Story Branch Favoritism

In a story that allows for some degree of Story Branching, a character is presented with a clear number of choices each with their own viable outcomes. However, one of these options sometimes appears to be substantially more developed than the others or appears to coincide better with the plot as a whole, as if the author wanted the players to follow this path and added all others as mere diversions. This is an example of Story Branch Favoritism on the developer's part, where a particular branch of the story features more content or is better developed than others—but does not render any of the other branches as non-canon.

One common variation is the Golden Ending, which is considered the best overall ending a player can achieve from the creators' perspective. Alternatively, some games employ Relationship Values to let the Player Character pair off with any of the cast member they choose, but one particular Love Interest seems unfairly promoted over others.

Cutting Off the Branches is a Sister Trope, which can be an ultimate expression of Story Branch Favoritism, wherein the author outright removes the unfavored branches from later continuity. Related tropes also include Railroading and Follow the Plotted Line, where the writer forces a character to follow a specific path regardless to what other options are available. A Golden Path can be one of the most noticeable consequences of this trope. When this trope is applied to a Romance Sidequest, that's one way of getting a Designated Love Interest.

Not to be confused with But Thou Must scenario, where only one option is viable. Does not apply to Fan Work for obvious reasons.


Video game examples:

    open/close all folders 

    RPG — Eastern 
  • In Persona 3 and, to a much lesser degree, Persona 4 certain characters will show romantic interest in the protagonist during the story, contrary to the rest of the cast, who only will only show a romantic interest in the PC during their Social Links and in specific in-game events.
  • Drakengard plays with this concept a bit. On the one hand, Ending A is the least "bad" of the endings, and is what the players gets after a single playthrough. It's also the canonical ending that led into Drakengard 2. On the other hand, Ending B answers more questions, ties up more loose ends, and generally fits better with the overall tragic and dark nature of the game. Leads some to speculate that Ending B was the original Ending A before Square-Enix forced the change to something safer. On still another hand, the game's lead designer Taro Yoko had nothing to do with Drakengard 2's development; when he finally returned to the series with NieR, it followed after the events of Ending E, the ending most out of left field, and the one the fewest players would ever see.
  • Where themes of Law vs Chaos are concerned, the Neutral endings in Shin Megami Tensei where humanity takes a stand and does not commit to a specific faction, are considered to be the best endings from the creator perspective. To say the least the alternative endings are not that desirable...
  • Fire Emblem series:
    • In Fire Emblem Awakening, the main character Chrom is the only character forced to get married to progress the game, and the only one with a restricted set of possible lovers. He has to choose between Sumia note , Sully, Maribelle, Olivia or a female Avatar note . However, the game makes it very clear through the game that the most likely canon wife is either Sumia note  or the Female Avatar note , but be careful when discussing which is more the case, though. And then the Awakening CD Dramas kinda changed things, because if you consider them canon... then Chrom most likely married the Village Maiden aka the girl he can only marry and father Lucina with if he has next to none love points with ANY of his five playable brides. Meaning, it's very likely that neither Sumia nor the Female Avatar is the actual "canon wife".
    • In Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, the some relationships (in form of in-battle conversations called Supports) develop faster than others, making this trope a gameplay mechanic. For example, Eliwood can reach his first support with Hector in a mere six turns, while most of the others require twenty or thirty turns. Storywise, the game leans towards Eliwood pairing up with Ninian (and their supports are the fastest among Eliwood's own love interests) and Hector pairing up with Lyndis (they have several scenes unlockable only in Hector Mode).
    • Fire Emblem Fates has two main routes, one where the player sides with the peace-loving and colorful Japanese-inspired Hoshido and the other where they side with the ambitious and dark European-inspired Nohr. The description of the two cultures alone led to some fans accusing Nintendo of Cultural Posturing on the part of the Japanese. Post-release, the general consensus is that the Nohr campaign, Conquest, considered inferior in both story and general characterization to Birthright campaign and the Invisible Kingdom DLC campaign, and enforces a gloomy tone where the Avatar is tortured by his own conscience and the machinations of the villains for most of the story, only really leading any kind of positive revolution at the very end.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, the ending where your party ends up with Kratos is noticeably less developed than the ending with Zelos. Several sidequests are dependent on Zelos' presence in order to be completed, but there are almost none that are exclusive to Kratos. Kratos also has only a single alternate costume while Zelos has several. Additionally, picking Kratos will also automatically set Lloyd's soul mate as Colette regardless of what his Relationship Values are at, basically forcing you to pick Zelos if you want Lloyd to end up with anyone else. The sequel, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, outright made the ending with Kratos non-canon by revealing that Zelos is still alive.
  • Chrono Cross's story branches at two points — you can pick one of three options for a guide to Viper Manor, and you can declare that of course you'll save Kid from Lynx's poison or else confess that you don't know how.
    • In the first case, Nikki's route through the Shadow Forest is the longest and most developed, including an entire dungeon (including boss battle with Zoah, who you won't meet until later otherwise). Guile's route has a brief climb up Viper Manor's seaside cliffs, while Pierre's route consists entirely of a boss battle and nothing else.
    • The second case is more complicated. Announcing that you'll handle the problem leads to a dungeon that you don't get to play otherwise, but saying you're not sure allows you to recruit a highly plot-relevant character.
  • Halfway through Dragon Quest V, you have to choose one of two girls to marry: Nera or Bianca. But if you choose Nera over Bianca, the game severely guilt-trips you; Bianca lives her life cold and alone, Nera's other love interest Crispin is very heartbroken, and statistically speaking Bianca's a much better party member than Nera. The DS remake evens things out considerably, letting everyone live happy lives no matter who you choose and adding Nera's older sister Debora as another possible suitor, but Bianca is still the favored bride. Just look at the promotional art. It's all Bianca or Bianca's children. (blonde)
  • Rune Factory 3 basically picks Shara as the canon heroine, but Raven is a close second via Guilt-Based Gaming.

    RPG — Western 
  • Deus Ex: The "Kill Bob Page/Join Illuminati" ending is the only one to Book End the opening scene. However, the sequel subverts that, making it clear that JC chose the "Merge with Helios" ending (with things not going quite as planned).
  • Mass Effect:
    • Shepard is often portrayed in the default Soldier class, which by the game's own lore makes the most sense in explaining their prowess in combat. This is particularly true in the first game where it is hard to justify how Shepard can match an asari in biotic power or a quarian engineer in tech skills.
    • Liara T'Soni is the only Love Interest who can be romanced in all three games, by both genders, and cannot die under any circumstances except for low-EMS ending of the final installment.
    • It makes much more sense story-wise to complete Noveria last since Virmire is added as an emergency mission after completing two storyline missions, also the piece of intel gathered in Noveria ( the location of the Mu relay) would narrow down tremendously the location of the Conduit (this can be handwaved by saying that the Mu relay transports to many systems, but it is clear that with a little extra research they would have been able to deduce the location eventually.)
    • The angry, accusatory attitude of the Virmire Survivor towards Shepard on Horizon in Mass Effect 2 makes much more sense coming from Ashley (the pessimist who doubts first before she even gives anything a chance) than it does Kaidan (the optimist who trusts first and doubts later).
    • In Mass Effect 2, during Samara's loyalty mission, you can choose to kill Samara and recruit her target Morinth if you want to and Morinth will be a loyal squad mate for the rest of the game. The favoritism doesn't show up until Mass Effect 3. If Samara survives her loyalty mission and the suicide mission, then in ME3 she will show up when you do the Ardat-Yakshi Monastery mission and will make it a much more meaningful experience. If Morinth survives said events in ME2, all you get is an email from her at the beginning of ME3, and then during the final mission, you fight her as a Banshee, kill her, and move on.
    • The early Freedom's Progress mission in Mass Effect 2 has the player choose between turning Veetor over to either Cerberus or Tali. If you choose Tali, Veetor shows up at Tali's loyalty mission later to help the two of you out. If you choose Cerberus, the Veetor subplot basically ends right there; Shepard loses much rapport with his/her longtime partner Tali, and over nothing, since Veetor's interrogation at the hands of Cerberus fails to turn up any useful information.
    • One of the selling points of the second game was that, in the ending suicide mission, anyone in your squad was able to die, ranging all over the spectrum from almost everyone dying to everyone surviving. However, keeping squad members alive near-universally results in better outcomes in the third game. Living squad members enhance the story a bit, keep minor characters in sidequests alive, and sometimes open up otherwise-impossible third options. In particular, it's impossible to make peace between the geth and the quarians if either Tali or Legion dies in the suicide mission.
  • The Witcher splits into three distinct paths mid-game, one for the Order and the Scoia'tael and a neutral one. The latter features more content and is actually harder to unlock. This is justified by the eponymous Witchers' code, which forbids them from taking sides in conflicts—so the neutral path makes the most sense in-story.
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings splits into two paths that depend on who Geralt allies with for the rest of the game: Vernon Roche and the Blue Stripes, or Iorveth and the Scoia'tael. While both have the same amount of content, the latter goes into greater detail on things that tie into the Kingslayer plot, including the dragon, the Lodge of Sorceresses, and Philippa Eilhart. Roche's path leaves the player in the dark on these matters.
  • Fallout:
    • The Tenpenny Tower quest in Fallout 3, which concerns a conflict between the sadistic Ghoul Roy Philips and the Ghoul-hating residents of the eponymous Tenpenny Tower. While all the player's possible options are equally developed, the game still has a fairly obvious preference for one in particular and even violates its own rules to encourage it. Convincing the humans to let Philips move in nets the player positive karma and the privilege of watching all the humans get slaughtered by Philips a few days later over a "misunderstanding", something that shouldn't have been too surprising in light of what kind of a character Philips is. But even if the player sees this unfortunate result coming, you still get screwed since killing Philips, unlike with every other evil character in the game, gives you negative karma, sort of a not-so-subtle way to nudge the player towards the diplomatic option in order to enforce an Aesop.
    • Fallout: New Vegas allows for four Faction-Specific Endings: either Caesar's Legion, Mr. House, the NRC or the Courier him/herself will dominate the Mojave in the aftermath of the game. Unfortunately for a player interested in being openly anti-NCR and/or pro-Legion, however, there are a ton of NCR quests and locations and only a small handful of Legion equivalents. You can play as someone explicitly opposed to the NCR, but the cost is that a very large portion of the game's content will be closed to you.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind shows preference towards the Dark Elf race. It delves deep into their culture, allows the player to join factions that typically only make sense for a Dunmer to be a part of (such as the Tribunal Temple), and even includes more faces than the other racial options. The story also has the player effectively assuming the role as the reincarnation of an ancient Chimer hero, and while it's deliberately left ambiguous how true that is, it would certainly make the most sense for it to be a Dark Elf.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim lets you play as one of ten different races. However, because it explores Nordic culture, gives the Player Character the power of the Thu'um, which lorewise has always been associated with the Nords, and depicted the Dragonborn as a burly Nord warrior on all the promotional material, there's no mistake as to which race the game is kind of expecting you to play as. Furthermore, some races, like the Argonians and Khajiit, are subjected to Fantastic Racism and not allowed into some cities, but no such restriction is ever placed on the player.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines has multiple endings: you can side with the Anarchs, the Camarilla, Lacroix, Ming Xiao, or go independent and blow all of them off. Siding with either Lacroix or Ming Xiao nets you little more than two different Non-Standard Game Overs . Siding with the Camarilla is available, but since your main contacts with the Camarilla consist of Lacroix (who is actively trying to get you killed) and Strauss (who is pleasant enough, but doesn't do very much in the game and comes across as a bit condescending), the justifications for doing so aren't particularly strong. The Anarchs, by contrast, save your life repeatedly and allow you an abundance of opportunities for helpful interaction, beginning with Smiling Jack guiding you through the tutorial. Finally, only the Anarch and Independent endings allow you to properly savor Lacroix's Laser-Guided Karma when he opens the sacrophagus. It isn't difficult to decipher which faction the developers were expecting most people to side with.
  • Dragon Age: Origins attempts to avert this trope by connecting each of the origin stories to the main quest in some fashion, but some are still more preferred than others. Of note is the Human Noble, who loses their entire family to The Dragon, is the only protagonist who can possibly become king or queen of Ferelden, and is also the only character that's given any kind of portrayal in the game's promotional material. In a possible effort to make up for the Dalish Elf's lackluster treatment, Dragon Age II includes a pre-made world state where they are the Warden (alongside a state with the Dwarf Noble and one with, you guessed it, the Human Noble), brings back their specific clan, and even makes an Ascended Extra out of its Guest Star Party Member. Dragon Age: Inquisition, in turn, comes with just one default world state starring the Dalish Elf Warden.
    • Played straight with the Landsmeet. While Alistair's fate is determined by player choices there, post-Origins he's portrayed as the sole ruler of Ferelden in supplemental materials, and King Alistair gets more content in his Dragon Age II cameo than either Warden Alistair or Drunk!Alistair. By contrast, if Anora remained queen at the Landsmeet (either on her own or married to him), she was Put on a Bus in the sequel (along with Loghain if he survived Origins), and wasn't seen again until a very small cameo in Inquisition. That game zig zags it though: King Alistair only makes the same very small cameo (though he's also referenced more in codex entries and incidental NPC chatter than Anora), while Warden Alistair has a substantial role in one of the main plot lines. It comes at the cost of the player having to choose between saving him and their Dragon Age II PC in the Fade.

    Other Genres 
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow has a "short path" and a "long path", in which more people are helped and will show up at the wedding. This is the path chosen by the official Novelization. See the entry at Golden Ending. Regardless of the path chosen, you have a secret conversation with Princess Cassima, locked in her room. In the "short path," the conversation is held from outside her door. In the "long path," it's held from within the walls themselves.
  • Shadow the Hedgehog plays this trope straight, where although the game features up to 11 different endings ranging from Evil to Neutral to Good; only the hidden Neutral ending against the obvious Big Bad is considered to be the games Golden Ending from the creator standpoint.
  • Happened in Wing Commander 4 via over-promising in the advertising. Supposedly players would be allowed to choose whether to stay loyal to the Terran Confederation or jump ship and ally themselves with the Border Worlds. In practice, attempting to stick with Confed past a certain point would spawn a never-ending supply of Border World bombers, and a insultingly short ending sequence once they inevitably killed you.

Non-video game examples

    Comic Books 
  • Played with in Marvel Comics' What If? series, where writers were able to print several stories based on Alternate Histories of the established canon. Although most of these were standalone stories, popular entries such as Spider-Girl gained their own series in time.

    Film 
  • In the gimmick film Mr. Sardonicus just before the end, producer William Castle appears and asks the audience to hold up cards so as to vote for whether Sardonicus lives or dies... but Castle only filmed one ending, assuming (correctly) that the audience would always choose death.
  • The C Ending for Clue was the original ending, and features the most flashbacks (and makes the most sense). On home video and television, when all the endings are shown, this one is given a title card that says it's what really happened.

    Literature 
  • Choose Your Own Adventure novels can become this depending on the writer and what scenes they prefer to write.
  • To Be or Not to Be: A choose your own adventure of Hamlet, allows you to chose the storyline of several characters, and King Hamlet the elder has an exceptionally short storyline, which can be read in full on all branches in less than an hour.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Inevitable in most Role Playing Games where the GM will attempt to steer the party towards the story branch they want the game to follow, regardless as to how the party may have handled earlier encounters. If done particularly blatantly, badly or both, we call this Railroading.

     Visual Novels 
  • CLANNAD favors Tomoya's and Nagisa's route, which is carried over into the anime series. A couple of pairings with Tomoyo and Kyou did make it into OVA episodes.
  • In White Album 2, while Maruto (the scenario writer) and Leaf are quiet at what the "canon" plot is supposed to be, players of the games seem to favor the timeline that leads from Setsuna's route in Concluding Chapter, to Kazusa's True End in Coda. Not only due to the incredibly cathartic nature of the latter, but because it's counterpart was just too perfect and involved Haruki being reduced to a supporting role.