Maybe your character was The Cape, but fell on bad times. Maybe he was an Anti-Hero who made a mistake and went flying off the slippery slope. They could even be a Villain Protagonist or Anti-Villain who is interested in redemption, either because they've kept their standards, or because they've been in conflict with an even worse villain and shown hints that there might be some good left in them after all. Whatever the case may be, the character is in a bad place but wants to do better, and they are granted one final chance to do so, usually in the form of a grand, nearly impossible task. Maybe they're being asked to prevent The End of the World as We Know It, or to cure The Virus, or to stop the Evil Overlord. They may not be expected to live through this, but if they can pull it off no one can say that they haven't cleared their name, regained their honor, or insured an afterlife in good old Fluffy Cloud Heaven. (That said, you may wind up with a case of Redemption Earns Life instead.) Sometimes done in a quieter way as Character Development in a non-fantasy setting, where a character is looking to undo a past mistake or wrong to a love one that has haunted them or caused misery for people around them. Also known to happen in Sports Movies, where a character may see one last great year or performance as a redemption of their prior deeds or careers. A Sub-Trope of The Hero's Journey and Must Make Amends. Usually follows a Heel Realization, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero or someone saying What the Hell, Hero?. Naturally, a staple of The Atoner. An alternative to Redemption Equals Death. Often a result of Go and Sin No More. Contrast Redemption Failure.
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Anime And Manga
- Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin's quest to protect people and fight for justice without killing is his redemption for all the lives he previously took as an assassin. Both in the anime and manga (but particularly in the anime, especially filler episodes or arcs whose stories were changed), he encourages other warriors to try to make amends and work towards making a better world rather than commit Seppuku when they fall into similar situations.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- Edward Elric "I'm sorry, Al. This is all my fault. So I promise that no matter what, I'll get you your body back."
- Hohenheim, in a much longer timescale.
- Mustang, Hawkeye and Doctor Marcoh are doing it as well. Though from their point of view, they are past the point of redemption and can only make sure the next generation will not repeat their mistakes.
- Being a deconstruction of the Fighting Series Played for Laughs, Muteki Kanban Musume deconstructs this trope with Nishiyama Kankuro, who has come back from a local university to Hanami City to “stand up for himself” against Miki, his former bully who now is twenty and a Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up Man Child. Problem is, Kankuro is an Idiot Hero, and really wants to get Miki's respect, but Miki is incapable of respecting anyone weaker than her, and she is stronger than Kankuro: to beat her is truly an Impossible Task. Kankuro is trapped in a Cycle of Revenge. Here he explains why while we see a Photo Montage in a computer… complete with a delete trash can image:
Being made a fool by a girl younger than me, and the tormenting memory of being treated as a slave… If I don’t erase those images I’ll never be to leave this town and put it behind me, Nya.
- The whole point to the Gargoyles spin-off Bad Guys.
- Blue Devil in Shadowpact is assigned a Redemption Quest by the Catholic Church, to make up for selling his soul for fame in Underworld Unleashed - which led to the death of his friend Marla - and also to try and counter the Family-Unfriendly Aesop of a guy who sold his soul and subsequently gained demonic power being a high-profile superhero. It later turned out the Church couldn't do anything to help him... after he completed all the quests.
- Anti-Venom (Eddie Brock, the original Venom) is on one of these to destroy the Venom Symbiote; and find some peace from the psychotic remnants of Venom locked in his mind from their bonding.
- Incorruptible, the companion story of Irredeemable, has former supervillain Max Damage trying to be a superhero after The Plutonium, the Superman analogue, becomes a Fallen Hero.
- This is what the 3rd Loki was aiming for in Loki: Agent of Asgard, and because with Loki nothing is ever simple things got complicated. From misunderstanding how redemption works (no, just erasing the past without facing it won't do it), to fighting themselves (literally!).
Films — Animated
- Paranorman looks like a typical zombie invasion triggered by a witch's curse until it's revealed that the zombies recognize that they've done something horrible and are putting themselves through a great deal of pain in order to find someone who can help the "witch" they killed (really an innocent 11 year old girl) to move on.
Films — Live-Action
- A frequent theme in the Rocky movies. Apollo pursues a rematch with Rocky in the second movie so he can regain any respect he's lost from nearly losing to a bum, Rocky goes for a rematch with Clubber in Rocky 3 to erase the self doubts caused by the dramatic beating he got in their first fight, etc.
- The Replacements a Keanu Reeves comedy football movie, has this happening to Reeves' character Shane Falco. Falco had notoriously choked in the final game of his college career, and performed miserably in his little time as a pro, so this last chance at the game represents a chance for him to erase that image. At the same time, the film makes it clear that none of the replacement players, including Falco, became permanent professional players and went back to their original jobs (in one case, back to prison). This is despite the fact that they've accomplished what the original highly-paid "superstars" couldn't.
- Played with but Deconstructed in the end in The Wrestler, where what would normally be the subject of Randy "The Ram" Robinson's Redemption Quest in most other sports movies (namely, his big reunion bout with his old sparring nemesis "The Ayatollah") in fact isn't; his real Quest is to redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged daughter and to make a connection with the stripper with whom he has fallen in love. He ultimately fails at both, and his decision to go ahead with the bout even if his heart problems mean it'll kill him is ultimately a symbol of his failure in this; he wins the bout, but it's heavily implied that he dies in the process.
- The film The Fisher King has shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) helping the deranged Henry/Parry Sagan (Robin Williams) in getting a love interest and finding the Holy Grail, as a redemption for having inadvertently caused the death of Sagan's wife.
- The film The Verdict starring Paul Newman as a middle aged, alcoholic lawyer taking a big malpractice case against a rich hospital.
- The eponymous Mystery Team is out to regain the respect of their community.
- In By The Sword, Suba is trying to make right what he did wrong at the fencing school he used to go to, what with him killing his maestro in a duel to the death.
- Discussed in Tears of the Sun when the team decide Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right, and choose to save everyone they possibly can.
Zee: L.T., those Africans are my people too. For all the years that we were told to stand down and to stand by, you're doing the right thing.L.T.: For our sins.Both: Hooyah.
- The Color of Money is essentially about Eddie Felson's journey to redeem himself after the events of The Hustler and rediscover the unbridled joy of playing pool.
- In The Mission, mercenary and slaver Rodrigo Mendoza goes on one of these after he kills his own brother.
- In his Back Story, Dragonlance character Lord Soth was given a chance to redeem his soul after becoming a Fallen Hero. At first he leaps at the chance, but turns his back on preventing The End of the World as We Know It to confront his wife about accusations of infidelity.
- In The Kite Runner, Amir seeks to redeem his past actions towards Hassan by rescuing his friend's son.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel is Marguerite's quest to atone for unintentionally causing the execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr, one of the French aristocratic fugitives her husband Sir Percy has devoted his life to protecting.
- The Silver Chair: Aslan assigns Jill the task of finding the lost prince Rilian as her Redemption Quest for causing Eustace to fall off a cliff.
- Follows Lale's Heel Realization in The Assassins of Tamurin.
- Severus Snape spends most of the Harry Potter series atoning for causing Lily's death by protecting Harry from harm and working as a double agent for both the Death Eaters and the Order.
- Su Wukong (Monkey King) and the other bodyguards/traveling companions go along with the monk Tripitaka in Journey to the West to earn redemption for past misdeeds.
Live Action TV
- Brimstone: This is the entire premise of the show, where Fallen Hero Ezekiel Stone gets a second shot at life and a way out of Hell if he returns 113 souls that managed to escape.
- Lost's Michael has a redemption arc in season 4 after killing Ana and Libby in season 2. He manages to save Desmond, Aaron, Sun, and
maybeJin before dying in the season finale.
- Little House on the Prairie: What happens with the Olesons' two natural children – Nellie and Willie – in the later years of the series.
- Caroline's idea to save $250,000 to launch the cupcake business, the driving arc of 2 Broke Girls.
- Sam Winchester from Supernatural. After breaking the final seal which unleashed the apocalypse on Earth, Sam spends all of Season 5 by trying to fix the mess he created. Season 5 is often viewed as Sam's redemption by many viewers.
- Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. After becoming a blood-addicted Ripper who was controlled by Klaus for the first half of the third season, Stefan spends the other half of the third season trying to gain his free will back and turn on his humanity again. He tries to redeem himself for all of the immoral acts he committed during his Ripper phase by joining the fight in destroying Klaus.
- The Equalizer: A retired secret agent becomes a private investigator to help people who really need it. His past is never revealed, it's only hinted that he did a lot of amoral things.
- Basically the premise of My Name Is Earl: Earl did bad things, has a list of them, and is trying to make up for them.
- In the Doctor Who revival, it's suggested from his debut story "Deep Breath" onward that the Twelfth Doctor is trying to find ways to atone for the mistakes of his past incarnations. At the top of Series 9 (his second season) this trope is exaggerated when a new tragic mistake, a moment of weakness (though understandable), of his has cataclysmic consequences: When he realizes a trapped boy in a war zone is the future creator of the Daleks, the worst villains in the universe, he abandons him mid-rescue — possibly triggering the boy's descent into evil to begin with. When's he's called to face the person originally affected by this, the Doctor is ready to do so by way of facing the consequences and perhaps atoning for it, fully aware that it will probably be a case of Redemption Equals Death.
- Heracles had to do twelve of them after killing his family in a fit of madness.
- Susanowo must make amends after throwing a dead horse (amongst other squicktastic things) at his big sister's court. He brought back the legendary Kusanagi to her. It's not known how much of it was kicking arses and taking names, and how much of it was genuine remorse.
- Sgt Slaughter, following his (in)famous 1990-1991 Iraqi sympathizer heel gimmick that made him the most hated wrestler in the world - and it wasn't a stretch to say he was among the most hated men in the world in real life – he based his Heel-Face Turn on redeeming himself, first by saving Hacksaw Jim Duggan from a brutal 2-on-1 attack by his former cronies, The Iron Sheik and General Adnan.
- Jimmy Jacobs went on one to purge all evil from himself in 2011 and eventually took Steve Corino along for the ride. It failed because of the meddling of Kevin Steen.
- Sami Callihan claimed he would go on one to better himself after being suspended from EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA, following his attack on El Generico.
- Dungeons & Dragons Plothook #309: "The cleric tells you that before he will cast atonement on you, he wants you to do this for him, to prove your remorse is genuine..."
- This was a suggested method of restoring a character of an alignment-restricted class who broke his code, in earlier editions; the Player's Handbook specifically refers to fallen Rangers having to seek atonement through deeds.
- Paladins both play it straight and avert it: if one commits a Chaotic act, she loses her powers and must go on a Redemption Quest, but if she commits an Evil act in 1st or 2nd Edition, she loses her powers and no amount of redemption questing will ever bring them back. Third Edition made it possible to Atone (via Atonement, as noted above) for committing an Evil act, and toned down the restriction on Chaotic acts so that it only applies for severe breaches of the Paladin's Code or being enough to shift the Paladin away from Lawful Good (both also solvable via Atonement).
- This is a suggested plot thread for renegade Abyssal Exalts in Exalted. Redeeming the Abyssal Exaltation back into its original Solar form is explicitly possible- just very, very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that any PC who manages it will be, in the canonical setting, the first ever redeemed Abyssal.
- Vampire: The Masquerade had Golconda, a state where the vampire no longer has the impulse to kill people and only needs minimal blood to live eternally. The exact ways of achieving it have always been left up to the individual Game Master but the general recommendation was to make it an epic quest, throughout which the vampire in question has to feel remorse for her past sins and make amends as best as she can.
- A common plot in Warhammer 40,000 fluff is the "Penitent Crusade", undertaken by Space Marines who've majorly screwed up in one way or another. They typically involve recovering some lost relic of their Chapter and/or diving headfirst into someplace infested with Chaos/Xenos/something else nasty. These are typically started with the expectation of being a Suicide Mission, but Space Marines being Space Marines, they find a way to survive anyway, often as not.
- It initially appeared that this sort of redemption was what Athena and the other gods had in mind for Kratos from God of War, but it turns out that wasn't quite the case. They do forgive him. However, it was not forgiveness Kratos wanted, but to forget all the terrible things he had done. Gods do not grant him that. And that is why there are no more Greek myths.
- In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince strives to redeem himself by undoing the damage he inflicted upon the time-space continuum by releasing the Sands in the beginning of the game.
- In Amnesia: The Dark Descent: the plot of the game is about Daniel trying to kill Alexander to redeem himself for having killed lots of innocent people to keep himself safe from the shadow that haunts him.
- Mass Effect 2:
- Thane Krios has spent the last few years killing despicable, evil people in penance for the years he spent as an assassin for first the hanar and then private individuals and organisations. He is also dying of an incurable disease. When he learns of Shepard's mission to take down the Collectors, he signs up immediately, seeing as the best thing to do with what's left of his life.
- Subverted in Tali's loyalty mission. The Admiralty Board gives her (and Shepard, naturally) the task of reclaiming a quarian ship that has been overrun by geth. If she is killed, the Board promises to drop the charges against her. If she survives and succeeds, she still has to deal with the charges but the act will lend credence to her side. The subversion comes in where the admirals prematurely pronounce her as KIA and one of them suggests exiling her posthumously, anyway. This being a Role-Playing Game, the final decision is left up to Shepard's diplomatic skills.
- Although Cecil from Final Fantasy IV has his Heel Realization early on and, thus, has the "repair my past mistakes" part all throughout the first half of the game, it isn't until he's separated from all the allies he has made and ends up in the town he pillaged to start this whole war off that the "impossible task" aspect comes into play and he breaks out of Dark Powers Versus Evil.
- Red Dead Redemption. John Marston, former outlaw, is sent by Federal agents to hunt down and kill members of his former gang. It seems like a subversion at first because the Federal agents are actually forcing Martson to leave his peaceful retirement on a small farm by kidnapping his wife and son and threatening to jail or kill Marston for his life of crime, but through the game Martson talks about his desire to atone for all the violence he's committed and how much he hates having to keep killing people.
- And then ultimately subverted at the end when despite having completed the impossible mission, killed some eviler-than-thou baddies and earned his family's freedom, the Federal agents come to kill him anyway and the Playable Epilogue shows that Marston was remembered in the same breath as the villains he killed, as just another violent outlaw that the West is better without.
- Tarnum from the Heroes of Might and Magic series spends his entire story arc trying to atone for the terrible deeds in his first life that barred him from entering the Barbarian afterlife. He was cursed with immortality and spent a thousand years fighting evil. Tarnum finally achieves redemption in Heroes of Might and Magic IV by guiding the young Waerjak as he unites the remaining barbarian tribes without repeating Tarnum's mistakes. However, when he is offered admittance into the afterlife he desired, Tarnum chooses to stay with his people, having found a new reason to live.
- The first of the redemption tasks involves helping the soul of the man who killed him, the first Gryphonheart king. While Tarnum has reservations about this, he proceeds with the task, especially when he learns that the man's daughter, the current queen of Erathia, is Tarnum's own niece (yes, the entire Gryphonheart line is descended from Barbariansnote ).
- Ben from The Walking Dead begins to set out on a Redemption Quest at the end of Episode 4 after his repeated screw-ups put the group in danger. But then he goes and falls off a balcony while attempting to escape walkers with the group, and is mercy-killed by Kenny. He never gets the chance to.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni This is pretty much what Kinzo's life turned into after him raping his daughter, her giving birth to Yasu and Yasu being thrown off the cliff by Natsuhi. He desperately wants to be able to say he's sorry and give Yasu his/her grandmother's gold. In an example of Redemption Equals Death, the moment Yasu manages to solve the riddle and Kinzo can say he's sorry, he dies.
Genji: "...After some sad incidents, Master's life... was completely reduced to atonement."
- Deconstructed in Spec Ops: The Line, one of the reasons Walker keep pushing to find Konrad and save the people of Dubai is he subconsciously views his mission as one of these, desperate to make up for the white phosphorus incident. However, his drive to be a hero just ends up making things so much worse. By the end, it's entirely possible that everyone in Dubai, including Walker himself, is dead because of his need to prove to himself that he's a hero.
- Tales of Destiny 2: Judas is on one of these for having betrayed his friends and family in the previous game to save someone he cared about.
- Villainous and thus inverted example: the driving force behind all Dimension of Pain stories in Sluggy Freelance is Lord Horribus seeking redemption for letting Torg escape, by hauling Torg's soul back to the demons' dimension for eternal torment. The "redemption" theme is mentioned explicitly in "That Which Redeems", which also features another similarly inverted example bordering on deconstruction in the form of a story (which presented as an analogy to Horribus) of a man who came to a Heel Realization about his terrible deeds, turned to a local notion of God to seek redemption, and went on a crusade in God's name to commit even more terrible deeds. "That which redeems consumes."
- Similar to the Avatar example, in TwoKinds, Keith is sent into exile for killing his father (though this was more to keep the father's good name intact by avoiding a trial) and the only way he could return was to bring back the human Grand Templar with him (which was supposed to be an Impossible Task). He succeeds, though mostly by accident (he'd long since befriended Trace when the group discovered he was the missing Grand Templar)
- Subverted by Miko in The Order of the Stick. After she falls from paladinhood because she killed Shojo she thinks that she can be redeemed by doing what the gods want of her. The problem, as it is explained by Soon's ghost before she dies, that she never actually atoned for her wrongdoings or considered that she'd done the wrong thing.
- Initially inverted on Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Prince Zuko's Evil Overlord father banished him for not being evil enough, with a hopeless Redemption Quest being Zuko's only means of ending that banishment. Zuko's true redemption quest then comes when he realizes how worthless the redemption his father offered is and instead pulls a Heel-Face Turn in season 3. Also, Aang and Sokka set out to redeem themselves for (different) failings in the third season. Keep an eye out for the telltale (shared) line, "I have to restore my honor."