A plot carefully constructed to use all the character-specific skills or abilities of the ensemble. Often referred to as "Eigen Plot", after a mathematical concept of mapping graphs around specific vectors.
For example, if your team plays Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, they're going to have to face a water trap, a fire trap, an air trap, and an earth trap.
As a plot, it's a double-edged sword; don't do it, and someone gets left out. Do it too often, and it looks like the bad guys are conspiring with the good guys to tailor their defenses to the heroes' strengths. Also, when one of the heroes has a lame power, there has to be a really bizarre obstacle in there to require his ability.
Most often occurs in series with heavy Super Hero Speciation. Can be the result of a Thematic Rogues Gallery. A good hypothetical example is if the Justice League had to destroy a nuclear threat. Superman and other flying members would take out the strategic bombers, the not-launched missiles would go to the grounded members, such as Batman, and the sub-launched missiles would go to Aquaman.
As a variation, this may apply to multiple abilities or items which a single character has; each item or ability will always find some contrived use. This "item-ized" version of this trope is applicable to the gameplay environment design of metroidvania games.
Compare This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman, which is when the plot improbably makes use of a singlecharacter's abilities. This frequently comes up in a Tournament Arc, where the heroes will have to pair off against their equal and opposite villains. It's also common in Tabletop RPGs, where it serves as a way to ensure that everybody's doing enough stuff to have fun. In one-off works, it's a case of Chekhov's Gun - of course they're going to need to crack a safe, or they wouldn't have brought the safecracker.
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Ichigo vs Zaraki Kenpachi. Of all the captains for Ichigo to face, the first happens to be the Blood Knight who prefers an even fight over a Curb-Stomp Battle (Although, Kenpachi had been actively seeking Ichigo out since the moment he entered Seireitei). This provides Ichigo with the necessary motivation to tap into Protagonist Power and undergo the first of several power jumps that would be necessary to survive the arc. As we later find out, if Kenpachi had actually been trying, he would have wrecked Ichigo.
Even earlier, Ishida fought a 3rd Seat shinigami whose primary ability was projectiles. Unfortunately for him, it's damn near impossible to out-projectile a Quincy.
Kenpachi vs Kaname Tousen. Tousen has an ability which causes complete deprivation of the opponent's every sense except touch in order to demoralize and terrorize them. Unfortunately for him, he was fighting Bleach's premiere Combat Sadomasochist, and he doesn't afraid of anything. And eventually, Kenpachi allows himself to get stabbed because he figures out that anyone touching Tousen's sword can get their senses back. Also of note is that Tousen never fights anyone with this ability again outside of a flashback. Kenpachi was essentially the only opponent he used it against.
In Hueco Mundo, Ishida and Chad fight a strong, slow and defensively powerful Hollow, and a Hollow whose ability is to rapid-fire hundreds of tiny projectiles, respectively. Uryu had just upgraded his bow to fire thousands of projectiles, and Chad could easily overpower the physical Hollow, so they just switched opponents.
The "Ants vs. Dragons" mini-arc in Fake Karakura Town featured this in almost every fight:
In Yumichika's battle against Charlotte, Charlotte locks the two of them in an impenetrable black sphere allows Yumichika to use his power draiing shikai, which he has been hiding from all his coworkers (since it wasn't based on physical attacks, which was shunned in his division), and specifically said he's rather die than use it where anyone can see it.
The above was also subverted: while Yumichika was hidden and thus able to use his true power to win, Ikkaku was fighting at the same time and wasn't hidden, leading to his loss. Then it's double subverted when the Fraccion that beat him (Pao, who has the ability to grow ginormous is beaten by Captain Komamura, who has the ability to summon a creature that's even bigger.
Izuru Kira has had the opportunity to use his ability to repeatedly double the weight of anything his sword hits (rendering it unable to be lifted) twice in canon. The first was against Matsumoto, whose own power could render his meaningless (causing their fight to be tailored to her), while the latter was in this arc against Redder, a bird Hollow that uses his wings to fly. Kira was able to use his ability successfully the only time here, pinning Redder to the ground with his own wings. However, almost anyone else could fly without wings, and Redder's wings were large, slow targets that he used for attack, transportation and defense, making him cripplingly dependent on them.
When the Captains pull a Big Damn Heroes move to save the protagonists in Hueco Mundo, the level that the match-ups are one-sided is just unbelievable. These also run near-simutaneously with the above "Ants vs. Dragons" fights.
Byakuya Kuchiki fights Zommari, who has the ability to take control of one object or body part with each of his 50 eyes. Too bad for him, Byakuya has millions of blades that obey his mental commands.
Mayuri Kurotsuchi fights against Szayel Aporro Granz, his evil (well, eviler) counterpart. Granz has an ability to resurrect himself after death by using the body of the person who killed him. Unfortunately for him, but Kurotsuchi and his Opposite-Sex Clone assistant have saturated their entire bodies with poisons. Furthermore, Szayel has the ability to basically make voodoo dolls that allow him to crush the organs and bones of his target nearly at will... Mayuri is the only other character in the series with enough insane science at his disposal that in the time between discovering this ability (used on the guys Szayel was fighting before Mayuri arrived) and getting to the site of the battle he had REPLACED ALL HIS ORGANS WITH FAKES to render himself immune! This is exactly as insane as it sounds for every single other character in the series.
Kenpachi faces off against Nnoitra, whose Hollow ability basically amounts to brute force (multiple arms to maximize offense and defense and hard skin that can't be cut without a great amount of force). Kenpachi's insane amount of offensive power just cuts through this, when he finally gets serious enough to stop dicking around. But if Kenpachi had faced either the aforemention Szayel or Zommari, he would have been thoroughly screwed.
Halibel, a hydrokinetic, fights Hitsugaya, a cryokinetic, while he's supported by two Visored lieutenants. Their abilities mostly negate each other, and her lack of interest in fighting him decisively takes up her time until the plot requires a conclusion.
Other Anime and Manga
The manga version of the Mew Aqua arc in Tokyo Mew Mew had the aliens taking a mew aqua into the realm of each of the girls' influences (For example, Mew Mint, whose power is air, had a chapter with a mew aqua floating above Tokyo Tower.), as they tried to use it to fuel a Death Trap for both the girls and the rest of the city. It never ended up working. In the anime, though, this was abandoned and Ichigo got every single mew aqua, ignoring the other girls' elemental advantages.
Digimon is often using it in a not too direct example, but still. In the first series (and second, and pretty much any) the Digimon would only evolve when their DigiDestined proved their specific most remarkable trait like love or honesty.
The nightmarishly depressing mecha series Bokurano has a few examples. When the kid who's good at solving problems is chosen as the pilot (against his will, mind you), he happens to face a particularly strategically inclined opponent and is perhaps the only one able to unravel its tactics while successfully defending against them. Later, the emo kid chooses not to fight his opponent, which would doom the planet, but his opponent intentionally kills itself.
This may very well be justified as you could easily interpret it to mean they're being assigned to fight the person in the other universe most like (or even exactly like) themselves.
One Piece plays with this trope. It uses a fair number of these to drive home the theme of relying on friends. Every arc will have several fights and situations that will show off the varied skills (combat and otherwise) of the protagonists. For example, Luffy always gets to fight the Big Bad, Zoro often gets to fight the enemy's swordsman, and Sanji gets to fight the enemy's best martial artist.
But then again there are also a lot of times where, in that they fight villain teams multiple times and not always with the best match up, and lose. By the time they get to the proper match up to defeat the villain the Straw Hats would have information on said villains.
Luffy and Zoro always play it straight while Sanji usually subverts it at first before changing opponent, though justified in the case of Zoro, in that he is targeting the swordsman and his friends know it, so they consciously leave the swordsmen to him, if there are any around.
Subverted in the third movie, where Zoro fights the martial artist and Sanji fights the swordsman.
Sometimes invoked. Most notably in Enies Lobby:
Sanji (to Usopp): Everyone has something he can and cannot do... I'll do whatever you cannot do, and you do whatever I cannot do!
A possible parody of this trope is a minor Running Gag in the Punk Hazard Arc. Trafalgar Law will casually point out that they need someone with a specific power immediately before it's needed, and the Straw Hat with that very power is conveniently on hand. Lampshaded further when he asks for someone with power over wind who can blow away a cloud of poison gas his group was moments away from plunging into. The Marine soldiers he's with point out how absurdly lucky it would be for someone with that very powerset to be right there... only for Nami to pipe up that she can do exactly that.
In the second-to-last mass battle of Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin's True Companions are pitted against the Elite Mooks of the Big Bad, so four one-on-one battles ensue. It quickly turns into a subversion when it turns out that it was the mooks who picked their opponents based on each man's specialties.
Ronin Warriors: The warriors are often pitted against their counterparts, such as Ryo and Anubis, but especially Sage (light) and Kale (dark).
YuYu Hakusho does these nearly constantly. The plot arcs of the show rely heavily on Tournament Arcs, so this is to be expected, but except for Kuwabara sitting out the final arc, the core group members who actually do any fighting got to make major contributions in every arc of the show.
In the second season of G Gundam all of Domon's Shuffle Alliance allies learn new ultimate attacks at the exact same time that they happen to fight Domon, the only opponent any of them have lost to, and they use these attacks against him (They, of course, lose again, because Domon is the main character and all). While this would sort of count, the more obvious example is, during the big, Gundam Fight Tournament ending battle royale on Lantau Island, they all use these techniques to help Domon get to Master Asia.
Played with in the Sasuke Retrieval arc in Naruto placing the team against the Sound Four. While the big names were Naruto versus Sasuke, the other characters all had a strong showing. Large taijutsu user Chouji faces large taijutsu user Jirobou, while the pair Kiba and Akamaru face off with Ukon and Sakon. There was also the music-manipulator Tayuya versus the shadow-manipulator Shikamaru and taijutsu-expert Lee against kenjutsu-expert Kimimaro. Inverted in the case of melee combatant Neji, who faces long range combatant Kidoumaru.
Kiba, Shikamaru, and Lee all had the trope inverted when it turned out they weren't a match for their opponents. It was only last-minute backup from the Sand that saved them... and said backup played the trope straight again (except for Gaara, who was saved by Deus ex Machina).
Hilariously subverted in the second season of Black Butler. After giving attention to a number of odd characters early in the episode, once the train they're one is headed towards a broken bridge with a bomb strapped to it set to detonate if they stop and an assassin having kidnapped Ciel, they all get up an announce the skills they have that can save the day. Everyone rallies together, excited that they can pull it off, only for Sebastian to inform them he doesn't need their help before going and taking care of everything himself.
Medaka of Medaka Box intentionally set the scavenger hunt up this way to help the participants grow as people. Some of the challenges were less than subtle, such as the Game Master Roleplaying Witch who could only be defeated by out-roleplaying her (there happens to be a girl deluded into believing she's the main character of a Magical Girl anime in the cast...). Unfortunately, Zenkichi is left out of this planning, leading to his Heel-Face Turn.
Happens coincidentally in Haiyore! Nyarko-san, when an alien from a game company holds Mahiro's high school captive and offers to release the students if Mahiro's group can beat him. "Agent Smith" picks the games at which he excels, not realizing that the heroes completely outmatch him in every one; in Daifugō he faces Nyarko, who can create an infinite number of Joker cards, and in Darts he faces Mahiro, who has Improbable Aiming Skills when it comes to throwing forks.
Double-subverted in an issue of Fantastic Four: Cosmic beings conduct an experiment on the team, suppressing their primary characteristics (Reed's intellect, Johnny's temper, Ben's courage and Sue's compassion.) Lo and behold, each one is presented with a challenge that is suited to a secondary characteristic - a monster protecting her child stirs Ben's compassion, an illusion suppressing Johnny's powers causes him to demonstrate surprising smarts, a battery of laser cannons forces Sue to summon up her courage, and an airtight cell forces Reed to tap his normally sublimated aggression to break free.
Again with one of Doctor Doom's death traps for Reed, a simple corridor that keeps getting narrower and narrower, doors progressively sealing the way back. Reed is forced to push his stretching abilities to their limits in order to keep going... only to find a dead end.
Often the most limiting when dealing with any character whose power is water (especially underwater) based.
Sometimes questioned by characters who have the same powers as another, wondering the point in doubling up in powers. Best questioned by Elongated Man to Plastic Man in the miniseries Justice.
Often answered: EM is a good guy, often said to be a compentant detective and all, but PM is just more fun to have around to counteract how serious the other heroes are most of the time. Also, this leads to him using his powers in much more inventive ways than EM would.
During the Apocalypse War arc of Judge Dredd, Dredd pulls together a team for a mission against the Soviets, including a telepath to obtain secret codes from the enemy's minds...and Judge Ocks, a Big Guy whose sole purpose on the mission seems to be to open a vehicle hatch.
Played with (or perhaps double subverted) in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures special, where reality-altering mole Headrush (acting on Splinter's behalf) tests the turtles with a series of threats obviously designed to fit the turtles' individual skills (a conveyor belt of doom for Donny, pizza monsters for Mikey, etc.). However, whenever it was time for a turtle to face his designated foe, Headrush would then incapacitate him, requiring one (and always one) of the other turtles to step in and handle the threat in his stead.
The X-Men and spin-off teams repeatedly encounter obstacles that seem especially suited for one member or another. Some comics are worse than others, but the movies seem especially egregious as they essentially result in each character taking their "turn" to be in the limelight.
Perhaps the worst offender was Cypher, whose ability to translate any language was not exactly suited to graphic storytelling. The writers consistently struggled to come up with plots that would make him useful. Later stories extended this power to include computer programming languages, allowing Cypher to become a master hacker and increase his range of expertise.
It became especially obvious when you realized that that New Mutants - Cypher's team - encountered a foreign language that had to be translated in order to complete their objective on pretty much every major mission (if a doomsday device was about to destroy the world, you could bet it would would include an instruction manual in an obscure alien language) but no other team ever seemed to encounter a language barrier.
On the other end of the writing spectrum, the various X-Teams were often shown to train to gain greater mastery or find creative uses for their powers and to develop team tactics with creative combinations of powers (the most famous being the Fast Ball Special) specifically to try to avert this trope.
Used a few times in Transformers, most notably in the Triggerbots' debut where each of them deals with one of the traps in Optimus Prime's way: Override dodges through some geysers, Dogfight cuts through a cable trap with his wings and Backstreet outruns a collapsing floor.
During the DC comics series Infinite Crisis, while infiltrating the robotic OMAC satellite, Mr. Terrific remarked that his power was to be invisible to technology. When asked whether such a power was useful, he replied, "It is today."
Although given how many robots they end up fighting, that one just seems like a genuinely useful if slightly situational power.
Plus, it may have been more of a Batman-Gambit, considering that Batman knew of his ability and chose the team members among people he trusted and/or needed (Except for Green Arrow, whom he only asked to join to see how he'd respond).
This trope is the bread-and-butter of the Legion of Super-Heroes auxiliary, the Legion of Substitute Heroes. They were teenagers who applied to join the Legion, but their powers were too lame ortoo specific to be considered useful. But gosh darn if they didn't manage to save the day whenever fate conspired to present them with a crisis that only their lame and specific powers could handle. Example: Color Kid had the power to change the color of anything. Not very useful in a fight. But then he discovered that if he changed the color of green kryptonite, it no longer affected Kryptonians ... while the Earth was engulfed in a green kryptonite cloud.
In which case, Green Lantern should have permanently handcuffed himself to Color Kid, making both of them much more useful.
Parodied and justified in Mystery Men. Invisible Boy has the power to become invisible, but only when no one is looking, and only when he's not wearing clothes. But what modern evil genius doesn't use security cameras?
Invisible Boy: See that's what so cool about this team; I mean everyone has their own powers for all these different situations.
In the climax of Sky High, a situation arose for each one of "sidekick" characters to show off their fairly useless powers. Zach, whose only ability was to glow in the dark, had his moment when he was used as a human flashlight by the protagonists escaping through a dark tunnel. Ethan used his ability to turn into a puddle to get the drop on a bully through a clever use of misdirection. Magenta, who could shapeshift, but only into a purple guinea pig, used her power to crawl through a small ventilation shaft and and disable a bomb.
Zoom: Academy for Superheroes, which regrettably came out about the same time as Sky High, shows the skeleton of its plot a little too often. The worst example of this is in the Final Battle, which isn't so much a battle as a recital. The Big Bad talks big for a few minutes, then gets hit by every main character's power exactly once, which puts him exactly where he needs to be so they can Finish Him!.
In the first Harry Potter movie, the sequences of killer plant, flying keys, and life size chessboard allow Harry, Ron and Hermione to demonstrate their abilities. In the book, there were several other challenges, such as an angry troll that was supposed to be a guard, but was knocked out by the previous entrant, that made this fact less visible.
In the book, it was stated that each obstacle was something from the area of expertise of one specific professor.
Justified in Paycheck the movie, as the main character was part of a team of researchers who reverse engineered a machine for viewing the future he was able to fill his pockets with just the right random crap to get himself out of the series of perilous booby traps, assassination attempts, and relationship problems that plagued he the rest of the film.
Perhaps unintentionally (and definitely annoyingly) subverted in Golden Eye, where Q spends some length describing Bond's new ride, a BMW Z3, in which Q proudly proclaims has Stinger missiles behind the headlamps. What pivotal role does this vehicle play? About 30 or so seconds of James Bond driving in it before he exchanges it with Jack Wade for a plane. The car came too late into development to be written into the story properly.
Pretty much the whole point of Signs. All of the characters neuroses and bad life experiences are essential to fighting off the aliens.
Monsters vs. Aliens: when Susan/Ginormica gets depowered, the other monsters get to show what they can do. Who knew Dr. Cockroach had a Ph.D. in dance?
Even Susan gets in on the act, using her uncanny ability to rollerskate using improbable gadgets.
Spy Kids has a rather forced example: In the climax, Juni uses his ability to mimic voices to speak in Floop's voice over the intercom. However, Floop was standing right next to him and could have done it himself.
The Russian folk tale "The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship" follows this model perfectly. On his way to win a princess's hand in marriage, the Fool is obligated to pick up anyone who asks to come along with him. Each person he meets has a different bizarre skill, and each one saves his life once when he reaches the Czar and is subjected to various death traps and Impossible Tasks.
The fairy tale "The Seven Simons" is about seven brothers named Simon, each of whom has one skill at which he excels?building an unbelievably fast ship, for example, or retrieving a piece of game no matter where it fell. Very specialized brothers, they are, and each skill just happens to be essential to winning the hand of a princess.
"The Seven Chinese Brothers" tells about seven brothers who are all identical, and each of whom has a powerful ability (hearing, strength, weeping) or immunity (to fire, to cold, etc.) All of these powers allow them to evade execution and live happily ever after.
Subverted in an Ethiopian folk tale: three suitors of a princess were sent afar to study some special abilities: the first one learned how to tell what was going on far away, the second one learned how to travel really fast, and the third one learned how to resurrect people from the dead. After they finished their studies, the first found out the princess had just died, the second took them all quickly to the princess, and the third one brought her back to life. This lead to a heated argument between the three men regarding which one of them deserves her for having saved her life, and so she is still a virgin to this very day.
Frequently arises in A Series of Unfortunate Events, most obviously in The Vile Village. Reversed in The Miserable Mill, where the protagonists are each forced into situations best-suited to their siblings' specialties.
Played with in China Miéville's Un Lun Dun: when the heroine learns that the apparently random and pointless series of quests she was supposed to follow were actually carefully designed so that she would end up with exactly the right set of items to deal with the final challenge. It occurs to her, a little too late, that skipping most of the quests to save time might not have been such a bright idea after all.
Phèdre nó Delaunay, the main heroine of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy, is a professional courtesan. Among the challenges she faces, you would be surprised at how many of them she manages to solve by having sex with the right man or woman.
There's an interesting play on this in the Alex Rider books. Yes, there are some similarities to Bond (by which we mean it's a blatant homage to Bond at times), but there are a few exceptions; for one thing, a lot of the gadgets are pretty generic, so it's not that difficult to think of somewhere to use them. The biggest subversion, though, is his metal-corroding zit-cream. He got it in the first book, where it was extremely handy and then continued to use it every so often for the next few books in the series, until it ran out.
Used in every Xanth novel where a character wishes to ask the Good Magician Humfrey a Question. Entrance to Humfrey's castle is guarded by three specific Challenges suited to the Asker's abilities, designed to test the Asker and ensure the Question is not asked trivially.
Played with at the same time: the castle's defenses typically prohibit the Asker from directly using their abilities to solve the challenges, requiring them to really think hard and come up with creative ways of using their abilities (or just plain being smart about what they're doing) in order to gain entry.
Piers Anthony is rather fond of this trope; it's used again in Wielding A Red Sword. Mim (the Incarnation of War) is faced with a series of challenges to get in to see Gaia (the Incarnation of Nature). A series of demons are impersonating him, and Nature is using the challenges to keep them out of her hair, though they're things that Mim (either because of his own innate abilities, or because of his powers as War) can fairly easily bypass.
The Jennifer Morgue openly invokes it, hanging lampshades all the while. Ramona says that Bob is caught up in an "eigenplot," and she can't reveal any details lest he become contaminated — he needs to be clean of any knowledge of what's going on so he can make it past the "semiotic firewall." She does, however, discuss concepts such as "danger in a foreign land," "encountering the enemy agent" and "joining with the Dark Anima." The "eigenplot" in question? Bob's been geased by the villain to enact the tropes of a James Bond movie, so that only one British agent tries to stop the plot for world domination — and, since the villain controls the geas, he can stop it when the only thing that could stop him becomes just another boffin.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the defences set up by the Hogwarts staff to guard the Stone count as this. Each of the Golden Trio had to demonstrate their abilities at least once or twice as they passed through each room. For example, Harry had to be the one to get onto the broom and catch the key due to his Quidditch Seeker skills. He also faced off against Quirrellmort in the final room. Hermione had to figure out the potions riddle using logic, her forte. She also dealt with the Devil's Snare at the beginning of the series of rooms. Ron, the skilled chess player, ended up directing and winning in the chess room. The troll, however, had already been dealt with. Quirrell also dealt with Fluffy (temporarily), although Harry & co. developed a plan for that, as well.
This is a key plot point of The Belgariad. The Purposes of the Universe, at war, set events in motion that are calculated to require very specific people to perform very specific tasks. It is openly explained and discussed among the characters. It also crosses heavily over into Xanatos Speed Chess.
Live Action TV
Subverted and played straight in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes all the scoobies do is get in each other's way, and often their powers or special skills only mess things up more. But in the climatic battle of season four, Xander, Willow and Giles used their specific personalities to help Buffy.
And in the climactic battle of season five, they each used their skills to fight Glory and her minions.
Xander: And the glorified bricklayer picks up the spare!
Done in the 16th and 17th episodes of the Greek detective sitcom In the Nick of Time(Sto Para Pente) sporting 12 people brought together in an effort to save one of the main characters under the bad guys' noses. Hilarity Ensues. It is explicitly stated, by the protagonists, that their plot is structured to match every character's defining attribute of personality; only most of these characteristics are not talents but annoying habits. This is so because all these characters were initially introduced as secondary gag characters but are later proven to all be important in the plot.
Mission: Impossible, in which the characters tailored their abilities to The Caper at hand. Justified in that the mission leader would pick operatives appropriate for the specific mission and target ahead of time.
The A-Team was intended to be one giant Plot Tailored To The Party-slash-spoof.
Stargate Atlantis inverts the trope in the episode "Quarantine" when everyone is locked in various rooms and each person has a part of the skills that they need to get out of the situation, except no one is in a situation where they can use those skills: McKay (The Smart Guy) does not have a computer, so Sheppard (The Hero) has to do all the technical stuff; Ronon (The Big Guy) is locked in a room and is thus forced to do nothing; and Zelenka (another Smart Guy) has to do the dangerous air vent crawl that is pretty much Sheppard's trademark.
In Sanctuary, in the Season 1 Finale, five characters, each with a distinct "power", are given some form of challenge that makes use of that power, and all five must complete their challenges in order to obtain the "source blood" that they were after. Two of the five, however, had abilities that did not lend themselves well to dangerous challenges. Specifically, the man who had been gifted with ultra-high IQ had to figure out which of two doors he was to enter based on which of two latin phrases more accurately meant "truth", while the woman who had been gifted with longevity had the task of personally knowing her father, who was the creator of the challenges.
Will does tease Magnus about her contribution, though, lampshading the less-than-exciting nature of her "superpower."
Will: And what's your power? Just showing up for the meeting after 135 years?
Chief: Okay you guys, listen up. The president's in town next week. Thunder Girl, I'm gonna need your super flying power, Flesh your super strength, Stinky your super sharp shooting, as for Meltman...um...um...well...um...
Stinky, Flesh, Thunder Girl: Donuts, donuts, donuts! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
Smallville, in the episode "Justice": Arthur Curry, the future Aquaman, would have been entirely useless if it weren't for the location of the enemy base; next to water and with an aquatic entrance.
In an episode of Team Knight Rider, the team figures out where a group of thieves is going to strike by finding the one place that would require all their individual skills. One of them was a contortionist.
Leverage: Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief, Mastermind...and none of it would work if they were short a skill. Of course, the Mastermind is Genre Savvy enough to quickly realize the team members should help train each other in the basics of each other's specialities. By a season or two into the series, everyone on the team is capable of basic pick-pocketing (for things like ID or a wallet), grifting well enough to establish or maintain an effective cover identity, and can defend themselves in a fight against an opponent with non-professional combat training. Only the hacking skills and the actual masterminding remain entirely specialized (though the computer guy is slowly being trained in how to plan jobs)
And by the end of the series everybody has taken point on a job except the Hitter, the Hitter and the Thief can do some minor hacking and the Thief — who planned complex jobs when working alone—becomes the new nominal Mastermind.
The Warehouse 13It's a Wonderful PlotChristmas Episode has Pete assemble the regular team, even though in this universe they don't know him or trust each other, in order to break into the Warehouse. This requires Artie's knowledge of the Warehouse (to get to the back door), Myka's knowledge of literature and language (to access the door), Claudia's mad tech skillz (to hack the security system), and Pete's vibes (to tell which of the identical doors in the next corridor is a bad door to go through).
Inverted in the episode Buried where Pete solves the mental challenge, Myka the soul challenge, HG the physical challenge.
In Zen Studios' The Avengers, the game has a different pinball for each team member; different characters provide different benefits and bonuses.
Sega's Star Wars Trilogy has a Heroic Mode for each of the trilogy's main characters: Luke, Leia, Han, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Chewbacca, and Obi-Wan.
Doctor Who allows the player to collect and select from the seven Doctors in the game; each one changes the rules in a different manner.
Published adventures try for this as well, though not every player group has the standard fighter/rogue/wizard/cleric dynamic these adventures are written for, and so multiple solutions for critical moments are necessary, making it possible for one character to steal the spotlight from the others by solving nearly everything through the solutions meant for his character type (the answer that works no matter what is usually "bash it apart"). That, or every important plot point is decided by either a fight (which all classes are designed to be able to take part in), or a simplistic puzzle (which doesn't rely on class abilities at all, but the players' ability to figure the puzzle out). Classic tournament adventure C1 has a puzzle specifically designed for the 3-man (Fighter, Wizard, Thief) party - what it's doing in a bunch of ancient Mayincatec ruins is best left unasked.
The Plot Tailored To The Party nature of many Dungeons & Dragons modules, coupled with the fact that many PC parties lacked a Thief (the least combat-effective class in 1st and 2nd edition D&D) required the game to provide commonly-available ways for Thief-less parties to do all the things you nominally needed a thief to do. Knock, Invisibility, Detect Traps, Spiderclimb, Comprehend Languages and Silence 15-foot Radius were all fairly low-level spells that duplicated thief abilities, often more effectively, while the Chime of Opening, Boots of Elvenkind, Cloak of Elvenkind, and Ring of Invisibility were all very common magic items that did the same thing. The end result was that the only thing a Thief could do that a magical item or spell couldn't was pick a pocket. One Thief-less party infamously filled the role with a log they rolled down corridors, which proved surprisingly effective.
Happened almost on a constant basis in BIONICLE, so that every character could show off his or her mask or elemental power, because hey, when toy advertising and plot advancement go hand in hand, why not? Though subversions were nearly as common as straight examples. Video and web games abused this to no end, however they often resorted to completely changing the characters' special powers.
Subtly used in Assassins Creed II. Each thief, courtesan, and mercenary guild in Florence and Venice will help Ezio with at least one assassination target.
Less subtly used in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, where each guild helps Ezio with exactly one target. However, when preparing to assassinate Micheletto, the thieves pull out last-second, "forcing" Ezio to use his own Assassin guild instead.
In the game Zork: Grand Inquisitor, you find three totems: a griff (small, less powerful dragon), a brogmoid (a small, strong creature), and Lucy Flathead (a human woman with telepathy). And where are the Cosmic Keystones located? A sleeping dragon archipelago, a cave behind a strongly boarded door, and a casino. Any of the three creatures can visit any of the locations, but if they're not the right ones, they're next to useless (though Brog can't reach a mailbox before the White House, and Lucy or Griff will have to go there to send mail).
Common in videogames, for example, in the The Legend of Zelda games, each dungeon in sequential order is tailor-made with obstacles that require the treasures from the previous ones that the hero had access to. Apparently one can only get around dungeon D with a hookshot (or grappling hook, or magnet gloves) that is only found in one chest in dungeon C. You typically also need dungeon D's item to beat dungeon D's boss.
Another method of dungeon design in the Zelda series is to make half of the dungeon inaccessible until you find the right tool in the same dungeon. For example a dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask where the player can't access the upper levels of the dungeon until they find the bow and arrow in the lower level, but it is common enough in any of the game's incarnations.
However, whenever a dungeon doesn't require an item or ability from a previous point, enterprising players WILL try to sequence break. Somewhat justified when the dungeons are made for the hero to to pass.
In the Mega Man series, and the following Mega Man X games, all of the end level bosses have specific weakness to weapons that you get from other bosses. This ensures that even the most useless weapons for fighting through the stages have a specific use. However, since bosses in some games are selectable in any order, they CAN be beaten without the specials. It's just a lot tougher. Playing 2 for the first time and thinking "I'll try going against Quickman first." is a sobering lesson in Nintendo Hard level design. Messed with in X, wherein the bosses had a particular order of weaknesses, but the special items (boots, armor, etc.) had a different optimal order. To get all the armor pieces without backtracking, you had to completely disregard the boss' vulnerabilities.
A stage in Mega Man 8 takes it further, though. After clearing the first four Robot Masters, you face four more before tackling Wily's base. Sword Man's dungeon gets special mention for the first half of it is testing your skills in using your new powers: Ice Wave to freeze instant-death fire pillars below the pathway to cross, Tornado Hold to push the hover switches up and open pathways, Flash Grenade to see the signs in the dark rooms for a button puzzle later, and Thunder Claw to swing around chasms and push switches while a spiked wall of doom chases you.
Some games also gave bosses more than one weakness, or at least made other weapons useful against them, for example in the first X series game, Boomer Kuwanger's weapon can be used to lop off Launch Octopus' tentacles and Flame Mammoth's trunk.
The Lost Vikings and its sequel are based around this trope. Each of the vikings has a specific set of abilities (not necessarily including combat) which are required to solve all the puzzles in their path. Sometimes levels divide into distinct parts, tailored for each particular character. The sequel goes even further with adding two more characters, while still allowing you to control only three at a time. Each level can be solved by a given combination and only by it. Thankfully, you're forced to use that combination.
Trineattempts this; with the Wizard able to create objects and move then with the power of his mind, the Thief's grappling hook and ability to jump higher leaving the Knight to take out the numerous creatures that attacks the group. Only the Thief also has a bow which can be very powerful once upgraded a few times leaving the Knight to be rather useless.
Other than breaking blocks of course.
Same goes for Avatar The Last Airbenderlicensed games for GBA. Player always controls up to 3 characters out of minimal roster of 4. When and only when you get a new character, you start getting puzzles for him.
Many, many, many console RPGs have at least one door that cannot be opened unless a set of switches are pressed simultaneously, where the number of switches is precisely equal to the game's Arbitrary Headcount Limit for no adequately explained reason.
Subverted (?) once in Sonic Chronicles, where one of these puzzles appears, but there's six buttons and only four characters in the party. Played straight the rest of the time, though.
The entire point of Superhero League of Hoboken, where there's at least one puzzle that requires any given superpower... except for the main character's, which is never of any use at any point in the game.
In the various Lego Adaptation Games, in order to get every last item, you need to through the levels in Free Play mode, where the game gives you at least one of every type of character. Note: It is not meant for the player to pick whatever characters he/she wants although one choice is allowed - it's there just to allow him/her to get every single item.
Subverted in both City of Heroes and Champions Online. Especially in the latter game, due to the ability to take almost any combination of powers, there's really no "default" team setup or even default set of powers that designers can rely upon.
Played straight in certain encounters, such as the Hamidon Raid which has 3 different sets of weak spots, and each set can only be countered by a specific type of attack: yellow spots are weak to melee attacks, blue spots are weak to ranged attacks and green spots are vulnerable to paralyzing attacks.
In the Wii version of A Boy and His Blob, you're always given the specific set of jellybeans that you need to get through the level, no more, no less.
Mass Effect 2: The Suicide Missionwhere you take out the Collector Base gauges your success based on how well you're able to invoke this trope. Choose the wrong person for the wrong job and peoplewilldie. Inverted with Thane: a lot of the pre-release marketing focused on the drell assassin, to the point where he features on the cover art, but he plays no key role in the suicide mission, although his biotic abilities are useful against the Collectors.
The only 'specialist' role that anyone is qualified for is escorting whatever's left of the Normandy crew back to the ship - provided you've secured their loyalty, anyone will make it. Mordin, Tali or Kasumi are who most people pick, though, as they're the most likely to die holding the line even if loyal.
The entire Mass Effect series is this, where the plot changes depending on who's with you and when. Up to Eleven in the third, which is extremely reliant on the decisions made in the second.
To a lesser extent with Shepard's adjutant position in 2 and 3. In the second game, being your glorified secretary is just Kelly's excuse to hang around the comm panel; she's really a psychologist trying to study the team's inevitable mental issues, which is the secondary plot of the game. In the third game, Traynor gets tapped for the same post on the basis of "she's available", but her actual training in communications theory, data analysis, and codebreaking does see use from time to time, unlocking missions by deciphering details of enemy communications anyone else would have missed.
Final Fantasy X masterfully uses this for the battle system, with each character being especially effective against one enemy type: Tidus can hit nimble/evasive enemies, Wakka takes down flying targets, Auron can pierce the defences of armoured enemies, Rikku can dismantle mechanical enemies, Lulu deals with enemies that are weak against magic, Yuna is your primary healer (and her summons are ideal for facing or finishing off bosses), and Kimahri does a little of everything
Of course, with a pitiful amount of grinding (less than an hour over the total playthrough), you can have Tidus gain enough accuracy, or Wakka gain enough attack power, to make the other utterly superfluous. There's also the little matter of Lulu being able to one-shot most of these Tidus/Wakka enemies, regardless of the fact they supposedly possess magic resistance.
The physical abilities of the characters are also suited to the plot. Tidus and Wakka, because they are Blitzball players, and Rikku because she is a deep-sea diver, are called on in a few spots to do swimming maps. In Final Fantasy X-2, we find out that although she can't swim, Yuna picked up some serious agility from all those mountains on her pilgrimage (not to mention ruin-exploring), and can now jump up and down landforms that Tidus had to swim around.
The Air Force Delta Series plays this straight with multiple specialized pilots. Some missions require slow prop or VTOL fighters, some are for air superiority fighters, some for ground attack, one for Mach-3 recon aircraft.
Thefirstthree games of the Wild ARMs series will let you use the entire party members to do a specific task, like jumping, finding things with the use of a radar, changing gems, and so on and so forth. The latter games however ditched this concept.
Runescape: In the final scene of "Salt in the Wound", you need Ezekial's explosives expertise to break through damaged walls, Kennith's persuasive abilities to manipulate a mind-controlled villager, and Eva's strength and combat skill to hold off the guards and deal the finishing blow.
Legacy Of The Wizard has five playable characters. Four of them have areas requiring their special abilities (at least in concept), and at the end of each is a crown. Once all four crowns have been collected, the fifth character is needed to obtain the Sword of Plot Advancement and fight the Final Boss.
Everyone's skills are needed at some point or another in Magical Starsign, but the funniest example has to be during a massive forest fire. The water mage locates an underground aquifer. The earth mage cracks open the ground so that the water can reach the surface. The air mage uses the spring the previous two mages created to start a massive rainstorm that douses the fire. The nature mage regrows the forest. And then the fire mage decides it's his turn to contribute, and is promptly stopped by the rest of the party because all that work to stop the fire, they really didn't need another one.
Dark Cloud does this a lot. There were pits with a single stalactite poking out only Xiao could cross, big buttons only Goro's hammer was strong enough to push down, magic crystals for Ruby to activate by magic, smoke barriers Ungaga could blow away, and deep gaps Osmond could fly over.
Both Dark Cloud games also include levels with seals on them that only one character can be used on. Usually there is a level like this right after you get each new character to make you try them out.
Desert Moon. On Days 2-4, you encounter a new enemy, and you so happen to get a unit that counters said enemy:
Day 2: Bursters are very fast and explode when killed or if they reach a unit, killing any nearby units. You get the Fuel Launcher which has an extremely long range and covers them in fuel, greatly slowing them down.
Day 3: Hunters have a lot of health and are immune to damage until they are near a unit, then they surface and charge. The flamethrower is a near-range unit that does constant good damage and also pushes the hunters back.
The "Demon Seed" arc of The Dragon Doctors is the first one that makes full use of the abilities of all four magical doctors at once. The patient is a man with a sentient parasite slowly devouring him from within, can see everything he sees, and will take over his body and attack if they alarm him. First Kili the shaman/therapist puts the patient into a hypnotic mind-meld trance, then his body is magically petrified by the wizard to trap the parasite and keep him stable, then the Magitek diagnostician and surgeon drill it out of his body one piece at a time.
Harry: Am I the only one who thinks it's suspicious that each of these tests is something one of us is good at?
Lampshaded in Irregular Webcomic!'s Supers theme, where DMM complains about the difficulty of tailoring a plot to a party comprising Captain Spatula, Dino Boy, Refractive Man and Worm Master.
Worm Master: Yes! Now I can control the mutant space worm!
Refractive Man: So the dinosaur DNA filtered by a laser fired through my torso and fed to it on a spatula worked?
In the second arc of Katamari, the Future!Prince specifically seeks out cousins with specific talents required to Save The World from a Bad Future. Thus, he knows exactly what and who they need for his plan to work... But not everyone's availible.
In Noob, the titular guild gets the following random challenge meant for level 20 players: the guild's tank must take control of a provided level 100 avatar to figh a necromancer and its zombie Mooks. In the case of the protagonists, the tank happens to be a former level 100 player while the healer routinely accidentally heals enemies and Revive Kills Zombie applies to the game.
Achievement Hunter's "Vs." series inverts this trope - one of the Achievement Hunter members chooses a game that they're certain they can beat the current champion in. A lot of times, the games chosen are those that the challenger has played numerous times. Unless you're Gavin.
In one episode of Winx Club, the Winx had to conjure up a simulacrum out of their fundamental powers when they were trapped in the simulator room.
Aquaman of the Superfriends gave rise to an infinite number of such plots. Superman is a member of the Superfriends, and arguably pretty much every plot which involves him is kind of an inverse of this trope, as they have to use Kryptonite or otherwise disable him somehow to give everyone else something to do.
Lampshaded in an episode of Teen Titans. Control Freak, a teenage TV addict super villain comes up with a Plot Tailored To The Party featuring a trial for all of the Teen Titans. He is upset to find that they're out of town and a secondary team is in their place. As the challenges were tailored to the exact limits of the main cast, the secondary team easily manages them. He has a temper tantrum and then returns with specific challenges for the substitutes.
This is practically an inversion of the trope, as each Titan is given a challenge where their powers won't work. Aqualad has to face a mechanical shark - that is, his fish-controlling powers won't work. Bumblebee is stuck in her small form. Speedy has no arrows. Mas Y Menos (who require to be touching each other to activate their superspeed) have to simultaneously push two buttons on opposite sides of the city. They all get around it, of course.
Kim Possible gives Ron's father, an actuary, a chance to demonstrate his heroism by coming up with a math-themed villain specifically for him to have a Let's Get Dangerous moment against. Being Kim Possible, the implausibility of this is obviously lampshaded.
Usually justified in the animated series M.A.S.K.. Each episode began with the leader choosing which team members to bring based on the mission at hand. Therefore all characters in an episode had a legitimate reason to use their specialty. For example, if a mission was in the middle of a desert, they just didn't bring along the underwater specialist. This still resulted in a lot of lucky guesses as to who would just happen to be needed, though.
The James Bond variant was spoofed in an episode of American Dad!, where Steve plays the Q character, S, and all his inventions make the boobs of the nearest woman larger. Of course, it comes in handy later on...
Played straight most of the time on Galaxy Rangers. There were usually computers to hack, hostile environments, something that could usually be psychically "read," and a need for the captain to coordinate things. However, the show also loved Absentee Actor, so just as often they'd end up short a teammate who would have been really handy at that particular moment.
A variant is used in the second episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. As the six leads make their way through Everfree Forest, they run into obstacles that give each pony the chance to display their greatest virtue, such as Applejack's honesty helping reassure Twilight Sparkle during a Literal Cliffhanger, and Pinkie Pie literally laughing in the face of danger. In this case, it serves two purposes: getting them through the forest and helping Twilight recognize what each of her new companions' biggest strengths are.
One episode of Wolverine and the X-Men invoked this trope explicitly. A ship carrying mutants to Genosha is attacked by pirates in search of mutants with useful powers. They end up kidnapping all of the adults and leaving the kids behind on the sinking ship. The kids' abilities are: breathing underwater, making "sticky goop", talking to machines, making things shatter by focusing on them, and butterfly wings. Initially, they mope around on the ship because they believe their powers are useless, but Nightcrawler appears to show them that no one is useless. At Nightcrawler's direction, they shatter some cargo crates and have the underwater-breathing kid glue them onto the breaches using the sticky goop. The girl who talks to machines navigates the boat, and the girl with butterfly wings makes and puts up a flag of questionable usefulness. Then they chase after the pirate ship, where Nightcrawler uses his powers to duel the pirate captain and save the grownups.
An episode of The Powerpuff Girls used a variant somewhat similar to the James Bond example above: A gigantic flaming meteor that's too hot to approach menaces Townville shortly after Blossom learns that she has icebreath. Unlike Bond, however, Blossom tried to use the ice breath in other situations and only made things worse, resulting in a Heroic BSOD, and it pops up in a few later episodes instead of just disappearing after its debut.
Played with in an episode of Adventure Time where Finn and Jake enter a dungeon at different times, and go different paths. Finn winds up facing a lot of challenges that are nearly impossible for him, but would be child's play for Jake — Physical challenges, fights against large monsters, and a seemingly undefeatable cat monster who only fears dogs. Jake, meanwhile, winds up facing challenges that only Finn would be good at—Picking a sandwich over a sword to fight a guardian, a spitting contest, and so forth. The episode is an example of what happens with your ensemble is missing a member that the Plot Tailored To The Party was designed around.
Played with again in Mystery Dungeon, where the Ice King, Lemongrab, Tree Trunks, Shelby and NEPTR find themselves stuck in a dungeon together. It's subverted in two cases, however, as Ice King accidentally brought NEPTR instead of BMO, and Shelby passed the buck on his challenge.
Averted in an episode of Justice League, during a Robot War that turned out to be an advanced training simulation. It was designed to get the team to work together, utilizing each others' strengths to their fullest and figure out how to exploit every situation in the manner of the trope; then Superman flies in and smashes all the robots basically single-handedly. When called out on this apparent show-boating, he explicitly points out the fact that he's Nigh Invulnerable, and it didn't make sense to send in the guy with a bunch of gadgets or the guy who's fast but squishy when he can just take care of something that needs brute strength. He had a point, even if he suffered heavily from The Worf Effect during the initial show's run, not to mention the fact that Wonder Woman - who canonically is one of the top-tier strongest characters in the DCU - was right there as well.
Played with in the Young Justice episode "Misplaced". When the world gets split into two dimensions, one for adults and one for kids, Captain Marvel's ability to change from an adult to a kid is used quite effectively to establish communication between the worlds. The reason it's a played with example is that this has happened before in DC continuity, and yet no one thought of this. It's more a case of In-UniverseFridge Brilliance.