The final goal of the game/plot happens to be somewhere the hero can reach — possibly even Where It All Began — but nothing can be done about it.
Usually, when a Damsel in Distress needs to be rescued, half the adventure is figuring out where she is, and then getting there. But in this case, you already know where she is—in fact, you saw her five minutes ago. Unfortunately, she's anything but "rescued".
In this trope, the hero needs something or someone else to truly save the day. If their job is to save a person, they're not so much kidnapped as they are bound, bewitched, enchanted, enfeebled, cursed, polymorphed or in other dire straits. If the task is to defeat a person, they can be challenged at any time—at the challenger's own risk. But other than that, same rules apply—The Hero needs to go on an adventure to finish things.
Often, when this occurs, the distressed person may double as Mission Control or otherwise assist the hero that's trying to save them. The antagonist, if they're feeling cheeky, can pull this role also under the justification of I Need You Stronger or Can't Kill You, Still Need You. This has the benefit of giving the protagonist the ability to interact and speak with these characters and let the audience grow on them. In games, it sometimes provides a cozy hub to return to while acting as a constant reminder to the player what's at stake. At the other extreme, if the villainous Mission Control is not actually helping the player, you've got Mission Control Is Off Its Meds.
- In Sword Art Online: During the Alfheim Online Arc, Kirito must rescue Asuna. However, she is in a hospital room in a coma pledged to be married to a much older, company worker unless Kirito can interfere. He has to enter the game and find Asuna to set her free from being locked within the game stuck in a coma but she never actually leaves her hospital bed the entire time.
- Heavy Metal episode "Den". Den knows where Katherine Wells is - she's sleeping inside a glass case in Ard's palace. Unfortunately, Ard will only allow her to wake after Den has stolen the Loc-Nar from the Queen and returned it to him. Things don't turn out quite as planned.
- The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Ojo the Unlucky has several problems. First, his uncle Nunkie and another person have been turned to stone by the Liquid of Petrifaction, so he must quest through the land of Oz to find the ingredients for an antidote. Second, one of the ingredients for the potion is a six-leafed clover, and it's illegal to pick them. Third, it's illegal to practice magic (like using magical antidotes to restore people to life) in the land of Oz.
- Right at the start of The Elenium, Sparhawk is taken to Queen Ehlana in her throneroom... except that she is dying from a mysterious disease, and has been placed in suspended animation in a magical crystal casing to postpone her death. Most of the rest of the trilogy is about the quest of Sparhawk and his friends to find a cure before a usurper can accede her throne.
- Sometimes used in The Legend of Zelda games.
- While the entrance to the final dungeon in The Legend of Zelda can be tough to find without looking carefully for it, you can enter the dungeon from very early in the game. But you can't make it more than a few rooms unless you have found all the Triforce shards.
- In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the sleeping Princess Zelda is the first thing you see when you start the game. Every time you run out of lives and continue, you start back at the same palace where she's been sleeping for hundreds of years. This is a stark contrast to the original game, where all of the characters named in the backstory were unseen and mysterious until the very last fight of the game.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past:
- After beating Agahnim, Link is transported to the Dark World atop a large pyramid, with the landscape of the Dark World visible in the horizon. This trope is doubled because not only does the view of the Dark World show you Ganon's Castle, where the Big Bad resides (and which Link can get close enough to spit on at that point in the quest), but the pyramid Link is standing on actually contains the Triforce, which is the true goal of the entire game!
- Even earlier, when you first go into the Dark World en route to the Tower of Hera, you can see the base of Ganon's Tower atop the Dark World version of Death Mountain. The only thing separating you from the final dungeon in the game is a single, unclimbable wall.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds plays out similarly, except that your first foray into Lorule actually brings you to the chamber where the Final Boss is fought and which you cannot revisit until you rescue all the Sages.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: You can go to the outside of the final dungeon, Ganon's Castle, as soon as you set foot in the Bad Future halfway through the game, though in order to get inside you need to rescue the sages who then build a magic bridge to allow you to enter the castle.
- A single dungeon version happens in the Fire Temple where the boss key and door are in rooms right off the entrance of the Temple, but you can't access the boss key until you get the Megaton Hammer later on in the temple.
- In Majora's Mask, the Skull Kid is confronted at the very beginning of the game at the end of the Final Day on top of the Clock Tower from which you first emerged into Termina, but you quickly find out that there's no way to stop him from crashing the moon into the land. All you can do there is retrieve the Ocarina of Time and use it to reset the three day cycle. You must instead follow Tael's entreaty to find the Four Giants at the four corners of Termina before you can once again confront the Skull Kid at the Clock Tower and stop the moon.
- In The Wind Waker:
- Link's sister is in the first dungeon you visit, which is easy enough to traverse—but the Big Bad's drag--er, giant bird, prevents her rescue because Link isn't strong enough. You have to attain the Master Sword before she's finally rescued.
- Ganon's Tower, the final dungeon, is only a short walk away from Hyrule Castle, which you visit halfway through the game to obtain the aforementioned Master Sword. However, the way is blocked by a magic barrier set up by Ganondorf, which cannot be broken until the Master Sword has its power restored. Once you accomplish that, you still have to get one more set of Plot Coupons since the gods won't reopen the portal to Hyrule for you (which is also in a readily accessible location) unless you have them.
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Zelda is turned to stone in the opening portion of the game and subsequently kept right next to her father's throne, itself in Hyrule Castle that you first visit early on, while Link goes on his quest to free her.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword takes this Up to Eleven; the very first area you visit upon completing the tutorial and reaching the surface is not only the prison for the big bad, but also right next to the place where Zelda has been sleeping for thousands of years waiting for you to defeat him. Unfortunately for you, to claim the MacGuffin you'll use to defeat the Big Bad and make it safe for Zelda to wake up, you must first travel across the surface and undergo numerous trials to strengthen yourself and prove yourself worthy to use it, with this location serving as a frequent destination. Then, your success triggers a Kaizo Trap when The Dragon comes Back for the Finale and the location is revealed as the site of one more boss battle before becoming the gateway to the Final Boss (albeit in the distant past).
- In addition, the Triforce is hidden on the Hub City of Skyloft, directly beneath the area where you retrieve the Goddess Sword, your main weapon, at the very beginning of the game. And numerous other areas have plot-relevant subsections that will have you making repeat visits. Though, again, you won't get the Plot Coupons you need to access them until you've proven yourself.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild plays with this. Hyrule Castle, where Zelda is trapped and Calamity Ganon is sealed, is one of the first things the player sees upon getting out into the main game world, and it's also one of the closest landmarks relative to that starting position. But once you complete the introductory Great Plateau sequence, you can in fact run straight to the castle and fight the Final Boss without doing any other story quests if you want. Granted, not only will this be an absurdly difficult thing to do, you will also miss out on all the plot explaining who Link is, what his relationship with Zelda was like, who the Champions were, etc. And you'll also miss the Golden Ending.
- Metroid, its remake Metroid: Zero Mission, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes all have the entrance to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon very close to where you first land in the Hub Level, but you can't pass the threshold until you beat the main bosses and/or collect every Plot Coupon (though clever use of Good Bad Bugs in the first game can enable some Sequence Breaking to let you jump to the entrance of Tourian).
- Metroid II: Return of Samus and its remake Metroid: Samus Returns have an unusual variant, in that progression through the game map goes in a clockwise direction that brings you back to your gunship right after beating the Queen Metroid, but there's no clear indication that this will be the case before the end, and it's completely impossible to go the opposite direction to even glimpse the climactic area instead of going the proper way.
- MYST: The story of the game involves two brothers who are trapped in a pair of books, and the player needs to collect pages in order to unlock the solution to the final puzzle. However, if you already know the solution (such as, after playing through the game once), you can go straight to the final puzzle and complete it.
- In Pandora's Tower, the protagonist's girlfriend, Elena, is turning into a beast from the very beginning, prompting the hero to go on a quest to save her. The game revolves around building an affectionate relationship with Elena as much as it does adventuring.
- In Shadow of the Colossus, Mono is dead as the game begins, and Wander's deal with the deity Dormin is that they will resurrect her in exchange for Wander destroying each of the Colossi. You return to the central temple where she rests every time you defeat one.
- Dragon Quest:
- Dragon Quest I:
- Princess Gwaelin is in the Marsh Cave that you enter early on in the game. The reason you can't rescue her the first time you enter is because one, you do not have a key, which is required to open up the door to her cell; and two, there's a dragon guarding said door that you won't be able to beat at your current level and equipment.
- Charlock Castle, where the Dragonlord dwells, can be seen right below your starting point in the map.
- Dragon Quest III: In the beginning of the second part of the game, you arrive in the city of Tantegel. You can see Zoma's Castle -the final dungeon- across a narrow strait.
- Dragon Quest VIII: As soon as you enter the Swordsman's Labyrinth you can spot the chest containing the treasure required to progress the game, but you can't get it until you have walked around the whole dungeon, beaten all puzzles and killed the guardian monster.
- Dragon Quest I:
- In Zeliard, Princess Felicia la Felishika is turned to stone by the villain, and she's being kept in a shrine in the first town where you can visit her whenever you like. There's no dialogue and, while you can go back to the first town at any point if you want to, there's no reason to ever go to her. She's saved remotely by defeating the final boss at a town very far away.
- Scribblenauts Unlimited is all about saving your sister from a curse of petrification. She's at your home the whole time, waiting patiently for you to collect enough Starites to break the spell. (Not that she has much choice.)
- In Chrono Trigger, you can defeat Lavos at any time after you visit the End of Time (roughly a quarter through the main story). But, until you get through the plot proper, expect to get curbstomped. In a New Game+, this is taken Up to Eleven: you can fight Lavos from the very start, and defeating him at different points in the story gives you the various Multiple Endings.
- Can happen in Pitfall! 2. You only need to pick up three things to finish the game: Quickclaw, Rhonda, and the diamond ring. The game automatically ends when you pick up the last one of these. Where's Quickclaw? Right below your starting position. You can see him shivering below you on the very first screen of the game, but if you try to double back and save him right away, you're blocked by an aggressive rat. You have to take the (very) long way around and approach him from underneath.
- Subverted in Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Breach, closing which is set up as your main objective for the game in its opening sequence, is a short walk away from Haven, where you set up your Player Headquarters. In fact, you can see the Breach from pretty much anywhere in the village, but you have to secure an alliance with either the mages or the Templars before you can actually seal it for good. The subversion comes from the fact that despite being set up as the ultimate goal, closing the Breach turns out to be just the start of a much larger, game-spanning conflict.
- Dead Space: There's a unique example that isn't plot sensitive, but is still a game-spanning objective. The game is littered with enigmatic advertisements for something called Peng and an award in the Achievement System exists for finding it. It happens to be a tiny golden statue of a woman sitting in a trench in the very first area of the game but Isaac won't be able to get ahold of it until returning there near the end of the game, using the Kinesis Module he didn't have earlier. It has no purpose but is sellable for a large sum.
- Final Fantasy X: Defeating Sin is the entire goal of the game, and if it were possible at the beginning of the game, your party would do it with no hesitation. Instead, though, they must go on a Pilgrimage for the Final Aeon, the only thing that can defeat Sin. Then it turns out that they, themselves are potentially the Final Aeon. The point of the Pilgrimage was to create powerful emotional bonds that will allow the chosen sacrifice to become an exceptionally powerful Aeon upon their death. It also turns out that defeating Sin in this method doesn't really solve anything, so our heroes reject it and search for another means. To hammer this trope home, the protagonists at one point leave a dungeon to find Sin just towering outside, waiting. When Tidus (who now knows that Sin is his father, Jecht) pleads with it to give them just a little more time to figure things out, Sin turns and leaves.
- Final Fantasy XIV:
- In the A Realm Reborn expansion (also known as "2.0"), the final mission and main enemy base are located in Northern Thanalan, just a hop-skip-and-jump away from the starting city of Ul'dah for any player that began there (and even if they didn't, the player will still reach Ul'dah extremely early into the story). However, due to the area crawling with high-level mobs and entry to the dungeon being restricted regardless, it isn't until the end of the 2.0 Main Scenario questline that they will be able to invade the base and defeat The Heavy: Gaius Baelsar.
- In the Stormblood (4.0) questline, the player must liberate two different countries conquered by the Garlean Empire. The first is Doma, and the player comes within spitting distance of Doma Castle at numerous times throughout the story, blocked either by barriers, tough monsters or other hindrances. Naturally, the player and the resistance will need a ton of work and preparation to retake the Castle and free Doma.
- In the Shadowbringers expansion, the party is unexpectedly accompanied by Emet-Selch, one of the true masterminds behind not only the Garlean Empire but almost every problem that has arisen throughout the main story. Everyone in the group knows that Emet-Selch is plotting something nefarious, and that he can't be trusted...but there's nothing that can be done about it. As an Ascian, Emet-Selch is capable of Body Surfing if his current body is killed; although the group knows the means to permanently kill an Ascian, Emet-Selch isn't stupid and will simply run away the moment that they try. Furthermore, his insight and knowledge on the current situation is useful (even if unreliable). For these reasons, they decide to simply put up with him until the end of the game, where he finally enacts his master stroke and the only way to resolve the crisis is to eliminate him.
- The Myst franchise does this in most of its games, to the point of it practically being a running gag. In the first game, the White Page which forms your final objective is actually only feet from the starting point; it's just hidden in a place you won't find until MUCH later in the game. In Riven: The Sequel to Myst, you spawn right next to the telescope necessary to open the Star Fissure; however, you have no idea that it's important and you can't find the code to open it until a later point (and getting the good ending requires even more work). The third game, Myst III: Exile, has the Releeshahn book on a pedestal right in front of you in the opening scenes, but it quickly gets stolen and you don't get it back until the final level. Myst IV: Revelation is the only exception, since the ending takes place on a different Age; however, the final cutscene is set in Tomanha, where the game started. And finally, Myst V: End of Ages has the object of the game, The Tablet, appear in front of you near the start of the game; however, unlocking it and deciding what to do with it is the entire purpose of the game.
- In Planescape: Torment, you eventually discover that the gateway to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon is in the room where you woke up in the Mortuary at the beginning of the game. In one optional dialogue response, the Nameless One is not amused.
Nameless One: I regret that I wandered all over the Planes when the damn portal was right here when I FIRST woke up.
- Dark Souls: The entrance to the final area, Kiln of the First Flame, is located underneath Firelink Shrine; however, the door to the Kiln is sealed shut until the very end of the game.
- The Curse of Monkey Island plays with this. The game starts with Guybrush accidentally turning Elaine into a golden statue with a cursed engagement ring and needing to find a cure for her. However, the statue-fied Elaine is stolen by pirates soon afterwards, making finding her the primary objective.
- In Castlevania, you can see Dracula's Keep in the background of Stage 3. And if you fit the level maps together to match the map between levels, you'd see that Dracula's Keep is directly above the entrance door at the beginning of Stage 1.
- Hollow Knight: The Temple of the Black Egg is one of the first landmarks you can find in the Forgotten Crossroads at the beginning of the game. Upon reaching the City of Tears later on, you find out the Black Egg is where the Hollow Knight was sealed away with the source of the plague, making it the endpoint of your quest. You'll have go across Hallownest to destroy the Dreamers before you can enter the Egg itself and fight the Hollow Knight, and then take even more extra steps to get the Golden Ending.
- Vicky the Viking: The vikings discover a great treasure in an Arctic cave, but it's behind a transparent ice sheet that they can't break through. They ultimately decide to let the treasure be and continue their voyage.