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"MOM always knows best. I also know that in most dialogue trees, you can always choose the last option over and over and really plow through the narrative."


"But MOM will know about that too."
MOM, World of Goo

Hey there, Troper! What brings you to the Dialogue Tree page?

  • I fell in a Pothole and here I am.
  • I wanted to learn about them, of course!
  • You know me, I can't resist smashing that "Random Item" button.

I thought so. Well, a Dialogue Tree is a common feature of Role Playing Games and Adventure Games. Interactions with certain NPCs are done by selecting a possible response from a list, usually with two to five choices. This can lead to frustration as the player tries to figure out the correct sequence of responses to get the NPC to give him what he wants.

  • Sounds annoying. Why even use them then?
  • But they can't be all bad if they're so common, right?
  • Have you seen Tropey the Wonder Dog lately? Trope-tan wants to give him a bath.

They're one of those Acceptable Breaks From Reality, since most computer AIs are not yet advanced enough to take an arbitrary string of text entered by a player and interpret it, determine what it means, and figure out how to respond. On the upside, some games use Dialogue Trees to allow the player to try out their non-combat skills or abilities, or affect where on the Karma Meter the Player Character turns out.

[FAILED] No thanks, I'm seeing a nice page from the Sugar Wiki. Anyway, this can also be a form of Truth in Video Games, as it accurately captures the genuine excitement of calling the customer-service number of your ISP or phone company. Well, did you get all that?

  • I think I missed something, can you start your entire speech over?
  • Sure did.
  • You put the "start over" response at the top just to screw over the players rushing to end this conversation, didn't you?

Okay then. And remember, nothing's more annoying than the illusion of choice. And on that note, how would you like to do a long and tedious Fetch Quest? See, I need Twenty Bear Asses for no adequately-explained reason, and call it a hunch, but I have a feeling the Broken Bridge out of town won't be fixed until I have them. Will you help me?


Action Adventure

  • Link from The Legend of Zelda is a strange case. Unlike everyone else in the series, he never gets a regular dialogue box, making him a Heroic Mime. He does, however, frequently get dialogue trees, ranging from a simple yes/no to humorous retorts.

Adventure Game

  • Used in most adventure games. Sam and Max Hit The Road was unusual in that it replaced questions or topics with graphical icons representing things you could ask about.
  • The graphical icons were also used in Discworld point-and-click games.
  • The Broken Sword games also use icons instead of real text, and you can even talk about/use your inventory items in conversations.
  • The Dig used icons as well, but made a joke out of repetitive dialogue. After learning about the in-game bridges made of light, Boston Low (the PC) can call up another crew member and speculate at EXTREME length about other things you could make out of light. Light house, light salad dressing, light beer... The first few amuse your NPC crewmember, but she gets more and more annoyed as you go on.
  • X-Files: The Game allowed you to select what kind of emotional response your character would give to certain lines. In an interesting take, certain events would change depending on how you decided to respond: for example, picking mostly "paranoid" answers would cause a dead body to suddenly twitch at you in the morgue.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 mostly has this when talking to other characters. Sometimes you show/give them items. Sometimes Kyle just speaks and you cannot do anything.
    • It also adds the ability to 'file away' important phrases and interest points, which you can question the person on in the next break in conversation, or question other people on later. It also allows you to interrupt people when they say something interesting and interrogate them further, or just let them keep talking.
  • One of the selling points of Grim Fandango is that it has "over 7,000 lines of revealing dialogue".
  • Discworld Noir has these, which is unsurprising for an adventure game. It adds that you can bring up any item in your inventory as a conversation prompt, along with notes you've made about topics you've encountered.
  • Fahrenheit (2005 video game) has perhaps a unique manner of conducting dialogues in real time! Every time you get only about 2 seconds to choose a line (neatly presented in forms of brief notions, like "tell truth" or "turn into a joke".) Fail to choose in time and the character will blurt out one of them at random.
  • A Tale of Two Kingdoms has standard dialogue trees, but with the added option to ask people "could you do something for me." This lets you ask the NPC you're speaking with to look at or touch anything in the room, which gives different results than if you do it yourself.
  • One of the earliest games to attempt this was Windham Classics' Alice in Wonderland game. When conversing with a character, you had options like "Coax," "Tease," "Scold," and "What are you doing?" Picking the right answers yielded clues or items to advance. Angering one of the Wonderland residents would cause them to vanish for a few in-game hours. This being Wonderland, polite behavior wasn't always the best course of action.
  • Completely averted in the Starship Titanic game - it really can read full, typed out sentences and has a huge number of recorded responses.

Dating Sim

  • The Sakura Taisen series has a variation. You usually have a time limit to choose from the dialogue choices given to you; if you didn't pick anything before time ran out, the character you were talking to would treat it as the player character deliberately remaining silent. (This wasn't necessarily a bad thing.) Sometimes, additional options would appear halfway through the countdown.
    • The Love Hina GBA game does pretty much the same thing.

Edutainment Game


  • In RuneScape, this is the only way to communicate with an NPC, and frequently one must answer the correct string of choices.
  • In Poptropica, a multiplayer game specifically for kids, not only player-to-computer but player-to-player conversation takes this form, the main idea being to prevent bad language and such.

Puzzle Game

  • Somehow manages to turn up in a climactic level of World of Goo, despite it being, roughly, a puzzle game. Subsequently it gets a big Lampshade Hanging. (See page quote.)

Real Time Strategy

  • An interesting version occurs in Castles (and would've been a subversion, if the game hadn't been as old as the trope itself!). While building your massive castles, you are occasionally interrupted by a scene of one of your subjects (be it a knight, bishop, peasant, etc.) coming to you with news, threats or advice. The scene consists of some narration and the text spoken by your audience, after which you get to choose from one of three optional responses. The trick is that after your respond, the game goes back to the castle-building mode as though nothing happened. You are then left to pretty much obsess over what implications your decision may have. About 10–15 minutes later, another cutscene/dialogue will trigger, possibly continuing the same plotline from before taking your previous decision into account, or it may be a completely different person starting a new dialogue tree! Some of these "side-events" can continue over a few "years" of game-time, and some can even be circular: going back to square every few cutscenes until you can figure out a way to resolve the situation for good. Of course, some of the choices in certain dialogues will lead to instant battles, and many of these are the most difficult battles you'll face in the game. At other times, a dialogue option can cause half your laborers to leave the building site, or other such dreaded scenarios.

Role Playing Game

  • Cosmic Solder from 1985 may possibly be the Ur Example in role-playing games.
    • Megami Tensei from 1987 featured a similar dialogue tree conversation system.
  • Final Fantasy II (the original, not IV) made use of this, something that was pretty revolutionary for its time, considering this was an 8-bit NES game from 1988. As you played, you would pick up special words used as branches that you could then ask other people about in various conversations. The tree only appeared when talking to specific people though (otherwise, they'd Welcome to Corneria you), and they were only programmed to respond to certain branches at certain times. This made it odd when you tried to talk to Princess Hilda near the endgame with a good 20 branches to choose from, and any besides 1 or 2 still currently relevant choices resulted in her just flinging a "?" at you.
    • Final Fantasy VI had a scene in which your characters would have a dinner party with Emperor Gestahl. During the dinner, you're called upon to respond to his prompts, such as who to toast at the start of dinner or what to do about the recently imprisoned Kefka. Depending on what you say, and how many soldiers you spoke to before dinner, you'd be rewarded with diplomatic gestures, such as imperial troops being withdrawn or gifts from the Emperor himself.
  • The 1992 PC game Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny may be the Ur Example for Western RPGs. Much of the dialogue was incomprehensible when translated out of German, though.
  • X Men Legends II deserves special mention because its Dialogue Trees are a bit more complex: you can get different dialogue from a character depending on whether you encounter him/her as an X-Man, a Brotherhood member, or the one character he/she has special dialogue with.
  • Mass Effect handles this in such a way that you can choose which option you want your character to say, before the current speaker has finished their line. It certainly helps to keep the flow of the conversation, and prevents most instances of Paused Interrupt. The game also put its own spin on the trope by having you choose only the general tone of Shepard's response, rather than the exact words.
    • There's even one instance in the climax where you can convince the bad guy to commit suicide simply by using your wily, idealistic charms or your bed-wettingly preposterone coated manliness.
    • BioWare, the company that made Mass Effect, seems very fond of this trope. Dialogue trees also appear in every other RPG they have ever made (including Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and even other games that use their licensed engines such as Planescape: Torment). They aren't as streamlined as the ones in Mass Effect, though.
    • KotOR 2 manages to turn the Dialogue Tree into a Dialogue Weapon twice; early on in the game you have a battle of ideals with Atris, and then much later you're required to use words to erode Darth Sion's will in between bouts of lightsaber combat, effectively talking him into suicide.
    • Their game Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the first second MMO to feature fully-voiced dialogue trees.
    • Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood uses icons to represent the attitude with which you respond. You usually get a couple of on-topic or topic-introduction options, and a snark or two.
    • Dragon Age had a similar conversation mechanic to KOTOR where skills and your gender/origin play a part in dialogue. Dragon Age II changes to a Mass Effect dialogue wheel that uses symbols to show attitudes as well, ex. snarky, tough, diplomatic, etc, the choices you pick you choose gradually effects the player character's personality, e.g. lots of snarky responses and Hawke will come out with more funny lines and is better at lying.
  • Done in a hidden way in Ultima IV. The player could type in ANYTHING they wanted to, to any NPC - as long as it was one word. The only three words that all NPCs were guaranteed to respond to were "Name" "Job" and "Health". Occasionally a NPC in their dialog would let slip a subject that you could then bring up to another NPC - which would reveal that subject him once you asked. This system faded as technology advanced, and by Ultima VII it was a more conventional dialog tree.
    • Ultima VII goes so far as to lampshade the U4 dialog options. Talking to the troupe of the Britannia Theatre Company in Britain gives you an opportunity to be an understudy for the role of, all things, The Avatar in their upcoming production. The only lines you're given are "Name", "Job" and "Health" and to add insult to injury, you get told you're not convincing enough for the role.
    • Done the same way in the very similar Exile series. Then, in the original Nethergate, it was made something like a webpage, with certain words you could ask about highlighted. In order to ask about something, you click on a word. The remakes (Avernum series and Nethergate: Resurrection) use a conventional dialogue tree, though.
    • Also done similarly in Wizardry 8, in that you could ask about any noun or noun phrase and the AI would fill in the question it thought was appropriate around said noun.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you could choose what to talk about with NPCs in a Dialogue Tree, including "Lore", "Background", and "Race". NPC responses on one topic can contain the names of topics new to the player, allowing the player to select those new topics in dialogue with any NPC having a response to that topic. Certain classes (and individuals) had more responses available: priests would talk about the gods, and savants would talk about pretty much everything in the game, leading to their Fan Nickname of "Walking Encyclopedias".
    • Additionally, some topics were region-based, and would appear in a given NPC's dialogue tree because they had spawned in that region of the game world.
    • Oblivion's version is limited in comparison. Every character has at least a "Rumors" topic, and city dwellers can talk about their city. Guards will respond to queries about notorious thief Gray Fox and guard captain Heironymous Lex. Some topics are scripted to do things when chosen - for instance, beggars have the "Have a coin, beggar" option, which actually makes your character give them 1 gold.
      • Fewer topics made it more frustrating when a topic wasn't available with characters who should know most about it. This really demonstrates the difference between conservation of detail and design laziness, and is part of the reason Oblivion was considered a shallow game.
      • Justified considering that all the dialogue in Oblivion is voiced, whereas only the ambient dialogue in Morrowind had voice-acting for it.
    • Daggerfall had a dialogue tree method that used keywords and divided them into topics and regions of interest. Most information you would learn from these involved updating your town map with store names. Actual quest-based information was handled via a "shut up, I talk, you listen" approach.
  • Used in the Fallout, with some variation. Most dialogue uses a tree, but you also have the option to type in a keyword, which they will treat as a request for information about the topic, but most characters have few or no options. Later installments stripped out the keyword option.
    • Fallout is a masterwork of interlocking player character skills (and stats, advantages, and even equipment or clothing) with hidden twists and turns in the dialog trees. The most famous one, however, is low intelligence. A character with a sufficiently low intelligence is too stupid to actually possess a working knowledge of language. The game still possesses dialog trees, it just that they tend to all consist of options like: "Hunh," "Ugh," and "Mom?", with various characters in the game reacting to this utter idiot accordingly. Amazingly, the game is still playable, possessing a whole alternate dialog for the entire game, based around your character possessing the mental acumen of a somewhat clever dog. There are even quest resolutions that only exist with an abysmally low intelligence character.
      • Fallout2 had a simpleminded character in one of the main towns. If your PC is also simpleminded, you two can have an in-depth conversation, in which the subtitles are subtitled.
    • In the first Fallout, there is an interesting bug with the character Dane in the cathedral. The parser only prints the last few sentences of his dialogue before topic choices, rendering his conversation even more raving than displayed. His full dialogue is here.
      • Fallout 3 continues the tradition with conversation options for stats, skills, karma and even perk related dialogue.
  • Planescape: Torment is built on this, it's used for virtually any interaction more complicated than opening a door or picking up an item, and when used in conversation the trees get obscenely long and elaborate, to the point that you spend far more time in them than actually exploring and/or fighting. Often you even have two identical dialog options, only one of them is you telling the truth and the other is a lie.
  • The Geneforge series makes use of dialogue trees as well. What you say can have an impact on your reputation (News Travels Fast). Putting points into the Leadership skill gives you more conversation options, making you better able to persuade people.
  • Albion has universal standard options (eg. you can ask most people what their profession is), a key word system (mostly used for finding about the local culture, but sometimes to advance the plot), and only occasionally actual lines you can choose - and even more rarely more than one that are genuine alternatives. Aside from the smoothness of finding out about local gossip and cultures by asking just about anyone without having to have dialogue options to do that with, this doesn't help avoid any of the problems.
  • In the first Kingdom Hearts you are asked three questions at the very beginning. How you answer them will determine how hard or easy the game is. In both games there is a similar situation where you must choose various weapons and skills to determine how you will level up and what sort of combat you want to focus on.
  • Devil Survivor has a number of these for every conversation, and while some won't matter or will just make you choose the other choice later, some have huge effects on story events. Speaking of story events, you choose which ones you do. So there's really a ton of possible ways to go through the game, regardless of there only being 5 (or 6, depending on who you ask) endings.
  • Both Vampire: The Masquerade games have this. In the sequel, dialogue which makes use of particular skills or vampiric disciplines would be coloured accordingly.
  • Mitsumete Knight R: Daibouken Hen, a game from Sakura Taisen 's creators Red Entertainment, does the same time limit variation of the trope described in the Sakura Taisen entry above, during the World Travelling sequences.
  • Rise of the Argonauts uses a dialogue wheel similar to Mass Effect with the key difference of appealing to the natures of Jason's four patron gods (Ares, Apollo, Athena, and Hermes) instead of a Good/Bad mechanic. For example, Ares choices are naturally aggressive and Hermes' are compassionate.
  • Okage uses them, but with Ari's sheer lack of presence meaning your choice of response usually has no immediate effect.

Shoot Em Up

Simulation Game

  • Animal Crossing uses this at the very beginning, when you talk with Rover. This will determine your face (which you can't change). In Wild World and City Folk, this also can determine your hairstyle at Harriet's salon. Thankfully, you can change it if you don't like the style or the color.
  • In the Wing Commander series, Privateer had a primitive version of this, but it's mostly present in any of the FMV games from Wing Commander III onwards.

Tabletop Games

Visual Novel

  • Portopia Serial Murder Case from 1983 may possibly be the Ur Example.
  • The Ace Attorney series uses this from time to time, usually in court, where you have to point out a murder method or decide something. Sometimes the choices are fake outs and you can only go in one direction anyway, which has led to at least one idiotic moment.
  • Just about every Visual Novel uses this, save for a few rare aversions or subversions.
    • The original PC versions of the When They Cry series is one such aversion. Only later in the series do choices get added, and this is typically a gimmick. The ps2 version of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni plays it straight, however.

Non-video game examples


  • Excel Saga spent its fourth episode parodying a Japanese Dating Sim, and whenever a dialogue tree came up, the last option was always "Put it in".


  • Even the Terminator understands dialogue trees; in the original Terminator, Arnie scrolls through one to answer someone asking "You got a dead cat in [your room] or what?". Out of a list that includes "Yes/No" and "Get lost", he picks the Precision F-Strike.
    • In the Terminator 2: Judgment Day novelization, the T-800 also has a dialogue tree to select responses from. When Sarah Connor says that he looks like "handmade shit" when she tries to fix up his wounds, the T-800 accesses the dialogue tree and then comes up with the response, "So do you".

Real Life

  • Played Up to Eleven in Real Life. When your character talks to someone, the possible response are endless. It follows the general pattern of 'say nice, get nice', though this isn't always the case. Of course, the personality, hobby, mood, gender, orientation, etc. of the character you speak to influences the answers heavily.
  • Seriously though, when someone not knowing the local language gets a service job, they tend to have preprepared responses so as to be able to do their job despite not being able to communicate.
    • Hilarity can ensue when the person encounters a customer with an unprecedented question or response. The simplest example might be someone who understands "yes" and "no," but not "a little bit, please."

Can you repeat that?