In most video games, the player will likely take it for granted that the last area, level or world will be a remote, inaccessible place that won't be available until the end of the game when the stakes are at their highest and there's nowhere else left to go. After all, only such a climactic stage in the campaign could be worthy of this level's magnitude. Sometimes, however, the player gets to pay an early visit to the future site of their final confrontation.
This trope can manifest itself in several variants. The first visit may be treated as a dungeon in of itself with its navigation, enemies and available items differing from the final trek. It may just be a bare-bones version of the dungeon with little to offer in terms of exploration or treasures, with only the scenery and architecture (and perhaps the game's interface) foreshadowing the complete dungeon. Maybe only a tiny part of the dungeon is accessible, tantalising the player with a glimpse of what the rest of the level has to offer.
If it is made clear by the game that the dungeon will be the final one, the preview can serve to make the player curious to explore the full place, increasing their sense of anticipation or foreboding for the endgame. On the other hand, keeping the last level as a mystery can surprise the player once they reach it and realise that they have been there before.
Sister Trope to Final Boss Preview, where one is given an early taste of an antagonist rather than a location. Compare New World Tease, Where It All Began, and So Near, Yet So Far. Compare and contrast Disc-One Final Dungeon, where a level appears to be the final one only for the player to discover that the game is not yet complete; overlap between the two tropes is possible, however — the player may initially visit the dungeon at a critical point in the middle of the game and later return for the true finale. Contrast All the Worlds Are a Stage, where the final level takes elements from earlier, different ones.
Note that at least part of the final level must be physically accessible to the player before the endgame for it to qualify as a Final Dungeon Preview; if the dungeon's exterior is simply observable from a separate area with no indication of what it contains, or if the dungeon appears only in a cutscene from which the player character is absent, then it does not count as this trope.
This trope does not include final levels which can only be reached early by exploiting glitches; the level must be reachable through legitimate means.
Due to the nature of this trope, beware of spoilers.
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow: About halfway through the game, Soma passes through the Top Floor of Dracula's Castle to get to the Inner Quarters. The Top Floor is the final area of the game, though this is subverted if the player unlocks the Golden Ending.
- The Last Guardian: You first approach the Citadel from a narrow, wooden bridge but are unable to enter its interior. You and Trico are then attacked by a large group of armoured guards, which results in the bridge being destroyed and forces you to land onto another tower. After traversing through more ruins, you once again reach the Citadel's exterior thanks to Trico's wings healing enough for him to make the journey. This time, you can enter inside and make your way up the tower in the hope that you will finally escape the Nest.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, Link enters the Black Tower while it's under construction early on to get a shovel. After it's completed, it turns into the final dungeon of the game.
- Early in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wolf Link gets dragged to Hyrule Castle, where he is freed by Midna, traverses the high towers with her, and hears about Hyrule's plight from Princess Zelda before getting warped back to Ordon. He goes through the same area almost midway through the game to save an injured Midna. Link finally gets to storm Hyrule Castle as a proper dungeon at the end, though not the section he traversed as Wolf Link.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, because the player initially enters Lorule from Hyrule Castle, the first place they see in the other world is the castle's counterpart. They are sent away from Lorule Castle to rescue the Seven Sages and obtain the Triforce of Courage so that they can defeat Yuga, who is restrained by Princess Hilda in the throne room. Once they have done so, the barrier on the castle is removed and they can navigate the entire place, eventually returning to the throne room.
- Downplayed in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, since the player is free to make a beeline straight to Hyrule Castle to face Ganon from the moment they get the paraglider (though it isn't recommended since they will be severely under-equipped and the Final Boss fight will be a lot tougher). They are, however, encouraged to make multiple trips to the castle, both for the sake of several side quests and to grab some high-level weaponry.
- In Luigi's Mansion, at one point you go down a well, where you find a hallway leading to an entrance within the mouth of a lion gargoyle, to King Boo's room, where he is holding Mario captive. Luigi reaches out from the lion's head, but can't do anything, so he is forced to go back and continue his adventure until he finally gets into the room.
- Mega Man X2: Magna Centipede's stage is like every other Maverick stage in the game. However, the final level is revealed to also be Magna Centipede's level, except that there's a new detour which leads to the Final Boss.
- Ratchet & Clank starts peacefully on Veldin, when suddenly Clank crashes there, Ratchet notices it and goes to check what the hell happened. The only enemies are some frogs and robots that followed Clank, all quite easy to dispatch. However, over the course of the game, the Big Bad decides to destroy Veldin and station his Deplanetizer there, so you must trek over on this place, except you now can and have to continue well beyond Clank's crash site and the enemies are Elite Mooks and Dropships.
- Shadow the Hedgehog: The Last Way, the only level in the game's Last Story, is a remixed version of Final Haunt, the last level of the Pure Hero path. Since the Last Story unlocks after reaching all ten of the regular (non-canon) endings, and those endings can be reached in any order, this trope can be Played Straight , if the player does the Pure Hero endings early; Downplayed, if they save them for last; or both, if they do one Pure Hero ending early on and save the other for last.
- In Super Mario World, you can travel to two different secret levels of the final world, the Valley of Bowser, from Donut Plains and Chocolate Island. You are unable to access any of the standard levels from these places and must reach the world via the Sunken Ghost Ship to play them.
- In CrossCode, you are captured and taken to the Vermilion Wasteland about halfway through the game and eventually have to sneak your way through the Vermilion Tower. You return to the Vermilion Wasteland during the endgame and the Vermilion Tower is the final dungeon. Some of the enemies during your first visit to the Wasteland are at endgame level, but you have a powerful Guest-Star Party Member to help you take them down.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, you can potentially get captured and taken to the prison in Fort Drakon and have to sneak or fight your way out. The final dungeon is a return to Fork Drakon, which is now overrun by darkspawn.
- In Dragon's Dogma, you visit the Everfall in one of the first main quests after reaching the capital. It seems relatively innocuous at the time when it comes to plot relevance, though there is some foreshadowing involved. After you defeat the Big Bad, the Everfall expands from its location under the capital, revealing Alien Geometries, and it becomes The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
- In EarthBound, there's a cave in the Lost Underworld that takes you to a small area in a void of black, with grassy jagged pathways out of reach and a reverberating brassy sound (in reality, it's the first few notes of the French National Anthem). This is actually the present-day version of The Cave of the Past, a barren area full of enemy robots but completely devoid of organic life aside from the final boss that you face at the end of the game.
- In the original Final Fantasy, the first major fight in the game happens at an ancient temple, which ends up being the entryway to the final dungeon in the game, that same temple 2000 years in the past, against the man who ends up being the final boss of the game.
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: After defeating the Hydra boss in Lava Dome, a path opens up in the Focus Tower that leads to the lowest level of Doom Castle. You can only explore a small part of it that's walled off from the main part of the level, but you can fight some monsters and access a chest containing the Aero spellbook.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep:
- In Terra's story and Ventus' story, the two end up going to a world referred to simply as the Badlands after the first three worlds are completed. In Terra's case, he is summoned there by Xehanort regarding Vanitas, and all his entries are just cutscenes. In Ven's case, he chases after Vanitas there and has a boss fight against him. Both of them (and Aqua) return to this world at the end of their campaigns, with it now being called the Keyblade Graveyard.
- In the Secret Final Campaign, Aqua fights Terra-Xehanort in the previously visited Radiant Garden. Subverted for the Final Mix version which introduces another secret campaign that has Aqua travelling the Dark World.
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam: Partway through the game, Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario reach Bowser's Castle, where they rescue Peach and Paper Peach and defeat Bowser Jr. and Paper Bowser Jr. Afterward, Bowser and Paper Bowser rocket the castle into the sky and upgrade it to Neo Bowser Castle; the heroes spend the rest of the game getting back up there.
- Marvel Ultimate Alliance sees you venture into Castle Doom at the beginning of the second act to rescue Jean Grey and Nightcrawler... or so it seems. As you soon discover, you have in reality been teleported to a facade of the castle which is a part of Murderworld. It isn't until the game's final act that the heroes travel to the real Castle Doom. The background music for the fake version even foreshadows this, utilising the instrumentation used for the real deal while also sampling motifs from Murderworld's music.
- The final level of all three storylines of Nox is set in the local equivalent of Hell — however, the Wizard storyline sees you going there quite a bit earlier, when the Big Bad Hecubah banishes you to it after killing your master, so you have to escape before you can return to your quest.
- Paper Mario:
- Paper Mario 64: After each Star Spirit chapter ends, you play through a brief segment where you control Peach and sneak through her occupied Castle to find out more about Bowser's plans. By the time Mario gets there at the very end, the only area you wouldn't have already been able to explore as Peach is the final boss arena.
- Super Paper Mario: After the first and second chapters, there are short segments featuring Peach and Luigi waking up at Castle Bleck, trying to escape, only to be tracked down and hypnotized by Bleck's assistant Nastasia. It is not till the final chapter where you actually travel to Castle Bleck for the final battle with Count Bleck and Dimentio.
- Persona 4: When you rest on the first day of arriving in Inaba, you awaken in a strange area. Upon moving forward and reaching a door, you are entered into a fight which ends in a few turns and you wake up for school. This is never brought up again until you reach the true ending, where it is revealed to be Yomotsu Hirasaka, the final dungeon of the game.
- Persona 5: The Thieves visit Mementos early on to complete requests, train up, and collect Personas. In the final stage of the game, it becomes everyone's Palace, forcing the Thieves to infiltrate and steal its treasure to free all of Tokyo from its own apathy.
- By the end of Skies of Arcadia it's revealed that the first dungeon of the game - the ancient Shrine Island - is actually just a small chunk of the lost floating continent of Soltis, and once Soltis returns from Deep Sky, Shrine Island becomes the entry point to the final dungeon.
- The endgame of Xenoblade features two successive dungeons which both have been visited earlier in the story on separate occasions.
- The Bionis' Interior. The party passes briefly through it to make their way from Satorl Marsh to Makna Forest, with the location having seemingly little significance. However, the fact that it has a page in the Collectopaedia despite the apparent lack of available collectables as well as the presence of inaccessible Heart-to-Hearts and Ether Crystals on the map indicate that this is not the last time you will visit the place. Indeed, while making your second journey to Prison Island much later, you are finally able to explore the rest of the dungeon, which now contains collectables and enemies as a result of the Bionis' body returning to life.
- Prison Island, which on the first visit is where Shulk upgrades the Monado and fights Metal Face for the second time. Despite being the backdrop for several pivotal events, the dungeon itself has few enemies, is devoid of collectables and only a few of its many floors are accessible; this changes once you return to confront the final villains of the game once and for all.