gets to watch the scenery pass and the second Pelican follow from inside of it, but in co-op the first player rides in the rear one.
- Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has a similarly-inventive solution for this in the one storyline mission where the player character actually is going it alone - if played in co-op anyway, cutscenes have the other player(s) just standing around not doing anything at all while the first player's character pretends they aren't there. The rest of the game averts this where additional players for co-op take control of one of the other three teammates, complete with them carting around whatever primary weapon that player was last carrying during cutscenes.
- Happens in Drakengard. That dragon can't possibly be carrying all the people that are talking to you during the aerial sequences, and if they are on the ground, how the hell do they show up when you land there?
- At one point it's mentioned that those with pact partners can speak to each other from a great distance - this is the only advantage Verdelet gains from his pact, since his partner was turned to stone.
- World of Warcraft characters can carry any amount of pets and mounts in their inventory. You heard me. Mounts. A couple of mounts have the player carrying just an item to summon it.. but most of them have you apparently stuffing them into your bag and carting them around.
- This has been changed as of October 2008; now the carriers, mounts, and items are destroyed on use and apparently teach you skills of ___ summoning. Which is arguably weirder, but does avoid this specific trope.
- That was also Hand Waved when it was implemented. The lore explanation was that the mount wasn't in your bag, just the reins, which were magical and could summon the mount.
- In MUD Achaea, mount carries you. And the other way round.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, companions disappear while Player Characters ride speeders and reappear upon dismounting.
- In Sonic Pinball Party, only one character is active at any time, and shooting the Big Target Hole is required to swap characters.
- In Little Samson/Seirei Densetsu Lickle, any inactive character has to be kept inside a bell for some reason. The dragon character, unamused, challenges the hero to a fight because of this.
- Played with in the Super Mario Bros. role playing games:
- Super Mario RPG:
- Among many other things in a scene where everyone goes to merge with Mario when an NPC shouts something, resulting in everyone smashing into Mario instead. He gets his dazed look, then, when everyone goes to merge with him again moments later, he holds out his hands to stop them until he's ready.
- Also lampshaded. In a certain scene Mario is explaining something to the mushroom people, and suddenly Bowser (and the other party members) emerge from him, causing surprise and terror to everyone present.
- There is a scene where an annoyed Mario pulls Mallow back into Hammer Space to silence his whining.
- Paper Mario has Partners switching in and out of Mario as they are needed. The Pixls in Super Paper Mario are, considering their size, more realistic... but you can also exchange Mario with other characters out of nowhere.
- In cutscenes where at least two of the playable characters are scripted to be onscreen, the characters not in control will appear or disappear Behind the Black. This is especially weird in the cutscene where Peach rejoins you during the Overthere Stair — Peach's abrupt awakening knocks the character you're currently controlling (either Mario, Luigi, or Bowser) off camera. All three characters then walk on camera and talk with Peach. When someone offscreen addresses Peach, the camera shifts left, putting Mario, Luigi, and Bowser off camera again while leaving Peach on screen. When the cutscene ends, Mario, Luigi, and Bowser are nowhere to be found, while the player is suddenly controlling Peach.
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door:
- Mario runs afoul of a body swapper. The impostor successfully fools Mario's party, forcing the real Mario to fight them before he can get his body back. Even though the impostor is not controlled by the player, he is still bound by the restrictions of this trope and must battle you with only one party member at a time.
- Averted another time during the same part of the story, however - there is an optional cutscene one can see while a shadow that has Doopliss and the partners all taking part at once, and this is also the case in the cutscene before the given fight.
- Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story may count as a bizarre variant of this, in which Bowser is on the overworld and the two titular party members remain inside him. Bowser can use the Vacuum Block to swallow flying enemies and parts of large enemies, allowing Mario and Luigi to fight that enemy inside his belly. This is, in fact, part of several Bowser boss fights, including the final battle where Mario and Luigi must fight Dark Fawful.
- In Pokémon, your party is literally in your pocket (hence the name "Pocket Monsters"), or on your belt, or wherever the characters keep Poké Balls. The only exception to this occurs in the Yellow version, in which the Pikachu you receive at the beginning of the game refuses to go in its Poké Ball (unless it faints or is being healed at the Pokemon Center) and follows you around through the game, in an obvious reference to the anime.
- Most Final Fantasy games:
- Final Fantasy III plays with this a bit. Pressing Select switches the "active" character, and a few abilities, such as the Thief's lockpicking, only work with that character active. (This isn't made too clear in the game.) When your party is escorting someone, that character follows your party instead.
- Final Fantasy IV, at least in the DS remake, does the same, although as there aren't any opportunities to use skills outside of battle beyond cutscenes, who your active character is doesn't have any effect except on the line in their thought bubble on the pause menu.
- In one scene early in Final Fantasy VI, prior to a certain boss battle, a hostile NPC stomps on your party leader, causing all three party members to spill out onto the field while he asks about a certain character not yet added to the party.
- Final Fantasy VII uses this trope unabashedly. In most cases, when your current party members have something to say, they will run out of Cloud's body, say or do whatever they need to, and promptly walk back in, as though Cloud is some sort of Mobile-Suit Human. It gets turned Up to Eleven when, after taking a moment to recoup before heading down the train tunnel to the Sector 5 Reactor, Cloud and Tifa enter Barret, Barret speaks one line of dialogue, and abruptly transforms into Cloud. In addition, a deleted scene would have had Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge try to do the same thing (and fail).
- Final Fantasy VIII tried having the other two members of the team follow you around... proving why this trope is so common, as they were always moving around in a perfect column and looked really artificial doing it. This is lampshaded at least once in the game where an NPC comments that the military academy they attended sure did a good job of teaching them how to walk All in a Row.
- Simultaneously used and kind of averted in Final Fantasy IX: Usually you would only see Zidane in the field areas, and the rest of the party would materialize through a quick in-and-out fade to black when they're needed, but at other times Zidane is simply travelling by his lonesome while the rest of his party are doing other things, and the game even lets you see what they're doing with the Active Time Event system.
- This was played with interestingly in a meta sense in Final Fantasy X. Right at the beginning of the game, when Tidus first joins with Yuna et al, the party averts this by walking in a group in actual gameplay: Everyone else walks along, while the player just controls Tidus, and when you get to the next town, they all hang out doing their own thing while you explore, and in fact go to the plot sensitive area without Tidus. Then, once Tidus officially becomes a Guardian, the trope is played straight, signifying he's really a part of the party, and not just tagging along.
- Final Fantasy XII almost averted it; your two active party members follow behind you, as a function of the game's lack of a transition between travel and battle. What's not explained is where the other three members presumably traveling with you are hanging out while this is going on. Also, played completely straight in that in-town sequences show only Vaan except during cutscenes.
- And averted completely (within the active party) in Final Fantasy XIII, where the two backup characters in your active party kinda wander around on their own, usually in the general direction of the one you're controlling. Like XII, the other three characters kinda vanish in the meantime, unless the plot needs them on the field.
- Gets pretty ridiculous in the freeware game, Heros Realm, with the player eventually controlling sixteen people, who only take up a single tile, at one time!
- Valkyrie Profile:
- Justified in the first game, with the Valkyrie actively summoning in the Einherjar with her own energy. (Note that if the Valkyrie dies in combat, so does the party unless she is revived in three turns.)
- In the sequel it gets even more bizarre; Alicia contains the Valkyrie Silmeria within her, while a number of Einherjar reside within Silmeria. Alicia might as well buy herself a "NO VACANCY" sign with that many people to deal with.
- Used in the Exile series. Since the games lacked Fight Woosh, switching into combat mode causes your party to instantaneously decompress near the leader's position in a somewhat random fashion, sometimes popping up on the other side of monsters, furniture, doors and walls when adjacent tiles were full.
- Ending combat recompressed the party also in a more or less random location between them. This was occasionally exploitable, and could be used to teleport the party across some obstacles (such as barriers and traps) by entering and leaving combat.
- Shadowcaster was a strange case, as technically you controlled only one character that could morph into six other creatures. Each one had skills that were essential at some point in the game, so playing felt like having a party of seven and frequently switching between them.
- Ultima III was the first game in the series to use this, with a party of 4 characters. Ultima IV pushed this to 8, and Ultima V settled on 6 as middle-ground. The next few games used All in a Row and the last two were solo games.
- Used heavily in Golden Sun where several scenes involve your extra 3 party members morphing out of you so they can be in the cutscene. Got worse in the sequel where 8 characters popped out from your...pocket. Outside of battle, the 'utility' psynergy abilities are all performed by the hero, even if it's actually one of the other characters that has the skill. Early in the first game Ivan demonstrates that if he's touching Isaac, then Isaac can mind read and presumably do everything else he has, so it's actually explained.
- Used briefly in Mega Man Battle Network 2 during the camp scenario. Since this is the only time in the series it's used, it's very jarring; apparently players were just expected to know what it meant when all the other kids walked into Lan. (Standard Battle Network procedure when Lan's in a group is just to have everybody hang around somewhere, checking things out, until you trigger a cutscene that moves the party.)
- Trine had an iteresting twist on this; the three main characters are Sharing a Body due to the titicular artifact, and can switch form based on the situation at hand.
- Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, lacking a Fight Woosh, has your party members simply follow you around visibly, but when you have an additional character in your party, (Jack Skellington/Sparrow, Simba, etc.) the extra 4th member simply seems to not be anywhere. Likewise during Limits not involving a character, they will simply disappear.
- Baten Kaitos. If you talk to an NPC and the game fades to black, you know the conversation will be important since your party members will appear once the scene fades back in.
- Most Tales Series games use this trope, to the point where later ones even let you set the party leader and the battle leader as totally different characters. The party leader doesn't even have to be in the battle.
- Later games like Tales of Vesperia make heavy use out of switching characters in order to trigger sidequests and cutscenes.
- In Tales of Phantasia (PSX), when certain NPCs (Rhea and Brambard) join your party, they actually show up in the party screen, though they don't show up in combat and their stat screen simply says "NPC".
- The Star Ocean series have the party members off on their own when the main hero enters a town. In cutscenes, usually the members relevant to that scene only pop up.
- Justified in the video game Mr Robot. The secondary party members have all been uploaded into the primary character and all the combat sequences take place in a virtual reality.
- In Aidyn Chronicles, other party members only appear during cut scenes.
- Eternal Sonata's party balloons to about twelve characters, but you only walk around as Allegretto or Polka. Beat also gets a turn in one chapter. The only time Chopin is shown as the lead is in a cutscene. (So much for the game being about him.)
- In Heroes of the Lance, the player controlled the eight main characters of the original Dragonlance novels, but only one active character was physically present at a time, and if the active character died, the next character in line took his place. This meant that if, say, the thief tried to take out an enemy with his sling but the enemy managed to close to melee range, the seven other characters would stand around and watch poor Tasslehoff get beaten to death before one - and only one - of them would step forward to take a shot at the monster. If someone tried to jump over a pit and fell to their death, the next person in line could give it a shot, but if someone cleared a pit, they'd bring everyone else with them - even the characters who couldn't jump that far.
- Although the Breath of Fire series usually Averts this with All in a Row, the series often does use this trope's secondary function of active characters, with the first character in the row (who can be switched with the press of a button) having abilities they can use in the Overworld.
- Breath of Fire II takes this a step further - anyone who isn't in your party at the time will generally just be hanging out back at their house in Township.
- Inazuma Eleven; three members show up on the map to follow the leader, but the other twelve are still available to swap in.
- Different Shin Megami Tensei games change it up with varying levels of justification for when they do use it:
- Several games are first-person perspective and you're presumably in the lead, so the question simply isn't addressed when you have human party members.
- Most third-person perspective games play it straight, but with the justification that most (if not all) of your party are demons you summon for each battle. Digital Devil Saga and the Persona 2 duology play it dead straight, though, as your party members are most definitely not summoned but are nowhere to be seen when in a dungeon. The Devil Survivor games also count, as you only see each squad's leader on the map.
- Persona 3 and Persona 4 notably avert it, as party members follow after you in the dungeons, and can even get separated from you or get in your way while you're trying to maneuver (this last mostly in P3, though).
- Mimana Iyar Chronicle lets you press a button to switch between Crais and other party members while wandering, so different party members can talk to the NPCs for different results. Crais has pissed off a lot of people, but his party members are cute girls to which most people respond much better.
Non-video game examples:
- Adventurers! averts and lampshades this here.
- Lampshaded in RPG World, where it's claimed to be a law of physics that "any group of people, when viewed from a long distance, looks like a distorted version of the most important person in the group".
- Captain SNES: The Game Masta uses it to his advantage here.