Sometimes, you have to go down the wrong path before going down the right path. Literally, you have to, even though you may already know which way is the right way.
This is a relative of Stupidity Is the Only Option. The difference is that, instead of the character needing to become an idiot to advance in the game, we're talking about the player.
For example, say you need the flamethrower to melt ice cubes. The end of Path A is blocked by ice cubes which you can't melt yet, and Path B leads to the door that allows you to continue on with the game.
Now let's say that the door at the end of Path B is locked, and the only way to open it is to trek down Path A and take a good look at the ice cubes blocking your path. Do this, and a scripted NPC or something will come through the door in Path B, unlocking it for you. In more extreme cases, the NPC will merely say "if only there was a way to melt these ice cubes" and when you go back to path B, the locked door has mysteriously disappeared.
This might not seem like such a bad idea at first, especially if the game is exploration-based. Maybe the game wants to make sure you mark that blocked passage on your map. A worse variant is if the door down path B is locked with a seemingly solvable combination lock puzzle, causing you to fruitlessly try and unlock it for ages, ignorant of the fact that only visiting the dead end will cause the puzzle to actually unlock the door.
However, if you think about it, the game is always assuming you're playing for the first time, and therefore, do not have prior knowledge of the game world or events within. If this is your second or higher playthrough, you may remember which path is which and try to cut directly to the proper path. Unfortunately for you, you're not going anywhere until you get to the very dead-end of the tunnel and trigger the script that opens the door. Nice try, though.
- In Futurama: The Video Game, you are asked to obtain a hammer at the beginning of the game, the only hammer around is under a dangerously lethal amount of crates and heavy objects. Of course taking the hammer would mean being crushed. So players would often find a way to get the hammer without grabbing it. After running around one would decide to take the hammer, the boxes fall and Fry is dead, along a game over. This, however, was just a way of introducing the lives/game over mechanic, as Fry is brought back to life by the Professor with his new invention.
- In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, there is an energy generator that you need to call your ship in to destroy - which is guarded by two glaringly obvious anti-air cannons. The forward path will not open until you foolishly call your ship in for a bombing run, getting it damaged and having your advisor inform you that you first need to disable the cannons. The doors which quite obviously lead to the two cannons you have just been told to destroy are locked. Nothing the player does will unlock them, and they can't be opened until the player gives up and tries to leave; at that point, the doors open up so that enemies can come through and attack you.
- Sequence breaking in Metroid: Zero Mission? After pulling off a series of bomb jumps to bypass getting the power grip, a barrier that can only be destroyed by bugs not found in the area is put in front of the door.
- Happens a lot in Metroid: Other M. For instance, getting the speed booster requires you to go down a long corridor until you reach an ice wall that you need the speed booster to break; it's not until you turn back that your commander allows you to use the speed booster.
- In Metroid Fusion, after you obtain Power Bombs, you're supposed to go through the Reactor Silo, but your path through the first screen can be blocked by an immobile cocoon that cannot be damaged by any weapon you have. However, the cocoon will be destroyed and pose no obstacle if, as directed, you first go back to your ship and listen to Mission Control there. The game presents a save prompt at the ship just before setting this Event Flag, which has unnecessarily confused many a player who has had to reload from this point (most likely after getting killed by Yakuza, since there are no more functional save rooms until after you defeat it).
- BioShock has some annoying examples of this in the latter half of the game where you are required to salvage certain items from certain dead enemies in order to proceed, except that the items won't appear on the corpses until you are informed of this. It becomes annoying when the bodies disappear after being dead for several minutes and they happened to be the tough Big Daddies, forcing you to find and kill more of them. (Fortunately, a new one will always spawn some time after they are all killed.)
- BioShock 2 has examples of doors that are inexplicably locked until you trigger a scripted event, which unlocks the door on the other side of the complex for no good reason. Sometimes the doors are boarded up and then destroyed when you get back, which is slightly more acceptable.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2:
- There's one in its third mission. You have to follow the Russian agent Makarov through a crowded airport, killing civilians, before he shoots you at the end of it and leaves your American corpse for the Russians to find, sparking World War Three. If you try to shoot Makarov before he can kill you, however, you will immediately die from violating "friendly fire." Justified as the rest of the game revolves around the player character taking part in the massacre there.
- Even worse is in the end of that level. You'll see an in-game cutscene, where you can still move about. And, of course, the objective point(a van) is where the cutscene is. So the game assumes that you'll be standing at the back of the van when it's over. And then Makarov shoots you. But of course, you can move during this. so once you trigger it, you can start running. And get to pretty early in the level. But, since the game thinks you're hanging out by Makarov, it doesn't actually check that you are there. So you can be 200 meters away from him, through a ton of concrete, and he'll still shoot you. with a pistol.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: When you find the pirate ship docked at Windfall Island, the first logical step would appear to be to board the ship and see what's up. Entering the ship requires you to give the password, a horribly punny answer to a pirate riddle. It's possible (and, in some cases, quite easy) to guess the password, but you'll still be turned away unless you've visited the secret entrance to an unremarkable building in the city and overheard the password yourself. The game Hand Waves this by implying that you need to say it "exactly right" (inflections and all, apparently).
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap: You can't get the Pegasus Boots until you try and fail to wade through the muck of Castor Wilds. Also, the Hyrule Town library doesn't open until a Minish tells you about the Minish elder who lives there.
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures: An otherwise-mild version with a multiplayer twist appears in the Village of the Blue Maiden, in which the player must talk to an NPC who bemoans that no one can sense Dark World gates, discover a dark world gate on the next screen, and return to the NPC who then gives you the moon pearl. The problem is that in multiplayer, one particular Link must talk to the NPC, sense the gate, and return for the pearl.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Once you first reach Kakariko Village, the leader of the village tells you that the path up Death Mountain is guarded by Gorons and tells you to stay away until the situation is resolved. Zelda games over time used the (possibly warped) Aesop "it's better to be courageous than to listen to the sound advice of others" more frequently, but this is a particularly noticeable example. After all, the only way to advance the plot is to head up Death Mountain anyway, get stopped by the Gorons, get knocked off the mountain, and give up on trying to climb it. It also doesn't help that the next step to bypassing this obstacle is for your horse to show up in town completely by chance after your failure.
- Averted in the remake of Ninja Gaiden, where various number combinations and Plot Coupons can be used without having to activate the "informing" event.
- In the original Metal Gear port on the NES, you can't blow up the supercomputer until you're told by the professor that you have to use plastic explosives, despite the map that came with the game clearly showing that you needed to use... plastic explosives. Rescuing the professor requires going through a maze forest that you are given no hints on the proper sequence, you just have to keep guessing. There's a trick around having to do this though — if you immediately go right in the computer room you'll glitch into the big boss room.
- Replaying Ōkami? Don't attempt to skip anything. You have to do EXACTLY what Issun tells you to at the beginning or you won't progress. You can't just go up on the deck and draw the sun, you have to walk DOWN and look around until Issun says to go up on the deck and get a good look.
- Vivisector: Beast Within has a very straightforward example of this: to progress, you have to activate a series of checkpoints. Your radar can only pick up on the next checkpoint by activating the previous one. Almost every checkpoint in the first half of the game is situated in a clearing usually lined with hidden fences or other barriers, obviously setting you up for a trap. Therefore, you have to trigger the trap to progress.
- Fatal Frame takes it to a whole new level. At one point in the second game you need to find a key to free your sister from a cell she's locked in. The game explicitly tells you which house to look in but doesn't allow you to find the key without talking to Itsuki first and letting him tell you where exactly the key is. The worst part? If you're replaying the game, you are still supposed to talk to him in order for the key to appear.
- Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf had one level where you have to use a flute to hypnotize Sam the sheepdog. In the next level, the flute is available again, and it seems that using it is the only way to get into Sam's area. However, attempting this reveals that Sam now wears earplugs and earns you a KO. Only after you recover is it possible to get to the sheep you're supposed to steal without using any items.
- The Left 4 Dead series is full of these. The survivors know that certain things like emergency exit doors, rusty elevators, etc will make ton of noise and attract hordes of zombies, but they activate the things anyway to proceed.
- Lampshaded in The Sacrifice campaign where there is a Tank inside a wrecked train car. There's no other way around the area and the survivors aren't too thrilled to release a super zombie, but they know they have to do it anyway to press on.
- At one point in Panzer Dragoon Saga you have to talk to a guy to get information about finding The Tower. Only if you go to him directly (or more likely just wander around and find him first) he'll completely ignore you. The correct thing is to go to the bar, get drunk, and have a conversation about how Paet would be able to help; why don't you go talk to him?
- In several poorly designed adventure games, it's not possible to pick up some items until your character knows that he will need them - this in spite of the fact that in different parts of the same game (as well as in adventure games in general), the point is to pick up every single thing, just in case. An example is the remake of King's Quest III; the original is more flexible and does not have this problem.
- A related issue is not being able to interact with an object or person in the required way until you "examine" it, even if the action is a perfectly intuitive one; for example, The Secret of Monkey Island won't let you offer a mint to a prisoner (required to get him to talk to you) until you've noticed he has bad breath.
- At one point in King's Quest VII, you need to place sulfur into a hearth to knock out the blacksmith and access his tools. However, even with sulfur in hand, the game won't let you do it until you overhear a couple of characters in another room gossip about how it can be used for this purpose.
- Snatcher does this far too often, but by far the worst instance is a painfully obvious hidden passage in the hospital that you cannot "discover" until the plot allows you to.
- Despite the fact that everybody knows that the password is "Ken sent me" in Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards, the player has to jump through all kinds of hoops to read it on the toilet wall. Only after that can it actually be used. That is, in the VGA remake; in the original, you can just type in the sentence whenever you feel like it.
- In Shadow of Destiny, one level requires you to look at a locked door before getting the idea to find a key. Fine, makes sense. If you die during this level, you will have to replay and, again, must look at the door before trying to get the key. Except that the premise of the game means that the main character is well aware he's tried this once already.
- The aversion in the original Myst demonstrates why this trope exists. Not only is it possible for anyone who's played the game before (and remembers the codes) to finish the game within minutes, but it's possible to enter the endgame (and even complete it!!) simply by brute forcing the fireplace codes. The characters will then refer to plot points you haven't discovered yet, and attempt to take from you Plot Coupons you haven't yet acquired. If you continue on through the endgame, you get trapped in D'ni with Atrus. However, if, instead of going through to the endgame, you listen to Atrus through the D'ni book, he will tell you how to get the game-winning Plot Coupon.
- Myst didn't learn from Alpine Encounter. You could short-circuit the entire plot by waiting at a location, getting the backpack, and calling the inspector.
- Hotel Dusk: Room 215 does this frequently. You have to do things in a very specific order, including learning how to do OTHER things you need to do. One particular room had several relatively straight forward puzzles to solve and an invisible timer. Solving the puzzles (using the game logic) is easy enough, but the game requires you to do things in a specific order and particularly read in an in-game book how to solve said puzzles. Simply 'knowing' isn't good enough.
- In the (unfinished) Amiga game Muscarine or Erica's Trip, a sage asks you to bring him green snow, which at first seems an easy task as you can see three differently colored snow-clad peaks from outside his hut. However, when you get up in the mountains it turns out there is no path leading to the green peak. Only after you have tried cheating the sage with a mix of blue and yellow snow, does he give you a hint about the real solution which turns out to be dead simple - standing outside the hut you "take what you see" by clicking the distant peak. And you thought Escher's art was weird.
- In the kitchen of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the key you need is in a cabinet door that needs a passcode. The game will not let you enter the passcode and one of the characters you are in the room with will say something along the lines of "Don't mess around with that if you don't even have a hint". However, to get the hint you have to get yourself trapped in the freezer and almost freeze to death.
- Escape From St. Mary's: A game-in-a-game requires a specific sequence to win. The sequence is the same with each playthrough, but you need to find where the creator of the game hid the sequence and have a reason for the player character to interpret it as such before it will work.
- Taken to extremes in Dark Seed II: every time you try to open the protagonist's closet, he'll inform you it's locked. Until later on you get a flashback very late in the game via a fortune teller session to his childhood where his mother decided to placate her son's fears of the "monsters" in said closet by pretending to lock it. When you open the closet, it has a portal to the place where one of the three Plot Coupons is held. And yet you HAVE to go through this sequence of events just because the protagonist doesn't even try THE DOORKNOB. To add insult to injury, if he mentions this to his mother, she will mock him for having assumed the door was locked all these years.
- In Dragon Quest VII, there is a Groundhog's Day town, where the day resets every time you stay at the inn. The obvious solution would be to talk to the time/clock master, but he won't say or give you anything helpful until after you have talked to a certain bridge construction worker twice. There are no hints suggesting that talking to a construction worker twice will help you in your quest, and the construction worker only tells you to talk to the time/clock master.
- EarthBound uses and abuses so many event flags that it's hard to tell if it is lampshading the practice or if it is one of the most notable victims.
- The most blatant example occurs early in Threed, home of the game's designated Zombie Apocalypse. Exploring the town, you may find that zombies are guarding part of the cemetery after fighting your way through it. Scratch that. You have to find them, and allow them to notice your presence, in order to advance the plot. (Said plot advancement consists of a suspicious girl who leads you into a trap. Naturally, you have to fall for it. And to make the situation more annoying, there is no reason why your capture and assisted escape should cause the plot to advance, either.)
- Apple Kid's very existence is built on these. In his first appearance, he will not build the device necessary to bypass an early barrier until you have already traversed a cave and reached the area where you cannot proceed any further. Later examples are just as arbitrary, but not as pointless.
- After successfully completing a sidequest involving the Runaway Five, you are informed that a department store has opened in Fourside. To advance the plot, you must enter and leave the establishment, at which point your female party member is kidnapped. To get the plot to advance any further from there, you have to kill the monster responsible, even though he does not have her anymore and there is no reward for defeating him. At that point, you will be able to visit a café that you may have visited earlier. But now, talking to people inside triggers a sequence where a friend of yours winds up half-dead in a nearby alley. Then you can go back inside and look at a seemingly blank wall you couldn't reach before to... you know what? Let's just call EarthBound an Event Flag Plot and be done with it.
- Averted in Lunar: The Silver Star. Before Alex and his party can go inside the White Dragon Cave, they have to get past a large block of ice, but none of them knows any magic that can get rid of it. By examining the rock, Ramus will mention off-hand that his old man has a ring that will do the trick. Normally, this would mean backtracking to Burg to get the ring from the cabinet, but you can actually go to Ramus' house and get the ring before you even go into the cave. In the Silver Star Story remake, Ramus brings the ring with him anyway.
- Diablo II has a quest where you must touch five cairn stones in a certain order. The correct order is given on a particular scroll. You don't need to read the scroll; brute-force guessing works fine, as long as you have the scroll. Without it, the cairns do nothing no matter how much you click them.
- Fridge Brilliance: You have to show the scroll to the local healer, too, before it works. Maybe her advice is needed to know how to activate the monoliths if merely touching them did not work.
- Late in Neverwinter Nights 2, there are five statues in Arvahn that you must visit to complete the Ritual of Purification. One of them is actually located in the Swamp Ruins, the second area you get to visit in the beginning of the game (only in the early game, the door leading to it is blocked). However, by Act II, the ruins disappear from your global map, and going to the intact West Harbor won't bring you there. Instead, you have to enter Arvahn, at which point West Harbor is instantly destroyed in your absence, visit the other four statues, and then enter a portal to the ruins of West Harbor. And if you decide to do this quest before recruiting Orlen for Crossroad Keep... well, bad luck, he's gone.
- Mega Man Battle Network enjoys doing this greatly. Across the series, there are too many to list.
- In Breath of Fire II, most of the early game is spent chasing after a bat-winged girl, so as to bring her to justice in your town. When you finally locate her, locked in plain view in the dungeon of a castle, the game acts as though nothing special has happened, since that is the location of an arbitrarily necessary quest. But the current state of affairs there is not urgent in the slightest, and the local ruler states that anything at all would be a perfectly fine reward for your troubles in getting there, like, oh! the extradition of a wanted thief? But no, you have to do the absurd castle quests first, and THEN your character will randomly remember what the heck he ACTUALLY came here for all of a sudden, and ask for the prisoner milling about in plain view (who's all too glad to come along, owing to the Cool and Unusual Punishment she's been suffering the whole time.)
- In Chrono Trigger, there is a point in the future where you must fight a boss, then read a note in the next room that describes a rat that looks like a statue, saying it knows the "secret of the dome" (namely, how to get to the area you need to go to advance the game) which you can learn by chasing and catching the rodent. You will spot the rat before fighting the boss, but you still can't chase him until you read the note. You also can't use the secret (which is simply holding L and R while pressing A at the terminals that control the platforms in the first room) until you catch the rat, even if you know exactly what to do.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, after Doopliss steals your identity, you have to go all the way back to Twilight Town with no partners, running into your foe along the way, who asks you to guess his real name before challenging you to an unwinnable fight (he'll take no damage). Oh, and you can't get the name right because there will be a letter missing from your input screen. You have to ignore what he says about you not being able to run away, continue on, get a new party member, run away from the identity thief again, and trek all the way back to go into the dungeon you just came from through a new entrance with your new party member, allowing you to pick up "The Letter P" from a chest, and also to listen to a parrot say the enemy's name. Note also that a capital P was available to you originally, but the lowercase wasn't. Next, make the long and annoying trip yet again, do your Rumplestiltskin thing, go all the way back to the dungeon again, and beat the (not-really all that hard) boss for good.
- In Terranigma, the only way to reach the end of the end half of the Eklemata level is to first go into a cavern, slide several hundred feet down an ice-coated slope, and cause an avalanche, temporarily trapping you in (and opening the path from where you had previously been to the end of the level). A good-natured mountain-goat makes a way for you to escape and resume your quest, thankfully.
- In one of the side episodes of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky, Team Charm explores a famously impenetrable dungeon. At one point they face a branching area with a path on each side. There's a third path in the room, requiring the explorers to walk through an illusionary wall, but it'll be nothing more than a standard wall until you've already taken both other paths.
- A glitch in Dragon Age II resembles this trope. In the questline to recruit Isabela, at one point you're ambushed and you need to kill all the enemies. You need to wait for combat to end for a few seconds for Isabela to tell you that it was trap and that you should search the leader's body, but by this point, looting enemies immediately is probably second nature. If you loot the body before she tells you to, this can cause the game to not register the fact that you already looted the item you need, preventing you from entering the Chantry to continue with her quest. At this point, you're either forced to reload your game (which is particularly bad if you haven't saved it in a while), or continue without Isabela, making her lost. So in this case, you have to wait for her to bring it up before looting, or else you get this trope, albeit unintentional from the developers.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, Squall and two party members are taking the elevator to Balamb Garden's maintenance level when the power goes out, stopping the elevator between floors. With the power out, obviously the control panel isn't going to do anything, but the game won't allow you to open the clearly-visible emergency hatch in the floor until Squall has first prodded the buttons of the panel anyhow and concluded that, no, it's not responding.
- In Mass Effect's Espionage Probe side-quest, the door leading out of the mine will be disabled when you first go up to it, forcing you into the room that triggers the cave-in sabotage scene. Then you can use the door leading out.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert has not one but two, interconnected ones:
- In the third-to-last mission, your goal is to capture a Chronosphere from an Allied island base. It is surrounded by Allied Technology Labs and you are told to get these first because they have triggers that will destroy said Chronosphere. So you capture the Labs and the Chronosphere suddenly explodes anyway. Destroying the Labs however will fail the mission.
- In the second-to-last mission, a similar situation happens. This time the triggers are Allied Radar Stations which you are explicitly told to destroy. Alright, so you destroy them. Then sending an Engineer into the Chronosphere gets you "Mission Accomplished" with a cutscene of you using it successfully, only to get another cutscene pre-mission briefing for the last mission where you see it self-destruct anyway for plot reasons. Oddly, should you destroy the Chronosphere instead of capturing it after getting rid of the Radar Stations, you still get a "Mission Accomplished" even though now the next video is already the self-destruction one.
- In Adventurers!, upon finding the fourth energy crystal, Karn explains that they can't take it unless they first go back to town and talk to an NPC, even though this makes no logical sense.
- In universe example from Goblins. 4 keys to the chest are behind magic barriers and to pass the barrier person must have a specific stat way below average. One party is unable to open it, since neither one is The Ditz.