In video games, the player might 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 early in 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, Remixed Level, 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, as 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 unmarked 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:
- Optional in the NES game; Link can enter the final dungeon any time after he gets bombs, but in the second room he'll be told he needs to have the full Triforce of Wisdom to go any further.
- In 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 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 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 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.
- Oddly enough, this winds up being the very first level in Tomb Raider II. The Great Wall is the first China level, and it's actually very oddly difficult for a first level, but gives a bit of a prelude of things to come when you return to China for the final three levels at the end of the game since there's danger almost everywhere, requiring you to think fast and carefully if you're to get through.
- At the beginning of Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge, when Roger is captured by Vohaul's goons, you get a sneak peek of his asteroid fortress. Similarly, in Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, the first trip to the Space Quest XII era allows you a preview of the entrance to its Final Dungeon.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, you can attempt to visit the Vast Shrine for a quick glimpse, but won't be able to explore its true inner chambers until the Millennium Items have been collected.
- Jak 3: Wastelander: In one mission, Jak will take control of a robot onboard the Dark Maker's ship to destroy the shield generator. He'll later be transported onto the ship to confront Errol.
- 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 (or via Star World if you can figure out the proper shortcut to the final level).
- Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair begins with an attempt by Yooka and Laylee at the eponymous Impossible Lair. Players actually can clear the level on their first attempt- it's just not likely without the Beetalion Shield.
- In Star Wars Episode I: Racer, the first track is a shortened version of the Boonta Eve Classic called the Boonta Training Course. You get to race the full course at the end of the game.
- 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.
- About midway through Dark Souls, you'll be taken by either Frampt or Kaathe to where you can place the Lordvessel after acquiring it in Anor Londo. Just behind where you put it is a large stone door that will only open once you have all the required souls from the main bosses, leading to the final area, the Kiln of the First Flame.
- In Daydreaming Derpy, you can head to the entrance of the apparent final dungeon as soon as you become able to move between parts of the dream world, but Derpy won't head inside alone. Completing the other three areas of the dream world will have the Crusaders meet up with her here and you can progress.
- 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 Fort 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. 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.
- Final Fantasy:
- In the original Final Fantasy I, 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.
- Final Fantasy Tactics plays with this a bit, despite the fact that there's only battles and not dungeons to explore. However, a number of significant battles occur at Orbonne Monestary, such as the opening tutorial, a few sequential battles midway through the game, and then returning there at the end of the game, where you're taken to the Necrohol of Mullonde, the true final area of the game.
- Golden Sun actually inverts this with its sequel, in that Venus Lighthouse is the final dungeon of the first game, while it's the starting location for the second game. This makes sense as the second game starts a little bit before the end of the first game's story.
- 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.
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero starts with Lloyd and the team entering the underground tomb where the mastermind of the recent crimes in Crossbell is waiting and begins to head in, though said introduction actually occurred in an entirely different Alternate Timeline.
- 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 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.
- 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 figh.t 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 Royal: At the start of October, Joker and Morgana enter an unknown Palace to rescue Kasumi when she suddenly gets dragged into the Metaverse. After the rescue, the duo decide to ignore the area since it isn't related to their current target. It's not til the third semester when the Palace becomes the final level against the True Final Boss.
- Secret of Evermore gives you a few very brief moments of playing in Omnitopia just as the opening sequence ends, culminating with a fight with several robots before you're shipped down to Evermore proper. Sure enough, Omnitopia is the final dungeon of the game. There's even a slight nod to the Dog's robot form just before you travel to the surface.
- 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.
- Steven Universe: Unleash The Light has the Palace of Light, which is explored at the start, but the rest of the level can only be progressed by collecting keys scattered throughout each world.
- 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.
- In the first Ys game, the Abandoned Mine has a seemingly redundant room behind the boss chamber, which turns out to be part of the Final Dungeon of the second game, after the eponymous Floating Continent returns to Earth.
- The Evil Within does this with the very first chapter. Sebastian explores a sewer underneath Beacon Memorial Hospital and some of its basement level while trying to escape the Sadist, totally unarmed and severely wounded to the point he can only limp around. Later on, in the final chapter of the game, you return to the hospital and even some of the same rooms, significantly better equipped for the challenges ahead. It's no easier than the first time even with guns, unfortunately.