So Near Yet So Far

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That's right, Link! Your princess IS in this castle! ...For all the good THAT does.

The final goal of the game/plot happens to be Where It All Began, but nothing can be done about it.

Usually, when a Damsel in Distress needs to be rescued, half the adventure is figuring out where she is, and then getting there. But in this case, you already know where she is—in fact, you saw her five minutes ago. Unfortunately, she's anything but "rescued".

In this trope, the hero needs something or someone else to truly save the day. If their job is to save a person, they're not so much kidnapped as they are bound, bewitched, enchanted, enfeebled, cursed, polymorphed or in other dire straits. If the task is to defeat a person, they can be challenged at any time—at the challenger's own risk. But other than that, same rules apply—The Hero needs to go on an adventure to finish things.

Often, when this occurs, the distressed person may double as Mission Control or otherwise assist the hero that's trying to save them. The antagonist, if they're feeling cheeky, can pull this role also under the justification of I Need You Stronger or Can't Kill You, Still Need You. This has the benefit of giving the protagonist the ability to interact and speak with the these characters and let the audience grow on them. In games, it sometimes provides a cozy hub to return to while acting as a constant reminder to the player what's at stake. At the other extreme, if the villainous Mission Control is not actually helping the player, you've got Mission Control Is Off Its Meds.

Contrast Your Princess Is in Another Castle for the damsel version and Orcus on His Throne for the villain version. Sometimes the result of a Broken Bridge.

Examples

Film
  • Heavy Metal episode "Den". Den knows where Katherine Wells is - she's sleeping inside a glass case in Ard's palace. Unfortunately, Ard will only allow her to wake after Den has stolen the Loc-Nar from the Queen and returned it to him. Things don't turn out quite as planned.

Literature
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Ojo the Unlucky has several problems. First, his uncle Nunkie and another person have been turned to stone by the Liquid of Petrifaction, so he must quest through the land of Oz to find the ingredients for an antidote. Second, one of the ingredients for the potion is a six-leafed clover, and it's illegal to pick them. Third, it's illegal to practice magic (like using magical antidotes to restore people to life) in the land of Oz.
  • Right at the start of The Elenium, Sparhawk is taken to Queen Ehlana in her throneroom... except that she is dying from a mysterious disease, and has been placed in suspended animation in a magical crystal casing to postpone her death. Most of the rest of the trilogy is about the quest of Sparhawk and his friends to find a cure before a usurper can accede her throne.

Videogames
  • Sometimes used in The Legend of Zelda games.
    • While the entrance to the final dungeon in The Legend of Zelda I can be tough to find without looking carefully for it, you can enter the dungeon from very early in the game. But you can't make it more than a few rooms unless you have found all the Triforce shards.
    • In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the sleeping Princess Zelda is the first thing you see when you start the game. Every time you run out of lives and continue, you start back at the same palace where she's been sleeping for hundreds of years. This is a stark contrast to the original game, where all of the characters named in the backstory were unseen and mysterious until the very last fight of the game.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, after beating the Disc-One Final Boss, Link is transported to the Dark World atop a large pyramid, with the landscape of the Dark World visible in the horizon. This trope is doubled because not only does the view of the Dark World show you Ganon's Castle, where the Big Bad resides, but the pyramid Link is standing on actually contains the Triforce, which is the true goal of the entire game!
    • In The Wind Waker, Link's sister is in the first dungeon you visit, which is easy enough to traverse—but the Big Bad's dragó er, giant bird, prevents her rescue because Link isn't strong enough. You have to attain the Master Sword before she's finally rescued.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Zelda is turned to stone in the opening portion of the game and subsequently kept right next to her father's throne, itself in Hyrule Castle that you first visit early on, while Link goes on his quest to free her.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Zelda being trapped in a room next to the playable area for a part of the game.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild plays with this. Hyrule Castle, where Zelda is trapped and Calamity Ganon is sealed, is one of the first things the player sees upon getting out into the main game world, and it's also one of the closest landmarks relative to that starting position. But once you complete the introductory Great Plateau sequence, you can in fact run straight to the castle and fight the Final Boss without doing any other story quests if you want. Granted, not only will this be an absurdly difficult thing to do, you will also miss out on all the plot explaining who Link is, what his relationship with Zelda was like, who the Champions were, etc. And you'll also miss the Golden Ending.
  • A recurring element in the Metroid series. The first game (and its remake), Super Metroid, and Metroid Prime all have the entrance to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon very close to where you first land in the Hub Level, but you can't pass the threshold until you beat the main bosses and/or collect every Plot Coupon (though clever use of Good Bad Bugs in the first game can enable some Sequence Breaking to let you jump to the entrance of Tourian).
  • In Pandora's Tower, the protagonist's girlfriend, Elena, is turning into a beast from the very beginning, prompting the hero to go on a quest to save her. The game revolves around building an affectionate relationship with Elena as much as it does adventuring.
  • In Shadow of the Colossus, Mono is dead as the game begins, and Wander's deal with the deity Darmin is that it will resurrect her in exchange for Wander destroying each of the Colossi. You return to the central temple where she rests every time you defeat one.
  • Princess Gwaelin of Dragon Quest I is in the Marsh Cave that you enter early on in the game. The reason you can't rescue her the first time you enter is because one, you do not have a key, which is required to open up the door to her cell; and two, there's a dragon guarding said door that you won't be able to beat at your current level and equipment.
  • In Zeliard, Princess Felicia la Felishika is turned to stone by the villain, and she's being kept in a shrine in the first town where you can visit her whenever you like. There's no dialogue and, while you can go back to the first town at any point if you want to, there's no reason to ever go to her. She's saved remotely by defeating the final boss at a town very far away.
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited is all about saving your sister from a curse of petrification. She's at your home the whole time, waiting patiently for you to collect enough Starites to break the spell. (Not that she has much choice.)
  • In Chrono Trigger, you can defeat Lavos at any time after you visit the End of Time (roughly a quarter through the main story). But, until you get through the plot proper, expect to get curbstomped. In a New Game+, this is taken Up to Eleven: you can fight Lavos from the very start, and defeating him at different points in the story gives you the various Multiple Endings.
  • Can happen in Pitfall 2. You only need to pick up three things to finish the game: Quickclaw, Rhonda, and the diamond ring. The game automatically ends when you pick up the last one of these. Where's Quickclaw? Right below your starting position.
  • Subverted in Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Breach, closing which is set up as your main objective for the game in its opening sequence, is a short walk away from Haven, where you set up your Player Headquarters. In fact, you can see the Breach from pretty much anywhere in the village, but you have to secure an alliance with either the mages or the Templars before you can actually seal it for good. The subversion comes from the fact that despite being set up as the ultimate goal, closing the Breach turns out to be just the start of a much larger, game-spanning conflict.
  • Dead Space: There's a unique example that isn't plot sensitive, but is still a game-spanning objective. The game is littered with enigmatic advertisements for something called Peng and an award in the Achievement System exists for finding it. It happens to be a tiny golden statue of a woman sitting in a trench in the very first area of the game but Isaac won't be able to get ahold of it until returning there near the end of the game, using the Kinesis Module he didn't have earlier. It has no purpose but is sellable for a large sum.
  • Final Fantasy X: Defeating Sin is the entire goal of the game, and if it were possible at the beginning of the game, your party would do it with no hesitation. Instead, though, they must go on a Pilgrimage for the Final Aeon, the only thing that can defeat Sin. Then it turns out that they, themselves are potentially the Final Aeon. The point of the Pilgrimage was to create powerful emotional bonds that will allow the chosen sacrifice to become an exceptionally powerful Aeon upon their death. It also turns out that defeating Sin in this method doesn't really solve anything, so our heroes reject it and search for another means.
  • The Myst franchise does this in most of its games, to the point of it practically being a running gag. In the first game, the White Page which forms your final objective is actually only feet from the starting point; it's just hidden in a place you won't find until MUCH later in the game. In Riven: The Sequel to Myst, you spawn right next to the telescope necessary to open the Star Fissure; however, you have no idea that it's important and you can't find the code to open it until a later point (and getting the good ending requires even more work). The third game, Myst III: Exile, has the Releeshahn book on a pedestal right in front of you in the opening scenes, but it quickly gets stolen and you don't get it back until the final level. Myst IV: Revelation is the only exception, since the ending takes place on a different Age; however, the final cutscene is set in Tomanha, where the game started. And finally, Myst V: End of Ages has the object of the game, The Tablet, appear in front of you near the start of the game; however, unlocking it and deciding what to do with it is the entire purpose of the game.
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