In a series with a heavy emphasis on fight scenes and combat, characters will often be differentiated by differing fighting styles and combat moves. It is important in any series to make important characters distinctive enough so that everyone doesn't begin look like clones, and this is one way to take that distinction into the battlefield as well.
Action series solve the bulk of their conflict through fight scenes, but if everyone were to fight in a standard militarized way, then the action scenes would seem so separated from the characterization scenes that they would get boring after a while.
That is where this trope comes into play. A character's personality can be shown by how they fight. Giving every character in an action series a unique Signature Move can be a good way to show off their personalities (For example: the Big Guy could have a earthquake stomp attack or the Smart Guy could use machines). Superpowers can also work in the same way, as distinct superpowers can individualise the characters.
This trope uses rule of cool, to significantly push up the Willing Suspension of Disbelief on character development. Characters in said series can be a Static Character who never really changes much but don't need to if the trope is well done.
As this trope is always used in action oriented series with characters who do change over time, they may gain new abilities as their personality or motivations change. This is sometimes justified by having their powers tied to certain emotions.
This trope shows up quite a lot in Shōnen Fighting Series, Comic Books, and Video Games where pretty much every fighting character who is not a mook has at least one. Whether or not said special move has any effectiveness is completely dependent upon the needs of the story and the character's general role in it. A comic relief Joke Character, for example, may have a completely useless special move, or it can be subverted by making it seem that way until he gets serious.
In gaming, this trope is a basic form of Competitive Balance, as these special moves, powers, or skills provide different advantages for every character so nobody will be too weak. Also, it can let players find the one character with special moves that suits their style.
Sister trope of Super Power Lottery. See also Cast of Snowflakes, Color-Coded Characters, Personality Powers. Compare Everyone is a Super, which will likely result in this trope as well if everyone's superpowers are unique to them. Sub-Trope of Signature Move, where it's not necessary to have everyone get at least one of that. Very important in Fighting Series and Professional Wrestling.
- Every Shinigami in Bleach has one once they learn the name of their Empathic Weapons.
- In Darwin's Game, everyone who ends up playing the titular Deadly Game is given their own ability called Sigils.
- Very few Digimon share the same attacks. Everyone's got at least one, even civilians (who might put them too Mundane Utility.) Of course, some have several, especially main heroes and villains. The standard number is two, though.
- In Dragon Ball Son Goku's signature special move, the Kamehameha, is perhaps the most popular example (even if it's not strictly exclusive to him), but many characters in Dragon Ball develop their own special techniques. For example: Krillin's terrifyingly-titled Destructo Disc.
- In Claymore, almost every one of the eponymous warriors has a unique fighting technique (such as Miria's Flash Step or Undine's Dual Wielding), and the best of them receive respectful titles based on their techniques.
- In Fist of the North Star, pretty much everyone who was any kind of warrior had his or her own major style (usually based on Hokuto or Nanto) with their own special moves.
- The Naruto series in general. Despite the fact that there's a whole culture of having one leader personally taking on three trainees, and that anyone can learn anything that's not specifically genetically inherited or Elemental Powers, there is almost no overlap in the special moves of any of the four members of a team. However, there's typically a lot of overlap with blood relatives and clan members, even if the special move is not genetically inherited, and pretty much every major character is part of one ninja clan or the other, each with their own specific set of moves. The few that aren't still end up having a style and abilities unique to them and maybe the person they learned from.
- Kenichi of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple spends a decent amount of time lamenting his lack of a unique "death blow," since everyone else seems to have one. Then his friends point out that he already has one, or rather a sequence of attacks that chain into each other very well, which he tends to use to end fights. He later gains a few non-combo special moves of his own.
- The Mightiest Disciple manga delves into some thoughts at times about the art of learning techniques and the implications therein; for example, they equate the fact that singling out a technique as a special move means that it has special characteristics that differs from basic non-named but generally effective kicks and punches: meaning that like most tools it has a time and place where it is used effectively, and that spamming it outside of that may be wasteful and counterproductive, especially against an attentive foe.
- Aside from already having strong personalities, almost every main character in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has a completely unique Stand (and we mean unique), with powers ranging from turning one's self into string to simply punching things really effectively. In fact, battles in this series are literally defined by the heroes using their crazy powers to circumvent the enemy's crazy powers. Even before when Stands didn't exist, or they were rudimentary powers, everyone was still defined by their abilities, such as Joseph's usage of the Ripple being different than Ceasar's.
- Invoked in My Hero Academia. All the characters get training to create unique special moves, even beyond the unique nature of their quirks. Kirishima, for example, learns how to temporarily become even tougher than usual, while Bakugo learns to create focused armor-piercing blasts. Tsuyu learns how to camouflage herself, and so on. Not only do these moves capitalize on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, they also serve as part of a hero's branding, tying into the image they want to present.
- One Piece thrives on this. Not only do all the named characters each have pretty much their very own fighting styles, but every single Devil Fruit is unique and each can only be owned by one person at once. Even with martial-arts styles known by several characters, each individual will have at least one unique variation of it.
- In Hunter × Hunter, every Nen user has specific abilities that should fit his/her personality and/or fighting style. Developing abilities that don't fit the Nen user at all will become fatal for the user in combat.
- The cast from Lyrical Nanoha have unique abilities fitting to the respective characters' fighting styles and it happens rarely that two or more people have identical fighting abilities. A mage who is trained by another one usually develop only similar, but not identical abilities or have an even entirely different fighting style. Even when different characters use the same spells, it often happens that they are not identical, e.g. Nanoha, Subaru and Vivio's Divine Buster have different performances. The most blatant example is Erio Mondial, whose Thunder Rage and Shiden Issen look entirely different than Fate and Signum's, respectively.
- All of the major characters in Rurouni Kenshin use different fighting styles and have unique moves. At the extreme of this, Hajime Saito's fighting style is almost entirely just his one signature move. He has polished and refined to the point that he doesn't need anything but it and some minor variations for specific situations. He even uses that same move when fighting bare-handed!
- Hajime no Ippo has an interesting take on this. The majority of the boxers in the manga have a special finishing blow, known in series as a 'Sunday Punch'. However, the most skilled boxers in the series don't have a specific special move because they're so effective with just the fundamentals that they don't need to have special attacks or gimmicks.
- Earth X is a Deconstruction of this trope: In a world where literally every human on Earth has gained a superpower or special move of some sort, human society is crumbling. Most supers are just normal people who waste their powers or have no use for them, while a substantial number abuse their new abilities for selfish gains. Both types have caused numerous wars and conflicts, to the point that superheroes and supervillains had to step in to maintain governments. Many of the original heroes are totally unable to adjust to no longer being outliers; they've either succumbed to apathy or begun to fight a doomed war against human self-destructiveness.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe does this particularly well with it's cast of assorted super-powered individuals, and elite warriors. The Avengers are instantly identifiable even in silhouette during fight scenes, as are most of the side character. Even War Machine and Falcon, both of whom have wings, are still clearly made distinctive by their wildly different flying styles. Captain America of course, has his shield which gives his fights a very distinctive look. Wanda being a mid-range fighter is also particularly distinctive. The villains also get this treatment as well.
- On Barney & Friends, everyone gets their own pose for the "Everyone is Special" number.
- In Hypnosis Mic, every major character has a Rap Ability, special powers that develop when they continue to successfully use the Hypnosis Mic over a long period of time.
- This trope is particularly common in cooperative Board Games such as Shadows over Camelot and Pandemic, where the players are randomly assigned characters or roles at the start of the game. Each of these has a special ability that the players must use in combination with others' specialties to improve their prospects of winning.
- Every character in the OVA RPG has at least one Attack that they can use, and unlike other Tabletop Games, you do not have to pay for each attack you come up with for your character.
- By necessity, every Fighting Game has each of their characters having Special Attack and (when applicable) Limit Break of their own.
- BlazBlue takes it further with its "Drive" mechanic, which are the core part of each character's gameplay, and all of them differ in usage and effect from each other. E.g Ragna's Drive "Soul Eater" are Life Drain attacks, while Rachel's "Sylpheed" is her manipulating air currents to assist her movements and attacks, Valkenhayn's "Wehrwolf" turns him into a wolf with its own unique moves, and so on.
- The 2013 version of Killer Instinct does something similar with its "combo traits", which allow each character to create unique combos no one else can do. In addition, activating Instinct Mode also grants different bonus for each character.
- Almost every character in Touhounote will have spellcards, which are basically these. And saying a special move is rather inaccurate, as only midbosses ever use just one, and even they generally get more later.
- Taken Up to Eleven in this fanvid (starting from 0:44), where even mooks uses special moves.
- Almost every single character also has a magical ability no one else has. This can vary from the simple "manipulation of fire" to the abstract "manipulation of boundaries" to the absurd "power to sense the coming of spring". Unusually, part of this is explained as a cultural thing, with it being trendy for people to come up with a "signature ability" with which to advertise themselves. In some cases this leads to characters having "abilities" which are metaphorical, more mundane than they sound, a limited application of a much broader power, or just plain made up.
- In Red Alert 3, every unit has a special move, from offensive to defensive, and from supporting to transforming (usually used by the units of the Rising Sun), which are very crucial in terms of strategy.
- This is common in many real-time strategy games; in Warcraft III, for instance, nearly every unit has either a unique special ability, or an upgrade that applies only to it. Even the Worker Units had unique powers. Unlike in fighting games, though, the focus is not on making individuals feel different, but to help build up the army's general theme.
- In Chrono Cross, the characters are pretty generic in terms of their combat skill. The only points of differentiation are which of six weapon types they can equip, which of six elements they have an affinity for, and which of three elemental templates they have. Therefore, each of them is given three "techs", which are unique elements that only they can use and that they can't unequip.
- Each party member in Dragon Age II except the Hawke siblings has a unique talent tree tailored to their personality and background, such as Isabela's various pirate-y attacks. Hawke instead can choose two of three unlockable specializations specific to his/her class, while Carver and Bethany only gain an additional skill tree (Templar and Force Mage, respectively) in Act III (or II with DLC missions).
- Each one of the characters in Lethal League possess a unique special ability that allows them to change the properties and flight pattern of the ball.
- Similarly, in Mass Effect 2, each party member was given a unique ability ("Loyalty Power"), although it only became unlocked after their corresponding loyalty mission was cleared. Shepard, too, gained a power unique to his/her class (such as Biotic Charge for the Vanguard, or Tactical Cloak for the Infiltrator). This carried over into Mass Effect 3, though unlocking party member's powers became simpler. In both games, Shepard can additionally learn one of the squadmates' unlocked powers for a moderate fee.
- In the Multiplayer, almost every character had at least one unique ability out of the three, and no two characters (except a bonus soldier with unique visuals) have the same set. Some of the characters added later on even have powers that aren't found anywhere in the base game.
- In Naruto: Clash of Ninja, every character has a different special attack based on a memorable scene from the anime.
- Every shinobi in Senran Kagura has a secret ninja art, hidden ninpo, that accommodates their fighting style, weapon type, and elemental affinity.
- In Super Smash Bros., starting from Brawl, not only does every character have a unique moveset, but they all have unique Final Smash attacks too. (Well, except for a few notable duplicates — the Star Fox characters all seem to love their Landmaster tanks, though even then the exact specifications of the tanks are slightly different for each of the three characters.)
- In Super Mario Bros. series:
- All four characters in Super Mario 64 DS have their own special moves and abilities, such as a unique power when affected by the Power Flower.
- All characters in Super Mario Kart have their own special attacks (if they're being used by the A.I.), and all the pairs of characters in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! have special items only they can use (such as Mario and Luigi using fireballs, Wario and Waluigi using Bob-ombs and Bowser and Bowser Jr. using the giant Bowser Shell).
- All the different baby characters from Yoshi's Island DS have one or more special attacks/abilities.
- As do all the different characters in Mario Power Tennis, Mario Hoops 3-on-3, and the Mario Baseball games.
- The Limit Break system in the Final Fantasy series, which first appeared in the series in Final Fantasy VII, gives each playable characters one to five, depending on the game, powerful abilities that only they could use.
- Some games in the series have featured other unique abilities for each playable character. For example, in Final Fantasy VI, only Terra could shift into an Esper form, only Sabin could use the powerful Blitz attacks, only Strago could learn and cast Blue Magic spells, etc. The playable characters in Final Fantasy XIII also had their own unique summons and a special ability exclusive to them.
- In Oblivion and Skyrim, each race has a innate trait and a special ability unique to them that can be used once per day.
- The three player characters in the original Diablo had unique special abilities (item repair for Warrior, trap disarm for Rogue, and staff recharge for Sorcerer), while basically sharing the pool of abilities they could theoretically learn. In Diablo II, each character essentially has their own unique special move trees.
- Before going into their special talent trees, each of the Vault Hunters in Borderlands, 2 and the Pre-Sequel are defined by their Action Skill — a special ability that is completely unique to them (inside their own game, anyway).
- Roland and Axton both throw down turrets, but Axton's is considerably more offense-focused while Roland's is more like portable cover with a gun. Wilhelm sends out two flying drones, one that heals him and one that deals damage.
- Lilith activates her Phasewalk, which temporarily makes her intangible and explodes at the end of the duration, while Maya locks an enemy in place for everyone to whale on him or just take him out of the fight temporarily.
- Mordecai sends out Bloodwing, his pet bird, to attack enemies hiding behind cover. Zer0 sends out a hologram whilst also turning invisible to distract enemies. Nisha goes into a state where she auto-targets enemies.
- Brick goes into a bloodlusting rage and starts punching stuff. (Explosively!) Salvador pulls out a second gun to Dual Wield while regenerating most of his health. Athena, being a more defense-focused character brings out a shield that absorbs all frontal damage before tossing it at the nearest enemy.
- Gaige (who doesn't have an earlier counterpart, being a DLC character) summons Death-trap, her huge custom combat robot that can be further modded with certain talents. Jack's Body Double summons two holographic decoys that can shoot at his enemies.
- Krieg, another DLC character, takes out his buzz axe (an axe with a motorized buzz saw head) and goes on a psychotic killing spree, regaining health for each kill. He can also throw his axe in this state. Pre-Sequel DLC character Aurelia sends out an ice crystal that deals Cryo damage around a targeted enemy.
- Claptrap's skill gives him a random ability based on his surroundings, some of which can be actively detrimental to him and his allies.
- Castlevania: Judgment has characters from time and space of the entire series, and despite Simon and Trevor Belmont being the Ryu and Ken from the game, everybody has a special finishing move.
- Angry Birds Go!: All the characters have a move ranging from defense, speed boost, or both.
- 100% Orange Juice: Each character has their own "Hyper" card which is normally unique to them unless they get swapped by card effects. Many can easily turn the flow of the game, so long as youre still in the good graces of the RNG.
- Every Servant in the Fate/stay night universe has a Noble Phantasm, a weapon or ability that is a large part of their legend as Heroic Spirits. Not a few Masters are also skilled in some form of magic which primarily gets used when fighting other Masters. While there are some irregular Servants who don't have proper Noble Phantasms, Fate games which use Noble Phantasms as a Limit Break treat the strongest attack they already have as being their Noble Phantasm for gameplay's sake.
- RWBY: Every person in the world of Remnant has a Semblance, which is a unique (though apparently somewhat hereditary) power that manifests after extensive training, and can be used in combination with Aura practice and Dust weapons to manifest as a powerful combat technique.
- In Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go, each monkey (aside from being Color-Coded Characters) has a distinct weapon and several different named attacks.
- Being a show about a School for Lucha Libre, Signature Moves are very important in ¡Mucha Lucha!, with the developing of one being the theme of several episodes.
- In Steven Universe, every Gem has a power or summonable weapon specific to them. Or rather, they used to. Many younger Gems either don't have powers or don't know how to use them, as Homeworld is running out of resources and thus using less of them per gem. Peridot doesn't even know that she has metal-controlling powers until she uses them by total accident.