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Plot Tunnel
Most RPGs 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 within an RPG 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.


Examples

  • Baldur's Gate 2 has a fairly long one once you Get on the Boat. There's a town with some Side Quests, a fairly long dungeon that ends with a Final Boss Preview, optionally a Monster Town, a trip to the Underdark which has two more towns, three more dungeons and several more side quests before you finally return to the surface and can access all other places again. Most of the Underdark section can actually be skipped if you know where to go, but the game doesn't tell you this. The whole sequence covers two of the seven chapters of the story.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There are a few sequences in the Pokemon 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; 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 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.
  • Pokemon 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.

PlunderRole-Playing GamePoint of No Return
Loads and Loads of SidequestsInteractive Storytelling TropesSidequest Sidestory

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