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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.

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


Examples:

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    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 stand alone stories, popular entries such as Spider-Girl gained their own series in time.

    Film 

    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.

    Video Games 
  • Deus Ex: The "Kill Bob Page/Join Illuminati" ending is the only one to Book End the opening scene.
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow has a branching storyline. Although there are many variables that dictate who shows up at the finale wedding, the choice of taking the "short path" or the "long path" is the most important. As the "long path" is happier, just about everyone (and the official novelization for that matter) chooses that as the "real" one. See the entry at Golden Ending.
  • 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.)
    • 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 it will make that mission a much richer experience. If Morinth survives said events of 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.
  • 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 followered after the events of Ending E, the ending most out of left field, and the one the fewest players would ever see.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rune Factory 3 basically picks Shara as the canon heroine, but Raven is a close second via Guilt-Based Gaming.

    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.