Bleak Level

Welcome home.

You're playing a video game that so far has been good fun—perhaps not all sunshine and light, but still, fairly safe. The story is interesting and everything's going well. Then... things get a little drearier. The color scheme turns drab, the music plays in a minor key, the creatures seem fearful—if they're there at all.

Such a choice may foreshadow something scary, mark a place of evil, or denote the Darkest Hour for your character. Sister tropes include the Womb Level for levels made out of flesh in an otherwise un-fleshy game, and Vile Villain, Saccharine Show for when there's that one boss that seems out of place. See also Darkest Hour and Surprise Creepy.

Examples:

  • The level 343 Guilty Spark from Halo: Combat Evolved which follows immediately right after a cutscene from the previous level in which Cortana gives a disjointed warning to the Master Chief that Keyes is in trouble. Arriving at the level you're treated to a bog with lots of wrecked equipment and a eerie barely functioning distress call on repeat. The general lack of enemies in the beginning, and the fact that what enemies there are are fleeing in sheer panic and terror from the place you are heading towards, serves only to reinforce the quiet creepy factor as you stalk through the wrecked facility. In particular, the gradual realization that the terrified Covenant are not fighting (and largely getting slaughtered by) the two-dozen humans you were sent to rescue, but something else entirely that has the Covenant fleeing in terror, makes the build-up to The Reveal of the level extremely tense. When the Flood finally do show up, you then must find another way out of the facility, except you now have to fight the horrific, unrelenting horde every step of the way—making the second half of the level a Bleak Level of the Bleak Level.
  • Pokémon:
    • Lavender Tower from Pokémon Red and Blue is definitely one of these, with its eerie Creepypasta-inspiring music, its disturbing possessed trainers and undead Pokémon, and the fact that it's a goddamned graveyard for Pokémon.
    • Mt. Pyre from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. New Mauville, an abandoned power facility, uses the same bleak music, and definately fits in the remakes, where the implications are that Wattson pulled the plug on the project because it was being powered with the life energy of Pokemon. Sea Mauville in the remakes counts too, a shipwreck with a surprisingly dark backstory if you know where to look.
    • There's also the Old Chateau and Sendoff Spring from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, which are such a jarring change (the former is in a peaceful forest and the latter is along the road between two of the more upbeat towns in the game) that even the music they both share functions effectively as a Scare Chord.
    • The Strange House in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, which is haunted by the ghost of a young girl who is strongly implied to have died in an incident involving Darkrai. The house is dark and spooky, and the furniture rearranges itself to force you to take a certain path.
    • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, all of the dungeons explored in the Bad Future have a grim feel to them, dark colors being prevalent, and the music being similarly dark in its tone. They also tend to be crawling with Ghost, Dark, and Poison type Pokemon.
    • Pokémon X and Y has Snowbelle City. Apparently, the source of all the snow is from the gym. The music doesn't help either.
  • In Eversion, the fourth eversion level turns the scenery gray and the enemies stop moving. Subsequent eversion levels only get nastier and darker, going from gray to brown to blood-red to practically pitch-black. And you will scream, even if you know about THE HAND.
  • Mass Effect
    • Post-Virmire Normandy in Mass Effect; there's even somber music. Also, the Normandy crash site in Mass Effect 2.
    • Mass Effect 3 in general is fairly bleak, but Thessia takes the cake. The most advanced race in the galaxy, the asari, is getting ripped apart by the Reapers, and Shepard is forced to watch, helplessly, as the Reapers continue to pour in. Shepard also gets roundly defeated by Kai Leng, who steals vitally important data on the Catalyst and taunts Shep over it. It's about as close to a breaking point as Shep gets.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II brings you back to Dantooine - the pleasant farming planet from the first - five years after Malak carpet-bombed the place. The farmers hate the Jedi and blame them for all their misfortune, mercenaries are running unchecked, the moss-overgrown Jedi enclave is being picked clean by thieves, and you get confirmation that most of the characters you encountered or liked died horribly in the attack.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic throws another Player Punch by having you walk around what's left of Taris. Crumbling permacrete, twisted and rusty starship hulks, polluted water, rakghouls everywhere, and a Republic player finds out the Outcasts the canonical light-side Revan "saved" were picked off by rakghould attacks, starvation, and disease before toxic waste finished them off. Imperial players then crush any little Hope Spot by tearing apart the Republic's efforts to restore the planet.
  • Gilneas in World of Warcraft, especially in the initial worgen starting experience before you get bitten.
    • Felwood, which is like you took the Night Elf areas like Teldrassil and Ashenvale and filled it with plague and suspiciously green glowing stuff. The Ghostlands is the same for the Blood Elves.
    • While the Western Plaguelands are an active warzone, filled with armies of undead just barely held in check by mortal forces, the Eastern Plaguelands beyond them are strangely quiet. The wildlife is depressed where it isn't mutated; roving bands of things assault you, even on the roads, and in a world of saturated color, the sky is browner than the soil.
    • Duskwood, a forest infested with zombies and werewolves just across the river from the peaceful Elwynn Forest and a startling Mood Whiplash for new Human players. Everything in the zone is either dead or on constant watch from attack.
    • Deadwind Pass, everything there is washed out gray, and the only things that are alive are vultures, giant spiders, and a clan of ogres. It's also home to the Eldritch Location known as Karazhan and the creepy crypt underneath it. The good news is that there really isn't any reason to stick around in the zone itself for very long.
    • Desolace, at least before Cataclysm, where a huge forest now grows at the center of the zone. Before this, Desolace was a nearly lifeless desert where scavengers and the hostile centaur were the only life present, with the exception of the giant Kodo, who come here specifically to die.
  • La-Mulana:
    • Confusion Gate. Dear lord, between the creepy organ music played in an eerie minor key, the dull background colors, and the sacrificial pit, it's easily the most disturbing part of the game.
    • The Shrine of the Mother in the Wii remake. Adorned with intimidating rock formations and featuring a gloomy and deppresing musical theme, this area is littered with skeletons of all the children that failed to accomplish Mother's wish and were killed to make room for the next generation.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Twilight Town from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, which is a dark and dreary town filled with shadowy ragdoll-like citizens who are slowly being turned into pigs every time a bell rings. After a suspiciously early boss battle with a bedsheet-ghost character named Doopliss, the boss takes over Mario's body and leaves him as a ghostly shadow that nobody can see.
    • The Underwhere from Super Paper Mario, despite its rather silly name, is far from pleasant. The place takes many cues from the Greek interpretation of the underworld, complete with its own version of the River Styx (a pink lake filled with disembodied hands called "River Twygz", complete with utterly terrifying gibbering in place of background music) and Expies of Hades, Charon, and the Fates. The way Mario and friends initially get there is by being outright assassinated by Dimentio, who very cruelly averts No Sneak Attacks. Fortunately, most of the locals are pretty friendly, and an Earthbound-style RPG battle against a Cerebus Expy lightens the mood significantly.
    • Also from Super Paper Mario, Sammer's Kingdom once it's destroyed. There's little background music, and everything is a blank white, with the only thing breaking up the monotony of the background being the occasional fragments of buildings, reduced to outlines. Presumably, this would be the fate of every world that falls to the Void.It gets better, but it's incredibly depressing while it lasts.
    • Mario & Luigi series:
      • Joke's End from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. In a game that takes place in the Beanbean Kingdom, whose culture in large part revolves around humor and which features regions with laughter-themed names like "Chucklehuck Woods" and "Teehee Valley", in come this bleak icy level that is specifically stated to be a graveyard for bad jokes featuring some rather sinister music.
      • Woohoo Hooniversity as well. With a name like that, you might expect it to be cheery as the rest of the game. Nope, completely destroyed, broken down and overrun by freaks of science (strongly implied to be the mutated faculty) and man-sized versions of the viruses from Dr. Mario.
    • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team:
      • Dreamy Mount Pajamaja Summit. While the lower areas of the mountain had goofy oom-pah music and featured the ham-tacular Massif Brothers, the summit has fairly depressing music, is mostly an ice level filled with drab colours and a fair lack of variety and which comes right in the middle of a Plot Tunnel that takes place when the whole real world is stuck asleep and completely inaccessible.
      • Dreamy Neo Bowser Castle. The regular Neo Bowser Castle has an exciting intensity to its ominousness that keeps it from being too eerie, but the Dream World equivalent has nightmarish chains and Bowser faces floating around and two musical tracks, a dirge-like one for the main portion and a harsh electronic one for Bowser's Dream, that give it a very sinister vibe.
  • Metroid:
    • Lower Maridia from Super Metroid
    • Metroid: Fusion has Sector 5. Extremely quiet music, everything is frozen over... it stops being as bleak when Nightmare starts rampaging through it.
  • Dark Souls:
    • The Kiln of the First Flame. The sky is stuck in an infinite dusk, the landscape is a rusted gray, and there are only about four or five enemies despite the large size of the area. It really hits its mark considering that it actually unnerves the player even though every other level wasn't exactly sunshine and flowers either.
    • The Painted World of Ariamis also counts, being a ruined castle on a freezing mountain, infested with undead and Crow Demons.
  • Some of the caverns in Donkey Kong Country, especially when "Life In the Mines" is playing.
  • The "Villi People" level from Earthworm Jim 2, in addition to being bizarre and inexplicable even by Earthworm Jim standards, is also pretty dang depressing, what with revolving around navigating a giant intestinal tract while somber classical music plays in the background.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Final Fantasy X:
    • Mushroom Rock Road, post-Sin attack.
    • Thunder Plains is also this. An entire plain of grey, dreary darkness, only lightened up by the constant lightning strikes that make it such an unhospitable wasteland.
  • Final Fantasy XIII has the ruined, Cie'th-infested village of Oerba.
  • Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has A Dying World and New Bodhum, both in 700AF.
  • Lost Kingdoms: the Burial Grounds level, and the final level, Broch Black.
  • In Cave Story, Mimiga Village, specifically when you return there after escaping the Labyrinth. All of the inhabitants of the village are missing, and the level music is replaced by an ominous, minor-key song, "Quiet". The "Egg Corridor?" (The Egg Corridor post-destruction) counts as well.
  • NieR has the mansion on the hill. Everywhere else is bright and sunny, then you find Emil's mansion. Suddenly your screen loses all colour and everything goes grey, and the camera somehow picks up grime. There's also a couple of portraits that slowly change the first time you go in. And the soundtrack starts screaming at you.
  • Cubivore has entirely different bleak levels early on, which are purely WHITE and desolate.
  • Super Aleste's 12th and final stage: A Womb Level with organic enemies and a very grisly background.
  • The (optional) "Deep Sector" in Iji. At the beginning, the heroine comments that the air smells like human blood, it is extremely dark and the music is eerie.
  • The Bad Future time zones in Sonic CD. They are basically the current levels, but completely run down, with a dose of Gaia's Lament thrown in. Considering all the other timezones including the Good Futures are brightly coloured, this only serves to make them seem even more gloomy. The catchy music certainly helps.
  • A favorite trope for endgame in the Kingdom Hearts series.
    • In the first game, the final world is called The End Of The World... in a literal sense, considering that it is probably the edge of reality as we know it near the encroaching Heartless. Features a darker version of one of the first songs in the game, "Destati".
    • Kingdom Hearts II includes an enormous white castle owned by Organization XIII. Made eerier by the dissonant nature of the music and the overtly nihilistic names of its locations ("Altar of Naught", "Where Nothing Gathers"...)
    • Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance features a return of The World That Never Was and manages to make it even more nightmarish. The world is largely in ruins, an aftermath of the endgame from the aforementioned game, with creepy fog, breathing buildings and a twisted, labyrinthine castle. The music, too, has been remixed, into a suitably grave and disquieting piece.
    • The most disturbing may be the Keyblade Graveyard. While in the other two games, the main character and his two friends accompany him, this game features every main character entering it completely alone. It is a vast desert without any sort of life lined with thousands if not millions of ownerless magical swords. This is definitely helped by the demented piano music that serves at the world's background music.
    • Birth By Sleep's Final Mix edition has the Realm Of Darkness. Mile after mile of darkness, and creepy structures that look vaguely like someone's insides. Unlike every other level, there's no-one else to talk to, just rank upon rank of powerful Heartless. Amazingly bleak music that plays throughout, ones that make the Keyblade Graveyard look almost welcoming.
  • Ballade's special stage in Mega Man 10.
  • In Ōkami, the Sunken Ship, Yoshpet Forest, Sei-an City under the Blight, and most dungeons qualify, especially the last one.
  • Dog's Life (PS2): All levels so far have been, if not all of them cheerful, and except some creepy moments like the dog catcher's doberman chasing you around and a couple of criminals you thwarted, relatively safe. Then, all of a sudden... the dog pound.The sky is dark,the ground is an ominous blood red, there are no other animals or life (except for the creepy doberman chasing you), and then an ominous background music that seems there just to make you want to get out of there.
  • The City of Ancients in Final Fantasy VII. Hardly any enemies, strange scenery, and unsettling music that only plays there.
  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn nails this trope with the Grave Eclipse that sucks the light out of most of the world, leaving some awesome images of destroyed towns, complete with decomposing bodies.
  • EarthBound's final level, the Cave of the Past.
  • Dragon Age: Origins is pretty much a game-long Bleak Level, but the Dead Trenches take it a few steps further. It starts out with ominous music and a dead city, includes some really creepy poetry from a traumatized dwarf, and ends with a boss whose origin and appearance are 190-proof Body Horror. Congratulations! You now know where darkspawn come from. Chances are you really wish you didn't.
  • Your return trip to Cyrum Kingdom in Grandia II fits this trope perfectly. The dead and dying are everywhere, and the dark god's minions just won't stop coming. All but one of your party members are stuck in Heroic BSOD mode (since it is, after all, partially their fault that this is happening) and no one has any idea what to do. Oh, and THIS music is playing.
  • An Untitled Story has The Bottom: The very bottom of the game world with barely any music, no enemies and no means of escape aside from using a Save Point. There is, however, a Heart Container and entrance to another definitely less scary area.
  • Chrono Cross has the Dead Sea, a city where time is essentially broken. It's every bit as eerie as it sounds.
  • Chrono Trigger has 2,300 AD, a time period After the End, as well as ground level in 12,000 BC.
  • Dino Run kicks it off with a scarily dark volcano section, with some seriously creepy music. Since before this level the oncoming apocalypse was treated fairly lightheartedly, it's a fair bit of Mood Whiplash.
  • In Glider PRO, "Slumberland" has a sudden "Wrong Turn!" into a graveyard area.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater's fourth Cobra battle with "The Sorrow". Snake is forced to wade through a waist-high lake during downpour, while the boss and everyone the player has killed thus-far tries to kill Snake. Considering everything goes from campy/realistic to gritty/grim in a few scenes, creepy is an understatement.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom has Rock Bottom, which is every bit as creepy as it was in the show.
  • Eifer Skute's stage in RosenkreuzStilette Freudenstachel is one, filled with the undead, a ghastly Expy of Mothraya from Mega Man 4, and creepy Ethereal Choirs.
  • Kirby 64 The Crystal Shards:
    • By the time you get to Ripple Star's second stage, the game officially stops being cute thanks to the gloomy areas and the freaky music.
    • Shiver Star. Bright, winter wonderland! Christmas decorations and a cheery atmosphere, even a trip through a shopping mall! Then you get to the Factory, with music intentionally creepy as even Kirby gives a horrified expression if you play the level's song in the sound test. Also, the formations on Shiver Star's surface look suspiciously like Earth's continents...
  • While not lollipops and rainbows up to the point in question, Persona 4 Golden's Bonus Dungeon places the party in a representation of Marie's melancholy over her returned memories and subsequent decision to isolate herself from her only friends and experiences. She tries to convince the party to leave her, while the player explores dungeon floors consisting of ruined pieces of town landmarks and with names such as "Memories of Parting" and "Memories of Loneliness". There's also Yomotsu Hirasaka, the true final dungeon, featuring harsh, geometric architecture and a blue-and-red color scheme that makes for a very alien-looking level, and who's theme is also the credits music for the bad endings.
  • Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth:
    • The Evil Spirit Club labyrinth is a pitch-black, eerie abandoned school/hospital that resembles something out of a Survival Horror game. Compounded with two truly horrifying-looking FOEs native to that level (which respectively resemble an aborted baby and an old-looking doll), one portion of the level involves the party's non-combatant, Rei, going out into a large, pitch-black room in order to find several keys to free the rest of the party. This also doubles as a major case of Mood Whiplash, as the previous dungeon had soothing music, cutesy romantic decor, and a hilarious Romance Sidequest.
    • While the fourth dungeon, the Inaba Pride Exhibit, isn't remotely bleak (it's inspired by Japanese festivals, for one thing), its boss floor certainly is. All of the vibrant colors that made up the dungeon are gone, it is abandoned and dark, and a very somber reprise of the dungeon's theme serves as the BGM.
  • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne turns pretty much the entire city of Tokyo transformed into this by the Conception. Humanity's dead, save for a few (who are rapidly driven to insanity), the few remaining buildings are separated by vast swathes of sand, demons are crawling everywhere, and an alien sun shines above.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV features the depressing, ominous Monochrome Forest. As the name implies, it's a bleak, colorless expanse of vegetation. And it serves as headquarters for the Omnicidal Neutral White, unfathomably ancient entities of despair who want you to destroy the Magical Particle Accelerator that has been allowing you to travel between worlds. This will have the efect of unleashing a black hole through the Solar System, potentially dragging the multiverse to oblivion.
  • World 3 (Ocean of Oblivion) of Super Mario Fusion Revival takes place in a dimension that is not quite The Real World and not quite Hell. It takes place in a vast ocean eternally shrouded in unsettling dusk and constant thunderstorms. It is the realm that lies past World 2 in the Bermuda Triangle.
  • The purified zones in OFF. Everything is completely white with black outlines, all electronics are broken down, there's nobody but demonic doll-like monsters inhabiting, and the music is a mix between an ominous music box, whispers, and someone banging on a door crying for help.
  • Fire Emblem Awakening features the Midmire, setting of Chapter 10, "Renewal", which takes place right after a Player Punch. You have to fight in the midst of a giant dragon's ribcage in the middle of a rainy wasteland, all while slow Sad Battle Music plays regardless of whether it's your turn or the enemy's. Furthermore, the Plegian soldiers you fight are deeply ashamed of their role in the events of the last chapter, with one unit stating outright to his sympathetic general that he would rather desert and face execution than fight against the Shepherds. So as if the previous plot context and battle setting weren't bad enough, the catharsis you might otherwise get from dispatching enemy troops is somewhat lost as well.
  • Star Fox Adventures: Dragon Rock is bleak and it helps that its original location in Sauria (before its separation from the planet) was near the equally-bleak Moon Mountain Pass. The latter is a desolate location with a dark-green sky, lunar rocks and toxic geysers, and it has some surreal enemies. The former is a barren wasteland, whose ambiance shows a strong feel of despair and impotence represented by the shades of orange, red, brown and purple in the scenery, as well as a dreadful music.
  • Pikmin:
    • Wistful Wild in Pikmin 2. In this case, the ambiance evokes a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, and even Olimar makes notes of this feeling during his treasure logs; it exhibits shades of orange and red (in this case because of the level taking place during autumn), as well as a music that induces anxiety onto the characters and the player. Averted with the caves placed here, though, as they're considerably more overrun by wild creatures than the exterior, and said caves are thematically a salad of all previous caves in the game, not all of which were bleak at all.
    • The third game ramps this up with Formidable Oak. It's on a giant termite mound in the middle of a desert, there are initially no enemies, the music is very minimal (unless it's raining), and the color scheme outside is mostly brown. After encountering enemies that aren't the Eldritch Abomination Final Boss, killing them reveals that they are actually made of the same substance said boss is made of. There isn't even any fruit; the goal of the level is to instead get Olimar to the ship.
  • In Disney Princess Enchanted Journey, Cinderella's world is this. It's Always Night, most of the colors are a muted blue, time is frozen everywhere, there's a creepy forest to traverse, you go to her old home, which is deserted, and at one point the Bogs freeze Cinderella herself, making it the only point where they directly attack a princess.
  • Genji has the marketplace after it has been destroyed by dark magic.
  • Kingsley's Adventure has Poorluck Village, which follows the vivid and upbeat Carrot Castle and Sea Town. In stark contrast, all the homes in Poorluck are dilapidated, all the grass is dead, it's always dark and rainy, and the highest-running emotions are the dogs'. On top of that, when you first arrive, the village is in the midst of a dragon-induced famine. You eventually solve the famine, but the place never gets any cheerier.
  • Odin Sphere has the Netherworld, a bleak wasteland covered in skulls where the lights regularly go out and skeleton monsters, tentacles, ghosts and grim reaper-like enemies roam.
  • Xenosaga's Old Miltia, after the Federation's siege becomes an open assault. Also the ruins of the Ormus' homeworld, Michtam.
  • The city of Cloudbank in Transistor slowly goes from a gorgeously-rendered art deco cyberpunk metropolis to a wasteland of white square columns over the course of the game as the Process slowly revert the entire city to a blank slate. Music that plays in the more heavily-processed areas tends to be more harsh and electronic mixes of previous songs.
  • Mag Mell is an odd example in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. A town instead of a dungeon, it nonetheless has some very unsettling music and is blanketed in fog and seemingly uninhabited when you first get there. If you revisit it enough times, though, you find out it's actually inhabited by hibernating carbuncles, who turn out to be not all that bad when they finally wake up. A more traditional example is Tida, a town who's caravan never returned home, and is now a miasma and monster-infested Dungeon Town.
  • Wario Land:
    • The Brutal Bonus Level of Wario Land II, "Steal the Syrup's Treasure!!", is a Womb Level with ominous music filled with mouths, ears, and other body parts interspersed alongside the frozen bodies of various types of enemies embedded in the walls with looks of shock on their faces.
    • Wario Land 3 has the Forest of Fear. It's a forest with eerie, minimalist music, tons of spikes and vines, and intimidating faces on all the trees.
  • Operation 008 of The Wonderful 101 takes place in Blossom City, the city from the first few missions of the game, now reduced to floating chunks of debris that the team has to maneuver across while being hounded by hordes of GEATHJERK soldiers. Periodically during the stage, Mission Control informs the player of the quickly-worsening status of their Cool Airship base, which the player can do nothing about. At least the Wonderful Marts were left unharmed!
  • Attic Adventure, in The Cat in the Hat, is a haunted attic that's notably creepy compared to the off-kilter whimsy of the previous levels.
  • The Binding of Isaac doesn't exactly have the most chipper levels (especially with the overall bleaker visuals in Rebirth,) but the Dark Room, a series of crumbling platforms floating in a black void, takes the cake. The music that plays throughout certainly doesn't help, either.