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In many genres, we expect the story to be told from a specific Point of View, with a certain character role that is expected to be The Protagonist. Some writers like to mix it up and chose someone that does not have the central role in the story and tell the story from their perspective. This is the Supporting Protagonist: someone who would normally be a secondary character by conventions of the genre is the main character. When done correctly, this provides a Point of View other than what's typical. When done wrong, it could easily lead to the character becoming The Load.
In many cases, this means choosing someone other than The Hero to be the protagonist. For instance, the story follows the Big Good as they watch The Hero on their adventure. In this case they are also the Supporting Leader. In another case the story could follow the Side Kick as they support the hero. The third case is Supporting Protagonist beingThe Hero, but notThe Chosen One. It can also be that we follow this protagonist for much of the story, but the one who gets to resolve the in-story conflict is not him/her.
In a mystery, it means choosing someone other than the detective. In a Romance Novel, it means choosing someone other than the female lead. In Historical Fiction, it means choosing someone other than the important historical figure.
It's common in Japanese works with a supernatural touch (Light Novels, Fish out of Water scenarios, etc.) in order to have somebody to spout exposition to. In Real-Time Strategy games, this usually happens in conjunction with Non-Entity General.
A sister trope to A Day in the Limelight, where just part of the story doesn't center around the expected protagonist, and First-Person Peripheral Narrator, in which the character is not the protagonist at all, but is the narrator of the story.
Compare Deuteragonist and Hero of Another Story. Contrast with Hero Protagonist and Decoy Protagonist (the character who appears at first to be The Protagonist but is not).
Athrun Zala fills this role in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, being The Mentor to Decoy Protagonist Shinn, and following the midseason perspective switch, foil to Kira. The story's told from his point of view for most of the series—and even more so in the compilation movies—and its his interactions with the other two that define the show.
Saji Crossroad, during the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00. The heroes are, of course, Celestial Being. Saji also pilots the support machine for the eponymous mobile suit which acts as the catalyst.
Saito from Zero no Tsukaima is the "Familiar of Zero" in the title. Zero herself is the one directing the story.
The first season of Tower of God is the story of 25th Baam. The second season is the story of Ja Wangnan, who meets the newBaam five years later.
Simon takes this role in the first third of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, up until Kamina dies. In this case, however, it's not a viewpoint shift, but the viewpoint character becoming the protagonist as he comes into his own.
A variation in Soul Eater. Despite being the eponymous character, Soul is The Lancer, and the story's protagonist role is taken up mostly by Maka. Then we have Black Star, who thinks he's the Hero because he's a loud-mouthed egomaniac but on Maka's team he's more likely to fill The Big Guy role and yet he has such textbookshounen traits when he rescues Kid from the Book of Eibon.
The Power Trio of Arika, Nina and Erstin aren't the real protagonists of the Mai-Otome manga - it's Mashiro's twin brother.
In Rainbow, Mario is the main character despite Sakuragi being The Hero and Big Good. One could also say that Sakuragi is the main character at first until he dies, and the role then goes to Mario.
In Ergo Proxy, Re-l Mayer is the protagonist for the first two episodes, after which the story will shift back and forth between her and Vincent Law, The Heroand eponymous character.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: While the series was running, Gen Urobuchi outright stated that, while the series has her name in the title, Madoka is actually meant to be a supporting character, and the true protagonist is Sayaka. This is not entirely true. While Sayaka is the most traditionally heroic character, Madoka remains the primary viewpoint for the majority of the series. Once the series was over he admitted that in reality Homura is more accurately the real protagonist.
In Texhnolyze, while the story is focused on Ichise, Onishi and Shinji have greater impact on the story.
Nanoha from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is one of these, when you think about it. All four of the seasons so far have been focused on the characters she's affecting herself - Fate in the first season, the Wolkenritter/Hayate in A's, the Forwards and Vivio in StrikerS and Tohma and Lili in Force - leaving her development somewhat more subdued. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vi Vid has her almost exclusively in the mentor role.
Sakuragi from Slam Dunk. He is definitely the main character of the story, with his development becoming more and more important to the plot. However, Rukawa and Akagi fit the hero mold better, as the Team Ace and Captain respectively. They are often the ones who carry the team.
Jun from Rozen Maiden is this to Shinku; he's the master of Shinku (though she treats him like a servant), Hinaichigo (indirectly) and Suiseiseki and in the manga, eventually Souseiseki as well, but he himself is a Non-Action Guy most of the time, though he can provide useful support from the sidelines. Justified, since he's a human child and an unathletic hikikomori, and both the heroes and the antagonists are superpowered dolls.
Koyomi Araragi from Bakemonogatari is the main character and plays a key role in the arcs, but it's often the girls themselves who are the focus and have to solve the problems themselves in the end.
Zenkichi from Medaka Box. He's the primary viewpoint character and male lead, but it's Medaka who acts as The Hero, and converts previous antagonists to allies. He becomes more and more important to the plot, and is also her Morality Chain. The Big Bad of a later arc even lampshades this, stating that he's the type that that's always supporting someone else, never the main focus.
Lucy of Fairy Tail. Of the main cast members, Natsu is definitely The Hero: he's got thepersonality, is the most likely to take action, and is the one most likely to fight the main villain of the arc (the exception are either when another character has a closer association with the villain, or Natsu is so outclassed only the strongest members of his guild can take him). However, Lucy is the one that plot follows the most, meaning she is either the protagonist or at least co-protagonist.
In-universe, Lucy is a writer and it's hinted a few times that the novel she's working on is about Fairy Tail. So it's likely that Fairy Tail is her story... about Natsu.
Code:Breaker: Sakurakouji Sakura is the viewpoint character of the series. Despite being quite important due to her status as a Rare-Kind, much of the manga focuses around Ogami.
Everybody in Sonic X Season 3, plays this towards Cosmo the Seedrian. As it turns out in the second-to last episode, she was destined to die from birth.
Kagome of InuYasha is the main character, and view point character, of the series. Despite that, the plot focuses more on Inuyasha who does the fighting and has a more personal reason to fight Naraku. However Naraku himself specifically notes, that it's Kagome, not Inuyasha, that he has reason to fear because she can purify the sacred jewel while Inuyasha can only find the shards.
Jean, from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. Once Jean and Nadia join the Nautilus, the plot becomes much more focused on Captain Nemo and his crew. This is especially apparent in the ending, where for the most part it's Nemo and his crew that save the world, while Jean just simply stands by and watches.
Tomoki from Heaven's Lost Property sort of fits this; although he's the center of the harem, and it's hinted at that he's The Chosen One, the drama is largely surrounded the angeloids, and the one who's actually trying to solve the mystery of Synapse is Sugata.
Nanami is the main character of Kamisama Kiss and we see the story from her point of view. However, a good deal of the plot tends to focus on Tomoe and his Dark and Troubled Past and for most of the story so far Nanami has relied upon Tomoe's powers and abilities for protection and to accomplish her goals.
For the first few eps. of Trigun we mostly see Vash from Meryl's point of view, and don't even get confirmation he is the real Vash the Stampede for some time. This doesn't last- we get very deep in Vash's psyche by the end.
Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has Reborn, whose job is tutoring the main character Tsunayoshi "Tsuna" Sawada. And Tsuna has to solve his conflict by himself, with some help of his guardians and Reborn.
One Piece: While Luffy is the protagonist and his dreams are still the primary Myth Arc, the stories often focus on larger implications and conflicts such as the balance of the Great Powers. While Luffy always takes on the Big Bad, there are times when the main character arc is someone else(i.e. Vivi in the Alabasta Arc)
Gallifrey: Narvin is unambiguously stated by the series' creator to be the protagonist, since everything that happens revolves around him, and he's the only character who cares more about the plot than about his own personal goals. However, his role to the story is a supporting one.
Tag and Bink are Dead and Tag and Bink Live, short comics that follow the adventures of two bumbling rebels during the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. They also turn out to be Jedi Padawans during the events of the prequels.
Jed from the Star Raiders graphic novel. He starts off as one of the three main characters, but halfway through the story he's sidelined into irrelevancy.
Art Spiegelman (or at least his Author Avatar) in Maus as the story follows him and his attempt to record his father's experience throughout the Holocaust. However, the story is clearly about his father Vladek and his Holocaust experience.
By the end of the story, despite their name being in the title, it's pretty apparent that The Avengers in Avengers vs. X-Men are basically there to punch people and provide a "down in the trenches" viewpoint. The actual main characters are Cyclops, Scarlet Witch, and Hope Summers, with input from Emma Frost and, oddly enough, Iron Fist as well.
This was a bad problem with Sonic in his own title between the end of the Sonic Adventure arc and the start of Ian Flynn's run as Karl Bollers and Ken Penders were really notorious on focusing on those not named Sonic.
Although Clopson is the protagonist of Songs Uncle Sings, Breeze is obviously the main focus of the story.
In the main story of The Legacy Of The Blood Ravens, Nathaniel Augustine, Ocella Lyon, and Nikephoros were all supporting protagonists. However, as the story went on (and people died) they grew to become true protagonists of their own.
Mary Poppins: Mary drives the plot, but it's ultimately about George Banks and his realization that he's gotten so wrapped up with his work that he's forgotten about his family, particularly his children Jane and Michael. This is what the title of Saving Mr. Banks refers to, as author P.L. Travers explaining this to Walt Disney is a major plot point.
The poster of Deep Blue Sea has Dr. Susan Mc Callister, whose shark experiment inspires the plot. But it's hard to argue that the protagonists aren't shark wrangler Carter and cook Preacher, to the point both are the only survivors.
Batman becomes this in both the 90's movies and The Dark Knight Saga. He arguably carries the first movies in both series just fine, but in the sequels, he becomes overshadowed by the colorful cast of villains, allies, and love interests. In the Dark Knight Saga, for instance, half the villains aren't even defeated by his hand.
My Week With Marilyn is shot from Colin Clarke's point-of-view, though it's clearly all about Marilyn Monroe.
Pirates of the Caribbean. The first 3 films are about Will and Elizabeth's journeys and are primarily told from Elizabeth's point-of-view. However, they get less attention in favor of Captain Jack's story.
Even though Wolverine Publicity is in full effect, Charles is the true protagonist of the film. Wolverine even gets taken out before the climax.
Mystique is presented as a villain throughout the movie, but her motivations (to kill the man who tortured and murdered her friends) are heroic, and she's the one who saves the day and stops Magneto at the end.
Back to the Future: Word of God describes Marty McFly as this in the first and third films, with his parents Lorraine and especially George getting the most development in Part I, and Doc getting it in Part III.
Cloverfield: Rob is the protagonist of the film, but the majority of it is seen through the POV (literally, thanks to the Found Footage gimmick) of Hud.
The Final Countdown: Warren Lasky is the point of view character throughout most of the film, but contributes little to the development of the plot; the heroic roles are played by Captain Yellen and Commander Owens. Lasky is, rather, the unwitting key to the Stable Time Loop.
The Man Who Would Be King: Peachy is the protagonist and the narrator of the story, but the story is really about Danny, "the man who would be king."
The narrator of E. T. A. Hoffmann's "Das Majorat" ("The Entail") is a 20-year-old law student, Theodor, who accompanies his great-uncle, V., to the Baron von R.'s castle, where V. banishes a ghost, and Theodor falls in love with the Baron's wife and tries to play the hero, only to realize that he has no idea what's going on in the R. family and is of no importance. After they leave, V. tells the story of the last 35 years of the R. family's history which he's been a continuing part of.
Sherlock Holmes's Watson may be the most famous case of this in history. Although it's averted in a few stories where Holmes himself narrates when Watson is unavailable.
Parker in the Solar Pons. Being a pastiche of Watson, this is all too natural.
The Trail of Cthulhu is a novel that is made up of 5 interlocking stories. Each story has its own protagonist, but Professor Shrewsbury is the hero of the main narrative.
Nick Carraway may be the narrator, but The Great Gatsby is really all about Jay Gatsby.
Beth from the children's book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and its sequels
Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Most people agree that the true hero of the story is her father, Atticus.
Bryan starts out as one of these in the teen series DRAMA!, but by the third book he's become the focus of the story. This is lampshaded repeatedly.
The protagonist of Aimee by Mary Beth Miller is not the eponymous Aimee, in fact the protagonist is not given a name until the last few pages. It's Zoe. She is the girl who was accused of killing Aimee (when in fact Aimee killed herself). The book is all about the protagonist trying to detach herself from the shadow of Aimee's death.
Vin from Mistborn- she's the main POV character, but the story itself centers more on her mentor Kelsier. Subverted when Kelsier is killed near the end of the first book, after which Vin shoulders the role of both protagonist and heroine for the remainder of the trilogy, and invoked again when it turns out the prophecy about the Hero of Ages, the one destined to save the world, was about Sazed all along.
At the end of Monstrous Regiment, Polly realises that Joan-of-Arc-equivalent Wazzer is the one everyone will really remember.
The Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend is presented partly through the viewpoint of Mortimer Lightwood. As the family's lawyer Lightwood has a linking position between the hero and heroine, and is also connected to Eugene Wrayburn, but he has little direct impact on the action until fairly late in the story. In the 1990s BBC adaptation, he also functioned as the narrator.
In SkyClan's Destiny, one of the novels in Warrior Cats, Leafstar is the perspective character, however Stick is the main character and the story centers around his struggles with the evil Dodge.
While The Tiger's Wife is framed as a story about a doctor delivering medicine to an orphanage at the same time as she's trying to find out some facts about her grandfather's death, the grandfather is really the central figure of the novel.
In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace goes Within various people from the past, so he essentially witnesses their stories, and only is it implied that he's even influencing their action. We assume he is, because that's the point of the body surfing, but his action is reduced. Then, when Charles finally reaches 1863 he possesses Within Matthew, a paralyzed young man in New England... who is having a vision of where the real action is taking place: Vespugia, South America! There is the big fight that the entire book has been building up to.
Xenophon is The Hero of Michael Curtis Ford's The Ten Thousand, but the protagonist and narrator is his slave, Themistogenes of Syracuse, a character Ford created for the novel (unlike Xenophon, who was a real person).
In the second trilogy of The Last Dragon Chronicles, David spends far less time in the limelight as opposed to the other characters. And arguably, even he is just support for Alexa.
Brazilian duology O Caçador de Apóstolos/Deus Máquina uses it. The point of view character is not important as a warrior or politician, he's just a writer who used to create false prophecies for one side of the conflict, and now is supposedly telling the truth (still with a few embellishments) in a book, which he promptly burns as he finishes, since no one can know the truth.
Parodied in Sir Apropos of Nothing. Apropos starts out this way, but eventually parts ways with the supposed true hero. The next time they meet, he chucks a rock at the hero's head and takes the story by force. The final time they meet, the hero tries to get revenge on Apropos, but is killed by the King's army before he can kill him.
A Mage's Power: Eric spends the first half of the story following Basilard, his superior in the mecernary guild, on missions. Then he becomes Kasile's sidekick in her court/political shenanigans. The story follows him the whole time but only on two occasions does he set the agenda.
Sherlock is told from the point of view of John Watson, at least in the beginning.
Merlin plays with this trope, as it is Merlin's story, and he really does seem to be the Chosen One, but once you step back and look at what he's been chosen for... His entire purpose in life, his reason for existing at all in the threads of Destiny is to protect Arthur. Arthur's destiny is to be the greatest king Albion has ever known. Who's the Chosen One now?
Even stranger is what happens in the Grand Finale. The Series Goal of the entire show was always stated as being Merlin and Arthur uniting Albion, legalizing magic and ruling over the Golden Age. And yet the show ends with Arthur dying and Merlin going into self-imposed exile, leaving Queen Guinevere to assume their responsibilities. Assuming that she did indeed inherit their destiny and achieve all that they were originally supposed to do, then hindsight makes her the most important character within the show's narrative.
The finale of Ashes to Ashes reveals that both Sam Tyler and Alex Drake are supporting protagonists for Gene Hunt.
While Power Rangers always has the Red Ranger be The Hero, sometimes they're not the one with the biggest connection to the overall plot:
In Power Rangers S.P.D., Jack is the Red Ranger, but the story is more about the Blue Ranger, Sky, dealing with his issues and evolving into a worthy team leader. Alternately, Commander Cruger is the show's focus, as he's the team's commanding officer and the one who has a personal rivalry with the Big Bad.
Despite being the title character of Castle, Richard Castle is the Supporting Protagonist to Kate Beckett. There's even the Sherlock Holmes comparison: she's a brilliant detective while he follows her about and writes stories about their adventures. Their relationship is central to the show, Castle helps mellows out the emotionally-distant Beckett, and there's oodles of Unresolved Sexual Tension. While the show may take his perspective on events, provides a lot of focus on his family life and furnishes him with a fair bit of Character Development as well, the main overarching arc of the series surrounds Beckett's mother's murder, and he's clearly the Plucky Comic ReliefLove Interest to her Broken BirdHardboiled Detective.
The Vampire Diaries has Stefan. He is the second protagonist of the series with Elena being the main protagonist.
Ultraman Nexus focuses on the life of Komon Kazuki, a member of the Night Raider team. However, he does not transform into the eponymous hero, making him this trope. But he does become Ultraman in the series's finale and thus, ditches this role.
Kamen Rider Hibiki: Asumu is the protagonist, while Hibiki is the main hero and Oni (Kamen Rider) of the show. Word of God has it that Asumu was originally to have become an Oni himself at the end of the show, but this didn't happen, and even if it had, he still wouldn't have been The Hero for the main run of the story.
Kamen Rider Kabuto: Tendou is The Hero but Kagami is the POV character and main protagonist. Tendou shares more traits in common with a typical secondary/supporting Rider.
It could be argued that this has happened to How I Met Your Mother as the show has progressed and the emotional core of the show has shifted from Ted's romantic interests in Robin to the Beta Couple Marshall and Lily. This has coincided with the Ensemble Darkhorse Barney getting more and more character development to the point where the premise is a bit of a Red Herring.
As we found out in season 8, this is actually for a reason. Ted meets his future wife at Barney and Robin's wedding.
Boyd Crowder has become this in Justified, so much so that he had almost equal screentime to Raylan in season 4 so far, even though it was several episodes before they saw each other for the first time in the season and that their stories finally intersected. Now they're competing to find Drew Thompson, and solve the seasons Myth Arc.
Sookie becomes this in True Blood. She's clearly the central character in Season 1 and half of 2, but as the show moved away from the books where she's the first-person narrator, this distinction became increasingly murky until entire plotlines would start and conclude with no involvement from her at all. This trope was the strongest and most justified in Season 5, as Anna Paquin was pregnant at the time.
While Sam is The Chosen One in Supernatural with the Myth Arc of the story largely focusing on him, the story is told from his older brother, Dean's point of view. An odd case in that Sam was supposed to fill both roles (he starts out with all the traits of an Audience Surrogate) but Dean quickly ended up being the POV character and the show ended up focusing on Dean's reactions to the plots and events surrounding Sam.
Mark in Rent. He's the central character, but most of the story revolves around his seven friends.
The central Metal Gear canon is rife with this. While Solid Snake is the iconic hero of the series, the games all centre around the villain Big Boss and his impact, yet he is only occasionally played as:
Monkey in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The narrative revolves around Trip as Monkey supports Trip on her journey home and her quest for revenge of the one responsible for the annihilation of her village. It's Trip that kills the main antagonist, Pyramid.
Enslaved is loosely based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West, in which this still holds true; ostensibly, it's about a priest named Tripitaka traveling westward to retrieve sacred documents. In practice, it's about Sun Wukong the Monkey King and all the awesome shit he does while he's forced to help Tripitaka on his journey.
Tidus in Final Fantasy X is an interesting case. The bulk of the game is that the characters are playing supporting roles in Yuna's quest. They, including Tidus, are merely her guardians while she is destined to defeat the Big Bad. However, Tidus is the game's narrator, and often points out how, "This Is My Story." Indeed, the very first line of the game is, "Listen to my story." We eventually learn that Yuna defeating the Big Bad would get her killed while it would just come back later, and it's Tidus's destiny to truly kill the thing. Thus, Tidus and Yuna swap being The Hero and Supporting Protagonist multiple times throughout the game: starting with Tidus as the hero, then switching to Yuna, then back to Tidus, and finally ending with Yuna.
In the sequel, Yuna gets full control of the protagonist role. Even when other characters look like they're going to usurp her role as The Hero, Yuna slaps them back down and says "No. This is my story."
Final Fantasy XI has the player character often playing second fiddle to a (usually female) hero NPC in most of its storylines, doing the heavy lifting while the heroines magically appear wherever you go and have most of the interactions with other characters that the player character would have in most single player games.
Vaan is the Supporting Protagonist to Ashe (and possibly Basch) in Final Fantasy XII, though Balthier would have you believe different.
Allegretto of Eternal Sonata, in the same vein as Vaan of Final Fantasy XII, is most definitely this to not one, but two possible protagonists - Polka, a girl from a remote village who is the Messianic Archetype catalyst for the "Groundhog Day" Loop that the world is trapped in, and Chopin, who claims that everything and everyone around him is merely one of his dreams. The latter's appearance in their world is destined to end the loop of Polka repeatedly dying/reliving the same seven years over and over. Other than being the player avatar (and even then, that role is switched between him, Polka, and Beat) and acting as Polka's love interest, Allegretto doesn't do much in the main story itself.
StarCraft is basically about Arcturus Mengsk, Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, Tassadar, and Zeratul, whereas the PC is just some generic, nameless "magistrate", "cerebrate", or Protoss "executor". Word of God has retconned that the Executor of Episode III was Artanis, and presumably the Executor of Ep IV was him or his student Selendis (who is Executor in Starcraft II). The other player characters get fleeting references in the expanded universe to confirm that in the current canon they still exist, but their roles are downplayed because, well, they were always little more than viewpoints for the player to see the characters.
World in Conflict has a named PC, Lt. Parker, but the real protagonist of the 2/3 of the game is Capt. Bannon (who receives ALL of the Character Development in the game), while the remaining one third focuses on Webb and Col. Sawyer. Same goes for Lt. Romanov from the Expansion Pack, who plays a secondary role to Capt. Malashenko and their common superiors.
Played with in Brutal Legend. Eddie acts like he's one of these and purposely avoids the spotlight, but everyone else knows he's responsible for their success and thank him appropriately.
The main character in the Neverwinter Nights plague campaign is Aribeth, the player is just the lackey that got sent to do stuff for the political powers he sided with.
For reason of having a Heroic Mime protagonist and a strong supporting cast, GLaDOS is the star of Portal, though Chell is the protagonist. You could go the whole game - perhaps even both games - without ever learning her name, or any other reliable fact about her.
Persona: The player character is this in both routes, as the SEBEC route revolves around Maki coming to grips that she created an alternate reality that's trying to overtake the real reality and the Snow Queen route revolves around Yukino's attempts to save Ms. Saeko.
Subverted in Shadow Hearts: From The New World. Shania appears to be the more important character, with Johnny Garland just tagging along... then it becomes clear who, exactly, Lady is, and It's Personal.
The protagonists in the Ar tonelico series are generally secondary to the Reyvateils, who are more important in resolving the game's conflict. This is especially the case with Croix in Ar Tonelico 2.
Nintendo-owned developer Intelligent Systems did this in some of the few games they made with western players in mind.
In the original Battle Clash, the player controls the gunner of a giant robot known as a "Standing Tank". The actual protagonist is the robot's pilot, who talks to the player directly before each battle. In the sequel, Metal Combat, there's a cheat code that allows the player to have the pilot address them by name.
In the original Advance Wars, the player takes control of an unseen military strategist who is assisted by a Commanding Officer (C.O.) in each battle. This was dropped in the sequels.
Also in Blazing Sword, there's an extra mode that is unlocked after you beat the main game: Hector mode, where the axe-wielding lord that normally plays The Lancer to Eliwood becomes the main character. However, in the grand scheme of things, Eliwood is still the central character regardless of who's the protagonist.
Interestingly, the character you make in White Knight Chronicles is almost a non-entity: although you can use any weapon, armor and magic, unlike any other character in the game, your character is entirely incidental to the plot and can, in fact, be left out entirely. The real hero of the story is Leonard.
While the plot of Super Paper Mario certainly incorporates Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi, the main story focuses on the romance of Blumiere and Timpani and in the end they're the ones who save the Multiverse.
A non-RPG Mario example would be in Super Mario Galaxy, where Mario is just there to fly through space as an attempt to save Peach again from Bowser, who wants to take over the galaxy, but this is actually just a subplot. The game is really about a young woman's Tear Jerker tale of her constant wandering through the cosmos with several little star-people as her only friends while lamenting about the loss of her family since her departure.
The Lord of the Rings Online has its central epic quest line, in which you follow along with the characters in the story and run errands for them. So far, every epic "Book" ends with your watching NPCs finish the fight.
This is common in World of Warcraft. While the player character does his fair share of heroics, most of the major story arcs have another character with a more important role in the story (due to the issues having a faceless character who could be of any race from either faction as a major character would cause). For example, Tirion Fordring is the true protagonist of Wrath of the Lich King. The player character is one of his followers.
In Disgaea 2, Adell is clearly the protagonist, but Rozalin is the one who gets all the character development and plot twists, and she is ultimately the one who vanquishes Zenon.
In Disgaea 3, Almaz plays this role for the actual protagonist, Mao, but it is less obvious than 2.
The Rookie in Halo 3: ODST only begins to affect the story in the last two levels: the rest of the game is spent reliving the experiences of the rest of the squad in the six hours the Rookie was unconscious. The story is largely about Dare and Buck. He explores the Myth Arc though.
Lars in Tekken 6. He may command an entire army, fight waves of soldiers bare-handed and deflect missiles with his wrists, but the Mishima family are the ones doing all the important stuff while Lars runs around punching folks.
The Faceless Protagonist of The PK Girl is a Supporting Protagonist to Laurie in the main plot. Laurie is the focal character, as the Living MacGuffin and the target of the antagonist, and her attempts to get free of ROSA's clutches drive the plot; the PC's just the guy who does the fighting, heavy lifting and rescue work, and otherwise he's along for the ride. If he's chasing any girl besides Laurie (who is romanced through the main plot), he becomes the protagonist of his own Romance Sidequest, but only two Romance Sidequests tie back into the main story in any way after they start off (Katryn's and Saffy's).
Tact Mayers of Galaxy Angel. Although he's the captain of the Elsior which is a capital ship all the work is done by the angels.
Leo from Zone of the Enders has a personal journey, but the focus moves more towards the larger conflict and he's ultimately an insect to the villain. He gets the focus on his journey but the true hero is already dead at game start and his journey is just a small part of the much larger story he was sucked into.
One can get this impression from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. While other titles in the series focus on Link— who, of course, plays the hero— Spirit Tracks seems to focus more on the character development of Princess Zelda. Appropriate since, barring thatthat one time, this is the first time that she's playable..
A lot of people had the same impression with Link and Midna in Twilight Princess. Even right before the Final Battle, the Big Bad talks directly to Midna and addresses Link like an afterthought.
The various AFGNCAAP player characters of Ace Combat have been this ever since the series steered away from Excuse Plots (around the time of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere). Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ace Combat Zero, where the entire game is told from the perspective of the enemy aces you shot down and your ex-wingmanwhom you also shoot down. The Narrator even admits in the end that despite telling the whole story, he still has no idea just what kind of person the Demon Lord of the Round Table was.
Ash in Phantom Brave. Marona is the focus of the plot, but Ash is who you directly control during downtime and the story is mainly told from his perspective.
Artyom in Metro 2033. Most of the time he is merely following someone more experienced and last part of the game is him essentially helping people who know what needs to be done. He himself does not have much of a goal beyond "Get to Polis", after which he starts following people who react to his news. In Metro: Last Light, he starts having his own agenda and becomes a classic protagonist.
Mass Effect averts this for the most part with Commander Shepard, who is both the protagonist and the hero. However, Shepard takes the passenger seat during Loyalty Missions (to squadmates), in Lair of the Shadow Broker (to Liara) and Omega (to Aria and, to a lesser extent, Nyreen). Shepard's role in those stories is, essentially, to shoot things. And, if Paragon, to act as a Morality Chain to many of them.
Shepard also acts as an escort rather than a leader during Mass Effect 3's Tuchanka arc. The real hero is Mordin Solus (or Padok Wiks if the former didn't survive ME2), who develops the cure for the genophage while Shepard is busy shooting things, and sacrifices his life to ensure its delivery.
Final Fantasy VI: Locke plays this role to Terra in the early part of the World of Balance. It's not until she gets her memory back and learns to control her power that she starts acting like the protagonist and making suggestions about the party's next course of action.
Celes then becomes this in the World of Ruin, being in the ending, the perspective character focusing on Terra, the focus character.
Injustice: Gods Among Us: For most of the story, the Batmen are the main characters but the real hero is Superman. As the Batmen lead the assembled heroes to defeat the Regime, Superman attempts to get to the alternate universe to save his friends. By the end of the story, the Batmen realize only Superman is capable of defeating the Big Bad, who happens to be alternate Superman who became evil. Once Superman makes his debut, he kicks everyone's asses.
The Updated Re-release of the original Etrian Odyssey puts you in the shoes of a highlander recruited by the Radha in order to investigate the Yggdrasil ruin. However, the subtitle of the game, Millennium Girl, refers to Frederica Irving, an amnesiac gunner whom you awaken from a capsule while exploring a different ruin that's connected to the one you're searching. Your goal is twofold: assist the investigation team and unlock the secrets of the ruin, and help Frederica regain her lost memories.
In a sharp departure from the previous and later The Elder Scrolls titles, Oblivion's main quest is not about the protagonist but mainly about Martin Septim, the illegitimate son of the late emperor, who matures and grows into his new role of Tamriel's leader, before giving his life to banish Mehrunes Dagon from it forever—as expected of a true Septim. As later installments show, history has a much better memory of Martin than of the Hero of Kvatch.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard, the Dragonborn shifts into this role. While they remain the hero, most of the focus is on their vampire companion Serana, the subject of a Prophecy that will lead to Eternal Night, which is trying to be fulfilled by her father, Lord Harkon.
The main reason Trahearne in Guild Wars 2 is so disliked is because the story starts with the feeling that the player character is The Hero, perhaps even the Chosen One, but then Trahearne suddenly appears — completely out of nowhere for non-sylvari players — and steals the spotlight, relegating the player to the Supporting Protagonist role.
Eva and Neil are the playable characters in To the Moon, but they function mostly as part of the Framing Device; the story is about Johnny and River, slowly discovered by the two doctors.
Most romantic visual novels are more about the romanceable characters (and one 'true path' character in particular) than they are about the player character. In the Bishoujo setup, the male lead is often either a nonentity, a loser, or a jerk, and one of the female leads is the real hero. This tends to carry over into their anime adaptations.
Fate/stay night is both a literal and figurative example: in the Fate route, Shirou is no match for Saber in combat, and instead supports her with projection and, later, mana. Emotionally, it's his job to break through her stoic exterior and make her happy. Either way, Saber is the primary focus, and the driving force of that route.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: The point of view that the player takes is June/Akane of 9 years ago, seeing things through Junpei's eyes. This is a very important plot device and technically makes her the protagonist. However, Junpei still fills the conventional role of the hero and once their connection is split at the very end, the perspective of the remaining story alternates between the both of them.
While Keiichi is undeniably The Hero of Higurashi: When They Cry, Rika is the person who experiences the "Groundhog Day" Loop, and the person trying to figure out why she is always killed in the end of every arc. Keiichi's just the one who is actively trying to do so, and is unaware of the actual protagonist's plight.
In Umineko: When They Cry, Battler is the main viewpoint character, especially in the first four arcs. However, when it comes down to it, the entire story is really about Yasu and Battler's real goal is to understand him/her.
Robotics;Notes: Kaitou is the protagonist and player character, as well the eventual pilot of the robots that are built. However he's mainly focused on helping Akiho with her ambitions.
Surprisingly enough, it was the player characters who fulfilled this roll in the Global Guardians "Crimebusters" campaign. The titular "heroes" were a bunch of superhero wannabes whose powers were... to put it lightly... weak, goofy, and generally useless. The actual heroes of the story were the more powerful, more experienced Global Guardians, in whose shadows the hapless, eager-but-incompetent Crimebusters always seemed to fall.
Raizel of Noblesse is always stated as being the hero & main character, despite having little dialog, little characterization, and only one action dealing the final blow. Frankenstein is the focus of the series.
The Exiles of Homestuck have this going for them. WV, the first Exile seen, is the protagonist of the Exiles and gets the most screentime, but in terms of role in the story, he is surpassed by PM, the one who did more things that were directly relevant to the story.
Jackknife from Superjail definitely qualifies-he's one of 4 inmates that are seen from one episode to the next. (the other 2 being the gay couple and Gary and Bird).