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Arbitrary Equipment Restriction

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A point in a video game where a certain weapon or ability is not actually taken away or crippled or disabled in any way or fashion in story, but merely unusable or unselectable to the player for no particular reason given by the game, or a very weak reason in the form of a handwave. Different from Gameplay and Story Segregation, in that there is no in-story explanation for it. You just plain can't use/select it now; you can probably use it later, just not at the moment. Even when all logic the game has laid out indicate they are fully capable of doing what you're not allowed to do. Closely related to the Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence and its sub-trope the Invisible Wall wheras this trope deals with what the player can/can't do, not necessarily relating to the terrain.

Possibly justified by the developers as a way to not make the particular part cheap or too easy, or because it would possibly be too much work to program. Yet they make little to no effort to justify it in story and/or context. See Level-Locked Loot for restrictions specifically related to Character Level. Compare You Have Researched Breathing.

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Video Game Examples:

    Action Adventure 
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: When you finally become Adult Link, Navi informs you that some items and weapons you hold can't be used as an adult, just because. This basically accounts for nearly everything you have from your long ranged slingshot, to your stunning boomerang, to even Deku Sticks. The real-world reason for this is to prevent you from Sequence Breaking with your old puzzle-solving tools.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: When fighting the flashback bosses in the last dungeon, Link is restricted to whatever equipment he had at the time.
  • Metroid: Other M: Other M's justification as to why you're starting from scratch with power-ups: Samus refuses to use her perfectly-functioning weapons and abilities until Adam, her (temporary) commanding officer, gives her permission. While this can be hand-waved as being for safety purposes (so her super missiles don't accidentally blow up the station), it makes zero sense when she dies from heat exhaustion in lava-filled rooms because Adam has not yet told her, "Hey, you should probably turn on your heat-resistant Varia suit now."

  • Poptropica:
    • If you've found something on one island, you can't use it on another. Being able to use that jet pack from Early Poptropica Island everywhere sure would've helped a lot.
    • Averted once during Counterfeit Island's arc: the player is required to collect a key from a character on Early Poptropica Island and use it to unlock a door on Counterfeit Island.

  • World of Warcraft:
    • The game gave its players the ability to fly in the first expansion. The third expansion introduced flying on the original continents of Azeroth but required players to pay for a licence before doing so. This implies that flying was always possible but that player characters refused to do it due to some law, even in the most dire circumstances. This is especially Lawful Stupid when considering druids, who can shapeshift into a flying form at will but who would apparently rather fall to their deaths out of a sense of civic obligation.
    • Food and drink. You literally can't eat or drink most food or beverages when you first start out. You can't even eat a doughnut, or a piece of cake, or drink a glass of milk - something a two year-old is capable of doing.
  • Kingdom of Loathing parodies this with shirts. If you create a new character, buy a shirt, and try to wear it, your character can't figure out how to do it. Because you need a New Game Plus skill, "Torso Awaregness" (yes, that's how it's spelled), in order to... realize that you have a torso. The whole game is full of similar nonsense. When "back items" (capes, backpacks, etc.) were added, an entire in-game event was required to teach all player-characters the alien concept of putting things on their backs.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • Brütal Legend: Eddie can never use his wings outside of Stage Battles, his demon side conveniently comes out only when a Stage Battle calls. And the normally gorn-tastic insta-kill Facemelter Solo seems to merely heavily damage certain units in said Stage Battles in story mode. Though we know this was merely a case of Nerf.
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon: The player is not able to buy Heavy Plasma Cannons in the campaign when the difficulty is set to hard, despite the Royal Navy normally having access to Heavy Plasma Cannons. This is most noticeable when the player is given a Fast Frigate, which comes with a Heavy Plasma Cannon by default, but if the player switches the Heavy Plasma Cannon for a different weapon on hard mode, they cannot get it back.

    Role Playing Games 
  • In several of the Dragon Quest games, you have access to a full-party full-heal spell that is, for no reason that is ever stated, available in battle but not the main menu. Likewise, there's a nifty item called the Sage's Stone which is a full-party mid-heal which can be used infinitely for no MP cost... which is also available only in battle. You want to heal up your party on the field, you've got to use spells that eat up more MP than the other options would.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, child Rydia can use white magic but adult Rydia cannot. Why? We're not sure.
  • Final Fantasy V got really carried away with this, where you can only seemingly use white, black, and time magic outside of battles. No reason is given why, outside of battles, your Bard can't sing a song outside of battle to recharge HP or MP, why your Summoner can't call up Phoenix to revive a downed ally, why your Chemist can't cure status ailments using his recover ability, why your Blue Mage can't cook up Whitewind to heal the entire party...
  • Final Fantasy XII. The License System in the game requires the player to spend a form of experience points to teach individual characters how to use equipment (or access spells and some inherent stat/ability boosts). For advanced weapons and armor this kind of makes sense, but the License System also covers any and all Accessories (like various hats, boots, hair clips, etc).
  • Final Fantasy XIV: The level-synch feature kinda has that effect, temporarily lowering the players level to be within the range of levels intended for the dungeon or FATE in question. In addition to lowering stats (including those of equipment) this can temporarily lock you out of abilities you have unlocked at a higher level, though you get to keep your chocobo companion and job below level 30.
  • In Kingdom Hearts Sora learns to fly near the end of the Neverland level. While he does gain the Glide ability afterward he can only fly freestyle in Neverland and certain boss battles near the end of the game. From a story standpoint he should maintain the ability. You can't even argue that he runs out of pixie dust since Peter Pan has Tinkerbell go with him.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: You are unable to D-Link in the Mirage Arena, even in single player.

    Shoot'em Ups 
  • Gunstar Heroes: In Black's Dice palace, one confrontation has you losing your guns and having to resort to hand-to-hand combat. The justification for this? A "No Guns" sign on the wall!
  • Battle Rangers has your character jump on a raft and immediately decide for himself that "Raft is too small for gun fight. Better to use knives!", restricting the player to their knife for the duration of the sequence.

    Stealth Games 
  • Assassin's Creed II: In Secret Locations such as the Assassin's Tombs or Templar Lairs, you are unable to equip your two long ranged weapons; your throwing knives or hidden pistol. No explanation given by the game, they're just grayed out in the weapon select menu. This is possibly made so that killing certain mooks to trigger cutscenes from afar wouldn't be possible. Not that you even need them to dispose of guards, but it's still a little ridiculous when you can't simply lock on and chuck one or two knives at a running guard or just take careful aim and Just Shoot Him In the Back. But nope, the guard is 100% invincible on all occasions until he reaches the end of the chase, even if you somehow get close enough to tackle-stab him, the game never lets you.
  • Metal Gear Solid: You have access to chaff grenades, which are usually able to knock out all security cameras. However, within Communications Tower A, your chaff grenades become useless for no reason other than to allow a specific surveillance camera to alert a cavalcade of guards to chase you up the tower. It only occurs once, and returning to the area later does not trigger the event again. In The Twin Snakes, it was removed and Snake trips a motion sensor instead.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: There is exactly one part where you can have a cardboard box but not equip it; the section in question is a side-scrolling run along a walkway, where standing up can get you spotted while staying low means you're too slow to avoid the falling platforms. As the box halves your height but doesn't affect your movement speed, using it would make the section too easy.

    Survival Horror 
  • Alone in the Dark (2008): During a light based puzzle section near the end of the game, the flashlight Edward Carnby has throughout the entire game suddenly becomes unusable until after the puzzle is solved.
  • James' flashlight also has its batteries die on him at one point in Silent Hill 2, which doesn't set him back too much, since he'd already found a fresh replacement earlier. The light dies again near the end of the game, but by that time the environs are no longer dark enough to need it.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • XCOM 2:
    • Your soldiers are unable to be given a callsign until they reach the rank of sergeant, which at least makes some sense as they're likely nicknames given to them by their squadmates after getting to know each other, but less explicable is the restriction on customizing Rookies' armor with camouflage patterns until they've leveled up a bit. One popular Game Mod is to enable all customization options at the start of a character's career.
    • The Skirmisher hero units introduced in the War of the Chosen expansion start out with the "Justice" ability, where they use their grappling line to pull an enemy unit into Ripjack range and deliver a melee attack. But a Skirmisher can't just run up to and shank someone with their Ripjack until they purchase the ability to do so when they reach Major rank, and even then this simple melee attack has a cooldown before it can be used again. Thankfully another mod makes a Ripjack strike a basic Skirmisher ability that can be used as often as a Ranger's sword.

Non-Video Game Examples

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons, prior to third edition, prevented classes from using certain weapons and armor. The most egregious case is in Basic D&D where the magic-user may only use a dagger (not even a staff) when attacking. Clerics are restricted from "sharp" objects, preventing them from using a dagger despite such an implement being useful in some types of ancient sacrificial rituals. Later editions switched this with a proficiency system, with only druids having a prohibition against metal armor and shields.
  • In the Deckbuilding Game Hero Realms, the players do have certain item cards such as a Dagger and Shortsword. However the items don't stay in play, can only be played when drawn, and are just discarded at the end of the turn. There's no reason given as to why the player can't use their weapons at any time.
  • BattleTech has a heat system that required the use of heatsinks to dissipate waste heat. Battlemechs can choose from standard heatsinks or double heatsinks, which dissipate twice the heat per round but take up extra room. Combat vehicles, however, are limited to the use of standard heatsinks, with no adequate in-game reason why they can't use doubles (the OOC reason is to keep Battlemechs superior to tanks).
  • Munchkin has a number of items usable only by a certain race, class, or gender, parodying the above Dungeons & Dragons restrictions.
  • The One Ring: Equipment that costs Experience Points, such as Rewards or Magic Treasure from hoards, can only be used by the adventurer who first bought it. In the latter case, it's Hand Waved as a matter of predestination. The side benefit is that such equipment has Plot Armor against loss or destruction.