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Amnesiac Protagonist Catalyst

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An elderly man was sitting alone on a dark path. He wasn't certain of which direction to go, and he'd forgotten both where he was traveling to and who he was. He'd sat down for a moment to rest his weary legs, and suddenly looked up to see an elderly woman before him. She grinned toothlessly and with a cackle, spoke: "Now your third wish. What will it be?"
"Third wish?" The man was baffled. "How can it be a third wish if I haven't had a first and second wish?"
"You've had two wishes already," the hag said, "but your second wish was for me to return everything to the way it was before you had made your first wish. That's why you remember nothing; because everything is the way it was before you made any wishes." She cackled at the poor berk. "So it is that you have one wish left."
"All right," said the man, '"I don't believe this, but there's no harm in wishing. I wish to know who I am."
"Funny," said the old woman as she granted his wish and disappeared forever.
"That was your first wish."

So, you woke up without any memory of what happened or how you got here. But there's a crisis going on, and you are called to try and fix it. So what's a hero to do but do just that?

However, a significant fraction of the story later, it is revealed that the cause of the problem is... you?!

Yeah. At worst, you'll be turned against by your peers. At best, you'll still carry on, but now under the pretense of fixing what you broke.

Naturally, many characters subject to this have a case of Amnesiac Dissonance since who they were then in the backstory and who they are now as the audience/player follows them can differ greatly.

Most amnesiac instances of The Killer in Me count for this trope, but not all cases of this count as The Killer in Me since not all crises are caused by murder.

Two Aliases, One Character can be at work here.

Can be a case of What Did I Do Last Night? if the action done last night is that severe.

Compare Tomato in the Mirror, which also has shocking revelations pertaining to the character, but not always about their responsibility for the crisis.

Compare Unwitting Instigator of Doom, where amnesia isn't necessarily a factor.

Due to the nature of the trope, spoilers ahead, some of them unmarked. While they are covered, their presence in this page here should serve as a second chance to pull away if you don't want any details yet. You have been warned.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Casshern Sins: In a decaying desolate world, a plague known as Ruin kills humans and robots alike, and apparently Casshern is responsible for having slain their guardian entity Luna, the only one who could have healed the world. Since he's amnesiac and the protagonist, he technically counts for this trope.
  • The setting of Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V consists of four separate dimensions, each respectively using one of the four summoning methods (Standard, Fusion, Synchro, and Xyz) with the Fusion dimension leading violent attacks on the others. It turns out that the four dimensions used to be one until a duelist named Zarc was driven crazy by a violence-craving audience and turned himself into a deity, almost destroying the world before another duelist named Ray defeated him with special cards, splitting both of them into four reincarnations (one of Zarc's being Yuya and one of Ray's being Yuzu) of themselves across the dimensions and wiping the memories of everyone else in the process.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in one issue of Tomorrow Stories, which sees the detective Greyshirt chasing after an amnesiac man who believes that he's the hammer-wielding serial killer at large after waking up in an alley next to a dead woman and a bloody hammer. After Greyshirt finally catches the guy, he reveals that the amnesiac was innocent — the blood was his, the Hammer Killer slipped on wet pavement while attacking him and broke her skull open, but not before landing a blow that caused the poor guy to black out and lose his memory. Alas, by that time, the man has killed someone, convinced that he was already doomed to be executed for the eight previous murders anyway.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Dragonball Evolution, Goku finds out that the evil Oozaru, which he's spent most of the movie on a mission to defeat, is actually him. Somehow. Even though the Oozaru is supposed to be thousands of years old and Goku himself is only a teenager. It's not really explained.
  • Memento: Leonard goes hunting for the burglar who killed his wife and gave him amnesia, causing this trope to come into effect twice. It eventually unravels that this refers to two totally separate incidents: while Leonard does have amnesia from the burglary, his wife didn't die during that, the burglar is already dead, and Leonard himself accidentally killed his wife due to mixing up the doses of her medication thanks to his condition. His quest for the burglar is in fact a purposeful attempt to distract him from his own guilt, and he destroys the evidence that points towards himself so that the cycle can begin again.

  • Shutter Island (as well as its film adaptation) is about a police officer, Teddy, investigating the disappearance of a psychotic patient called Andrew Laeddis. The twist is, he is Andrew Laeddis. But this is a downplayed case since everyone else was aware of it and was just playing along to try and cure him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Father Brown, "The Smallest of Things", has the unknowing killer be the one who invites Father Brown to come and investigate the death of their mother, insisting that it couldn't possibly be an accident.
  • Marcella pulls a Bait-and-Switch with this trope. Marcella has blackouts that make her sporadically very violent. She fears that she may have killed her soon-to-be-ex husband Jason's mistress, Grace, during one of these blackouts and goes to great lengths to cover up her involvement. Grace was actually murdered by a serial killer and it was nothing to do with Marcella. However, in Season 2, Marcella comes to worry that her son is a psychopath who may have murdered his younger sister, causing her amnesia. She eventually learns that she killed her baby daughter, albeit accidentally, and that was what caused her amnesiac blackouts.
  • Terriers: One Mystery of the Week is about a guy who blacked out and lost his memory due to taking malaria pills. He eventually realizes that he kidnapped his crush while having a psychotic break and tries to commit Suicide by Cop. Only Hank's intervention prevents this.

  • One of the major turning points of The Adventure Zone: Balance is when we learn that Taako, Magnus, and Merle all have huge gaps in their memories — Kravitz has records of them each dying multiple times, there's just static where years' worth of memories should be, and Magnus discovers he's a Red Robe, but none of them have any idea what the explanation for this is. It's eventually reveled that the three of them, along with Davenport, Lucretia, Barry, and Taako's sister Lup — whom he'd also completely forgotten the existence of — are all originally from another dimension, and spent a full century being chased by the Hunger, staying in each dimension for one year before it caught up to them again. After they settled on the dimension where the main story takes place, Lucretia wound up wiping her friends' memories for what she saw as the greater good, as part of a plan to defeat the Hunger for good. Except her actions and the events of the campaign have directly led to it finding them again after ten years of successfully hiding. Mass "Oh, Crap!" ensues.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Clue: Mr. Boddy is killed by one of the six Player Characters, and the technical killer doesn't know if they did it or not (unless they've got their own card in their hand, or seen it in someone else's).

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia:
    • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: In the short bonus game Justine, the Player Character is kidnapped and placed in Justine's torture rooms where she must try and save Justine's past victims. It turns out that the player character is Justine herself, but with amnesia; she gave herself that in order to test herself and if she was capable of good.
    • Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs: Oswald wakes up after being in a coma and finds himself horrifically stalked by monsters while he tries to find his missing sons. He created the manpigs and killed his children in order to spare them all from the horrors of the twentieth century, thinking that annihilation was a better solution.
  • Dead Cells: While he didn't cause the Malaise, the King's drastic mismanagement, draconian quarantines, and overall paranoia led to the kingdom's ruin. The Beheaded is the King's mind, separated from his body and possessing a random corpse.
  • Deponia Doomsday is such a confusing mess that it's hard to know if it's present, current, or future you that's the problem, but it certainly was your fault.
  • Exmortis: The protagonist of the first game is an amnesiac who stumbles into a haunted cabin where a Brainwashed and Crazy hunter had been murdering hikers in a ritual to unleash Hell on Earth. After finding his Apocalyptic Log and his victims' remains, the protagonist realizes he is the hunter; in the Multiple Endings, he either completes the ritual or tries to flee into the woods — where he gets knocked out, loses his memory, and stumbles into a haunted cabin...
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening: In the game's first chapter, Robin awakens in the middle of a field without any memory of who they are. Later on, it's revealed that Robin is actually the child of the Big Bad, and was conceived to be the vessel of the evil dragon Grima, who is destined to bring chaos and ruin to the world. Now aware that their amnesia is the result of Grima's failed attempt to possess them, the protagonist spends most of the later chapters fighting off the monster's influence and helping the other heroes repel the antagonist's forces.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: The protagonist is revealed to be an amnesiac Darth Revan, who started the Jedi Civil War, and was brainwashed by the Jedi Council.
  • OMORI: All of Headspace was created to repress Sunny's memory of accidentally killing his sister Mari, and the entity Something is the embodiment of his guilt for doing so.
  • Persona 4: Arena zigzags this a bit. As it turns out, the mysterious red-eyed, silver-haired amnesiac girl that appears in every story is responsible for the P-1 Grand Prix... or rather, her Shadow self is. Also, she's actually a robot too. So, it's a mix of this trope and Robotic Reveal.
  • Planescape: Torment has a pretty famous example with the Nameless One, who's past incarnations are the reason for the conflict (specifically, the first one committed some unspecified Moral Event Horizon, so he made a deal to get his mortality separated from him so he wouldn't go to the Planescape hell, and now every time he dies he gets new memories or something, and the Practical Incarnation is the one who hurt many of the characters in his quest to get his mortality back, and the Paranoid Incarnation screwed up half the stuff trying to stop the Practical one out of paranoia).
  • In [PROTOTYPE], the protagonist, Alex Mercer discovered he's lost his memory and is infected with a virus that gives him Lovecraftian Superpower. He's determined to regain his memory and find out who infected him with the virus. He searches for the truth, finds it, and doesn't like it. Not only is he the one who released the virus in the first place, he is not even the real Alex Mercer. As the real Alex Mercer lies dying, the virus he released assimilated him along with his fragmented memories, making it think it was Alex Mercer.
  • Sonic Unleashed: Chip is introduced in the beginning of the game as a mysterious flying creature with no memories of his past. After Sonic pieces most of the Earth back together, Chip remembers that he is Light Gaia, an ancient being who is supposed to restore the planet whenever it's destroyed by his dark counterpart, thus creating an endless cycle of destruction and rebirth. Unfortunately, his amnesia has prevented him from acting in due time, and when he and Sonic finally confront Dark Gaia, the monster has evolved into its most powerful, perfect form.
  • the white chamber follows a young woman who awakens within a strange glowing coffin. She soon discovers that she is trapped on-board a space station, and that something has killed the rest of the crew. The only clues point towards something called "the white chamber", but to learn the truth the young woman must first survive whatever malevolent presence still pervades the ship. As you pick up more and more clues, you find out that your name is Sarah, and you, possibly influenced by the artefact they found, have killed the crew. Your current situation is because of the ship's technician Arthur Anderson, who after fusing with the artefact is forcing Sarah to relive the events of the game again and again until she redeems herself or has marked herself beyond saving.
  • World of Final Fantasy: You play as twin siblings Lann and Reynn who suffer from amnesia and hold the power in one of their arms to capture and wield Mirages, the monsters of Grymoire, a land populated by classic Final Fantasy characters and monsters from across the series, while being unconnected to any other series entry. Threatening this world is the ever-expanding Bahamutian Federation. While its "leader" Brandelis is indeed the main antagonist that Lann and Reynn have to fight all the way to the end, it is the siblings themselves who unwittingly summoned him in the first place as a result of their hubris from their powers.
  • Xenogears has its lead character Fei, an Amnesiac Hero with no memory of his past other than he was brought to Lahan village three years before the game begins. As the story progresses, he learns he's the latest Reincarnation of the same person who has existed for the past 10,000 years. Two such reincarnations, Id and Grahf, are still somehow alive (It's complicated) and are responsible for many of his and the party's grievances throughout the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • Virtue's Last Reward: Sigma finds himself trapped with eight other victims in an enclosed facility. In order to escape, they are forced to play the "Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition" by an A.I. program calling itself "Zero III", and orchestrated by his creator (dubbed Zero Sr. by the "contestants"). It turns out that the orchestrator is none other than Sigma himself. Kinda. There's a lot of Time Travel shenanigans involved, and an actually good reason for doing so — and he had the help of the original Zero. That said, there was also a separate Big Bad whose organization's genocidal agenda hinges on stopping Sigma's plan, and he was one of the players, too.