are free-roaming affairs: Between the scripted cutscenes and predetermined plot points that take place at designated locations, you are free to Take Your Time
, get Sidetracked by the Gold Saucer
, and generally go Dungeon Crawling
anywhere your current abilities allow (assuming it isn't blocked off by a Broken Bridge
At least, until you enter a Plot Tunnel: A tightly linear, Plot-driven
sequence where your usual ability to freely explore areas and perform Side Quests
is denied you in favor of whatever plot-dictated events shall unfold. There are No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom
within a Plot Tunnel; your only objective is to proceed straight ahead while the plot develops (and possibly twists
). You will be able to return to your usual, player-driven exploration routine only after you've exited out the other end, though things might not be quite what they used to be.
Can be considered a gentle form of Railroading
, in that the player has no choice except to Follow the Plotted Line
. When a Plot Tunnel occurs during the final act of a game, it becomes the Point of No Return
Note that since dungeons come in all shapes, sizes, and lengths, a general guideline for identifying a Plot Tunnel is that it should be at least two dungeons long, with no ability to access the Hub Level or use your Warp Whistle in the meantime.
- In Breath of Fire IV, near the end of the first chapter you set foot on the Evil Empire's homeland for the first time to search for your missing princess. Although you do have access to the Overworld Not to Scale, you have no Warp Whistle at this point, and the only location you may travel is a nearby town and waterway, which you use to sneak in to the Imperial base in search of the princess. This ends with the party being discovered, captured and deported as the game begins Chapter Two.
- Final Fantasy IV has so many tunnels it might as well be a submarine. Every time you get access to the Global Airship, continuing your quest throws you into one of these. These are the "surface" points:
- When you first get the airshipnote
- After Golbez gets the 4th crystalnote
- After you get out of the underworld the first timenote
- After Golbez gets all 8 crystals note
- The gate to the Land of the Espers serves as a Tunnel Entrance in Final Fantasy VI. You come out of the (plot) tunnel shortly before the major Point of No Return. The Opera House could also count as it locks Gau out of the Veldt until just before the aforementioned gate.
- The Northern Continent serves as one in Final Fantasy VII, though you still have a chance to slog your way back the long way until you start snowboarding.
- Final Fantasy X: Reaching the Macalania Temple counts as one. Seymour is outed as a villain (but really, who was fooled?note ), the party are marked as traitors for defending themselves, and after a mass-Party Scattering event that leaves you without Yuna, the declaration of war between the Al Bhed and the Guado, and the genocide of the former, things are looking pretty bleak. And then you enter into Bevelle to retrieve Yuna... Quite appropriately, you exit the other end of the tunnel at the point where the world is opened up a bit.
- Early on in Final Fantasy XII, Vahn sneaks into the Dalmascan palace through the Garamsythe Waterway. This leads to a series of events in which he meets up with sky pirate Balthier, the party is captured and imprisoned in Nalbina Fortress, escapes through the Barheim Passage and must head back to Rabanastre (the Hub Level) from the eastern desert.
- It's noteworthy that this game typically warns you if you're in the middle of a Plot Tunnel when saving, advising you to make a separate save file so as to avoid getting stuck.
- Final Fantasy XIII is rather infamous for putting the player through a Plot Tunnel that starts with the Prolonged Prologue (two chapters long) and ends by Opening the Sandbox... eight chapters after that. That's right, you spend ten chapters out of thirteen with No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom. The base was slightly broken about that, to say the least.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 contains a tunnel late in the game, when Noel and Serah are intercepted in the Void Beyond by Caius and trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine, locking them out of Historia Crux until they escape from their respective dreams. Thankfully, the game gives you ample warning beforehand.
- Final Fantasy XV has a habit of faking the player out with moments that appear to be point of no returns, but they're often just chapter-long plot tunnels that give you plenty of breathing room after they've concluded to grind, complete side quests, etc. The ability to return to the past makes this true even after the story's definitely progressed past a point of no return.
- Final Fantasy Tactics has a few of these every chapter starting with chapter 2. You will complete a battle, then automatically get a chance to save, even though normally after battle you go back to the world map. In these sections, another battle will immediately follow, with you only having time to change your team's loadout, but no chance to replenish items or anything. But woe be it to those who don't keep a back up save, as many of of the hardest fights in the game take place after these save points. Hope you kept a backup for the Wiegraf fight!
- There are a few sequences in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series where you must progress through multiple dungeons without access to the usual shops, the Hub Level, your mission list, or being allowed to recruit new team members.
- In the first installment (Red and Blue Rescue Team), at one point your party is Mis-blamed for the disasters plaguing the world and run out of town on a manhunt, leading to a sequence of five Dungeon Crawlers (including two Boss Battles) before the matter is resolved and you are allowed to return home.
- In the second installment (Explorers of Time and Darkness), the Guild makes an expedition to Fogbound Lake (a total of four dungeons and one Boss Battle). Later, an unexpected trip to the future turns the entire plot upside down across a sequence of four dungeons; even after returning to the present time, you must progress through an additional dungeon before you are allowed to return to the Guild and resume your usual routines.
- The entire latter half of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity ends up being this way, as once you return from the Great Glacier, you'll eventually be forced to go on an adventure to rescue Munna after a few days pass, and once you get back from that ordeal, are forced to begin your final adventure to save the world. You can, however, use the new Companion Mode to complete missions at your leisure in the middle of these adventures, though without the aid of your hero, partner, and whoever else is involved.
- The Horizon and the Collector Ship mission of Mass Effect 2 count, since both will block all exploration and side-quests after recruiting the fourth and the seventh squad member, respectively, until you complete them. In this case, the Plot Tunnel begins in the respective previous mission, though you don't know that on your first play-through.
- The Mass Effect 3 DLCs "Omega" and "Citadel" operate like this, as do the "Overlord" and "Arrival" DLCs for 2; each is comprised of several distinct levels, but once the player begins, they have to finish the rest of the DLC before returning to the Normandy.
- Suikoden V contains a variant of this. During certain plot events, some allies cannot be sought and recruited.
- Cave Story has a long sequence in the middle of the game, proceeding immediately from the Storehouse Boss Battle, taking you through the Labyrinth and Waterway and some major plot twists. There is very little room for exploration here, and the teleporters that would ordinarily return you to Player Headquarters are for the moment broken or only connecting with each other.
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has a lot of tunnels starting with Chapter 4:
- Halfway through Chapter 4, your name gets stolen and, without it, you can't use the pipe leading back to Rogueport.
- Chapter 5, you're shipwrecked on an island and don't get another boat until you've beaten the chapter.
- Chapter 6 is entirely spent aboard a moving train.
- Chapter 7 starts by blasting you off the moon, and you can't return to Rogueport until you find a teleporter in the villain's hideout.
- Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has Dreamy Mount Pajamaja. Before you enter, Bowser and Antasma use the Dreambearts to subdue the island's population... which then causes the dream portal back to the outside world to close the minute you enter. Got any sidequests you need doing? Tough luck, you can't get back out until you beat the dream version of Mount Pajamaja in a giant Luigi battle (after finding your way through a difficult maze of puzzle filled rooms and enemies of course). It's not all bad, an item shop does exist in this area in case you run out of supplies, but it's still a good hour or so of gameplay with no possible sidequests or exploration and no choice but to continue with the 'story'.
- Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story does this by presenting multiple points where Bowser is suddenly rendered unplayable, requiring the Bros to undertake an objective from the inside, which could last as little as the span of a minigame or as long as an entire dungeon.
- [PROTOTYPE] has a variation: After completing one boss fight, your combat-transformation abilities are disabled. You can still free-roam, and you're not exactly helpless, but the (massive) restriction of your freedom for the next handful of story missions tends to have players make their own Plot Tunnel to get their hammerfists back.
- Tales of Vesperia has this in the second act. Once the party boards Heracles, the player has to stick to the plot until Estelle is rescued from Alexei and Zaude arises. During this time, Ba'ul is put out of commission and the Fiertia damaged, leaving the player stuck on Ilyccia until the sequence is complete.
- Most of the DLC's to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, with the exception of Broken Steel, Point Lookout and Lonesome Road, lock you in until you complete their quest line.
- Point Lookout itself does this with the highly linear Calvert Mansion and Sacred Bog sequences. The former magically locks the doors behind you once you enter the west wing, preventing you from leaving until you finish the quest. The latter is on a separate world map from the rest of Point Lookout, which precludes fast-travel.
- Honest Hearts also disables fast-travelling for certain quests, including the finale, which also cancels all uncompleted sidequests.
- In Dead Money, you can't leave the Casino until your mission there is completed, but afterward, you can freely explore the Villa before returning to the Mojave Wasteland.
- Raven Rock from the former game also counts, as does the Project Purity battle if Broken Steel is installed, which is otherwise a normal Point of No Return.
- In Fallout 4's Cambridge Polymer Labs sidequest, you are Trapped in Containment until either you complete the pre-war scientists' unfinished Piezonucleic Power Armor experiment, or hack the Director's Master-locked terminal to override the lockdown.
- When you first teleport to the Institute, you're locked into a linear sequence until after completing "Institutionalized" and obtaining the Pip-Boy relay from Dr. Li, which allows you to teleport to and from it at will.
- Automatron has one in the Fort Hagen Hanger after you retrieve Jezebel, where the door you entered through locks and you have to take a constrained path that includes fighting Those Two Bosses and several strong Mecha-Mooks.
- In the first Golden Sun, it's impossible to go through Mogall Forest in reverse, so once you've left it the only way back to earlier areas is to pass through Lamakan Desert.
- Pokémon Red and Blue has one early on: After you leave Mt. Moon, there's a ledge with no ladders or stairs going back up. Once you jump down, you're effectively locked out of that area until you're able to enter the third Gym. The bad part is that, though there is a shop and Poke Center right after, you may have to rely on low-level Com Mons for leveling up to deal with Misty and Blue.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a few, though they tend to be short. One is the two-part Forsworn sidequest in Markarth, which involves you being incarcerated and all your gear confiscated for the duration, until you either help Madanach escape or kill him and escape on your own. Another is part of the Main Quest where you infiltrate the Thalmor embassy, cause some distractions, sneak past (or kill) some guards, recover some intelligence, and rescue some people before you can return to normal freeform gameplay. The Forgotten Vale from Dawnguard is also an example until you open all the waypoints.
- EarthBound has a mild example. Once you take the Runaway Five van to Threed, you cannot return to Twoson or Onett until you defeat Master Belch.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, almost all main plot missions are like this except the start of the Grey Warden arc, which takes place in the open world. Each of them takes place in a long, isolated area, and you cannot return to your base or explore the open world until you complete the mission.
- Ori and the Blind Forest, in addition to the Point of No Return at the Final Dungeon, has two mid-game plot tunnels; the Mobile Maze sequence in the Misty Woods, and from the second half of the Forlorn Ruins to the stealth-based escape from Kuro's Nest.
- Mega Man:
- After defeating the first set of Robot Masters in Mega Man 7, you're forced into a boss battle against Mash, a robot clown. You cannot revisit the previous stages or go to Auto's shop to gather E-Tanks during this time, and if you have trouble defeating him, well...
- Mega Man 8 sends you to Duo's stage after defeating the first four Robot Masters, and like 7, you cannot use the shop during this time.
- A particular frustrating example happens in Mega Man Legends. After opening the Main Gate in the Clozer Woods Sub-Gate, leaving the dungeon results in a long battle on board the Flutter against several enemies and then two bosses in a row. Making this extra aggravating is the fact you get no warning about this, and the fact that the Flutter has its own life meter; if it's shot down, it's an instant Game Over, and there's no way to heal it at all. It's very possible to not prepare and save, and since you're cut off from town and all side-quests until after the fight, this could very well result in an Unwinnable situation and force you to start the whole game over again (after about four or five hours in for an average player).
- In Mega Man Zero 4, after defeating four of the eight bosses, the human settlement becomes under attack and Neige is captured, and you're forced into two stages in a row, the first of which ends with a boss battle against Kraft. If you haven't been gathering Sub-Tanks, good luck.
- In Knights Of The Chalice, there are several dungeons in where you end up having your exit blocked when reaching a certain point, and the only way to proceed is by beating a specific encounter. It also usually won't allow you to rest when that happens, which means crafting items and conserving spells are almost requirements.
- Batman: Arkham Knight is fond of locking dungeon doors behind you until you complete the entire sequence within, but has a straight sequence following the Cloudburst firing, which strictly limits you to the rooftops, an abbreviated rerun of the airship dungeon, then the Batmobile, until the immediate crisis is resolved.
- Child of Light has one from when Aurora enters the Magic Mirror and is imprisoned in the Forgotten Tower, until after you defeat Cordelia/Crepusculum.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV, at the end of a major split and potentially a boss fight, Flynn, Jonathan, and Walter are all forced into two different dimensions back to back. You cannot return to the main setting until you beat the main boss of each world, avoid the bad ending, and clear another dungeon with four more bosses. If you do get the bad ending, it's a Point of No Return.