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Jigsaw Puzzle Plot

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Tommy: You see, Trumpy? The pieces go together!
Tom Servo: If only this movie were so lucky...

Lots of interesting things are going on in the series' Myth Arc: Mind Screws, wild conspiracies, unrevealed Love Dodecahedrons, an Ontological Mystery, and the odd bit of Applied Phlebotinum or two. Sometimes the setting itself is just plain crazy, to boot. It's a Long Story, and there's far too much to explain in the series pilot.


Solution: ration out the information about what's going on with an eyedropper, and let the viewers scratch their heads about it until much later on. Welcome to the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot.

At its best (and with a sharp audience that's well-prepared for it), the series can become an interesting intellectual challenge that generates hours and hours of Fan Wank, Epileptic Trees and watercooler discussions, and creates memorable moments as connections between seemingly minor or unrelated details fall into place, revealing illuminating insights (see Wham Episode). At its worst, the series becomes an incomprehensible Mind Screw ruled by The Chris Carter Effect, patched together by the occasional Ass Pull. Some writers may claim some of the latter effect to be intentional; that some mysteries are never solved. However, the fact remains that if you give viewers a mystery, suspects, and clues, then don't tell them whodunnit, don't act surprised if they get pissed at you afterwards.


Anime does this quite frequently, and even series that don't explicitly try for a full Jigsaw Puzzle Plot will frequently hold back explanation of a few scenes in the Pilot until Mr. Exposition has a chance to talk about it without the conversation seeming too forced.

Very common in arc-based mystery or espionage series, where what's going on is supposed to be mysterious. By its nature uses several Driving Questions right at the outset. Expect many reveals. Can often become a Kudzu Plot if the pieces of the puzzle don't quite fit together. A video game that forces the player to go and find the plot pieces is using Story Breadcrumbs.

Not to be confused with the kind of plot that involves failing to escape deathtraps.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Amatsuki, particularly concerning the backstory and the real world timeline.
  • Attack on Titan throws several curveballs regarding the nature and motives of Titans within the series, most of which just raise more questions than provide answers.
    • Every time there's a reveal, nothing is ever actually answered because we're provided with so much new information that all previous knowledge about a character or a concept is rendered useless. Most notably occurs after the characters finally get to Eren's basement and learn the truth about the world. Well, kind of. All the Unreliable Narrators don't help either, and nobody in-universe really knows what's going on themselves.
  • Baccano! is a perfect example of this. The entire series is in Anachronic Order, with almost every major plot point being shown in the first episode but without enough context to put them together. It even includes the above mentioned style of Wham Episode. And being the Spiritual Successor, Durarara!! does this, too.
  • The Big O is like one of those advanced jigsaws where every piece is the same color. By design, some of the pieces never do fit (the rumors that this is because of Executive Meddling are false; the "original" ending to the second and last season was only slightly more coherent).
  • Chrono Crusade seems to attempt to do this.
    • The manga version is somewhat like what would happen if you're given a few small pieces to a puzzle at a time, only for the person giving you the puzzle realizing they're low on time and dumping the whole box of pieces out at you at the last minute. Thanks to some of the exposition being rushed, some things that are only barely hinted at seem to come out of nowhere (like the demons being aliens) and some things are touched on so quickly it's easy to miss them (like Satella and Fiore being half-demon or Joshua and Azmaria being married in the epilogue).
    • The anime version reveals things a little more smoothly, but thanks to its Gecko Ending a lot of the foreshadowing to things earlier in the manga isn't touched on again in the anime. Basically, in this version you're given half of one puzzle, and then pieces of another puzzle that only fit together if you force them, with some leftovers on the side. This leads to some things appearing in the series that don't make much sense, like the demons' advanced technology.
  • Eden of the East. We get to see a lot of slice of life, romance and occasional comedy all while knowing that the story has a much more complex and mysterious plot, setting and back story. We'll only get to see that piece by piece.
  • FLCL. Given this was made by the same people who made Neon Genesis Evangelion AND was written by the same man who wrote Revolutionary Girl Utena and Star Driver, this isn't much of a surprise, but still... Note that this show is only 6 episodes long and very fast-paced, meaning it's not hard to lose track of most of your pieces if you aren't paying attention.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist, both the original manga and the 2003 anime version in their own respective ways.
  • Future Diary has several important plot points that aren't fully explained until near the end. Something is clearly wrong with Yuno (even aside from all the other things), and then there's Murmur, who seems to have her own plans for the Survival Game. Aru Akise is attempting to investigate the mysteries surrounding Yuno, but he doesn't have much success until near the end of the story.
  • The Garden of Sinners due to the first four of its seven parts being in Anachronic Order. Those unfamiliar with Tsukihime (which Kara No Kyoukai was a prototype of) would have absolutely no idea what's going on until the end of the third movie.
  • Gantz's only excuse for a Mr. Exposition is a Snark Knight Unreliable Expositor, and the protagonists' only other way of figuring out the rules by which their world operates is trial and error. As for why they're brought back from the dead, given all kinds of high-tech weaponry, and sent out to fight what are apparently aliens that no one else can see? The hints are portioned out very slowly over dozens of manga volumes, and any or all of them may be Red Herrings. Lampshaded when an Intrepid Reporter is taken on a tour of a factory that apparently manufactures the Gantz balls and weaponry by a friendly German gentleman who spins a tale of an Idiot Savant child under extraterrestrial influence inventing the tech... and then turns into an alien, mocks him for believing any of it, and disappears.
  • Gasaraki is quite similar, except instead of giving you a new puzzle, it pours gasoline on the old puzzle, then drops a lit match on it, then doses you with either very good or very bad hallucinogens, depending on how drunk you are at the time.
  • Get Backers loves this trope, explicitly citing the "puzzle" simile every chance they get. There's a twist, though: while it starts out as a straightforward piece of advice — "don't do anything stupid until you figure out exactly what's going on" — it turns out that many superficially unconnected plot threads are in fact pieces of a much larger puzzle.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex tends to generally Infodump on viewers, especially during the one-of Stand Alone episodes. During the Complex episodes, the layered intricacy of the plotting is paid off in spades.
  • Kekkaishi and all the stuff relating to Karasumori and the Urakai.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: One example suffices; the primary design for the Innovators, the main villains of Season 2 can be seen in contextually-relevant background scenes in Season 1, specifically on Kinue Crossroad's desk.
  • If you ever decide to bypass the Mind Screw of Neon Genesis Evangelion and try to decipher the plot (possibly via The Other Wiki), you can see how it was going for this category. Take Our Word for It, there are a whole mess of things going on here.
    • Due to artistic reasons or whatnot, it's almost impossible to piece together some of the puzzles in the Series on its own, therefore REQUIRING third party material to be explained. Annoyingly enough, the Third Party Material itself often adds MORE questions which are not resolved.
      • A specific example within the series neatly and unexpectedly shows during Shinji and Asuka's first and only kiss near the end of Episode 15. The scene is strange and memorable. After it, Shinji and Asuka handle each other far more coldly. The series does not explain this repulsion until Episode 22, during a visual breakdown of Asuka's intents and personality.
  • Noir fits this pattern admirably, despite its (relatively) short run. Early episodes will frequently contain multiple flashbacks with no apparent relevance to the event which triggers them. Most of these connections are eventually revealed, however.
  • One Piece, especially between story arcs where we receive glimpses of the bigger world outside of the Straw Hats adventures. Slowly but surely the details of the overall myth arc concerning the One Piece and the Lost One Hundred Years have been coming together and still have some way to go.
  • PandoraHearts: From beginning to end, there are hints that paint a bigger picture to the past and the backstories of each character,especially regarding the Tragedy of Sablier, Pandora, Abyss, Will of Abyss, and almost everything, really.And the mystery keeps you at the end of your seat. Not to mention the Alice In Wonderland themes and references that are already confusing and weird by themselves.
  • Paranoia Agent seems designed to confuse, bewilder and annoy. It's basically the unfinished, leftover "scraps" of story ideas from an already crazy writer/director.
  • Penguindrum. It makes little sense till the last two episodes.
  • Princess Tutu. Stuff that isn't revealed until much later (some up to near the end!) are hinted at in the first few episodes, but it takes a while for everything to fit together. Also, every episode has at least one small thing revealed that's important to the plot, even if it seems like filler. Mytho himself could be seen as a representation of this, since we only learn his personality one "piece" at a time.
  • RahXephon The anime TV series version of it was pre-planned as a jigsaw plot, with hints that become obvious on a second viewing. And the final puzzle piece comes after the closing credits of the last episode (so make sure to watch all the way through them, if you haven't finished the series!), thus practically necessitating a rewatch with the new info in mind.
  • Red Garden might be the all-time king of this and still make sense in the end. The viewer is given information at the same pace as the protagonists, which means one has no idea why ANYTHING is going on up until three-fourth of the way through the story, when the protagonists are finally trusted enough to be told exactly why they are fighting for their lives. You can, of course, figure it out a bit earlier then that, but up until then, you're only seeing a small portion of the puzzle.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena may just be the Trope Codifier among anime. Star Driver, from the same writer, also fits very well.
  • Saint Seiya Episode GA: The story is actually at what will be the seventh published volume, yet there is still no clear plot.
  • Serial Experiments Lain has this since the plot is one big Mind Screw.
  • Texhnolyze can be a very tricky story to piece together, especially considering all that's going on between the Raffia, the Organo, the Class, and the shared history that ties them all together. It's very tight-lipped about its secrets.
  • The anime version of Trigun, in stark contrast to the manga, has a tendency to focus very heavily on the human elements of its story while confining many of the other backstory details to subtle cues that might go unnoticed on a first viewing.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- it seems straightforward up until the revelation about the clones and time travel.
  • Anything by Naoki Urasawa. 20th Century Boys alternates between present day and the childhood of the central characters, revealing major plot points, Chekhov's guns and backstories along the way. Monster regarding Johan and his plans, Pluto trying to figure out the reasoning behind the murders, and Billy Bat regarding the… it's not quite clear.
  • Much like RahXephon, Wolf's Rain has a tendency to keep many of its secrets well-hidden in the background beneath several subtle hints and layers of symbolism. You really have to be paying attention to figure out what the nobles actually are.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V's plot about the Dark Duelist (who for some reason looks just like Yuya) Yuto and his home, and how he connects to Yuzu. In-between Yuya-centered episodes, we'll get episodes dedicated to Yuzu's interactions with him. Each interaction unveils something to the layer of complexity, and goes more into explaining Yuto's story: he comes from a now-destroyed world that may be Heartland City, has an enemy in form of a Synchro-using D-Wheeler named Yugo, a mysterious Greater-Scope Villain in the form of Academia, and a possible counterpart of Yuzu named Ruri. What's stopping us (and Yuzu, much to her annoyance) from getting everything right away is that Yuto is forcibly teleported away by Yuzu's bracelet whenever Yuya shows up. We finally get answers about Yuto when he personally meets Yuya. And reveals everything about himself. We are thrown more into a loop when the secrets of Yuya, Yuto, and Yuzu just get more confusing with the reveal that there's one counterpart for Yuya and Yuzu in all four of the dimensions. All the counterparts appear to have magical powers, Yuya and his counterparts appear to have a magical Berserk Mode that's somehow connected to their dragon-based monsters, and Yuzu and her counterparts are being hunted down by the Big Bad.
    • The second arc becomes even more complex, with the protagonists traveling to another world that turns out to be an Alternate Universe version of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's and suddenly the story starts focusing on the class war and brutal dystopia of this world, while at the same time keeping the previous plot about inter-dimensional wars still relevant. Unfortunately, there are two separate factions in this worlds government who have different as of yet unknown agendas for the protagonists, neither of which can be trusted, one outright antagonistic towards them and possibly working with Academia, plus a potential rebellion rising up amongst the lower class due to economic and societal issues apparently unrelated to the war. And we still don't know what Reiji's full plan is.
    • In the end, some seemingly separate mysteries were answered together, so as to unite every smaller mystery into the overall plot. (Ex, the mystery of why Yusho vanished three years ago also explains what secrets Reiji Akaba was keeping and what his main goal is.)
  • 07-Ghost:The mysteries present themselves throughout the story and are resolved but even those resolutions have many layers and nothing is what it seems.Both with the characters and the 7 Ghosts. The basic storyline itself hides so many twists and turns, especially when you look back to earlier interactions and events.

    Comic Books 
  • Jonathan Hickman's run on Avengers and New Avengers.
  • Elephantmen tells it story from multiple character perspectives and sometimes out of sequence.
  • Grant Morrison writes a lot of these. It's not always a bad thing, though, just seems to be their style. Their run on Batman notably had some elements that didn't seem to make sense until the end.
  • 100 Bullets slowly builds on its background Myth Arc one piece at a time. The Minutemen and the Trust? Those names aren't even mentioned in the first few arcs.
  • The Sandman. Through all the stories the characters mix up slowly and in ways that aren't initially obvious and characters that were initially in two panels as a mention become major players later on.
  • John Byrne's run on She-Hulk worked like this. Small two page snippets would later contribute to the storyline. The Greek Gods arguing about Cupid being able to make someone in love with anybody else and then combining this with a conqueror from the future just arriving, for example.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is a prime example. At first the plot seems fairly straightforward: a crew of Transformers set off on a quest to find the mysterious Precursors by following an ancient starmap. But soon more and more mysteries and odd events begin appearing and multiple hints are dropped that something bigger is going on. Then the backstories and pasts of the characters and galaxy are slowly told through flashbacks, foreshadowing, subtle dialogue, and background hints (with occasional Word of God to fill in less apparent or important things). As the comic goes on, we learn more about how the crew came to be where they are today, with the foggy implication that the crew has always been linked to each other even before they began their quest. And all of this is told in somewhat Anachronic Order.

    Fan Works 
  • Aeon Natum Engel tries to recreate a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot where its source material went for more of a Kudzu Plot. (and no, knowing what was going on in canon Eva won't help you that much). Warning: Putting too many pieces together may induce maniacal laughter and/or gibbering.
  • Child of the Storm starts out looking like a fairly bog-standard crossover, before veering into very different territory and laid the foundations for a plot which in the immediate future includes a Gambit Pile Up with around 17 participants, one of which is playing all of the others like a violin. All of this is centred around Harry Potter/Thorson, who spends much of the story wishing that he wasn't caught up in all this and trying very hard not to die. In the more distant future, a Myth Arc of epic proportions seems to be being built. Trying to figure out what will happen next is an exercise in futility, usually because the next chapter adds a new piece which changes the picture enough that even if someone's figured the basic shape of the next piece, there are key details which no one sees coming. Part of the reason this works is because the main character is entirely grounded and thoroughly sick of being caught up in all the schemes going on around him. Another part is that the author is generally accepted to be completely mad, but very good at making it work for him. Even if he is probably making most of it up as he goes along.
  • The Firefly fanfic Forward has gradually hinted a far deeper and more complex plot as the series progresses, revolving around the Academy and their goals regarding creating psychics like River. Hints and clues as to what the Academy is really doing are dropped all throughout the story.
  • An author example is Kalash93. Many of his stories connect together very subtly, and attentive repeat readers will spot the connections. Not all the pieces are together yet, and what is there is not always told in order.
  • Mega Man Recut is very layered, and many character facets and an overall plot remain hidden.
  • Half the fun of Bad Future Crusaders is how well this has been done. While most of the focus is put on the now adult Cutie Mark Crusaders each trying to either just live or rekindle old friendships, there is also Babs Seed who is an inspector just trying to uphold the law and do the right thing, an entire plot dedicated to Lightning Dust and her R.E.A.F, and Silver Spoon who's plot alone could be it's own story, all held together with some shady characters who seem to know a lot more than what they let on with some flashbacks and World Building for good measure.
  • Various details in the sub-series of The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity connect to paint the larger, darker picture.
  • The Steven Universe fanfic Seeds Of Rebellion makes use of Switching P.O.V. and Anachronic Order to slowly piece together the Backstory of how the Crystal Gem Rebellion came to be
  • The plot of Go Away I'm Watching Porn is shrouded in mystery due to the massive Gambit Pile Up existing between The Alliance, the Khaos Brigade, an unknown third party responsible for Issei's Dark and Troubled Past, and an unwilling Issei. As more and more hints are dropped as to what each group is planning and what exactly Issei's past entails, more questions are raised for both the characters and readers.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cloverfield uses this big time. You won't get the full story in the movie at all. Looking into the ARG explains somethings and gives a few implications. By the end of both you're left having to figure out how a giant monster, a bunch of big parasite things, a Japanese corporation, the government, and an anti-corporate terrorist who seems to know something about the monster are all tied together.
  • Spoofed in Hot Fuzz, where Nicholas Angel's investigations about a series of murders bring together all the clues in a complex web of intrigues... except they didn't really matter and the real reason for the murders was far simpler and stupider.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Primer's plot and continuity almost completely breaks down about three-quarters of the way through the movie, leaving the reader to piece together what has happened from a series of somewhat disconnected scenes and references; even then, some significant parts of the plot are unsolvable. Justified in that the film is about the first discovery of time travel - and the realization that, once time travel exists, this is what causality would be like.
  • The 1972 version of Солярис (Solaris) is an example of what can go wrong when Jigsaw Plot is mixed with adapting from book to film. The film based heavily on a novel which heavily relied on the narrator giving massive Info Dumps to give backstory and explain things. Given that much of the film adaptation is based on the actions that take place in the novel, but is bereft of any narration, meaning that things which made sense (or at least slightly more sense) in the novel, went completely unexplained in the film without buildup, exposition, or closure. Many plot revelations and pieces of characterization were changed to something very different, making the film hard to approach even for those who have read the book. The film also adds several scenes not found in the novel at all, which are quite trippy, leading to a film which has disturbingly large chunks of its running time occupied by Big Lipped Alligator Moments. Mind Screw and Gainax Ending do not even begin to express how weird the whole thing is.

  • P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath wherein there's a fully fleshed-out fantasy world with its own ecosystem, magic, and theology. The main character, Jame, is (mostly) aware of how the world works, but doesn't explain any of it until relevant. Furthermore, she has only vague memories of ten years that passed where she didn't age. What she knows of the world is largely revealed by the second book. How the world actually works is still being revealed as of the fourth book.
  • The Discworld mostly averts this practice, as every book is stand-alone, and even in the case where it isn't — like Lords and Ladies — most of the stuff you need to know is mentioned a second time. However some pieces of character development can only be understood correctly if you read every book where the character in question turns up, and find a lot of things were already mentioned. A major contender for this is Death, who shows up in every book but two, but if you only read the books where he or his granddaughter Susan star in you will never grasp the full depth of his character. It works the same with Sam Vimes, as the "beast" that is inside of him is elaborated on in every book for brief amounts of time, only to be given a starring role of sorts in Night Watch (and even then this subplot is continued afterwards). Another major character is Carrot, who on the surface is a Nice Guy who genuinely wants all people to live in peace and harmony, but in truth there is a massive complexity behind his simpleness which a reader may only begin to understand by reading all of the watch books and the short story "Theater of Cruelty".
  • The Dresden Files. We're gradually learning things about Harry, his universe, and the main Plot that surrounds him.
  • The short novel Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany is a deliberately crafted jigsaw, designed so the reader isn't even aware they're seeing pieces of a puzzle, until the end, when Delany offers a few last missing key pieces, and then suggests that the reader can now assemble the whole story in their mind. Learning that you're dealing with Anachronic Order and time travel changes everything.
  • Harry Potter, to the point where half the final book is made up of scenes where some object briefly mentioned earlier in the series becomes extremely important. In essence, it's a book of Plot Coupons being cashed in.
  • Holes just barely qualifies, as it has two subplots which are not connected to the main plot until towards the end of the book.
  • The Fall Of Hyperion is a continuous downward spiral into a labyrinthine web of conspiracies within conspiracies on a cosmic scale.
  • Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy is essentially a jigsaw puzzle with ten thousand widely scattered pieces in at least three different boxes. And even then you can't be sure you've got all the pieces, or if you break it all up and start over again, you're going to get an entirely different picture. And the person next to you who is also reading the book will assemble an entirely different picture. And you're both equally right.
  • Each chapter of In Conquest Born is a vignette about a different aspect of the Forever War that forms the basis of its story, sometimes with little indication of how it ties into the overarching plot. Only after all the pieces are laid out does the whole picture start to emerge.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle is full of mysteries, only some of which are resolved (the third book is forthcoming). Right off the bat, the series's framing device raises many questions about how the narrator came to be in his current situation after the events of the main plot. Fan theories abound: for instance, there's a hypothesis about the hidden identity of one character based on some wordplay in a song.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen has three major Rotating Arcs, a larger number of subplots, no clear individual protagonist among its Loads and Loads of Characters even for most individual books, and much less the whole ten-book series, and takes place across several continents. The complexity is only increased by the fact that it starts in media res and doles out actual exposition sparingly, leaving the reader to figure most things out by context. It does, however, eventually converge into a single central Myth Arc about the Crippled God.
  • Otherland, a Post-Cyberpunk novel series by Tad Williams, takes an achingly long time to introduce all of the elements of its Kudzu Plot to readers, and even at the end, forces people to fill in some of the blanks themselves.
  • Rant by Chuck Palahniuk is told from several different viewpoints all at once (often contradicting each other) by way of having the side characters interviewed after the fact. SEVERAL different ways of putting this puzzle together are possible.
  • William Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily comprises five parts which are mostly out of order. For those who don't pick apart and reassemble the events, whether Emily killed her beau, and why, is a perplexing matter. The fact that the narrator (implied to be the townspeople) has a severely limited understanding of Emily's personal life and occasionally relies on conjecture to guess at her actions doesn't help much, either.
  • Brandon Sanderson loves this trope and is shown in both The Stormlight Archive and in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. Reading the Mistborn books twice will reveal just how much of the more left-field twists of Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (the final book in the trilogy) were foreshadowed with the puzzle-pieces hidden in plain sight.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events could be said to be the second variety.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. It's surprising how much one can learn about the backstory and the Myth Arc from reading between the lines and putting together minor details... or by going to The Other Wiki and having it explained to you.
  • The Warrior Cats arcs Power of Three and Omen of the Stars. They gradually revealed the significance and origins of the Three, as well as The Dark Forest and their plans, etc.
  • The Newbery award-winning novel The Westing Game's title puzzle/scavenger game is just one Mind Screw after another.
  • The Wheel of Time. To understand the plot isn't difficult, despite the number of main characters. The confusing part is truly understanding everyone's reactions. It requires a great deal of knowledge about both the plot and most characters' personalities and roles.
  • The works of Gene Wolfe also count, in particular Peace and The Book of the New Sun, the latter in particular. Michael Swanwick and Neil Gaiman have both written tips on how to approach Wolfe's work for the uninitiated.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is what 24 is all about. Things tend to get properly put together halfway through, though.
  • Alias. In this TV series, the mythic arc takes a shadowy backseat to the "everyday" spy dramas that Sydney faces.
  • Up to eleven with the fourth season of Arrested Development which exploits the fact that all 15 episodes were released at once with each episode being A Day in the Limelight for one character catching us up on what happened with them in the years after season 3 which leads to many overlapping storylines and setups to jokes that sometimes are not paid off for as long as 10 episodes.
  • Babylon 5, pre-planned 5 year plot which was shifted by three episodes near the end due to network difficulties threatening to cancel the series a year short of the original ending, and where actors leaving and arriving meant that some functions were shifted to other characters while still getting the same effect.
  • The new Battlestar Galactica. Like Lost above, they only began to plan out everything towards the end of season 1. Unfortunately, it began suffering from The Chris Carter Effect after Season 2, and by the Grand Finale it was pretty clear that the writers were making it up as they went along.
  • Both seasons of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency feature a lot of bizarre and seemingly unrelated events that all turn out to be connected in the end.
  • Doctor Who goes into a strenuously long arc with the Eleventh Doctor regarding cracks in time, the Silence, an impossible girl, and the end of his life. Each one of these issues acts as its own separate arc, but all of them have a lingering through line- fighting fate- that suggests huge events are coming. The whole of it gets wrapped up nicely in "The Time of the Doctor".
    • Continued in the Twelfth Doctor era, perhaps not surprisingly. Steven Moffat is still resolving plot threads he began as many as ten years ago in some cases. Series 9 contains two direct sequels to the 50th anniversary special, one to its B-plot and one to its A-plot.
  • Heroes put together an expertly crafted Jigsaw Puzzle Plot in Season 1, with almost all the loose threads neatly tied up. Subsequent seasons devolved into Random Events Plots.
  • Lost. For the first half of the show, the writers had the task of constructing a character-driven narrative within a dense mythological framework without knowing how long the series would last. Many story threads were introduced right off the bat, but there was no way of knowing whether each phase of the story would have to last ten episodes or several seasons. Trying to avoid dragging plots beyond their natural shelf-life and putting the next piece of the puzzle into play is a difficult balancing act for a television network's cash cow. This along with certain other events caused many Aborted Arcs to occur.
  • Night and Day, while ostensibly a soap opera, puts the mystery of the disappearance of schoolgirl Jane Harper centre-stage throughout - and stretched excruciatingly over 80 weeks for maximum immersion, at that.
  • The same writing team gives us Once Upon a Time, which takes the multi-threaded arcs of Lost, and applies them to fairy tales. Taking full advantage of Disney's ownership, they throw in enough references to Disney's animated and live-action canon (the spin-off has even made a couple passing references to Star Wars) to give Kingdom Hearts a run for its money, and absolutely no character is entirely what they seem. One specific example is the flashback segments in all the episodes of Season 1. When all put together in chronological order, they form the full story of the events that lead to the curse that drives the present-day story coming into existence.
  • The backstory of Power Rangers Mystic Force. You always get bits and pieces, some of which don't seem to fit with the rest, and it doesn't all fall into place until 2/3 of the way through. This is one of the major differences between it and its Japanese counterpart Mahou Sentai Magiranger, whose only secret is Wolzard's true identity. We learn the answer to that and trade it for one more mystery: "your mom's still alive; ask the next set of bad guys how that can be and where she is now."
    • This is unusual for both Power Rangers and Super Sentai, but their Darker and Edgier sister series Kamen Rider has long been this way. At the beginning of a series, the hero gets his powers and monsters are attacking and... that's about all we know. The monsters' methodology (and in Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, the number of rival Riders) make filling an episode easy even with a lot of what is going on unrevealed. The events that set it in motion and the final plan of the enemy are filled in piece by piece. Even the more lighthearted Kamen Rider Den-O doesn't introduce the Big Bad until the series is 2/3 of the way through. Until then, all we knew is that the Imagin did what they did because someone or something was whispering in their minds' ear. Mind you, this goes strictly for the 2000s Revival and after.
  • While each episode had its own self-contained story, the overreaching arc in The Pretender, with its questions of Jarod's family and who was in charge at The Centre, was a Twin Peaks style Jigsaw Puzzle Plot.
  • The Prisoner (1967) originated the trope for an entire series.
  • Each season of Australian drama Sea Patrol does this.
    • The first series builds up a mystery involving a mysteriously poisoned marine biologist, a freighter captain, a bag of contaminated crabs, the fishermen who caught them, and a crate full of water bottles. It all comes together in the season final, when Captain Gallagher is revealed to be manufacturing a biotoxin to sell on the black market.
    • The second series, subtitled "The Coup," builds up to a coup d'etat on a fictitious Pacific island, involving an Australian businessman and a group of Eastern European mercenaries. It's not done quite as well as the first, because any viewer can tell that Walsman will be behind it from roughly the second episode. Surprisingly, individual episodes in this season are on average better than in the first, but the mystery is badly handled.
  • Sense8 has a jigsaw-puzzle plot for the entirety of Season 1, and parts of Season 2 as well.
  • The Shadow Line does this, as it has many seemingly disparate plot points that only fall clearly into place in the final two episodes.
  • Star Trek traditionally prefers standalone stories (even Deep Space Nine only planned so far ahead); however, the third season of Enterprise was a full-scale Jigsaw Puzzle Plot.
  • By Season 2, Supernatural got pretty good at this. You usually had an episode furthering the FBI Arc ("Nightshifter"), then a Monster of the Week episode ("Houses Of The Holy"), then something to do with Sam's destiny ("Born Under A Bad Sign"), then a Breather Episode ("Tall Tales"), all the while dropping hints about the boys' usually-damaged mental states.
  • Taken: There are numerous mysteries such as the reason behind continued abductions of Russell Keys and later his son Jesse and grandson Charlie, the nature of the artifact found at the Roswell crashsite, the purpose of the implants found in the heads of all abductees and most significantly the aliens' ultimate goal in creating hybrids. As the series progresses, answers to all of these questions are provided.
  • The Twilight Zone (but within a single episode, rather than scattered across a Story Arc.)
  • Twin Peaks uses this method to disguise the fact that it had no idea where it was going. Given that it was created by David Lynch, plot cohesiveness wasn't exactly the highest priority. Because it was canceled after the second season, most of the plot was left unresolved and unexplained. The Movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, provided as much of an explanation and resolution as was possible.
  • The X-Files didn't start out this way, but Gillian Anderson's pregnancy early in the series forced the writing staff to get very inventive, and the show's near-legendary Myth Arc was the result. However in the later seasons it began to infamously fall victim to The Chris Carter Effect and Kudzu Plot. The later seasons are often considered a good example of when this trope is done wrong, as the puzzle pieces didn't fit together and every answer gave several dozen more puzzle pieces to work with.

  • Whodunnit?, appropriate to its Mystery Fiction theme, has a backstory spanning the previous 34 years that must be pieced together by listening to all of the other characters and connecting together what they have to say, and they have a lot to say. Some information will not make sense until you know of certain aspects about them, such as Walter, Victoria's father, changing his name to Butler to conceal his identity from her. This machine is a particularly unusual case in that almost all other pinball machines have either an Excuse Plot or No Plot? No Problem!

  • The Magnus Archives is an example of this, with all of its five seasons having been fully planned out before the show began. On the surface, each episode is an isolated, one-off horror story (framed as a statement read by the archivist of the Magnus Institute), but every single episode ties back into the series-long Myth Arc, a centuries-spanning Secret War involving eldritch gods and their human devotees. This means that every episode contains seemingly innocuous details that are brought up again tens or even hundreds of episodes later as critical plot points (for example, the Monster of the Week of the very first episode is revealed to be the driving force behind the Unknowing, the apocalyptic ritual of one of the eldritch gods in episode 119).
  • The thing about Welcome to Night Vale is that seemingly throw away one-episode jokes can build into long-term plots. Carlos and Cecil's romantic relationship, Dana being trapped in an alternate plane of existence, Strexcorp's take-over, the mayoral campaign, Night Vale's weird connection to Russia, Cecil's true past and the question of who bought Lot 37... it's building up to something, but its not clear what, yet.

    Video Games 
  • Jon Ingold's text adventure All Roads is rare example of a computer game that pulled this off with only a few hours of gameplay. The full plot involves possession, body switching, and anachronistic storytelling. And then there was The Muldoon Legacy series by the same author, which added a healthy dose of science fantasy.
  • With the addition of the bordering on Mind Screw ending of Brotherhood, the Framing Story of Assassin's Creed definitely qualifies for this now. Ubisoft were meticulously vague with just about every sentence said, giving the player bits of evidence and conspiracies that either seem to contradict each other, or seeming have no relevance whatsoever. Not to mention the player has NO IDEA if said sources of information can be trusted, if everyone secretly has an ulterior motive, or if they're just being overly paranoid about things. "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted"... more like "Believe NOTHING, expect EVERYTHING, but don't expect to know how it all fits together".
  • BioShock has a fairly straightforward main plot. The settings backstory, on the other hand, is revealed mostly through audio recordings left behind by people who used to live in Rapture.
  • BlazBlue:
    • The main story of Calamity Trigger is told piecemeal through every character's Arcade and Story Modes. Some players might find making a chart or a table handy, 'cause it gets complicated. Then, once enough pieces are revealed, it becomes simpler in a satisfying way.
    • Starting from Continuum Shift Extend, there is an additional story chapter that recaps the essential meat of the plot of the last game in about the length of an individual character's chapter. Emphasis on essential.
    • Unfortunately, because it's a Fighting Game, a search for information on how to use the characters often ends with a plenitude of spoilers, which may not be major (fighting game) but it can ruin the satisfaction that figuring it all out near the completion of the story provides.
  • Bloodborne is even worse than the games it serves as a Spiritual Successor to. The true nature of what's going on is buried in item descriptions and the occasional telling piece of scenery. It's not even clear which parts of the story are real or not, or if all of it or none of it is. Figuring out the timeline of all the important players and events prior to the game's start is almost as hard as the game itself.
  • Square Enix's RPG Chaos Rings is built on this trope. Each playthrough features one of four different parties, whose stories are all interrelated. Only once you've played through each of their paths does the overarching plot come together.
  • Cube Escape: The first released installment was a simplistic game about fishing at a lake with some Surreal Horror Jump Scares thrown in, but the games since then have each revealed parts of an increasingly complicated and symbolism-laden plot/backstory involving the mysterious death of a woman, a lake that runs on people's extracted memories, bird-headed creatures who may or may not be demigods, and much more.
  • Dark Souls is this to the point of being a Kudzu Plot. There is very little in the way of story progressing cutscenes, and very little is directly explained to you. You can gain a bits of understanding about the setting, the past, and what is currently going on by compiling NPC dialogue, item Flavor Text, and by observing your surroundings.
  • The Dark Parables have evolved into this over time. With the release of each game, the player learns new details about characters and situations they encountered in previous installments. The series is now up to its tenth game, and Word of God states that they intend to produce several more titles (since there's plenty of material to use, given that they're all based on fairy tales), so the various plot threads will continue to weave together for an indefinite length of time.
  • Desktop Dungeons implements this, in part, to deal with the fact that there's no single linear path for the plot to take. Information about the backstory is often doled out in class challenges and boss monologues.
  • While Deus Ex's main story is pretty straight, the backstory is hidden in pieces in various in-game media this way.
  • Doom 3 did this quite nicely with its audio logs, video disks, and emails. Plus, it also did wonders for making players actually get the plot by placing important information such as codes in with the plot.
  • Dragon Age has this for history and details of the world of Thedas, for which you collect bits and pieces as codex entries that you can spend hours reading them and piecing them together; in fact, the main conflict of Dragon Age: Inquisition was foreshadowed as early as in Dragon Age: Origins if you took the time to slug through the entries dealing with the Elven Gods, the fade and the Old Gods. To a lessor extant the Broad Strokes of all six origin stories happened, and the dwarf storyline especially requires you to have seen both dwarf origins to get the whole picture.
  • Before the beginning of the main story in Ensemble Stars!, a 'war' happened in which the student council conspired to sabotage a number of other highly skilled idols and promote the student council president's own idol group fine. After Anzu, the player stand-in, transfers in, the main story kicks in and the student council are taken down. However, the specific details of what went down during the war, including who was allied with who and how they reacted to the events, have only been revealed in trickles across assorted event and gacha stories. To make it even worse, you can normally only read those stories if you manage to collect the associated cards, which involves either extensive, intense playing (for events) or Random Number God mercy (gachas). (However, players are also able to access limited numbers of keys which allow them to read episodes without the associated card, and translations of the stories into English can be viewed online.) And that's not even getting into the many, many characters' backstories, which are often hinted at years before they get explained in full. For one example, Chiaki is a very important character who would've been majorly impacted by the war, and is a close friend of one of the biggest victims (Kanata), but though the game started in 2015, it was only in January 2019 that the players found out his part in it all: he was a fine supporter who honestly believed they were carrying out justice until he got to know Kanata and realised he was actually a good person who didn't deserve what happened to him.
  • Fallen London: So many pieces, so many puzzles! And dozens and dozens of little storylines that always tell you more, but never enough to figure it all out at once. But every time, you get hints for another completely different storyline... All in all, if you want to have the whole story at any time, you'll need to work through many others, and piece it all together. Even snippets from the earliest moments of your career that were never important can gain a lot of relevance later on.
    • The worst case of this is the Finding Mr Eaten storyline, for a couple reasons. There's multiple endings, so you need to play through it multiple times or converse with others who have beaten it, and it's very highly advised to not use a "main" account for it. This is because it completely and utterly destroys your account, to the point where you're worse-off than a fresh one at the final step, even if you turn back at the very end and get the strongest weapon in the game in the process. If you continue, rather than get a weapon, you get one of the endings and your account gets deleted. For good.
  • Final Fantasy VIII aimed for subtle exposition, and never outright states its most important plot points (such as Squall being Laguna's son or the motivation of Big Bad Ultimecia).
  • Only by the end of Final Fantasy VII will you most likely understand everything that has gone on before, then a replay is recommended. It's possible to skip all the optional scenes that explain the backstory, and without them, it's practically a different game altogether.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon does this nicely, at least in the original F.E.A.R., Extraction Point, Perseus Mandate, and the second canon game, F.E.A.R. 2. F.E.A.R. 3 pretty much drops this entirely. The nice thing about the jigsaw plot is that it is handled in a way that provides a bonus to attentive players, but is not mandatory for understanding things.
  • While the plot of Five Nights at Freddy's seems to be nothing more than "homicidal animatronics gun for hapless security guard", a grisly backstory is revealed via secret posters. The rest of the series adds more pieces to the mythology, including a creepy puppet seemingly masterminding the animatronics, a purple Atari man bringing death wherever he goes, yellow animatronic/suit hybrids that are lethal deathtraps, the mysterious Fredbear and his restaurant, the purple Atari man's family (and his own robot creations), and even the animatronics' creator. Said information is also presented in Anachronic Order, so have fun figuring all that out.
  • Half-Life has the basic story of "mad science allows extradimensional aliens to conquer the Earth." Beyond that, you have to notice newspaper clippings in the game, keep your ears open for off-hand references in dialogue, and pay close attention to how your alien allies speak. It can be frustrating, but the alternative could have been a scene in Half-Life 2 where Gordon Freeman was locked in a room with an actual slide show of exposition. Even then, even if you are paying very close attention throughout much of the game, if you only play Half-Life 2, then expect to still be pretty damn confused and ignorant regarding the overall plot. Much helpful information is not given until Episode 1. That's right; HL2 makes you wait for the next game to clue you in on massive sections of the plot.
  • Heavy Rain. Let's just call it a mystery with multiple player-determined characters and paths and solutions but set answers.
  • Played extremely straight with Her Story. The game's story is told through videos; and you can view the videos in any order (you have to find the videos by querying the right terms into the search engine). The way the story is presented, the player has to piece together the full plot on their own.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 does this as well. You yourself are looking for your former partner Bradley, and as you talk to the residents of Hotel Dusk and learn their stories they begin to slowly interweave and overlap with yours and each others. By the end of the game you've found peace for yourself and everyone else in the hotel, if not resolved their problems. Its sequel, Last Window, does this as well. It has the advantage of an In-Game Novel version of its own story to help you review how the story has gone so far.
  • killer7 sets the puzzle pieces in front of you, takes a handful away, and leaves you to assemble the rest.
  • The Kingdom Hearts series. It rations out the information just enough that all the Wild Mass Guessing and Fan Wank can start to make sense if you aren't careful.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. If you listen accurately to what Kreia and other teammates tell you, play a Lightsider and learn everything you can from the Jedi Masters, and play the game several times that way (plus at least once dark side to note how peoples' stories change), you might actually be able to figure out just what happened during the complicated backstory, which is also full of contradictions because several characters just flat-out lie. To make it worse the player character already knows most of it and the game pointedly averts As You Know; one of the most reliable sources of exposition is dialog choices, and even that's assuming you can figure out what is and is not a Schrödinger's Question.
  • While Left 4 Dead has a straightforward plot, the survivors' personalities can be understood fully by listening on their comments. One of the most infamous is Ellis' tell-tale involving Keith.
  • The Legacy of Kain series, with plan upon plan, a whole cast of Chessmasters, of varying levels of ability and success, and a(n un)healthy dose of time becomes quite a headache to keep it all in mind.
  • Downplayed in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you head straight to fighting Calamity Ganon after the tutorial section, you'll still get enough plot exposition to know what's at stake. But completing the other story quests will not only make the fight much easier from a gameplay perspective, they'll also provide you with further clarification on what Link's relationships with Zelda and the Champions were like.
  • While The Longest Journey had some elements of this trope, its sequel, Dreamfall, goes full-hog with it. So many pieces, and not enough game to cover them with.
  • Mass Effect is heading for this. The main plot is fairly straightforward, but if you do loads of sidequests and talk to people a lot little details start cropping up - e.g. in the first game, Wrex can tell you a story about an asari mercenary he knew and fought with. In the second, an asari you meet (Aria T'Loak) unknowingly implies that she was that mercenary.
  • The Metal Gear series is notorious for this. The plot of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots basically consists of putting all the puzzle pieces together, as the chronologically last game in the series aside from the spin-off sequel Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
  • The entire Metroid Prime Trilogy does this.
    • The first game does this to the largest degree. It is wholly possible to go through the entire game without even knowing what you're doing or why you're doing it. Scanning Chozo Lore and Pirate Logs as you find them will give you bite-sized pieces of information that can eventually be assembled to see the whole picture. Fortunately, the game introduces scanning early on and makes it a core element of gameplay, so it is much more difficult than it sounds to blunder cluelessly through everything. It definitely doesn't hurt that the game marks the story scans with the icon indicating that they are mission-critical. Echoes and Corruption have cutscenes that provide enough information for the player to know the general plot, though rich amounts of details and backstory still have to be scanned.
    • Metroid Prime: Hunters requires you to piece together the plot without the aid of cutscenes or expository sequences. And much of the information has to be taken from haphazardly-scattered, scannable data caches which are only visible to your scan visor. Yes, it is ludicrously easy to walk right by the entire story and not even realize it.
  • Nier, strangely jumping ahead 1312 years after the tutorial and only giving hints as to what happened in the interim. Nothing is as it seems.
  • Octopath Traveler: Characters' stories and the overarching plot come together pieces at a time, with many revelations being saved for The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
  • Odin Sphere. The story prior to Armageddon is spread throughout five books telling different parts of the story from the perspectives of five different characters. Trying to keep track of everything — such as who does what, what goes where, and when what happens — can be extremely frustrating, especially if you're trying to figure out how the ring Titrel is passed from person to person or how each character pursues their agenda. It doesn't help that the game often jumps through hoops of And Now for Someone Completely Different. Thankfully, the game provides a cinematic theater organized into a comprehensive timeline to properly keep track of everything in a chronological order.
  • Oracle of Tao: Many things are revealed in this game, spaced out all over the place. There is at the very opening, a World Sundering, of the New Earth and the Void which was the old Earth. Then Ambrosia gets a series of religious truths foisted on her, along which the revelation that she might not be real, and the realization that she has a Literal Split Personality causing chaos around her. This is to say nothing of the often conflicting (as viewed by histories, versus personal accounts, versus the demon's own account) versions of people getting raptured by a demon's coming, various personal plots scattered about the world, Ambrosia's quest to find her memories of her parents, and various secrets revealed at the end about her identity, the world, and everything in it. And it's not even truly over, so there is a second game to tie up loose ends, with an additional secret or two the Oracle's role is actually a replacement to extend the lifespan of God, since without someone to renew the cycle, God and everything else in existence is doomed to return to the Void they came from.
  • The Path is extremely complicated and piecing together the story takes quite a bit of time. And even then there's still loads of stuff that's up for your interpretation.
  • The Professor Layton series, of course — they're point-and-click adventure games with mystery plots, so it's pretty much to be expected. The games even go so far as to have a screen of unresolved plot questions, with each one checked off as the details are discovered.
  • The protagonist of [PROTOTYPE] has a Cannibalism Superpower, so he learns the backstory by eating people who have memories connected to it. This is made more complicated by the fact that few of these people fully understand the situation (and according to one memory, some of them were deliberately given false info once the higher-ups figured out that any real info might get back to the protagonist.) The result is a bit confusing, to say the least.
  • Quest Fantasy is pretty complicated and is told in Anachronic Order. Often, things are not explicitly spelled out as to where they connect, so the player has to keep track of a pretty complicated story despite the total playtime of all the games not being too long.
  • Suda 51's The Silver Case series begins with Moonlight Syndrome, in which nearly everyone dies, moves on to The Silver Case itself, in which the only detective investigating the events of Moonlight Syndrome is murdered, and then moves on to Flower, Sun and Rain, whose plot is too complicated and fantastic to explain here. By the way, one of the characters from Moonlight Syndrome makes a cameo in killer 7. The two boys with the adult voice are Mitra. And that game never came out in America. Suda 51 is doing this for his own sick amusement, isn't he?
  • The Siren games are designed like this, challenging the player to piece together the truth from the various character scenarios and the many archive items that can be found. Even then, the game outright hides certain pieces of the puzzle from you; for example, the first game never shows the scene where Kei Makino is murdered by his twin brother, who assumes his identity and effectively replaces him in his scenarios.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog fell into this in the games from Sonic Adventure to Sonic '06 (with the exception of Sonic Heroes due to the game really just having an Excuse Plot). In the case of Adventure, Adventure 2 and especially 06 it was due to the Another Side, Another Story nature of the plots with not all the events being directly seen from the chosen character’s point of view. As for Shadow the Hedgehog, it was due to the pick-your-path nature of the plot meaning not everything was revealed on a single run through the game.
  • Spooky's House of Jump Scares to an extent. At first it appears to be a Parody Game, with the title's Jump Scares being simple cartoony cardboard cutouts, but as you progress through the house you find notes left by people who have previously entered it, hinting towards its true purpose.
  • Star Control II just throws you into a huge starmap with no set objective aside from a vague "become powerful enough to defeat the bad guys", and the only information you have is 20 years out of date. It's up to you figure out what's going on and what you need to do from the bits and pieces of information you get from the aliens you encounter.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Eight player classes, each with their own story arc and five companions with their own, smaller character arc. The companions from the Consular class have worked with the Trooper's companions and the Bounty Hunter's. The Jedi Knight's healer used to "date" Imperial Agent's terrorist companion. The Imperial Agent sabotaged friends of the Consular's terrorist companion. The Smuggler's companions used to be best friends with the Sith Warrior's companion. The Imperial Agent's opponents include characters from everyone else's story. This in addition to all the little story arcs and sidequests that can date back to Knights of the Old Republic, the Tales of the Jedi comic, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe in general. It's BioWare, prepare for a long play-through to understand half of it. In the expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire you find out that many of the parts that don't seem to fit, especially the Sith Emperor apparently pursuing several mutually exclusive strategies at once, were due to him deliberately wasting everyone's time while he readied his other empire to win in the end.
  • The Talos Principle: The terminals and Alexandra's recordings comprise the bits and pieces of the story.
  • A Valley Without Wind is very open-ended, and set up in such a way players make the plot as they go along. It does this by dropping the player into the world without a single clue as to exactly what put it in this state to begin with. The player has to unlock various "mysteries", then seek out secret missions to earn precious scraps of backstory piece by piece.
  • The Witness: In a very literal sense. Not only does one have to solve puzzles in order to uncover the plot, but the plot itself is a carefully hidden puzzle, buried in a hidden section of the mountain, found in the form of audio recorders that provide their own clues as to what happened.
  • The World Ends with You to some extent. However, it actually lets you unlock special messages to clear up some parts after the main story is over.
  • Zombies, Run! indulges in this a fair bit. The first mission introduces someone firing on a helicopter with a missile launcher, which gets touched on now and then but never resolved. The relationship with New Canton comes in, gets dropped, and then comes back again. Bit by little bit, the dual storylines explaining how Abel Township is surviving and how the plague began get resolved.

    Visual Novels 
  • As a whole, any Visual Novels that fall under the Multiple Route Mystery tag on VNDB lands here, for better or worse. As for some specific examples:
  • The Ace Attorney games love this trope, especially the 'Phoenix Arc'. Each game has its own self contained story arc, as does each case, making you figure out the entire plot as the trials progress. The Phoenix Arc comprises three games, a total of 14 cases with a recurring cast of characters, with ALL the mysteries and past problems of Phoenix, Maya and Mia as well as a healthy dose of Edgeworth's and Gumshoe's slowly being revealed, connected, explained and resolved.
  • The story of Hope's Peak Academy in Danganronpa is... labyrinthine, since among other things, it's spread out across different mediums. Want to know how the first game happened? Read the light novel Danganronpa Zero, which serves as the only means of foreshadowing for a certain character who doesn't appear until late into Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. What happened to Makoto's family and the world outside Hope's Peak? Play the video game Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls to find out. How does it all end? Watch the animé Danganronpa 3, which itself is split into two sides set at different points in time.
  • Fate/stay night has three routes focusing on different enemies, with different plans that were barely referenced in the earlier ones.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry constructs a typical jigsaw, with the added twist that in each route it offers false explanations for what's going on, only to debunk them in later arcs. Some are obviously bogus. Alien invasion!? In fact, the final arc features a literal puzzle where you have to piece the TIPS (basically, hints and backstories) together.
  • Many visual novels written by Kotaro Uchikoshi play with this trope, especially the "multiple route" aspect, even turning it into a game mechanic:
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the Golden Ending is unlocked by completing a specific other route first. This is actually in-character: in the story, Junpei has to be guided through multiple alternate futures, in order to send and receive information telepathically to someone else.
    • The sequel, Virtue's Last Reward, has multiple mysteries and their answers scattered through its routes. Again, completing certain routes is necessary to unlock other ones, with a twist — namely that the player character can time travel and is also experiencing all of the routes you do, and uses the knowledge obtained to solve mysteries in-character.
    • The third game in the series, Zero Time Dilemma, consists of "story fragments" (each a 90-minute interval from the characters' perspective). When each fragment is completed, it's placed in the global timeline of the game, showing what route and what time the fragment took place, and the player is rewarded with more fragments to complete.
    • Ever17 is similar to Virtue's Last Reward in this regard, except you're actually an observer from another dimension with the power to control people to explore branches — and the other characters know this, and deliberately stage some of the scenes you experience, to have you use this power to help them.
    • Remember 11 turns it Up to Eleven. Its plot is so convoluted and divided over 33 (!) routes that it is said even the author was losing track by the end. If you don't get any bad ends, it's a fairly coherent story with most of the unanswered questions being possible to figure out, if not easy. But the more bad ends you get, the more material you have to work with such as why everything is happening, who everyone is and everything else. When you have the most information about the story is when you truly realize you have no idea what just happened, and you never will know for sure. At least one of the routes has one of the protagonists possessed by the player, roaring with rage at being in a world that makes so little sense. In fact, an accepted interpretation of the game is that the plot itself is a Mind Screw created by the mastermind to entrap and torment the player. Why? Because to the characters in the game, the player is a scary demon who enters from another dimension to control their minds!
  • Long Live the Queen has a fairly straightforward story on a single playthrough, but figuring out all the politics of the land of Nova that cause the events to happen can require multiple playthroughs and complex inferences from combinations of events — which goes to emphasize the overall theme, that being a princess is pretty terrifying and Elodie is way out of her depth.
  • Lux-Pain to the point that IGN gave it a low rating because they didn't understand the story. The game makes sense if you play at least two to three times (and a game like this only takes at least 24 hours to beat) and read between the lines and choose different dialogue choices as well as reading the information that the game gives you at the beginning concerning character information, place location, SILENT, and the overall mission that the game doesn't bother to explain in the first five minutes. That's all in the manual. Otherwise, this story makes perfect sense.
  • Shall We Date?: Wizardess Heart groups its multiple story routes into arcs and scatters the significant details of each arc across three separate routes. Although each individual route mostly stands on its own, the player can only get the whole story such as, for example, what motivates Luca Orlem to be the antagonist of Elias and Yukiya's routes in the "Tower of Sorrow" arc, or why Klaus speaks so derisively of legendary magical beast tamer Serge Durandal in his own route in the "Spring of Unicorns" arc — by playing through all three routes of the arc.
  • Each love interest's path in Steam Prison reveals different details about the setting, what's going on in the world and what's happening around Cyrus in particular, while dropping glancing references to other plot elements that go unexplained on that particular route. The only way to resolve all of the dangling plot threads - including but not limited to the mystery of who killed the heroine's parents and why, what becomes of various significant supporting characters, what's up with the mysterious medicine the HOUNDS distribute, and the bigger picture of how the setting functions and how it became the way it is in the first place — is to play through every possible path. More than once, since there are quite a few extra scenes from the perspectives of the other characters which are only unlocked on a second pass through a given branch of the story.
  • Steins;Gate does this. Since the story revolves around Time Travel and a conspiracy, it's only to be expected. A lot of stuff is thrown at you in the first episode, and nothing becomes clear until the last episode when all of the pieces are neatly placed together. Chaos;Head and Robotics;Notes are similar in this aspect.
  • Subarashiki Hibi tells the events of the story from multiple character's viewpoints (Many of them Unreliable Narrators) across different chapters, each time revealing a little more about the setting and what's really going on behind all the bizarre events.
  • Tsukihime has five routes, each focused on different aspects of the story.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, the constant retelling of the main story gives you, bit by bit, clues to solve the mystery. Unlike Higurashi, while the author gives just enough clues to figure out the solutions yourself, don't expect any answer to be given directly: even after the series has ended, a number of explanations remain largely Fanon. Not at all coincidentally, the main aesop of the series is to believe in your own truth without denying those of other people. Also, the manga adaptation gives numerous additional clues or clarifications (mostly in Episode 8).
  • In the otome eroge Under the Moon, there are many aspects of the heroine's background that are unknown even to her, which can only be pieced together through accounts from other characters scattered across multiple story routes.
  • YU-NO from 1996 is the Trope Codifier of the Multiple Route Mystery structure widely used in the visual novel medium.note  During the main game, the plot splits into several routes, all of which have an independent plot to a minor degree but raise and only partially answer many mysteries in the overall scheme. After completing the main routes the player is allowed to enter the final route, which (after some meandering plot developments) finally answers almost all mysteries introduced earlier.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY heads to this during Season 3, while getting Darker and Edgier. While some things have been explained from Episode 6 of Season 3 forward, a lot is still to be explained about Salem's intentions and ambitions, the Seasonal Maidens' identities and others. Lots of fan theories have sparked since then.
  • TOME (at least the remake) plays this trope very straight. Most people's original complaints with the series based on the first episode were that they had no idea what was going on. For most of the series you are left with nothing but questions as new characters pop out of nowhere and things happen seemingly without substance or reason. Every time a question is answered, it leaves more questions. The series puts together some of the bigger pieces by the time it reaches the end, but a lot of answers to little questions aren't understood right away without rewatching the entire thing.

    Web Comics 
  • Surprisingly, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is showing signs of this, courtesy of King Radical, Charles Goodrich and Frans Rayner, in that order.
  • The Artist is Dead!! takes a little piecing together. Chapter Pi doesn't help things.
  • Awful Hospital starts with a simple enough premise: a mother trying to find her sick son in an otherworldy hospital, but as the series goes on, it is clear that something larger is afoot, but the audience at most is only given glimpses of the larger encompassing universe at a time. Still, as the arcs go on, the setting starts to make more sense, to the point that even the Techno Babble the characters often use start to become comprehensible.
  • Bob and George. Started out as a filler sprite comic while the author learned how to draw, stuff kept happening and we end up with multiple parallel universes, various alternate timelines, clones, doppelgangers, etc. And it still all worked out in the end. David Anez is either the most talented jigsaw plotter ever or the King of Ass Pull. Possibly both.
  • In Creative Release, figuring the actual plot out (versus the phenomena it provokes) is akin to a puzzle game. Most pages contain hints, but that's just what they are — hints. Connecting the various hints together is hardly easy.
  • Darths & Droids is a comic portraying the Star Wars saga as a role-playing game campaign. Once in a while, the players will mention, discuss, or even complain about other campaigns they'd played "off-screen" in between the Star Wars campaigns. These off-screen campaigns are also based from pop-culture stories and movies, but Darths and Droids never explicitly tells us what the reference is — instead the players will drop highly obscure clues about those off-screen campaigns, leaving it up to the readers and fans to piece it together and figure it out. These mentions are often peppered throughout a whole year of comics.
  • Decrypting Rita has four alternate universes with semi-overlapping stories told in parallel, some of which are in partial Anachronic Order, but at least each world is color coded.
  • El Goonish Shive, and thanks to Dan Shive's bitter refusal to ever tie things up, some of the pieces just collect dust.
  • Erfworld requires a huge amount of attention to detail just to figure out the rules of the world, and that still leaves the mystery of what exactly the world is, and who is working behind the scenes.
  • Girl Genius has plot elements that are still being worked out and mysteries in the main plot that started on the third page.
  • Goblins has something of a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, with various Cryptic Prophecies and two current main story arcs, with a couple of other villains floating around, all of which seem likely to come into confluence at some point.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: A bizarre fantasy/science-fiction mixture with loads of unresolved mysteries. Fans sometimes joke that for every question a chapter answers, it brings up at least 10 more. Author Tom Sidell has a Word of God mail slot, but doesn't give away much (aside from his Catchphrase of sorts, "Mystery Solved!"). Coyote even lampshaded this in-story.
  • Homestuck — A video game turns out to be a harbinger of the apocalypse, destroying the world while the players, including one raised by a spacetime-bending dog, escape to timeless alternate universes to break stalemates between anthropomorphic chess pieces while aided by strange beings from a ruined world; meanwhile, aliens from another alternate universe have recently finished playing the same game by subtly different rules while tending to multiversal Eldritch Abominations. Then it just gets confusing...
    • This is Lampshaded; the term "Ultimate Riddle" is mentioned by a few characters. During one section the reader progresses through the story by clicking on pictures that fell from a scrapbook, which metaphorically translates into the reader picking up pieces that fell from a puzzle and seeing how they all fit.
    • According to Andrew Hussie himself, this trope is probably the best summary of Homestuck we're gonna get:
    "The thing is, Homestuck is both a story and a puzzle, by design and by definition. If asked to define it, “a story that’s also a puzzle” is as close to true as any answer I’d give."
    • Lampshaded by Caliborn as representative of the anti-fans of Homestuck:
  • Last Res0rt not only has a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, it actually LAMPSHADES this; the working title of the series was actually "Jigsaw's Puzzle" until the show became a bigger focus than the character.
  • The story in The Letters Of The Devil appears simple at first, but it becomes progressively more complex as more and more clues surface.
  • The Mansion of E tends to spend more time leisurely exploring the eponymous structure more than answering plot questions.
  • morphE is designed this way. It specifically alternates between character development, world building and plot development leaving cookie crumbs to answer the Driving Question.
    • Chapter 2 ends with a brief glimpse into a private meeting with Amical and his guards which offered a little insight into what he expects of the seedlings, but not enough information to be sure of what.
    • Chapter 3 involves the three main seedlings calling their families. The narrative didn't elaborate on the history of some of the things they were saying. Asia in particular leaves a lot of intrigue for debate given the clues we have been given about her abnormal upbringing which resulted in her being "rescued".
  • Ruby Nation forms its story with scenes and textual ephemera from various points in the timeline, often revealing information out-of-sequence (such as with Elise's brainwashing).
  • Sluggy Freelance is either this or a straight up Kudzu Plot, depending on who you ask during what arc. It has got so thick on details that Pete's started including reference links to the archives, in case readers have forgotten the plot point he's currently explaining. At least a lot of the plots, especially earlier on, seem to get resolved by the end of a story; it may be (intentionally) impossible to tell what's really going on, but it's not too confusing to figure out what happens and is revealed during a particular plot before another story comes in and reveals that wasn't all.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: After the Distant Prologue taking place Just Before the End, the reader gets dumped into a time period ninety years After the End. Anything about the setting not spelled out in the Encyclopedia Exposita or by characters themselves needs to be pieced together via various hints given in the story itself. On occasion, the narration of events unfolding in the story's present turns into this.

    Web Original 
  • The Mechakara saga on Atop the Fourth Wall. Lewis has stated that every appearance of Mechakara contains some kind of clue to his identity or his ultimate goal against him.
  • Everyman HYBRID has literal jigsaw pieces scattered across the internet.
  • KateModern is a mild example, successfully building up and maintaining various mysteries.
  • The series lonelygirl15 is notably reticent to explain any more than about half of what's going on at any given time.
  • Marble Hornets, to the point of Mind Screw.
  • Ruby Quest; by the end, you still don't have all the pieces. Apparently more could have been gotten if certain actions had been taken. Or more could have been missed, or course. Word of God answered quite a few things, though.
  • There's a sci-fi game called Vanished where we're supposedly getting contacted from the future. The world has supposedly undergone a huge environmental disaster and everybody's trying to figure out what's going on. Oh, and we've got about a few thousand teenagers helping and... we've got a lot of the puzzle pieces figured out.
  • Whateley Universe. It took years to find out what really happened to Cavalier and Skybolt, and now even some of the main characters are struggling to figure out who Hekate's Master really is. And that's after well over a hundred novels, novellas, and short stories. And now Chaka has gotten a mystical prophecy no one in-story can figure out, so the puzzle pieces are getting waved in our faces.
  • Worm introduces several mysteries as part of the central plot that gradually unfold over the course of the story, most notably the nature of parahuman powers, the origins of the Endbringers, everything about Cauldron, and the impending apocalypse.

    Western Animation 
  • Similar to The Venture Brothers, Adventure Time is fairly straightforward for the most part. However at the same time there are many subtle storylines and hints of backstory hidden beneath the surface that can be found if you look hard enough. Reading into Word of God from the creators and rewatching old episodes after major plot twists will reveal all sorts of things for you to put together. If the reveal that Ooo is set After the End or Ice King's origin and his connection to Marceline surprise you, look back at some old episodes to see how facts like this have been dangled in front of you since the first season.
  • The Gravity Falls Myth Arc about discovering the identity of the author certainly can be considered this, as its just only halfway on the second season the audience who it is.
  • 12 oz. Mouse is one of the crowning achievements in narrative complexity. Between the incredibly complicated plot and the... interesting animation, most people watch it without noticing that there's any plot at all. Seriously. Any discussion of the show immediately turns into "there's no point to it" versus "what the hell are you talking about?"
  • While the overall plot of The Venture Bros. is fairly straightforward, some character arcs are very subtle. For example, put together Hank always trying to imitate Brock, Rusty fawning over Dean on the twins' birthday, and Hank's general dominance over Dean physically and emotionally, and you have a metric truckload of daddy issues.

Alternative Title(s): Jigsaw Plot, Multiple Route Mystery


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