Unknown Item Identification

aka: Unidentified Items
In some Role Playing Games (and Roguelikes in specific), a Dungeon Crawling party may obtain items whose exact identities and purposes are a mystery at first — the characters don't automatically know what these items are supposed to be, and (more importantly) the game doesn't tell the player either; it's labelled as an "unknown" or "unidentified" item or given an extremely generic descriptor like "a red potion" or "a scroll labelled 'FOOBIE BLETCH'" (as opposed to the usual "Healing Potion" or "Elixir of Life"). The task of divining the true identity of these items is the purpose of another item, a special skill, or an NPC specializing in identification/appraisal/whatever-you-call-it.

This can be justified for certain kinds of items, like potion bottles (whose labels may be the only clue as to what's inside), or items that are stored/hidden inside a generic container. Until it's been identified, all the item really does is occupy space in the player's Inventory Management Puzzle, which (depending on the size of said inventory) may require the player to decide whether it's really worth lugging around twenty extra pounds of useless inventory in the hopes that it turns out to be more than just Vendor Trash, or if it's something they can safely toss out and/or come back for later (without it getting Lost Forever).

Whether or not the player can use an item before getting it identified varies — do you really want to take the chance that the random glass bottle with purple goop you just picked up turns out to be a Healing Potion and not deadly poison, or that a shiny-looking sword is actually a useful weapon as opposed to rusty old Vendor Trash (or worse, harboring a nasty — and usually clingycurse?) Some games won't let you use or equip the item at all until its true nature has been identified; others will let you do so at your own peril (but will usually disclose the item's true nature after the fact if you do).

Fortunately for you, sometimes you can figure out clues to the item's nature without having to actually use it (based on secondary factors, like the item's size/weight or where it's sorted in your inventory screen). For example, in some games an unknown item's description (icon, Flavor Text, etc.) is consistent between all items of that type, so if one unidentified 'blue potion' refills your Mana Meter, there's a good chance that any future 'blue potions' will do the same. Likewise, if a game collates the player's inventory by item type and quantity (e.g. "Blue Potion x2" instead of "Blue Potion" A and "Blue Potion" B) then this implies that they are two of the same item. And if it's an item randomly dropped/found off a defeated monster, there's a good chance that other monsters of that type will drop the same item. But none of these are guaranteed! — it depends on if the game decides the item's true properties when it's first acquired or when it's actually used. And since unidentified items go hand in hand with Randomly Generated Loot and Randomly Generated Levels, these properties may be assigned randomly to begin with, where knowledge from one play session may not help you in the next: e.g., drinking a blue potion from Dungeon A may heal you, but the apparently identical blue potion from Dungeon B might make you breathe fire instead.

This is Older Than the NES, with roots in Tabletop RPGs where items may have hidden properties known only to the Game Master unless/until discovered by the players.

Note that this does not necessarily apply to items whose unidentified nature is a plot point — video games generally keep plot-relevant items (identified or otherwise) in a category separate from the regular inventory items.


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    Action Adventure Games 
  • In Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, whenever you find a treasure box and you can't solve the puzzle, you have the option of simply smashing it open, but then you will simply acquire an "Unknown" item. Once you reach the merchant, he can identify it for you... for a small fee, of course.
  • In ToeJam and Earl, presents are initially unidentified. Though, since all presents of the same design contain the same item or effect, using one automatically identifies any identical ones (whether in the player's inventory or on the ground). The "man in the carrot suit" is a randomly-appearing NPC who can identify a present for a few dollars. This is important because one of the effects is the Randomizer, which unidentifies all presents and scrambles the design-effect relationships!

    Action RPGs 
  • Brave Fencer Musashi has treasure chest items that need to be appraised in town by Conner. Several such items turn out to be pieces of legendary equipment, but in general it's Played for Laughs with a lot of the items seeming more valuable when unappraised — an "Old Crown" turns out to be a "Cakepan", for instance.
  • Dragon's Crown has loot acquired throughout stages that can be identified for a fee at the end of the stage. Any item you didn't appraise here could later be brought to Morgan's Magic Item Shop for identification.

    Eastern RPGs 
  • The Nintendo DS version of Glory of Heracles has rusty items which need to be taken to a polisher to make them proper weapons.
  • In The Last Story, enemies may occasionally drop rare items with labels like "? SWORD". The player can't equip these as-is, but may take them to specific NPCs for appraisal. The items may turn out to be actual weapons (often strong ones at the time, though sometimes cursed) or useless ornamental ones.
  • In the Suikoden games you can pick up ?Pots, ?Paintings and ?Statues which you can take to an art appraiser to have valued and identified, and then either sell or use to decorate your home base. Alternatively, you can sell the items unidentified for a small amount. Anything useful never needs identifying, however.

    MMO Games 
  • Using the Plus sign in Kingdom of Loathing identifies all items associated with the Enormous Greater-Than Sign, aka The Dungeons of Doom. It's all a reference to the roguelike NetHack.
  • Perfect World averts this since it is perfect and you get to see the stats of the items — though this may have changed with a patch.
  • In Phantasy Star Online, all rare weapons dropped by monsters appear as "?SPECIAL WEAPON". They can still be equipped in this state (which lets the player identify the weapon type, based on whether their character can even equip it), but its special abilities won't be available until taken to a Tekker for proper identification.
    • Phantasy Star Online 2 instead gives rare weapons a chance to drop in an unidentified (And unequippable) state, though you can tell what type of weapon it is at a glance. This is a good thing for the most part, as when you do identify it, you're allowed to attach a special ability to it and to choose its elemental affinity. The only bad part is that you won't immediately know if you got something that's actually valuable in the case of enemies who have common and rare drops of the same weapon class.
  • RuneScape:
    • The game used to have unidentified herbs which could only be identified with the proper Herblore level. This feature was patched away in 2007 because some players were abusing it in scams, offering the herbs in trades and claiming them to be more valuable than they really were.
    • Nitroglycerin, a quest item, is labeled "Unidentified liquid" until you bring it to an archaeologist who can tell you what it is (and scream at you not to drop it).
  • In Ragnarok Online equipments obtained from monsters are only listed as generic "Shoes", "Armor", "Sword", etc and cannot be equipped until you appraise them with the Magnifier item.
  • Trickster Online averts this via showing the stats of the items once the player picks them up. Then again the game plays with a Random Drop engine which means that in Boss Encounters the stats of the weapons obtained are random but in a certain range of stats.
  • Elsword has a variant in that all equipments come with four rarity variant the lowest one can be equipped immediately while anything beyond that needs to be identified before equipping, you can slot extra attributes in and/or add elemental effects to it, but you need to identify their bonuses first before equipping it. You do, however, knows what the equipment is before equipping
  • Final Fantasy XIV uses this idea for many items found on gathering nodes, meaning you won't know what the item is until you successfully obtain it for the first time (with only a 25% base success chance).

  • Ancient Domains of Mystery has Wands and Scrolls of Identify, which serve their expected function. However, whether these tools are cursed or blessed makes a world of difference. A normal scroll of identify will only identify an item. A blessed scroll of identify will identify your entire inventory and show what items are blessed or cursed. A cursed scroll of identify will give the player amnesia, removing knowledge of every inventory item instead.
  • Angband and its variants have items start out unidentified: potions, scrolls, wands, staves, jewelry, armor, and weapons.
  • In Azure Dreams, you get three options to identify equipment, monster eggs and magic balls: equipping/using them (still won't show you the counter with the magic balls), using an identifier item and getting out of the dungeon since everyone at home can see what items are worth.
  • Castle of the Winds has the Identify spell as a single-use scroll, multiple-use staff, or (permanent) spellbook. Each town also has a sage that can identify items for a fee. Equipment may be enchanted or cursed, and magic items like potions, scrolls, and wands are completely unknown until you dare to use them or use one of the identification methods.
  • In the Diablo, you can also take your unknown items into town and have Cain identify them, or buy a scroll to do it (for the same price of 100 gold). In the sequel, Cain will do the service for free as thanks for freeing him from a gibbet in Tristram (if you choose to be a dick and leave him there, the Rogues will eventually free him and he'll charge the standard price). Starting with Diablo III, ordinary enchanted items are recognizable immediately, and the player can simply right-click on a a Rare or Legendary item and wait a few seconds to identify it. A patch introduced a Great Big Book of Everything that identifies everything in the inventory at once.
  • Dungeon Crawl has identifier scrolls which are rather costly to buy from a shop (80 gp if it's identified), but luckily they are one of the most common scrolls in the game. If the save isn't "jinxed" to lack in the SoI department, it's a rather safe bet that if you have 4 or more of the same scroll in the early stages of the game, it's either Scroll of Identify, Scroll of Noise, or Scroll of Random Uselessness.
  • Elona, similar to Diablo, scholars in towns can identify items for you. You also identify equipment automatically over time if you're carrying it; that process is sped up by the "Sense Quality" skill.
  • FATE has scrolls and books for identification; books can be used more times than scrolls.
  • Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon has talons and saddles (read: weapons and armor) that may harbor curses or stat bonuses, while collars, food, and flasks have generic descriptors until identified. Appraisal Glasses and Scholar's Glasses are consumable items for identifying one or all unknown items Chocobo is carrying, respectively. The Scholar job has the Appraise ability to analyze all items as well. Finally, wearing the Appraiser's Collar lets Chocobo automatically identify items as he picks them up.
  • NetHack is the Trope Codifier. It also has a high-level spell for the purpose of identifying unknown items, and a separate one for checking if it's cursed. Equipping an unknown amulet without checking either is a good way to end up with an Amulet of Strangulation that you can't unequip in time.
  • Scrolls of Identification double as Practical Currency in Path of Exile. While equipments need to be identified to use, maps and Strongboxes can be used without doing so, and running an unidentified map gives a boost to item drops. Unidentified items also provide better returns in certain vendor recipes.
  • In the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, wild Pokémon in dungeons may drop Treasure Boxes when defeated; these boxes come in various colors but the only way to know (and use) what's inside them is to take them to a specialized Pokémon back in town after leaving the dungeon. Until then, they do occupy space in your inventory, but if the dungeon includes a floor with a Save Point, you can transfer them to your item storage so you don't have to keep lugging them around.
  • In Recettear, the only way to appraise the items you found is to get out of the dungeon. Makes sense because the merchants are running behind the adventurer and therefore are unable to sit down and appraise the items before they get home. However once type of item is identified that way, the same item found on subsequent runs will always be identified already.
  • Shiren the Wanderer has scrolls of identify (which have a small chance to identify every item in your inventory) as well as jars of identify which can identify any item you put into them.
  • The Wiseman in ToeJam & Earl, also known as "the guy in the carrot suit", will identify any unknown present in your inventory for two dollars. Indispensible when you're hoping to identify the Randomizernote  or the Total Bummernote .
  • JauntTrooper encourages you to experiment with items to discover their uses, and then assign them names yourself. You can have their true names identified if you find a library terminal, but its assessments of what they're good for can be vague or misleading.
  • The Binding of Isaac usually identifies what you're picking up (sometimes including a short explanation of varying helpfulness on what it does.) Pills, however, are the sole exception to the rule, and there's no way to actually identify them beyond taking one and hoping you didn't get stuck with a Stat Down or Explosive Diarrhea pill (fortunately, once you identify a pill, all similar pills for that run are automatically identified as well.) The Curse of the Blind in Rebirth turns every single power-up on the current floor into a question mark, forcing the player to take a gamble in picking anything up.

    Simulation Game 
  • Animal Crossing does this with the fossils. You dig the raw fossils out of the ground, mail them off to be identified, then get them back to give to the museum. The later games simplify this by simply allowing you to take them straight to Blathers to be identified right away. A similar thing goes on with Redd's art sales in the earlier games; while you know what you're buying, until New Leaf, you have no way of knowing whether the painting/statue you just bought is real or fake until you try to donate it to the museum.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a number of options depending on the item to be identified:
    • Read magic is one of the most basic spells available to any caster, and can be used to identify the spells contained in scrolls. The catch is that only an arcane spellcaster (bard, sorcerer, wizard) can use arcane scrolls; same goes for divine casters (cleric, druid, paladin, ranger) and divine scrolls.
    • Detect magic is another common, low-level spell, and combined with the Spellcraft skill a player can analyze the aura of a magic item to infer some of its properties.
    • Identify is a 1st-level spell usable by wizards, sorcerers, bards, and clerics with the Magic domain. It identifies all properties of a single magic item. And yes, you can scribe a scroll of the spell with the proper item creation feat. Another option is to use a Knowledge skill check to deduce the item's properties. Earlier editions had the spell work on multiple items with each casting, but would only detail one magical property at a time for each - and even then, usually in somewhat vague terms. It wasn't really until after video games (including D&D video games) had such spells fully reveal the details on a single item that regular D&D switched over to the same, starting with edition 3.5.
    • For more mundane treasures like gemstones and art objects, the Appraise skill lets a player estimate monetary values.
    • The rulebooks suggest that a character who frequently uses potions can learn to identify them by sampling the contents; just enough to taste but not enough to activate the magic. The Alchemy skill is also an option for identifying potions.
    • In 4th edition, item identification is safely performed during a short rest, with only rare or obscure items requiring an arcana check.
  • In Lejendary Adventure, the Loviatskya's Infallible Energy Analysis and Read Power powers let the user see the energy inside an Extraordinary (magical) item to understand what it is and what it does.

    Western RPGs 
  • Arcanum has magick items which must be identified to unlock their potential; this can be done by either learning "Divine Magick", a fifth-level divination spell, or paying 100 gold to a wise woman. Since character points are finite and gold isn't in short supply, sensible players opt for the latter.
  • Many video games based on Dungeons & Dragons will copy its mechanics:
    • The first Eye of the Beholder game has the detect magic spell to determine whether an item is magical, but doesn't reveal what powers a magic item has.
    • The Neverwinter Nights series has the identify spell. You can also make a Lore check or pay a fee to a shopkeeper to identify magic items acquired as dungeon loot.
    • The Baldur's Gate series is the same. A character's "Lore" skill (based on intelligence and enhanced for some character classes) allows automatic identification of magical items. Cursed items are identified automatically if equipped.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, a low Alchemy skill prevents the player from determining the properties of alchemical ingredients. In some games, such as Skyrim, ingredients that the player has not used in experiments always have unknown properties. However, tasting the ingredients exposes the player to diluted version of their powers — as opposed to the stronger powers of potions brewed from these ingredients — so it's almost always safe to taste them. The worst that might happen is having your health drained by a sliver for five seconds...in a game where you have Regenerating Health.

Alternative Title(s):

Unidentified Items