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Golden Path

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Some video games have a linear set up. Others, usually Visual Novels or games with RPG elements, give the player many choices as to where to go and what to do, and when and what things are done can have an impact on how the game unfolds, sometimes in huge ways. The Golden Path is the path that will offer the player the best gameplay, story, rewards and/or secrets the game has to offer. The Golden Path usually leads to the Golden Ending in Multiple Endings games, and sometimes is the only way to get there, although this is not always the case. Some single-ending games can have a very rewarding Golden Path, usually by using hidden secrets and story elements. Developers can try to avert the creation of a definitive Golden Path by creating unique content for each possible player choice.

See Guide Dang It! if following this path isn't intuitive or requires the player to do everything in a specific way. Compare 100% Completion for which this path is almost always a necessity, see also Story Branch Favoritism which is one of the biggest causes of this trope.

Sub-Trope of Path of Most Resistance; this trope specifically pertains to entirely different pathways.

Has nothing to do with the Dune sequels. Also not to be confused with an in-universe organization in the story of Far Cry 4.


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    Action Games 
  • The Mega Man (Classic) games are prime examples of this, more so in the second and third games, in which it was not possible to replay a robot master's stage, and there were items and power-ups that were only accessible using a certain weapon or ability the player may not have possessed yet. Averted in the first game, where a hidden item is required for the fortress, but the game is nice enough to let you replay stages.
  • Zigzagged in Star Fox 64. There are two endings to the game, each with its own final level. The paths to get there, however, branch all over the place because almost every single mission has a normal and a good victory condition. The red line fits the definition of this trope the most story and gameplay-wise since every level in said line has the player dealing a significant blow to Andross' forces while having more opportunities for higher scores due to the large amount of enemies found in Sector Y, Aquas and Area 6, with a detour to Macbeth instead of going straight to Sector Z being recommended (thanks to the latter level having very few enemy fighters).

    Adventure Games 
  • In Scratches, at one point the main character must call the bank while impersonating someone in order to get information; the outcome doesn't affect the ending, but with the right dialog choices, it's possible to learn some very insightful information.
  • In King's Quest VI, after resolving the Beast subplot, Alexander can either head straight for the Castle of the Crown, or get there by a longer path which involves retrieving Cassima's parents from the Realm of the Dead. The long path is required for the best possible ending, of course.
  • Fahrenheit includes the possibility of an interactive Optional Sexual Encounter with your former girlfriend if you make the right choices at one point of the game. After that, it's Permanently Missable.
  • Primordia (2012) has numerous minor choices and puzzle solutions that determine which characters will follow Horatio if you choose to return to the ship at the end of the game. Gathering them all requires a lot of work throughout the entire story.
    • There are two ways of getting that ending, one of which offers a bit more of a "victory" feeling than the other one, in addition to having Horatio learn his true identity. Accessing it, however, requires getting an extra item very early in the game by way of a correct puzzle solution, and then not losing it partway through. This point is known to frustrate some players who, upon being handed a datachip with Horatio's memory files near the end of the game, realize that they can't do anything with it due to missing said item, provided they know it existed at all.
  • The best ending in The Black Cauldron is achieved by doing everything Taran did wrong in the movie: Getting Hen-Wen to safety and not letting the Horned King get ahold of him (but not before getting a magic pouch that ensures you will never run out of food from under the bridge. Something that will disappear if you don't get it before this), not using the magic mirror on the witches, and not attempting to throw yourself into the cauldron. Instead, you must find a hidden path to the bellows behind one of the wine barrels, then use the magic mirror on the king to cause him to commit suicide by running into the cauldron and throwing HIMSELF into it. You will then be able to get the magic sword back and become the warrior Taran always wanted to be.

    Fighting Games 
  • In Digimon Rumble Arena 2, after each match, the player can choose between two different settings for the next match with different difficulties. If the player primarily chooses harder matches, they unlock some of the best Digimon in the game, including Malomyotismon. If the player chooses primarily easier matches, they unlock weaker characters or a new stage.
  • In SoulCalibur III, picking specific choices during each character's Tales of Souls story mode (different choices for each character) leads them to a labyrinth, where they get the chance to battle Olcadan. Winning the battle will change their final boss from Abyss to Night Terror.

    Puzzle Games 
  • The Grow series from Eyezmaze is all about finding the right order to add things in order to get the maximum result.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Like many RPGs, the Mass Effect series features many sidequests, but what makes this one special is the ability to import your character from the previous game to the next, along with all the data on the decisions and quests completed, which allows the player to experience follow-up quests that would not be there if you hadn't imported the character.
    • In Mass Effect, it's way better to do the Therum mission first in order to have Liara (the only pure Biotics specialist in the party) in your party as soon as possible, as possibly leave Virmire for last because it ends in a Sadistic Choice where you have to leave either Kaidan or Ashley to a Plotline Death.
    • In Mass Effect 2, the way to earn the best ending is to upgrade your ship's armor, shields, and weapons, recruit all the possible squadmates, and complete each and every one of their loyalty missions and ensure their loyalty is attained (you'll acquire it if you see highlighted glow beneath their character portrait in the "Squad Selection" menu) before boarding the derelict Reaper, then doing the last loyalty mission for the squadmate found there, then going through the Omega-4 relay immediately after your crew is abducted. During the final mission, you'll have to pick the best squadmate for each task and leave the toughest characters behind for the Final Boss, in order to keep everyone alive. Doing so will net you the "No One Left Behind" achievement and the longest ending in the game.
    • Bioware recommended taking this in Mass Effect 3 to get the best ending, which means taking plenty of time to do sidequests, explore the galaxy, talk to people, and in general Take Your Time. Many of the sideplots also require an imported save from at least Mass Effect 2 in order to get the best resolution.
  • Mass Effect 3 has probably the best example of this when Quarian-Geth Conflict reaches its climax during the mission Priority: Rannoch. At this point, the player must decide whether to save the Quarians or the Geth, but choosing one will doom the other, including Tali if the Geth are chosen. However, it's entirely possible to broker a peace between the two species, and have both of them commit to the war against the Reapers instead of just one note . To accomplish this, the player is required to import a save from Mass Effect 2 and make several key, specific decisions in the second and third games:
    • Both Tali and Legion must be recruited and survive the Suicide Mission at the end of Mass Effect 2.
    • In 3, The player must complete the mission Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadrons before starting Priority: Rannoch.
    • Commander Shepard has at least 80% of his/her Reputation Meter filled.
    • Alongside these requirements, the player must make several key decisions in both games and recieve at least 5 Points in the following:
      • Complete Tali's Loyalty Mission in 2 by gaining her loyalty without having her exiled from the Quarian Fleet (+2 Points).
      • Complete Legion's Loyalty Mission in 2 by choosing to destroy the Geth Heretics (+2 Points).
      • The Player/Shepard must have broken up the argument between Tali and Legion in 2 without taking sides, using Charm or Intimidate dialogue options (+1 Point).
      • The Player must complete the mission Rannoch: Admiral Koris before Priority: Rannoch (+1 Point). During this mission, the player would have to choose to Save the Admiral rather than the crew (+1 Point).
  • In Persona 3 and Persona 4, it is possible to max out all of your social stats and social links in a single playthrough. This is nearly impossible in 3 (you have no leeway at all), slightly less ridiculous in FES (you have roughly four or five days of leeway), and still not that easy in 4. New Game Plus makes it easier; you can't carry over Relationship Values, but you do keep your social stats, freeing up some time. This continues into Persona 5, though it's easier to do it than its predecessors due to introducing several mechanics that either make dungeon exploration much easier or make raising Relationship Values without passing time possible.
  • In Planescape: Torment, your Amnesiac Hero has three classes available to him; Fighter, Mage, Thief, with Mage adding the most to the overall story. Justified, as the Nameless One was an Evil Sorcerer in his past life.
  • In the first Knights of the Old Republic game, it's best if you complete either Tatooine or Kashyyk first and save Manaan for your third adventure and leave Korriban last. Because on the first two planets, the characters HK-47 and Jolee Bindo may join your party and you'll have more chances to know them better, there's also a sidequest that involves Jolee on Manaan; if you attempt to do Korriban any time before that Bastila will stay in the ship during it, so the fact that she will be captured after completing three planets reduces the impact of her absence to zero, at least there.
    • Furthermore, the enemies you have to fight on Tatooine and Kashyyyk are much less nasty than the trouble you run into on Korriban, where almost every enemy is throwing around Force Powers and fighting with lightsabers and those who aren't venture into Lightning Bruiser status. Manaan's enemies don't have the sheer power of Korriban's, but they're still higher-end than you'd run into on Tatooine.
    • In addition, The Reveal will occur after finishing the third plot planet, which will gives you more dialogue options. Leaving Korriban for last will make the level much more interesting.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins actually implements invisible level caps on enemies in different world areas (as detailed here) to subtly guide you into an easy quest progression (even though you can actually go wherever you want as soon as you leave Lothering). The first entry in their list is the Mage Tower, which is a very good idea, anyway, because not only will you be able to pick up the designated party healer right away, but you will also be taking full advantage of the numerous, permanent stat boosts that you can get there. In addition, it will also allow you to Take a Third Option when facing a Sadistic Choice later on in the game.
    • In Dragon Age: Origins Awakening, it is best to leave Blackmarsh for last, since you won't be able to induce the party member you recruit on your last mission to the Grey Wardens for plot reasons—but the Blackmarsh recruit luckily does not need to take the Joining.
  • Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is a rather obnoxious example. The game boasts 3 endings! Except... One of the endings is nothing more than a fancy Game Over, the normal ending bypasses a lot of the interesting stuff, and is about 2 lines long ("Congratulations! Go to sleep; BTW, this game has more stuff"), and then there's the good ending, which is both the Golden Path and Guide Dangit. Averted in Silmeria, which has only one path, and Convenant of the Plume, in which there are once again 3 paths that need to be played for the full experience, and have an easily identified branching point (the Plume destroys your enemies but permanently kills an ally each time it's used; how willing you are to sacrifice your friends determines your path). The allies you get on each path also matches how many allies you Plumed, with more sacrifices meaning more morally dark allies and vice-versa, with one sole exception. Unsurprisingly, the A path (no sacrifices) is the most rewarding, if a bit rushed, B is less rewarding but bittersweet, and C has everything go to Hel.
  • Radiant Historia centers the plot around this. Stocke has to jump back and forth along two different timelines, working out the kinks to produce the "True History" that will prevent global desertification. This is made more complex by another time traveler actively working against him, and by the Golden Path in question being incredibly precise and fragile. Mishandling certain sidequests is enough to send things off track and doom the entire world in that permutation.
  • The Pacifist route in Undertale is basically this, though it requires a New Game Plus. You can also take it one step further by doing specific actions with each enemy to get their yellow text (basically, the best outcome for them) in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue during the credits.
  • Breath of Fire II will end the game before the final dungeon if you don't hit every single golden brick in the path. It's also a total Guide Dang It!. You have to recruit the right NPC to your town, save another random guy in a fight, and explore all the nooks and crannies of your town. But if you get it all right you'll get to face an enormous final dungeon, a massive final boss, and get what just might be the longest ending sequence ever made for a video game. (Really, it lasts forever.)
  • Fallout 4 has an semi-undocumented golden path in which the Sole Survivor allies with all three opposing factions against the Institute, but it's a Guide Dang It! to figure out.

    Turn-Based Strategy 

    Visual Novels 
  • Frozen Essence has multiple paths, but the only one that solves the mysteries of Mina's lost memories and dreams and explains a lot of things that show up in other paths is the Water Path, which is unlocked only if the player doesn't fulfill the requirements for any other path. Interestingly, the game's proclaimed "True End" is actually on another path (the Life Path), but explicitly states that Mina never regains her memories, hence still leaving the player in the dark about much of the game's backstory.
  • In Zero Escape, the player's attempts to reach this path are parallel to the protagonists- all of whom are Shifters- doing the same thing. They belong to the organisation Crash Keys, which prevents various apocalyptic crises from coming to pass. They see the Golden Path as an ironclad possibility that needs to be found or protected; actively deciding what little things shouldn't be part of the Path is not their goal. Of course, Shifters are still people at heart, so they will move mountains to avoid an-otherwise Golden Path in which their personal loved ones are dead.


Video Example(s):


Saving the Quarians & the Geth

Commander Shepard is faced with an extremely difficult decision: either let the Geth upload the Reaper Code, granting them true AI but allowing them to destroy the Quarians; Or saving the Quarian Fleet by preventing the upload but allowing them to continue their assault, which would destroy the Geth. Instead, he opts to convince the Quarian Fleet to stand down while also allowing Legion to upload the code, thus enabling peace.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TakeAThirdOption

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