The Hero is confronted with a choice between two mutually exclusive paths. Sometimes it's the choice between good and evil, law or chaos, or even just choosing between fire magic and ice magic. The point is, only one path can be taken, and there's no way back.
The point of this trope isn't the choice; it's the act of presentation. As long as someone is presenting the choice as if the options are mutually exclusive and important to the character's life from then on, it doesn't matter what the choices are or who is presenting them.
Shows up in video games quite often, even in games without a Karma Meter.
See also Sadistic Choice and Take a Third Option. Has some symbolic relation to At the Crossroads, though don't confuse this trope with that one as this one is about metaphorical forks in the road of the plot. Super-Trope of Red Pill, Blue Pill.
Note that this trope can apply to events with more than two choices, so long as they are all still mutually exclusive.
- At the end of the second episode of Guilty Crown, Gai demands that Shu choose between returning to his normal life, and working with Funeral Parlor to free Japan. Shu chooses to go home...and Gai promptly sends Inori to his school, since Shu's ability is far too valuable to just ignore.
- The Trope Namer is Mahou Sensei Negima!, with Rakan explaining the difference between the main character's father's path and his master's path. Negi chooses the indirect route and begins the hard journey of mastering Magica Erebia, which transforms him into a kind of demon. By the end of the story his choice is a blurred mixture of both choices called "The Grey Path".
- In Pokémon, Dawn had to choose between Kenny, her childhood friend, and Ash, with whom she had been traveling for a long time. Guess whom she chose?
- Captain Britain has this as an origin story. Brian Braddock got into a motorcycle crash and was dying, when Merlin and his daughter Romana approached and offered him a choice between two artifacts that could save him. The Amulet of Right, representing wisdom and life, and the Sword of Might, representing power and violence. Either would have given him superpowers and made him Captain Britain, but the Sword would have given him different powers. Considering himself more a scholar than a warrior, he chose the Amulet.
- The Elseworlds series Earth X has him revisit this choice, with the understanding that the right answer was both. Chivalry is the marriage between strength and gentleness.
- Also came in play with Kelsey Leigh, the second Captain Britain (later renamed Lionheart); when Brian offered her the choice, after telling her to "protect the realm", she chose the Sword over the Amulet. In the issues of New Excalibur this was discussed, and it was held that the choice was not between good and evil, merely between more ruthless means to fulfill the Captain's mission and more reasonable ones. It went differently with Albion, however, as he chose the sword, but used it to try and conquer the United Kingdom in the name of order.
- The Dark Knight: The Joker offers Batman a choice between saving Harvey and saving Rachel (and lies about each other's location just to further fuck with Batman); likewise, he offers both a passenger-ship and a ship full of prisoners the choice of blowing up the other ship in order to save themselves. Also an example of the Sadistic Choice.
- It's presented as this in Batman Forever when The Riddler has Batman choose between saving Robin or Chase. Ultimately subverted, as Batman saves them both because he chooses to be both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
- The Matrix:
Agent Smith: It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a Social Security number, you pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers where you go by the hacker alias "Neo", and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
- Morpheus offering Neo the red pill or blue pill in.
- After Neo is captured by the Agents he ends up in an interrogation room.
- The Matrix Reloaded also ends with the Architect offering Neo a choice between two doors one accomplishes his mission (sort of), the other saves Trinity's life. Neo chooses Trinity.
- In Men in Black, all prospective agents have the choice between remaining in their current occupations and leading their lives, or joining the agency and severing all ties to their former lives.
James Edwards: Is it worth it?Agent K: Oh, it's worth it... if you're strong enough.
- in Mr. Nobody the plot resolves around these types of decisions, and the movie shows them all.
- Shows up in Star Wars pretty often.
Yoda: If you leave now, help them you could; but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered.
- The fate of the galaxy was decided when Anakin Skywalker had to choose between stopping Jedi Master Mace Windu when he tried to kill the lawfully designated ruler, the otherwise evil Chancellor Palpatine, and doing nothing. He tried to Take a Third Option by appealing to Windu's morals with "It's not the Jedi way/He must stand trial", but it failed. Anakin had to choose in a matter of seconds between (ultimately empty) promises and the unlawful action of the member of a benevolent Order who compromised the morals he was normally so insistent about.
- In Thank You for Smoking the Original Marlboro Man has cancer and is about to become a spokesperson for the anti-tobacco lobby. Nick presents him with a Briefcase Full of Money. The guy can take the money and provide for his family or he can decline it and speak out against his former employers. Nick makes it quite clear that the guy cannot do both and has to choose.
- Lampshaded in the opening narration of Last Man Standing. The protagonist then does the literal version, choosing to take the road to Jericho and kicking off the events of the movie.
It's a funny thing. No matter how low you sink there's still a right and a wrong, and you always end up choosing. You go one way so you can try to live with yourself. You can go the other, and still be walking around, but you're dead and you don't know it.
- Shogun Assassin. Ogami Ittō has to go on the run when the Shogun sends ninja assassins after him, but they kill his wife instead. As a Roaring Rampage of Revenge is Harmful to Minors, he presents his infant son with a Secret Test.
Ogami: I have decided to escape, to defy the Shogun. Today I will begin walking the Road to Hell, but you must choose your own path. (picks up a ball and sword) So, soon you may be seeing Heaven. Choose the sword, and you will join me. Choose the ball, and you join your mother in death. You don't understand my words, but you must choose.
- In Cry of the Icemark, the warlock has a choice between being good and being evil, and there is a very specific point in the text where he chooses: Simple, easy and powerful, or good? The choice was obvious. And then Thirrin spoke.
- Huckleberry Finn wrestles with the question of obeying the law or helping Jim escape from slavery. He chooses the latter, even though he thinks it literally puts him on the road to Hell.
- Les Misérables: When Jean Valjean saves Javerts life, any other person would have to chose between To Be Lawful or Good. Javerts Moral Dilemma is pretty different:
He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line. And, the poignant anguish lay in this, that the two paths were contrary to each other. One of these straight lines excluded the other. Which of the two was the true one?...... There were only two ways of escaping from it. One was to go resolutely to Jean Valjean, and restore to his cell the convict from the galleys. The other . . .
- The Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken parodies this trope: even when the guy takes one road, there is no difference with the other except that it was less traveled. Even that is questionable, as the narrator claims that "the passing there had worn them both really about the same"; in other words, the appearance of both roads suggests that they've both had an equal amount of travellers, but the Unreliable Narrator assumes the one he took must have been the less popular choice. The whole point is that these roads were never mutually exclusive and the narrator is only a Small Name, Big Ego that thinks there was any difference. See more at its entry at MisaimedFandom.Literature
- The hero of Le Roman de la Rose had to choose between The Rose and Reason.
- Woody Allen sent this up:
More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
- The Bible has a slight twist: it's not obvious that there is a choice between Heaven and Hell, except to those who search for it.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7, NIV)
- Watership Down. General Woundwort leads an expedition with the aim of killing the rabbits who've humiliated him and returning the escapees from his warren by force. In an effort to avert bloodshed, Hazel goes alone to meet him. He points out that rabbits have enough enemies without fighting each other, and if they work together a lot of Efrafa's problems (such as overcrowding and rebellion) will be solved.
At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he really was the leader of genius and vision which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit's idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him. The sun dipped into the cloud bank and now he could see clearly the track along the ridge, leading to the beech hangar and the bloodshed for which he had prepared with so much energy and care."I haven't time to sit here talking nonsense," said Woundwort.
- The Infected: Brian Yi has the uncontrollable power to take the place of people in mortal danger, and the only ways to stop it are for him to be too injured/in pain or to be unconscious. At a hospital he is offered a choice, he can let them put him into a medically induced coma and live a long life as a vegetable, or he can join a federal agency of superpowered people, be trained into the ground each day and probably lead a very short, painful and violent life... but with a real chance of saving dozens of lives before he goes. He chooses the latter.
- In Soul Music, Imp y Celyn, leaving his homeland forever, finds himself at a junction which gives him the option of travelling to the quiet, respectable city of Quirm or the Wretched Hive of Ankh-Morpork. He quickly realises the sensible thing to do is to go to the smaller, less intense city, at least until he understands how city life actually works. And since leaving your homeland forever should not involve doing the sensible thing, he heads to Ankh. This kicks off the events of the book. After said events have been Cosmic Retconned away before they kill him, it's revealed he is (and presumably always was) in Quirm.
- Similar to the other Greek figures below, Percy Jackson is offered a choice by Hera in Heroes of Olympus. He is offered a choice between retrieving his memories as a demigod hero, and subsequently passing a point of no return fighting another war for the gods, or living a mundane but peaceful life without his old memories.
- The Greek myths, and specifically the Hercules one, is parodied in Ye Gods! by Tom Holt. Faced with the roads of Luxury and Virtue, Jason Derry instead takes the road marked "Diversion" that has just appeared out of nowhere. This sort of thing happens to him all the time, and he very nearly manages to amble towards the end of his quest without ever actually making a choice at all.
- iCarly: Spencer uses this analogy to help Carly decide between staying at Ridgeway or switching to the private school Briarwood in iMay Switch Schools:
Spencer: Listen, I'm your older brother. So I will help you through this difficult decision. Just... just close your eyes.Carly: Okay. (She closes her eyes).Spencer: Okay. There's two roads in front of you. Road A, and... the-the... one on the left. (Pauses, then runs out of the room).Carly: (Opens her eyes, then laughs) Thank you!
- Monty Hall's "The box or the curtain?" on Let's Make a Deal
- Star Trek: Voyager
Janeway: There's a path before me. The only way home. And on either side, mortal enemies bent on destroying each other. If I attempt to pass through them I'll be destroyed as well. But if I turn around, that would end all hope of ever getting home. And no matter how much I try to focus my mind, I can't see an alternative.
- The Doctor is presented a choice between saving a friend and saving someone he didn't know well, and both had identical chances of survival. The guilt from choosing his friend drives the Doctor insane as it creates a conflict between his base programming and what he'd become.
- A Discussed Trope in "Scorpion", when Captain Janeway ponders whether to take a Ridiculously Difficult Route between two vastly-superior enemies involved in a genocidal war, or give up their chances of returning to Earth and settle down in the Delta Quadrant. She decides to Take a Third Option by forming an Enemy Mine alliance with one of the combatants.
- In the mini-series Rhodes, Cecil Rhodes talks to one of his followers about a dream featuring this trope, during which he had a choice of taking the hard path or the easy path. He seems to think he's taking the hard path, but the way he becomes corrupted by power indicates otherwise.
- "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/There's still time to change the road you're on"
- This trope is the whole basis of the Hemispheres suite; Love and Reason are struggling to be the driving force of humans. In the end, they Take a Third Option.
- In the Greek myth "The Judgment of Paris", he — had to choose among Wisdom, Power and Love (as personified by Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, respectively). It wasn't entirely a fair choice, though — all three goddesses used bribes. He chooses Love, and is thus given the love of the most beautiful woman alive - Helen, who just happens to be married already. This leads directly to The Trojan War.
- Also from Greek myth, Heracles having to choose between an easy, comfortable life (pleasure) or a harsh, glorious one (virtue), he chose the latter.
- A similar prophecy affected Achilles - he would definitely die bored and unknown if he died old, and he would definitely die young if he went out finding glory in battle (which he is very good at) - namely The Trojan War. He was wanted the latter as a big Blood Knight and died in said war, despite his mother's attempts to keep him out of it.
- This is the famous Choice of Heracles: The allegorical figures of Vice and Virtue appeared to him to offer him a choice between a life of pleasures without achievement, and constant striving with great accomplishments. The story, from Prodikos, is told by Xenophon in his Apomnemoneumata.
- Also from Greek myth, Heracles having to choose between an easy, comfortable life (pleasure) or a harsh, glorious one (virtue), he chose the latter.
- Pheidippides had to choose between the two arguments in The Clouds.
- Disney Theme Parks: Indiana Jones Adventure is presented this way. On the ride, the guests enter one of three doors. The doors represent a choice of three gifts from the deity Mara: eternal youth, earthly riches, or visions of the future. Of course, since Disney can't give you two of those (and won't give you the third), a short time after the choice is made, Mara declares that someone in your car has broken the one rule not to look into his eyes and sends you off to the Gates of Doom.
- Mass Effect does this MANY times with the dialogue system, namely the Paragon (selfless, diplomatic, compassionate) and Renegade (aggressive, blunt, rude) responses for Commander Shepard. Each response one way or the other adds to your overall reputation, which measures both scales simultaneously, so you can be equal parts of both or mostly one or however you decide. Basically, it's a series of blue(Paragon) and red(Renegade) "small" doors that add up to an overall picture of whether Shepard is a by the end of the games. Played straight with many of the plot decisions, where there's a clear "one or the other" situation presented, with a corresponding Paragon/Renegade bonus to boot.
- Knights of the Old Republic is like this; while there is no designated "Lightside" and "Darkside" options dialogue, the context in conversations makes it pretty clear, played especially straight near the end, where the decision you make determines which of the two endings you get, regardless of where you are on the Light/Dark scale.
- Slightly subverted in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, where the ending you get is based more on whether you're Lightside or Darkside, rather than a clear choice of who to follow or what to do.
- Used less than subtly in Batman: Arkham City during the second-to-last Catwoman mission. While escaping from the vault with the loot she's been after the entire game, she hears about how Batman is in trouble and has to choose whether to go help him or escape with her money. The vault even has a green line painted toward the Batman door and a red one leading to the exit. You can take the red door if you want but it leads to a Non-Standard Game Over where Batman and Gordon are killed and Oracle is left narrating as thugs sent by The Joker who has just become immortal raid Wayne Mansion.
- Kingdom Hearts
- A recurring element has the games begin with a choice among the sword, shield and wand, presented by... a caption thing stating in unequivocal terms that the choice will shape the rest of the adventure. (In the first game, at least, the mysterious voice was Mickey Mouse — this was supposed to be obvious from his speech style, but that element ended up Lost in Translation.)
- In Chain of Memories, at the end of Riku's story, DiZ tells him to choose the road he'll take. The road to light, or the road to darkness. Riku chooses the middle road. "The road to dawn."
- The professor offering the player a choice among three starters at the beginning of every Pokémon game. There are also the fossils you can choose between in most versions, usually with a "fossil maniac" ready to take the one you don't grab.
- The Stanley Parable uses a version of this trope with two doors as a central motif.
- The later Ultima games began with a series of two-choice presentations, between which of two Virtues conflict in hypothetical situations. This is how the game determines your Character Class; each Virtue has a respective class, and the last Virtue you choose is your class. (Protip: Humility is the weakest class, the Shepherd, but because Humility is the basis of all Virtues, it makes being the Avatar easier in the long run.)
- The StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm campaign has evolutions that can be applied to certain units. Once chosen, the evolution is permanent and the unselected one cannot be used for the remainder of the campaign.
- In Chapter 9 of Rakenzarn Tales, Kyuu needs to get into Kandur and can choose between slipping through the border the Knights have set up or by sneaking through a valley that connects to the Cyril Region. Both get him there either way, but it determines which party members and other allies join him on his adventure.
- Fallout 4: There are four factions that the player can support: The Minutemen, The Railroad, The Institute, and The Brotherhood of Steel. The Minutemen and The Railroad can get along together, but the Railroad, the Institute and the Brotherhood all hate each other, so whoever you support, two or three other factions have to be destroyed. The final decision comes fairly late in the game.
- In Dot Hack GU Vol 1:Rebirth, Ovan sends an email with this phrase to Haseo after the latter's been Data-Drained by Tri-Edge and reduced to Level 1 in the MMO "The World". He gives Haseo a choice: forget about "The World" and never log in again, or endure harsh trials in order to discover the truth about "The World".
- For the final mission of Grand Theft Auto V, Franklin Clinton must make a choice between which of Michael and Trevor he has to betray due to all of the ire they've incurred among the very powerful forces in San Andreas that want them dead. Rich prick Devin Weston lays out the situation in the mission introduction, while noting that he could try to do something else if he had a death wish since it is so obviously suicidal. Should Franklin pick either Michael or Trevor to betray, the survivor cuts off all contact with Franklin in disgust at his betrayal. Option C, though significantly more difficult (it is labelled "Deathwish" on Franklin's phone when you go to decide) since the player must fight both the FIB and Merryweather, means Franklin betrays neither and instead the trio sets up a trap that ultimately gets rid of all the heat on their backs by extinguishing them themselves; it's considered the most satisfying option by the fandom.
- Satirized in Saints Row IV, where Evil Overlord Zinyak gives The Boss a choice between two doors. One (red) means to continue to fight, which he promises will result in the permanent destruction of Earth and the near-eradication of humanity. To enter the other (blue) door is to surrender and be executed, a noble self-sacrifice to save the Earth. Choosing the latter will get you a Non-Standard Game Over and the "You Chose... Poorly" achievement. (Of course the Manipulative Bastard Zinyak was lying anyway.)
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse's Game Over screen, Dagda invokes this trope with the choice to either continue or end the game:
Dagda: Hmph. How pitiful, kid. There are two roads before you. One will lead you to your ideals, the other to death. The time is now. Choose!
- Wizard School Parodies this. In a riff on Harry Potter's Sorting Hat scene, Graham is told that he stands at the crossroads of destiny between entering Dragonsbane House to become The Chosen One and entering Serpentor House to become a Card-Carrying Villain and subjugate wizardkind. Being a Jerkass Designated Hero, he picks Serpentor, whereupon the dismayed Assigning tells him that he doesn't actually get to choose and sticks him in Dragonsbane anyway.
- Played for laughs in the Adventure Time episode "Another Way," when Finn meets at a crossroads where he must chose between going down a path that will make his hair fall out or a path that will make him smelly forever. He ops for a third option: going straight through the middle of the two paths, which happens to be covered in thorny bushes.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- At the end of season 2, Iroh tells Zuko he needs to choose whether to side with either the Avatar or Azula. The episode is even called "The Crossroads of Destiny." He chooses Azula, but it turns out he can change his mind.
- In the previous episode, Aang is being counseled into opening his chakras, which will allow him to enter the Avatar State at will, and remain in control while he does so — which has been one of his objectives for the entire season, after he unintentionally obliterated an entire enemy fleet while in the Avatar State in the previous season finale. All is going well, with Aang facing and overcoming various manifestations of his inner turmoil, until the final chakra, when it transpires that he will have to choose between his "worldly attachments" (read: love) and the "pure cosmic energy" that will allow him to master the Avatar State. He's on the verge of deciding when he has a premonition that his Love Interest Katara has just been captured and imprisoned. Before he can take off after her, his guru warns him that if he leaves now, he might not be able to use the Avatar State at all. He chooses to go anyway.
- The Penguins of Madagascar:
- In the episode "The Hidden", Kowalski can't decide whom to save: Private, who is part of the team, or Marlene, who has vital information. He continues weighing options - Private owes him money - until both get snagged up.
- In the episode "Brush with Danger", Kowalski can't decide between saving the world or putting it in the danger of destroying it with his new future invention.
- The Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Haunted House Hang-Up" has the gang on their way to a rock festival when they come to a fork in the road. Fred asks a creepy stranger, Asha Shanks, the way to the Interstate. The left fork is the long way, the right fork is the short way but leads past a mysterious haunted mansion with a headless spectre. They take the short way (Fred: "We're low on gas") and the van overheats and stalls in front of the mansion (of course).