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Unknown Item Identification
aka: Unidentified Items

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In some Role Playing Games (and Roguelikes in specific), a Dungeon Crawling party may obtain items whose exact identities and purposes are a mystery at first — the characters don't automatically know what these items are supposed to be, and (more importantly) the game doesn't tell the player either; it's labelled as an "unknown" or "unidentified" item or given an extremely generic descriptor like "a red potion" or "a scroll labelled 'FOOBIE BLETCH'" (as opposed to the usual "Healing Potion" or "Scroll of Fireball"). The task of divining the true identity of these items is the purpose of another item, a special skill, or an NPC specializing in identification/appraisal/whatever-you-call-it.

This can be justified for certain kinds of items, like potion bottles (whose labels may be the only clue as to what's inside), or items that are stored/hidden inside a generic container. Until it's been identified, all the item really does is occupy space in the player's Inventory Management Puzzle, which (depending on the size of said inventory) may require the player to decide whether it's really worth lugging around twenty extra pounds of useless inventory in the hopes that it turns out to be more than just Shop Fodder, or if it's something they can safely toss out and/or come back for later (without it getting lost).

Whether or not the player can use an item before getting it identified varies — do you really want to take the chance that the random glass bottle with purple goop you just picked up turns out to be a Healing Potion and not deadly poison, or that a shiny-looking sword is actually a useful weapon as opposed to one that's rusty and Better Off Sold (or worse, harboring a nasty — and usually clingycurse?) Some games won't let you use or equip the item at all until its true nature has been identified; others will let you do so at your own peril (but will usually disclose the item's true nature after the fact if you do).

Fortunately for you, sometimes you can figure out clues to the item's nature without having to actually use it (based on secondary factors, like the item's size/weight or where it's sorted in your inventory screen). For example, in some games an unknown item's description (icon, Flavor Text, etc.) is consistent between all items of that type, so if one unidentified 'blue potion' refills your Mana Meter, there's a good chance that any future 'blue potions' will do the same. Likewise, if a game collates the player's inventory by item type and quantity (e.g. "Blue Potion x2" instead of "Blue Potion" A and "Blue Potion" B) then this implies that they are two of the same item. And if it's an item randomly dropped/found off a defeated monster, there's a good chance that other monsters of that type will drop the same item. But none of these are guaranteed! — it depends on if the game decides the item's true properties when it's first acquired or when it's actually used. And since unidentified items go hand in hand with Randomly Generated Loot and Randomly Generated Levels, these properties may be assigned randomly to begin with, where knowledge from one play session may not help you in the next: e.g., drinking a blue potion from Dungeon A may heal you, but the apparently identical blue potion from Dungeon B might make you breathe fire instead.

This is Older Than the NES, with roots in Tabletop RPGs where items may have hidden properties known only to the Game Master unless/until discovered by the players.

Note that this does not necessarily apply to items whose unidentified nature is a plot point — video games generally keep plot-relevant items (identified or otherwise) in a category separate from the regular inventory items.


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    Action Adventure Games 
  • In Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, whenever you find a treasure box and you can't solve the puzzle, you have the option of simply smashing it open, but then you will simply acquire an "Unknown" item. Once you reach the merchant, he can identify it for you... for a small fee, of course.
  • In Toe Jam And Earl, presents are initially unidentified. Though, since all presents of the same design contain the same item or effect, using one automatically identifies any identical ones (whether in the player's inventory or on the ground). The "man in the carrot suit" is a randomly-appearing NPC who can identify a present for a few dollars. This is important because one of the effects is the Randomizer, which unidentifies all presents and scrambles the design-effect relationships!
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games, Magical Rings must be appraised by Vasu the jeweler for 20 Rupees before they can be worn.

    Action RPGs 
  • Brave Fencer Musashi has treasure chest items that need to be appraised in town by Conner. Several such items turn out to be pieces of legendary equipment, but in general it's Played for Laughs with a lot of the items seeming more valuable when unappraised — an "Old Crown" turns out to be a "Cakepan", for instance.
  • Dragon's Crown has loot acquired throughout stages that can be identified for a fee at the end of the stage. Any item you didn't appraise here could later be brought to Morgan's Magic Item Shop for identification.
  • Bookmarks acquired for the first time in Konjiki no Gash Bell!! Makai no Bookmark must be taken to Kokomelo for identification. One usable bookmark also allows this to be done without him, mid-level.
  • Scrolls of Wisdom double as Practical Currency in Path of Exile. While equippable items need to be identified to use, maps and Strongboxes can be used without doing so, and running an unidentified map gives a boost to item drops. Unidentified items also provide better returns in certain vendor recipes.

    Eastern RPGs 
  • Glory of Heracles (DS) has rusty items which need to be taken to a polisher to make them proper weapons.
  • In The Last Story, enemies may occasionally drop rare items with labels like "? SWORD". The player can't equip these as-is, but may take them to specific NPCs for appraisal. The items may turn out to be actual weapons (often strong ones at the time, though sometimes cursed) or useless ornamental ones.
  • Persona 5: You can collect sooty clothing items, mostly dropped from enemies. It's given a vague descriptor for the name, and you need to wash it (four items at a time) to turn it into something powerful and usable. Alternatively, there's a shop that will buy sooty clothing for you.
  • In the Suikoden games you can pick up ?Pots, ?Paintings and ?Statues which you can take to an art appraiser to have valued and identified, and then either sell or use to decorate your home base. Alternatively, you can sell the items unidentified for a small amount. Anything useful never needs identifying, however.
  • Tales of Phantasia features unidentified items that cannot be used until they are identified by pouring rune potion on them.
  • A learnable skill in Star Ocean allows for identifying unknown items by combining them with spy lenses.

    MMO Games 
  • Using the Plus sign in Kingdom of Loathing identifies all items associated with the Enormous Greater-Than Sign, aka The Dungeons of Doom. It's all a reference to the roguelike NetHack.
  • Perfect World averts this since it is perfect and you get to see the stats of the items — though this may have changed with a patch.
  • In Phantasy Star Online, all rare weapons dropped by monsters appear as "?SPECIAL WEAPON". They can still be equipped in this state (which lets the player identify the weapon type, based on whether their character can even equip it), but its special abilities won't be available until taken to a Tekker for proper identification.
    • Phantasy Star Online 2 instead gives rare weapons a chance to drop in an unidentified (And unequippable) state, though you can tell what type of weapon it is at a glance. This is a good thing for the most part, as when you do identify it, you're allowed to attach a special ability to it and to choose its elemental affinity. The only bad part is that you won't immediately know if you got something that's actually valuable in the case of enemies who have common and rare drops of the same weapon class.
  • RuneScape:
    • The game used to have unidentified herbs which could only be identified with the proper Herblore level. This feature was patched away in 2007 because some players were abusing it in scams, offering the herbs in trades and claiming them to be more valuable than they really were.
    • Nitroglycerin, a quest item, is labeled "Unidentified liquid" until you bring it to an archaeologist who can tell you what it is (and scream at you not to drop it).
  • In Ragnarok Online equipments obtained from monsters are only listed as generic "Shoes", "Armor", "Sword", etc and cannot be equipped until you appraise them with the Magnifier item.
  • Trickster Online averts this via showing the stats of the items once the player picks them up. Then again the game plays with a Random Drop engine which means that in Boss Encounters the stats of the weapons obtained are random but in a certain range of stats.
  • Elsword has a variant in that all equipments come with four rarity variant the lowest one can be equipped immediately while anything beyond that needs to be identified before equipping, you can slot extra attributes in and/or add elemental effects to it, but you need to identify their bonuses first before equipping it. You do, however, knows what the equipment is before equipping
  • Final Fantasy XIV uses this idea for many items found on gathering nodes, meaning you won't know what the item is until you successfully obtain it for the first time (with only a 25% base success chance).
  • Earth & Beyond allowed miners to extremely rarely find Artifacts inside asteroids. The mined Artifacts were tradeable but unusable, and it was only possible to tell what item rank they were. Once identified they turned into equipable devices but became untradeable. Most were fairly good, but a few were Junk Rare. Buying/selling an unidentified Artifact was an expensive game of Russian Roulette.
  • Warframe
    • Items earned from boss battles, data vaults in Spy missions, bonus caches and such cannot be identified until you complete the mission. This is to prevent players from abandoning the mission the moment they see they won't get the item they're looking for and potentially causing problems for the remaining party, most likely from the ever-dreaded host migrations.
    • Riven mods do not give any benefits until you equip them and complete the task they give you. After getting access to the Steel Path, you can also visit Master Teshin and see if he has a cipher to sell which can instantly unveil one of your riven mods.
  • Onigiri: Enemies can drop weapons of various types and qualities, and Shizuka Gozen, your first ally and a Priestess of True Sight, can identify the weaponry for you. Increasing her friendship leads to getting better identified weapons.

  • Ancient Domains of Mystery has Wands and Scrolls of Identify, which serve their expected function. However, whether these tools are cursed or blessed makes a world of difference. A normal scroll of identify will only identify an item. A blessed scroll of identify will identify your entire inventory and show what items are blessed or cursed. A cursed scroll of identify will give the player amnesia, removing knowledge of every inventory item instead.
  • Angband and its variants have items start out unidentified: potions, scrolls, wands, staves, jewelry, armor, and weapons. You can identify items safely by magical means, but you can also identify any item by selling them to a shop that buys items of that type. Single- and limited-use items can also be identified by using them on yourself and praying that they aren't harmful. There are also a few artifacts which knowledgeable players can recognize even when unidentified because their base types are unique. The latest versions of the vanilla game have rune based identification - once you've identified a type of item, you can identify all variants of it rather than having to individually identify every "Slay Animal" weapon. You can also toggle automatic rune knowledge on or off for consumable items, permanent items or both if you find this mechanic annoying.
  • In Azure Dreams, you get three options to identify equipment, monster eggs and magic balls: equipping/using them (still won't show you the counter with the magic balls), using an identifier item and getting out of the dungeon since everyone at home can see what items are worth.
  • Castle of the Winds has the Identify spell as a single-use scroll, multiple-use staff, or (permanent) spellbook. Each town also has a sage that can identify items for a fee. Equipment may be enchanted or cursed, and magic items like potions, scrolls, and wands are completely unknown until you dare to use them or use one of the identification methods.
  • Caves of Qud: Almost all artifacts, and many overworld objects, are completely unknown to you and must be identified. While you can take the former to a Tinker in order to identify them safely, you can also Examine them by yourself and see what you can figure out - at risk of breaking them if it's too complicated for your Intelligence to handle.
  • In the Diablo, you can also take your unknown items into town and have Cain identify them, or buy a scroll to do it (for the same price of 100 gold). In the sequel, Cain will do the service for free as thanks for freeing him from a gibbet in Tristram (if you choose to be a dick and leave him there, the Rogues will eventually free him and he'll charge the standard price). Starting with Diablo III, ordinary enchanted items are recognizable immediately, and the player can simply right-click on a a Rare or Legendary item and wait a few seconds to identify it. A patch introduced a Great Big Book of Everything that identifies everything in the inventory at once.
  • Dungeon Crawl has identifier scrolls which are rather costly to buy from a shop (80 gp if it's identified), but luckily they are one of the most common scrolls in the game. If the save isn't "jinxed" to lack in the SoI department, it's a rather safe bet that if you have 4 or more of the same scroll in the early stages of the game, it's either Scroll of Identify, Scroll of Noise, or Scroll of Random Uselessness.
  • Elona, similar to Diablo, scholars in towns can identify items for you. You also identify equipment automatically over time if you're carrying it; that process is sped up by the "Sense Quality" skill. And, of course, there are Scrolls of Identify (as well as Rods, and a magic spell) if you're in a dungeon and need identification. Some powerful artifacts will resist identification and require rare scrolls of Greater Identify, a high-level Identify spell, or paying extra to have an item investigated instead of just identified.
  • Fate has scrolls and books for identification; books can be used more times than scrolls.
  • Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon has talons and saddles (read: weapons and armor) that may harbor curses or stat bonuses, while collars, food, and flasks have generic descriptors until identified. Appraisal Glasses and Scholar's Glasses are consumable items for identifying one or all unknown items Chocobo is carrying, respectively. The Scholar job has the Appraise ability to analyze all items as well. Finally, wearing the Appraiser's Collar lets Chocobo automatically identify items as he picks them up.
  • NetHack is the Trope Codifier. It also has a high-level spell for the purpose of identifying unknown items, and a separate one for checking if it's cursed. Equipping an unknown amulet without checking either is a good way to end up with an Amulet of Strangulation that you can't unequip in time.
  • In the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, wild Pokémon in dungeons may drop Treasure Boxes when defeated; these boxes come in various colors but the only way to know (and use) what's inside them is to take them to a specialized Pokémon back in town after leaving the dungeon. Until then, they do occupy space in your inventory, but if the dungeon includes a floor with a Save Point, you can transfer them to your item storage so you don't have to keep lugging them around.
  • In Recettear, the only way to appraise the items you found is to get out of the dungeon. Makes sense because the merchants are running behind the adventurer and therefore are unable to sit down and appraise the items before they get home. However once type of item is identified that way, the same item found on subsequent runs will always be identified already.
  • Shiren the Wanderer has scrolls of identify (which have a small chance to identify every item in your inventory) as well as jars of identify which can identify any item you put into them.
  • The Wiseman in ToeJam & Earl, also known as "the guy in the carrot suit", will identify any unknown present in your inventory for two dollars. Indispensible when you're hoping to identify the Randomizernote  or the Total Bummernote .
  • JauntTrooper encourages you to experiment with items to discover their uses, and then assign them names yourself. You can have their true names identified if you find a library terminal, but its assessments of what they're good for can be vague or misleading.
  • The Binding of Isaac usually identifies what you're picking up (sometimes including a short explanation of varying helpfulness on what it does.) Pills, however, are the sole exception to the rule, and there's no way to actually identify them beyond taking one and hoping you didn't get stuck with a Stat Down or Explosive Diarrhea pill (fortunately, once you identify a pill, all similar pills for that run are automatically identified as well.) The Curse of the Blind in Rebirth turns every single power-up on the current floor into a question mark, forcing the player to take a gamble in picking anything up.

    Simulation Game 
  • Animal Crossing does this with the fossils. You dig the raw fossils out of the ground, mail them off to be identified, then get them back to give to the museum. The later games simplify this by simply allowing you to take them straight to Blathers to be identified right away. A similar thing goes on with Redd's art sales in the earlier games; while you know what you're buying, until New Leaf, you have no way of knowing whether the painting/statue you just bought is real or fake until you try to donate it to the museum.
  • In No Umbrellas Allowed, you know what you're buying from your customers, but some of them lie or are mistaken about the item's quality. You should use your identification tools to determine their true value and expose potential scammers. Appraising items is an essential skill in the game, and leveling up your expertise in it gives your perks such as removing the negative effects and amplifying the positive effects of certain cards.
  • In Stardew Valley, all Artifacts, Minerals and Gems you mine or dig up out of Artifact Spots will have the text "Gunther can tell you more about this if you donate it to the museum" until you do exactly that. The next one you find, as well as the specimen in the Museum itself, will have a text describing what it is.
  • Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town: The ancient items that can be found via draining ponds or getting rid of the enemies in the mines are always in small bags that need to be brought to Reina, who works in the museum, so that their contents can be identified.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: Magic alone can't reveal the exact properties or trigger conditions of an enchanted item; it takes at least a season of laboratory study, using the Arts for knowledge and magical power.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a number of options depending on the item to be identified:
    • Read magic is one of the most basic spells available to any caster, and can be used to identify the spells contained in scrolls. The catch is that only an arcane spellcaster (bard, sorcerer, wizard) can use arcane scrolls; same goes for divine casters (cleric, druid, paladin, ranger) and divine scrolls.
    • Detect magic is another common, low-level spell, and combined with the Spellcraft skill a player can analyze the aura of a magic item to infer some of its properties.
    • Identify is a 1st-level spell usable by wizards, sorcerers, bards, and clerics with the Magic domain. It identifies all properties of a single magic item. And yes, you can scribe a scroll of the spell with the proper item creation feat. Another option is to use a Knowledge skill check to deduce the item's properties. Earlier editions had the spell work on multiple items with each casting, but would only detail one magical property at a time for each - and even then, usually in somewhat vague terms. It wasn't really until after video games (including D&D video games) had such spells fully reveal the details on a single item that regular D&D switched over to the same, starting with edition 3.5.
    • For more mundane treasures like gemstones and art objects, the Appraise skill lets a player estimate monetary values.
    • The rulebooks suggest that a character who frequently uses potions can learn to identify them by sampling the contents; just enough to taste but not enough to activate the magic. The Alchemy skill is also an option for identifying potions.
    • In 4th edition, item identification is safely performed during a short rest, with only rare or obscure items requiring an arcana check.
    • Fifth Edition keeps the two standard methods, the identify spell or studying the item over a short rest.
  • In Lejendary Adventure, the Loviatskya's Infallible Energy Analysis and Read Power powers let the user see the energy inside an Extraordinary (magical) item to understand what it is and what it does.
  • The One Ring: Some properties of wondrous items can be deduced by Player Characters. Others, such as the nature of a Cursed Item, can only be determined by spending downtime to consult an NPC Loremaster, such as Elrond or Gandalf.

    Western RPGs 
  • Arcanum has magick items which must be identified to unlock their potential; this can be done by either learning "Divine Magick", a fifth-level divination spell, or paying 100 gold to a wise woman. Since character points are finite and gold isn't in short supply, sensible players opt for the latter.
  • Many video games based on Dungeons & Dragons will copy its mechanics:
    • In the unofficial 1975 dnd game, you can identify whether your treasure is magical or trapped by either visually inspecting or by using a unique Cleric spell to divine knowledge about it. Each can fail, but doing both gives you pretty good odds of finding out what you got.
    • The first Eye of the Beholder game has the detect magic spell to determine whether an item is magical, but doesn't reveal what powers a magic item has.
    • The Neverwinter Nights series has the identify spell. You can also make a Lore check or pay a fee to a shopkeeper to identify magic items acquired as dungeon loot.
    • The Baldur's Gate series is the same. A character's "Lore" skill (based on intelligence and enhanced for some character classes, Bards in particular) allows automatic identification of magical items. Cursed items are identified automatically if equipped.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Throughout the series, Alchemical ingredients typically have up to four properties which, when combined with other ingredients having at least one of the same properties, will brew into a potion of that property. Having a low Alchemy skill prevents you from being able to see all of the available properties. However, tasting the ingredients exposes the player to diluted version of their powers — as opposed to the stronger powers of potions brewed from these ingredients — so it's almost always safe to taste them. The worst that might happen is having your health or one of your attributes drained slightly for a few seconds. (This also leads to the odd habit of eating precious gems, hunks of ore, raw creature parts, etc. just to see what effects they might have.)
    • Skyrim adjusts the system so that ingredients that the player has not used in experiments always have unknown properties. However, tasting the ingredients will still reveal effects, with extremely minor and temporary side effects as the only possible downside.
  • Divine Divinity: Items may be identified either via a passive skill the player must invest skill points into leveling up or paying a merchant a fee to do the job.
  • Divinity: Original Sin: Identification requires a magnifying glass and a level of the Loremaster skill appropriate to the item or payment to an NPC with a high enough Loremaster for the service.
  • Might and Magic had the Identify Item skill in VI to IX, which was used to identify magic items. The final skill tier in VII to IX provided a 100% success rate no matter your skill ranks, though in VII and VIII this didn't actually change anything (fulfilling the requirements to upgrade the skill meant you already had enough invested to have a 100% success rate with the items hardest to identify).
  • Items in Path of Exile drop unidentified like Diablo does, but there is a certain type of item called Veiled items which have an inactive mystery modifier when it first drops. When you unveil the item, it gives you a choice of three random modifiers for it to gain and unlocks an item crafting recipe associated with the mod.
  • In Return to Krondor, you can have one of the characters try to identify objects you find or take from dead enemies, but each character gets only one shot at each item. Or you can take the items to a shop and have the shopkeeper identify them. For a price, of course.
  • The Wizardry series has most items picked up in the dungeon be unidentified. There are two ways to identify them: either pay the shopkeeper a fee for a safe and guaranteed ID job, or have a Bishop use their unique identification powers to try to do it for free... at the risk of getting stuck with a Cursed Item.

    Other Media 
  • Overlord (2012): One omake has Ainz run a tabletop RPG for the Denizens so they can better understand how Puny Humans function. They find five unidentified potions and test them out by drinking them:
    • One turns the resident male crossdresser into a girl, which changes nothing since he already looked like one.
    • One ages the Really 700 Years Old elf by ten years. Again, no difference.
    • One will cause the drinker to explode the next time they take fire damage.
    • One reduces fire damage, if the drinker uses Calling Your Attacks and they involve saying "love" in some way. The problem is, Albedo drank it, and she's in Mad Love with Ainz. Once again, not much of a change.
    • The final potion is a Coke. Ainz' fury at being trolled by the game is such that it triggers his emotion-damping mechanism.

Alternative Title(s): Unidentified Items