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It requires time, work, money, and storage space to create a decent-looking video game sprite, and even more of the same to create a 3D model. Giving each individual character in the game a distinct look borders on madness. As a result, most video game worlds have only about seven or eight distinct body types for NPCs. This means that wherever you go, you'll see the same person over and over again... only it's not them! It's almost creepy, and starts to make you wonder if there isn't some massive cloning conspiracy going on.
Generally, there are two or three "adult male" bodies, two or three "adult female" bodies, one body each for male and female children, and one body each for male and female elders. Things get worse for non-human races; you're lucky if males and females even get separate sprites!
Basically, the nerd(ier) cousin of Only Six Faces.
While this is present in a lot of games, it's most notable in RPGs, where there are NPCs by the bucketful that you often have to actually interact with. A corollary is that if you ever see someone who isn't using a stock body, you can bet that he or she will be important to the plot, even if in a minor way.
Most series with Serkis Folk use the same models for all non-human creatures.
For the naming equivalent, see Nominal Importance. Not actually related to the trope You Look Familiar, but too good to pass up.
When the characters are actually supposed to be inexplicably identical, that is Inexplicably Identical Individuals. When Mooks share the same face, thereby positing a unique face as a symbol of identity, can be a subtrope of Faceless Goons. If the developers are trying to disguise it, they may use Palette Swap.
The polar opposite is Cast of Snowflakes, when every character has a unique design.
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Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh! has a lot of Bridge Bunnies with the same face and same haircut, just with different haircolors.
Fullmetal Alchemist has a particularly egregious example of this, when the camera pans out from Roy and Hughes during a flashback. Aside from them, only three soldiers in the image are unique. The rest, with the like-colored circles, are copies of each other. Ironically, the show is also noteworthy for the opposite reason.
In The Incredibles, there was a "generic guy" model called Universal man made to fill in incidental characters, who was squashed, stretched, molded and recolored to make most of the cast, from cops to Mooks to high school girls; some other incidentals were re-used main character models, such as Bomb Voyage being a made-up Frozone. The animators knew they had done their job well when they had a spot where a stretched "Universal man"—specifically, Dash's teacher—fill most of the screen in an extreme close-up and the use of this trope wasn't apparent.
In Cars, despite it being completely justifiable there due to the cars being mass-produced, there are still hundreds of car designs, most used in crowd scenes.
An in-universe example occurs in Inception. All of Fischer's subconscious "bodyguard" projections consist of the same guards appearing over and over. This is particularly noticeable in the first and third dream levels, where the projection in the SUV that attacks Yusef on the bridge is the same projection manning the machinegun on the treaded humvee that shoots at Eames. Also, the man at the airport at the end holding the "Fischer" placard is one of the mooks in the first dream level, and appears twice there: once in the street, and then again on the roof after being "killed".
In the Halloween special Scary Godmother, the main character's model is re-used before she is even seen on screen, albeit with a darker skintone and a different outfit.
In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the clone troopers all look exactly like their prototype, played by the New Zealander actor Temuera Morrison.
One story in the book My Zombie Valentine has a film producer complaining that he wasn't given enough budget for his Zombie Apocalypse film, so he'd have to use the same four guys to play all the zombies. He averts this using real zombies, which of course Goes Horribly Wrong.
The infamous "Land of Waldos" scene from Where's Waldo. Every character in the scene is a clone of Waldo. You have to find the one with the missing shoe. Good luck with that.
In the first book of The Death Gate Cycle, when the heroes visit the High Realm and the powerful wizards there, they realize that things are not what they seem and that the wizards are dying out when it's noticed that the crowds of wizards are in fact the same two or three dozen over and over again.
All the Asgard in Stargate SG-1 look identical. The best way to tell them apart is by the voice.
Justified in that the Asgard population are all clones and swap bodies when necessary, so it's likely they're all using bodies cloned from a limited gene pool.
Stargate Atlantis features the Wraith who, while slightly different in appearance episode to episode, are played by a very small pool of interchanging actors. In fact, for the first season and most of the second, all unmasked male wraiths were played by James Lafazanos. The pool of actors expended as more re-occurring wraiths were introduced, but Lafazanos still plays most background wraiths. Since they are all No Name Given, this resemblance adds to their creepiness.
In one episode of Lois and Clark, the titular pair are trapped in a virtual reality simulation. While they're inside of it, one of the first things they notice wrong is that there's only about ten different people in the whole thing with several sets of identically dressed twins walking around in the virtual Metropolis. (The casting department hired a lot of twins for this episode.) The twin thing was supposed to signify some kind of bug or glitch, hinting that the virtual world wasn't quite perfect yet. A similar feature is a plot point in a Doctor Who episode.
Agent Keonig in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is killed off after mentioning a brother with whom he plays MMORPGs online. After the brother appears played by the same actor they Hang a Lampshade on it with characters discussing the identical appearence of the two Agents Keonig, and the mention of multiple other brothers whom they wonder whether are all identical.
The newspaper comic Apartment 3-G has a problem with this, to the point that there's been more than one love triangle between one of the three female main characters and two identical-looking men. Women tend to have slightly more varying faces, but men are essentially distinguishable only by their hair.
In Transformers, toys are frequently repainted and sold as different characters. Starscream is traditionally the one that this happens to (although virtually every main character has a similar double, even Optimus Prime himself). This is either lampshaded or used to good effect in Transformers Animated when Starscream winds up cloning himself several times, with each body being a recolored version of himself. The only exception is his female clone, Slipstream, who has a more feminine physique. Justified in Animated; it's the only Transformers fiction to explicitly state that Transformer bodies are mass-produced. Model numbers are actually given for Ratchet and Bumblebee's body types, and the inventor of the former appears in one comic.
BIONICLE in its early years was very fond of using Palette Swap-type characters, especially for Matoran who would often only differ in their colors and the type of mask they wore... of which there were initially only twelve. In most media, they at least attempted to mix and match these masks and colors so that every appearing Matoran would look identifiably different, but the background-fillers tended to be mere copies. This was taken to the extreme in the movies, where these background Matoran couldn't wear the same kind of masks as the plot-important ones (leaving the number at five), and Matoran of the same elements weren't even differently colored. Taken to an even more ridiculous extreme in the fourth movie, in which every Agori resident of a village looks exactly the same, even though the sets they had been based on offered a variety of body and helmet designs. The exception are, again, the more relevant Agori, but they were only given shoulder pads to differentiate them from the crowd. Naturally, this was not in the least true to canon.
Action Adventure Games
The Tomb Raider series takes this to extremes, especially in TR2 - there are some baddies that have different clothes and weapons, but have the same face. Even Lara's butler has this face. The most ridiculous example is in TR3, when another female character appears that has the same face as Lara. They do try to avert this sometimes, though, by making Mooks wear masks and balaclavas. They all have the same voice though. A surprisingly good aversion occurs in Tomb Raider Legend, in which there is a party full of unique guests dancing and talking.
In the Batman Begins game there are maybe a dozen or so Mooks (apart from the League's Faceless Goons). They generally appear in gangs of four or five distinct ones, so it isn't totally obvious.
The somewhat-obscure Star Wars game Yoda Stories does this. One of the NPC sprites was actually later established to be a new species.
The majority of supporting characters in Tales of Monkey Island use either the "short fat guy" or "tall skinny guy" models, although there are exceptions, and clothing/facial hair variations within those templates.
There is even one character who is built on the main character's model). It's not easy to spot, though, because the color of his hair and skin is completely different, he's bald, and his beard is a completely different shape from Guybrush's. Probably
The first episode of Sam & Max: Freelance Police Season 3 uses a character model for a bit part character, taken directly from Tales of Monkey Island, right down to the same outfit. This is subverted by the fact that the character seems utterly confused at where he is and has no defined nationality. In a similar fashion the second episode of this series lampoons the idea by using the same models for 'ancestor' versions of main characters from the game and simply slightly changing their appearance (Sam simply having a mustache added whereas Max is wearing clothes). It even uses the same character model who had appeared a whole season ago for the villain who is Santa in all but name (which the game hints to). Telltale's games are justified in that they are made cheaply in order to release them quickly.
Taken to extremes in Future Wars, in which many NPCs share sprites with the protagonist. Except for the coveralls he wears at the beginning of the game, every outfit he wears is copied by at least one NPC. This is most obvious early in the game, when he takes a skinnydipping NPC's clothes as a disguise . . . and looks EXACTLY like the NPC when he puts them on.
Beat Em Ups
In God Hand, there are about twenty different body types, and by the end of the game you'll be intimately familiar with all of them. There is a Lampshade Hanging at one point; after rescuing a villager, he tells you that "Slacking at the job got (him) punished" and the villager next to him says he was sent there "just for looking like that guy".
Castle Crashers takes this to extremes as well. It only has four palate swapped main characters based on elemental ability. The other optional characters you can unlock are an unaltered sprite of an enemy with their abilities. This can get very confusing when you're fighting swarms and you lose which one is you.
The gangs in River City Ransom all have identical looking members (there's always one guy with glasses, another one with shades, etc.), the only changes are the color of their shirts. In the Japanese versions of the series, the same generic characters were used for Kunio's teammates in Nekketsu Soccer Hen and Nekketsu Hockey Bu.
Double Dragon, the forefather of all modern beat-'em-ups, has only a few stock enemies, namely the Williams and Rowpers as the common mooks, plus the occasional Lindas and Abobos in the original arcade version. The same pretty much applies to all the sequels and ports. Double Dragon Neon spoofs this by making it into a self-aware joke, referring to Williams as a "cartwheeling cannon fodder."
Doom 3 suffered heavily from this; as a result, Mars City has a disproportionately large Asian population (all of whom share the same face). There were a couple black people. Or at the very least one, that guy who came out of the bathroom after you got your PDA for example.
Played straight in GoldenEye 1997, as each mook is supposed to have a random face. However, since there are only 20 faces in the game, and the game loads only 3 or 4 of them for each level, it is very noticeable. Especially if the game loads the same face twice, so two out of three random people are the same.
Half-Life had four scientist models, with two voices (both done by the same actor) and exactly one model for all the security guards. There were also only four models for the enemy soldiers, though the two faceless models (with gas masks or balaclavas) did at least have varying skin tones, unlike the scientists and guards. In Half-Life 2, Barney was brought back as an NPC, and two of the four scientist models (one with a new voice actor) became Eli Vance and Isaac Kleiner.
The expansion, Half-Life: Opposing Force, had the same faces for all soldiers of a particular combat class- i.e. Medics, Engineers, and Heavies. So like the Black Mesa security, the USMC only recruits clones! There is much more facial variety than in the first Half-Life, however.
The expansion packs, Half-Life: Opposing Force and Half-Life: Blue Shift add a second security guard model, "Otis".
The fanmade remake of the original Half-Life, Black Mesa averts this, using procedurally-generated facial models for its scientists, security guards, and soldiers.
Half-Life 2 and the Episodes are better about this in general, having 15 variants for the common citizens (with each variant having its own subvariant with slightly different hair and facial structure) but unfortunately kept the scarcity of voice actors: all the unnamed NPCs (plus Colonel Cubbidge) share the same two voice actors: one man and one woman. All of the Vortigaunts are identical and have the same voice (Lou Gossett Jr. in Half-Life 2; Tony Todd in Episode 2), but it's assumed that their species is just naturally that way.
In BioShock, there are only nine character models for all of the various characters and enemies you meet throughout the game. Even major story characters like Dr. Tennenbaum, Atlas, Dr. Steinman, or Dr. Langford don't have unique character models, and are merely palette swapped versions of one of the basic models (which mostly works because you never see them up close, only in silhouette or at a distance). The only three characters in the entire game to have their own unique character model are Andrew Ryan and Sander Cohen and spliced-up Fontaine.
Still, this was thankfully changed in the sequel, where all the main characters have unique character models that match the pictures used in their audio diaries.
BioShock Infinite doesn't fare much better than its predecessors. The repetition is all the more apparent with most of the enemies being regular humans with their faces fully visible, and many quiet scenes with a clone army of civilians lounging about.
All the characters in Water Warfare are made from the same character creation system that the players use—so it's not that uncommon to get two CPUs with the same clothing or hairstyle in a game. And since the player uses the same system, you might end up with a clone running around…
Fallout, which only used a few models for all the characters again. Slightly more were added in Fallout 2 but as the game world was also much bigger you would meet identical-looking characters just as frequently. Lampshaded in Fallout 2 by Mason: ""You'd think there's only ten kinds of people in the world. Way I figure it, there was some big cloning accident in the past."
Most NPC characters in Fallout 3 have some facial variations, except for elderly men who always have the same wrinkled faces and old "hillbilly prospector" voices. The voice acting for everyone else uses the same handful of actors over and over too, with no variation in style or accent (except for Ahzrukhal, who despite having the same actor as the other male ghouls, has a very unique style of voice).
In the Halo series, it's common to see multiple Marines with the same appearance and voice at the same time.
All of the mooks in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault have the same face and voice. Ditto for Red Shirt friendlies. Major NPCs usually have unique faces, though.
The airport stage in Modern Warfare 2 makes it look like you're shooting up a cloning facility with 4 or 5 different people.
This is generally the same for actual combatants across the Call of Duty series, with the only truly unique characters being named allies with Plot Armor. World at War unintentionally calls attention to this, with Reznov (who himself reuses Zakhaev's head model from Call of Duty 4) stating in one pre-mission cutscene that your enemies are "the old, the young, the weak", despite them all looking identical both to each other and the regular soldiers from previous missions.
The first few Rainbow Six games use the same model for all player characters, both male and female, as well as one or two voice types for each gender.
Rainbow Six: Vegas and Vegas 2 use the same character creation system available to the player to put together its generic enemies. However, the majority of the enemies it puts together not only look alike, but also tend to share the same voice and have the same conversation about someone named Chris repeatedly.
Justified in Warframe with the Grineer, whose massive similar-looking armies are a result of cloning. This has the side effect of causing their bodies to slowly deteriorate, making them desperate to defeat the Tenno quickly, which is why the player often faces huge numbers of them at a time.
Freedom Fighters has four male and two female models for the player character's squadmates -double that if you count the winter clothing variants- and does a rather poor job of hiding the fact. The same is true of enemy mooks, in fact they only seem to have one model per class, but it's not so apparent because they're in uniform and therefore supposed to look pretty similar anyway.
Hack and Slash
All of the Union soldiers in Drakengard look exactly the same and have the same face portrait. Their voices differ considerably though.
Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors uses this method to populate the battlefield with a ridiculous amount of Mooks. They are even often encountered in identical, synchronous groups. (While in the past troops were expected to march in formation, when you see twelve guys doing exactly the same thing it does throw you a bit. Of course, most people are too wrapped up in the frantic action to notice too much.)
Applicable to both the Redshirt Hapless Mooks and the non-playable officers, despite the NPC officers having different names... although as the DW roster has expanded the former NPCs are given complete remakes. (Particularly noticeable in Samurai Warriors: Xtreme Legends with Honda Tadakatsu, where it became a lot harder to defeat him at Okehazama...)
World of Warcraft sadly extends this to playable characters as well. There is only one body type for each race and gender and a limited amount of face and skin tone variations. Unfortunately, even that limited choice tends to get lost when you start using head gear, unless you use the option to turn it off. It gets even worse when you start getting item sets, making you look like pretty much every other player of the same race/gender/class combination. On the other hand, NPCs have a fairly good variation spectrum since most of them use the same spectrum as playable characters. Children, soldiers and monsters on the other hand...
This is a problem in most MMOs as well, notably averted in City of Heroes and Second Life, both of whom have an astounding variety of character modification.
The expansion even went as far as reusing boss models. Usually recolored, but still the same model.
Star Wars: Galaxies also notably averts this one, having a variety of different species to chose from, all with unique appearance options.
In Lineage II this is even more dramatic - there are five playable races; each with only three customization options (Face, hair style and hair colour, but not skin colour) and maybe three or four options per slot.
Flyff, an MMORPG centered around the ability to fly suffered from this quite a bit. The only customization options they offer in game are hair style and color, possibly eye color as well. Skintone and Body type are set, as there is only one male, and one female model. Not only that, but each class only had one or two basic models for armor, with stats being the only difference. Thus, all characters of the same class look almost identical.
Trickster Online, another MMORPG, was even worse. Not only are classes determined by gender, the only customization option is Hair Color. At level 20 they give you the option to remove your animal ears and tail, pallet swaps of clothes were available as premium content, and an NPC could change your model from second job to first job, but it didn't change the fact that you were pretty much guaranteed to run into clones of yourself at some point.
MapleStory also suffered from this earlier in its run. The male and female characters have the same base model, despite the armor being different for each gender. Also, in the beginning, there are only three hairstyles and faces, so unless you use NX Cash (and even after, since there are a couple of really popular hairstyles), you'll likely run into someone with the same face, hairstyle, and hair color as you eventually. However, it has (to an extent) distanced itself from this trope in later years with the addition of a free VIP hairstyle coupon for all characters in Tot's guide, a wider range of hair colors to start out with for the newer classes and the revamped Explorers, and the occasional giveaway of free face-changing coupons. Even though there are still a select number of hairstyles and faces that are very popular among players, the number of options has increased significantly.
Phantasy Star Online (Episode I) manages to hit this trope, despite having only ONE city with about 20 NPCs. Slightly justified in that some may be in uniform, but civilian character models are also repeated for the 'unique' NPCs. Even child NPCs are just 'shrunk' versions of other NPC models.
AdventureQuest Worlds: everyone including the players have the same face while Drakath's Human Face is one of a kind while His Chaos Face not so much since other players will have it
Perfect World Online averted this for most player races due to the slider system. Beastman player characters had a limited number of animal types to choose from, resulting in more general similarities, and there were sets of cloned NPCs.
The Matrix Online had three body models for each sex of player character, and mostly reused them for all NPCs. There was a justification: hand-to-hand combat in the game was intended to be visually believable (if not realistic), with all blows either connecting with a valid target area or properly blocked, parried or avoided. Requiring everybody to be the same height and have the same reach (and compromising where multiple attackers are concerned) was necessary to make the release date, and the game engine never got fully fixed, let alone updated and expanded, before the servers shut down.
Dofus uses the same basic framework for all the males, and all the females. Only the clothing (and height, for a couple of classes) distinguishes characters. With gear, it's tough to tell one class from another. (Before the 2.0 revamp, Sadidas and Enutrofs used to have noticeably different stances from the other classes, but that's no longer the case. Enutrofs are still differently-proportioned than other classes, though)
Jet Set Radio Future has an extension of this trope where not only are there a limited number of pedestrian designs, but each pedestrian of a particular design exclaims the exact same thing when bumped into. Every. Single. Time. This meant that in most levels skating down a crowded sidewalk resulted in a cacophony of annoyed and/or frightened shouts that sounded remarkably similar on separate passes. However, one level features dozens of women in identical orange jumpsuits in rows (presumably doing morning exercises or something) that all exclaim "Ah! He touched my butt!" in comically high voices.
A Hat In Time's Mafia Town is populated almost entirely by totally identical Mafia goons.
The bear villagers and the Miko in Something Else. The only ones who stand out are the Bear and Miko leaders.
Have you checked out the crowd in any Guitar Hero or Rock Band game? All the clones even move the same way at the same time! This is a common rendering technique called "instancing" which lets you repeat a model in a particular pose all over the place basically for free. Almost any modern 3D game will use this to fill out crowds. Particularly visible in stadium crowds in sports games.
A common gaffe in The Witcher is the fact that there is only one character model each for merchants, hookers, male peasants and so on. It doesn't do wonders for immersion when even named and important NPCs have a dozen clones walking around. Declan Leeuvarden is the worst offender.
Odin Sphere has a rather creepy example at one point, where two NPCs that look exactly the same are standing across from each other and having a conversation. It's like they're talking into a mirror! There are maybe 8 sprites for minor characters in the hubs, not counting the merchants.
Megaman Battle Network series has portraits for every NPC, however because they are reused, it makes it even more obvious that someone is important when they have a unique face.
This is lampshaded at one point in the 2nd game, the player is robbed, and while searching for his stuff, if he talks to a man who looks exactly like the generic mugger, he says "Well, forgive me for looking like someone else".
It's arguably justified in the net-world, as most of the important characters have custom Navis, which do cost quite a large sum of money in-universe. Of course, how Mayl or Dex manage to get their hands on one apiece isn't really explored. Most people just use the standard Norm Navis that come with their PETs, and why would Mr. Progs ever need to look different from each other?
Yai bought them for them, or Lan got his dad to make them as birthday gifts.
Mega Man Star Force, which is pretty much the successor to Battle Network, also reuses character portraits.
Each character class/gender combination in Florensia has one body type — but six face options, six hairstyle options, and sixteen choices for hair colour and eye colour. This results in 6 x 6 x 15 x 15 = 8100 different potential appearances. The problem is that not all of the hairstyles are well-rendered, and some of the faces are decidedly ugly, so in practice there's a much narrower range of player character appearances because some choices just never get used.
In Icewind Dale, your character can actually tell the priests of Ilmater how awfully similar they look. Except it's only two of them, and they're twins.
In the Pokémon video games, there are very few overworld sprites. So, most people have the same overworld sprite. While this improves in later games, there's still only a handful of them. Each trainer class looks the same, unless the class is represented by both genders, in which it will have a whole TWO different appearances.
Pokémon Battle Revolution also suffers, but not as much. There are six models, and every shirt, pair of pants, and hair color is a palette-swapped variant of the original model (i.e. every character using the Cool Girl model wears a tank top and jeans). Also, not even hair color and eye color can be changed when a character is wearing a Pokemon costume. On the other hand, there is a bigger variety of hats, face accessories, and gloves.
Occasionally this usage of overworld sprites creates inconsistencies with the in-battle sprites. For example, the Veteran Trainer class is given an overworld sprite that looks like an old, bald man with a beard (commonly used for old man NPCs); however, their in-battle sprites depict them as clean-shaven with long hair.
In the older Game Boy Pokémon games, certain Pokémon (excluding a few of the legendaries, such as Lugia) had certain sprites on your party screen (a bug Pokemon will have a bug icon, a plant Pokemon will have a plant icon, etc.) or in the overworld, as opposed to the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games, which had individual icons for every Pokémon.
The random extras in The World Ends with You come in about thirty or forty varieties, so your chances of running into two of the same kind in any given crowd are pretty low... but it does cause a bit of a mind blow when the same random "chatter" thought pop up in two completely different people.
But the Reapers only come in two flavors, Handkerchief and Hat. The Handkerchief Reapers also serve as enemies and thus are subject to four different color schemes. You never fight a Hat reaper.
Fable did this to an annoying extent; you could marry identical quadruplets if you tried hard enough. It got particularly confusing when you had to rescue the thief during the siege. All the other thieves rush in, and they all look identical.
There are a great many opportunities to make crowds cheer for you in the game, but there's usually no more than two voice actors doing the NPCs, so you'll often hear the same voice cheering two or three different ways, doubled and played over each other (sometimes in sync, sometimes not) to get the "effect" of eight people cheering for you.
Fable II features more character models, but you will still run into a lot of the same people, though usually only in the same town (different towns have different economic status, and therefore different characters). However, the same voices are heard over and over, and it gets Lampshaded in a random conversation bit, as well as a loading screen tip: "Extensive etymological research has concluded that all of us sound the same!"
Dragon Fable has a handful of basic models, on the theme of Generic Guy/Girl as Thief/Fighter/Spellcaster/Whatever. You can customize eye color and hairstyle and color, but it's still Generic Person.
Final Fantasy VIII generally plays this one straight, but plays with it once: in Timber, there's a NPC who is a palette swap of Forest Owls' member Zone, and is flattered that the party thinks the two look alike. (In Timber, it's considered "cool" to be a member of one of the many resistance groups.)
In fact, a few minor enemies have the same sprites as generic units but unique portraits. A few are actually susceptible to Invite, but upon joining your team, their portraits become generic, too.
An unusual example is Final Fantasy X-2 - the first game had a large number of character models that were appropriate to the various locales and organisations where they were found. However, the sequel didn't feature many new character models, so some new named characters (Yaibal, Buddy, Shinra and Tobli) just re-used NPC models from the first game, where there were dozens of them. Some of these NPC models still exist in the sequel - so it's possible to run into unnamed NPCs who look identical to some of the main characters…
Final Fantasy XI falls victim as well, with customization being limited to Race, Gender, Height (3 choices), Face and Hair. It's hardly uncommon to have two identical members in a 6 person party. And played with in a series of quests where you have to return a dropped item to an airship passenger, you get to see what there person looks like, then there will be several NPCs on the airship of the same model with mildly different gear. Even a big old lampshade thrown in it when you talk to some of the NPCs: "It's hard to tell people apart these days, don't you agree?"
Averted with a furious vengeance in Final Fantasy XIV; you can customize the characters' skin color, eye color, hair color, height, tattoos, and apparently even breast size. No, really.
In Nippon Ichi games there are generally two classes of characters: those relevant to the plot (or Optional Party Members) who have unique portraits and can never change out of their starting job class, and generics which are identical except for the occasional Palette Swap and can reincarnate into any other class (including turning into monsters).
In most Wild ARMS games, every NPC has a unique name (sometimes you can even change them) but character models/portraits are still frequently reused. Wild ARMs XF makes it a bit strange, because there are generic portraits with unusually elaborate "adventurer" designs, making one think that a particular NPC would be a special character of some kind, until you see them show up two towns over under a different name. Wild ARMs 3 has unique appearances for every NPC in the game, except for one model which shows up in almost every town. Lampshaded in the ending, when one of them wonders "How many brothers did I have?"
In Final Fantasy Legend (SaGa 2) not even the player characters have unique sprites. That's right, you could talk to your double.
The same holds true in the original Final Fantasy if you have two characters in the same class.
At the Tower of Rem in Tales of the Abyss, while there are more than 50 replicas on-screen, the number of unique sprites used amounts to around 10.
This happens in Dragon Quest, even more so in the later DS remakes, since they all share the same NPC graphics with each other (which originated from Dragon Quest VII on the Playstation). Interestingly, this kind of gives the plot away at times. For instance, in DQIV, you can tell that a certain random traveller you meet at one point is actually the Big Bad. How? Because not only does he have a unique sprite, he's an expy of Sephiroth. Just to drive the point home, they actually turn this into a Take That.
Dragon Quest V inverts it in that one possible party member doesn't have a unique model: he's a guardsman who gains Nominal Importance. Similarly, Dragon Quest VI has several incredibly plot-vital characters who don't have unique models, and an Optional Party Member with a common sprite. In both cases, the party members at least gained original sprites in the DS remakes.
Golden Sun has a few different towns people models that show up in almost every town, often numbering in 2s and 3s. The exceptions are for towns of a different race entirely (proxians, for example), but even they have similar looking people living in the exact same town.
Like basically every 16-bit RPG ever, Phantasy Star II has this, but the most remarkable example are the Weapon, Armor, and Item shop clerks. All three are inexplicably cool-looking and have unique portraits with their own backgrounds.
Dragon Age: Origins has pretty diverse faces. What it doesn't have is diverse hairstyles and beards, and the few that exist are so distinct as to be instantly recognizable. When you spot Alistair's fratboy hair or Irving's unkempt beard on a random NPC, the effect is a little jarring.
There are also only four body models: human/elven male, human/elven female, dwarf male, and dwarf female. As a result, every woman in the game has the same attractive and youthful figure - even Badass Grandma Wynne, as Zevran is more than happy to point out in their series of party banters.
In Knights of the Old Republic, a Tarisian noble berates you for not recognising his station from his clothes. You can then walk across the room and talk to a peasant with the same model.
The Handmaiden in the sequel is supposed to look different from her five half-sisters, as all Echani supposedly look identical if they have the same parents but she had a different mother and takes after her. The model for all six is identical.
Actually, she's slightly different. If nothing else, her hair is combed in a different fashion.
The Knights of the Old Republic engine only has five or six different models for each gender of random humans, and only one or two for each alien species. Though all of the really important NPCs and most party members have unique models. (I mean, how many people actually have the bottom half of their face replaced by a mechanical device? And isn't there a plot point in the second game about all of the Miraluka in your sector having been killed off?)
Lampshaded (naturally) in the sequel, when Mical handwaves the Exile's remark about him looking familiar, by saying that you must've seen a lot of people and faces tend to blur together (so the faces may not even be the same and that's just how we see them). Of course with him, this is not the case as his face is unique (and quite distinct), and the Exile DID see him before. I.E. he was her pada-wannabe.
Two of the NPCs in KOTOR 2 actually have the same face model as one of the male Exile's possible appearances, which gets quite jarring if you chose that particular appearance for your character and inevitably run into these guys.
In the Baldur's Gate series, all the generic characters have the same character model, the ones employed as guards and such don't even get a Palette Swap.
For example, in the first game every single bandit is a blonde light-skinned human using the fighter model, and all of them are wearing identical clothes, and identically equipped with studded leather armour and a longbow. They've only got one dialogue line between all of them, too.
"So I kicked him in the head 'til he was dead! Nya-ha-ha-ha!"
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is particularly bad with this. In each section of the city, there are two to four different non-speaking NPCs, with occasional extras in some places (like clubs). Often times, twins and triplets will appear side-by-side due to this. In addition, in the club environment of each section, there are two NPCs you can interact with, each based off of the same two NPC models, with minor differences in clothes or makeup. Even the prostitutes suffer from this trope.
It's even more jarring when you take into account that other than named NPCs, there are only two models to represent vampires from each clan, one of each sex. These are the same models that player characters use. Thankfully, most players won't encounter NPCs identical to their character since the game substitutes members of other clans in their place, except for male Ventrue fought during the endgame.
In the end game, Prince dominates SWAT chief and speaks through him to the player. The bad part is, SWAT guy looks exactly like the Prince. Which leads many players to believe they are talking to actual Prince (and killing him afterwards). Not to mention that playable Ventrue character also looks exactly like the Prince.
Players might run into one lampshade. Midway through the game, you run into someone who knew you back when you were alive. If you tell her she's mistaken you for someone else, she'll insist you look just like her friend. You can tell her, "Lots of people look alike, and I'm not any of them either."
Games made with RPG Maker have a unique take on the problem. If you play a lot of games that stick with the default character graphics, not only will you see the same NPCs across multiple games, but also the same main characters. It can be kind of jarring to play a game that stars the same characters as a different game, but with new names and personalities.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind really didn't have that many faces (or hairstyles — some variance is given by the two being separate). The game can handle unique NPC faces (or hairstyles — Helseth in Tribunal uses both to allow for a unique face and cropped ears), but uses it rather sparingly, even for main quest-relevant characters.
Lampshaded in Dink Smallwood mod Grasp of Darkness when Dink tells a woman on Freg Island that she looks exactly like his mother and that her house is an exact copy of his, only for her to suggest that it might be the other way around.
In sports games, the audience will often just be a handful of characters that are just repeated ten thousand times. This can be particularly jarring when you have a close up because you can see five or six of the exact same character (sometimes all on the same row!) playing the exact same animation at the exact same time. Not only are they all clones, but they're synchronized with their clones!
In every Backyard Sports game, most characters look the same. Only the 30 main ones are distinguished.
Used in Assassin's Creed for the guards and citizens (with palette swaps for the clothes), but with good reason—the cities are populated with literally thousands of people at any given time and giving them all unique faces would be nigh impossible.
Justified in-game as these are memories: neither Altaďr or Ezio had any reason to memorize every passing face, so the simulation just renders them with a generic face.
Used in Brotherhood's multiplayer mode for the purposes of Paranoia Fuel. Because higher-level players can customize their character, all models of the same character will adopt the custom design, keeping the player from standing out.
Very obvious in the New Orleans level in Hitman: Blood Money. There are, at most, four or five different NPC models making up the crowd of people celebrating Mardi Gras. They even perform the same animations at the same time; all the same model NPC will all pump their arms in the air at the exact same moment for example. Can probably be excused though as it is a PS2 game that is literally simulating and displaying thousands of NPCs at the same time that the player can walk amongst and even kill, thus averting Thriving Ghost Town to an epic level.
Mad TV has three competing TV stations, but they all seem to employ identical triplets in their libraries and studios. Also, no matter which one you choose to work for, you always have the same boss.
In Resident Evil 4, the same enemy Ganados are used constantly. There are only four. The designers tried to add variation by giving them hats, but if the player is aiming for the head, they'll get shot off. Very annoying in a particular cutscene where a boss wipes out eight enemies in one blow, totaling four of two people in a single screen.
This has been the case in every game, most notably the original: Only two types of zombie existed in the mansion area, and a third variety could be found in the lab toward the end. Likewise, Resident Evil 2 was just as guilty - 1 type of female zombie throughout the game. During the RPD area, clones were extremely noticeable too, as almost every zombie there was a former cop. Although some did wear hats.
Even more guilty is Resident Evil 0, where many of the random zombies are clones of STARS member Edward Dewey.
In Freedom Fighters this is more noticeable with fellow rebels, of which there are exactly six character models, whereas most enemy units have two per class and are all in uniform anyway. Both sides suffer from a limited number of voice actors, not to mention a limited library of voice files. Non-combatant NPCs are even less diverse, but the only time you see more than one or two of them in the same place you're probably a little bit too busy to notice.
Used gratuitously throughout the Fire Emblem series. If a unit has a face, they'll have plot significance. Everyone else, not so much. With only a few exceptions per game (and you know immediately that those guys must be really important), all of the battle sprites are palette swaps for their respective classes.
Except in Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, where the characters with names all have noticeably different faces in battle.
Except not so much in Path of Radiance - it happens, sure (take Soren vs. Bastian), but most characters wear helmets or something that obscures their faces. In fact, a promoted Ilyana looks exactly like a palette-swapped Calill, even though Ilyana's unpromoted form and her official art aren't even all that similar to Calill. It's only in Radiant Dawn where characters of the same class are pretty much always distinguished.
Even the playable characters played this straight in the first game, probably due to limited memory. See here and note the sheer number of characters who share the exact same portraits. This ended up getting lampshaded in the remakes: Dolph and Macellan's Red Baron titles in Shadow Dragon's epilogue are "Splitting Image" and "Dead Ringer" respectively, and in New Mystery Barst confuses Bord for Cord in a recruitment conversation.
All Total War games suffer from this. Didn't really matter in the first two, since soldiers were small, blotchy sprites in any case, but particularly jarring in high-detail 3D Rome. The devs tried to moderate the effect in Medieval 2, by giving each individual soldier a random pick between a variety of heads, armours, color schemes, shield heraldry etc... However, as of Empire it's back in almost full force, since by then armies had real uniforms. There's still a bit of randomization in the face department, but it's mostly unnoticeable in-game.
All the soldiers have the same height, which would only make sense in Napoleon's Old Guard, who were specifically chosen based on height.
In the PC game Jagged Alliance 2, EVERY character is essentially the same with a template swamp, including your party of mercenaries. There's the big guy, medium guy, civilian, and female bodies- after that, better start changing shirt colors!
Wide Open Sandbox
The Grand Theft Auto series is a huge non-RPG offender. It gets a little better with each game, but even in San Andreas there were only twenty or so unique character models. What's worse, the game can only hold so many different people and vehicles in memory at the same time, so in any given region only a small subset of the whole selection were used, thematic to the region.
Similarly, to avoid having to render many different car models, all the GTA games will put most new cars drawn as what the player is currently driving. If you're in a fire truck or a super rare sports car, that's pretty jarring◊.
The online playable character models in Grand Theft Auto IV are an interesting case. The base models for the two genders are the same, and the clothing selection is rather limited if you haven't increased your rank online, but each skin tone and gender combo gets its own voice.
In Startopia, all members of a given alien race are indistinguishable by sight. The only exception is the Dahnese Siren, the Winged Humanoid race that personify beauty and sexuality in the game's dynamic; they have one male and one female model, and may be the only alien with any gender dimorphism at all.
In Prototype you can see 2-3 of the same person walking down the street right next to each other. For those who haven't seen it, here's an example (example starts around :46).
The Sims 1 only had around 10 heads for each gender and 3 skin tones (pale, medium and dark). The Sims 2 has more variation in the create-a-sim part, but townies and NPCs only have a handful of faces. They don't even have many name variations.
Regarding the original Sims game, there were many extra outfits and a few more faces in the expansion packs, plus all the customized downloads available on the internet.
In The Sims Medieval, the majority of villagers are randomly generated, so every kingdom you play will have a different population. That said, there are a few "unique" villager titles that always belong to the same Sim with the same appearance, name and traits, and every kingdom will have at least one (examples are Handmaiden, Druidess and Herbalist). If you're playing multiple Kingdoms at once, it's possible for the same unique NPC to be in more than one.
The Godfather game has a rather small number of models for both civilians and random mobsters despite displaying an apparently unique name for each, which you can learn by targetting him/her.
After you've played Spider-Man 2 for a while, you'll start to notice that the same few Innocent Bystanders keep calling for help, sometimes from two different streets at the same time…
Spore. It is quite easy to fly to a new planet and meet a "new" alien species that looks identical to that inhabiting a planet you already encountered a hundred light-years away. This example is particularly annoying, considering that Spore's prime selling quality was that the game would supposedly download new content from millions of available samples online on the fly so that you could meet fifty thousand unique species in a single playthrough.
Scarface: The World is Yours takes this to an extreme when the target of a certain plotline mission doesn't even get the benefit of a unique character model.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is made using Adobe Flash, which results in Flash elements for the ponies' bodies being copied-and-pasted quite often to create crowd scenes, with the only differences between the different background characters being their color palettes. This also has the effect of allowing the early and easy identification of any important characters, with any character who seems minor but is not a simple copy-and-paste job likely playing somewhat of a role in the story later on.
The 3D The Legend of Zelda games are pretty good about having unique humans (and Kokiri, though some models repeated: twin sisters we saw way more than two of, and triplet brothers we saw way more than three of), but Gorons and Zoras are mostly a different matter.
The original 2D Zelda game, however, had an old man, an old woman, a shop keeper, and a non-hostile moblin who would fill every single NPC role in the entire game.
For the most part averted in Beyond Good & Evil—all of the human NPCs are distinct, and while the various Funny Animal people do tend to use the same model, the game at least gives them different clothes. The biggest exception is the generic, faceless City Guards; this would be excusable, given that they're all uniformed soldiers, and even their identical builds and heights would probably go unnoticed... If they didn't use the exact same model as one of the main characters. The effect switches from "ordinary soldiers" to "vast, creepy army of clones."
Perfect Dark used a couple of random faces out of a predetermined pool, so the male guards looked more varied. Female guards, on the other hand, had only three heads to choose from, so they all looked pretty similar.
Partially averted in Left 4 Dead, to a greater extent in Left 4 Dead 2. Despite the fact that you're already fighting hordes of mindless zombies who you may expect to be clones of a few distinct models, the designers came up with systems for randomizing body shapes, clothes, and textures on the fly to create a much larger selection of possible zombie models to choose from. The sheer number of "Common Infected" you come across, though, and the fact that you generally aren't looking too closely at the exact shade of their shirt, plus the "Uncommon Infected" in the second game which are of several more specific types, moves these closer to a standard version of the trope.
Partially in effect in Team Fortress 2. True, each class looks and sounds completely different, but for the most part, there's no limit to the number of each class allowed per team. Especially frustrating when you're crushed under a wave of Scouts or everyone on your team is playing Spy or Sniper. That said, given the amount of weapons and hats in the game, it's actually relatively difficult to find two people with the same appearance. If a team has a particularily distinctive makeup it can make it easier to spot Spies.
Hack and Slash
Averted in the Diablo games, but only for NPCs. PCs of the same class all look quite similar.
While City of Heroes manages to avert this for its player characters, it certainly falls right into it for hapless citizens and enemy Mooks. A weird variation takes place for a Mastermind's Henchmen - from summon to summon, the same minion may look drastically different, sometimes switching from white to black, while occasionally you will end up with two identical Mooks at the same time.
Since it was originally (and still is, actually) an Avatar Dress Up site, Gaia Online mostly averts this trope in it's MMO, zOMG!. Generic townsfolk and guards use the normal avatar system available to users (although members of the "Conductor Family" wear unique outfits that are unavailable to users), while shopkeepers, major questgivers, and plot NPCs have unique, custom made avatars. There are only two sets of NPCs with any resemblance to each other. One set is a joke, and with the other set they turn out to be the same person. However, most NPCs tend to be based off of the generic "male" and "female" bases, with a few exceptions.
There have been cases of NPCs suffering from this trope however. Certain special bases, such as Alien, Zombie, and Vampire have the eyes and mouth "painted on", meaning that all players (and NPCs, in the case of the alien skin) using them have the same face. All UFO invader NPCs are identical, save for 09's (which was given an Evil Makeover) and the Mothership (which appears as a top secret sign on the main site, and a massive shadow elsewhere).
Ragnarok Online being an early MMO and sprite based, with a lot of the characters only the hairstyle and color can be customized. However there are hundreds upon hundreds of hats. The problem? Many times players wear the same (stat boosting) combination of hats which obscure the head.
Some servers offer costumes though, hats/headgears (only purchasable with real money) that do not boost stats and can be worn alongside normal hats, replacing their sprites.
Most of the human NPCs in Sonic Adventure look unique (although a few duplicates are used), but almost all of the echidna tribe in the past are identical in appearance.
Final Fantasy VII has a rather wide variety of models for NPCs as far as console RPGs of the day went—though, the fact that most look like 3D models of Atari 2600 sprites had to make that easier to manage.
In Fallout3 and Fallout: New Vegas a couple of characters (generally old ones) were left with default faces, leaving us with things like the Big Bad of one DLC looking more like the Big Good of Fallout 3 than the holographic still image of him that he gave you orders through earlier in the DLC. This is eventually lampshaded by "Gary" in Vault 108.
The Xenosaga (but not Xenogears) series went back and forth between suffering from this trope and averting it entirely; on the one hand, the realians (which really are clones) were all identical, whereas basic NPCs were repeated much less frequently. The major reason is that there were only a few populated areas in the entirety of each game; shopping and recovery was usually not based on interacting with people. Evil minions were still faceless though.
Juli Mizrahi appears in at least two crowd scenes, odd because she's an important plot character. Maybe it's because her brown hair and brown clothes keep her character model from standing out too much.
Speaking of Xenogears, there are a lot of different sprites used for characters, but unless they've got a character portrait odds are they share the same sprite as everyone else in the world that has the same job (most nuns look the same, for example). This gets really weird in Kislev's D-Block, where most NPCs either look like strippers/biker chicks if they're female or Cyclops (yes, that Cyclops) if they're male, yet when you actually fight a couple of the male ones they look like palette-swapped Forest Elves (a minor enemy from a dungeon way earlier in the game).
One scene shows Elly along with about 50 Gebler soldiers lined up for a briefing...and Elly is the only person who isn't an identical-looking blonde male soldier.
Later in the game Fei runs into a character that happens to share the same sprite as his best friend from the first town. Fei actually calls him out on it for a brief moment, but it literally has no plot significance whatsoever, leaving it as a strange Lampshade Hanging on this trope.
Oddly enough, Persona 4 uses (Mitsuo and Naoto) and averts (the gas station attendant, who does have a face in flashbacks, but not the first time) the portrait=important rule, and averts it with the NPCs in the school, who have separate hair styles/colors.
More or less averted in Dark Cloud, where the only real instance of clone-NPCs is the Dark Ritual in the game's opening; this is due to the game's world-rebuilding scenario, where every single character IS unique. However, the sequel populates the hero's hometown with more traditional generic townspeople.
In Mass Effect, this is almost totally averted, except that every species except humanity is limited to one gender. This is justified for most of them in the background details if you pay attention, but they had to Cut Turian females during production, so they're just not there (or indistinguishable from the men). And of course, the Asari are a One-Gender Race. Also, humans have only six hairstyles.
The second game, while still a pretty big offender, does at least offer us female Batarians, in the few instances we see them. Their faces are identical to male batarians and their body structure isn't as blatantly female as humans, it can be hard to see at a glance.
Mass Effect 2 onwards does introduce male quarians (Kal'Reegar, Rael'Zorah, Han'Gerrel, Zaal'Koris, Veetor, and Kenn the Salvage Dealer), Mass Effect 3 makes female krogan an important plot point, female Salarians like Dalatrass Linron from ME3 are virtually indistinguishable from the males apart from voice, and a female turian has been seen in the expanded universe, though never in-game (they have shorter crests, but that's about the only observable difference).
Female turians have finally made an appearance in ME3's DLC, with Nyreen Kandros in Omega, a nameless side character that an unromanced Garrus flirts with in Citadel (prompting Shepard's best wingman impression), and the Cabal Vanguard from the Reckoning multiplayer pack. Their top crests are shorter, but the crests on both sides of their face are more prominent than the male turian. Also, their bodies are more angular than the males, with tighter neck-ridges and thinner limbs.
Fantasy Life plays this straight, but has several factors that contribute to toning it down. One is that the three human settlements each have their own set of generic designs for adults, elders and children combined with the presence of tourists from one or two of the other settlements. Next is that each of the twelve Character Classes comes with its own Sidequest Sidestory involving a mentor and colleagues. The mentor and about half the colleagues have unique models (the other half have generic models) and just hang around in their usual locations if the player choses to be part of another professional circle. Being a noteworthy citizen is also in some cases enough to get a unique model. Combine these with the characters from the main story that all have their own model and the relative number of identical clones comes off as not that big during actual gameplay.
The Suikoden series both averts and embraces this trope. While each of the 108 Stars Of Destiny are fairly diverse, especially after the first game, 95% of the rest of the game reuses the same sprites for everyone.
Valkyria Chronicles has both an example and a subversion. Every single Imperial soldier of a particular class looks and sounds exactly the same. However, the sixty or so characters from which you can select your roster each have individual names, faces, bodies, animations, voices, and backstories. Furthermore, their personality influences their abilities, and the relationships between characters are useful to understand when building your team.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has unique portraits for generic characters that played a role in a mission, which makes them stand out. Their battle sprites are still identical to a normal generic unit however.
Wide Open Sandbox
Aside from areas outside of the school, you would be hard-pressed to find any two characters in Bully, up to and including completely superfluous students walking down the hallway, who share the same model.
While it gives it a good try, Bully ends up with a strange variation - while all of the students are individuals with their own appearance and personality, there simply aren't enough of them to make the school look populated. The game's attempts to hide it can make it appear as if the school is the testing ground for personal teleports instead of cloning, due to characters appearing elsewhere once your character passes them.
Saints Row gets around this by using the character creator on everyone, even the story important characters, so there are many videos on YouTube of Johnny Gat, for example, in cutscenes.
Many players don't bother to change Minecraft's default player skin, making multiplayer servers full of identical Steve?s. However, players with an image editor can make their own custom skins.
7 Days to Die seem to avert this a little, by having quite a mix of zombies. Each kind of zombie sports either a set of skins or only one skin, such as the fat zombies being the same Hawaii-shirt clad bald guy. The player characters are a male and a female, but both skins are just them in different colored clothes.
Mega Man ZX Advent not only avoids this trope (except for the hunters in uniform, which are justified by, well, their being in uniform), but Inti Creates went the extra mile and made almost every NPC character look completely different, and even gave them all amazingly elaborate designs. Yes, even the ones who have no importance whatsoever besides talking to you.
Completely and totally averted in Psychonauts—every single NPC looks different and has his or her own personality (and voice acting!), even those utterly incidental to the plot. It's to the point where the scenario isn't so much "main cast and several background NPCs" as it is "Loads and Loads of Characters." Even the nameless players in the Gloria's Theater level all look (and sound) slightly different, and all of the "painting dog" NPCs in Black Velvetopia are different breeds, at least. One level does have several relatively identical The Men in Black and "Rainbow Squirts," but the Rainbow Squirts are all carefully groomed Stepford Smilers, and the G-Men are trying to, err... "blendin."
Completely averted and then some in Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. Every single one of the NPCs have a unique body, unique name, and unique voices. No one NPC is even remotely similar to one another, so much so that you can identify who's who by looking at their sprite.
Averted on a grand scale in White Knight Chronicles; the character creation interface is so ridiculously powerful and robust that the developers used it to create every one of the 700+ unique NPCs.
Averted in Mount & Blade, where every character is either randomized or unique. The dialogues are still very repetitive.
In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, it turns out the Cab Driver is a subversion. Enterprising players accustomed to the clones seen so far may think all the cabs and drivers looking the same is an example of this trope, but it isn't: The same cab driver's been taking you all over the city to and from each mission.
RuneScape may be one of the MMOs closest to completely averting this:
An update introduced a massive amount of new base-character clothes, to go with the already large number of clothes options, skin colors, hairstyles and haircolors. Unarmored, seeing someone who looks exactly like you is almost as rare as you'd expect in real life.
RuneScape has an extremely large collection of armor to use, with no real "Best in Slot" items (Although there are some extremely commonly used items (Neitiznot Helm and Abyssal Whips are major offenders of this)), meaning that a lot of players will have different armor.
Nearly all important characters received unique models, and most mooks have enough different models to make it hard to notice (There are, for example, so many "common zombie" models that you'd swear Jagex designed one for each and every individual zombie spawn)
Inazuma Eleven has a unique set of head sprites, 3D head model, mug shot, and a short bio for every single character. All 1000+ of them in the first game and each sequel progressively expands on the cast, with the third game having over 2000 characters. And this is all crammed onto a little Nintendo DS card, mind you.
Wide Open Sandbox
Shenmue has no duplicate NPCs anywhere, not even amongst the generic thugs. In fact, each character had their own daily schedule, ensuring that they would always "be" at a certain place, usually returning to their own house/apartment/whatever by the end of the day. Heck, Sega even went one step further by giving every single character their own background story and personality. Unfortunately, none of that ever comes up in the game itself (as it's all supplemental material) which is a shame since there's enough there for more than a couple of the NPCs to be turned into full-fledged characters.
Averted in Dwarf Fortress. Each creature has a description that makes them almost unique now.
Averted in Saints Row 2. Every pedestrians model is randomly generated, and you can go to a store and buy the same clothes as anyone else.
Pokémon uses the same Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny characters for different cousins of the same name (and profession), with Brock being the only person able to tell them apart from each other. This is of course a lampshading of the games' tendency toward this trope.
In To Love-Ru Rito and his friends end up being sucked in a RPG game setup by Lala's sisters, they are greeted by Bunny Girls who all look the same and have different colors in costumes and hair, Yuuki even points their just repainted sprites.
In The Matrix, this trope is specifically evoked in a specific scene- when Morpheus and Neo walk through a simulation of a crowded street in the Matrix (with the Woman in the Red Dress), they had the same actors walk by more than once, and even used twins and triplets. The Wachowski brothers specifically wanted it to look like the programmer of the simulation had gotten lazy and used the same models over again.
Live Action TV
Used with hilarious effect in the German TV show Bully & Rick. ALL the characters in the show are played by the two eponymous guys Michael "Bully" Herbig and Richard "Rick" Kavanian. Yes, even the women.
In Noob, all shopkeepers and training ground weaponmasters from the fictional MMORPG in which the story is set are the same guy named Ardacos, who's basically this trope handwaved as Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?. Some lampshading has happened early in the webseries. The comics and novels taken together seem to have given him a couple of cousins; the Fictional Sport coach and the hairdresser (two jobs that start with "co" in French, the franchise's orginal language) are called Ardacoach and Ardacoiffe, and still have the same face as Ardacos despite a difference in clothes and hairstyles.
In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Doktor justifies this on the part of the Desperado mooks by saying that many cyborg bodies are mass-produced. This is borderline deconstructed in parts - retrieving the left arm of the cyborg "Barack" reveals that he was originally African-American, but his cyborg was given white features in order to save money.
In Harvester, an amnesiac Steve visits his girlfriend's mother. She's portrayed by the same actress as his mother but wears a different wig. She gets insulted if you point it out. Later, you can visit the PTA and discover that the other PTA mothers are also played by the same actress. The ending reveals that the entire town is a virtual reality simulation, so this is actually an in-universe example.
When you first arrive in Traverse Town in Kingdom Hearts, there is a man in the 2nd District that loses his heart. Later on, another man in the 1st District standing by the door that leads to the 3rd District looks exactly like him. The same goes for the shopkeeper of the Accessory Shop. If you chat with him, he'll say:
Shopkeeper: What? You've seen me before? Perhaps you're thinking of someone else?
Lampshaded in Serious Sam - occasionally when the titular character encounters an enemy that looks identical to one he fought before, he will say "Didn't I kick your ass two rooms back?".
Lampshaded in Commander Keen 4: "You know, you look a lot like the last guy I rescued..."
The guards in Ninth Rock are all identical, and apparently even share a name.
Spencer:(after finding yet another keycard) How many Charles Bronsons work here?
Parodied in Earthbound, where the generic sprites for NPCs have distinctive appearances that immediately draw attention to the fact that the same sprite has been re-used. For example, there are several characters in the game who inexplicably look like Mr. T, yet have absolutely nothing to do with one another. To further lampshade the sprite reuse, many of the NPC sprites (such as the doctor sprite, and many of the townspeople) were taken from its NES predecessor.
Also, the out-of-battle sprites for most human enemies are certain NPC sprites with blue faces.
The game's sequel, Mother 3, has an interesting take on this. All the original villagers of Tazmily Village each have completely unique sprites. After the timeskip that occurs in Chapter 4, however, the village becomes populated by generic NPCs who look pretty much exactly like the ones from Earthbound—these characters are vaguely suggested to be "visitors from the city". This even plays into a minor plot point, as the game's villain is Porky Minch, who was previously The Dragon in Earthbound. Having abused time travel so heavily that he has aged past the point where humans would normally die, he can no longer return to his own time—his nostalgia for his home is shown in the form of various homages to Earthbound. It is suggested that the generic NPCs are either fakes intentionally constructed to resemble the people from his time, or that they were literally pulled from other eras and mindwashed into obeying him.
Heavily lampshaded in the Paper Mario series—in The Thousand Year Door, your partner Goombella frequently admits that she can't tell any of the random townsfolk apart, especially when they're all part of one race and are largely identical. She even wonders at one point if she's just an ugly foreigner who can't see the differences that are obvious to the townies. Oddly, many of the NPCs have unique names, at least, and plenty of them have their own little "personalities." (Many of these eventually get involved in some Side Quests—yet others are just there for flavor.)
Lampshaded in Anachronox. While locked up on the ship of supervillain Rictus, the player can chat with superhero Multidude, who reveals that he can create duplicates of himself (which tend to wander off). By this point in the game, the player will indeed have spotted many NPCs using the same character model as Multidude.
Every town in My World, My Way has NPCs who look the same, and they're the only NPCs the princess will see in any town at any given time. It's All Part of the Show, of course, as they're all paid actors running from town to town to test her worthiness as a hero.
Paladins Quest has an amusing variant. The same sprite is used by the NPC who offers to save your progress throughout your adventure. During the ending sequence, every character whom you have helped or hired for your party makes an appearance.. including the 'Save Lady' NPC! Thus, it wasn't just someone who looked the same in every single inn, it WAS the same person!
In Jays Journey, Jay looks relatively mundane, but an NPC in Lango has a unique sprite (but denies having any plot significance when asked). When The Dragon (who has yet to meet the heroes) shows up in Lango looking for Jay, he passes right by Jay (who responds to his demands with "Welcome to Lango!"), but takes the NPC away because he looks so remarkable.
Parodied in Custom Robo for the GameCube. In the Police Tournament there is an entire Quarter of the same generic boy NPC. One comments how they all look alike. Another isn't sure if he is with the correct partner. Another says he'll try his best even though as a generic NPC he won't win. One actually makes it to the semi-final and says this is the greatest achievement for his people.
The game subverts this if you make a point of talking to every NPC each time the story progresses, as almost all NPCs, despite lacking unique models, have their own little personality quirk. According to the Developer's Room, one team member had making these as their primary role.
Wide Open Sandbox
During one of the drug trafficking minigames in Saints Row, the guy you're helping out will comment, "I may be high, but I swear to God you killed that asshole before."
Jarringly lampshaded in Final Fantasy XII where one of the Garif Warriors actually says "We all look the same to you now, but you'll learn to tell the differences". You don't.
In Rick and Morty when Morty's dad Jerry is accidentally abducted and thrown into a simulation along with Rick, the aliens remove the more complex programs on Jerry's side to reduce processing power. The end result is that Jerry keeps running into the same fat black mailman all the time, sometimes more than once in a single room... and he doesn't notice a thing.