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Unique Protagonist Asset

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"What makes you so special?"
Red Skull to Captain America, Captain America: The First Avenger

Being the protagonist of a story has its perks. You escape all manner of danger however slim your chances, win the love of your life, hang out with some pretty cool people, don't have to answer for most of what you do, achieve your goals simply because Prophecies Are Always Right, and almost always get a Happy Ending.

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However, one final perk may be having that one thing that makes you specially enabled in your quest to resolve Conflict, and that is your Unique Protagonist Asset. While the chosen one is a nice trope all on its own, a UPA goes beyond vague concepts like "destiny" and "fate" and provides a logical In-Universe reason why it's our protagonist and not just anybody that saves the day.

It also helps with suspension of disbelief: suddenly, the idea of a group of teenage friends saving the world where militaries and governments fail isn't so ridiculous if you consider the former having knowledge, equipment, training, or powers that simply make them much more capable than the professionals. Why they don't share this knowledge, or try to replicate the equipment, is another issue altogether.

It can be anything. Material objects such as weapons, clothes, or tools count. Knowledge counts. Abilities such as superpowers, Le Parkour, Improbable Aiming Skills, and Implausible Fencing Powers count. Vehicles can count as well, as can any special modifications these vehicles may sport. Literally anything can count as long as it fits these three criteria:

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  • The asset must be unique, endowed upon an individual, but there are four exceptions to this rule:
    • The first exception is if the protagonist has the same kind of asset as everyone else, but has a much better version of it than everyone else has, i.e. everyone in the setting is packing heat, but the protagonist has a modern assault rifle while everyone else has muskets.
    • The second exception is when the protagonist has the same kind of asset and to roughly the same degree as many people off-screen, but the story puts their around people who don't have the asset or have it to a lesser degree. See Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.
    • The third exception is when there are villainous characters who have the same asset; in this case, the UPA isn't universally unique but does make the protagonist exceptional as the only one even capable of realistically competing with the antagonist. Alternately, The Rival or the Evil Counterpart having the asset establishes their credibility and ability to compete with the protagonist.
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    • The final exception is when the protagonist and their companions all share an asset, but there are other groups/cast herds/ensembles/bands of characters that don't have anything special about them.
  • The ability must be relevant to the story's Conflict in some way. Puzzle solving skills in a mystery novel are this trope, combat prowess in a romantic comedy is not (at least in general). However, this asset does not necessarily have to directly lead to the conflict's resolution (i.e. the protagonist has a powerful Super Mode that helps out in combat, but the villain is defeated by a Deus ex Machina instead). The ability must also be noticeably demonstrated. Informed Ability, Off Screen Moment Of Awesome, and implied cases are not true examples.
  • The character must be the protagonist, or at the very least one of the primary characters on the protagonist's side. Minor characters do not count. While antagonists may have special assets used to cause conflict in the story, the nature of conflict-causing abilities and the way they are used is often of a different nature than many special assets protagonists have.

Supertrope to One Hero, Hold the Weaksauce, if the asset is significant immunity that other characters lack.

Compare The Gift for when this is a talent. If Mooks have this ability, they would be called Superpowered Mooks. May overlap with Road Runner PC if this ability is superior mobility and the protagonist is in a video game, as well as Protagonist Power-Up Privileges the main character acquires their UPA instead of having it right from the start. Possibly the reason why someone is a Born Winner. Almost every superhero within the context of their own stories has a UPA, although shared universes containing dozens or even hundreds of other supers cast a shadow on this trope as it somewhat violates the third criterion. If The Protagonist is Trapped in Another World, expect them to gain this via New Life in Another World Bonus.

Compare Standardized Leader where the protagonist is rather generic in terms of ability.

This usually comes standard in a Japanese Spirit story.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Naruto: The titular character is not just a Jinchuriki, one of nine people with a powerful monster called a Tailed Beast sealed inside him, he's also one to the strongest Beasts, the Nine-Tailed Fox.
  • Gundam: In several of the series, the protagonist (or protagonist team) is the only one in possession of the eponymous machines, starting from the original Mobile Suit Gundam—often, it is a Super Prototype. Gundam Wing, ∀ Gundam, Gundam 00, and Gundam AGE all follow this pattern.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou has the Imagine Breaker, a right hand that cancels out powers and enchantments, making him able to defeat incredibly powerful characters that no one else can. The light novels establish that there can only be one Imagine Breaker in the entire universe. Two other characters with unique right hands show up, and their abilities are arguably more versatile than Imagine Breaker. However, these two eventually end up losing their right hand/arm and hence having their power weakened/lost entirely. In contrast, Touma's Imagine Breaker is unique in that it always returns to his hand (and regenerates it in the process) no matter what. Furthermore, the loss of Touma's right hand unleashes something incredibly powerful until it regenerates.
  • Attack on Titan:
  • Early in Dragon Ball, while it is established that martial arts prowess and superhuman physical abilities are not uncommon, for much of Dragon Ball, Goku is one of two known people in the entire world (the other being Master Roshi) who can utilize the powerful ranged energy attack known as the Kamehameha. Goku's physical endurance is also key to his success for much of his childhood, and it is established in the very first Chapter.
  • Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA: Illya and Miyu are Magical Girls, allowing them to enter the Mirror World and engage the Class Cards. It's later revealed that, more than that, the two of them are both Vessels of the Holy Grail, and as such have access to a tremendous amount of magical power that other potential Magical Girls could never gain.
  • Bleach:
    • The Thousand-Year Blood War arc reveals that not only was Ichigo Kurosaki's father a Soul Reaper, but his mother, Misaki, was descended from the Quincy and, when his parents met, she was infected by a Hollow created by Aizen. As a result, Ichigo is unique in that he is capable of drawing on the powers of all three of the major factions of Bleach. He defaults to Soul Reaper, he can call upon his Hollow abilities by donning a Hollow mask, and can break through Quincy-made barriers that only other Quincy should be able to break. Neither of Ichigo's younger sisters exhibit these abilities, and only one of them is even sensitive to spiritual happenings.
    • Years before Yhwach's formal appearance in the story he unleashed the Auswählen, an ability that takes the power from any Quincy he deemed unworthy and returns it to himself. He used it to empower himself at the expense of all non-pure blooded Quincy. This killed Uryu Ishida's mother and, by all rights, should have also killed Uryu himself. However, Uryu survived and went on to play a pivotal part in Yhwach's downfall.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, it's established that every Duelist has Skills, which are one-use perks that complement the Duelist's play style or strategy. Playmaker's Skill stands out in its ability to obtain new Link Monsters in the middle of a Duel, which then become physical cards for future use. This makes the reveal that Revolver has the same Skill a lot more impactful.
  • Gems in Land of the Lustrous are remarkably fragile beings that are consistently broken apart due to battle or happenstance. When this happens, and there is not enough of the Gem's original material to use in reassembly, substitutes can be used but only if the substitute material is close enough to the original that the Gems' inclusions will integrate it as part of the body. Phosphophyllite, Phos for short, has the unusual, if not completely unique, ability to be able to integrate replacement material from a wide variety of sources such as agate found inside a fossil or gold and platinum alloy in the winter ice floes. By the time Phos' head is being replaced with another Gem's head entirely, Rutile, who does the repairs, ponders whether they can still be called "Phosphophyllite" anymore.
  • In Sword Art Online: In SAO, Kirito is the only player to acquire the Dual Wielding unique skill, which the system granted to the player with the fastest reaction time. This skill bolstered his already powerful status and had him overshadowing nearly every player. Two swords allowed him to deal double the damage, while they also allowed cross-blocking as a much more efficient defense than one sword. It is what enabled Kirito to solo the Gleam-Eyes boss on his own and what he uses whenever he gets serious.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup is the only person riding a Night Fury. No one else has one. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, it's speculated that Toothless may very well be the Last of His Kind, justifying the trope.
  • The Furious Five from Kung Fu Panda subvert this trope, being set up as master martial artists who go out to defeat the movie's villain but suffer a Curb Stomp Cushion. Po, however, plays this trope straight (albeit subtly) in that his special ability is to learn extremely rapidly when food is a motivation. The plot of the third film has him try to use the same methodology to teach the rest of the pandas to fight.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Superman in Man of Steel is the only non-villainous character with superpowers.
  • Batman throughout the The Dark Knight Trilogy stands out due to his ninja training, martial arts prowess, and gadgets.
  • Neo from the The Matrix is the one to end up with Matrix-warping powers at the end of the first film.
  • Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man has superpowers with only the main villain having powers as well.
  • Subverted in A Beautiful Mind. At first, we are made to think John Nash is a genius mathematician who is the only person skilled enough to crack Russian spy codes, but it turns out he's just insane and it is all part of his mental illness. Double subverted when he uses his genius intelligence to realize that his hallucinations are not real, thus curing himself.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve Rogers is the only successfully created super soldier in existence (Red Skull took a prototype of his treatment, which is why he has a red skull). Interestingly, Erskine believes that what makes Steve so special is not the treatment that gave him his powers but the strength of character that he showed even before it.
  • This happens to William Cage in Edge of Tomorrow- by killing an Alpha Mimic in battle, he gets caught in a time loop, awakening the day before the battle any time he dies, while still retaining all of his memories of events yet to come. Over the course of several time loops, it's up to him to train to be a better soldier and find a way to stop the alien threat.

    Literature 
  • Circleverse: In the first quartet, the kids' ambient magic and subsequent bond allows them to survive an earthquake, and later deal with various threats — without their ability to combine their magic, Gold Ridge Valley would have burnt to the ground and Rosethorn would be dead, among other things.
  • The Dresden Files: Dresden is a Starborn. It has not yet been revealed exactly what that entails, but it is implied to grant him some kind of power over Outsiders. His mother, a notorious rogue sorceress, deliberately manipulated the circumstances of his birth to ensure he would have this power. It's also implied to be the reason so many of his enemies are interested in getting him on their side.
  • As explained in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Big Bad Voldemort forged a connection between himself and Harry Potter deeper than any two wizards had ever been connected before; the most prominent of which is the fact that he inadvertently made Harry one of his Soul Jars, giving Harry some of his own abilities.
  • In the Martha Speaks series, Martha is the only dog who is able to speak human language. After adopting Skits, the family feeds him alphabet soup, thinking he'll also begin speaking, but he never says anything humanlike.
  • Temeraire: A lot of things wouldn't happen if Temeraire wasn't a particular breed of Chinese dragon who (a) had a reason to visit China and see how dragons are treated differently elsewhere and (b) was basically a prince. Cue Laurence getting caught up in all sorts of international intrigues and going Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! as a result of new perspectives.
  • Tortall Universe
    • Daine of The Immortals has an unprecedented amount of wild magic, allowing her to communicate with (and eventually turn into) just about every animal. This proves to be critical to winning the Immortals War, as animals make great spies and she can communicate with non-humanoid immortals.
    • Beka Cooper can speak to lingering ghosts and hear the sounds that collect in dust spinnersnote  at street corners. This leads directly to the Dogs cracking a decade-old serial murder case in the first book and materially assists her investigations in the next two.
  • In Venus Prime, Sparta was trained from birth and surgically altered to become the epitome of human intelligence and skill.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the 1950s The Adventures of Superman TV series Superman is the only person with superpowers we ever see (and by implication the only one on the entire planet).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is gifted with superhuman abilities as a Slayer.
  • In Dollhouse, Echo has something in her spinal fluid that allows her to retain memories from her imprints.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS has a catchall advantage "Unusual Background" which allows a character to have equipment and/or abilities that are not available to most people in the game setting. The point cost of this advantage enforces the rarity of such special assets, and reflects the extra advantage of having a capability other people can't duplicate and probably aren't prepared to counteract.

    Video Games 
  • God Hand: the player character Gene has the titular God Hand that gives him the fighting chance against the crooks in the game. Though it's revealed later that one of the bosses, Azel, possesses the other God Hand (the left one, to be specific). Mirror Boss ensues with the two.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the Jedi Exile is one of the few surviving Jedi and the only one who's actually still Jedi-ing in public rather than hiding or working secretly. This attracts all sorts of enemies, particularly the Big Bad Duumvirate that is the primary threat to the Republic. Also, the Exile draws their Force powers from other people, allowing them to make Force bonds really easily, which means that most of the party is Force-sensitive and thus potential new Jedi.
  • In the text-based RPG Mobile Armored Marine, you are the only person with Powered Armor on your mission.
  • In 'Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, The Hero has the ability to generate a power ether field. This allows him to lead a team into the Labyrinth to hunt the source of the monsters. Before he was around, the Disciples were forced to wait outside the labyrinths and kill monsters as they came out.
  • In Watch_Dogs, the main character has a hacked cell-phone which gives him access to much of the city's infrastructure. While the police can access some of the infrastructure, they cannot control as much and have to call into Mission Control to do it, while you can do it much quicker.
    • Aidan's Bullet Time effect is also unique to him. In-universe, it represents his quick reflexes.
  • Faith in Mirror's Edge has Le Parkour on her side, and possibly Super Strength as well (seeing as how she can take out a fully armored police officer in only a few hits).
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: Captain Titus has an innate resistance to warpcraft that is never really explained in-game.
  • All the main protagonists of the First Encounter Assault Recon FEAR]] series have a Super Reflexes power (either from the start or as a Second Hour Superpower) which manifests as a limited ability to enter Bullet Time and is implied to be possible thanks to Psychic Powers. It's also mentioned in the first game's manual that the player character of that game is the only one able to use Guns Akimbo properly because, thanks to those super reflexes, he was specifically trained to do so.
  • In Persona, the player characters from Persona 3 onward have an ability called "The Wild Card" which lets them switch between multiple Personas at will.note  Subverted in Persona 5, when it turns out "Black Mask", The Heavy for the villains, has the same power.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The series' lore has the concept of "heroes", individuals with a special fate and the ability to rule their own destiny, often being capable of growing far more powerful than other mortals. These heroes are tied to the prophecies of the Elder Scrolls themselves, but are not bound by them. Naturally, the Player Character in each game in the series is considered to be such a "hero", as are many of the Long Dead Badasses mentioned in the lengthy backstory.
    • The Player Character of Skyrim is a Dragonborn, a rare individual who can permanently destroy the otherwise immortal dragons by consuming their souls. Seeing how Skyrim is currently under siege by the dragons, the Dragonborn represents the only hope its inhabitants have of beating them back.
  • The Player Character of Dragon Age: Inquisition is sucked into the Spirit World at the start of the game and branded with a mark that lets them quickly close even the largest breaches between reality and the Fade, which The Legions of Hell are using to invade. Since the Inquisitor is the only one with such power, they are instrumental to defeating the demons. Eventually, they gain the ability to perform a Limit Break that opens a rift to suck demons back into the Fade and does heavy damage to everyone in a certain area.
  • The Watcher in Pillars of Eternity has the ability to interact with disembodied souls and others' past incarnations, which they can use to, among other things, obtain the long-forgotten information about an Ancient Conspiracy that had orchestrated the hollowborn plague.
  • Rico in Just Cause has a grappling hook gun, which makes vehicle hijacking easy, enables Rico to reach high places, offers both ranged and melee attack options, and can be combined with a parachute to achieve Not Quite Flight.
  • John Marston from Red Dead Redemption has Dead Eye Targeting, which slows down time and enables the player to aim and shoot at a practically superhuman level. His son in the epilogue also has this ability.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Mario was at first distinct due to the fact that he could jump (unlike the Goombas) and could run relatively faster than his enemies.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog, of course, is THE Road Runner PC, with the unique ability of insane running speed.
  • In Forbidden Arms, Ichirou wields Mumei, a demonic sword that is powered by Blood Magic.
  • In The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, William Carter is the only XCOM agent who can analyze the battlefield in an instant, give orders to the other agents on the fly, and react to enemy actions with nigh-superhuman speed. It's actually an Etherial named Asaru who is controlling Carter like a puppet and using its psychic abilities to augment its chosen human vessel. Near the end of the game, one of three other characters exhibit the same abilities (as Carter forces Asaru to leave him, resulting in Asaru finding another vessel).
  • Max Payne: There's no real reason a random cop from Jersey can use Bullet Time, fly through the air without hurting himself or shrug off waves of bullets by popping pills other than he's the protagonist.
  • Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution has the dubious privilege of being the human augmentation visionary David Sarif's personal killer cyborg, meaning that he is packed to the teeth (literally) with the most advanced cybertech money can afford, which makes him uniquely suited to deal with the Government Conspiracy targeting Sarif's company. In an optional Sidequest Sidestory, it is revealed to be a consequence of his actual unique asset: a rare genetic condition that suppresses his immune system's rejection of cybernetic enhancements without the need for neuroposine, which most other cyborgs are effectively addicted to.
  • In SaGa Frontier, the majority of main characters have a special edge that's theirs alone and that marks them as the main character of their story. In most cases, if this character can be used in someone else's scenario, they don't get to use their unique gift.
    • Emelia's not especially strong by protagonist standards, but changing her outfit allows her to change what kind of abilities she learns best.
    • Riki is an unusual case. Riki himself doesn't get any unusual powers for a monster. His quest, however, is to gather eight magic rings, and these rings are exceptionally powerful accessories. These are spread across the party, however - he doesn't wear all of them.
    • Blue (or Rouge) can, after their climactic duel, use mutually-exclusive schools of magic, breaking the rules of magic and gaining an entirely new school in the process.
    • Red is a Henshin Hero, able to change into Alkaiser when nobody's looking. In this form, he gets a stat boost, a cool Laser Blade, and several martial arts abilities that can only be used in this form.
    • T260G can swap his core between several different body models, allowing him to act as a carbon copy of any other playable mec in the game (except Leonard). He also can find the Type 8 body later in the game, which is the most powerful mec type in the game. His "normal" form is also special in that it has seven empty slots, allowing for more customization than any other mec.
    • Asellus breaks all the rules, because she can develop her powers both as a human and as a Mystic. This allows her to strengthen her stats through combat and learn combat techniques, but also to use her Mystic Weapons to access monster abilities like a mystic. Most gamebreakingly, when she uses her Mystical Change, the monsters she's absorbed into her weapons add their stats to her human stat block, and her combined stats can easily exceed the Cap, resulting in such insanity as high-level Sword or Fighting techniques doing damage based on a higher Strength than T260G could ever hope for. And yes, she can use her Half-Mystic powers when she teams up with Emelia, though she joins late and the player doesn't have much more time to build her up.
    • Lute, as the main protagonist of the game as a whole, has...nope, nothing. He is, in fact, the second-weakest character in the game at start (only Asellus, at her game-start, is weaker), just a human with low stats and no skills. This is a kind of power in itself, though, as he learns extremely quickly and can be developed however you like, be it as a swordsman, a gun user, a martial artist or even a magician, and he can get most of the available allies in the game who aren't specific to one player's quest.
  • In the lore for Metroid, Samus Aran is the sole bearer of a Chozo power suit that is leaps and bounds better then the Federation and Space Pirate equivalents. The power suit's abilities vary game to game, but tends to include being able to interface with Chozo tech and integrate abilities into the suit, scan enemies and environments for weaknesses, transform into a one meter diameter ball for navigation, and survive contact against the franchise's eponymous Metroids. Most notably, two of Samus' most apocalyptic foes, Dark Samus and SA-X, managed to steal Samus' suit and use it against her.
  • Nero from Devil May Cry 4 has the Devil Bringer, a demonic hand that enables him to hookshot over obstacles, channel demonic power to make charged shots, grab enemies, and beat them down. His sword can also be "revved up" to do more damage. Also, his Devil Trigger is the only one in the game (aside from Trish in SE) that doesn't make him look like a demon. Contrast this with Dante, his different Devil Arms, and the four major styles he can switch through at will.
  • The Player Character of Granblue Fantasy has their lifeforce linked to Lyria, allowing them to use her power to summon Primal Beasts. If the Player Character dies in battle, the battle can still go on, but you won't be able to use your summons unless they're revived and re-enter battle.
  • The Hero of Dragon Quest VIII is immune to curses. This allows him to survive the initial curse cast on Castle Trodain, letting him tag along on Trode's journey, leading eventually to the game's resolution. Post-game, it's even revealed that having a curse on him is what let him be immune to further curses.
  • The protagonists of both Undertale and Deltarune are the only (still-living) human characters among a cast of monsters. This makes them special due to humans in the series having Determination, which manifests in the series as an in-universe Save Scumming ability. The only other monster characters who possess Determination are Undyne, who can access it for a Heroic Second Wind but whose body literally melts when she tries to use it, and Flowey, who was the result of experiments to grant monsters Determination, though the process also afflicted him with a Lack of Empathy.
  • In Cat Quest II, those with Kingsblood (reincarnations of the first kings) can enter Eldritch Locations and fast-travel through them. Much, much faster than crossing the ocean between countries...fortunately, the kings are not interested in using this power for war.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, Shirou Emiya is by no means a great Magus. However, his ability to replicate swords plays a very large role in the story, varying based on the route; common among all the routes is that his ability allows him to at least temporarily fight the very superhuman Servants head-on, something that even first-rate Magi like Rin can't accomplish. Archer's ability to do the exact same thing tips the audience off to the fact that he is Shrou's Future Badass self.
  • Each protagonist in the Ace Attorney series has one of these.
    • Phoenix has the ability to see Psyche-Locks on a person's heart with the Magatama, letting him know if they're hiding something and how well they're hiding it. Theoretically anyone with a Magatama can do this, but Phoenix is the only one we see using it. (Except that one time he lent it to Edgeworth)
    • Apollo can sense a person's nervous habits, letting him act as a Living Lie Detector.
    • Athena has superhuman hearing, which lets her analyse the subtle changes in a witness' tone of voice to pinpoint their emotions.
    • Edgeworth, in his spinoff games, has logic his "special power".

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, the Avatar alone is capable of mastering all four elements. While normal benders can apply principles from the other schools to control their element in interesting ways, they're still limited to that one element.
  • Jenny of My Life as a Teenage Robot has hundreds of gadgets, weapons and tools within her body at her disposal, something which allows her to consistently foil Vexus' plans. One episode in particular is about Vexus trying to figure out just how Jenny is able to store it all within her body.
  • The heroes of Super Why! help the helpless heroes of other stories through the ability to change stories by directly altering the text of the books they enter.


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