So This Game Is Totally Awesome comes out on your NES. And it lives up to its name. You laughed. You cried. You cheered. You fight the legions of hell and rescue the Damsel in Distress, a cute-looking brunette. And you can't wait for the sequel.
Four years later, it finally arrives - Super This Game Is Totally Awesome is released. And it's even better. The Technobabble is more babbley, the Slippy-Slidey Ice World is more slippery, the Player Punches are more punchy, and the Damsel in Distress is... blonde? They Changed It, Now It Sucks!, right?
Wrong. She was always supposed to be blonde. However, the NES couldn't render blonde hair very well (it was hard to distinguish from skin tone, and they could only have three colors per sprite, making yellow "less useful"), so most artists switched to brown. Likewise, it was usually very difficult to render black hair, because black was generally reserved as the background color. note This also explains why familiar characters in some older games are drawn in their usual colors in cutscenes only.
As consoles became more advanced, some franchise characters kept their quirks as a legacy feature. However, most artists opted to revert to the original concept art. As a result, these characters became Suddenly Blonde. This trope refers to any example of a technical limitation that requires a character in-game to differ from their concept art, which is reverted when that limitation is removed. It doesn't just refer to hair color.
For a more general version, see Adaptation Dye-Job.
- Nearly any character with "Princess" in front of her name got reverted to blond hair and a pink dress when those colors became available. Peach and Zelda are the most notable examples, although Zelda was portrayed as brunette in Twilight Princess and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
- Peach was originally a redhead as a sprite, but the artists gave her either brown or blonde hair in official art (she's always been blonde in Japan though; her design has changed very little since the second game). Peach's eyes are also affected by the trope. She was always supposed to have large eyes like the other characters in the Mario series, but her eyes looked tiny in comparison once she was in 3D. It wasn't until the GameCube (or late in the N64's life span) that Peach's eyes matched her original design.
- Link himself suffered from this trope in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which is funny since his two NES games had him with brown hair, which matched the official art of him. The official art of Link in Link to the Past still had him with dirty blond hair, but the in-game sprite of Link has him with pink hair, which is most likely due to palette limitations for the SNES. The GBA port still retained Link's pink hair.
- Mario and Luigi used to be identical except in color. Nowadays, although the exact measurements change from game to game, Luigi is universally the taller brother.
- Continuing with Nintendo, Pauline of Donkey Kong was a blonde in cabinet art but a redhead in the actual game. She became a brunette in Donkey Kong '94, presumably to differentiate her from Peach.
- Metroid's Samus Aran took a few games to become fully blond in Metroid 1 she was a brunette (green with the Varia Suit), and in Super Metroid she had a sort of dishwater blond color. note
- Old DOS games that were rendered in EGA color had only 16 colors, so most games made in that era used white, red or gray for skin tone. When VGA came out, most new games (with one exception see below) took advantage of the new, nigh-unlimited color palette to reinvent the characters of the series. Games which provide examples of this include Duke Nukem, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and King's Quest. The most prominent example is Space Quest, where Roger goes from a dull brown hair color in his first three games to blond once he hits VGA.
- Terra from Final Fantasy VI is blonde, but the team was running out of palette space, and the rest of her design worked better if she reused an existing palette. Her palette didn't have enough shades of yellow to create believable blonde hair, but they did manage to make believable greenish-blue hair, which is what most fans remember; however, in all of her other appearances (including the official artwork for Final Fantasy VI), she has blonde hair. Tropes Are Not Bad however, as most fans agree Terra's green hair helped her stand out from Celes who shares the a similar color. Being half-Esper, it further emphasized her uniqueness.
- Four of the five playable characters in Final Fantasy V have different hair colors and three of them have radically different hair styles between their official artwork and their in-game sprites. Bartz has light blond/white hair in his artwork, but his sprite has brown hair. Lenna has blonde hair worn in a Prim and Proper Bun in her artwork, but her sprite has bright pink hair worn down somewhere between chin and shoulder length. Faris has blonde hair worn in a low ponytail in her artwork, but her sprite has purple hair worn in a wild style. Galuf has white hair and is nearly bald with a short mustache in his artwork, but his sprite has a full head and a full beard of brown hair. Krile is the only playable character whose hair in her artwork and sprite match in both color and style, with blonde hair worn in a high ponytail in both. Many fans were in for a shock when portraits were added for the Game Boy Advance and iOS rereleases.
- Clair in Fire Emblem Gaiden is an odd example. In the original NES game, she had blue hair. Official art depicted her with red hair. Come the remake on 3DS, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, she now has blonde hair. This was probably done so she more greatly resembled her brother Clive, except that he always had blonde hair, even in the NES version. It makes you wonder why she wasn't blonde to begin with...
- Dragon Age:
- The qunari were originally supposed to have horns, but because they had issues making the helmets work over horned characters, that was dropped in Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age II gives them horns, as well as an entirely new, unique look. The helmet issues wasn't really present anymore since all qunari with a few exceptions looked exactly the same. To their credit, Bioware has explained why the qunari characters in the first game don't have horns. Sten was a special case who was born without horns, while all others removed their horns to show their social status.
- The elves in Origins looked like short, lithe humans with pointy ears. In subsequent games they received some more distinguishing facial features, like large eyes, a flat transition from forehead to nose, and a cultural preference for bare feet.
- In the second game, the Tranquil suddenly gained a brand on their forehead as part of the ritual forced upon them. In Origins, the brand was alluded to in dialogue but was not visible, making the change understandable.
- Played straight with recurring character Cullen, who is first encountered in the mage tower in Origins... where he appears to have red hair. The second and third games show him as being blond. According to the devs, he was always supposed to have been blond, but the lighting in the mage tower caused his hair to appear red instead.
- Happens all the time in World of Warcraft. The best-known example is Dark Lady Sylvanas, leader of the Forsaken Undead and a High Elf. But since High/Blood Elves weren't in the game until the first expansion, she had a Night Elf's model instead, which looked nothing like her appearance in Warcraft 3. It wasn't until the second expansion that she was not only made a proper High Elf, but became one of the few humanoid characters in the game whose model was actually unique.
- In Star Ocean: The Second Story, this is presumably why one of Ashton's dragons is pink in-game instead of the blue it's depicted to be in his status page portrait and the official artwork. It's made even more noticeable by the fact that when Precis has Bobot imitate his appearance with her Super Holograph killer move, the mecha dragons produced are properly colored red and blue.
- The 1987 Famicom Star Wars game gave Luke Skywalker black hair except in cutscenes, due to palette limitations.
- In Antarctic Adventure and Penguin Adventure, Pentarou's skin was jet-black, but became blue in later games. He was already blue on some box covers, and even other games on the MSX had to color him blue so that he could be visible against black backgrounds.
- Lunar: The Silver Star for Sega CD had both graphics and color limitations to work around, so Luna's sprite had green hair, Ramus' had blue, and... something happened to Jessica, who's almost unrecognizable; but they're depicted more normally in cutscenes and in their dialogue portraits. Despite the graphical leap presented by the PlayStation version, Ramus' sprites still kept the blue hair for some reason.
- In Batman for the NES, the cutscenes show a black-garbed Batman (as in the film), but the actual sprite during gameplay is a blue and purple Batsuit (largely for convenience's sake, since NES palettes usually reserved black as a background color).
- The protoss changed significantly in appearance when moving from Starcraft to Starcraft II. Many of their buildings dropped features like ridges and plates in favor of a sleeker appearance, with glossy gold coloration instead of the original flat yellow. Unlike the zerg (who went through a design overhaul based on newer, more impressive concept art), this was explained by Blizzard to be the result of having to flatten their original protoss concepts into isometric sprites.
- Praetor Artanis is a particularly striking example. In his one cutscene appearance in Brood War, due to a bad case of No Flow in CGI and a generally primitive rendering engine, most of the elaborate armor seen in concept art had to be cut. In Starcraft II, the technology had advanced enough to show off his Bling of War and Nice Hat to full effect.
- In the original Dead or Alive game, the character of Tina Armstrong was presented as a brunette, mainly due to graphics limitations. In later ports she was also given a few costumes where she had blonde hair, with the in-game explanation that she dyed it. In later games her blonde hair is its natural color.
- In Crazy Cars III, the player's car is depicted on the cover as a yellow Lamborghini Diablo, but its in-game likeness is colored orange for whatever reason. The Updated Re-release Lamborghini American Challenge made the car properly yellow.
- Guilty Gear has Baiken, whose hair was originally colored like Kenshin Himura and had a similar voice. However, in her next appearance that was dropped in favor of the pink hair she has now and a deeper voice (though the original still exists as an alternate palette).
- In the first two Golden Sun entries on the Gameboy Advance, Garet has brown hair and clothing in all of his official art but red hair and clothes in all of his sprites. Come Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the Nintendo DS, Garet finally has brown hair everywhere, although his son Tyrell has red haired sprites, models and official art as a nod to Garet's old look.
Notable aversions ("legacy features"):
- The brothers Mario had appearances designed to be easy to render on the low resolution arcade monitors of the day the caps were to avoid having visible hair, the overalls were to make the arms more distinct, the sideburns made the ears more distinct, and the mustaches were to make the nose distinct and make the lack of any visible mouths less noticeable. This also had the side effect of making the characters look distinct during an era where almost every video game hero was either a cute ball-like monster or a Japanese boy with blue, spiky hair.
- In Metroid II: Return of Samus, since they didn't have color available, the artists put large, noticeable shoulder pads on the Varia Suit to make the difference obvious. The Varia suit is now dark orange (with Samus' regular suit being yellow), but the shoulder pads have remained, and actually became notably bigger in Metroid Prime.
- As mentioned above, EGA games tended to use white or red for skin tone, and Commander Keen was no exception. However, while the last few games used VGA color, which had no such limitations, Keen still retained completely white skin. It's especially noticeable when a giant drawing of him is shown on the title screen of the fourth and fifth games (the "Goodbye, Galaxy!" arc).
- The Legend of Zelda:
- Concept art for The Legend of Zelda depicts Link with blond hair. Due to limitations he's a brunette in-game. Brown was decided to be his official color, with all adaptations and official art depicting him as so except for one of the The Legend of Zelda manga (which has him as a blond).
- The Zelda in the original game has a brunette design in her sprite. Official art shows her with three different designs (one short haired-brunette, the same design but blonde, and one long-haired blonde). The first design is apparently canon due to Hyrule Historia; however, the later released art book uses the blonde variant. The second Zelda, the "Sleeping Zelda", had curly red hair in both her sprite and official design. Since A Link to the Past, all Zeldas have had blonde hair of varying shades; the sole exception is Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, who has long brown hair.
- In Ninja Jajamaru-kun, Princess Sakura's hair is pale pink on the cover, but her in-game sprite has black hair (in the Famicom and Vs. System versions, that is; the MSX version had to color her mostly red). Later games sensibly compromised by giving her black hair with a pink headband.
- The cast of Final Fantasy VII had extremely simple, blocky designs compared to previous FF heroes, due to the limits of what could be achieved in 3D at the time. While the characters have been Art Shifted from the 90s anime art style of the original game into a more realistic one, and lots of details have been tweaked here and there, there is no way Cloud will ever lose his iconic hairstyle, even though it was originally intended less as an actual fashion choice and more as an artistic representation of him having hair at all. (Early concept art depicts him with slicked-back hair; repeated redesigns had the loose strands around the front of his face get more and more exaggerated until they ended up with what we had now, in order to make the character stand out more on screen.)