A Video Game Trope where certain rules are put in place for a certain stage of the game. These rules will generally restrict the player's actions somehow or otherwise put the player at a disadvantage. Sometimes though, these rules will actually work to the player's advantage. If that happens, it's usually because random chance determines what kind of rules are put in place. Expect to see this trope if a battle occurs as part of a competition of some sort.
There will generally be one of two ways the rules are enforced:
One: It's simply impossible to break them. The game won't allow any attempt to do so. The Dark Cloud example below takes this form.
Two: The game will impose a penalty for violating the rules. The Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne example takes this form.
- Borderlands has a setup similar to Final Fantasy VII's Battle Square in the Thunderdome arena. After every wave, the game imposes an effect on the players to make the fighting more challenging, such as enemies having faster shield regeneration, certain guns doing more damage, head shots being the only way to kill enemies, etc. A wave may include up to three effects at a time.
- Crash Bash has this for many of the crystal challenges. In this game, computer opponents usually play on even footing with the player(s), but in the crystal challenges the special rules usually don't apply to the computers.
- Gem challenges are this to a lesser extent. They either give the player less lives, put a time limit, or set the score goal higher for the player than for the computer.
- This is the whole point of Tower of Heaven. Violate a rule, get smited instantly, restart the level.
- Destroy the Godmodder uses this to signal that something really interesting is happening. The delicacies and little fiddly bits of the rules change almost daily anyways, but the big ones are subject to change if something cool enough happens.
- Dark Cloud has floors called "Limited Zones" that place various restrictions on you, such as only allowing you to use one character or causes your weapons to lose experience when used rather than gaining it.
- Dark Cloud 2 brings this back with the sealed floors: Red forbids you from using Max, Blue forbids you from using Monica, and White forbids you from using any healing items. Thankfully, if you destroy all of the monsters on a sealed floor, the seal goes away. (Although, for some floors, this is easier said than done.)
- Occurs several times in the Final Fantasy series:
- In Final Fantasy IV, the Lodestone Cavern paralyzes anyone wearing metal equipment until Gilbert/Edward breaks the spell between the first and second Dark Elf fights.
- In Final Fantasy V, the western half of the Fork Tower dungeon prevents the use of physical attacks (or, more precisely, monsters counter physical attacks by resetting the battle), while the eastern half prevents the use of magic.
- In Final Fantasy VI, physical attack commands are disabled in the Cultists' Tower. (AI-controlled party members, such as Umaro, or anyone with berserk status, can still attack normally.)
- In Final Fantasy VII, the Battle Square in Gold Saucer makes you spin a slot machine before the beginning of each new fight. The result of the slot machine will determine if any restrictions are in place for the battle. Some results are actually beneficial, such as restoring your health. The harsher the penalty, the more the round is worth if you win. Conversely, helpful results offer very little value for the round. The player can circumvent many of the penalties with the right equipment/materia setups in advance (like a Ribbon), assuming you didn't get your protection broken by a previous penalty.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, most commands are initially disabled in the Very Definitely Final Dungeon; they can be unlocked again by defeating optional bosses.
- The "Laws" in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, complete with Judges who penalize you for breaking them. This can result in either lost bonuses like EXP or AP (yellow card) or being immediately transported to jail (red card). If the protagonist ever gets the red card, it's an automatic game over.
- Kingdom Hearts II had the Underworld Colliseum tournaments, which would impose rules for each type of tournament, limiting what kind of moves you were allowed to use.
- This is half the gimmick of the Glitz Pit from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Before each match Grubba will give you an objective. If you win the match without doing what Grubba tells you, he won't raise your ranking and you'll have to do the fight again.
- The Battle Arcade from Pokémon Platinum and HeartGold and SoulSilver is a textbook example.
- In Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale sometimes special circumstances are applied to each level of a dungeon while you're exploring them. They can be helpful (e.g. doubling your attack or defence power or revealing the map, increasing your speed), neutral (e.g. supplying the aforementioned benefits to both you and the monsters) or negative (e.g. only applying benefits to monsters, disabling the map). The very last dungeon only applies negative effects and does so on every level.
- In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the Ahriman battle (assuming you aren't going the Shijima route) has two parts: In the first part, Ahriman challenges you to a game and imposes a different set of rules for each round of the fight. Any character who violates these rules is instantly killed. The second part is a straight up fight.
- In Persona 4, Adachi has a floor in his dungeon where he forbids you to encounter any Shadows while making your way to the exit. If you do, he promptly kicks you out of the dungeon.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you can fight in the ring in the Mandalorian camp on Dxun. The rules are chosen by the opponent you challenge, and may range from fistfights without weapons or the Force to no restrictions at all. (Laying mines before the duel begins isn't considered a violation, though...)
- In the original NBA Ballers and its sequel Phenom, certain matches will impose special rules that can help or hinder you against your opponent. These range from not letting your opponent score a certain amount of points, legal fouls and goaltending, points being deducted if your opponent is in Fire Mode, and so on. In Ballers' Rags to Riches mode, this is justified by way of the show's executives, who are actively trying to screw you, and make you lose all your earnings.