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.
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 original Diablo followed a lone hero (in the single-player mode) descending into the depths of hell, though later canon established that all three playable characters fought their way to Diablo.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
- Fallout and Fallout 2 let their player characters hire help at certain points but they were fully expected to finish the game on their own.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- The Russian RPG 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).
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Medium Party (3-4)
Several important changes occur once the player is allowed to control three or more characters:
3 - Three Heroes
The smallest possible template that can be called a Player Party
- 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 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.
- 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 the Combat Medic
. In other games, however, the party composition will be rigidly mandated by plot events.
- 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.
- 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 is 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
5 - Five Heroes
Another rare template, mostly existing as a middle ground between Four and Six Heroes.
- 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. In EO4, though, you could fill the sixth slot with a Guest Star Party Member on certain occasions.
6 - Six Heroes
This is a classic Role-Playing Game
party, owing to the fact that six players is the optimal table size for a Tabletop RPG
- The Infinity Engine games—Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale—all 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.
- Pillars of Eternity allows up to six people in the party, as a deliberate throwback to the Infinity Engine era.
7+ - Way Too Many Heroes
At this point, all bets are off—there may be, in fact, no Arbitrary Headcount Limit
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 controls dozens to hundreds, even thousands of units, their plot significance is often negligible.