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Evil Only Has to Win Once
Spike: We just keep coming. But you can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand thousand and the armies of Hell besides, and all we need... is for one of us, just one, sooner or later, to have the thing we're all hoping for.
Buffy: And that would be what?
Spike: One good day.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Fool for Love"

As Long as There Is Evil, good must rise to the challenge and defend the world. Beating the Big Bad and his pawns will maintain the Balance Between Good and Evil and keep the world safe. Good doesn't always win however, whether it's Stage One of the Evil Plan or in the final battle, heroes do occasionally lose. In these cases the old heroes, or a group of new ones, must again rise to challenge the bad guys, usually with better results.

In some stories this won't happen, because The World Is Always Doomed. Evil only has to win once in order to permanently turn the world into a crapsack Villain World with absolutely no hope of being deposed. Heck, if the villain is an Omnicidal Maniac there won't even be a world to save.

When Evil Only Has To Win Once, heroes need to step up their game because the Sorting Algorithm of Evil just divided by zero. Usually this shows up in stories where there is some kind of repeating challenge against the forces of good; be it a martial arts tournament for control of the planet, a resurfacing Sealed Evil in a Can, or just a laundry list of progressively more dangerous enemies. You can expect The Chosen One to feel the pressure — there are hundreds of mooks, dozens of mid-level bad guys, a Dragon, one Big Bad villain — and one Hero (or a team, but you get the idea) to face the threat. There's no one else to face the threat... usually, at least. Hopefully the replacements can do the impossible.

Either Or Prophecies use this trope with language along the lines of "If Dark Lord Genericide finds the Ruby Heart he will bring about a thousand years of sorrow!" Rarely, the prophecy's "Or" has the heroic variant included: "... but if Sir Tropesalot finds the Sword of Plot Advancement, he will take up the crown and usher in a thousand years of peace!"

It just doesn't seem fair. Why is it that beating the Big Bad doesn't bring about a thousand years of perpetual (hopefully not literal) light? There's two potential justifications for this: Good, true Good, won't stoop to the levels necessary to create a permanent Sugar Bowl, whereas Evil won't have a problem with completely wrecking the world. The other reason is that the Good Guys are usually the only ones concerned with maintaining the Balance Between Good and Evil. Metatextually, the Author also probably wants a world where his Chronic Hero Syndrome suffering protagonist can't sleep. Also, we know Villains Act, Heroes React, and an action can often be tried many times until successful.

This trope is often the unsaid justification for having Showy Invincible Heroes.

True in pretty much all video games. You have to win through every challenge you face to get to the end, whereas your enemies just have to win once and (unless it's a Hopeless Boss Fight or Final Boss Preview) it's Game Over. It's also frequently inverted in the form of an Instant-Win Condition, from the perspective of a player stuck against That One Level or That One Boss; no matter how many times you get beaten down, you (generally) only need to win once in order to progress. This trope may also be the reason why No Canon for the Wicked is commonplace.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, if even one of the Angels penetrate to the heart of the NERV base, Third Impact will be initiated, wiping out all life on earth.
    • Horrific Relevation reveals that an Angel ALREADY penetrated the NERV Base...since from before the start of the series. Said Angel is actually Humanity itself and they're also trying to initiate Third Impact. And they're the ones that succeed. This is one hell of a Crapsack World, huh?
  • Elimona from Defense Devil once stated that this was not the case, despite how it seemed, since the Devils are dominated by the Angels and are at the verge of destruction anyway. The Angels are just waiting for the two strongest demons, Legato and Kucabara, to defeat each other so that they can easily purge the world of demons and devils.
  • In MÄR, the world hasn't been living the best of times because, while the Chess didn't lose the first fight, the good also didn't win, and the leader of the bad team escaped, so the world's been living in fear of the Chess rising again. Doesn't help that their captain (not the leader though) was a zombie and the world was told that he'd be back after a while, so they've been living in fear for the second War Games to start, which is where the story catches us.
    • Furthering this trope, is the fact that if the captain of either side loses, that side loses the entire game. The Chess have an entire army, so their captain stays out of the fighting until the sorting algorithm of evil forces him to join in. Team MAR only has one or two extra players, forcing the captain to participate in almost every round.
  • In Star Driver, Takuto could never lose a single battle (which occurred Once per Episode) or the Glittering Crux would instantly succeed at their goal of kidnapping the Barrier Maiden and release the seals.
  • Bleach: If Tsukishima so much as nicks you just once with Book Of The End, the fight is over - simple as that. In a bizarre subversion of the trope, it doesn't have anything to do with One-Hit KO - rather, it's form of Mind Rape with a healthy helping of Reality Warping: Anything Book Of The End cuts lets Tsukishima alter its past, person or thing. Therefore, cutting somebody lets him insert his existence into their past any way he likes, such as a family relative, best friend, or cherished mentor. In short, he strips the enemy of their will to fight him, and can even alter it so that they fight for him. Though it fails against Byakuya, who is willing to kill him despite the false memories.

    Comic Books 
  • There's a version of this in Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: Shockwave tells Overlord that he isn't the first Phase Sixer (or One-Man Army) to bait Megatron. Overlord notes that he only has to be the last — the one who wins. And while in this case both parties are evil, Overlord is probably the worse of the two.
  • The backstory of the original Mark Millar comic book Wanted. The premise of the setting is that the supervillains of the world finally decided to all team up and thus overwhelm the superheroes by sheer numbers. After their victory, the villains used one of their Reality Warpers to retroactively change reality so that the heroes became normal people (with ironic twists to their lives), and they themselves were set up as the secret rulers of the world. The only hint that anything was ever different is the existence of superhero comic books, which represent the ultimate victory of the supervillains — although the comics depict actual events from the previous reality, nobody would ever take them seriously.
  • In one Batman: Gotham Adventures comic, The Joker claims that he's always let Batman win, because if the Joker wins once, Batman dies and can no longer be played with, but every time Batman wins, the Joker is simply sent to Cardboard Prison and it's only a matter of time before the game begins again. Of course, this is The Joker talking.
  • This is the case for Omnicidal Maniac villains whose threat is considered universe-reaching, such as Darkseid or Thanos. Since their influence can threaten the entire fabric of existence, letting them get their way even once would be an unstoppable catastrophe upon life itself.
  • As a counterpoint to the "one good day" philosophy stated in the page quote, The Joker believes that normal people are only "one bad day" away from total madness.

    Film 
  • In The Fifth Element, the personification of evil springs up every 5000 years. The titular element has to be used in conjunction with the four element stones to wipe it out, but it keeps coming back. If evil gets the four stones, however, it can wipe out all life in the universe. No recovering from that.
  • In The Cabin in the Woods, the Ancient Ones are kept asleep by giving them sacrifices. The sacrifices have to happen every year (there are numerous backups, and at least one has to succeed), but missing the deadline means the Ancient Ones wake up and the world is screwed.
  • In Epic it's not made explicit, but it's pretty clear if Mandrake stops a new queen from being crowned, the forest wouldn't be able to come back from him rotting it.

    Literature 
  • In the Discworld Vimes thinks this about the repeated assassination attempts he suffers. However, in the end the Assassin's Guild declines to accept more commissions on him. One reason is that his role in the management of the city has grown vital enough that they don't want the disruption removing him would cause. The other is that their repeated failures were just getting embarrassing, and assassins value their own lives highly.
    • The Last Hero Cohen the Barbarian says it doesn't matter if he fails to kill the Discworld Gods, it just matters he tries because "Next time someone'll try harder".
  • Roger Zelazny subverts this for A Night in the Lonesome October. The initial assumption is Pretty well justified, as the Evil in this case is the entire collection of Lovecraftian Eldritch Abominations. But it is revealed in an offhand way that Good has lost before, albeit not in recorded history, and the lead character has contingency plans in case Good loses again.
  • This seems to be the case in the world of The Wheel of Time series. Over aeons, The Pattern endlessly repeats itself, and the same heroes end up being reincarnated to fight the forces of the Dark One. When the forces of Light win, the Dark One goes back to being Sealed Evil in a Can. If the Dark One ever wins, the Pattern will be destroyed, ending the cycle not just permanently, but retroactively back to the first turning of the wheel.
    • However, it gets really weird. The Dark One only needs to win once to break out of his prison across its myriad permutations, but as long as one reality that stands unbeaten the Dark One cannot break free. It's weird.
      • There are also hints within the story that he has won before, only to find his efforts rendered futile as the Reset Button was pressed.
      • We will see if the ending of the story is yet another cycle, or if the various factors this time around will render their victory more permanent. In particular, balefire can erase things from the Pattern entirely, which may well mean that this cycle will be the last, for better or for worse - as things struck by balefire not only no longer exist, but if struck by strong enough balefire, never existed in the first place.
      • In the end it's subverted. The Dark One can never truly win, because he does not understand why he loses and can never change. No matter how many times he tries, he'll always make the same mistakes.
    • This is also central to Ishamael's/Moridin's view of life. A former philosopher, he became Genre Savvy both to the endless repetitions of the Wheel and the fact that Evil Only Has to Win Once, and decided that not only was saving existence impossible (since the Dark One has an eternity to get it right), but since the cycle only repeated variations of the same events over and over again with no hope of true change, existence wasn't worth saving.
  • Roland of The Dark Tower is seeking the aforementioned Tower to save it. He's also stuck in a Stable Time Loop and must repeat his adventure over and over, meaning he has to save the Tower numerous times. In comparison, the Crimson King only needs to win once to destroy reality and plunge all its denizens into the primordial chaos.
    • If it was a stable timeloop, that wouldn't be a problem, since everything plays out the same way every time. But there may be slight changes every time it's repeated (Horn of Eld), so the outcome really is unsure.
    • The implication is that it cuts both ways. Roland saves the Tower, but he's done so many terrible things to reach it that by the time he does, he's unworthy of it. However, through the love of his friends he's redeemed himself just enough to earn a second chance. Presumably if he ever manages to make it to the Tower without compromising his humanity in the first place, he'll be worthy enough to ascend to the top and fix Creation such that it never needs saving in the first place. Evil Only Has to Win Once... but GOOD also only has to win, really decisively WIN, once as well.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos is full of Eldritch Abominations lurking in other dimensions, many of whom could destroy the world (or the entire physical universe) if they felt like it. So if some insane cultists ever succeed in waking one of them up, it's all over red rover.
  • The Lord of the Rings averts the trope in the specific context of its Big Bad, but follows it concerning evil in general. As Gandalf explains, if Sauron wins his victory will be so complete that none can foresee his fall while the world lasts, but if he falls, he will fall so low that none can foresee him rising ever again. However, As Long as There Is Evil (which there will always be, since it was woven into the fabric of creation itself by Morgoth), "the shadow will ever take another shape and grow again."
  • In the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel Festival of Death, the Doctor and his allies prevent an Eldritch Abomination from eating the universe. So far, just another day in the office for the Doctor. But there are several time loops involved, so there's a sense in which the adventure is happening over and over again forever — and if the Doctor and his allies slip up even once, it's goodbye universe.
    "Yes," said the baby, opening its eyes. "The Doctor succeeded. This time."
  • Averted in Villains by Necessity itself an inversion of the Standard Fantasy Setting. The forces of Good did win the ultimate battle two centuries ago and have been turning the world into a Sugar Bowl ever since. A druid convinces some of the few remaining evil people in the world to restore the Balance Between Good and Evil by releasing the Sealed Evil in a Can.
  • In the Tom Clancy novelnote  Patriot Games, the ULA terroist Sean Miller notes that anti-terrorist forces have to be lucky every time, while terrorists only have to do so once, in a nod to a similar comment made in the aftermath of the Real Life Brighton hotel bombing.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort's goals are to return to full power, take over the wizarding world, and kill off or otherwise dispose of all Muggleborns and other "Undesirables". By the end of the series, he actually accomplished the first two, and was well on his way to reaching the third before Harry stopped him.
  • In the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Big Bad Lord Foul is essentially immortal- he can be imprisoned or reduced to near impotence, but "Despite can never die" and he'll always return to power. On the other hand, Foul's own goal is to destroy the Arch of Time and, by extension, the physical world (because he's trapped there, and he wants to escape back into the wider universe and get back at the Creator, his Good Counterpart who trapped him in the first place) some which, needless to say, only needs to be done once. Any hero who successfully defeats Foul, though, has to live with the knowledge that he'll be back a few millennia down the line.
  • In the Dresden Files, the Adversary is a group of Outsiders that want to unmake reality and are only prevented from doing so by Queen Mab.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike asks Buffy how many vampires, demons etc she thinks she's killed.
    Buffy: Not enough.
    Spike: (nods) And we just keep coming. But you can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand thousand and the enemies of Hell besides and all we need is for one of us- just one- sooner or later to have the thing we're all hoping for.
    Buffy: And that would be what?
    (Spike leans in close and whispers in her ear.)
    Spike: One... good... day.
  • Inverted in an episode of Monk, where the titular character is talking to a group of children about what he does as a detective. He says that he has made some mistakes as a detective, and that good guys and bad guys can both make mistakes, but a bad guy only has to make one mistake for the good guys to find him and arrest him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Doom: The Board Game by Fantasy Flight Games features a campaign mode where the Space Marine players have to win all five scenarios while the Invader player only needs to win one in order to win the whole campaign. The Marines get to keep their equipment between games, though.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the forces of Chaos have launched 13 Black Crusades from the Eye of Terror to destroy the Imperium. They've been repelled each time, but the victories always come at a high cost and they get narrower every time. And Abaddon is always ready to launch another Crusade whenever he is able to get all of the forces of Chaos to cooperate (admittedly not an easy task).
  • Battletech kinda inverts this with the proposal of Victor Steiner-Davion (representing the "good" Inner Sphere) to the "evil" Clans; the latter being hell-bent on conquering Earth. He challenges them to a refusal test with two possible outcomes: Either the Spherians win and the Clans have to leave them alone for good, or the Clanners win and thus have earned the right to wage perpetual warfare against the Inner Sphere until they've completed their conquest (or are vanquished for good themselves) - because permanent war is what their whole society is tailored to.

    Video Games 
  • Non-plot variant in Unreal Tournament: in Assault mode's rules. The match consist of two rounds, one defense and one offense; if the attackers in the first round win, they swap roles with the defenders and the new attackers must win faster. Example: your team starts with offense. If you lose the offense round, you instantly lose the match. If you win the offense round but lose the defense one, you lose the match as well. Under the same rules, if you were to start with defense you could win the match either by winning defense OR losing defense but beating the other team's time in offense... but if you play against the AI, you always start with offense and therefore you can't afford to lose even once. This can be particularly frustrating since the bots on your team are severely handicapped in Assault mode.
  • The Soul Series. So far, the Soul Edge (the evil sword) has been shattered or destroyed at least three times (Soul Edge/Blade, Soul Calibur 1, Soul Calibur 2), twice by the Soul Calibur (the "good" sword). What happens each time? The sword just breaks into pieces (each one every bit as evil as the whole sword) and eventually reforms itself, stronger than before. Now, what happens in every ending where the Soul Edge wins instead? The world gets hosed, that's what. Even worse, in SCIV, we learn that the Calibur is actually just as evil, but with a penchant for Order rather than Chaos.
  • Mortal Kombat is mentioned in the trope description, but it's actually more of a funny variant of the trope rather than a completely straight example. By the time the events of the original game play out (after being Ret Canon'd by the movie), not only has evil already won once, but has been doing so for the past 500 years or so. The tournament that is being documented by the game is actually the tenth such tournament following a string of nine victories by current champion Goro. If the Earthrealm fighters fail to crown a champion of their own in this tournament, Shao Kahn and Outworld has free rein to invade and conquer Earthrealm. So in Mortal Kombat's case, it's "Evil Only Has To Win Ten Times...But This Is The Tenth Time." A look in the series' backstory reveals that the entire tournament is actually rigged to keep anyone from uniting all of the Realms. The Elder Gods split the Realms to prevent the One Being from ever returning. Evil only has to win one more time...but the ones in charge won't let it win if they can help it.
  • Castlevania operates on this principle, though so far it hasn't had to actually employ the trope. Every hundred years, Dracula's castle reappears and whoever in the Belmont clan (except the one time that Morris guy had it at the start of the 20th century) possesses the Vampire Killer whip has to storm the castle and slap Dracula back to the abyss. Should they fail...well, everyone's going to pay the price but all Dracula has to do is wait another hundred years (a stone's throw in vampire time) and he gets to try all over again (until 1999 and a well-timed eclipse screwed him over for good).
  • Inverted in the Mass Effect series, where the success of the Reapers' periodic genocidal "harvesting" of spacefaring civilizations is largely dependent on leaving no survivors who might warn future civilizations or try to interfere directly. True to form, things fell apart for them once a few surviving Protheans sabotaged the system intended to awaken the Reapers from hibernation and allow them to strike first with a surprise attack at the heart of galactic civilization. The weapon needed to defeat them was incrementally designed and improved over countless cycles (the Reapers thought they'd erased the design several times), and presumably only the original creators actually knew what the hell it did beyond being the superweapon the previous cycle almost completed.
    • This is most evident in Mass Effect 3's "Refusal" Ending: Even if Shepard fails this cycle, the Reapers finally fall in the next one.
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy I, where it's revealed at the end that Evil has won over and over and over again for nobody knows how long. The only way for the cycle to end is for Good to win.
    • Also played straight. The Catch in Final Fantasy I is that the 1 battle the good guys need to win is the very last one, while the 1 battle that evil needs to win to break the loop is the very first.
  • While Dark Souls runs on Grey and Grey Morality, this is invoked by the games central conflict. In order to keep the First Flame alive, the followers of Gwyn must always keep the cycle of sacrifice going in order to continue the Age of Fire. However, all the followers of Kaathe and the Pygmy have to do is merely wait for the First Flame to die.
  • Team Fortress 2: In Mann versus Machine mode, only one bot has to make it past defenses with the bomb for the defenders to lose.
  • In a sense, this trope is inverted with any game that has a extra life system. In this case the player really only has to win the one time to beat the game. The antagonists have to keep winning in order to stop the player from doing so.
  • The Legend of Zelda: If Ganondorf obtains the full Triforce, he will Take Over the World. Link and Zelda must stop him at all cost.
    • Due to the Continuity Snarl of a forked timeline, evil did win in one case. The original game, Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, and the Oracle games are the resulting stories from that incident.
  • Bowser in Super Mario Bros. fits this trope. His plans are so destructive that Mario cannot risk to lose against him.
  • Subverted in Knights of the Old Republic. Carth certainly thinks this is true, but Jolee is less concerned, believing that thing would bounce back to normal even if evil did win - though it wouldn't be until after a few decades of tyranny.
  • Inverted in the Gardens & Graveyards Mode of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. The Zombies are under a Time Limit to take down each of the Plants' strongholds; if the Plants manage to fend them off long enough for the time to run out even once, the game automatically ends with their victory.

    Web Original 
  • The sorcerer Dagon, from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, pretty much had just one evil plan that he used every time he went up against the heroes: release the Great Old Ones from their extra-dimensional prison so they can rule the Earth once again as they did billions of years before those johnny-come-lately humans (who, by the way, will be served up en masse as hors' dourves at the "Happy Get Out of Extra-Dimensional Prison Day" party). He's been beaten every time so far... but he only has to win once.
  • The world is in for any variety of apocalypses if the SCP Foundation fails to contain some threats. e.g. SCP-231-7 only has to give birth once.

    Western Animation 
  • Man Of Action's Generator Rex joins the party with the introduction of the meta-nanites, special nanites which can bestow the power over things like matter, antimatter and the like, if Van Kleiss, the Consortium (Providence's higher ups who intend to use them and become gods) or Black Knight who intends to acquire their power for herself, gets their hands on them it's game-over. It turns out that Evil never had a chance in the first place. The Meta-nanites had been programmed by Cesar and his parents in such a way that only Rex could use their full power. That is the only reason Cesar cooperated with Black Knight to gather the Meta-nanites in the first place — he had been planning to give that power to Rex all along. Too bad he never told Rex that.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang had to defeat the Fire Lord before or during Sozin's Comet. If the bad guys succeed in burning almost the entire world, then it's truly game-over—there wouldn't be any world left for the Avatar to save.
    • As of Legend Of Korra, this is also the case with Vaatu. If he triumphs, good will eventually reemerge, but it will take 10,000 years, during which he will be left free to ravage the world. He just has to win one battle on the right day.
  • Skips from Regular Show has to repeatedly take down Klorgbane every 157 years. He only has to beat Skips once to kill his brothers (as shown with Archibald being easily killed).

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