Mainly a video game trope, this describes the odd phenomenon in which the landscape the characters travel through get steadily scarier and more esoteric as they get closer to the end of their quest. The quest is likely to start off in a sleepy village nestled within a landscape of well tended meadows and idyllic woodland. After that the adventurers tend to enter the wilderness areas: huge forests, and mighty mountains. Towards the end of the quest, icy glaciers and searing deserts are common, whilst the climax usualy takes place in a burning wasteland.
This can be justified if the lands being traveled through are steadily more influenced by the Big Bad, however often this isn't the case, and the landscape just happens to look more threatening as the story goes on.
Remember this is about the appearance of the area, not it's actual threat level. Characters might travel through the creepy Lost Woods
completely unscathed, whereas the pleasant looking plains could be the site of a climactic battle in which hundreds die. If the plains come after the lost woods, it is not this trope.
- World of Warcraft plays with this with each expansion. Classic Wow generally plays this straight: virtually all the starting zones are very friendly looking, whilst the high level plaguelands most certainly aren't.
- The Burning Crusade plays with this. The demon-infested Hellfire Peninsula fits this trope as it continues on from the classic zones, however after that are the pleasant looking zones of Zangarmarsh, Nagrand and Terrokar Forest. However the highest level zones, Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm fit this trope to a T.
- Wrath of the Lich King plays this completely straight, going from harshly beautiful fjords and tundra, to the zombified Icecrown Glacier.
- Cataclysm averts it. The high level zones are all very esoteric and threatening, except for the highest level zone Twilight Highlands, which is mostly verdant hills and woodland.
- Minecraft has the Overworld,then the Underground caves, then the Nether, and finally the aptly titled End.
- The popularity of the Green Hill Zone trope is based off of this; game creators ease players into the game by having a level that is less inherently threatening.
- Portal also falls into this, with you starting in the clean, pristine test labs, progressing to more and more damaged/deadly labs and finally into the off-limits zones and glados's chamber.
- Portal 2 is an inversion, where you start in the broken labs and move up into nicer and nicer ones.
- Universally, Mario games start in Green Hill Zone and end in Lethal Lava Land. Shifting Sand Land is usually world 2, Under The Sea or another water themed level is typically world 3. An Ice and a Jungle world are also common somewhere in the middle.
- In Morrowind, you start on an ordinarily looking seashore, and travel to your first city through unthreatening countryside. During the course of your adventure, you visit deserts of volcanic ash, jagged rocky shores, labyrinthine lava scathes and reach the climax of the story in flat our Mordor.
- A literary example in The Lord of the Rings. The fellowship goes from the peaceful shire, to harsh wilderness, to well...Mordor.
- This also happens in The Hobbit. The adventure starts out in Hobbiton and proceeds through hobbit lands, then into the semi-wilderness Lone-lands where they meet the trolls. The party enters the Misty Mountains, passes through the darkness of Mirkwood and eventually reaches the Desolation of the Dragon - the "bleak and barren" land around the Lonely Mountain.
- The Eye of the World also does this. It starts off in the sleepy farming country of the shir-sorry the Two Rivers, progressing to various grand cities (I got the impression this also covered grandiose and bizarre environments as well as scary ones.), then we go to the harsh, icy pine forests of Shienar and then to the plagued jungle that is The Blight.
- Literature: in Pat O'Shea's children's fantasy novel (a misnomer, as adults can read and enjoy this book) The hounds of the Morrigan, two children living in modern Galway are drawn into the other Ireland of myth and legend. As their quest progresses, the mythological landscape is at first funny, absurd, Disney-Oirish, even, with hints of something deeper beneath. It gradually becomes darker, bleaker, more sinister, as the life-or-death nature of their quest asserts itself, and the final showdown with the forces of Not-Good takes place in a Mordor-like bleak and barren place. It's like going from a leprachaun Hobbiton to a Mordor ruled by the Morrigan.