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Plot Coupon That Does Something
Video games may require the player to collect one or more Plot Coupons to proceed through the game's story. This trope is about Plot Coupons that do something else, too.

This type of coupon has two purposes. It's required to advance the plot, but it also has a gameplay function. For example, it might come with some new spells, abilities, or commands you can use. Or perhaps it doubles as a weapon—a variation common enough to have its own separate trope.

Not to be confused with:

  • Plots where the goal is collecting all of them, as in Pokémon, Valkyrie Profile, or Suikoden. Yes, you can use your Pokémon in battle, and yes, you can catch 'em all, but that would not help beat the villain or save the world.
  • Items that you use to get past obstacles, but which have no other purpose. In Zelda, you need that grappling hook to get through the dungeon (if you are not Sequence Breaking), but you are using the item as intended and it has no other purpose, so it does not count here.

Subtrope to Plot Coupon, and Super Trope to Sword of Plot Advancement (for coupons that are weapons or armor). Contrast the MacGuffin, which serves no purpose besides driving the plot.

Examples:

  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy V, the shattered fragments of the Cosmic Keystone crystals are the justification for the Job system.
    • Final Fantasy VI, likewise, with Magicite.
      • The first half of the game revolves around Magicite, and Terra's abilities. First it's her natural magic ability, and then it's her Trance form, which turns her into her Esper self.
    • Final Fantasy VII, the Huge Materia, not only can you get a Summon from one, but they can be used to create Master Materias which take up only a single materia slot but grant the abilities of all the materia of the related type.
    • Final Fantasy VIII, GFs are the reason that none of the main party remembers having lived in an orphanage together.
      • The Draw ability is also integrated: Selphie heals an unconscious Zell in a cutscene by pulling a cure spell out of his body.
      • Though this is only one small cutscene. and you can't draw from allies in combat
    • Final Fantasy IX: during the first bulk of the game, The Dragon's goal is to master the Eidolons, the game's Summon Magic. For the last half of the game, he tries to master Trance, the game's Limit Breaks
    • Final Fantasy X: The Aeons.
      • Final Fantasy X also has a much more subtle one. One of the recording spheres you find of Braska's pilgrimage shows him stopping to touch a Save Point as he's talking to Jecht and Auron.
      • Final Fantasy X-2: Dress Spheres.
    • Final Fantasy XII: Nethicite and the Espers.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and its sequel: Judges.
  • Games from the Phantasy Star series are riddled with these. In P-Star 2, there is an item called a "Mogic Cap" which appears to be useless as it is found in a labyrinth which also contains a "Magic Cap", which in turn allows the player to communicate with the cats that are running around the labyrinth, but its uselessness for talking to the cats is a red herring, for the plot is stuck until the "Mogic Cap" is worn into a village on the Ice Planet Dezo, and serves as a translation device with the people.
    • In End of the Millenium, the Eclipse Torch is a holy artifact the party needs to get past a forest of carnivorous trees, and which they have to retrieve after it's stolen. Once they do, though, the Eclipse Torch is in the party inventory and can be used in battle to produce the same purifying holy flame used to incinerate the trees in the cutscene.
  • Any game of the Tales Series where a portion of the game revolves around collecting the Summon spirits. Phantasia, Eternia, Symphonia, for starters. Especially Eternia, where the entire game was about the Summons, and they underpinned the entire magic system, not just one character's spells.
    • In Tales of Destiny, Swordians are pretty important to the development (second only to the MacGuffin proper, the Eye of Atamoni). While they aren't actually necessary to combat, they enable magic spells and magical attacks.
      • Swordians also level up and have equipment, basically making them additional (albeit immobile) party members.
    • Also, Tales of Symphonia's Exspheres follow the "special variant" variety with the Cruxis Crystal.
    • The Jewel of Lorelei in Tales of the Abyss can be equipped as an accessory for Luke, giving him a large amount of HP and TP recovery over time. Unfortunately, you must give it up in order to get the Sword of Plot Advancement.
  • Castlevania
  • In Mega Man Battle Network 6, Wily's Evil Plan is for the purpose of extracting a Sealed Evil in a Can Cyber Beast from MegaMan. Said Beast is basically MegaMan's Super Mode.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 gives us the shards of the Sword of Gith, each of which gives you a different bonus while you possess them and get reforged into a really powerful sword, as well as opening the gate to the Fuge Plane, by the time Mask of the Betrayer rolls around.
    • The original campaign also has powers granted by the Ritual of Purification, which was designed to destroy the Big Bad. They are actual battle abilities and can be used outside the Final Boss fight, though most aren't very useful due to their Crippling Overspecialization.
  • The side missions, the reputation system, and the Wide Open Sandbox in Freelancer are a direct result of Trent being a freelance pilot, going from boron trader to LSF operative, to outlaw exiled in Bretonia, to freedom fighter in Kusari, to defender of the Sirius system with the Order.
  • Xenogears has the Save Points being integrated into the story. It turns out that the save points were created by the bad guys & they've been using them to track the main characters' progress. At one point, you even get to visit the factory where they're made!
    • Its Spiritual Successor Xenoblade Chronicles has the Monado, the Sword of Plot Advancement that gives the wielder visions of the future. As well as being important to the plot, it also occasionally warns the player of attacks that will incapacitate or severely injure a character . The player can take steps to weaken or even stop the attack from happening, or straight-up warn the victim-to-be to use a move to counter it.
  • Chrono Cross's save points play an almost identical role to those in Xenogears. That is, mind control.
    • The titular Chrono Cross is an element usable in battle to recharge other party members' elements for a second use.
  • The magic system in Suikoden is based around rune fragments, the "true runes" that these fragments come from play an important part in the plots of each game in the series.
  • In Time Shift, the time suit that gives you your time-bending powers is also central to the plot, as a similar time suit was used by the Big Bad to alter history and create the dystopian future you spend the game fighting through.
  • The plasmids in BioShock that serve as the game's "spells" are also the major reason the city of Rapture was transformed into a nightmarish hellhole in the first place.
  • Makai Kingdom. Writing wishes in The Sacred Tome is not only what the whole story's about (Zetta using it to recover his netherworld) but is also a central part of the game as it's used to create new facilities, random dungeons, reincarnate characters and unlock bonus content.
  • In the Ar tonelico RPG series, music is both a technological power source (that actually shattered the world once!) AND the source of the game's magic spells ("songs".) Further, the process used to learn Songs (a form of very creepy virtual reality psychotherapy) is also an important story element.
  • The ARMs in the Wild ARMs series inevitably have something to do with the story, and the fact that one of the main characters can use them (or use particular ones, or in a particular way).
    • Another example from Wild ARMs 3 would be the Dark Mask and the Tear Drop, amongst others. While it looks like just any other plot coupons, Virginia's unique item using ability can turn said items into usable piece of items. For example Tear Drop, containing the essence of Filgaia itself, heals any character it is used on.
  • The Metal Gear series always had Unusable Enemy Equipment, handwaved or justified a different way every game. In Metal Gear Solid 4 guns are "ID Locked", and this time, the plot is centered around a struggle for control of this ID system. The local arms dealer Drebin can help for a fee by... er... "unlocking" guns for you.
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, everyone in Castle Trodain has a curse cast upon them... except for the hero, who is, for some unknown reason, immune to it. There is a "Curse" status ailment in the game, which temporarily disables whoever it's inflicted upon. The hero is immune to this particular ailment.
    • Similarly, the hero has a pet mouse named Munchie, which spends the entire game in his pocket and can eat various types of cheese during combat to produce magical effects, as well as passing through conveniently placed mouseholes to retrieve small items a few times. After completing the game and starting the Bonus Dungeon content, Munchie is revealed to be the hero's grandfather, a shapeshifting dragon, who finally explains the hero's mysterious backstory and indirectly the curse immunity mentioned above.
  • The Resident Evil Outbreak series integrates The Virus into the gameplay for the first time in the series. All of the players are infected, and the infection (represented by a %) ticks up to force the players to keep moving, and increases very fast if they are grievously wounded.
  • In Paper Mario 64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, your Star Powers are tied directly to the Plot Coupons — Star Spirits or Crystal Stars, respectively. When you collect a coupon, you receive one additional unit in your Star Power meter, and learn a new ability (which might heal you, buff your stats, or attack your enemies).
  • Astro Boy: Omega Factor integrates its stage select system into the plot, in the form of time travel. The majority of the game is spent going from stage to stage, fixing all the disasters which happened in the first playthrough.
  • The World Ends with You: The secret reports make EVERYTHING plot relevant (except the fashion bonuses and the food.) Neku's ability to use multiple pins? Plot relevant. Super charged fusion attacks? Plot relevant. The dual screen fighting system? PLOT RELEVANT.
  • At one point in the development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the medallions you get from the sages upon clearing each dungeon would have been equippable as items and had some effect.
    • Speaking of, the Master Sword is generally required for plot purposes in most of the games. It just happens to deal more damage than the starting sword as well.
    • The same goes for the Bow of Light in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks; it's significant to the plot in that it's crucial for removing Malladus from Zelda's body and is the entire reason Link goes to the Sand Temple, but it's also a very useful ranged weapon.
  • Borderlands does this in part with the Eridian Artifacts being both plot-critical concepts, and the most common way to bolster your Action Skills. And include a bunch of rare/interesting weapons to boot.
  • In Persona 3, some skills are Cast from Hit Points, requiring a set percentage determined by your maximum HP. You can't use them if you don't have enough, of course. The Eleventh Hour Superpower used against Nyx in the final battle costs all of the main character's hit points, as he's using his soul to seal her. He dies in the ending.
  • In Flash-based MMO zOMG!, all of your powers come from special Rings. These Rings are the only things that can harm The Animated. They can be powered up by powerful emotions, can only be leveled in a special room, and can be made more powerful by spending time with other people. ALL OF THIS BECOMES PLOT RELEVANT.
  • The Horadric Cube in Diablo II is needed to transmute several pieces of useless crap into a larger piece of useless crap just so you can get to the bosses of Acts II and III. However, you can continue to use it to transmute Vendor Trash into better items that are both more useful and more valuable. It also doubles as a mini-Bag of Holding, taking up 2x2 space in inventory while having a 3x4 space for items.
  • In The 7th Saga, each of the 7 runes you're trying to collect has a special effect when used in combat; most boost one of your stats, and one heals you a modest amount. They can be used an infinite number of times and are crucial for making it through this Nintendo Hard game, to the point that the game can become unwinnable about two-thirds of the way through when the plot takes them away from you and suddenly teleports you back in time and gives you much stronger enemies to deal with. It's not a kind game.
  • In Billy Vs SNAKEMAN, the most obvious example is the Witching Hour, which centers around your ability to loop, but there are numerous subtler examples, even without resorting to reading the manual. Word of God claims that every last gameplay detail means something in the story.
  • Eight magical orbs in Silver. Ultimately used to destroy the Big Bad's source of power but also work wonders (literal and very harmful wonders) on the ordinary enemies.
  • Many quests in World of Warcraft involve bringing items back to a questgiver NPC who asked you for them, whether to prove you killed the target or because it's something valuable to the NPC. Probably more than 90 percent of these are nothing but Plot Coupons; they can only be picked up if you have the quest and they can't be used for anything or even sold to a vendor. However, a few here and there can be used as equippable items before returning them to the questgiver, or even instead of returning them if you want the item more than whatever the quest reward is. They are generally below-average quality for their level because they aren't intended to be kept, but some have unique abilities or effects that fit the storyline of the quest and are hard to get anywhere else.
    • The popularity of some of those items has not gone unnoticed, some quests were changed to allow you to keep them anyway, and the next expansion not only expands the list, but will even add a toybox (a seperate, account-wide collection much like mounts and pets) just for storing them and many other fun items.
    • There's also some legendary weapons and their incomplete versions, namely the Shadowmourne/Shadow Edge and Fangs of the Father, which tied to their respective raids' storyline, but also serve as best choice of weapon for any class that can wield it.
  • In an early cutscene in Baldur's Gate 2, Irenicus and Imoen are arrested by the Cowled Wizards for using arcane magic, which is illegal in the city the game takes place in. Noticeably, this law is not restricted to that cutscene, and you will actually come into conflict with the Wizards if you use arcane magic in the city. It is mentioned in certain dialogues that it is possible to freely use arcane magic if one has a special license, which you can buy.
    • Unless you have the Unfinished Business mod, in which case one of your rewards for completing Minsc's personal quest is being issued a "free magic use" license free of charge.
    • Also, a sidequest has you trying to defeat a Magnificent Bastard dragon that tricked you into slaying a group of knights under the pretense of the incident "tarnishing your honor." Sure enough, until the dragon is killed, if you're a Cleric you lose your special abilities, and if you're a Paladin you're considered Fallen.
  • Jade Empire has the Spirit Monk amulet as a Plot Coupon. As you collect more pieces, you are able to utilize gems that enhance your abilities. By the time Sun Li steals it from you, it turns out to be a Magic Feather - you're now powerful enough to use the gems without the amulet.
  • SaGa series (aka Final Fantasy Legend):
    • The first major quest in The Final Fantasy Legend is to gather a legendary sword, shield, and suit of armor to restore a statue. These items turn out to be extremely powerful this early in the game, but the player only gets to use them for as long as it takes to return to town where the statue is.
    • The MAGI in Final Fantasy Legend II is used to upgrade your characters, sometimes even granting bonus attacks to the limited 8-slot system, but are also central to the plot as they have a bad habit of turning evil people into pseudo-Gods.
  • In Guild Wars factions, a few of the missions are spent collecting some powerful artifacts (Urn of St. Viktor, Spear of Archemorus) to defeat the Big Bad. The artifacts also provide some useful combat effects (Damage absorption, and powerful damage, respectively).
  • In Starcraft II, you spend about half the missions gathering pieces of a Xel'naga artifact. In the final mission, the artifact is assembled, and requires you to defend it while it charges up to cure Kerrigan. In the meantime, you can use it every three and a half minutes to fry every Zerg in a half-mile radius. Once it finally charges up to do that thing in the spoiler tags, it fries all the zerg again, just for kicks.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the player must find the items Wraithguard, Sunder and Keening (known as Kagrenac's Tools) in order to complete the main plot, and is given the Moon-and-Star ring. Each of these items, in addition to being plot-essential, conveys a selection of magical bonuses.
  • The Dismantled MacGuffin in Nox actually converges into a fearsomely deadly weapon as you collect more pieces.
    • More accurately it becomes a fearsomely deadly weapon for the warrior, and a kind-of-nice upgrade for the conjurer. If your playing the wizard your never going to be doing melee attacks, which makes a melee weapon, no matter how nice, nearly worthless. Which begs the question why your wizard spent at least 3 out of 10 acts in the story collecting the pieces necessary to construct a weapon he will never use, rather then spending that time actually fighting the Big Bad.
  • The Soul Cube in Doom 3 and the Artifact in Doom 3 Resurrection of Evil are integral to the plot of both games. They are also very useful in gameplay. The Soul Cube instantly kills any non-boss enemy and transfers all of its Life Energy to the player, healing him/her. The Artifact, once fully upgraded, can slow down time, increase the power of your weapons, and make the player temporarily invulnerable.
  • The first Breath of Fire game features an item called the EKey, which you get early and is one of seven CosmicKeystones keeping the power of Tyr at bay. The EKey is also fairly unique in that you can use it repeatedly during battle to create an earthquake that harms all enemies for 30 damage, useful since your White Magician Girl has little offensive capabilities at that early point in the game.
    • It's not just the EKey - the Dark Key and Light Key turn the overworld clock to nighttime and daytime, respectively.
  • Some Plot Coupons in Legend of Legaia are actually accessories you can equip. One such item gives you infinite AP.
  • The badges in Pokémon. They have three uses. They actually gave a slight stat boost (don't ask us how) to your mons, they act as "licenses" for HM field moves (though in some games, like those of the fifth generation, this isn't the case), and they the use of higher-level traded {mons}, which will otherwise disobey you.
    • Also, in both Generation IV and Generation V, the level and quality of items available in shops is dependent on how many badges a player has (basically the same progression as the old games, but neatly averting the odd issues with some stores selling much more advanced items than others).
    • The introduction of innate abilities in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire/Emerald. The three "mascot" Olympus Mons (Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza, respectively) in these games have their abilities be pivotal to the story: awakening the first two are the goals of the two villainous teams, while the last one is needed to calm the ensuing battle. The first two have abilities that act as though Sunny Day / Rain Dance respectively is always in effect. This applies out of battle as well, as you need to stop them once they are awakened. Rayquaza's Air Lock prevents weather conditions from taking effect, and is shown as the only way to nullify the world-ending powers of the former.
    • Every Pokemon game has useless Key Items that serve no purpose outside of clearing a specific obstacle needed to advance. The most notable exception being the Pokeflute, a plot item used to wake up a giant sleeping Pokemon that's blocking the road so you can get to the next town. What many players never realize is that the item can also be used in battle to heal the Sleep status condition, completely obsoleting the one use Awakening item.
  • In Golden Sun: The Lost Age for the GBA, the heroes need to gather the pieces of a trident in order to harm Poseidon, but the trident can be used in any battle to do damage to a selected enemy.
    • Most of the Plot Coupons in any of the games are items that grant a Psynergy that has both uses in battle and for puzzle solving.
      • This grows incredibly silly as increasing numbers of these powers are just things you can already do, but applied to a different obstacle (the number of powers that use the cartoon glove signifying Generic Telekinesis is ridiculous in and of itself).
  • With each of the Seven Needles that Lucas pulls in Mother 3, his PK Love attack gets upgraded, as the result of the magic from the Dark Dragon that sleeps beneath the earth awakening the ability within him. It is possible that the same thing is happening with the Masked Man, as he reaches three of the Needles no matter what you do, and can use all levels of PK Love.
  • The path to ADOM's ending involves collecting all the Orbs Of Chaos and inserting them into a keyhole on the final boss's front door. You can actually equip these orbs for stat boosts. Although it's not a good idea to use their special powers.
  • Played with in Planescape: Torment. The player is forced to seek out a small, bronze sphere to get information from a stubborn old man who collects cadavers. The item seems completely useless, and yet the servants of the opposition are seen immediately killing the old man. The player doesn't need to get the MacGuffin at all, not even to get the Golden Ending, but if he goes back for it, it lets him talk the Big Bad to death and makes achieving the Golden Ending even easier. The protagonist is immortal but forgets himself; he gave the MacGuffin to the old man in one of his past incarnations, claiming it granted immortality, so that the old man would keep it safe when the protagonist's corpse turned up. Sure enough, the current incarnation of the protagonist doesn't know that, and the sphere contains the protagonist's memories of his name. And 2M experience points. So it seems to be a Plot Coupon which anchors a Batman Gambit, only to turn out to bestow Eleventh Hour Superpower.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you are the Dragonborn. What does this mean in terms of gameplay? You can eat the souls of the dragons you slay and instantly understand the words of the Thu'um you may have picked up on your travels; a process that takes normal people not given such divinely gifted powers years to achieve.
    • What really makes the Dragon Shouts fit the trope are two in particular, Dragonrend and Ohdaviing, which end up being not only required to advance the main plot but extremely useful during ordinary gameplay.
    • In the Dragonborn DLC you need all three words of the Bend Will shout to dominate a dragon so you can ride him to confront Miraak. Bend Will lets you turn your foes against each other and, if you have the full strength version, lets you use dragons to fast travel to locations you haven't visited yet.
    • In the Thieves' Guild quest line, one of the Plot Coupons is an unbreakable lockpick. Players have been known to put off completing the quest line indefinitely just to keep such a handy item around.
  • In Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, the experience points system is explained as the Prince drawing the souls of defeated sand monsters into his amulet. This becomes a plot point when it is revealed that the Prince's brother also has the same ability, and is being driven mad by the amount of levelling he has done.
  • Halfway through Dark Souls, you obtain the Lordvessel, which is required to open the gateway to the Kiln of the First Flame to kill Lord Gwyn and succeed him by linking the fire. Before filling it with Lord Souls to accomplish that, you can use it to warp between bonfires- a skill that's very useful when you defeat the late-game bosses whose fights end with you trapped in their arena with only a bonfire for company.
  • In Part Two of The Bard's Tale Trilogy, each of the seven parts of the Destiny Wand needed to defeat Lagoth Zanta grant their own little bonuses, such as giving buffs to the owner or using to cast certain spells.
  • The Dragon Age II add-on Legacy has Hawke's Key, which is just that, a key to Corypheus' prison that can only be used by Hawke. However, it is also a leveled customizable weapon specific to Hawke's class and combat specialization.
  • In Baten Kaitos, the Broken Earth Sphere and Ocean Mirror both heal 1000 HP, with the Ocean Mirror also serving as a defense card. The Sword of the Heavens, on the other hand, is a good offensive and defensive weapon for Kalas. Both the Ocean Mirror and Sword of the Heavens become worse after being broken as part of the plot.

Plot CouponVideo Game Items and InventoryPoison Mushroom
Overrated And UnderleveledGameplay and Story SegregationPlotline Death
Plot CouponPlot DeviceSword of Plot Advancement

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