Player Character Calculus
This is the video game-specific variation of the Cast Calculus
. In many games, the player controls a single Player Character
at any time and often throughout the entire game. Others give you an AI-controlled Non-Player Companion
, while certain genres offer multiple companions to make up an entire Player Party
. This page categorizes individual maximum party sizes
and which tropes are associated with them.
Compare Faction Calculus
Lone Gunmen (1-2)
This category encompasses games with just one—at most, two—Player Characters
, plus optional cohorts.
1 - Lone Hero
The player controls a single Player Character
(or at least one at a time
), and that's it. This template is extremely common in shooter (the First-Person Shooter
in particular), hack-n-slash, fighting, roguelike, Survival Horror
, and adventure games, as well as in more story- or sandbox-oriented RPGs. It also includes games where the PC is given assistants upon reaching certain plot points but cannot control them in any way, including whether and when they leave.
- The Elder Scrolls series let you roam on your own in Arena, Daggerfall, and Morrowind. Sometimes, characters would follow you, but in Daggerfall, they were just icons in the top-left corner of the screen, while in Morrowind, they tended to get lost or meet untimely and messy ends.
- The original Diablo followed a lone hero (in the singleplayer mode) descending into the depths of hell, though later canon established that all three playable characters fought their way to Diablo.
- In Nox, you always control Jack and that's about it. At predetermined points of the story, various characters follow him around but you can neither control, nor equip them in any way.
- In The Witcher, you control Geralt the eponymous witcher. In certain levels, several NPCs will follow him around and fight enemies together with him, but otherwise he is on his own.
- Dragon Quest I had one lone character. Luckily the enemies only ever decided to attack you one at a time as well.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a rare Final Fantasy title with just one playable character (namely, the eponymous Lightning).
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories went from "Three heroes" to "One hero plus summon-support characters".
- The World Ends with You's remake also does the same, in order to accommodate for the tablets' lack of a second screen and physical buttons.
1+x - Lone Hero and Optional Cohorts
A subtype of "Lone Hero", in this template, the Player Character
is fully expected to complete the whole game alone, but can also request assistance from an NPC or two. The player's control over them often boils down to telling them when to follow or to leave. This also includes games where Summon Magic
can be used to conjure up functional monster/animal companions.
- The Fallout series let their player characters hire help at certain points but they were fully expected to finish the game on their own. Fallout and Fallout2 allows the player to have as many companions as their Charisma score allows. The Bethesda games (3 and 4) allows the player have one sentient (human, robot, or mutant) companion (and made to switch them out if they want to go along with another) and a Post-Apocalyptic Dog called "Dogmeat".
- Diablo II lets the player hire a human Attack Drone of one of four available types (archer, paladin, mage, barbarian) and even outfit them with better weapons, but this is a mostly optional feature, especially for classes that specialize in summoning/necromancy.
- The single-player mode in Diablo III works the same way, with the player character acquiring one of three different companions (Fighter, Mage, Thief) early on in the story.
- GoldenLand revolves around a single hero who is occasionally joined by story-relevant NPCs and can hire two cohorts (a Norse Action Girl and a bogatyr-for-hire at the local inn).
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim allowed the player to bring hirelings along, mostly as rewards for advancing faction-specific storylines, but Skyrim also lets you hire mercenaries with gold.
- Ever Oasis, despite having a pretty huge cast of playable characters (so much that it would be easier to list the characters who aren't playable), only the hero plus two characters can be in the field at one point.
- The Shadowrun games for SNES and Genesis start off with a lone hero but include the option to hire up to two other runners to make a party.
- Ragnar's and Taloon's chapter in Dragon Quest IV had them going solo, but Ragnar could enlist a Healslime to assist him and Taloon could hire mercenaries to join him temporarily.
- Divinity: Original Sin II goes between this and "Four Heroes" — the maximum number of characters who can be deployed at once is four, though one of them must be the player character. The game could be played solo (especially with the Lone Wolf trait) as technically, recruiting any other characters is optional.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is, for the most part, a purely solo adventure with one of the three characters. However, there are some occasions in which other temporary party members will join them. (Hercules, Zack, Prince Phillip, Mickey, even the other two characters)
- Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days as well in the campaign. The single player campaign has a limit of only Roxas, and he is occasionally assisted with an Organization member (Everyone except Xemnas and Saïx)
- Some games in the Kirby series let Kirby summon a helper character who can be controlled by the computer or a second player. Amazing Mirror always has four Kirbys running around, usually doing their own thing unless a player calls everyone to one location. Most of these games feature obstacles required for 100% Completion that Kirby can't overcome alone, but there are ways to get the AI to cooperate so that a second player is never required.
- In Air Combat, you could hire wingmen for a particular mission but they were borderline useless for the money they demanded (you couldn't even control them beyond giving a single order for the entire mission) and they were only there for one mission, anyway.
2 - Two Heroes
A rarer variation with two essential and fully controllable Player Characters
, who fill in The Protagonist
roles, respectively, and the player either controls them both or can switch control at any time. This setup lends itself well to Co-Op Multiplayer
, with one player taking control over the one of the PCs.
- Schizm: Mysterious Journey has you playing as Sam Mainey and Hannah Grant, who begin the game stranded on opposite sides of the planet Argilus, and one set piece is to bring them together so that they can be within radio range of each other. You are able to switch between them at will, and occasionally both are needed simultaneously to solve certain puzzles.
- Darkstone (at least, the PC version) lets the player control two characters at the same time and switch between them at will.
- Divinity series:
- Similar to D:OS, Overfall lets you create two fully customizable playable characters at the start of the game (a male fighter and a female cleric by default) and recruit NPCs into your party later on.
- Meena and Maya's chapter in Dragon Quest IV.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 stars Serah Farron and Noell Kreiss as required party members (except in Solo Sequences), with the third combat party slot filled in by a summoned monster.
- The World Ends with You features Neku and his playable partner. The game fits into this trope because Neku and his partner are controlled at the same time - Neku on the bottom screen, and his partner on the top screen.
- For the most part, this is how the Mario & Luigi games work - Mario and Luigi are of course the only heroes, who are controlled with one button tied to one brother. Though, some games may temporarily swap control to another character (such as Bowser in Inside Story), or increase the party size (such as the addition of Baby Mario and Baby Luigi in Partners in Time)
- Mega Man X7 and X8 allows you to take two of the player characters together, but only one can be controlled at a time, while the others will come in if you switch them. X7 has the Lazy Backup problem (dying will make you lose a life, even with your ally still up), while X8 fixed it (the downed character will be switched automatically and recover some of the lost health).
- Journey can be played solo offline, but the default online mode is a two-player online co-op, where you're dynamically matched with another PSN player currently at roughly the same stage of the journey. If you walk too far apart, you will be matched with another player, identifiable only by their different symbol.
- 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue has you controlling one of the two main characters, Oddball and Domino and allows you to switch between them at will. They appear traveling side-by-side in the game's cutscenes.
- Dead Space 3 has Isaac get a new ally John Carver. The game is programmed to make him what amounts to an optional second player, active only if someone else has picked up that second controller (in another networked Xbox). The game had dynamic difficulty for when the second player shows up or leaves. And apparently hallucinations visible only on John's screen, to make gameplay different.
- Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is a weird example, falling somewhere between here and 1+1: you can choose to play either as Thomas or as Ray—but only between missions, not during them, while whoever you didn't pick follows you as a Non-Player Companion for that mission.
1+1 - Lone Hero and an Essential Cohort
This is a particularly common template that bridges the gap between "Lone Hero and Optional Cohorts" and "Two Heroes". Like in the former, the player's control over the Deuteragonist
is limited (often restricted to their equipment and use of special moves), but like in the latter, the game is impossible to complete without them. In essence, the Player Character must
have the Non-Player Companion
- Drakan is a rare example with a non-humanoid Non-Player Companion: while you control the Lone Heroine Rynn throughout the game, she is accompanied by a dragon named Arokh who is essential to beating the game but cannot follow Rynn into dungeons.
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War and Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation give their protagonists a single plot-relevant wingman each who can be given orders and, in the latter game, equipped with better planes.
- Beyond Good & Evil has Jade as the PC and her uncle Pey'J as her companion early on in the game, until he is succeeded by the Gentle Giant Double H. While the two of them cannot follow Jade everywhere, whenever they can, they are essential to her progress. Subverted in the endgame, when Pey'J rejoins Jade, technically bumping the headcount up to three... but Jade must beat the remaining levels mostly alone, anyway.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic lets the player recruit an entire Player Party (after the first planet) but only one of them can accompany the PC at any time. Their help is pretty much essential in beating the solo campaigns, although much less so in the post-endgame content.
- BioShock Infinite has Booker as the not-silent protagonist and Elizabeth as the companion. Even though Booker doesn't meet Liz until well into the game and only has limited control over her actions (such as ordering her to open specific tears), she is an essential character to the plot.
- In Prince of Persia (2008), you only ever control the eponymous Prince, while his Non-Player Companion Elika provides him with all the magical assistance he requires. Upon closer examination, it also becomes obvious that she is the real protagonist of the game, while the Prince is just a random shmoe who seemingly accidentally got tangled up in her story.
- In ICO, the player controls the title character and is tasked with guiding and protecting Yorda. She is essential to bypassing stone doors and saving the game.
Medium Party (3-4)
Several important changes occur once the player is allowed to control three or more characters:
- Predefined NPCs become the majority in the party, so the finer "1+???" distinctions are no longer relevant. Still, Can't Drop the Hero and We Cannot Go on Without You will often apply to the "main" Player Character, while the NPC companions will be interchangeable.
- Systemic party member specialization becomes viable. For instance, if the game implements the Fighter, Mage, Thief class trio, the party may be expected to fill in each one of these roles, and the roles are dedicated to each character. Usually, the traditional "roles" will be split, to avoid Crippling Overspecialization.
- Lazy Backup—additional party members who await being summoned into the fight from a safe location—also becomes a design option.
3 - Three Heroes
The smallest possible template that can be called a Player Party
- Betrayal at Krondor had a total of six predefined Player Characters, although only up to three were in the active party at any given time. The active party roster changed according to plot events from chapter to chapter.
- Knights of the Old Republic and The Sith Lords allow up to two party members to follow the PC at any time, while the rest wait on the ship.
- The Mass Effect series likewise allows two party members to follow Shepard. The first game even expects the player to complement Shepard's firepower, biotic, or tech focus with appropriately specialized companions.
- Chrono Cross has a three-character party but a mind-boggling 40-something recruitable characters. It takes multiple playthroughs to unlock them all, some requiring mutually exclusive paths.
- Chrono Trigger, the predecessor to Cross, also has a three-character party and a more manageable roster of six plus one secret character. It's actually a plot point that you can't use more than three characters at once, as trying to time-travel with more brings them to the End of Time.
- Post-SNES, Final Fantasy tends to limit the party to three:
- Final Fantasy VII and VIII limit you to three party members in battle, swappable at save points, on the world map, and in towns. VII bends this in one late-game boss battle in which you can group all of your playable characters into parties of three that you can switch between, although the swapping is totally optional and grouping your three preferred fighter into one team and never swapping is usually the optimal strategy.
- Final Fantasy X lets you swap active characters during battle, provided that the retreating one isn't knocked out.
- Final Fantasy XII expands on the formula in FFX by letting you immediately take control of the three reserve characters if the first three get knocked out.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, once the party finally gathers together, you can only have three members out of total six in the frontline team. Unlike in many examples, there is no "main" player character, so you can swap out the leader (outside of battle) as well as the supports—yet the game is still over if whoever is in the leader slot is knocked out.
- Mega Man X: Command Mission is like FFX in that you can swap characters during battle.
- Dragon Quest series:
- Dragon Quest II upped the party from the original to three.
- Dragon Quest IV in Alena's chapter.
- Dragon Quest V allowed you to build a large pool of party members by introducing the ability to recruit monsters, but you could only use three at a time in battle, oddly lower than what you could field in the previous two games. The remakes of the game bumped the party size to four however.
- Dragon Quest Monsters.
- All (but one) of the Wild ARMs games only allow three people on a team, but the first game only had the three playable. The remake adds people who join for a time, and can later be permanently added to your team late game.
- The Avadon games have a Mass Effect-style system, where your customizable protagonist can take along two other characters (from a pool of 4 or 5) on missions outside of the fortress of Avadon.
- Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, and Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance are the only games in the series that fit into this, everything else fits into the "optional cohorts". Though even Dream Drop Distance can fit into "optional cohorts", as technically one can opt not to put any dream eaters, but this is more of a case of the dev team thinking of everything.
- This is very common in Monolith Soft titles, like Soma Bringer, Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade, which all have a party limit of three.
- In Spec Ops: The Line, the PC is assisted by the sniper Lugo and the heavy gunner Adams.
- Call of Juarez: The Cartel, similarly to Bound in Blood, lets you pick one of three protagonists to play in a particular mission, while the other two follow you around.
4 - Four Heroes
Around this stage, the player may no longer be required to fill in all available party slots—it may be possible to play the game with an "incomplete" party or even solo
(except for an occasional Required Party Member
). Class-wise, the Fighter, Mage, Thief
roles may be expected to be distributed evenly across the companion NPCs to support a Jack-of-All-Trades
PC, or the PC may fill in one of these roles, with the fourth slot reserved for a Combat Medic
. In other games, however, the party composition will be rigidly mandated by plot events.
- Ultima III was the first game in the series to feature a Player Party, and it had a headcount limit of four.
- All Might and Magic installments since VI (except VIII) featured four-person player-created parties.
- Darklands also had a four-character player party.
- The Dragon Age series allows three NPCs to follow the protagonist, while the rest play the Lazy Backup.
- Grandia II limits the party to four heads, with Ryudo being the only constant member and circumstances contriving to remove old party members to make room for new hires at predetermined plot points.
- Many Final Fantasy games (especially in the 8- and 16-bit eras) use a four-hero party as the standard.
- Final Fantasy I: There are always four Warriors of Light. A Solo-Character Run involves KOing the other three and never reviving them.
- Final Fantasy II: Your first three slots are fixed, with the fourth going to a Guest-Star Party Member.
- Final Fantasy III: Like the original, you always have four party members. Unlike the original, the new Job System lets you change their roles practically at any time.
- Final Fantasy V: This game uses a Job System like III, but you start just with Bartz and gradually build up to a four-character party. The fourth member dies during the game and the replacement inherits their stats.
- Final Fantasy VI: Four is the max, but the cast changes all the time and you don't have to have a full party. There are also several parts (including the majority of the back half of the game) in which you can choose your party freely, the game largely averts Can't Drop the Hero, and there are two major late-game dungeons and a handful of smaller scenarios that involve grouping your playable characters into two to three parties and switching between them.
- Final Fantasy IX, as an intentional throwback to the series' classic roots, goes back to a maximum-four-member party that is sometimes swappable and sometimes plot-mandated a la VI.
- The standard in most Dragon Quest games. Used in Dragon Quest III, Dragon Quest IV (starting with the Hero's chapter), Dragon Quest V (only in the remakes), Dragon Quest VI, Dragon Quest VII, Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX.
- Star Wars: Republic Commando gives the PC command over three compatriots—a sniper, a hacker, and a demolitions expert, although the party splits up and rejoins again multiple times throughout the campaign.
- Saints Row: The Third allows you (with proper upgrades) to bring up to three homies with you. These can be either named NPCs (who are often Required Party Members on story missions) or disposable Red Shirts you order to follow you on the streets.
- PAYDAY: The Heist and PAYDAY 2 are meant for four-player online co-op, but the offline play lets the player choose one member of the eponymous Payday gang and play him, while the other three are controlled by the AI.
- Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War gives the player three wingmen (technically, one wingwoman and a subordinate leader-wingman team) to control and equip. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon does so, too—technically, since the player no longer has any control over the wingmen and only one of them has an actual personality.
Large Party (5+)
Parties of more than four playable characters are pretty much exclusively found in RPGs
. There are also a few notable aspects about the character roles, compared to smaller and medium parties:
- Among the Fighter, Mage, Thief "trinity", you might see multiple types of each character type, often with their own abilities. Having more characters allows the characters to divide roles so they can engage in utility and support that are much more difficult when only a few actions are taken each round.
- Party members that would suffer from Crippling Overspecialization in a smaller party, such as a Utility Party Member or a Support Party Member, can perform their roles more effectively, as they will not be taking a needed spot away from someone who could deal more damage or heal better than they can.
- The Jack-of-All-Stats becomes a much more feasible character to see in these types of party sizes, along with hybrid characters.
5 - Five Heroes
This template is popular in classic Eastern RPGs
(not so much in the West or past the cartridge era) and, indeed, seems to be the highest party cap in this subgenre.
- Final Fantasy IV has room for five party members, though the slots empty or fill as the plot progresses. The only constant is Cecil.
- Final Fantasy Tactics allows you to field up to five characters in any battle (in story battles, you Can't Drop the Hero and there may be other restrictions in play) and you can have up to 16 (24 in the PSP port) total characters in your roster.
- Beyond the Beyond lampshades its five-slot party by having an In-Universe book on tactics reveal that five is the optimum party size, and increasing it to six would just have them get in each other's way.
- The Etrian Odyssey series lets you have up to five Player Characters in your active party at a time. The third game had a sixth slot that could be filled by certain skills, such as the Wildling's Summon Magic or the Ninja's Bunshin, while in the fourth it was reserved for the occasional Guest-Star Party Member.
- Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic had five party slots, justified by that being the standard crew setup of an Interceptor-class Cool Starship they are stationed on. Each party member is assigned to a specific station aboard the ship, which also acts as their respective Character Class.
- Might and Magic VIII is another Western RPG example, being the only game with a five-head party limit in the series.
- ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is a weird case: Amy is a Lone Hero who explores the eponymous fantasy world on her own, but her combat faeries come in a five-person formation, one of whom serves as Amy's Fairy Companion, technically becoming an Essential Cohort for her.
6 - Six Heroes
This is the classic Western RPG
party, perhaps owing to the fact that six players is the optimal size for a Dungeons & Dragons
- The Wizardry series is probably the Ur-Example of six-person parties in video games: all installments except the fourth (where you played the Evil Overlord) had fully player-created parties of six, which could be imported from game to game (with a notable break between V and VI). The final installment had eight party slots in total, allowing the player to add two "Recruitable Player Characters" (essentially predefined NPCs) to the roster.
- The first five Might and Magic games, similarly to Wizardry, let the player create an entire six-character party and, from part two onwards, additional characters who could be swapped in at the inns and played Lazy Backup otherwise. Part two also let the player supplement the party with two hirelings, technically bumping the headcount up to eight.
- The original Bard's Tale also let the players create six-person parties, although the limit was increased in later installments. The Bard's Tale IV again has a six-member party, although only five of them are player-created, while the sixth is a recruitable Non-Player Companion.
- All of the Gold Box games (Pool of Radiance, Savage Frontier, Champions of Krynn, etc., etc.) had the same Player Party mechanics and limited the party to six heads, tops. Some games, however, featured an additional NPC Guest-Star Party Member, technically bumping the party size up to seven.
- The Magic Candle series followed the dominant model of its time with six player-created adventurers.
- At the start of each Eye of the Beholder game, you can create a party of four customizable PCs, but the actual limit is six, as you can additionally recruit up to two predefinied NPCs you meet on your adventures.
- All Infinity Engine games—Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale—allowed up to six characters in the party, being straight-up implementations of the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. IWD even lacked a designated "main" player character, allowing you to create an entire party from scratch in a deliberate throwback to the Gold Box era.
- Pillars of Eternity, being a homage to the Infinity Engine era, allows up to six people in the party. You can even create your entire party from scratch by hiring generic adventurers from the inns, rather than traveling with predefined NPCs.
- Avernum, during its incarnation in Exile (which followed Ultima more closely) allowed a party of six. The game party limit was dropped (and encounters rebalanced) down to four on the Avernum incarnation, due to the party members taking up too much space.
7+ - Way Too Many Heroes
At this point, all bets are off—there may be, in fact, no Arbitrary Headcount Limit
- Ultima IV capped the party size at the Avatar's current Character Level—which itself was capped at 8, the Arc Number of the game.
- The Bard's Tale games from part two onwards had seven slots in the party.
- The party in Wasteland and Wasteland 2 has room for four custom player characters and three NPCs.
- Similarly to Wasteland, The Temple of Elemental Evil lets the player create up to five custom characters, who are optionally joined by up to three NPC followers.
- Fire Emblem does have main characters in each game but in battle the player controls a large group of minor characters.
- The original Dungeon Siege allows the player to have up to eight characters in their party (including the customized PC). Alternatively, some party slots can be filled with (literal) packmules for increased inventory space.
- Lufia: The Legend Returns allows you to have up to nine out of a total of thirteen party members in battle. Only one member from each column of the formation can attack per turn (save for Mousse or the Egg Dragon, whose automatic attacks don't use up one of your actions), and the formation can be switched around between turns.
- The original Uncharted Waters allows you to hire up to 10 mates to steer your ships for you (even though you can only have four of those in addition to your own flagship); your player character and your First Mate (who cannot steer a ship of his own) don't count towards this limit. Uncharted Waters: New Horizons raises the cap to 30 heads, but storyline mates now count towards it.
- Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness has a total of seven party members. However, unlike most JRPGs, every character is present for the battle, there is no Arbitrary Headcount Limit. What's notable is that this game is real time, too. Technically, despite there being seven party members, only six are playable - one party member (Relia) is a non-combatant whose role it is to be a pure support character, and the player cannot swap control to her.
0 - No In-Game Heroes
A special category where the player has no immediate in-game avatar. The vast majority of strategy games with a Non-Entity General
fall here. Even though they allow you to field and control dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of units, their individual plot significance is usually negligible.