One of the most common Video Game Objectives is the rescue of a large but certain number of helpless beings, be they prisoners of war, Damsels in Distress or Ridiculously Cute Critters, trapped or imprisoned in various perilous locations deep inside the levels. (This is not to be confused with scenarios where the creatures are liberated in cutscenes after levels, or by triggering the Level Goals.)
Once rescued, the creatures will usually do one of the following:
- Follow behind the player character, All in a Row style. (In this case, they will almost certainly be invulnerable, though they may get separated from the player.)
- Tag along with the player character, Escort Mission style. (The player must retain sole responsibility for protecting them.)
- Ride inside the player vehicle.
- Disappear into the Player Inventory as a Live Item.
- Simply run or fly off on their own (with their safety inexplicably guaranteed).
In games willing to sacrifice cumbersome realism in favor of straightforward action, the player will be able to rescue any number of these creatures in one go. More realistic games will only allow the player to carry one or a few at a time, turning this objective into something like a Fetch Quest.
Some Fridge Logic applies to games in which the rescuable critters aren't locked up or incapacitated but just stand out in the open, waiting for the player to run into them: why can't they actually be harmed by everything trying to kill the player (even if the plot says they're in danger), and if they can make their escape on their own feet, why exactly do they need the player's help to do so?
- In Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry, Adewale can rescue slaves for the Maroons, with the amount of slaves rescued granting upgrades such as improved weaponry or bigger pouches for ammo.
- In Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, beating the game with Cornell unlocks Henry's mode in which he has to rescue six missing children from the evil forces within seven days. Every child he rescues unlocks something in the main game.
- In the Infamous series, liberating captive civilians from enemies gives you either EXP or Good Karma points.
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has slaves doing forced labor for the Uruks that can be rescued throughout the countryside. Talking to some of them can lead to Slave Liberation missions, where you rescue slaves in the typical trope fashion.
- Machine Hunter contains hostages in every single stage, and you must locate and rescue the minimum amount required in order to proceed. While the first stage contains precisely 1 hostage in a checkpoint that's unmissable anyways (so saving him is an instant 100%) later levels will have numerous captives, where you'll need to locate and retrieve somewhere between 50% to 80% (depending on difficulty settings), otherwise the game wouldn't allow you to exit the level at the end of the stage.
- In the Psygnosis game Cytron, at the end of each zone, you receive an increasing number of bonus points for every human scientist you rescue.
- In Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters, touching the enslaved humans will score some points and instantly transport them back to the mothership, which also saves them from getting shot. A player who rescues enough slaves to fill up a shuttle will also receive an extra life unit at the end of the level.
- The Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom arcade game. In the 1st level "Subterranean Mines", Indiana whips the locks of the cages holding the children in order to free them. After being freed, each child disappears.
- In Metal Slug, during the course of the game the player's character can free prisoners by shooting them. They will give your character a randomly chosen item and then run off the screen, presumably to safety.
- The goal of each level of Zombies Ate My Neighbors is for Zeke and Julie to rescue as many of their neighbors as they can before the zombies (or other kind of monsters on occasion) kill them.
- Cannon Fodder has some prisoner rescue missions where the prisoners must be taken to the mission endpoint. The prisoners are invulnerable but will freeze and refuse to move if any enemy soldiers come too close to them.
- Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue have hostages in each and every stage, that you must locate and rescue to access the next area. Miss out a few captives and you hit an Invisible Wall when trying to leave, with the game throwing an "AREA NOT CLEARED" notification.
- SOS is based around how well the player can balance rescuing other characters with leaving the capsized ship they're in. The more people rescued, the more points scored, and the better ending you get upon escaping the ship. Some people (children, staff, plot-important characters, etc.) give more points than others.
- In Turtles (an early Konami Arcade Game also known as Turpin or 600), the player's objective is to rescue all the Kidturtles on each floor from question blocks. Each Kidturtle has to be carried home separately on the mother turtle's back.
- Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels have Jinjos captured by Gruntilda scattered throughout each world. They fly off when rescued, and rescuing each set of them will bring the reward of a Jiggy. In Banjo-Tooie, the number of Jinjos required for a Jiggy depends on the Jinjo's family, which is a randomly-selected color; Banjo-Tooie also includes Minjos, enemies that mimic Jinjos until you get close.
- In Commander Keen IV: Secret of the Oracle our hero must rescue all of the Council Members (they look like your typical druids) in order to activate said oracle (supposedly, it turns out you just have to flick a switch, video here). The secret level contains a janitor who was captured by mistake because he looked like a Council Member (after all, said level is nonessential).
- In Flicky, the titular bird must rescue all the Chirps and bring them to the elevator in order to complete the level.
- In James Pond 2: RoboCod, the introductory scene tells our fishy hero to go into the levels and rescue the penguins. However, this Excuse Plot is contradicted by the manual, which explains that the penguins in the levels are actually time bombs planted by Dr. Maybe that must be deactivated.
- In Mega Man X5 and Mega Man X6, there are some Reploid survivors in the levels that you have to rescue by touching them; they'll then teleport to safety, presumably by virtue of your character issuing the base to teleport them. They'll give you an extra life and a good enhancement parts for your character. In X6 this may get rather cumbersome because the Nightmare Virus mooks may appear nearby and try to possess the Reploids; if they do, they'll become "zombified" and you have to destroy them, denying you some valuable upgrade parts.
- This is the main objective in the Mighty Switch Force! games:
- In the first game, you have to "rescue" the escaped prisoners, the Hooligan Sisters, and put them back in prison.
- The second game plays this trope straight in that you have to rescue them from burning buildings.
- In Ninja Five O, you have to rescue all of the hostages on each level after the first before you can proceed to the next one. They make themselves known to the player by Speech Bubbles saying "HELP!" and "Don't Shoot!" Upon being rescued, they say "Thank You!" and disappear.
- Games in the Oddworld Quintology use this; in Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, Abe must rescue the Mudokons that the evil Glukkons use as slave labor in their factories. Munch's Oddysee has Mudokons, and a new race called Fuzzles, critters that the Vykkers (an entire race of sadistic Mad Scientists) use as lab animals.
- In Putty, Putty must carry all the Bots in each stage to a Flying Saucer or other safe destination. Putty can normally absorb only one Bot at a time, though a Power-Up allows for carrying four at a time. In earlier levels, Bots are frozen in blocks of ice to make them easier to get at. Unfrozen Bots will bounce around unless given coffee and are vulnerable to enemies (though they do respawn).
- Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time: Rescuing Zoni and re-uniting their hive mind unlocks ship upgrades, and all 40 must be rescued to unlock all post-game content.
- In Rolo to the Rescue for the Sega Genesis, Rolo is tasked with rescuing dozens of kidnapped animals who have been taken to the circus. Some puzzles require you to control a just-rescued animal instead of Rolo, but only Rolo is capable of unlocking other animals' cages (for which keys are required) and leading them to the end of the level. If you defeat the Final Boss without saving every single one, the game tells you that it will "remain on your conscience" and "you will never truly be happy again". This results in an immediate GAME OVER.
- In Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, most normal levels have five or so hostages to be saved. Presumably, the hostages' hyperactive cringing is what makes them immune to player and enemy attacks. When rescued, they vanish and leave behind powerups. (The arcade version has bombs to be defused instead.)
- In Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic must rescue all the Flickies trapped in the robots in order to pass through the checkpoint rings and complete the level. The one exception is in Panic Puppet Zone Act 2, where Sonic must head to the center of the base instead. Certain hacks of this game remove the ability to collect Flickies so that every action stage plays like Panic Puppet Act 2.
- In Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos, the Excuse Plot centers on rescuing the hero's mouse friends from a trio of feline outlaws, who have imprisoned the mice in cages scattered around the level. The game keeps track of how many mice you leave behind, and you can return to any level to finish the job. (The bootleg Sonic the Hedgehog version of this game replaces the caged mice with Mario clones.)
- In Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the Sorceress and her henchmen have stolen the 150 dragon eggs and scattered them across the Forgotten Worlds. It's up to Spyro to take the eggs back.
- Super Princess Peach has you rescuing three Toads in each level. These, along with Luigi, need to be rescued to access the Final Boss.
- Wario World has a hundred Spritelings in cages, how many you rescued affects the ending (they restore your palace, too few of them leaves it a total dump).
- Dawn of War: Dark Crusade: The Chaos stronghold allows you to rescue some honor guard units. The Dark Eldar stronghold in Soulstorm starts as a Baseless Mission, where you need to rescue additional units from their torture gardens.
- Warcraft III: A staple of the game's Baseless Missions, where reinforcements are generally found as prisoners. The Blood Elf mission requires you to find and rescue Kael's lieutenants, with the other units being optional.
RPG — Eastern
- Pokémon Colosseum and its sequel Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness are based around using the Snag Machine to save Shadow Pokemon corrupted by Cipher.
RPG — MMO
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: A frequent type of mission is having to free some location that has been taken over by enemy forces or hostile gangs. If civilians are present, there will usually be a bonus mission to rescue X number of them.
RPG — Western
- Diablo III's Act II has several points where one can rescue people. The first is in Alcarnus, where on your way to track down Maghda, you can free the prisoners the Coven has taken by releasing them from their cages. The other is during the attack by Belial on Caldeum shortly after acquiring the Black Soulstone, where you are tasked with getting everyone to safety in the sewer and keeping them from getting killed as Belial rains poison fireballs down on the city and his snake demons try to hinder you. Freeing everyone in Alcarnus and getting everyone to the sewer alive in time in Caldeum net you the "Hero of Alcarnus" and "Hero of Caldeum" achievements, respectively.
- Adventure Mode also has several objectives where you have to rescue people. In the case of generally helpless villagers, after freeing them, you provide a portal for them to get back into town. In the case of badasses such as the Iron Wolves, they will join the battle as invulnerable allies on your side until the last one is rescued, whereas they will go into the portal.
- In the Warrior route of Nox, you have to free several women who have been kidnapped by the orcs from a nearby town and placed in holding pens around the orc camp. The women are completely defenseless and very frail, so you have to protect them all the way back to the town.
- In Rescue At Rigel (1980), an adventurer named Sudden Smith tries to rescue 10 human prisoners from an asteroid base controlled by the alien Tollahs (a Shout-Out to the Iran hostage crisis). Once the hostages are freed they can be delivered to a rescue ship via a transport beam.
- Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords actually has this as an overarching campaign goal for the Light-Sided Exile: your objective is to find and inevitably rescue the last four surviving Jedi Masters from the advancing Sith Triumvirate forces. A Dark-Sided Exile instead hunts them down to personally wipe out the remains of their Order.
- In Choplifter! (1982), the whole object of the game is to use your helicopter to rescue hostages from an enemy country and carry them to safety. The helicopter can only carry a limited number of hostages at a time, requiring multiple trips to retrieve them all.
- In Power Pete, Pete takes it upon himself to rescue all of the lost Fuzzy Bunnies in each level. The Fuzzy Bunnies just hop up and down while waiting to be rescued.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM: Enemy Within have Terror Missions, where the player's squad must rescue civilians who are under attack by alien forces. If every civilian dies or you didn't accept the mission, the country that requested your help will leave the XCOM Council.
- XCOM2 has "Stop ADVENT retaliation" missions, where rescuing a single civilian is not enough to win the mission. However, you only lose the region if you fail completely (including evacuating instead of killing all enemies).
- Act I of "The Shadow Rune" campaign for Descent: Journeys in the Dark revolves around saving the surviving Shadow Binders—aging members of an adventurer troupe of old who defeated the evil dragon Gryvorn decades ago—from the Overlord's minions.