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RGN: But how? None of us -- hang on, why is everyone looking at me?

JUHANI: Because you always do this sort of thing.

MISSION: Yeah, we just kind of tag along while you do all the work.

RGN: Look, I hate to disappoint you all, but I don't actually have any form of legal training.
—RGN is Genre Blind after being asked to be a defense lawyer in Yet Another KotOR Parody.

RPGs allow you to roleplay many different types of character. You can be a fierce warrior, a powerful mage, a noble Knight... okay, let's face it, you're probably some kind of fighter. So why do you seem to spend half your time delivering packages or gathering mushrooms for the local apothecary? Especially when you're supposed to be dealing with that invading demon horde?

Everyone, but everyone, whom you meet in the game has some kind of task they want you to perform. Very often this has nothing to do with your official job; you may have gained fame as a slayer of monsters and bandits, yet people will be asking you to sort out their marital disputes or fix machinery. It's not quite the same thing as Dude, Where's My Respect?, as they may well have a healthy respect for you - in fact, that's often why they've sought you out in the first place. If you're lucky you'll receive a rare item or a monetary reward, but sometimes all you get is a warm fuzzy feeling and karma points.

A result of this is that every RPG hero comes across as a jack-of-all-trades capable of performing any task asked of him, regardless of how little experience or training he/she has in that field, and can often outperform actual experts that have been doing it their entire life. This can be really weird if your professional soldier PC is asked to say, babysit some kids or decorate for a dinner party by a complete stranger, especially if you aren't given the option to refuse.

Bonus points if the sky is a weird color or the world is in the process of changing into an infernal hellscape at the time.

This trope is useful in that it allows for more varied gameplay, but when taken to extremes you can end up feeling more like a glorified errand boy (or girl) than a hero. It can also lead to some pretty major Gameplay and Story Segregation, especially when your main quest would appear to be considerably more urgent.

Can become a Plot Tumor. Related to Apathetic Citizens (your clients), It's Up to You (nobody else will do these things for you), and Take Your Time (do as many sidequests as you want!).

Examples of Irrelevant Sidequest include:


  • Baldur's Gate has lots of them, where you need to pick up rings, gems, books, nymphs... whatever, for no real reason that has anything to do with the plot. Fortunately, many provide experience, gold, and reputation, as well as making your journal quite an interesting read.
    • Baldur's Gate 2 is much better about it: the sidequests are just as irrelevant, but you either a) have a personal stake, b) make it clear that you're looking for a large sum of cash for a personal quest, or c) given to you because you're an ass-kicking demi-god. Throne of Bhaal is also significant in that there are no irrelevant sidequests per se: some seem that way, but end up being relevant later.
  • Particularly jarring in Earthbound, in which Ness, a fourteen-year-old boy, performs exorcisms and corporate espionage, overthrows a cult, and enters a partnership in a startup mining venture.
  • These are arguably the whole point of The Elder Scrolls series. There are dozens upon dozens of irrelevant side-quests (The first two had infinite quests that were procedurally-generated on-demand), all of which are optional. Even the "main quest" a.k.a the game's entire plot, is optional. Players are expected to pick-and-choose which ones to complete on their own.
    • This doesn't keep four out of five games from having main plots with good in-universe reasons for why you shouldn't keep them hanging (the exception is The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall, which instead has reasons why you'd go off and do entirely unrelated things for a while).
  • Humorously lampshaded in Fallout 3, which has a radio station on which the DJ periodically gives news reports about the various side-quests your character accomplishes (i.e. if you help the settlement of Arefu in the Blood Ties quest, he'll praise you for doing so). One quest involves collecting 30 bottles of a limited edition soda for a cola addict. When you finish the quest, the DJ's news report is simply "The Lone Wanderer is done collecting soda bottles. Sheesh, talk about your slow news days".
  • Final Fantasy XI's adventurers are never explicitly stated to do anything... just "adventure". Said adventures somehow include collecting stamps and grocery shopping. Apparently the little kid definition is what comes to mind to these people...
    • The new Abyssea expansions are based entirely around an alternate version of Vana'diel (called Abyssea) in which all of the adventurers simply disappeared one day in their world, the Alternate Universe version of the Player Character failed the final fight of Chains of Promathia and was absorbed by the awakening god. Without adventurers to grease the wheels and do the dirty work, it doesn't take long for The End of the World as We Know It to set in.
  • Kingdom of Loathing: "Get me some fingerless hobo gloves!" "Can't I just cut the fingers off of the hobo gloves I already have?" "No."
  • In Knights of the Old Republic you play a Jedi trying to save the galaxy from evil, but along the way you get to resolve a family feud, act as the defense lawyer in a murder trial, and return a runaway droid to its master (amongst other things).
  • The Legend of Zelda is the god of this trope, to the point most Links (who all have rather raging cases of Chronic Hero Syndrome) tend to spend considerably more time helping people round up their chickens than doing any actual world-saving. Especially Majora's Mask, where you, ingame (not a player "diary", it was an actual in-game item) were given a notebook recording all the troubles of all the people in town so that you could personally solve each and every one of them.
    • And besides that, the time-limit meant that everything you'd done to help them would be undone the next time you played the Song of Time. So it was all really for Link's own satisfaction.
    • College Humor parodied this in one video.
  • In Mass Effect, many of the Citadel sidequests are like this. At one point your character (a soldier) can intervene in an argument over whether a pregnant woman should get gene therapy for her unborn child. Meanwhile, almost every other instance of this is a Justified Trope; the Spectres are free-range commando/police/diplomat hybrids with a sort of high-octane diplomatic immunity. Shepard's immediate priority may be saving the galaxy, but helping out where any of these functions is needed (or just abusing the immunity for personal gain) is still his/her day job.

 Man: Maybe we should ask random people on the street what they think?

      • The sequel has probably the most irrelevant irrelevant sidequest ever: finding out if there are fish in the Presidium lake. That's it. True, nobody actually asks Shepard to do this, but they still seem to find settling what amounts to two tourists arguing to be a worthy use of their "preparing to save humanity" time anyway[1].
  • Have you ever wanted to find a banana, cure recurring nightmares, take a picture of snow, or give unsolicited weight loss advice? Well, then Mega Man Star Force 2 is the game for you!
    • Mega Man Battle Network was only slightly better because it had a valid reason for them to be given to the PC (he accepted them via a job board)
      • That, and the fact that most of the time your PC is basically a just an elementary-school student. Major threats only come up in specific Closed Circle events, while the rest of the time the series is more Slice of Life, so it makes sense for you to do odd jobs on the side when there's no major disaster in progress.
  • The Quest for Glory games take it one step further and have "adventurer" as an actual job title. You can even earn a diploma in adventuring by correspondence course.
    • Subverted, however, in that none of the sidequests in the game are truly irrelevant; the hero is, in addition to trying to save the day, is looking to constantly improve. Sidequests are optional, but never worthless.
  • Taken to ridiculous extents in Sacred and Sacred 2. One moment you're crawling through fetid sewers, fighting off thieves, cultists, undead, dragons and gods know what else, another you're approached by a tearful girl asking you to help find her pet bunny.
  • ~Star Ocean: Till the End of Time~ is notable in that the entire middle half of the game is one of these.
  • Mostly averted in The Witcher. Geralt is a professional monster-slayer and he can take out lots of contracts in each chapter of the game, though ultimately these amount to Fetch Quests; even if your contract is to kill the Drowners harassing some poor villagers, all you need to do is return a bunch of Drowner Brains to the contract-giver, regardless of whether or not you actually killed those specific Drowners. Still makes sense in the context of his job, though, and there are some quests that do require you to kill the right monster(s).
  • The main character of the Yakuza games is extremely community minded, which seems to be a open invitation to provide him with ridiculous requests for help. "Please, you have to stop my corrupt boss by becoming a male escort!", "Please, you must run my Hostess Bar while I go to see my sick mother!".
  • Justified in the Ultima games, from IV onward, where your character is explicitly a role-model for the population and helping people out boosts the Karma Meter. In VII, Lord British encourages you to mingle with the citizens and solve their sidequests.
  • In Dead Space, you're a space repairman on board a spaceship full of mutilated, reanimated corpses, looking for your girlfriend while also trying to figure out how to get the Hell away from the aformentioned undead freaks. Cue spending time at a shooting gallery or playing zero gravity basketball! Granted, it's all optional, but still. Isaac, you've got better things to worry about than getting the high score.
    • Long before Dead Space, System Shock 2 had a sidequest where you could go around the Von Braun and collect a Game Boy-esque portable system and several 8-bit games for it (along with audio and text logs from crew members talking about how addicted they were to the game).
  • 77.4% of Paper Mario is composed of this trope. Especially in the form of mail delivery and Koopa Koot's favors.
  • In Okami, you can end up helping an old lady with her laundry, getting ingredients for a restaurant (twice!), racing messengers, taking vases as offerings to shrines, feeding kittens, and what-have-you. And you're playing as god. Heck, the plot requires you to do some of the odder ones, like helping clueless people fish with no line and having a turnip-digging contest with a kid's pet dog. Vaguely justified in that you need to re-earn the people's faith, but still, you'd think that there would be better ways to do it.
  • Borderlands, which provide the fastest route for experience to level up your characters. They're less important late-game.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, some of these are MANDATORY. Despite having no plot relevance. Somehow, things just happen afterwards, not always explained why.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, you are frequently tasked with doing silly side missions, oftentimes to get NPCs out of debt. If you are someone who spends a lot of time roaming the Wide Open Sandbox, you can easily have enough money to settle these debts for your friend without jumping through the hoops, but this is not an option.
    • Many Grand Theft Auto games are like this. In San Andreas your beloved Grove Street is overrun by drug dealers, smackheads and people who personally hate you. But hey, let's go race cars and dance!
  • Nie R lampshades this quite thoroughly. Weiss often complains about the inanity of some of the sidequests you take on, while Nier claims he's grateful for whatever work he can find. In the latter half of the game, Nier's actually become somewhat famous for this, and a few NPC questgivers will greet you with something along the lines of "Hey, you're that guy who'll do anything for money, no matter how demeaning! Find my boyfriend for me!"
  • Used a lot in Soul Nomad and The World Eaters, to the point where resident team Jerkass Gig openly lampshades it. Then completely and utterly subverted with The Reveal that every single one of these sidequests was set up by World Eater Raksha in order to remove any obstacles that would prevent him from taking over the world.
  • There are several in Dragon Age: Origins, but they tend to pay well and so usually worth doing in a game built on Anti-Grinding and anti-gold farming.
    • Early on, if you ask one merchant if you can help him find his AWOL employee he Lampshades this, saying "I'm sure you have more important things to do than help me with my problems."
    • Also, Sten gets frustrated with what he believes is this trope:

 Sten: Are you planning on running until north becomes south and you sneak up on the Archdemon from behind?

Warden: I'm not running.

Sten: No, you're not. I'm taking command.

      • Ironically, the quest that triggers this conversation is actually part of the main plot.
  • Dragon Age II is absolutely brimming with these, as the focus is less on any overarching threat and more on Hawke's rise to glory. However, there are a lot of quests that appear to be irrelevant, but later are revealed to tie into the main plot. An example would be the serial killer story arc, which suddenly comes to the fore just before the climax of Act II, then again at the climax of Act III.
  • Most (side)quests in Dragon Quest IX. Downloadable ones include a lot of story-related ones, but the others tend to be about things such as getting mushroom for someone and whatnot. There are also, however, quests related to the class system.
  • Persona 3 justified these by having the sole questgiver wishing to test your resourcefulness and power (or just indulge her curiosity about the outside world). Meanwhile, in Persona 4 all of the side quests fit this trope to a T - random people needing random problems solved and items gathered. One questgiver notes that she wouldn't bother you except you've gained a reputation as being able to find anything people ask for.

Notes

  1. Note that, while this quest seems completely irrelevant, if you do it right, it's less a sidequest and more "While I was there, I happened to find out X". Shepard is, in fact, going all over the Zakera Wards, trying to prepare for his/her mission, and while in a bar on an unrelated side-trip, s/he runs into the person that happens to know the answer.
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