The best video game cliches are the ones that we couldn’t live without, no matter how much they make us cringe. If you’ve spent any length of time in virtual worlds big or small, chances are you’ll have come across many, if not all, of the classic video game cliches listed below. Whether it be features that surface without fail during adventures, mechanics that you’ve just come to expect, or aspects that would never work or make any kind of sense in reality but somehow do in games, there’s no shortage of examples. Without them, though, games probably just wouldn’t be the same. Join us as we fondly take a look at some of the most ridiculous, beloved video game cliches that we just can’t help but appreciate.
Ah, the infamous red barrel. What would video games even be without them? If you find a group of enemies peeking out from defensive positions, chances are you’ll find some kind of red barrel nearby that’s primed to explode with a well-placed shot. You have to wonder why enemies are so willing to perch nearby something that’s clearly so dangerous? Maybe in the canon state of being in games, the purpose of these barrels is entirely lost on everyone except the player-character. The red color instantly draws the eye, and more often than not, you’ll feel compelled to cause a big old explosion just because you can. From wiping out a group of foes to using them in boss fights and lobbing them at unsuspecting guards in what you might argue is overkill, red barrels have a long, storied history in games. With everything from Doom to Resident Evil 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are countless examples of adventures that have featured those crimson, explosive wonders, and it’s one cliche that’s likely here to stay.
Love it or hate it, inventory management has come into play in so many games over the years. But have you ever thought about what us adventurers can actually carry in virtual worlds? Take Skyrim, for example. What kind of bag could feasibly accommodate giant, two-handed axes, books, ingredients, and many, many sweet rolls? As the Dragonborn, you sure can lug around a lot of stuff. Sure, there’s a limit to how much you can hold at any one time, and you become over-encumbered if you loot too much, but it really is impressive when you think about it. I mean, imagine trying to fit a giant sword in your rucksack. There are so many games that seemingly have magical, bottomless, Tardis-like bags that can hold just about anything – no matter the size, shape, or weight. But to be honest, who would want a bag that can’t carry all that much when there’s so much loot to be had. It’s one cliche we’re more than happy to accept forevermore, and thankfully, protagonists in games never seem to suffer from the plight of back pain.
It’s rather fortunate that the residents of the game worlds have a tendency to record secret passcodes. After all, it allows future adventurers like us to move past blocked paths or get our hands on valuable loot. Audio logs have become one of those frequent features in games that are usually there to tell us more about the world we’re exploring, give us useful information to help us progress, or add a bit of flavor. Open-world games are particularly fond of using audio logs, with Horizon Forbidden West being one of the most recent sprawling RPGs to have its own equivalent of audio logs that Aloy can find. From cassette tapes in Metal Gear Solid 5 and Fallout to audio diaries in BioShock, they may not be for everyone, but they sure add a lot of additional dialogue to virtual adventures of all shapes and sizes.
Enemies that forget about you
Do you technically exist in a video game if an enemy can’t see you? Even if you get in their line of sight, once they’ve lost track of you, it’s like you were never there. You could argue that your run-of-the-mill enemy tasked with guarding an area doesn’t have the best memory, but it’s generally just accepted that this is the way things are. To be honest, we’re rather glad it works this way. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, for example, dangling off the edge of a building or safely tucking yourself away in tall grass (that for all intents and purposes turns you invisible) allows you to escape the attention of any guards you’ve alerted. Once they give up on the hunt and go back to business as usual, you have the chance for a bit of a do-over. It’s definitely a welcome way to reset things if you mess up… but it does call into question just how effective guards really are.
Certain recurring features in video games have a practical purpose that’s genuinely helpful. As game worlds began to get bigger and bigger, our means of traversal also expanded, and climbing became a fixture in more and more adventures. Handily, all of the climbable ledges and cliffs have, historically speaking, been color-coded (usually with a shade of yellow) so we as players know that we can interact with them. From the likes of Assassin’s Creed to Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and even God of War, you can always tell just what you can climb and which ledges are primed for you to shimmy across thanks to the way they stand out from among the terrain. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, such as The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (where you can climb just about anything). But as cliches go, it just makes total sense from a design perspective.
Pre-boss rest stations
Every now and then you come across a zone filled with ammunition, potions, and other helpful items. Now, it’s always great to come across a lot of loot, but this almost always means the same thing in the world of video games: You’re in for a fight in the very near future. Yes, pre-boss rest stations have become somewhat of a staple in RPGs and action-packed adventures over the years. Some are more obvious than others, with designated areas to rest up before you face more fighting, or rooms filled to the brim with goodies to set you up for a battle. Final Fantasy 7 Remake, for example, has benches dotted around an area where you can take a breather to heal and stock up on items from a nearby vending machine. Final Fantasy 15 always employs a similar feature, with safe rooms in different locations. Over the years, the Zelda series has also often set you up for a big fight with vases full of hearts. While they’re always a dead giveaway about what lies ahead, they really are a blessing.
Enemies that wait their turn
Turn-based battles offer us the chance to put our strategic prowess to the test and play around with different skills and powers to turn the tide of combat. But when you take it at face value, it’s kind of funny when you think about it. Each enemy lines up and calmly waits their turn to deliver a blow like they’re queueing up to put in an order. So many adventures allow us to play around with a turn-based battle format, with the likes of a number of Final Fantasy titles, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and the more recent Triangle Strategy. In games such as these, it’s often a satisfying and downright fun way to engage in combat. But if you think about how it would work in reality, it probably isn’t the most proficient way to ensure your own survival.
Detective vision is one of those features that has found its way into many, many games over the years. Need to follow someone’s trail? Or find a ladder hidden in the landscape? Well, it’s fortunate that many game protagonists come equipped with a second kind of vision that allows them to detect small details or notable landmarks. While this vision might be called something different, or work in a slightly varying way depending on the game, this feature usually allows you to scan a location for clues, highlight features in an area that will help you progress, or detect notable items. Whether it’s Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed that can highlight enemies, the Focus in Horizon Forbidden West which allows you to interact with the world through a different lens, or the detective vision in The Witcher 3 that helps you go on the hunt, it’s certainly an effective way of exploring in greater depth. You can’t help but wonder what we’d be able to see if we all had detective vision in reality.
While we certainly envy game protagonists for the number of cool powers and neat tricks they can do, they can often find themselves in some very perilous situations that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Thankfully, if adventurers get hurt in the process, they can do a spot of crafting to cook up a handy health kit. Yes, health kits are a tried and true method of fixing very big boo-boos in games, and fortunately, we’re often able to craft them. While we wouldn’t want to go through a horror game in real life, it sure would be great if we could just combine leaves and create a spray when we’re hurt like Leon in Resident Evil 4, or dump a bottle of strong first aid medicine on our arm like Ethan in Resident Evil 7 to make everything better. From chugging health potions in Skyrim to making bandages in survival games like Green Hell, or using a Stimpack in Fallout 4, health kits may come in different forms, but we quite literally couldn’t live without them.
Infinite ammo holsters
Not unlike the bottomless bags of games, it’s also rather impressive that we can carry so much ammo. In fact, there are some instances where you just somehow have infinite ammo without the need to loot more, which could only really make sense in games. As features go, though, infinite ammo can make things a heck of a lot easier and more action-packed. Take Devil May Cry 5, for example. Dante can shoot it up endlessly with an infinite supply of ammo. Granted, there’s probably some demon-y reason for it, but it does effectively deliver slick, quick-fire action. Destiny 2’s Primary weapons also feature the magic that is infinite ammo. Honestly, when you’re faced with a lot of enemies, who wants to worry about how much ammo you’re packing?
How many of the best games of all time include at least one of above cliches?