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Link! He come to town,
—Joe Pleiman, "The Legend of Zelda", from The Rabbit Joint.
The defining Excuse Plot of the 8-bit era. A Damsel in Distress (whether it be the princess, your girlfriend, whatever) has been kidnapped and put in a tower, and you (and you alone, unless it's a 2-player game) must fight your way through a veritable army of evil minions, dodge horrific death traps, etc. to save her from the Big Bad. Your only reward is probably going to be a Smooch of Victory, unless, of course, you get the Standard Hero Reward. Hope she's worth it!
Pretty much a Dead Horse Trope these days; while video games still feature the occasional Damsel in Distress, rescuing them is only part of the overall plot; either that, or it's covered by the Grandfather Clause. In his book Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life, Chris Kohler credits this progress to some Girl Gamers who wrote to Nintendo in The Eighties to say they were tired of saving princesses; Nintendo eventually announced they'd stop using it as a final goal except in the Super Mario series.
This plot has become quite a popular target for subversion or deconstruction in indie games, and newer references to it in popular culture can be classed with Pac-Man Fever. For a similarly overused plot, see Fake King.
Named because it's often a princess. You know why.
- The Legend of Zelda had Link trying to rescue Zelda from Ganon, and the second sees him trying to rescue another Zelda from a spell that causes her to sleep eternally. All the games after that, though they usually do have Zelda kidnapped at some point, do not make it the major driving force of the plot; those games which are an exception to this rule usually do not feature Zelda at all (e.g. The Legend of Zelda Links Awakening, The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask).
- Majora's Mask has a kidnapped princess that is the basis for reaching the first dungeon. However, you can finish the game without needing to free her from her prison.
- Both The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker and its sequel, The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, are kicked off with the kidnapping of a young lady -- your sister in the first, and the actual princess in the second; much of the story centers around their rescue. In both games, though, the plot carries on well after you've saved the ladies in question. Four Swords also has very little plot beyond this.
- The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks both averts and lampshades this. While Zelda's body is stolen, she, in spirit form, sticks with Link. When she realizes there's a Big Bad to be defeated, she promptly tasks Link with the entire task, claiming that sitting around and waiting for the hero to rescue her is a "family tradition". Soon after, though, they discover that Zelda can be useful in combat and they work as partners from then on.
- The first two Ninja Gaiden games on the NES has Ryu defeating some form of Cosmic Horror to Save the World while also saving the CIA agent Irene Lew, who becomes his girlfriend at the end of the first game. In the third game, Irene is presumed dead in the beginning but is alive and doesn't require rescuing.
- Fat Princess turns this into a Capture the Flag game, with the goal being to get to the opposing team's base and carry their princesses back to their side. You can hinder the progress by feeding the Princess cake, which will have her grow fatter and becoming heavier to carry.
- "The Prince Gilgamesh wore golden armor and attacked monsters to save Ki in The Tower of Druaga." In this case though, Ki (pronounced "Kai") is not actually a "princess" per se, she's a shrine maiden in service to the goddess Ishtar (who lends her name to the game's sequel, "The Return of Ishtar").
- The goal of Penguin Adventure is to find a golden apple to restore the health of the penguin princess. Because of Guide Dang It, it's easier to get the bad ending in which she dies.
- The plot of several King's Quest games:
- In King's Quest II, Graham has to rescue Lady Valanice, who is kept in a tower by an evil witch.
- In King's Quest VI, Alexander has to rescue Princess Cassima, who is being forced into marriage to the Grand Vizier.
- In King's Quest III, the Oracle of Llewdor first lets "Gwydion" know about about the three-headed dragon terrorizing the faraway land of Daventry, and the young princess sent as its latest sacrifice. The Oracle then drops the second bombshell (she's his sister, meaning he's the lost prince), and the third (his name's not Gwydion at all).
- And inverted in King's Quest IV and King's Quest VII where it's the princess doing the rescuing.
- Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. The princess to be rescued (by a heroic cucumber) is the one in the title.
- Fantasy Quest has this as its excuse plot, but a twist awaits players who make it to the end. In the sequel, you are tasked with rescuing dozens of princesses.
Anime and Manga
- Revolutionary Girl Utena has a field day with this trope:
- Once Utena "wins" Anthy in the Duels, She. Will. Protect. Her. From ANYONE. Deconstructed: Utena was NOT doing it for Anthy's actual sake, but to feel good about herself and without taking Anthy's own thoughts in consideration. Even more: the Big Bad was counting on it and set up Anthy as a Decoy Damsel to cash on Utena's self-righteousness for his benefit. Utena is, understandably, devastated when she finds out how she's been used -- and even more so, when she realizes how badly she hurt Anthy over it. And then she decides to not just save Anthy, but to give her the chance to save herself. Which she ultimately does.
- Once upon a time, there was a prince who saved all the women he could ever reach for... Deconstructed, too: the people demanded more and more from the Prince and attacked him when he couldn't save anyone else, and the Prince's younger sister took the brunt of their hate to help him. Who's the Prince? Akio, the Fallen Hero of a Big Bad, once known as Prince Dios. And who's the sister? Anthy.
- Magic Knight Rayearth has Hikaru, Fuu and Umi being summoned to rescue Princess Esmeraude, the Pillar of Cephiro, who's been kidnapped by her once Number Two Zagato. Not really: the one who actually was trying to save the princess was Zagato. Because the girls were summoned to KILL Esmeraude at her behest so a new Pillar can be chosen.
- One Piece's Alabasta arc is about helping Princess Nefeltari Vivi save her Kingdom, but at some point Luffy alongside Vivi's friend Pell must specifically save her from the Big Bad Sir Crocodile.
- Much later, the Straw Hat Pirates get into a Save the Prince mission. This is because one of their friends, a Rebel Prince who ran away of his abusive Big Screwed-Up Family, is forced to return to the kingdom he loathes so much and abandon the life he built for himself, and the Hats can see how much the guy is suffering over it. Said friend? None other than one of the Staw Hats, Sanji.
- The objective in the first Double Dragon is to rescue Billy's girlfriend, Marian. In the second, it's a little different; you're avenging her death. Although she does come back to life in the ending of the NES version, only to be kidnapped in the third game.
- In Final Fight, your goal is to rescue Jessica - Cody's girlfriend, Mike Haggar's daughter AND Guy's good friend. Even more: since Haggar is the mayor, Jessica can be seen as the local princess.
- Bringing back the classics (though in a hilarious, over the top way) through Castle Crashers. This time there are four princesses, and an achievement for getting the Smooch of Victory from all four!
- Which is incredibly funny when all the people playing it don't care at all about it, and just stand around waiting to be killed in order for someone to smooch the princess and end the level.
- Pretty much all the classic (1989-1994) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games have you rescue April, though only the first and third Game Boy ones have you save her at the end of the game.
- Kung Fu Master: "Save Sylvia from Mr. X!"
- In Vigilante, you had to rescue your girlfriend Madonna (not that Madonna).
- The Wii game Red Steel featured its One-Man Army hero tearing through the machinations of the Yakuza in an international battle to bring down their new, more violent and corrupt leadership, learning legendary sword techniques along the way, after they kidnapped his fiancé and killed her father, the previous and attempting-to-go-legal Yakuza leader at their engagement announcement dinner.
- The arcade Light Gun game Time Crisis has The President's Daughter as a hostage of the bad guys who must be rescued.
- Retro Game Challenge has a princess to save in Guadia Quest and in the first two Haggleman games. Arino comments that the Haggleman princess gets captured an awful lot. And he hates that Haggleman 3 doesn't have a princess to save.
- In World of Warcraft, a quest charges you with saving the dwarven princess Moira Bronzebeard from the emperor of the dark dwarves. It turns out she's pregnant with said emperor's child and doesn't want to be saved...
- The original Super Mario Bros. and 3 both have this plot, as does the Japanese version of 2 (The Lost Levels), Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, the first half of Super Mario RPG, the second half of Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, the Paper Mario games (excluding Super Paper Mario, where Peach is a playable character), and New Super Mario Bros. Bowser must really dig Peach...
- In fact, the plans of pretty much every villain in the Mario universe always involve kidnapping Peach at some point. In fact, in some games she's even somewhat of a Barrier Maiden. In Superstar Saga, her voice can awaken the Beanstar (the MacGuffin of the game), while in Super Paper Mario she is forced to wed Bowser in order to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
- At the very beginning of the Mario franchise, Pauline in Donkey Kong, who gets kidnapped again in the Game Boy version and in most Mario vs. Donkey Kong games.
- Also Daisy in Super Mario Land, one of the few games where Bowser isn't present. Apparently he only got a license to kidnap Peach.
- Super Princess Peach inverts the trope - Bowser jacked the Vibe Scepter and sends his minions in to use it to paralyze THE ENTIRE CASTLE in emotional distress, using the chaos to imprison THE MARIO BROTHERS (arguably one of his smartest moves in some time)! Peach was Late to the Party, and thus puts it on her shoulders to bail the brothers out.
- The earlier Prince of Persia games.
- Braid is ostensibly about this, but the truth behind Tim's pursuit of "the Princess" is a bit more complicated and considerably more depressing.
- To give an example of how this trope was so prevalent to the point of getting absurd, in the NES games Tiny Toon Adventures and Muppet Adventures, you are charged with saving rather strong and self-sufficient characters Babs Bunny and Miss Piggy, respectively. The latter example in particular is rather egregious, since it's far, far, far more likely that Miss Piggy would have to save Kermit from a bad spot (And she did, in The Muppet Movie. She'd also have saved him in the episode where the pigs took over the show, except she got offered a star position).
- This is the initial premise of Eversion. The endings will make you wish you hadn't saved her.
- Done in an antiheroic way in Wario Land: The Shake Dimension, where saving the princess is only Wario's secondary goal, with him being promised treasure at the end. In fact, at the end where Princess Merfle congratulates Wario, he stops her in the middle by grabbing her and tossing her out of his way.
- At the end of Earthworm Jim 2, it appears that "having defeated the nefarious Psy-Crow, our hero, Earthworm Jim, has won back the heart of the lovely Princess What's Her Name." Except she's a cow wearing a costume. So is the villain. So is Jim.
- The main plot of the first Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers game on the NES is to rescue Gadget. This notably doesn't start till after you've beaten the first level where the goal is to find a lost kitten (which it turns out was Fat Cat's way of distracting you), and the game goes on for three more levels after you rescue Gadget.
- This is inverted in the PC game version, where Chip and Dale spend the game collecting screws so that Gadget can finish the Ranger Plane and rescue Monteray Jack from Professor Nimnul.
- You have to rescue your love interest in Gish.
- You have to rescue your love interest in Meat Boy.
- The Clonk level "Dragon Rock" plays this unashamedly straight, right down to the evil mage-with-a-dragon doing the kidnapping. In "Tower of Despair" it's the king, and the dragon itself is the capturer, but otherwise it's pretty much the same.
- Ghosts N Goblins and its sequels begin by showing Princess Prin-Prin getting kidnapped by some horrible demon.
- In Jackie Chans Action Kung Fu, Jackie has to rescue Josephine, who is either his twin sister or his girlfriend, from an Evil Sorcerer who abducts her in a Ghosts N Goblins-like opening scene.
- Crusader, an obscure Platform Game by Compile for the MSX, is the source of the quote: "Princess has been kidnapped! You must save princess."
- In A Boy and His Blob in: The Rescue of Princess Blobette, you have to rescue Princess Blobette.
- Tower Of The Sorcerer, an indie puzzle game masquerading as a dungeon-crawl RPG, plays this straight, complete with the opening line "A brave man is walking for to save the princess". The plot from there is actually not too bad, but it's clearly an Excuse Plot, as the princess is hardly mentioned thereafter and seen only once before the endgame. Then the trope is subverted in the game's Twist Ending: it turns out that it really was an Excuse Plot. The "princess" is an inanimate statue. The Big Bad's real goal was to get a sufficiently-powerful hero to the top of the tower so as to help him Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
- The goal in Castlequest is to rescue Princess Margarita from Groken Castle.
- Kickle Cubicle actually has four princess to rescue, one at the end of each area.
- Lampshaded in Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, in one mission you must fend off the alien attackers from Princess Rhianne Burke's personal palace, Mission Control tells you that "You have a Princess to save, Commander."
- The first Dragon Quest essentially has only two objectives: Save the Princess, and kill the Dragonlord. Unlike most Save the Princess games, however, you actually rescue the princess from a dragon (usually the first one you kill) in the Marsh Cave long before you beat the Big Bad.
- Your very first objective in Final Fantasy I is to rescue Princess Sara of Coneria/Cornelia/Corneria, who has been taken by good-knight-gone-bad Garland.
- There is a mission in Valkyria Chronicles where your squad has to quite literally save the princess after a kidnap attempt.
- Being an Affectionate Parody of RPG cliches, The Bards Tale naturally uses this as it's main plot.
- One segment of the main plot in Dragon Age: Origins has the Warden breaking into Arl Howe's estate to rescue Queen Anora, who is kept there by her father against her will. The Rescue the Princess aspect is really overshadowed by the Fort Drakon escape following it and the fact that Howe finally gets what's coming to him.
- Your first real goal in Knights of the Old Republic is to rescue Bastila from the swoop gang that recovered her from a crashed escape pod and is now offering her as a prize in an upcoming swoop race. Then, two-thirds of the way through the game, Malak captures her... (Of course, the movie whose universe KotOR is set in had Save the Princess as a good chunk of its plot as well.)
- Oh, so very, very much subverted in Live a Live: Orsted sets out to rescue his princess bride-to-be in an opening obviously inspired by Ghosts N Goblins. By the end of the chapter, she thinks that his friend was the only one who truly deserved her, even though he's turned evil, and commits suicide so that the two of them can be together forever. This leads to Orsted becoming a demon of pure hatred and the Final Boss.
- Your first real objective in Chrono Trigger is to retrieve the girl who has fallen through a time warp; and sure enough she turns out to be a princess. Subverted in that when you get back, you're put on trial for kidnapping her in the first place. You end up having to dive through another time warp in order to evade the guards, and that's where the real adventure begins.
- One mission in Mass Effect 3 will have Shepard saving a krogan princess.
- Hydlide combined this with Fetch Quest, with the Big Bad somehow having transformed the princess into three fairies.
- In Resident Evil 4, Leon pretty much spends the entire game going through the Big Bad's trap-filled castle, fighting off undead minions, so he can rescue the President's daughter, Ashley. At the end of the game, Ashley offers him a lot more than just a Smooch of Victory, but given he's part of the secret service in that game, that would obviously not have been a good idea, and he rightly turns her down.
- Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation for the GBA is a Turn-Based Strategy game with sci-fi themes and SuperRobots. Your squadron still ends up needing to Save the Princess, but at least it's only a subplot that's introduced and then resolved rather quickly.
- Disgaea plays with this.
- Absence of Justice take...
Almaz: I must save the princess!
- Disgaea 3 Absence of Justice also looks at it more seriously with the reasoning behind its Inversion: Princess Sapphire has seen far too many people go off and die all in the name of protecting her. So she became a Badass Princess capable of destroying anything that might kill a hero.
- The Cursed Memories take involves Axel kidnapping Taro and Hanako as bait for the 'wild tribesman' Adell so he can "rescue" Rozalin.
- Fire Emblem:
- In Mystery of the Emblem, three Princesses need rescuing at the very end: Princess Nyna of Archanea, Princess Maria of Macedon, and Marth's own sister Princess Elice of Altea. (Plus the noblewoman Lena). This is because due to their pure hearts, the four have been brainwashed into becoming Virgin Sacrifices for the awakening of the evil Dragon God Medeus. And ironically, Maria can only be debrainwashed - by another Princess, her big sister Minerva.
- Genealogy of the Holy War begins when Sigurd, his knights and then his sister and brother in law (plus other warriors that join them) set out to save a friend of Sigurd, Lady Edain, captured by a prince who wants to marry her by force. Ironically, the brother of said prince (Jamke) is the one who releases her as Sigurd's troops fight on, and if she safely reaches the playable cast alongside a thief who's helping her out (Dew) by the guy's orders, they'll both join the troops and she can recruit Jamke later.
- Plus, if the player does things right, Sigurd can end up saving and recruiting another princess: Ayra, who has been forced to serve another evil prince to keep her nephew Shanan safe.
- In the second part, almost at the end one has to find Princess Julia... in classic style she's in another castle every time the player conquers the previous castle... this lasts until the final part of the final chapter, where she's been Brainwashed and Crazy into becoming That One Boss hanging out in the way. (Note that she's That One Boss who one can't kill, or the game will become practically Unwinnable- she's needed for the Final Boss fight.)
- Binding Blade gives two "save the princess" missions, one with Princess Guinevere of Bern (the half-sister of the Big Bad, who becomes Roy's protegé and the game's Big Good) and the other with Princess Lilina of Ostia (who joins the tropes as a Magical Girl Warrior as soon as she's rescued)
- In The Sacred Stones Princess Eirika is the main character of the first several missions, and is at least initially most concerned with saving herself. In addition, after getting to safety (And Saving her best friend and fellow Princess, Tana) Eirika sets out on a quest to save her brother making this 'Save the Prince'. Except that, in the end, he's the one who rides to her rescue. And from then on they must team up to save not only one another, but the whole world while at it.
- In Eirika's path, she and her peeps must actually "Save the Prince" - Tana's older brother Innes, who's been cornered alongside two companions (the mercenary Gerik and the dancer Tethys) by corrupt noblemen. In Ephaim's, he must again rescue Tana from a mercenary troop. In both cases, the rescued royal will immediately become avaliable to fight.
- One of the early missions in Fire Emblem Awakening is a "Save the Queen" one, protecting Chrom and Lissa's older sister Emmeryn (the Exalt of Ylisse) from an assassination attempt by Plegia. In the Bad Future, Emmeryn was assassinated, and the Bad Future followed few afterwards.
- Some time later Emmeryn is captured and then set to be executed, so the Shepherds lerd by Chrom and the Avatar must rescue her before that happens. She solves it via an Heroic Suicide (which is subverted if one plays her Paralogue almost at the end - she survived, but with severe brain damage).
- After the Time Skip, when Chrom and Co. arrive to Valm, they find a Badass Princess who's being pursued by The Emperor's army. She's Say'ri, the Fallen Princess of Chon'sin, and once she's recruited she can immediately start fighting back.
- In Fire Emblem: Three Houses Byleth, their father Jeralt and their mercenaries step into another group of mercs attacking a Princess (Edelgard, from the Adrestian Empire) and two Princes (Claude from the Leicester Alliance, and Dimitri from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus). Saving them is what will let Byleth be hired in the Officers Academy that the three attend. It turns out one of the royals had staged the attack for their own plans, though.
- Later in the game, one of the objectives of the Azure Moon/Blue Lions route is to Save the Archbishop - Rhea, the beautiful woman who leads the Church of Seiros, has been captured and imprisoned by the Adrestian Empire, now led by Edelgard.
- While technically not a princess (unless you count her as one for being the daughter of the Fey clan's leaderess), poor Maya Fey in the Ace Attorney series has to be saved from death four times! The first two involve Maya being accused of murder and you have to get a not guilty verdict to save her. The third occasion has Maya kidnapped by an individual who uses this as leverage to force Phoenix into taking a case. The last case has Maya being trapped on a freezing mountain. And things just get worse from there...
- The game that Radd is from in the webcomic Kid Radd has this plotline. Interestingly, due to the premise of game sprites as sentient beings who are created for the express purpose of being in games, Radd has no idea he even has a girlfriend until the narrator tells him so.
- This is how Exiern starts.
- Swap out "Princess" with "CEO and former Magical Girl Warrior", and we've got the main plot for Last Res0rt. Of course, both halves of the rescuer/rescuee equation are female (and said Rescuee is reasonably capable of saving herself), so...
- In Sinfest, Fuschia reads the damned a story about rescuing the princess from the dragon.