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Rule Of Three / Video Games

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The Rule of Three in video games.


  • Some of the earlier games for the Sega Master System (such as "Safari Hunt", "Ghost House" or "My Hero") only had three levels each. The "fourth" level was usually the repeat of the first, but with stronger or faster enemies, the "fifth" level was the repeat of the second level, and so on, with the difficulty upped every time the three levels were completed.

Specific Games

  • In the Ace Attorney series, a trial in the courthouse for a particular case can only last up to a maximum of 3 times before the judge passes the final verdict to the accused. In the third game, Trials and Tribulations, the character Dahlia Hawthorne appeared exactly 3 times in the courthouse for 3 different cases as a witness before she is "permanently retired" for good. The main protagonist also faced Godot in a courthouse battle up to 3 cases in total. The series was originally a trilogy, before the focus shifted briefly to Apollo Justice before settling back on Phoenix.
  • At launch, Animation Throwdown: the Quest for Cards had three playable characters for each series: Family Guy has Peter, Stewie and Brian, American Dad! has Stan, Steve and Roger, Bob's Burgers has Bob, Tina and Louise, Futurama has Fry, Bender and Leela and King of the Hill has Hank, Bobby and Dale.
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  • Away: Journey to the Unexpected: In at least the first two areas, you have to pull three levers to gain access to the Labiworks facility. You also have three hearts in your Life Meter at the start of the game.
  • Ayo the Clown: Ayo starts the game with three hearts in his Health Meter, and there's three teddy bears and three lollipops to collect in each level.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you're forced into hallucinatory confrontations with Scarecrow three times before the villain has finally had enough and runs off terrified of you.
  • Cleverly averted in Baldur's Gate II, with the Slayer hallucination. At first, the slayer describes defeating how embracing its power will allow the player to defeat their enemies as easily as 'one, two, three...' while showing the player's enemies dying with each count. Then it keeps on going with four and five, this time showing allies (and the player themselves) dying as well.
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  • Bio Lab Wars: There are three mercenaries to choose to play as, and you start out the game with three lives.
  • In Black & White, the Sailors' Quest involves the aforementioned sailors asking for three things by song: Wood, grain, and meat.
  • BlazBlue: Each character's story branches (except the true branch) have three endings: True ending, Alternate Ending, and a Gag Reel. Also, there's three main characters (Ragna, Jin, and Noel).
  • Commander Keen started as a trilogy, had another three episodes (a duology and a stand-alone adventure), and was going to have another trilogy before it got cancelled.
  • Most of the tasks and boss fights in Conker's Bad Fur Day involve doing something three times, to a point where it begins to feel like padding. The inside of the dung beetles' hive takes this to the next level — both summoning the Great Mighty Poo and fighting him involve doing something once, then twice again, then three more times.
  • Corridor Z: There are three Player Characters to choose from, and you're usually pursued by three zombies at a time.
  • Lampshaded in Darksiders III. One of the puzzles requires you to put three swords (the swords work as keys in this case) on three stones which is going to activate a bridge that will allow the player proceed further into the game. Fury is annoyed to say the least. Ironically, Fury is the protagonist of the third game in the Darksiders' game franchise... much to her expense.
    Fury: So three swords total?
    The Watcher: So it seems.
    Fury: It's always three, isn't it?
    The Watcher: Pardon?
    Fury: Three keys, three stones, three swords... rather predictable, don't you think?
    The Watcher: Have you lost your mind?
    Fury: No, I just hate it when the Creator takes short cuts.
  • Survivors in Dead by Daylight can be impaled on a meat hook only three times. The first time, they are able to try and struggle free. The second time, you only have half the bar to give you less time. Be snagged again, and it is instant death.
  • Donkey Kong:
    • In Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, each level setting is used exactly three times.
    • Each of the playable Kongs in Donkey Kong 64 can learn up to three skills from Cranky Kong's potions: A traditional move that can be performed with an easy combination of button presses, a special move involving the use of a Kong-identified floor pad, and another special move involving the use of a Kong-identified barrel which uses Crystal Coconuts as fuel. In turn, Cranky is one of the three non-playable Kongs who teach abilities to the playable ones; the other two are Funky Kong (who specializes in weaponry) and Candy Kong (who specializes in musical instruments).
    • In Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze:
      • The walrus and giant owl enemies need to be jumped on three times to defeat.
      • Each boss has three phases, and almost all of them need to be hit three times to enter the next phase or defeat them if it's the last.
      • Starting from the third consecutive jump, the player is rewarded for damaging enemies by jumping on them without touching the ground.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins has three dragons. The Archdemon is the final boss; Flemeth and the High Dragon are optional.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third game in the series, has threes plastered all over its design and writing. For starters, there are three advisors at the War Table, representing three aspects of the Inquisition's power (Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth), and one Keep for each advisor to oversee. Each of the three character classes is represented by three companions and contains three specializations. The Character Level is capped at 27, which is three to the power of three. The narration follows an implicit Three-Act Structure, with each act spanning three main quests. Three power players vie for dominance in the Winter Palace, and three candidates (who accidentally comprise a complete Fighter, Mage, Thief triad) compete for the Sunburst Throne in the endgame. Lastly, three major DLC expansions have been released: a sandbox, a dungeon crawl, and a story epilogue—mirroring all three of the contemporary Western RPG subgenres.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind:
      • Sets of three exist in numerous places within the game, all following the Fighter, Mage, Thief breakdown. There are three vampire clans in Vvardenfell (the Quarra as the physical-focusing, the Aundae as the magic-focusing and the Berne as the stealth-focusing), three Imperial Guilds (the Fighters', the Mages' and the Thieves') and three Great Houses with a significant presence in Vvardenfell (Redoran as the warriors, Telvanni as the sorcerers, Hlaalu as the sneaky merchants). And then there is the fact that the local religion centers around three gods (with a corresponding set of three 'Good Daedra'), who outright are referred to as "The Three" in some dialogues... suffice to say that three recurs a lot in Morrowind.
      • In the Bloodmoon expansion, you have to kill spriggans three times before they stay dead.
    • In Skyrim every dragon shout is comprised of three words of power. Same with the names of dragons- the first one you fight is named Milmulnir, which translates to "Allegiance", "Strong", and "Hunt".
  • Fairune has this in both games.. Three Red Gems to enter the Lava Zone, three Green Gems to return from the Lava Zone, three Logs to build a raft in the water ruins of the Underworld and Hope Girl needs to bring three Sacred Icons to the monolith on the Grasslands in Fairune 1. In Fairune 2, every door leading to the fairy requires three orbs of a color and three logs are again cut down and used, this time to complete a bridge across a river. You'll also need three Dimensional Stones to access another part of Sky Land, and three different swords to open the last door before the final boss.
  • Final Fantasy
    • Some games like (VII, VIII and X2) give you three people per party. Final Fantasy IX gives three early bosses called The Black Waltz, essentially three powerful Black Mages. After the third Waltz is defeated, Zidane comments that the name "Waltz" indicates that there won't be any more of them.
    • Notably, every game since IV has had exactly three female characters in the playable cast, regardless of the total cast size. This is explicitly referred to as the 'Three Females Rule' in Squaresoft fan circles. Note that later games have gravitated toward a total playable cast size of 6, thus equalizing the gender balance while still following the rule. Usually, one female is broody and aloof, the other is young and energetic, and the third is usually somewhere in between.
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones features the three famed generals of Grado, who lead the army that opposes the player's party for most of the game. We have the veteran knight Obsidian general Duessel, loyal Fluospar general Selena and honorable Sunstone general Glen. Just before the start of the series they are joined and gradually replaced by three more generals, the sociopathic Moonstone Valter, unscrupulous mercenary Tiger Eye Caellach and the scheming bishop Blood Beryl Riev. Having a total of six generals divides them into the noble original trio and three shady newcomers.
  • Game & Watch: Getting three misses in most titles will cause your game to be over!
  • Ghoulboy: Thulgar starts the game with three lives.
  • Goblin Sword: The swordsman starts the game with three hearts.
  • Granblue Fantasy applies this to the playable version of Cerberus. True to her namesake, all of her skills work in threes, often referencing threes in name at the same time. Absorption hits three times and heals Cerberus for up to 1333 HP. Disillusion hits three times. Triad Deception inflicts three debuffs on the enemy. Lastly, her triple attack rate is increased by her support skill; Infernal Heaven, and her charge attack; Triple Damnation.
  • Heavy Weapon gives you three lives per level, allows you to have a maximum of three Nukes and three levels of Deflector Shields, and you can upgrade your equipment to a maximum of three levels.
  • Hotline Miami has Richard (a rooster-masked man), Don Juan (a horse-masked woman), and Rasmus (an owl-masked man); three mysterious entities who appear to Jacket in his nightmares and question his motives between the acts.
  • Jet Force Gemini: Three playable characters, each of them visits three planets and, in the third of them, they face a boss. They then go to Mizar's Palace for a first-time confrontation against the Big Bad. Then they have to find twelve ship parts, of which three are hatch keys (one for each of them).
  • Joumee The Hedgehog: Joumee has three hearts of health at the start of the game. She loses one for each obstacle she hits.
  • Jurassic Park: Trespasser has three different tribes of raptors. Also, the neurotoxin dart rifle in one level holds exactly three shots, which, if you take it all the way to the end of the level with you, is exactly how many shots to the head it needs to kill the T-Rex waiting for you.
  • Kid Baby Starchild: Little Dude has three hearts worth of health.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The series generally gives you a three-person party of Sora, Donald and Goofy (Donald and Goofy can be replaced by other playable characters).
    • In the 101 Dalmatians side-quest in the first Kingdom Hearts game, 99 Dalmatian puppies are found throughout the game hidden in chests. There are always three puppies in each chest, for a total of 33 chests.
    • In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, nearly every chapter advances with the use of three Keycards: the Key of Beginnings, the Key of Guidance and the Key to Truth.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Lep's World: In each level, there are three pots of gold to collect, and you have three hit points (one of which is empty at the start of each level).
  • Metallic Child: Installing three Mini-Cores into Rona will initiate Core-Connect, which causes her to stars glowing, and her combat skills to be optimized.
  • Metroid:
    • The Metroid Prime Trilogy games frequently invoke the rule of three, with three Temples in Echoes (and each of them requiring 3 Keys for full access), 3 Phazon-infested planets in Corruption (each having one of the three fellow hunters corrupted by Phazon), and the 3 alternate beams and 3 alternate visors in each game. Also, in the second game, Dark Samus is fought a total of three times, as is Metroid Hatcher in the third. In Hunters, each of the eight portals leading to the Octoliths has to be activated by retrieving three Alimbic Artifacts.
    • In Metroid: Samus Returns, Diggernaut, the Metroid Queen and Proteus Ridley have three phases each in their respective boss battles.
  • All three of the Modern Warfare games have a character voiced by Craig Fairbrass in a supporting role that ends up dead at the hands of the Big Bad; Gaz in 1, Ghost in 2, Wallcroft in 3. Wallcroft is a subversion, however, in that he does survive Makarov's chemical attack on account of having a gas mask on — that said, he's never seen again after that mission.
  • The Three Trials in Monkey Island.
    • In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush is told by the Voodoo Lady that he needs three things to get to Blood Island: A map, a ship, and a crew.
  • Myst III: Exile heavily uses this trope as much as Riven used Rule of Five. There are 3 Lesson Ages (excluding the final one), which internally hold 3 sections, puzzles, or environments, colors, symbols, and more.
  • In the Neptunia games, the oracle Histoire always requires three days to accomplish anything.
  • Nexus Clash has three sides — Good, Evil and Free Will. Each side is governed by three Elder Powers that represent various facets of their alignment. There were once four Elder Powers for each side, but one of each was killed/disappeared before the events of any of the games.
  • In Nintendogs, you must say the name of a trick clearly 3 times for your dog to learn it.
  • Nomolos: Storming the Catsle: Nomolos starts the game with three hearts and three lives.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest has the protagonist Ori searching for and restoring the three Elements that sustain the dying forest of Nibel, the Elements of Water, Wind, and Warmth.
  • Panky the Panda: You have three lives in which to complete the game. Run out, and it's Game Over.
  • Pokémon has this in spades.
    • Generation I has Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. The second generation has Raikou, Entei, and Suicune. Generation III has Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, as well as Kyogre, Groudon, and Rayquaza. Generation IV has Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina as a trio, as well as Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit. The fifth generation has three trios: The Tao trio, the Forces of Nature and Swords of Justice (the latter is a quartet). The sixth generation has Xerneas, Yveltal and Zygarde, while the seventh generation has Solgaleo, Lunala and Necrozma.
    • The maximum number of evolutionary stages for a single Pokémon is three (unless it branches, such as Eevee, who started out with three evolved forms; it now has eight). Apart from Eevee, the only other Pokémon who has more than two branches in its evolution, Tyrogue, has three evolved forms.
    • By the end of each generation, there are three non-remake games: Red, Blue, and Yellow in Generation I (in Japan, Yellow is the Trilogy Creep, because there's already Red, Green and Blue); Gold, Silver, and Crystal in Generation II; Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald in Generation III; and Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum in Generation IV. Though with Generation V, they've finally broken this chain by creating Black 2 and White 2.
    • There's also three starters in all games except for Yellow.
  • Portal 2:
    • The game combines this with Department of Redundancy Department:
      GLaDOS: Well, this is the part where he kills us.
      Wheatley: 'Ello! This is the part where I kill you!
      Chapter title shown: The Part Where He Kills You.
    • There's also the achievement, but it doesn't appear on subsequent playthroughs, making it three.
  • Psychonauts 2:
    • There are three psychoseismometers Raz has to find in the overworld for Gisu.
    • To get into the High Roller's Lounge, Raz has to find three gazillion dollars (represented by a large coin with a "G" on it) to prove he's wealthy enough to enter.
    • Compton's Cook-Off involves three rounds of cooking dishes, and then Raz must defeat the three judges.
    • PSI-King's Sensorium contains three shrines Raz must visit to find the instruments of the band members, accessed from three parts of the overworld.
    • There are three fragments of Ford's mind that must be brought together to return Ford to his normal self.
    • Bob's Bottles requires you to find three seeds of Bob's past. The boss of the level is a three-headed flower monster.
    • Cassie's Collection has Raz recruit three of Cassie's Archetypes to take on the Librarian. In order to recruit the Counterfeiter archetype, you must find three pieces of evidence against her corrupt boss Fannie Flats.
  • In Quake III: Arena the Quad damage powerup, contrary to what the name would suggest, multiplies your damage by three.
  • Rad Rodgers: At the beginning of the game, Rad has three heart containers, and three lives.
  • In the Ratchet & Clank 'series:
    • The first game, Ratchet & Clank:
      • Most of the planets have three paths, or two paths and a special area (gravity boots, hoverboard race, etc.)
      • The final boss fight has three phases.
    • Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
      • The Thug Leader of Thugs-4-Less must be defeated three times.
      • The final boss fight at the end of the game has three phases, but can be shorter if the player applies More Dakka.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police:
    • The game series is split into three seasons.
    • Max correctly guesses the number of prophecies the Sea Chimps have thanks to the series' use of this trope, with heavy Lampshade Hanging.
    • Episode 103 is where the duo is initially given 2 tasks to complete for the Toy Mafia. Immediately after Chuckles says "two things you must do for us." another mafia member alerts him of a new problem that has arisen, causing Chuckles to correct himself and gives the heroes three tasks.
  • In Scribblenauts, if you feed an animal something three times, it goes to sleep.
  • Shatterhand requires three alpha/beta powerups to activate the robot companions.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
    • Sonic 1 and Sonic CD had three acts per zone, and so did the five Sonic games released on the Game Gear.
    • In later games, there are usually teams of three, shown in Sonic Adventure 2 with the Heroes (Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails) versus the Dark (Shadow, Rouge and Eggman). Further built upon with Sonic Heroes, where each team is a team of three: Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails and Knuckles again), Team Rose (Amy, Cream and Big), Team Chaotix (Espio, Charmy and Vector), and Team Dark (which is Shadow and Rogue again, but with E-123 Omega in place of Eggman).
    • Also another example from Heroes is that Metal Sonic has three forms, his normal "hedgehog" form, then his Metal Madness (a gigantic metal dragon-ish form) and his final form, Metal Overlord.
    • In Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, the goal of Knuckles' (and Rouge's) stages is to find three Master Emerald Shards (or Door Keys or Chaos Emeralds) hidden in them. There's a radar at the bottom of the screen which lights up and beeps whenever Knuckles (or Rouge) gets close to a Master Emerald Shard (or Door Key or Chaos Emerald). The closer he (or she) is, the redder the color is and the faster the beeping is.
  • Lampshaded in Spider-Man: Edge of Time, when Amazing Spider-Man has to retrieve three time gate parts, each controlled by three consoles.
    Spider-Man 2099: The part will be safe to take after all three consoles around it are deactivated.
    Amazing Spider-Man: Why do these things always come in threes?
    Spider-Man 2099: I have no idea.
    Amazing Spider-Man: You know, that's going to bug me the rest of the day.
  • Starcraft has 3 races: Terran, Zerg and Protoss.
  • Stitchy In Tooki Trouble: Stitchy starts the game with three hearts, and there are three masks to collect in each level, along with three stars to earn per level based on how quickly Stitchy gets through it.
  • The online driving game Sugar Rush Speedway has three types of course; it has three championship rounds, one for each course type, plus a final championship round featuring all three types in each course; each championship has three courses, and hence three races; the third and fourth have three-lap races; and initially, three racers are unlocked.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Almost all bosses in non-RPG Mario games contain some relevance to three, be it the amount of hits it takes, or the phases it goes through, or a combination thereof.
    • Each world in Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Land has three levels, except the last world in the former (which only has two).
    • Super Mario Bros. 3 has threes hidden in various maps. One is three threes of coins in World 5-1. Also, the king of World 3 lives in Kyoto (where Nintendo's headquarters are).
    • Mario in Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario Odyssey can take three hits before he dies. The only exceptions are if he finds a Life Mushroom in the former two, or a Life-Up Heart in the latter one, both of which give him three more hits as long as he gets coins to replenish any hits; or is doing the Daredevil Comet Challenge, which gives him one hit.
    • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, there are three parts to the Miracle Toadley Cure.
    • In Super Paper Mario, World 7 contains many mythological references, many of which invoke the Rule of Three.
    • In the Mario Kart series, as well as the games inspired by it, use three laps as the standard duration of a race, occasionally wavering only if the track is very long or very short.
  • Sword of the Stars has three classes of FTL-capable starships, with each being thrice the length of the previous.
  • Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death: Sydney Hunter starts the game with three lives.
  • Tiny Hands Adventure:You start the game with three lives, and it defaults to that after each Game Over.
  • Ultima:
    • The Virtues were organized in overlapping threes; three Virtues are based directly on one of three Principles, three were based on a combination of two Principles to form another trinity, and one Virtue is based on all three Principles. One Virtue stood as a Unity of the three groups of three.
    • The games themselves are organized into three trilogies. The first three are the Age of Darkness, when most of the land is filled with monsters and dominated by the evil Triad. The second three are the Age of Enlightenment, as Lord British cultivates civilization and an ethical foundation based on the Virtues; in this arc the Codex of Infinite Wisdom is first brought from the Void, and then returned to share with another civilization. The final trilogy, involving the Avatar's nemesis the Guardian, is actually spread over five chapters, including VII Part 2 and Ultima Underworld II.
  • In Undertale:
    • Mad Dummy: 'Foolish. Foolish! FOOLISH!' and similar.
    • 'Come and buy pastries made by spiders, for spiders, of spiders!
    • Three traps from Undyne before the final battle with her.
  • Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and Heretic each started out with three episodes. The latter two each have episodes consisting of nine (three squared) missions (counting the optional secret levels; Wolf3D's have nine when not counting those).
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Three talent trees/specializations (Mists of Pandaria bucked the trend and gives Druids four specializations).
    • Three roles: Tank, Healer, Damage
    • Three kinds of pets: Cunning, Tenacity, Ferocity
    • Many, many 5-player instances feature three boss fights. And if their entrances don't have a singular quest giver (who usually comes with two bodyguards), it's usually a group of three.
    • Even in questing, more often than not when you come to a new town or area, if you pick up all the quests and go out to do them all before you turn them in, you may end up doing that 3 times before someone sends you to a new town or area. And often one quest giver will give you three different tasks one after another and the third one is usually the most important.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the various gangs that are featured in the game all have three in-game models. Averted with the Italian Mafia, who have four models.