Quest for Identity

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
This story of the loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature.
Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination

A character wakes up stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no recollection of who he is. The plot involves, at least in part, his efforts to rediscover the identity he cannot remember.

Amnesiac Dissonance may make this unwise.

This is a subtrope of Ontological Mystery. See also Loss of Identity. The Amnesiac Lover may want to do this to remember why he or she loved whom they've forgotten. The hero of this kind of story is the Amnesiac Hero.

Examples of Quest for Identity include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! second series, it's revealed that Yugi's dark side is the reincarnation of a Pharaoh who's lost his memories. The Pharaoh then enters the Battle City Finals to gain the three Egyptian God cards he needs to enter the Millenium World where he can find his identity.
  • In Noir, the subplot of who the hell Yuumura Kirika is drives the action for the begining of the series. A subversion, since near the end Kirika doesn't really seem to want to find out about her past, and would rather just make tea for her 'partner'.
  • Kaiba: One day a young man wakes up in an empty room, with no idea of who or where he is. His only clues are a strange marking on his stomach, a hole in his chest and a locket containing a blurry picture of a girl. Kaiba travels from planet to planet, seeking for who he is and who the girl in the locket is.
  • Durarara!!: This is at least part of the plot, in the case of Celty's motivations.
  • Battle Angel Alita: Alita (who was named Gally in the original manga).
  • Ergo Proxy: Starting with episode four, the series does an Ontological Heel Face Turn by changing from a story about a Goth girl detective trying to figure out the connection between the monsters and the corrupt Bureaucracy, to a story about what was apparently a minor character but not really trying to remember his past.
  • Eden of the East starts our amnesiac protagonist off in front of the White House with nothing more than a handgun and a cellphone (albeit one with eight billion yen on it) to go by. "Nothing," in this case, includes clothes.
  • Angel Beats! begins with Otonashi waking up without any memories. He joins the SSS not because of any particular commitment to Yuri's mission, but in the hope that his memory will eventually return.
  • Dangaio: The four ESP'ers are all suddenly find themselves in service to Dr. Tarsan without knowing who they are/were, or how they got there.
  • In Celestial Legend Ceres, Tooya's main motivation for working with the Mikages is to find out who he is.

Comic Books

  • XIII starts with the main character washing up on a shore with a bullet wound to the head. When he wakes up he has no idea who he is and no clue, except for "XIII" tattooed on his chest.


  • The Bourne Identity (book & movie)
  • Paycheck has a variant: The protagonist knows who he is, but the entire last two years of his life are a total blank. He apparently agreed to have this done by his employer, and would probably have left well enough alone if not for the government wanting to interrogate him about what he was doing during that time.
  • Dark City: A man wakes up in a bathtub with no memories —- he doesn't even recall that his name is John Murdoch until he checks his wallet. He finds a dead woman in the bedroom, and the phone is ringing. His burning need to know who he is is fundamental to the story.
  • The Constant Husband
  • Memento: This trope is deliberately inverted; the protagonist has anterograde amnesia.
  • Jackie Chan in Who Am I?
  • Mulholland Drive: A woman has amnesia after what seems to be a car accident. Recovering herself is not ontologically safe.
  • A non-action version is Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford. In it, the title character survives a gunshot wound to the head, and the resulting pinched artery affects his memory. Cue the rest of the movie depicting him coming to terms with not remembering anything about his life before the shot. Note that it's a rare ontological mystery for the character only, not the audience, hence the reason that it's played for drama rather than excitement.
  • Solaris: All versions of this feature Hari/Rheya undergoing some sort of quest like this. It pretty much jumps from Hari spending most of the film completely amnesiatic, to her feeling a bit angsty over identity issues, to trying to kill herself in about 20 minutes. The 1972 film is 3 hours long.
  • The Dead Pit's Final Girl arrives at the mental hospital setting amnesiac and a portion of the plot is donated to find out her identity and her connection to the Big Bad.


  • Book of Amber. Corwin awakes in a mental hospital with zero knowledge of his identity. This is essential to the plot: a core of the first five books is a parallel journey of the reader and Corwin to discover who he is. Corwin's lack of memory is rich narrative fodder: old enemies are dangerously mistaken as friends, but some bitter enemies of old are met without prejudice, allowing for reconciliations, even friendships that would be impossible otherwise.
  • The heroine of Tanith Lee's novel The Birthgrave.
  • In the Scavenger Trilogy by K.J. Parker, Poldarn awakes facedown in the mud, surrounded by dead soldiers. He has no idea who he is. The remainder of the series has Poldarn striving to reclaim his lost past, yet running from the nightmare his past is revealed to be.
  • Dragons Can Only Rust and Dragon Reforged by Chrys Cymri are about a robot dragon on a quest to learn whether or not he has a soul.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan in Mirror Dance, goes through several chapters not knowing who he is, due to amnesia induced by him being killed, frozen, and then revived. His doctors have some idea who he is, but since he has a clone, and they believe the rumor that says he has two clones, they're not sure which one he is.
  • The Nameless One from Prophecy Of The Gems by Flavia Bujor.
  • Tzigone from Counselors and Kings. She puts things together piecemeal throughout the trilogy, only learning the final bit- her real name- during the climax.
  • Subverted in Azure Bonds, in which the heroine awakens in an inn with some, but not all, of her memories missing, only to discover over the course of the novel that her memories are fake, and that she is in fact a rogue magical construct that was only built a few weeks ago.
  • This is partially what happens in The Lost Hero, but in the second book it's not really mentioned since the readers already know what happened.

Live Action TV

  • Samantha Who?
  • Kyle XY
  • Nowhere Man: The main character thought he was a photographer whose life had been taken away. Granted, he starts the series thinking he knows who he is and what he does ... "and in one instant, it was all taken away", if I remember the dialogue right.
  • John Doe
  • Chester Tate from Soap goes on one of these after he loses his memories in season two after his surgery for his brain defect that had been causing him blackouts and amnesia.
  • Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor had amnesia when he woke up. In this case, the audience already knew everything about him, though.
  • Red Dwarf Series 6 opening.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Conundrum" and "Transfigurations".
  • Coronet Blue.
  • Sh15uya.
  • Kamen Rider Decade
  • Dollhouse: Subverted in that Echo and three other Actives awaken in their sleep chambers with their functional but not declarative memories intact, and naturally go hunting for who they are and the people who did this to them. It's all a set-up by the Dollhouse to fix a glitch in the brainwiping process; they learn a little but none of them manage to have their memories restored, and as soon as they accomplish whatever minor goal they were after, they black out as they were preprogrammed to do and are wiped again.


  • Bionicle's Takua. After already having had his memory and identity wiped twice, he managed to land on his head and erased his identity again. What followed was a long quest to try and piece together who he is, all the while learning of the Legend of Bionicle, and helping his people fight against darkness.

Video Games

  • Cave Story
  • Ghost Trick: This is the main character's primary motivation.
  • Planescape: Torment
  • The adventure games Déjà Vu and Amnesia had the additional twist of the main character being wanted for murder.
  • Second Sight
  • Online game The Adventure of Dave gives Dave no recollection of his past. However, the boss uses this as key evidence for his chaotic good "Heel Face Turn."
  • The Lost game Via Domus.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. The sequel has a much different answer than the first...
  • Too many Interactive Fiction games to count.
  • XIII
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind starts with you as an unknown stranger, born in a certain day from unknown parents. There is no recollection of the past, but that's fine, because the Dunmer believe this is one of the traits of The Nerevarine.
  • The Amiga/SNES/Sega Genesis and CD game Flashback, which has the trope name in the subtitle. The whole identity plot ends at the beginning of level 2, though.
  • The Neverhood. The protagonist's back story is revealed through the Plot Coupons scattered throughout the game.
  • Phoenix Wright: Happens (temporarily) to Phoenix in the second game to justify a tutorial level.
  • Shadow The Hedgehog: has been doing this since Sonic Adventure 2. In his first appearance, he had part of his memory, but by Sonic Heroes, he had lost all of his memory, taking him on a quest for his identity that would come to a head in this game.
  • The Kid in Ever 17.
  • Many players on MU* s create characters of this sort, often because they save the player the trouble of having to do the real work of assembling a character, leading some MU* s forbid characters of this sort out right.
    • Those that haven't forbidden it have put it on the "Overdone" list, which generally includes concepts that a player will have to be very convincing - and probably have to hand in essay-length bios - to justify them getting such a character. To quote (or at least paraphrase; it's been a while) a review of one such (incredibly terrible) app:

"Your character's past might be mysterious, but you and the staff should still damn well know what that "mysterious past" is."

  • Geneforge 5: The player character suffered the backlash of With Great Power Comes Great Insanity and for several years had mental functionality like that of a rather clever sheepdog. The game starts with you returning to sentience with almost no memories. Throughout the game you meet several people who seem to recognize you, and ultimately you never find out and just decide to make a new life for yourself.
  • Prototype involves the player character, Alex Mercer, attempting to remember who he is and who caused the Manhattan Zombie Apocalypse. He does this by eating people. And y'know who caused the outbreak? Alex Mercer, and the character we're playing isn't the real Alex, just a viral mutant who ate the original and thought it was him.
  • The white chamber. The main character awakens in a strange coffin in a small room, with no idea who she is and how she got there. She's on an abandoned space station—abandoned because she murdered everyone else on board.
  • The Witcher. There's even a quest called "Identity". Some thought it not yet witchy enough. Others found it somewhat witchier than they expected.
  • Amnesia the Dark Descent has this as the overarching plotline.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: you wake up in an abandoned mining facility, and the first act is all about finding out how the hell you got there. The original has shades of this, but in that case the "amnesia" is so complete you don't even realize you have it until The Reveal.
    • KotOR II is interesting in this regard; the first planet revolves around finding out what happened, but because The Exile was unconscious, not because she forgot. The rest of the game actually averts this trope: The Exile knows and hints at who she is and it is the player who must figure it out.
  • Agarest Senki 2 has this as an overarching plot line where the first generation protagonist must find out who he really is before his amnesia.


  • The inhabitants of The Ends are reborn without memories in an endless cycle. The protagonist, Jason, has managed to recover a portion of his identity and is now questing for the remainder.
  • Subverted in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name—the narrator, a zombie, woke up ten years ago with no memory of his past life or even his name. Instead of going on a Quest for Identity, however, he spent those years wandering and contemplating life, and has joined Hanna in his supernatural investigations for something to do rather than finding out why he's come back to life. He has shown relatively little interest in his past identity and has even stated in the artist's Q&A that if he remembered the identities and address of his family, he probably wouldn't go see them - it would be too cruel to them.
  • This is ultimately why Red XIII Face Heel Turned in Ansem Retort; to find out more about himself, his race (of which he's the Last of His Kind), and how the fuck humans managed to get superior over them anyway.
  • Iris Brockman in Tales Of Gnosis College averts this trope. In spite a a bizarre sequence of events involving total physical discontinuity with her past self, she has no doubts as to who she is.

Web Original

  • Both the main characters of Ruby Quest. As well as just about everyone else, apparently.