Ubisoft's 2008 installment of the popular series used yet another approach to save the main character from certain death. The game's mix of acrobatics and combat as well as the mystical setting allowed the choice to seem refreshing and natural.
An A.I. controlled character, Elika, accompanies the hero throughout the game serving as a "guardian" of sorts. She assists the main character in his acrobatics, but she also returns him to solid ground whenever he falls to his death.
This allows players to continue from the exact place where they "fell off" without any sort of break of immersion. The fact that Elika doesn't appear only when the character dies helps integrate this experience into the normal gameplay instead of setting it apart.
Borderlands is a fast-paced FPS/RPG hybrid that stood apart thanks from its distinctive art and solid, addictive gameplay. When a player-controlled character dies, he or she respawns at a nearby checkpoint while incurring a penalty in cash. But the important thing to note in Borderlands is what happens before death.
In single player, the character enters a pre-death state, in which his or her vision gradually darkens and the player has a chance to obtain a "second wind". This effectively means that the character gets up right there and continues fighting -- all it takes is scoring a kill before the screen goes completely black.
In co-op, this mechanic is still present, but there is also the option for one teammate to help another -- i.e. to restore him or her to health.
As a means of expanding on this idea, I propose giving the players a certain emergency item or skill that they could make use of to save themselves. If they don't have it, or they take too long, a normal respawn would serve as a failsafe.
Number None's platformer is a memorable achievement of the indie scene, its challenging and inventive game mechanics playing no small part in this success.
Time manipulation is used to "erase" mistakes in a most intuitive manner. Players can rewind their actions in the game, on the fly, as far back as required, and continue seamlessly from there on. This system also allows the correction of minor missteps, such as falling off a platform. As with Prince of Persia, the mechanism that circumvents death is also an integral part of normal gameplay.
An idea to expand on this would involve creating alternative planes of existence or moving the character from one such plane to another. This would also provide some interesting gameplay opportunities since the past of the protagonist isn't necessarily the same past as the one in the player's experience. Specifically, after such a shift a character's statistics and skills might have changed, or the way he completed certain quests might have.
The 3rd Birthday was developed by Square Enix and released in the West in 2011. It features a blend of shooting and RPG elements, and uses an interesting system for safeguarding the main character, Aya Brea, from death. An earlier iteration of this mechanic can be seen in Shiny Entertainment's 2000 game, Messiah.
Aya has the option of swapping bodies with NPCs to avoid death and to gain control of these characters and use them to complete various tasks. During combat, this ability makes it possible to "direct" one's team to focus fire, defend, or perform other manoeuvres.
Depending on how exactly this mechanic is implemented in a game -- i.e. swapping physical bodies or swapping souls, for example, there is the option of expanding upon it. When traversing a character's essence into another shell, his or her skills and abilities could suffer some transformation based on this new shell's own abilities. A powerful body would allow the player to perform actions that a flimsy one wouldn't and when inside the body of a wizard, one would have access to powerful spells unavailable to a mere human.