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Protagonist Without a Past

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"It's almost as if you didn't have a life before you came to Wynn."
Dr. Picardnote , Wynncraft

In some games, usually RPGs, a player character that does not start out in their actual home at the beginning of the scenario will usually have no prior history in the world of the game. They will never encounter people they know from before or have a hometown to visit. This is entirely justified in cases where the protagonist is in a foreign country or another world but is decidedly strange in cases in which it appears that the scenario takes place in the protagonist's homeland.

If it is suggested that people in the gameworld should know of the hero, this trope becomes a form of Gameplay and Story Segregation.

Compare Gameplay-Guided Amnesia, where not even the character knows who they're supposed to be.

May overlap with Featureless Protagonist. Occasionally, can be created in-game by player actions with Schrödinger's Gun.

Non-Video Game Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Jeudi alias Alicia Brandel from Honoo no Alpen Rose, who as a little girl was found in the Swiss countryside alone and without any memories of her past. As a teenager, she's forced to run away from a Stalker with a Crush, and then she starts to search for her past and family with her boyfriend Lundi.
  • Like his videogame counterpart, Sonic the Hedgehog lacks a backstory in his animated adaptations.
    • The world created for Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie has Sonic and Tails as already established heroes to their world, with Doctor Robotnik being an established villain too. Likewise, Sonic and Knuckles know each other already. The only character with a defined backstory is Metal Sonic.
    • The world of Sonic X gives background to most of the heroes, all based on their videogames counterparts. The one exception is Sonic, who seemingly has no past, yet he and Eggman has fought for a good while before the start of the series.

    Comic Books 
  • By the creator's own admission, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, specifically to avoid a terrible Freudian Excuse. He then proceeded to parody the generic past for people like Nny, involving lots of bullying at school and a horrible childhood in a hypothetical scenario... "YAAAARGH!! I have been pantsed!! I kill like the damned now!!!"

  • Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way of My Immortal pops up out of absolutely nowhere. She is never given a past, although a lot of other characters do (even if said past...lacks something), and for all we know, she could be a telepathic alien from Pluto, just called a vampire.
  • Played With and Justified in case of Arturia Pendragon in A Knight's Tale as Inquisitor. While the audience is very much aware of her past since the very beginning of the story, Arturia has landed in a completely different setting than her own. Due to this, the other characters in this world have no information at all on who she is or where she comes from, making her a mystery to everyone around her, only rivaled by the Big Bad themself.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • "V" from V for Vendetta can't so much as remember his name, let alone where he came from before Larkhill.

  • Kelvin from Black Summoner woke up in the middle of nowhere in a different world without his memories. He was told that he traded his memories for super powerful skills.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Grimgor Ironhide appeared out of nowhere for the 6th Edition of Warhammer as the new strongest Orc special character. He and his bodyguard brutally murdered the first orc that asked where he came from and no one has had the stones to ask since!
  • All too many Dungeons & Dragons characters throughout its history may well have popped out of a tankard at the tavern moments before the questgiver arrives. This is particularly true in hack-and-slash games, in which the character only needs to be a meat cleaver on legs that the party points in the vague direction of monsters.


    Western Animation 
  • From Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic's counterpart from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog has no known backstory. He has been fighting Robotnik for a long time, but did adopt a baby fox as his step-bother.
    • Ditto for Sonic and friends in Sonic Boom. They just seemingly always lived in the unnamed island defending it from Eggman. Originally, the tie-in videogame Rise of Lyric was going to explore their backstories, but this was scrapped. That said, Sticks's backstory gets fleshed out in the second season, and Knuckles seemingly has the same background as his main games counterpart.
    • Averted with Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) and Sonic Underground, where the titular hedgehog got a backstory and family members.

Video Game Examples:

    Adventure Games 
  • The Secret of Monkey Island starts simply with the hero washing up on a beach with nothing but a silly name and a burning desire to become a pirate.
    • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, his parents are mentioned several times although it is left ambiguous what they actually do. It's further left ambiguous whether Guybrush is a real 17th-century adult or just an imaginative kid lost in a "Pirates of the Caribbean"-type ride.
    • In Escape from Monkey Island the scene where he is washed ashore is actually shown in the intro, but none of his earlier past is ever mentioned.
  • Manny Calavera of Grim Fandango. The fact that he's stuck working for the Department of Death indicates that he did something bad in his life to warrant being there, but he claims not to know what it was.
    • It's suggested that he's one of the victims of the Big Bad's scheme to rob people of their #9 tickets. There's also a dead pirate who looks a lot like him in one of the Monkey Island games, giving some clue as to some of the bad things he has to work off.
  • In Broken Sword, it's never really indicated what George Stobbart's job is. He has spent most of the series being a tourist. The first game has him mentioning that he studied law. In the third, it is explicitly stated that he is an attorney specialising in patent law. By the fourth, he's become a bail bondsman. In the fifth, he is employed by an insurance company and finds himself their representative at a Paris art exhibit.
  • Seth, the main character in Atlantis: The Lost Tales. He seems to be Atlantean himself but has no connection to anything before the story's beginning.
  • The Neverhood has the protagonist, Klaymen. The game opens up with an Ontological Mystery, with the game being more focused on the setting and characters than him. Eventually Klaymen's lack of a past is justified because he literally did not have a life before waking up in the Nursery, and he was born literally seconds before the player begins to control him.

    Fighting Games 
  • Abel from Street Fighter IV is a French youth who was taken in by a mercenary after being rescued from a Shadaloo base as a little boy. His motives to fight in the SF tournament is to search for hints of who he truly is. Many hints point at him being either a clone of the Big Bad Seth or the person whose DNA was used to create Seth himself.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • The fact that the Point Man of F.E.A.R. doesn't seem to have a history is one of the game's plot points, as many of your increasingly disturbing hallucinations will point out to you.
  • We don't know anything from Jack's past in BioShock, and we only know that he's just traveling in a plane, and he's shown to be an outsider to Rapture, practically embodying this trope for the player. This is subverted later in the game, when not only we find out about his past, we find out he himself is a crucial part of the overall plot.
  • BioShock 2 plays this straight with Subject Delta. He Was Once a Man but nothing about this past life is known.
  • Marked one from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is just a guy with amnesia in the zone chasing some "Strelok" a legend who reach the heart of the zone. This is subverted later in the game, he is Strelok.

    Platform Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog. Other than a mention of his birthplace note  in the Japanese manual for the original game, his past isn't elaborated upon at all. Tails also comes close, with slight elaboration. It's not clear how he was born on an island that he was the only inhabitant of, though.

    Puzzle Games 
  • In the mystery game The 7th Guest, the player assumes the identity of a character known only as Ego. Ego's voice can periodically be heard during the gameplay, questioning why certain things happen or different characters do different things. His comment at the start of the game is "I remember nothing." Ego's identity is eventually revealed to be Tad, the child who is the eponymous 7th guest at this demonic house party. Ego regains his memory at the moment of the final confrontation, and his child self is rescued from the game's villain.
  • Portal starts with Chell waking up from suspended animation, and it's easy to go through the whole game without even learning her name. Over two games and a comic, the only reliable character trait we discover about her is that she's incredibly stubborn. Even the turrets get more Character Development.
    • Her (probable) history can be reasoned out thanks to two facts. The first game mentions that there is a "Bring Your Daughter to Work" day. In the second game, you can find a set of abandoned science fair projects, including one signed "Chell" which used a secret ingredient from Aperture. Assuming it isn't someone with the same name, it's likely then that Chell was an employee's daughter (possibly adopted) who was in the facility when GLaDOS came online and has been there ever since.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, it is possible to give the character one creates the special trait "Child of a Hero", one of the effects of which is that the PC becomes twice as unpopular as normal if he/she commits evil deeds. The justification for this is that people know you are the offspring of a hero, and therefore expect you to be goody-goody. In spite of this, the fact that your father is famous is never brought up in conversation. Additionally, the player will (obviously) never encounter anyone they knew before the game started.
    • In the same game, dialogue with NPC dwarfs suggest that they place great emphasis on their clan and the sense of belonging it brings. One dwarf party member has a sidequest revolving around discovering the lost clan his ancestors belonged to. Yet if the player character is a dwarf himself, the subject of what clan he belongs to or where their clanhold is never comes up. Even when conversing with the king of the dwarves, who asks the above-mentioned party member which clan he belongs to.
      • In addition, one major quest concerns finding the location of the ancestral home of the elves. If you play as an elf, you still have to jump through the hoops to find it out from another elf, and they find it odd you don't know about it yourself.
  • In Dungeon Lords, the protagonist begins the game having just stumbled upon someone else's campsite. No inquiry into his/her past is mentioned.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • The four protagonists in the original Final Fantasy do not have past at all, nor any dialogue, you can choose their names and jobs at the start, and at the end they Retcon the world so their (and the Big Bad's) actions are erased and never happened in that particular way.
      • And then you can play one of these in Dissidia Final Fantasy (which seems to Retcon the original Final Fantasy's plot into having only one Warrior), and this time, he gets talking cutscenes. In which you discover even he himself doesn't know where he came from (due to the nature of the endless cycle, every time he was resurrected, he would lose more of his memory, and he's been in the conflict since the very beginning). Dissidia 012 reveals that he doesn't have a past, as he was a Manikin infused with memory and personality. The end of that game and dialogue in Dissidia NT suggests, however, that the Warrior of Light ended up at the start of the story in the original game after 012 ended, making the first two Dissidia games his past, and so as a result, he is based on himself.
    • Final Fantasy VII plays with the trope; Cloud's last memory of his hometown, Nibelheim, is of the entire town being destroyed in a fire started by the Big Bad. When the party travels there, however, the town is perfectly intact and none of its citizens recognize him. This is later resolved when it's revealed that The Shinra Corporation rebuilt the town and populated it with actors to cover up the failure of the Jenova Project. Also Cloud's memories of certain events in Nibelheim turn out to be not quite correct.
    • In Final Fantasy XI, your character has "traveled far" from no place in particular to become an adventurer in the starting nation you choose. After this Hand Wave, the concept is never revisited, yet at the same time, your character clearly doesn't have a clue about a thing in Vana'diel.
      • The game does mention that the continent on which the game takes place isn't the entire world. Most likely the player came from somewhere else to the continent of adventure.
  • Averted in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. The player character, as a newly sired vampire, has nothing to do with his/her former life out of own will. But at one point in the game one does run into a friend from before the siring, who wonders what happened to the character and offers to help. As, without interference, this friend will indeed call for help, the goal here is to keep up the Masquerade. You're given the option of killing her, talking her out of it, or (if possible) using your vampire powers to brainwash her into not doing so.
    • While the game was still in development, there was a feature that allowed the character to choose a pre-Embrace background that would affect skill distribution (for example, if a normally social Ventrue chose the "Union Leader" background, Physical Attributes would become their new primary). The feature isn't available at first, but a careful bit of code exploration can open it back up to the player.
  • Turned on its head in Planescape: Torment: the hero encounters people who remember him all the time... he just doesn't remember them in return. Most of the time, he just plays along. This does allow a few of those people to play him for a fool, though. The best example is Pharod, who will only help you if you go into the catacombs and find the Bronze Sphere. After you bring it back, he reveals that you originally tasked him with finding it and now since you don't remember he was able to make you go find it yourself.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Averted by the Eternal Champion, hero of Arena, for whom we get the most background information out of any Elder Scrolls main series Player Character to date, mostly coming from the Arena game manual. His father was a war hero, he worked as a stable hand in his youth, and was trained in combat by an elderly Master-at-Arms. He became a minor member of the Imperial Court and summoned Ria Silmane so he could be taught in the ways of sorcery. She was killed and he was thrown into the Imperial dungeons, leading to the events of the game.
    • The Agent, hero of Daggerfall, downplays it. Less is set about them than the Eternal Champion, but still somewhat more than later games in the series. The Agent was born in 3E 375, making them 30 at the time of Daggerfall. They were imprisoned for a time (with the reason depending on answers given during character generation) during the Imperial Simulacrum, but was released and caught the attention of the Emperor, possibly by aiding one of the Emperor's sons (which goes into the way Daggerfall goes into more detail than Arena: creating a character also creates a biography, with its contents dependent on your answers to several questions and what kind of a class you have... which means that the Agent does have a past and you can read it, but not one shared between Agents).
    • The Nerevarine, hero of Morrowind, downplays it further. All that is known about your character prior to the start of the game is that your parents were unknown and that you were prisoner in the Imperial City. Additionally, if you are a Dunmer, it is explicitly stated that you are not from Morrowind. (This is all important because it qualifies you for the Nerevarine prophecy.)
    • In Oblivion, the Champion of Cyrodiil may as well not have existed before the start of the game. No home city, friends, family, etc. You start out in jail for a crime you don't even remember and which the authorities say is "not important". Even the prisoner in the cell opposite yours who taunts you at the very beginning will make statements indicating that you haven't even been conscious in his presence before. It's also suggested that you never committed a crime at all - when asked about it, the emperor says that "perhaps the gods arranged us to meet."(Or, to translate Emperor-speak: "Someone in middle-management fucked up and you got shafted. Sorry.")
    • Skyrim continues the tradition with the only aspect of your past being known is that you were crossing the border into Skyrim when you got caught up in an Imperial ambush meant for Ulfric Stormcloak. At the most, Hadvar gives some possible reasons why you've come to Skyrim depending on what race you've chosen.
  • The obscure DOS survival horror/fighting game BioForge had a very clever play on this; the game begins with a mad scientist chopping the player up and turning him into a hideous Cyborg. As a result, the player begins the game with amnesia. The player's actions throughout the game (whether they spare or kill enemy guards, or use violence or puzzle-solving to progress) determines which of about 20 possible characters kidnapped and experimented on by the bad guys the player will ultimately turn out to have been. The 20 characters (ranging from heroic marines to psychotic killers) are ID files stored on the enemy computer system, you can read them all early in the game, but only get the passcode that tells you which one is really "you" at the very end.
  • The protagonist from Neverwinter Nights has no past prior to coming to Neverwinter. The main characters in the expansion packs and sequels get somewhat better characterization.
    • You start as a level 1 character who is just graduating from the Neverwinter Academy, so you wouldn't likely have any deeds to your name. However, you apparently never made any friends in the city of Neverwinter or any other place you visit during the game beforehand. You're also quite unfamiliar with the rest of the city even though the Academy is inside its walls.
    • The first expansion Shadows of Undrentide is really just like the original game; your character is someone who went somewhere to be trained to be an adventurer and is now "graduating". At least the details are less lame this time. You're learning under an independent master, whereas in the original the academy was set up to train potential heroes to save the city from the plague. The second expansion Hordes of the Underdark gets off easily by giving your background as "you're the guy from the other expansion" - even if you're not, and even if you're the guy from the original game, who keeps getting referred to.
  • Raidou Kuzunoha the Fourteenth in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army is given no past before the completion of his training.
  • Breath of Fire
    • Ryu from Breath of Fire III is - he was pretty much born / awoken when the player first manages to take control of the game, so he doesn't really have a past prior to what the player sees.
    • Similarly, Ryu from Breath of Fire IV was half of a botched god-summoning. Everyone knew about the other half.
  • Both Persona 3 and Persona 4 play with this concept. In both games, you arrive in new towns where next to no one knows you. As both protagonists are silent, there is not much need to discuss their respective backstories. However, the events within the protagonist's childhood in Persona 3 turn out to be VERY important to the overall plot, though he himself doesn't remember them. The protagonist's life up until now in Persona 4, by contrast, is essentially moot and unnecessary to the story overall.
    • The manga and anime adaptations of Persona 4 turns the protagonist (called Souji Seta in the manga, Yuu Narukami in the anime) into someone who is accustomed to being a distant loner having to move to different places all his life. Especially the anime goes deeply into his Character Development from making true friends, devoting over half of the airtime on his non-combat-related everyday life.
  • Played with interestingly in Digital Devil Saga - the fact no one has a real past turns out to be a major plot point and an easily missable one.
  • Inverted in Shin Megami Tensei II: Amnesiac Hero Aleph is revealed to have several friends and a rich backstory as the Messiah—until it's revealed that he's an Artificial Human at most two years old, and everyone else is either lying or has artificial memories.
  • In Titan Quest, the player-character simply shows up one day at a pier by a river.
  • Divine Divinity plays this trope rather blatantly. Your character was just walking in a forest, started fighting an orc, got hit by some magic thing from nowhere, then woke up in some guy's house in a random village. They don't even claim your character has amnesia or anything like that.
  • Fallout usually averts this, as most player characters come from a Vault and 3 & 4 give the player character family members who are vital to the plot. The Courier of Fallout: New Vegas appears to be the first example in the series, as all you know initially is that they were hired by the Mojave Express to carry an important package. Downplayed as some of their past is revealed, mostly confined to plot points pertinent to this game, but a few seeds for Ontological Mystery have been sown, and by the Lonesome Road DLC, the player is given a glimpse into a major event of the Courier's past. And even then, the dialog tree said DLC can allow you to insist to Ulysses that you don't know much about the place he's lured you to and/or might have mistaken you for someone else, which may very well be true.
  • The fifth Geneforge game gives a variant. You're an Amnesiac Hero who clearly has some important past, but all anyone can tell you about it is that you were raving mad and throwing power around in messy displays of violence. No one recognizes you, although you might not look the same as you did. You may be a protagonist from a previous installment in the series. You may be an antagonist. You may be a nobody. The truth is never revealed.
  • The player character of the first Knights of the Old Republic is another Amnesiac Hero and almost a completely blank slate. There turns out to be a good reason for that. The Jedi went to considerable lengths to erase all traces of his real identity: Darth Revan, Dark Lord of the Sith.
  • Nightmarishly justified in Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. Your Player Characters did have a past, but the Undead Curse is rotting their minds, starting with the oldest memories. Dark Souls II especially plays up this angle - you no idea who you are. The opening teases you with the image of a woman and a child, but even that vague memory dissolves, lost forever. Wowee gee, isn't Complete Immortality great? The retired Fire Keepers in the opening area are even surprised and a tiny bit impressed that your character even remembers their own name.
    • The Unkindled One in Dark Souls III has very little in the way of backstory. The failure of anyone from their past to show up is justified by it being possibly thousands of years since they died (although you can start with a crystallised soul in your inventory that is implied to have come from a partner or spouse).
    • Your character in Bloodborne comes to Yharnam from an unknown land to seek a cure for an unspecified illness and gets roped into killing werewolves and Eldritch Abominations when everything goes to shit. That they are a foreigner gets mentioned often, but nothing beyond that ever comes up.
  • In Miitopia, the only given information about the Mii protagonist is the fact that they're a "simple traveler". Since the player themselves create the Mii they are playing as, it is only fitting to let them imagine the background of their own character.
  • Practically enforced in Gothic.
    • Whenever the hero tries to introduce himself in the first game, whomever he talks to says something like "I don't care who you were".
    • In the second game he is recognized for what he did in the first one (and even there Thorus says "Maybe fought by my side or maybe you fought against me. That doesn't matter now."note ), but nobody remembers him before the prison camp. Except one judge seems to recall something, but the hero hastily denies ever meeting him.
    • Same in the third game. There are friends and enemies from the earlier games, but nobody on the continent recognizes the hero. Except for... the king, but he only says that prison camp did the hero good.
    • Subsequent games were not made by the original team and they were failures. Therefore fans don't recognize The Reveal as canon.
  • Undertale: It's never stated why the Human Child came to Mount Ebott. There are some implications as to the reason they fell into the Underground, but they are never explored and aren't a major point.
  • Like all humans in Wynncraft, the Player Character has no memory of their homeland, Fruma. During the quest Recover the Past, where a wizard uses a magical orb to dispel humans' amnesia of Fruma, the player inadvertently breaks the orb when the procedure is tried on them, leading to the above quote.

    Stealth-Based Games 
  • Deconstructed (what else?) in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Raiden initially seems to have no past and no life aside from the military. Turns out he's an emotionally scarred former child soldier who doesn't want to remember his past.
  • The player-controlled Styx in Styx: Master of Shadows starts the game just awoke in a room with a headache and no memories about anything he did before, except a voice in his head telling him what is his goal.Turns out he is a literal example of this trope. He is actually an Expendable Clone created by the original Styx to help him progress his scheme of stealing the heart of the world tree. The moment that players start taking control of him is actually the moment that he is BORN.

    Survival Horror 
  • Resident Evil: While she does have several non-canon backstories, and even a Decoy Backstory, Capcom has given Ada no canon past for anything prior to the first game. There is no information on where she was born, what her childhood was like, and even her birth name is unknownnote . Her entire backstory remains a complete mystery.

    Third-Person Shooter 
  • The Crusader game actually had this as a plot point. The Silencer thinks he remembers what his history is...but at the very least he may well have been genetically engineered. Also, if he has a name, no one (except possibly him) knows it.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Dwarf Fortress: To the extent you can describe them as 'protagonists', the seven starting dwarves from Fortress Mode are generated out of whole cloth, without the usual procedurally-generated history including a birthplace and relatives.
  • The player character of Minecraft wakes up in the middle of nowhere and starts punching trees. Not that the game has much plot in general.
  • The first time the Player in Saints Row is seen, he nearly is run over, and then nearly shot. We learn nothing else about him, except that he doesn't talk much (but when he does...). Throughout the series, only small tidbits of info are given about their past, such as frequenting a bordello massage parlor since they were a teenager. One of the male voices in the third game implies he's been killing people from a young age, and one of the female voices reveals that her father loved guns and told her that you could never have enough. Plus, the events of the first game are your protagonist's past now. Lampshaded in IV when The Boss says flat out that no one cares who they were before they joined the Saints.