"Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone."Few victories come without cost, but the cost of a Pyrrhic Victory is ruinous to the victor. A Pyrrhic Victory will often involve a Heroic Sacrifice or people asking Was It Really Worth It? If it happens at the end of a work, it will inevitably lead to a Bittersweet Ending or even a Downer Ending (and likely Inferred Holocaust). Often the implication of a Lonely at the Top situation, where someone gets everything he wanted, but lost everything and everyone that helped him get there. A clever enemy can use a Defensive Feint Trap to trick an opponent into "winning" such a victory. These are common in Darker and Edgier series and is one of the defining characteristics of a Crapsack World. Compare to Meaningless Villain Victory. Contrast with Pyrrhic Villainy and Shoot the Shaggy Dog. If the bad outcome of a victory is due to post-victory arrangements rather than victory itself, you may look for Won the War, Lost the Peace. When dealing with Eldritch Abominations, this overlaps with Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu. Contrast Xanatos Gambit, where "losing" might benefit the planner more than outright victory. Contrast Godzilla Threshold; any victory will do, and no price is too great to achieve said victory, and The Unfettered who are the most likely to carry it out. Here there be spoilers, since this is often an Ending Trope. Named for King Pyrrhus of Epirus whose two major victories during his campaign against Rome cost him so many of his best soldiers that he was eventually forced to retreat. This trope is based on real life events. However, due to massive edit warring in the real life section, the section is now closed. Fortunately there's a page with details of these battles on The Other Wiki.
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Anime & Manga
- Freezing. In every battle with the Monster of the Week, The Nova ends in massive death tolls, which increase with every battle as the Novas evolve and improve at a rate mankind just can't keep up with. The tiny part of the population able to fight The Nova is dwindling ever quicker and getting harder and harder to replace, made worse because the entire population able to fight Novas is made up of Child Soldiers who, on top of risking life and limb, die at a young age anyway because of the use of their powers.
- At the end of Hellsing, The Major and every last one of his Millennium vampire soldiers have been slain, but he dies content. The cost of his defeat was the destruction of London, with almost all of its population dead overnight, Alucard is apparently destroyed, Pip is dead, Walter dies a traitor, and Integra is now missing an eye.
- Mazinger Z: After a long and hard battle, Kouji defeated Dr. Hell with Mazinger Z. However, the Mycene immediately attacks without giving any time to rest and he is unable to do anything to stop them. Mazinger Z, Venus A, Boss Borot and the Photon Research Institute are easily destroyed (and several world cities, including Tokyo, in the movie). Kouji is saved by Tetsuya and his Great Mazinger, who claims that Mazinger Z isn't needed anymore.
- And in Great Mazinger, the heroes finally defeat the Mykene army... but it was due to the Heroic Sacrifice of Prof. Kabuto, Kouji and Shiro's biological father and Tetsuya and Jun's adoptive father. Despite the victory, nobody felt victorious; in fact Tetsuya blamed himself for his father's death, and rightly so. In one of the adaptations, Tetsuya himself bites the dust.
- Several times throughout Dragon Ball. Most notably, the end of the Saiyan Arc; while the Saiyans are repelled, with Nappa being killed and Vegeta retreating in bad shape, more than half of the Z Fighters are killed (Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Chiaozu, and Piccolo) in the battle, and even the survivors are in pretty rough shape. Even worse, the Dragon Balls have ceased to exist due to Piccolo's death (and because of his connection to Kami, Kami is dead too), meaning that no one can be brought back to life again. When the discovery of the existence of Dragon Balls on Namek is made, the race is on to find and gather them before the new bad guys do.
- Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas. By the series final, you can count the number of survivors on two hands.
- In Slayers, the Koma War (translated variously as "Dark Lord's Resurrection War", "War of Demonic Invasion", "War of the Monsters' Fall") a thousand years ago ended badly for everyone. Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu destroyed Aqualord Ragradia... but was permanently frozen in the Grim Up North, all his power sealed. Half the Golden Dragons in the world were slaughtered... but Mazoku also suffered the deaths of two Priests and two Generals (who are irreplaceable), as well as the desertion of Chaos Dragon Gaav and all serving him. Even aside from Gaav's outright betrayal, without Shabranigdu organizing them, the Five Retainers couldn't get along and started bickering amongst each other over the best way to end the world. Humans suffered devastating losses, including losing the ability to perform Holy Magic and being confined to a single continent by the Mazoku God-Sealing Field, but on the other hand started developing increased levels of Black and Shamanic Magic. In short, nobody won. Thus, in the novels, when Dynast Grausherra decides to bring about the resurrection of Ruby-Eye through a second Koma War, even his fellow Mazoku are opposed to the idea.
- The ending of Death Note certainly feels like one of these. Soichiro Yagami, one of the only truly good characters in the series (according to the artist himself,) is dead, L is dead, Mello is dead (although that was just as planned), poor Matsuda's probably going to need some serious therapy, there is no afterlife (at least in the manga), God knows how many NPCs are dead, and a year later, the world's practically returned to normal. Kira barely changed anything. Ouch.
- The manga's ending is less Pyrrhic for Light though, as there is still a cult of followers worshiping him, even though everything else returned to normal.
- The movie version is only marginally better. L gains 23 days, but he still dies. Kira is stopped sooner, but the world still goes back to normal. There's still no afterlife (at least for Death Note users). This time, he survives, but Soichiro's the one that needs therapy now.
- YuYu Hakusho
- The ending of the Chapter Black arc has Yusuke defeat Sensui, except Sensui was already dying and the demon gate was opened just so he could die honorably. In addition, said demons turned out to mostly be nobler than the humans Yusuke was to protect, and The Spirit World did indeed turn out to be corrupt.
- Then in the Makai tournament, Yusuke ends up one-on-one with Yomi, one of the three former Demon Kings. It was an intense battle from beginning to end. In the end, Yomi won the battle, but doing so took so much out of him that he had nothing left for his next opponent. So even in losing, Yusuke managed to keep Yomi from fulfilling his ambition to rule Makai and wage war on the other realms.
- In Bleach, Uryu's fight with Mayuri Kurotsuchi ended with Uryu defeating Kurotsuchi at the cost of having all of his powers semi-permanently sealed away.
- When Ichigo wins a fight by giving into his Superpowered Evil Side. Yes, he won, but in doing so he traumatized one friend, stabbed and tried to kill another, and brutally mauled his opponent to death.
- Also, his final victory against Aizen. Aizen can only be sealed away and imprisoned meaning there's always a chance he could return. Meanwhile, Ichigo sacrificed his powers and his ability to be a substitute Shinigami. Thinking he has no right to complain about this, he tries to go on with a normal human life for 17 months, his grades slipping and not planning for his future because he's unable to face up to reality that having the power to protect is an integral part of who he is, without which he's reduced to simply existing instead of actually living. It takes another substitute shinigami shaking up his life to make him face and accept the truth.
- Sajin Komamura sacrificed his heart in order to become stronger and, for a while, making him incapable of death. He then proceeds to curb stomp Bambietta. However, he ends completely turning into a wolf/dog thing and might be dead.
- Defeating the D-Reaper in Digimon Tamers was this. Basically, the only way to stop it was to use a weapon that damaged their own Digimon to the point they had to go back to the Digital World or die, and by the time it was ready the D-Reaper had already destroyed a good portion of both the Digital and real worlds. To rub salt in the wound, the weapon couldn't even kill the D-Reaper — all it did was let the Tamers seal it away and pray to the Sovereigns that it never broke out.
- The anime ending of Chrono Crusade qualifies. Chrono and Rosette manage to save Joshua and defeat Aion, but Joshua is badly brain damaged and can't remember them, Chrono and Rosette are badly injured during the final battle and die together six months later, Satella kills her sister and herself in order to stop Fiore from taking Joshua back to Aion, Remington is left broken and filled with regret, Aion's plans cause the Great Depression, and in the 1980s Remington witnesses a man that appears to be Aion take out a gun and shoot the Pope. It's also implied that Aion is revived by humanity's sins and will live on as long as sin exists in the world, meaning that Chrono and Rosette's sacrifices only seem to stop Aion temporarily.
- In Monster, Tenma got his moral victory… at a great cost.
- Whether you believe Tabris the 17th Angel allowed Shinji to kill him because he truly respected/cared for Shinji, or because he wanted to make Shinji suffer as he died, it's indisputable that the destruction of the last Angel in Neon Genesis Evangelion ruined the last of Shinji's self-confidence and mental stability. It gets worse in the Movie, when we realize the Angels are actually NOT the real threat as his Magnificient Bastard of a father AND SEELE an Ancient Conspiracy begin their plans for World Instrumentality.
- Taken Up to Eleven in Rebuild of Evangelion. In the second movie, Shinji attempts to rescue Rei's soul from Zeruel's core after the former has been consumed by the angel. He fulfills this goal to an extent, but at the cost of triggering the Third Impact and kickstarting the end of the world. In the end, it is revealed in the third movie that he hadn't even been able to save the Rei he wanted to save after all.
- One of the premises of G Gundam:
- After winning the previous Gundam Fight, Master Asia looks back and is horrified by the carnage and the damage he and the other participants have caused. He becomes bitter at humanity's willingness to go through such lengths and has thus chosen to be extreme in his own way.
- Domon himself. He defeats the Devil Gundam and saves Rain and his father, but in the process he loses his mother, brother (twice over), and mentor in true Tear Jerker fashion.
- At the end of One Piece's Paramount War arc, the Marines succeed in their stated goal of killing Ace and Whitebeard, ostensibly proving the strength of their justice. Yet they lose so, so much more. To whit;
- Before the War began, Straw Hat Luffy, trying to free Ace, sneaks into Impel Down, and ignites an unprecedented prison riot. Blackbeard also attacks the prison to do some recruiting, and the ultimate result is a mass jailbreak of at least 240 prisoners escaping, some Warlord-level, and some so dangerous that the Government had to erase their existence.
- During the War, the Whitebeard Pirates and allies prove to be a powerful force, and decimate half of the Marines' assembled forces. Whitebeard himself demolishes the Marine HQ, and splits the island in two. What's more, the arrival of the Red-Hair Pirates allows the surviving pirates to escape. Even worse, Blackbeard somehow steals the power of the Tremor-Tremor Fruit, putting the most destructive Devil Fruit in the hands of a total madman who now has two Devil Fruit powers despite this supposedly being a biological impossibility.
- After the War ends, Whitebeard's Famous Last Words confirm the existence of the One Piece, starting a second Great Age of Pirates, with the Marines being unable to respond properly because of their forces being decimated. Meanwhile, the power vacuum from his death has turned the New World into a bloodbath. Worse still, Fleet Admiral Sengoku and Vice-Admiral Garp choose to leave the Marines because of the Government's decisions, and following the promotion of Akainu / Sakazuki to Fleet Admiral, so does Aokiji / Kuzan. And Blackbeard is able to take Whitebeard's place, seizing much of his former territory.
- D.Gray-Man: At the end of the Noah's Ark Arc, after battling all these Noah, Allen Walker restores the Ark by playing a special song in a secret room within the Ark that the Noah don't know. Of course, Everyone who came along for the journey, got left behind, and supposedly died come back, but when they get back, poor Allen is charged for knowing how to control the Ark, since only certain Noah know how, and for being the container for the 14th. Not only does he have to control this monster inside his head, he has to be subjected to some not so good treatment from Leverrier. Now is that the way to treat your savior?
- Twenty years before the main story in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Ala Rubra stopped the war in the Magical World and saved the world. Unfortunately, this was only achievable through the sealing of Asuna, which caused the floating capital to collapse and destroyed the cultural center of the world. The dynasty of the founders and kings of Ostia was also assumed to be wiped out when Arika was blamed for the disaster.
- The end of Code Geass goes something like this — Lelouch is dead, Suzaku had to fake his death (and both of their reputations are in ruins), the entire populations of both Tokyo and the Britannian capital are dead and it's likely that Nunnally and several others are likely to need some kind of therapy. The world's at peace, but it's come at a heavy price.
- In Great Teacher Onizuka a Pyrrhic Victory is achieved by an antagonist in a beauty pageant. By cheating the voting system, she manages to beat Tomoe in the pageant, but as she receives her reward, everyone in the audience boos her and claims to want Tomoe to be the winner.
- Gurren Lagann: The Anti-Spirals are defeated, but more than half of the Gurren Brigade are dead, including Kittan, and Nia dies soon after returning to earth, because her life force was tied to the Anti-Spiral. On her wedding day of all days.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: In any timeline (excepting the penultimate one) where Walpurgisnacht is defeated, all the local magical girls are left either dead or having expended so much magical power that they'll soon be powerful witches themselves.
- Even worse are the timelines where Madoka becomes, according to Kyubey, what could be the most powerful witch in existence.
- This happens kind of a lot. Homura defeats Charlotte, but not before Mami dies. Sayaka prevents a witch from killing Madoka, Hitomi, and several adults by becoming a magical girl. This leads to her becoming a witch, and her destruction in a Heroic Sacrifice by Kyoko (yet another "victory").. In the ending, Madoka erases all witches from existence; but Sayaka and all the historical magical girls still die, and new witch-like monsters appear. Madoka herself disappears, and most people forget that she ever existed. Madoka seems pretty content with this outcome, though.
- The resolution of the Yurin/Flit/Emily Love Triangle in Gundam AGE. Sure, Emily got to both marry Flit and be the mother of his children Asemu and Unoa, but this is because Yurin was horribly killed off, thus Emily's "second-best" for him. And she's very aware of it. And we're not counting how Flit himself was broken beyond belief by the death of Yurin... enough to become the Dark Messiah Anti-Hero.
- By the end Nearly EVERYONE on both sides except the 3 main Gundam leads are dead. Although Flit was able to resist going genocidal on the Vegans in the end he'd more or less wasted his whole life on a cause he abandoned in the end, and he died shortly after the war ended. Asemu became a wanted criminal and missed out on his sons entire childhood, and he wasn't able to help Zeheart in the end. Kio got his peace he wanted, but all the Vegans he personally knew and wanted to save all died. In spite of this very bleak outlook the series acts like it was a super happy ending, one reason the ending was not well received by fans.
- The conclusion of the First Space War in Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Yeah, humanity survived... by the skin of its teeth, with less than a million humans out of the six billion that once inhabited Earth, and the planet is devastated and barely hanging on as an ecosystem. As for the Zentraedi fleet, their numbers have been severally reduced, and many of them, in being absorbed into Earth culture and becoming isolated from the other Zentraedi in the galaxy, have lost their purpose in life, becoming little more than wandering bandits picking fights for no reason. Fortunately, it gets better, with humanity and its allies becoming a thriving interstellar civilization by the time of the later Macross series.
- Occurs in Steins;Gate when Rintaro finally returns from the alpha world line, where Mayuri is doomed to die somehow, to the beta world line, where Kurisu is doomed to be fatally stabbed. Subtly lampshaded when Rintaro then gives a huge, hammy speech proclaiming his victory, clearly on the verge of tears the whole time. Then subverted when it turns out that the beta world line must be averted in order to prevent World War III, and the way to do this is to go back in time again and save Kurisu, thus preventing an international time machine arms race and moving into a world line that Rintaro's future self dubs the "Steins Gate world line".
- Tower of God basically hands Pyrrhic Victories out like candy — or, just murky ones where you wind up unsure if a clear "loss" or "gain" was ever possible in the first place. Every last win has a price (even the apparently clear ones), and many of them are steep to the point of only looking like a win on paper, particularly if you don't scrutinise either the build-up, the background shenanigans or the longer-term damage. It even manages to hand out the inverse, of course: Pyrrhic Losses happen to major or majorish characters where, although they technically or even practically lost, they won the mid-game or got a surprise gain related to their main goals from it, even if it wasn't the target they were specifically aiming at at the time.
- In Attack on Titan, it seems that humanity is doomed to experience these. Any victory they manage to obtain by the skin of their teeth comes with heavy losses, and massive destruction, with the survivors wondering whether or not it could even be considered a true victory. Jean also questions whether any victory that requires them to throw away their humanity can even be considered a victory, rejecting the tendency of his superiors (and Armin) to fall back on stating that I Did What I Had to Do.
- During the battle of Trost, humanity obtains their first victory. But with the city massively damaged, hundreds wounded or dead, and the gate forever sealed (undoing four years of the Survey Corps' hard work), no one feels like celebrating.
- The raid on Stohess District ultimately succeeds in capturing Annie, thereby proving the existence of Titan Shifter spies and saving Eren from being handed over to the authorities. But with the city badly damaged, and the heavy toll on both civilian and military lives, many are horrified when Erwin states that it can be considered a victory. That Annie encased herself in a Crystal Prison to prevent interrogation does not help matters. Not to mention that a good portion of the populace is outraged that the Survey Corps conducted such a destructive, deadly mission right in the heart of humanity's capital.
- The mission to rescue Eren is successful, but at a massive physical and emotional cost. Erwin loses his right arm in the battle, and Hannes is among the many killed during the prolonged chase and battle. Krista is also successfully retrieved, but Ymir flees along with the exposed traitors — Reiner and Bertolt. That the group's surrogate Big Brother and Team Dad is The Mole is a devastating blow to everyone.
- Toward the end of the Golden Age Arc in Berserk, the Band of the Hawk succeed in rescuing their leader Griffith from the torture dungeon in the Tower of Rebirth in Wyndham against all of the odds that were thrown at them (which included the king's guards, foreign assassins, and an exiled band of sadistic murdering and raping mercenaries led by a truly nasty Apostle). However, in the end, not much came out of it since Griffith was too physically damaged to be the leader or the man that he once was. Harsher in Hindsight though — despite how cruel it sounds, the Hawks were probably better off not rescuing Griffith if they knew what was going to happen to them.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, when Kite defeats Mizar in a Duel. The cost? He dies from the cold vacuum of space afterward.
- In the backstory of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeon had two. The first was the Battle of Loum, in which they crushed the Federation fleet at the price of nearly exhausting their own military itself (it's learning of this, alongside Revil's Rousing Speech as he told them this, that made the Federation decide to continue fighting instead of surrendering). Then there's the invasion of Earth itself, in which Zeon defeats numerous Federation armies and takes over large parts of the planet... And gets involved in a brutal attrition war against a foe that outnumbers and outproduces them by a ridiculous margin, wasting resources needed to build up the fleet for when the Federation will bring the battle back to space.
- The series itself has the Battle of Solomon. After kicking most of Zeon's armies out of the planet, the Federation starts the invasion of Zeon itself by attacking one of its defensive linchpins, the space fortress of Solomon. Solomon falls and Zeon loses a great deal of forces and one of their best commanders, but said commander decided to have a Dying Moment of Awesome and covered the retreat of most of his men by annihilating the Federation fleet that had forced his men out of Solomon.
- The final battle at A Baoa Qu. In the end Zeon is defeated and reverts to a Republic, but the Federation military (and the government's hold on its more militant elements) was weakened to the point that those remnants of Zeon's military that rejected the armistice are still a major threat. Furthermore, Revil was killed by the opening shot of the battle, so there's nobody to keep the military's most extremist elements in check and the Federation bureaucrats (so corrupted their very existence was Zeon's major propaganda element) remained the main face of the government.
- The sequel series, Zeta Gundam has an even bigger case of this. The Titans are utterly defeated, but A.E.U.G forces are similarly devastated, with around 80% of the main cast dead and the lead character suffering from permanent brain damage. Oh, and the massively advanced Neo Zeon armada is about to commence a full-scale invasion of the earthsphere.
- In Green Worldz, the battle with the female human hybrid in the new timeline resulted in humanity's victory in contrast to the original timeline thanks to Iwatobi's intervene, but too bad he didn't get to see that his efforts ended up costing the destruction of the entire Akihabara and the deaths of 95% of his allies. Not to mention the protagonist Akira lost his right eye, left arm and a scar on his forehead.
- In the first season of Sailor Moon, Usagi manages to defeat Queen Beryl and the Dark Kingdom once and for all, but at the cost of her fellow Sailor Guardians' lives, as well as her own. Although her mental wish to go back to a normal life resurrects them, it comes at the cost of their memories of being friends being wiped clean. Not even Luna or Artemis bother to restore their memories until two months later when the events of R happen. If the events of R didn't happen, Usagi's friends would've probably spent the rest of their lives leading rather depressing, friendless lives, as shown in flashbacks when Fiore was ranting at the Sailor Guardians in the R movie.
- In My Hero Academia:
- Bakugou makes good on his boast that he would win first place in the Athletics Festival. But because his final opponent Todoroki gave up at the last moment, Bakugou finds his victory utterly hollow. He has to be chained up at the award ceremony and holds the first place medal in his teeth because he refuses to actually wear it.
- Todoroki's father, the number 2 hero Endeavor had spent his life trying to surpass All Might, the number 1 hero, even going so far as to partake in (unheroic) Quirk Eugenics. When All Might loses his power and thus retires, Endeavor becomes #1 but is angered that it was given to him by default and not earned.
- The ending note of Stardust Crusaders in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: the 100-year struggle between Dio Brando and the Joestar bloodline ends when DIO is killed for good, but with a great cost. Avdol, Iggy, and Kakyoin have to sacrifice themselves to allow such a happy ending, and not to mention countless bystanders and innocent animals get killed during the journey. And even then, it's revealed in later parts that DIO still managed to start a chain of events that would eventually lead to the deaths of Jotaro, his daughter Joylene and many of her friends, and the universe being reset.
- Bokurano. Even if the robot pilots win the game, they still die and their world suffers unspeakable devastation. Word of God also says their world can be chosen again and another group of pilots must be chosen.
- The clients of Hell Girl can go on with their lives but their souls will go to Hell. Characters in later seasons find out the hard way that sending their enemies to Hell just isn't worth condemning themselves also.
- Slam Dunk. Shohoku makes it to the finals but Sakuragi and Rukawa get injured on the way there and the team loses.
- The end of Blood-C: The Last Dark has Saya finally getting her revenge on Fumito for the torment that she received in the TV series. But it turns out that all of Fumito's actions were his attempts to restore her ability to feed on humans and to ensure her survival because he loved her in a very twisted way. Because of this revelation, Saya became more broken that she left her sword and never return to Mana, most especially when she found out that she's the one who killed her dad.
- Sin City: All victories in this series are Pyrrhic and then some.
- The Onslaught crossover invoked this trope by name in the last trade paperback that collected the series. Virtually every major hero within the main Marvel Universe is forced to sacrifice themselves in order to stop the main villain, Onslaught, by giving him a physical body. The mutants present at the fight, who were unable to sacrifice themselves in the above fashion, are forced to slaughter the heroes in order to destroy Onslaught once and for all, though much of the world ended up believing that they had simply killed off a huge crowd of beloved heroes.
- After Civil War ends in the death of Captain America, Iron Man actually mentions Pyrrhus in The Confession. Overwhelmed with guilt and grief, he ultimately concludes that the victory was worthless.
- When Batman faces Jason Todd, who forces him to choose between letting Joker die or killing Jason, Batman makes Jason drop his weapon and sends him into shock by throwing a batarang at a pipe so it rebounds and cuts the side of Jason's neck.
Joker: You managed to find a way to win... and everybody still loses!!
- Crisis on Infinite Earths: The heroes beat the Anti Monitor but in the process the entire multiverse is lost (and this is canon.) Arguably, the heroes can't be held responsible for the worlds lost before they got involved, but there were still six or seven worlds remaining when they began their counter offensive, two of them were destroyed and the other five were collapsed into one that was almost but not quite like one of the five with a few borrowed elements from the other four.
- The Long Halloween ends on this. Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent form an alliance to take down Carmine Falcone just as Batman's familiar Rogues Gallery start to appear like The Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and The Riddler. Falcone's empire is brought down—but the series ends with the Rogues Gallery in control and Harvey Dent has been transformed into Two-Face, with one of his first acts as Two-Face being killing Falcone himself.
- Monica's Gang: Frankie gave his dog a bone and said dog spent most of the story trying to recover it from one adversity after another. By the time he got it back, he no longer had any teeth.
- In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, the Freedom Fighters defeat Eggman, at the cost of Princess Sally being roboticized.
- One volume of Daredevil ends with Matt Murdock exposing the Sons of the Serpent and saving a many Wrongly Accused, but, because he revealed his identity as Daredevil, he is disbarred from practicing law in New York for perjury, which threatens his friend "Foggy" Nelson, as he's getting treatment for cancer. Thankfully, he realizes he can practice law again in a state he previously did and moves to California.
- The two Battles of New Xerba in Paperinik New Adventures:
- The first is one for the Evronians: they have captured the last free Xerbians and captured Xadhoom by using them as hostages, but all that means is that the device that reverse Coolflamization and prevents former Coolflames from being enslaved again on planetary scale is in the same place as an entity that can power it and has all reasons to do so, especially because by doing that the Evronians lose their hostages, leading immediately to the second.
- The second ends with the Evronian Empire losing their mobile homeworld, the Emperor, most of the Imperial Council, the best and brightest of the Scientific Caste and a large chunk of their military, shattering their might... And Xadhoom becoming a star to give a new homeworld to the last survivors of her people, meaning the one person that could stop an Evronian resurgence is gone... And, as shown in the relaunch stories, there are still Evronians capable of rebuilding the Empire out there.
- Watchmen ended with Ozymandias stopping World War III by creating a fake extraterrestrial monster and siccing it on New York, killing millions and forcing the US and Russia into a tenuous alliance. Ozymandias however will be haunted forever by the lives he took to ensure peace. However, a clue Rorschach left before he died might unravel the whole thing in any moment so Ozymandias' scheme might come to nothing.
- In the Total Drama fic Deserving, Courtney gets the million dollar briefcase, but the million dollars is used to pay her lawyers for the extravagances she included for herself when she re-entered the competition mid-season and all she's left with is $20. Not only that, but Duncan dumps her because she left him dangling off a cliff, hooking up with Gwen instead after she saved him. The final insult? She gets her head shaved by Heather!
- Evangelion 303: Asuka won her duel against Mari... but Mari shot her down a few seconds later. In a real battle she would be dead. Moreover, their little duel earned her another severe reprimand from Misato. Still Asuka was gloating later to Mari she she won. Mari laughed and called her a "kamikaze".
- Another Total Drama fanfiction example: King Nothing. Justin wins Total Drama Action and gets the million dollars. However, everyone hates him because he has revealed himself to be a manipulative, backstabbing liar — even his parents. Even after he graduates, he still can't get a job because no one will hire him, and finally turns to a drinking habit. Eventually he runs out of money and the last we see of him is working as a janitor at some crappy bar, and having lost his good looks from his alcoholic habit.
- A Brief History of Equestria: The conclusion of the Celestine Civil War: Sullamander is overthrown and the balance of power in the river valley is maintained, but Wind Whistler is killed, Celestine itself lies largely in ruins, a large chunk of the population view Hurricane and the rebels as traitors unfit to rule, and Lake Trot, the objective which instigated the war, freezes over, rendering all the death and destruction pointless.
- The Immortal Game: Titan's forces initially succeed in capturing Canterlot, turning Twilight and Rainbow Dash into brainwashed minions, and stripping Celestia of her divine power while constantly torturing her. However, all of these initial victories turn out to be too pricy to hold as the surviving Mane Four and Princess Luna are able to operate as La Résistance from Canterlot's Underground, Nihilus, the entity possessing Twilight, turns out to be less than loyal and not very bright, and Celestia eventually escapes to rally the resistance, leading Titan to abandon Canterlot, kill all his followers and withdraw to the Everfree Forest.
- In the Kingdom Hearts fic The Shrouded Path, Terra, Ven and Aqua escape from Silent Hill, but are severely traumatized by the ordeal. Although they managed to completely wreck The Order, everything else they destroyed regenerates the instant they leave (including Pyramid Head). Plus, Silent Hill's God, Vanitas, is still out there with every intention of going after them again, and this time he's willing to kill Terra.
- Second Wind: Implied to be the premise, and confirmed as such in Chapter 22: Luffy and Zoro make it to Raftel, but not before everyone else has been killed.
- In The Conversion Bureau: Not Alone, this is the end result of the war for humanity and Earth, combined with a Bittersweet Ending. Although humanity wins the war against Equestria's Assimilation Plot, forcing them to retreat, several soldiers have been killed in the war. Not only that, but South Africa (which has suffered a staggering loss of infrastructure thanks to the barrier wiping it out) is rapidly turning into a fascist hellhole, and several countries, running on paranoia due to humanity's first encounter with an alien species being an Alien Invasion with the intention of xenocide, have started to spend massive amounts of money (at the cost of education and healthcare) on beefing up their military forces and preparing for a war that will never happen.
- This is the end result of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy Phoenix manage to prove Kristoph guilty of poisoning Vera Misham and for forging the evidence that disbarred him and proved the jury system effective. The cost? He loses his apprentice, found out that he (the apprentice) and his lover committed a multitude of crimes and finds out that Kristoph was innocent of the crime that got him sent to jail in the first place.
- In Wizard Runemaster, humanity (Harry Potter in particular) managed to drive the Burning Legion from Earth and convince them the planet wasn't worth conquering, all at the cost of roughly 90% of the human population after a twelve year war.
- In the RWBY fic A Farmer Or Something, Pyrrha's canonical partner never attends Beacon. As a result, Pyrrha becomes an incredibly famous warrior who's immortalized in many tales...but, all throughout her life, she's lonely and disillusioned.
Guilt and disgust and trauma at fighting for 'necessity,' for 'the greater good,' for other people's battles in other people's lands for other people's reasons.
- In Im Giving You A Night Call by shooting Fullmetal and saving General Hakuro, Roy Mustang finally gets the promotion he wanted so bad. Doing so let the dirty General Hakuro go unpunished and loses him his boyfriend just when he was going to tell Roy the truth about his superhero activities and tell him that he loved him back.
Films — Animation
- The Alternate Ending of The Lion King was one of these for Scar. He beats Simba and throws him off Pride Rock but unknowingly saved Simba's life in the process, as the fires engulf Pride Rock, killing Scar. All Scar's 'victory' did was result in killing himself and allowing Simba to become king. At that point, however, he probably didn't care, seeing how he was also laughing as he was burning up.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph gets the medal he wanted and returns to his own game, after destroying Vanellope's racecar to prevent her from racing. There finds out that Fix-It Felix has left trying to find him and has yet to return, and their game is about to be unplugged. So, Ralph's won a medal, broke a little girl's heart, and has the key to a Penthouse suite he was told he'd never get in a game about to be unplugged... Nice Job Wrecking It, Ralph. Though he DOES set everything right in the end.
- In Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman manages to stop the Red Hood/Jason and save the Joker's life, but as the Joker points out, all Batman did was make it so that no one got what they wanted and nothing has changed.
- In The Boxtrolls, Snatcher does get a white hat, and he does taste cheese in the tasting room in the end. That tasted-cheese causes his allergy (along with the rest of his built-up allergic reaction) to do him in.
- In Cars, the Piston Cup comes down to a three-way contest between hero Lightning McQueen, Big Bad Chick Hicks, and defending champion Strip Weathers, who is planning to retire after this race. Hicks cheats and causes Weathers to wreck out, which in turn causes Lightning, in the lead, to drop out to help Weathers at least finish his last race. As a result, Hicks actually wins, with Weathers in second place and Lightning in third, but he accepts the trophy to a throng of boos and thrown objects, including from his own pit crew, now revealed as a cheater to the world.
- The Battle of Autobot City in The Transformers: The Movie ends as this. Although the Autobots manage to repel the Decepticon threat (with Megatron mortally wounded), Optimus Prime loses his life in the same battle, as do several other named Autobots. The Decepticon casualties, meanwhile, end up being zero thanks to Unicron reformatting Megatron and the other dying Decepticons into Galvatron and his minions, who swiftly attack the city again, forcing the Autobots to flee.
Films — Live-Action
- Every time the good guys win something at ANY point in The Dark Knight it comes at HUGE cost. Might even be the movie's main theme. By the end of the film Harvey Dent has gone insane and started murdering people, has gotten killed and Batman has taken the heat for the murders all so the Joker won't win. And then Bane completely makes the victory useless when he reveals Dent's crimes in the next movie.
- Transformers Film Series:
- Transformers's ending had Megatron defeated, but at the cost of the All Spark, which means the aliens' home planet Cybertron can never be restored.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon's ending had all the major Decepticons killed off, and the Autobots managed to save humanity from enslavement at the hands of the Decepticons. Cost? Only eight Autobots are confirmed to survive the trilogy. Chicago's in ruins, Optimus is critically wounded and likely traumatized from having to kill what was essentially his father in cold blood, and the Autobots' Hero Insurance are rather lukewarm in this series. Cybertron was also implied to be destroyed, making it pretty impossible for any Transformer to return home, let alone restore it.
- Oh, and the surviving Autobots of that movie? 62.5% of THEM are dead now, too; at the hands of humans, no less.
- L.A. Confidential: Ed Exley has to destroy everything he cares about over the course of the movie. Even moreso in the book. By the time White Jazz rolls around, Exley is effectively cut off from every other character, using them as pawns to achieve his own ends.
- Any zombie movie or doomsday movie where only a small pocket of humanity survives.
- Michael didn't want to 'get mixed up in the family business', things didn't exactly work out that way by the end of The Godfather Part II; he triumphs all his enemies, at the cost of everything else.
- The 1954 film Gojira certainly applies. Sure, the titular monster was killed...but at the cost of the life of a human being who chose to die alongside the monster rather than expose the secret of the weapon chosen to kill them and It's HEAVILY implied that Godzilla isn't the only one of his species...
- In Ginger Snaps, Bridget manages to escape being eaten by the werewolf by accidentally killing it. And it's her sister, the only person in the world she loved, and who she'd hoped to cure.
- An implication of The Descent was that this was the only way the characters could beat the monsters and escape was to become equally as savage and primal, which was the main character arc for the lead. Although in the end she subverts it when—after about twenty minutes of being progressively Ax-Crazy—she sees her dead daughter, and chooses to stay with the hallucination rather than keep fighting.
- Set It Off. The protagonist escapes with a fortune stolen from a bank but her friends were killed, she had to leave the man she loved behind and she can never return to the United States.
- Blade Runner. Director's cut ending. Deckard runs away with Rachel, a Replicant, a very illegal act, despite her having less than four years to live.
- In The Wrath of Khan, they defeat Khan, but Spock dies, temporarily. Similarly, The Search for Spock ends with Spock revived and the Klingons defeated, but at the cost of Kirk's son David Marcus, the Genesis planet, and the original Enterprise.
- Clonus ends with Clonus being exposed and Senator Knight's political career ruined. However, anyone who tried to help Richard is now dead, Lena is lobotomized and Richard's own heart now beats in the body of Sen. Knight's brother (who Richard was cloned from). For added downer effect, we learn that Walker's first name is George.
- Mallrats: the Stinkpalm, a practical joke which involves sticking one's hand between one's own buttocks before shaking hands with the prankee.
T.S.: What's the point?
Brodie: You know how long it takes for that smell to come off? Scrub all you want, it'll stick around for at least two days. How does he explain it to his colleagues and family? They'll think he doesn't know how to wipe his ass properly.
T.S.: Meanwhile you yourself are left with a hand that smells like shit.
Brodie: Small price to pay for the smiting of one's enemies.
- Cloverfield: The monster is (probably) defeated, but every single main cast member (except one, and she may well actually be dead too) is dead, along with most of the population of New York City, and the city has been destroyed. Plus, Clover is a baby and if the mother finds the dead body or goes looking for it...
- In Bullitt, Lt. Bullitt succeeds in finding all the people responsible for the death of a man under Witness Protection. All of these criminals end up dead, thus ruining the larger goal of acquiring testimony to bring down The Mafia.
- The Pledge is an interesting case, where the main character doesn't even realize he's won a Pyrrhic victory. He used a little girl as bait in an unsuccessful attempt to draw in a serial killer. The child's mother finds out and hates him for it. His former colleagues lose all respect for him. He ends up alone in a pit of guilt and self-pity. But it turns out the plan would have been successful, if the killer hadn't died in an accident before he could be caught.
- In One Eight Seven, Rita invokes the trope name when talking about the Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in her commencement speech after Garfield's war with the K.O.S. gang leaves the key players dead, including Garfield.
- The John Cusack Western The Jack Bull is about a horse trader, Myrl Redding, who goes to great lengths to ensure the prosecution of a rancher who screwed him over in a deal. He succeeds, but only after exhaustively tracking the rancher and declaring war on anyone who harbors or sympathizes with him. The trail of collateral damage Myrl leaves in his wake includes two people dead: the first killed accidentally by someone else and the second killed by Myrl in self-defense. Myrl's trial is conducted immediately after that of the rancher, who is sentenced to a month of labor in Myrl's stable. The judge accepts Myrl's claim of self-defense in relation to the second killing, but is compelled by the evidence to find him guilty of murder in relation to the first, even though he believes Myrl probably didn't do it, and sentences him to hang.
- Invoked in Shakma. A sort-of LARP, where characters have to solve puzzles to win the game, is crashed by a killer baboon (the eponymous Shakma). In the end, the sole surviving character, exhausted by his wounds, lays on the ground and finds it darkly humorous that he "won".
- Real Steel. Zeus wins his fight against Atom. But only by being saved by the bell. The crowd reaction makes it clear that his "Victory" has cost him and his creator a severe and possibly unfixable blow to their reputations.
- Blue Steel: Rookie cop Megan Turner has to play a cat and mouse game with a homicidal psychopath who is infatuated with her. The guy kills most of the people close to Megan, including her best friend and the veteran homicide detective who falls in love with her, and even rapes her, but he manages to stay out of custody each time because he's also a respected businessman and they can't offer enough proof despite Megan's testimony. She only ends up defeating him by engaging in a public shoot-out in downtown Manhattan, where she guns him down in cold blood. So her career's probably ruined, most of her friends are dead, and the movie ends with the shellshocked Megan staring blankly ahead as her colleagues pick her up and escort her off the scene.
- At the end of Would You Rather, Iris wins the game, along with her brother's bone-marrow treatment and enough cash to get out of debt. But when she returns home, she finds that he has committed suicide rather than continue to be a burden on her. Also qualifies as a Downer Ending.
- In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Koba may have been killed by Caesar, but he also got what he wanted in the end: a war with humanity that Caesar's unable to stop.
- Played with in The Last Samurai. The Samurai army succeeds in routing Omura's army at the end of the film, but at enormous cost - only a few dozen samurai, at most, survive the first battle. On the flipside, they never intended to win in the first place.
- Awakenings is based on the true story of a doctor who brought several patients out of a decade-long period of catatonia temporarily. One patient, however is clearly upset about all the time he has lost.
Anthony: [cheerfully] How's it going?
Frank: How's it going?
Anthony: Yeah, how do you feel?
Frank: Well, my parents are dead. My wife is in an institution. My son has disappeared out west somewhere.
Frank: I feel old and I feel swindled, that's how I feel.
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, for the most part, all Valentine’s plans were successful, a good portion of the global population is gone including the mass majority of the world’s leaders who denied climate change for monetary reasons. It's just that everyone he wanted to save including himself died.
- Explored in Nixon, which opens with the biblical line, "for what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
- In the 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, The Quiet American, Thomas Fowler (played Michael Redgrave) manages to get everything he wanted in order to be able to marry the Vietnamese woman he loves: his rival's death, a divorce from his estranged religious wife, and a permission to continue his reporting from Vietnam. But the woman he loves leaves him, making all of these victories meaningless.
- Discussed in WarGames. The NORAD Master Computer, WOPR, cannot tell the difference between real life and a game, leading it to attempt to start World War III via preemptive nuclear strikes on the USSR when a Playful Hacker plays a game of "GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR" not realizing he's connected to NORAD. In order to stop WOPR from launching nuclear missiles, the protagonists order it to run hundreds of simulations of a nuclear war, and in each simulation both NATO and the Warsaw Pact nuke each other to dust, with the conclusion of "WINNER: NONE", causing WOPR to realize that the only winning move is to not play.
- Four of the Seven Samurai are dead by the end. The survivors get paid and go on their way. They look back at the village full of people returning to peaceful lives and conclude that they are the true winners while they, the warrior class, always lose.
- By the end of Elizabeth, she stomped out a major assassination plot against her but in the process her relationship with the man she loved soured (and he would be the only conspirator she spared), she had to retire her most able advisor, harden her heart and remake herself as the Virgin Queen.
- The army's victory against the student rebellion in Les Misérables (2012) is a bloodbath. Even the taciturn Javert is saddened by the waste of life.
- Love and Death. Yuri's regiment wins a horrendous battle against the French and all they got was a "Keep up the good work" from the Czar. There was also this exchange:
Priest: God has been kind to us this day.
Yuri: Can you imagine if he wasn't? It might have rained.
- The Searchers. Ethan rescued his niece from the Apache but she's gone native too long and will probably never recover. The quest also revealed Ethan's cruelty to his family and destroying their esteem for him. All he can do is walk back into the wilderness where he is better off.
- The Aviator. Howard Hughes is driven to madness after just successfully defending his airline from a government crackdown.
- Red Riding Hood. Valerie kills the Wolf who is her father but a lot of the village's secrets were revealed. People she thought were friends turned against her or were revealed to have never liked her in the first place so she moves into her grandmother's cottage in the woods. Peter is bitten and will become the next Wolf so he also leaves.
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang ends with James escaping prison again but he is now known throughout the country and can no longer change his identity. He's living rough in the street and is driven almost to madness by paranoia in his final scene.
- Snake Eyes. Ex-Dirty Cop Rick is a hero for solving the assassination of the Secretary of Defense, but his newfound fame leaves him open to investigation and his past dealings are exposed. His family leaves him and he's probably looking forward to some jail time.
- The Kingdom. The FBI team kills Abu-Hamza and avenges his victims but their Saudi ally dies and they are charged for insubordination. It's also implied Abu-Hamza's surviving grandchild will be a terrorist too.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: It's heavily implied that whoever wins the Iron Throne in the end will have won such a victory as the cost of warfare is rapidly depleting all their resources while an exceptionally long winter is coming.
- R.A Salvatore:
- The Crystal Shard has the final battle presented as one of these for the good guys.
- The Thousand Orcs has another. The last of the survivors of the attack on the town are spirited away by means involving a fake idol of Gruumsh, the orc god. When the other orc shamans hear about this, they not only bring in thousands of new recruits to avenge the sacrilege, they also perform a rare ritual on the orc king that makes him permanently stronger and quicker.
- In World War Z humanity managed to be victorious over the zombie hordes. But the war and overall situation devastated the planet.
- In A Darkness at Sethanon, the invading army of the moredhel finally captures the city of Armengar, but with devastating losses—not only is the city an invader's nightmare, built with technologies and magic long lost to mankind, but those in charge of the defense blow it up just when the invading army has finally broken through, leaving the moredhel with a ruined city and great losses. Ten years later, the risk of a devastating defeat or a Pyrrhic Victory is what spurs one of the moredhel chieftains to oppose the efforts to launch another invasion, going as far as allying himself with the humans to accomplish it.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- In Dan Abnett's novel Brothers of the Snake, a chapter of Space Marines retake a refinery from Chaos forces. They realize that the place was tainted by something it had pumped up from under the earth, and it could not be used any more — which meant they could just have blasted it from orbit, without losing three Marines in the fight.
- In a similar vein, the defense of Vervunhive, which leaves the hive with so many dead it is officially decommissioned at the end of the war. Although with Heritor Asphodel dead, Chaos has nothing to celebrate, either.
- Ciaphas Cain, in Caves of Ice, digs his troops in to protect a Promethium refinery that he later has to annihilate to stop a Necron tomb from reawakening. (Still, taking out an Ork Waaagh and a Necron force is a solid deal for one refinery, especially since they managed to evacuate the facility beforehand.)
- The final book of the Ultramarines series has a surprisingly major one. The Ultramarines successfully beat back a massive force of traitor marines and permanently kill a daemon prince, an act practically unheard of in the universe, but Ultramar itself has lost several worlds and almost four companies' worth of marines.
- The novel Death of Antagonis in Space Marine Battles series is just a long string of those for the Black Dragons and just to punctuate it, their Captain goes traitor.
- Animorphs ends with a cliffhander implying the deaths of all but one of the surviving protagonists. While worth it for the free fate of Earth (at least temporarily), almost all of the children who survived until the end of the war were emotionally broken beyond repair from their trauma and the things they were forced to do.
- The Great Pacific War: The US victory is portrayed this way, wrecking the American shipping fleet and sending the economy into decline, causing it lag behind Britain and Germany as a world power.
- The third Malazan Book of the Fallen book, Memories of Ice, has two. First the siege of Capustan is lifted when the protagonist army arrives, but the defenders (who are honorable mercenaries) have nearly been killed to the man. This trope is used again in the concluding battle where the protagonist army captures Pale. But a huge percentage of the named protagonists are killed during this second battle and the army is a shell of it's former self.
- In The Warlord Chronicles, the Battle of Baddon Hill is a major one for King Arthur. He smashes the Saxon forces, (including mortally wounding Aelle, one of the Saxon kings), but... his most powerful and reliable ally, Cuneglas, dies in battle, the Christians gain greater influence in the sectarian battle against Pagans, which they later use to undermine Arthur's non-sectarian government, Mordred discovers a taste for battle, Nimue turns against Merlin and Arthur for good, etc. Some of these results are directly linked to Arthur's downfall.
- Lampshaded in The Lord of the Rings: "Today we may make the enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet [we may] rue the exchange. For he can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company."
- In fact, Pyrrhic victories are quite common throughout Middle-Earth's history. The War of Wrath ended with Morgoth's defeat, but all of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements. Even the final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was Pyrrhic, in that destroying the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-Earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
- Other materials show the War of the Ring was almost much more this. If Erebor hadn't been held by the Dwarves Sauron's armies would have probably succeeded in destroying the Western lands, up to the Shire, and driving the last of the Elves overseas quicker despite Sauron's defeat. Thankfully averted, as the Dwarves of Erebor and the men of Dale held back part of Sauron's forces long enough for news of his defeat to reach them.
- The other two Battles of Beleriand against Morgoth (that the Elves actually won) were Pyrrhic as well. The first ended with one faction of Elves demoralized so badly they essentially demilitarized and took to a "stay hidden" policy against Morgoth since the bloodline of their leaders was killed off, while the second ended with the death of Fëanor, greatest of all the Elves. Sure it was still a crushing victory for the Elves short-term, and he was a right bastard to be sure, but one can only imagine what he would have done for the war effort (not to mention morale) had he lived.
- Nírnaeth Arnoediad was partially this for Morgoth. Despite winning his greatest victory in Middle-Earth and securing much of the North, it is some time before his forces recover.
- In fact, Pyrrhic victories are quite common throughout Middle-Earth's history. The War of Wrath ended with Morgoth's defeat, but all of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements. Even the final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was Pyrrhic, in that destroying the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-Earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
- Lampshaded in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Locke and Jean kill their enemies, but they have to leave Camorr forever, they're both injured (Locke especially so), and all their friends are, by the way, dead. The exchange goes something like:
Locke: So this is winning.
Jean: It is.
Locke: It can go fuck itself.
- The Dresden Files has several such victories, most notably in Turn Coat. Morgan is dead, the (only identified) traitor in the council is dead, Dresden and McCoy have no further information on the Black Council, the White Council has lost three of its most valuable members (the man Morgan was framed for murdering, Morgan, and the traitor), virtually everyone within the council needs to go in for deprogramming from mind-control magics, the Senior Council is now living in a permanent state of wondering if their actions were truly their own, and their newest member may or may not be a member of the Black Council.
- Also, Grave Peril. Dresden got the girl back, but couldn't save her. And in the process, started a war.
- Changes: So Harry won the war, wiped out the entire Red Court, and saved his daughter. He only had to murder his daughter's mother and become Mab's servant. And as Ghost Story shows, destroying the Red Court only led to an Evil Power Vacuum and even worse forces moving in.
- Skin Game: Though not for Harry this time, but for Nicodemus. He managed to recover the Holy Grail, but lost the other four artifacts (which were strongly implied to have been his real targets), two Denarians and their coins, his followers, his influence and reputation in the supernatural world, and even his own daughter. And if that wasn't enough, the only other success he had from the book, shattering the Sword of Faith, was undone when Butters turned it into a lightsaber.
- Described as an inevitability in Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Genome in a war between two galactic powers with relatively equal military strength. A historical example is cited with the ancient Taii Empire, whose territory once spanned much of what is now owned by the younger races. They engaged in an all-out war with another empire, resulting in a Taii military victory but at the cost of utter devastation of their empire. The Taii briefly described in the book are now a dying power, holding no more then several dozen worlds and flying enormous ships that are ridiculously inferior when compared with more modern ships of the younger races. The same fate is predicted for the humans or the Czygu in a total Bug War. This prospect would force the humans to recruit the aid of a colony of Church Militants whose goal is the total extermination of all aliens for the betterment of the "true children of God." This would cause all other alien races to ally against humanity, resulting in this for everyone who survives.
- Ender's Game has Ender defeat the Buggers, only he ends up doing so by wiping them out entirely when they were revealed to have attacked only before they realized humans were sentient, and he gets exiled from Earth as well (not to mention how every human ship involved in the battle is destroyed either by Bugger Defenders or the M.D. Device)
- In the Farsala Trilogy by Hilari Bell, the Roman Empire Expy have many rules about their conquering of other territories and one of those rules is that if they don't have full control of the country within a year then they will withdraw their forces and offer allegiance with it instead or just leave it alone. This rule was put in place because early in their history, they were victors of this and vowed that victory would never cost so high again. According to the books, they're so good at taking over countries that out of the dozens they'd taken over only two were been able to resist past the time limit.
- In the Percy Jackson series, Kronos, the Titan Lord, is called 'the Crooked One' for his ability to engineer schemes which leaves the good guys in a tight spot either way. It is possible to foil him, but it almost never happens without cost, often a heavy one.
- The third book is a good example of this. They finished their quest, saved Artemis and stopped the baddies from harnessing the powers of a world-destroying beast...but two of their teammates died in the process, and the younger brother of the second one is not happy. It got worse when Percy realized that not only did he have another demigod bent on killing him, but said demigod was a son of Hades, which qualified him in the prophecy that could destroy Olympus and all of Western civilization. Ouch.
- In Starship Troopers, it's pointed out early on in the war that killing 1,000 bugs for each human is a net victory for the bugs, as their soldiers can be hatched at need and can be ready to fight in a matter of weeks, while it takes the better part of a year to make a Cap Trooper battle-ready.
- In Arena, a short story by Fredric Brown, an energy being, right before the first major battle between humans and aliens, states that they cannot coexist peacefully, and a war between the two will end in one extinction and one stone age. Since both races had the potential to evolve to the energy-being's level, unless their civilization was ruined by this war, the energy being snatched up both a human and an alien Roller and pit them against each other in a one-on-one duel with the complete and instant annihilation of the enemy's battle fleet up as the stakes specifically to avert this outcome.
- The backstory to the Wheel of Time series has the triumph of the Light and the sealing of the Dark One in the Age of Legends made out to be one of these for all concerned. The backlash of the sealing left a taint on the male half of the One Power that doomed every man who touched the Power to creeping insanity and death, without exception; this left a bunch of completely insane men with the power to level cities and raise mountains running around causing almost as much damage as the war that they ended would have, destroying so much that the knowledge and culture of the Age of Legends was in large part lost forever. And for Lews Therin, the hero who led the charge to seal the Dark One? His nemesis tracks him down at his mansion and uses a Dark version of Healing to cure his madness, allowing Lews Therin to see that, while insane, he had murdered everyone and everything he had ever loved. He did not take it well.
- Time Scout: Congratulations, Skeeter! You just stood up to a bully! A bully with massive wealth, criminal connections, government power, and a vindictive nature. And you've a checkered past he won't have any trouble using against you.
- The Hunger Games:
- Winning the Games is depicted as such. Because There Are No Therapists, survivors of the arena walk out with wealth and fame for life, but with severe PTSD and nothing to help them cope with their experiences — and they have to mentor the tributes for the following Hunger Games, until they die. For example, Haymitch, the mentor to Katniss, has spent twenty-four year trying to mentor children and bringing home corpses. The trope is Invoked in this case — the Capitol doesn't want the Victors to be able to lead a coup.
- Katniss' mental breakdown in Mockingjay. Even though the Capitol fell, Prim's death takes precedence.
- In I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Ted is damned to And I Must Scream for eternity, he manages to save Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok from the same fate. AM itself is also effectively condemned to an equally awful fate; quite who exactly the pyrrhic victor is can be debated.
— "At least the four of them are safe at last. AM will be all the madder for that. It makes me a little happier. And yet... AM has won, simply... he has taken his revenge... I have no mouth. And I Must Scream."
- In one of The History of the Galaxy novels, the first battlefield use of the LIGHT annihilator device by La Résistance results in the total destruction of not one but two Earth Alliance armadas. However, the colonists lose nearly all ships in the process, leaving them with a total of eight warships, while Earth still has plenty of ships in other systems. They also lose the only existing annihilator they have (at the moment). Their only advantage is the fact that Earth has no idea the colonies are virtually defenseless. The new colonial admiral manages to enact a daring plan to steal two flagship-class cruisers from an Alliance shipyard... by stealing the shipyard with tugs. Oh, and the admiral's own son was killed in the explosion.
- Invoked by name in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. This triggers Fridge Logic when you wonder who it was named for.
- In Dickens' Bleak House, one of the major plot points of the book is the infamous legal case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Near the end of the book, the characters finally win the case, but the cost and time—several years, and the modern equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars—that had to be invested in trying to untangle its legal Mind Screw rendered it bankrupt by the time they finally finished. It ate up all its own assets, which would have been worth a fortune if it had been some halfway competent lawyers who drew up the mess in the first place.
- Yes, at the end of the Star Trek: Destiny series the Borg are eliminated as a threat once and for all. It only cost 63 billion lives, dozens if not hundreds of inhabited planets throughout the Alpha Quadrant, the destruction of almost half of Starfleet, and significant casualties among all of the other major powers of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. President Bacco states that the toll essentially sets the Federation back almost a century.
- The Mirrorworld Series: Sure, Jacob ultimately accomplishes what he set out to do, but then there are all those people who end up dead...
- In The Lost Fleet, the 100 years war between The Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds is chock full of such battles. Any victory is won with huge casualties. This is in large part due to both sides forgetting complex fleet tactics and switches to an Attack! Attack! Attack! mentality, where each ship individually charges into battle and hopes to win through sheer "fighting spirit". Battleships are considered to be posts for cowards, as they have too much armor and shields and can't get to the battle fast enough. Then Captain John "Black Jack" Geary is discovered as a Human Popsicle and revived and uses his knowledge of fleet tactics to win without this trope... though the Alliance "won" in the sense that it isn't tearing itself apart quite as fast or as bloodily as the Syndicate Worlds.
- In the backstory of Warday, the US technically won World War III. The Soviet Union is apparently in total anarchy, while the US is merely moving towards a Divided States of America situation.
- The Yuuzhan Vong's siege of Borleias in the Enemy Lines two-parter ends like this; the Yuuzhan Vong gain the planet, but in the process lose a worldship and one of their greatest generals—former warmaster Czulkang Lah—among other heavy losses. The New Republic forces fare far better; while they do end up sacrificing the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya to destroy the worldship, they do so without losing the Lusankya's crew and most of its weapons (which were transplanted to other ships before the final battle). The majority of the remaining New Republic ships are able to retreat to safety. Czulkang Lah's final communication to his son, Warmaster Tsavong Lah, shows one perspective on the trope:
Tsavong Lah: Still, a great victory.
Czulkang Lah: No, son. Limited facts can point at victory when in fact there is only defeat to taste.
Tsavong Lah: Defeat? You have achieved the conditions of victory. You have once more brought glory to Domain Lah.
Czulkang Lah: In a minute I will be dead. Too many clever minds, however heretical they may be, have undone me.
- Not long later, it's revealed that in the process of conquering half the galaxy, the Yuuzhan Vong have lost nearly a third of their warriors. This results in an untenable position for them, giving the New Republic a chance to fight back.
- The ending of Gifts, the first book in Annals of the Western Shore. Canoc gets his revenge for his wife Melle's death by unmaking Ogge Drum, but he's killed by a Drum crossbowman. With Orrec unable to fulfill the duties of brantor through lack of gift, it's implied that Caspromant will lose its standing and, at least for the time being, become a part of Roddmant.
- In the Legacy of the Twins trilogy for Dragonlance, towards the end, Caramon travels to an alternate reality showing what will happen if Raistlin succeeds in opening the portal and confronting Takhisis: Raistlin defeats her, and all of the other gods, and becomes the sole god of the world... and, in the process, he exterminates all life. Absolutely nothing is left on Ansalon or in The Multiverse, just Raistlin, slowly dwindling away into oblivion as his madness and his empty, futile hunger consumes him utterly, as he is so corrupt and evil that he cannot even create new life to replace the old. Caramon's revelation of this so horrifies Raistlin that he gives up and allows himself to be trapped in the Abyss, where Takhisis torments him forever more, because he cannot bear the thought of such a "victory".
- In Handle with Care, Charlotte wins the lawsuit against her best friend Piper but is left friendless with no social life and lost both daughters - one to shipped away to sort out her bulimic problems and the other drowned in a skating incident. Piper lost her job and her reputation is destroyed. Charlotte never had the chance to cash in the cheque because Willow died, placing the cheque in her coffin, making all her efforts moot.
- The first Dune novel ends with Paul Atreides defeating the Harkonnens, overthrowing Emperor Corrino by marrying his eldest daughter and receiving more praise from the Fremen for being The Chosen One. Come the next novel, Paul's fanatical followers unleashed a jihad which destroyed many worlds in his name which gave him a lot of enemies and conspirators inside his court. Likewise, he's trapped in the prescient future where he couldn't do anything to stop the jihad that he created and feared that his family name would forever be tarnished including all the achievements that his father, Duke Leto, made in the past. Then, he foresaw that his Fremen lover, Chani, died of giving birth to his children and he's unable to prevent it. In the end, Paul went to the desert after being blinded by a stone burner while his twins and his empire are left in the hands of his sister, Alia, who is slowly possessed by their grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
- In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, whenever the looters are going to seize one of the properties of the actual or future strikers, they end up with a worthless property. D'Anconia blows up his ore mines and docks, Dannager abandons his coal mines, Wyatt blows up his oil fields, Rearden walks away from his steel mill, etc.
- From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Invoked in "What You Leave Behind" by the Female Changeling. Graceful Loser she is not.
"You may win this war, Commander, but I promise you, by the time it's over, you will have lost so many ships, so many lives, that your 'victory' will taste as bitter as defeat."
- Discussed in the two-part special "The Way of the Warrior", when the battle between Deep Space Nine and a Klingon attack force reaches a stalemate.
Worf: Consider what you do here today, Gowron! Kahless himself said, "Destroying an empire to win a battle is no victory."
Gowron: "And ending a battle to save an empire is no defeat."
- In the opening battle of the Dominion War, Dukat managed to capture Deep Space 9, but lost over 50 ships, a vital shipyard, and failed to bring in reinforcements through the wormhole thanks to Starfleet blockading it with self-replicating Space Mines that took months to get rid of. Dukat being Dukat, he was perfectly fine with this... At first. Retaking the station was the last time anything went well for him for some time.
- Invoked in "What You Leave Behind" by the Female Changeling. Graceful Loser she is not.
- In The Shield's series finale Vic Mackey succeeded in getting away with everything he's done, but no friends in the world, his family relocated out of fear from him, his reputation as a cop destroyed for good and his new employment is guaranteed to be Hell for the next three years (a Hell he has to endure or his immunity deal is void and he goes to prison for life). So yes, he won, but the cost was obscene.
- During the evacuation of New Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, the Galactica and most of the civilian ships manage to escape the planet...at the cost of massive damage to Galactica and the loss of the high-tech, advanced battlestar Pegasus, which was capable of building Vipers. Nice job breaking it, Lee.
- Londo Mollari on Babylon 5 had a few of these.
- In the third season, Londo collaborates with G'Kar to assassinate the villainous Lord Refa, which ultimately removes the only moderating influence on an even worse leader, the insane Emperor Cartagia.
- And then in the fourth season, Londo and Vir kill off Cartagia and Morden and blow up all the Shadow ships stationed on Centauri Prime, finally freeing the planet from the Shadows' influence... only to cause the Drahk to take over the place in revenge in the final season, leading to Centauri Prime's isolation from the rest of the galaxy, the firebombing of its cities, and just general devastation of the whole planet. And not only does Londo have to watch all this unfold, but he also gets possessed by a Body Snatcher — and he has to live with all this for the rest of his life. Brr.....
- Doctor Who:
- At the end of "Last of the Time Lords" the Master gets shot by Lucy Saxon after the Doctor's ended his regime over the Earth. Rather than regenerate (and subsequently spend the rest of his life imprisoned on the Doctor's TARDIS) he chooses to die, leaving the Doctor alone as the only living Time Lord once again. It's a pyrrhic victory for them both.
Doctor: You've got to! Come on. It can't end like this. You and me, all the things we've done. Axons! Remember the Axons? And the Daleks. We're the only two left. There's no one else... REGENERATE!
Master: Look at that.. I win!
- However, the Master pulls a Thanatos Gambit by anticipating his death and getting his cult to resurrect him a year later. But he's not the only one. Lucy Saxon has also made arrangements to prevent this and ends up making a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent her husband's resurrection; he ends up Coming Back Wrong.
- The Doctor's victory in "The Waters of Mars." He saved the remaining crew but changed history in the process, believing that the rules of Time will bend to his will. Adelaide realizes how wrong the turn of events is and subsequently kills herself in order to correct the timeline. The only thing her suicide did was cause the Doctor to realize how wrong he'd been, thinking that he's untouchable. The timeline was already altered, as the survivors revealed what happened to the authorities; in the original timeline, the events on Mars remained a mystery.
- The Doctor in "The War Games" is forced to call on the Time Lords to end the War Games. The humans are sent back to their own times, the Big Bad is dematerialised, but Jamie and Zoe are sent back to their own times with their memories erased and the Second Doctor is exiled to Earth and forced to regenerate.
- At the end of "Last of the Time Lords" the Master gets shot by Lucy Saxon after the Doctor's ended his regime over the Earth. Rather than regenerate (and subsequently spend the rest of his life imprisoned on the Doctor's TARDIS) he chooses to die, leaving the Doctor alone as the only living Time Lord once again. It's a pyrrhic victory for them both.
- At the end of the Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth, Jack manages to save the world. However, in order to do so, he had to kill his grandson. Not to mention that his boyfriend also just died in the previous episode...
- In That Mitchell and Webb Look one episode of Numberwang went on for so long that the game went into Sudden Death. The first contestant to inhale enough of the poisonous Number Gas won. But, y'know, died.
- In Power Rangers RPM, in the Grand Finale, after three long years the rangers win the Robot War... but by the time the Big Bad goes down, at least 90% of humanity is dead, with the entire planet outside of Corinth's protective dome having been bombed to a post-nuclear war wasteland. Plants are just starting to regrow in the less radioactively "hot" areas, but the global ecosystem is by and large too far gone to recover most of the lost biodiversity or return with new life with any speed.
- Sylar finds this out the hard way in Volume 5 of Heroes. He's got everything he ever wanted. He's the most powerful Evolved Human on the face of the Earth. He's immortal and invulnerable to harm. There's maybe a grand total of two people (that we know of) who could realistically pose a threat to him and he can easily take all the powers he wants. He's also killed the only two people who ever cared for him and realises that he's now going to be utterly alone, wretched and despised for eternity. It's enough to mke him have yet another Heel–Face Turn, this one seemingly more permanent than the previous ones.
- In the series finale of Angel the main cast has successfully set back Wolfram and Hart's plans for the apocalypse by at least several years. The cost is the loss of their control over the firm's earthly assets, the death of two major characters, abandonment of a third, severe wounding of a fourth, and a textbook Bolivian Army Ending. And despite all of that, they decide to make their end memorable.
- 24 excels at this. America always wins but at the cost of many lives and politically, nothing ever changes; another group of terrorists will just show up in the next season. Living in the world of 24 just sucks.
- There's an odd example at the end of the fifth season. Sam and Dean manage to defeat Lucifer, but at the cost of Sam having to jump into Lucifer's cage. Particularly heartbreaking because all Dean was trying to do was save his brother for most of the series. Then it turns out that Sam's actually alive after all... but we find out in S6 that he's now The Soulless and The Sociopath. When he gets his soul back, he also gets back the memories of being tortured by Lucifer in the Cage for over 120 years, and the resulting PTSD nearly kills him. Though technically, Eric Kripke intended to end Supernatural with season five, and both Sam and Dean were supposed to go into the cage.
- Season six ends with Well-Intentioned Extremist Castiel preventing Archangel Raphael from restarting the Apocalypse. To do so, he only allies with a demon he then betrays, kills his closest angel allies, breaks Sam's mind, then absorbs all the monster souls from Purgatory for the power to declare himself the new God.
- And if this wasn't bad enough, season seven opens with Castiel smiting numerous angels who opposed him and humans who offended him, and losing control of this power so it releases voracious, unkillable monsters from Purgatory on the world.
- Season 7 has Sam and Dean successfully kill the Leviathans and save humanity from a future of being mindless cattle, but Dean and Castiel are sent to Purgatory in the ensuing blast, Meg and Kevin are captured by Crowley's demons, and Bobby by then has passed on. So basically Sam is alone with Crowley in control of the power vacuum caused by the Leviathans.
- Another one at the end of Season 4. Sam kills Lilith, the season's Big Bad, but in doing so breaks the final seal and frees Lucifer from his Cage.
- At the end of Season 10, Sam cures Dean of the Mark of Cain... but the result is the freeing of the Darkness, the original source of evil in the Universe.
- The eponymous team of Stargate SG-1 is accused of this from time to time in the show. In one episode they're bragging that they've done more in the last few years to defeat the Goa'uld than other groups have managed to do in centuries. The ally they're talking to points out that all they've really done is create power vacuums among the System Lords that have almost inevitably resulted in even worse individuals attaining power. Since Jack is usually the one this is directed at, his response amounts to "at least we're trying."
- The Chinese Paladin (Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan) TV Series definitely qualifies here, as the main character, Li Xiaoyao, literally loses everyone dear to himself except his newborn daughter a couple scenes right after the "final battle."
- Played for laughs in Friends when Chandler got the highest score in Ms. Pac-Man but his hand became spasmed and stuck in a "claw" formation.
I got the highest score, but at a price.
- The Battle of Witchhead in Andromeda turned into this for the Nietzscheans, although they arrived to the battle preparing to ambush a fleet of 100 High Guard ships with an armada of 1500, which would've been a Curb-Stomp Battle. Then Hunt (AKA the Angel of Death) shows up and wipes out 1000 ships, damaging the rest, and sewing disarray among the Nietzchean ranks. The High Guard fleet shows up shortly after and is still wiped out, but the Neitzscheans are left with hardly anything themselves. In fact, the ruling Drago-Kazov Pride was supposed to form the dynasty for the new Nietzschean Empire, but their losses mean that they no longer have the power to unite the warring prides, resulting in a 300-year power vacuum.
- Interestingly, the pride that turned on the Drago-Kazov and prevented them from forming an empire ends up allying with Hunt 300 years later, as they have been mortal enemies with the Drago-Kazov since then.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall was able to win a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company but the judge was unwilling to hurt the company by fining them with the intended 25 million dollars and so, reduced it to 25 thousand (0.1% of the original). Marshall was very upset since more was probably spent on court fees and lawyer paychecks for each side. This event would inspire him to apply to be a judge so he would have more influence on the system. An earlier episode revealed that Marshall's law firm kept itself afloat by settling all their cases and avoiding fighting any cases where they could experience one. Marshall inspired them to contest cases in court again which resulted in his case ending up as one. By the end of the season the law firm is broke and has laid off almost all employees.
- Ted experiences this when he ensured that Robin would go after Barney at the expense of leaving him alone at the opening of the building he designed. The last scene is him looking out a window depressed while the rest of the gang was happy.
- In Revolution the rebellion led by Miles Matheson is winning victories against the Monroe Republic but for Miles every such victory is pyrrhic. Every fighter he loses is someone he cannot replace and the enemies he is killing are old friends and protegees of his. Even if he removes Monroe from power, the Republic will be finished and it will become part of the Georgia Federation.
- Occasionally happens on Top Gear with their races or challenges. For example, in the four-way race across London during rush-hour traffic between a bike, a car, public transportation and a motorboat down the Thames, Hammond, riding the bike, won, but he spent the entire episode cursing out traffic lights and almost getting hit by buses. He was also visibly exhausted by the end. Jeremy came in second on the boat, but he had by far the most relaxing and least stressful journey.
- The Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown" has Rimmer leading "good" waxdroids of famous historical figures against "evil" waxdroids. His plan ends with Kryten turning the planet's boiler up, thus melting every last waxdroid. Since they had more or less become the figures they were based on, this is akin to mass murder on all sides. Rimmer, however, considers the ordeal a victory for himself.
- The Wire is a whole series of pyrrhic victories as the police generally succeed in jailing drug lords, only to have even worse ones take over in the aftermath. Not to mention that the aftermath consists of gangs violently battling for control of the drug trade.
- This is tackled in the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Good Day". She and Gabrielle save a village caught in the middle of Caesar and Pompey's war by performing a Salt the Earth campaign. As they light funeral pyres for their dead, Xena tells Gabrielle "it was a good day of battle".
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2 ended with her killing Angel to save the world, right after his soul was already restored. That and a combination of Buffy's mother rejecting her and Kendra's death getting pinned on her caused Buffy to run away to Los Angeles.
- Person of Interest. Team Machine's victories have become more pyrrhic since season 4, often ruining innocent lives to save them from Samaritan. What's sadder is that no matter what they do, Samaritan just keeps winning.
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Masks" has a benign, rich, and dying Jason Foster having to deal with his greedy, callous, and hypochondriac daughter, her husband, and their vile children in the last hours of his life. They are there just to see him die so they can inherit his vast fortune and he knows it. So, he makes an addendum to his will: if any of them removes a special mask he had made for them before midnight, one which as he says reflects the opposite of their "true" face, note they will inherit only enough money to take the train back to Boston. They succeed and Jason soon dies after midnight. When they remove the masks, they see their faces have contorted and shifted to be perfect matches for the ugly masks they were just wearing for hours. Now they must suffer these faces which reflect their inner vanity and pettiness.
- Nikita season 1 ends with Operation Sparrow getting foiled and Michael running away with Nikita with a Black Box in their possession but her relationship with Alex is damaged and she stays at Division under Oversight's supervision.
- Burn Notice
- Season 2: Michael sticks it to Management and loses the Burned Spies Organization's "protection" so his cover is blown and his old enemies will probably be gunning for him. He's also stuck in the middle of the ocean and has to swim back to Miami.
- Season 3: Michael defeats Simon and saves Management but he is captured and sent to a secret prison.
- Season 5: Michael saves a team of spies from getting burned but Fiona turns herself in to the police for the accidental British embassy bombing so she won't be used as leverage against Michael anymore.
- Season 6: Michael gets off the blacklist but his family and friends are disappointed.
- King Robert in the Game of Thrones season 5 Blu-ray lore about the Dance of the Dragons describes how Rhaenyra Targaryen sacrificed her sons to (temporarily) win the Iron Throne. It's also probably an omen of his wife Cersei doing the same thing in the season 6 finale.
- The Eurovision Song Contest is a Real Life example: the winning country traditionally hosts next year's contest, at high cost.
- Blue Oyster Cult's "Veteran of the Psychic Wars":
You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars.
My energy is spent at last, and my armor is destroyed.
I have used up all my weapons, and I'm helpless and bereaved.
Wounds are all I'm made of...
Did I hear you say that this is victory?
Myth & Religion
- This was, according to medieval myth, the fate of anyone who stabbed a basilisk. Lucian described it thusly: "What though the Moor the Basilisk hath slain, and pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain, up through the spear the subtle venom flies; the hand imbibes it, and the victor dies."
- In the American folk tale/folk song of "John Henry", the eponymous character competes against a machine to prove that a man can drill rock for a railroad tunnel faster than the machine built to replace him. John Henry beats the machine in the race, but collapses and dies afterwards from a heart attack due to overexertion, thus resulting in the machine replacing him anyway.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997 but not before his opponent dropped him on his head, resulting in a legitimate broken neck and temporary paralysis. Austin would be out of action for months and his wrestling career was shortened by years.
- After the breakup of Special K, The Lovely Lacey dumped Izzy and Deranged in favor of managing Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer. However they ended up being a less effective Tag Team as Lacey's Angels, mostly due to Lacey's attempts to "improve" Jacobs, which caused Whitmer to turn on him when Jacobs concern for Lacey lead to them losing an RoH Title match to Generation Next. Lacey didn't care about Jacobs but felt Whitmer had betrayed her personally and ordered Jacobs to put him out of wrestling. This lead to a one sided feud where Whitmer almost killed Jacobs with power bombs on two separate occasions. And when Jacobs finally did manage to give Whitmer an injury Jacobs was so injured himself he required crutches.
- Britani Knight wrestled five matches in twenty eight hours, leading up to her defeating Nikki Storm in the tournament finals to become the first champion of Pro Wrestling Eve. Then she came down with glandular fever.
- The Undertaker suffered one during his WrestleMania 27 match with Triple H. Though Taker won the match, moving his WrestleMania undefeated streak to 19-0, he was so worn out afterwards that he couldn't even stand up to do his darkness salute. Taker had to be taken out on a stretcher while Triple H, the loser, was at least able to walk to the back under his own power. This would later be the reason for their rematch one year later at WrestleMania 28. Undertaker wasn't happy with him having to be taken out of the arena on a stretcher.
- Brock Lesnar was hospitalized after beating Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 19 when a botched Shooting Star Press almost broke his neck. Angle was also battling his old neck injury and had to be hospitalized too.
- Any gruesomely tiring or injurious match can be turned into one of these for the WWE Champion thanks to the introduction of the Money in the Bank briefcase. The briefcase can be cashed it at any time for a WWE Championship match, even if the champion is too worn out to properly defend their title. Notably, this is how the first cash-in went, with Edge defeating John Cena in a short match after a bruised and bloody Cena had just defended the title in an Elimination Chamber match.
- Jason often purposely fools his siblings into "winning" bets that are this.
- In one Horrible Camping Trip, Jason bets Peter a dollar he can't hit a tree with a hatchet. Peter takes that bet, and hits it perfectly. When Andy is angrily chewing him out for doing something so dangerous, Jason considers the show a dollar well-spent.
- On one Thanksgiving, he bets Peter a dollar he can eat more than him. He eats two helpings and calls it quits; Peter eats 27 platefuls before even checking the score, eventually passing out without closing his eyes. Again, where else could Jason have gotten so much fun for a dollar?
- It happens to Jason himself when he bets Marcus fifty cents that he can write a longer essay. His thousand page essay easily trumps Marcus' 500-page one, but while Marcus gets an A on the essay, Jason, for all his work, gets a D, and fifty cents. (And he doesn't learn a thing afterwards.)
- Big Finish Doctor Who in the Grand Finale to the New Eighth Doctor Adventures, Lucie Miller/To the Death has a massive one. Though the Dalek plan to turn Earth into a plague planet is defeated and the Daleks destroyed, the Doctor's Great-Grandson Alex and companion Lucie die in the process. The Doctor is left utterly broken and departs, deciding he needs to stop being so merciful.
- Can happen in sports if the effort to secure a win leaves players either injured or too exhausted to continue competing successfully. In the 2014 NBA Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs decisively in two consecutive home games. The second game of the two was clearly going in the Thunder's favor from early on, and the Spurs had conceded defeat and opted to cut their losses by playing deep bench players with little experience (thereby giving their more experienced players rest for the next game). However, the unexpected tenacity of the Spurs' deep bench forced the Thunder to continue playing their starters for far longer than would normally be expected in a blowout win. As a result, the Thunders' starters were exhausted during the next game and lost by a wide margin — before ultimately losing the series.
- The LSU Tigers' victory in the 2011 SEC Championship Game eventually turned out to be this. Going in, LSU was the #1 team in the country. At #2 was the Alabama Crimson Tide, who just so happened to play in the same division as the Tigers, who were ranked ahead of them largely by virtue of winning their regular-season matchup. Because of that victory, LSU earned the trip to Atlanta over the Tide and demolished Georgia 42-10. Their prize, aside from the trophy: A rematch with Alabama in the national championship game, which the Tigers lost in humiliating fashion, 21-0.
- In the 2010 Wimbledon Tennis Championships, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match by far, clocking over 11 hours. John Isner won the match eventually with 70-68 in the fifth set, which is a Crowning Moment of Awesome for him, the game of tennis and sports in general. However, Isner had to play the next day again. He was visibly exhausted and required treatment for neck and shoulders. Result: he was defeated in the shortest match of the men's Wimbledon match at that point in 2010.
- The early days of MMA were plagued by Pyrrhic victories.
- The early format of UFC was an eight-man single elimination bracket, where the winner would in theory win three fights in one night. However, the tournament would often be riddled with withdrawals due to fatigue or injuries. UFC 11 ended without a final match because they had run out of competitors who were able to fight.
- Pride, the Japanese equivalent of UFC, had a similar incident at the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, also a single elimination tournament. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie, often regarded as one of the greatest fights in MMA history, lasted 90 minutes because Gracie demanded that the fight have unlimited rounds with no rules. Gracie withdrew after the sixth 15-minute round. Sakuraba only made it through one round of his semifinal match before withdrawing due to fatigue. Ironically, in the other semifinal match, Kazuyuki Fujita withdrew two seconds into his semifinal match due to an injury he suffered in his first match of the night.
- Happens in Victory In The Pacific if you win a battle by mostly "disabling" opposing ships (which sends them back to port and ends their part in the battle, but inflicts no lasting damage) while most of your own losses are sunk and thus out of the game for good.
- Magic: The Gathering:
"The enemy has been destroyed, sir. So have the forest, the city, your palace, your dog..." —Keldon soldier
- The Thran race "won" the Thran-Phyrexian war, but their civilization had been damaged too greatly to recover, and soon collapsed.
- Urza and company then won the second Phyrexian war, but at the cost of the lives of every named character, leaving behind an incredibly powerful artifact which started the next big war on Dominaria, whose conclusion left Dominaria in a state that very nearly tore the multiverse to shreds.
- This later led to the conflict on Mirrodin, both of which were caused by the phyrexian oil. The first one was won, but at the cost of basically depopulating the plane. The second one didn't go much better.
- Something tells me the Phyrexians were named that way for a reason.
- This flavor text for the card Obliterate. Fitting.
"Lands ravaged, cities in ruins, so many lives sacrificed, and yet there was no other word for it but victory."
- Also Near-Death Experience:
They found themselves alive again, still bearing their mortal wounds.
- The trope is referenced in name by Pyrrhic Revival, which revives every players dead creatures in a weakened state, which will likely kill the weaker creatures brought back this way.
- Meet the mission's objectives in a game of Warhammer 40,000 and you win, even if doing so cost your Space Marines their Chapter Master and dozens of their greatest warriors. The fluff has even more examples:
- The original Pyrrhic Victory would be the Imperium's triumph over Chaos during the Horus Heresy. The renegade Warmaster was defeated, but the Emperor was mortally wounded and placed on life support, leaving him incommunicado for the ten thousand years since. His Imperium, founded on humanism and atheistic science, degenerates into a totalitarian theocracy where he is worshiped as a god while the local "engineers" worship their tanks. Humanity is so weakened by the conflict that civilization has never recovered to its heights at the Imperium's founding. And if the Emperor had been given just a little more time to perfect his Warp Gate, he could've revolutionized galactic transportation so that it wouldn't rely on Warp travel and mutant Navigators.
- Earlier than that, the Eldar god of war, Kaela Mensha Khaine, managed to defeat the Nightbringer during the near-mythical War in Heaven, but Khaine was nearly killed and the battle gave all sentient life an intrinsic fear of death (all sentient life except the Orks, anyway). On the other hand, when Khaine battled Slaanesh during the Fall of the Eldar, even through his defeat he managed to weaken the Chaos God enough for Cegorach to escape and Nurgle to "rescue" Isha.
- Most victories against the Tyranids. It takes a staggering amount of manpower and war material to stop a Hive Fleet, and there's always another one lurking in the void. The 'Nids even use this on the battlefield, forcing their enemy to waste ammunition on swarms of Cannon Fodder before launching the attack proper. The more extreme method of using Exterminatus on worlds under Tyranid attack is a two-way Pyrrhic Victory. The Tyranids lose both the potential bio-mass of the planet they were trying to eat as well as that of the forces spent attacking it, but at the same time the Imperium has just sacrificed one of their finite and ever-shrinking number of planets, while the Tyranids seem endless.
- Specific examples of this would be the Battle of Macragge note and the Battle of Iyanden note .
- Eldrad's destruction of Abaddon's Planet Killer broke the back of the Thirteenth Black Crusade, but the Farseer locked himself in eternal conflict with the daemonic spirits controlling the warship and was hurled into the depths of the Warp.
- The Dark Angels defeated The Fallen but their home planet was destroyed.
- On a meta level, world-wide "you determine the result" campaigns fall into this, since having one side flat-out lose would irritate players. So while global campaigns have ended in Imperial (specifically Space Marine) victories, reading deeper reveals that their enemies made off with some powerful artifact or achieved their true objectives. As an example, the Dark Eldar were defeated in the Medusa campaign, but snatched so many slaves that they'll be able to gorge themselves for eons.
- Mage: The Ascension: The Technocracy has all but won the Ascension War... and in the process created a humanity that has no interest in Ascending.
- Ravenloft, for both heroes and villains. The heroes won't be able to achieve particularly significant things, and it's quite likely they will die in the process of saving a handful; on the Darklords' side of the ledger... well... Count Strahd saved his homeland at the expense of his youth and became immortal at the expense of the life of the woman he loved, to name just one example.
- Risk: Throw fifteen troops into an invasion, end up with one left to occupy the territory against the might of the entire enemy continent. Alternatively, destroy a large amount of a enemy but fall just short of actually knocking him out of the game — then watch him turn in a set of Risk Cards, and come back at your forces which are now spread thin at one-army per territory.
- Blood Bowl: Congratulations, your skaven just beat the enemy orc team 2-1! You won 60,000 gold pieces... And your 80,000 gold piece stormvermin was killed and one of your 70,000 gutter runners got his neck broken, to say nothing of all the linerats they chewed through first. Only another... Five matches until you've replaced your losses.
- Necromunda, in a similar vein to Blood Bowl above, can have the winning gang achieve rather hollow victories over the enemy, especially if they suffered a lot of casualties on the playfield. Worse, the losing player may actually roll results on the injury table that are actually beneficial to their team, so assuming they get some lucky rolls and you get some bad ones, you may end up with a horribly mutilated winning gang with several dead or permanently injured gang members while the defeated gang may end up objectively stronger as a result.
- Battletech: The Amaris Civil War ends up as one for the SLDF. Even though they won, Kerensky's forces were so savaged as to be almost impotent to keep the Successor States from ultimately carving up the Terran Hegemony (the central state of the Star League) amongst themselves, launching the First Succession War. In the end, Kerensky orders the SLDF to leave the Inner Sphere altogether, as the Star League he'd sworn to protect and had spent 10 years and countless lives to liberate imploded around him.
- This is the real heart behind Muggle Power in the New World of Darkness. Whilst breaking the masquerade is dangerous for supernaturals on a local level, The Unmasqued World would probably not turn out very well for either humans or monsters.
- For humans, fighting a full-fledged war against the supernatural is kind of like fighting a war on terrorists turned Up to Eleven, since monsters have all the advantages of terrorists, such as being part of the general populace, blending in with "normal people", etc, but add a whole arsenal of supernatural powers to it. But what really makes the war fit this trope is that, after all the damage humanity will do to itself in the process, A: it's not really possible to stop new generations of monsters from coming into being, and B: often, those monsters are keeping something even worse in check, and so getting rid of them leads to a power vaccuum. Case in point; the Uratha are scary, being a race of lupine shapeshifters with Super Strength, human-tier intelligence and a Healing Factor powerful enough to make them Nigh Invulnerable, especially when they go into their Unstoppable Rage. But if humanity somehow wipes out werewolves, then that leads to The Legions of Hell who inhabit an animistic Dark World now being able to swarm into the mortal world in an epidemic of Demonic Possession, as keeping those evil spirits in check is a werewolf's job. Not to mention the Spider People and Rat Man shapeshifting species who do enjoy eating human flesh will no longer have their top predator around to keep them in check.
- For monsters, not only does humanity outnumber them, but the truth of the matter is that the shape the world is in rather benefits them. All species of monsters ultimately need humans, for food and procreation, without taking into account personal attachments. To achieve a supernatural victory in a "war of man vs. monster" would require such a massive amount of causalities and planetary devastation that the world wouldn't be much fun for the monsters afterwards, either.
- And, regardless of who may be making progress towards victory, there's still one big problem that makes the fighting meaningless. Namely, the existence of God-tier Eldritch Abominations like the God-Machine and the Exarchs who actively like the world the way it is and are willing to use all their powers, up to and including resetting time and reshuffling space to keep things as they prefer.
- Hamlet manages to avenge his father, but nearly every major character dies as a direct or indirect consequence. Lampshaded when he asks an actor to recite a speech about Pyrrhus, albeit the Homeric Pyrrhus and not the trope namer.
- An Irish play called The Field has a farmer trying desperately to get a plot of land from the woman who owns it. The reason? He wants to pass on something to his son. Of course, the farmer goes to such awful lengths to get the land (including killing someone), that by the time he finally does get the land, it's worthless to him.
- Wicked: Both Elphaba and Glinda have these. The former has survived her death sentence, but must pretend to be dead, grievously hurting her best friend, and accept voluntary banishment. Glinda, said best friend, has ascended as the effective ruler of Oz, but at the cost of the lives of her friends and fiancé.
- In The Invisible Hand, Nick earns his freedom, but the method of earning the ransom money plunged Pakistan into civil war. The sounds of gunfire and bombs draw closer to the building before the final Fade to Black and company bow.
- The Capulets and Montagues at last make peace at the end of Romeo and Juliet. All it takes is the death of Paris, Mercrutio, Tybalt, Lady Montague and of course their two oldest children, Romeo and Juliet. A bitter peace indeed.
- Inherit the Wind has Matthew Harrison Brady supporting the state's prohibition on the teaching of evolution by serving as the prosecuting attorney against teacher Bertram Cates. While he technically wins the case, the defense never really denies that Cates broke the law, instead attacking the law itself. Brady is soundly humiliated by his inability to defend the law, and Bertram is only handed a nominal punishment for breaking it. In the end, he has done far more to damage the state's prohibition than defend it. To make things even more blunt,he promptly has a heart attack.
- In a lot of strategy games where the enemy has any chance at all of outnumbering your forces, you usually have two options. Make your troops retreat to a friendly city, or flat out disband or use superior tactics on the enemy. The second usually results in forcing the enemy into this trope, or in the best of cases, results in you decimating the army at the cost of the majority of your unit. Tends to overlap with We Have Reserves.
- Dynasty Warriors: In 7 and 8, Shu's historic battle of Wu Zhang Plains. Shu defeats the Wei forces lead by Sima Yi only for Zhuge Liang to pass away. The pyrrhic nature of the victory becomes apparent in the Jin campaign that begins directly after this fight, during which Sima Yi soundly defeats the Shu forces without Zhuge Liang's leadership.
- In 8 Empires, if you keep the enemy forces back from your main base for 5 minutes in a defensive battle, you win. However, if they capture your secondary base within the time limit you get a "Narrow Victory" instead, which causes damage to the region (making it harder to defend next time) and causes some of your officers to be captured. The same can happen in reverse, though if you force the retreat yourself you tend to not lose nearly as much. And this is ignoring random officer death, which is present in both 7 and 8.
- You Don't Know Jack
- In Vol. 3 the answer for one of the Impossible Questions was 'Pyrrhic victory'. However, if you got it right the game took points off you anyway. Oh how we laughed.
- Episode 9 of the 2011 release had a question about the definition of a "pyrrhic victory", and demonstrates by having Old Man suffer one when he manages to drink a gallon of milk in one hour, but gets a nasty case of diarrhea in the process.
- All four Mega Man Zero games end like this for Zero and his group. Z1=Zero goes missing, Z2=the Dark Elf, the one who caused The End of the World as We Know It, was free and Mega Man X's body destroyed, Z3=Neo Arcadia is taken over by the Big Bad Dr. Weil and Z4=Neo Arcadia is destroyed, and Zero dead, for the last time.
- Mega Man X4 has this ending for both X and Zero. Both end up stopping Sigma's plan, but with a cost. Zero loses his true love Iris, who fights him to the death after Zero killed her brother who was with the Mavericks. X stops Sigma, but feels himself possibly going Maverick. He ask Zero to kill him if it happens. Interestingly, the Mega Man Zero series was originally suppose to be the storyline of X going Maverick and becoming the BigBad, but the backlash from Mega Man fans kept this from happening.
- Devil Survivor 2 has this be the case in the plan to defeat one of the late Septentriones, Mizar. In order to defeat Mizar, the idea of using the Dragon Stream is suggested. It's overall a good idea, but doing so would mean cutting off the power of the three towers - the last barrier, holding the void from taking over Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo which are the last places still left in the world at this point. So the choice is between leaving Mizar alone, meaning it will smother the rest of the world within 24 hours because of its constant duplicating, or remove the only thing still giving a part of the world relatively safe.
- It doesn't matter if you take the "Deal" or "Revenge" path at the end of Grand Theft Auto IV because either one ends badly for Niko. The "Deal" ending is far worse than the "Revenge" one.
- If you don't do any of your partners' loyalty missions and rush through the game without making preparations, Mass Effect 2 ends with one. The Collectors are no longer a threat to humankind, but Shepard and Shepard's squad die achieving this, and the Reapers are still on the way. Wasting too much time before assaulting the base, on the other hand, can see Shepard too late to rescue the Normandy's crew - maybe thirty or so innocent people and allies.
- Mass Effect 3 had the theme, "There can be no victory without sacrifice." One way or another, every major quest carries a penalty to match its triumph - some nastier than others, especially if Shepard doesn't exercise good judgement. And much like the previous game, going into the final assault without enough preparation can potentially cost you the war, even if you win the battle. The ending itself proves the Reapers cannot be eliminated as a threat without a heavy price, no matter which option Shepard chooses.
- The outcome of the final battle, if you pick Refusal - your forces successfully punched through the Reaper lines and deployed the Crucible, which was the objective...but because you didn't use it, even with full readiness and about seven thousand points of effective military strength, you, all of your allies and all space-faring races are exterminated. The Reapers lose, in that extermination is a suboptimal outcome for them, but it's a defeat they're accustomed to suffering.
- A straighter example in Mass Effect 3: if your EMS is under 1750 and you destroyed the Collecotr Base in ME 2, you have only one option allowed, "Destroy", and it will scour the galaxy of almost all life, including Earth.
- In the last GDI mission of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, choosing to drop the Liquid Tiberium Bomb not only wipes out all of the Nod forces, but all of your own forces and sets off a chain reaction that kills twenty-five million civilians.
- Each Command & Conquer sequel reveals this is what happened for the last game. In Tiberian Sun, it's revealed that after Tiberian Dawn, Tiberium contamination spread to uncontrollable levels and while Nod is pacified, they have developed cyborg technology and several splinter cells are trying to take command. In Tiberium Wars, it's revealed that the cure discovered at the end of Tiberian Sun was not only ineffective, it caused Tiberium to mutate, becoming even more toxic than before and causing 80% of the world to either be thrown back into the dark ages or become dangerously inhospitable. By Tiberian Twilight, Tiberium not only took over the world, but threatens to kill off the entire human race within 6 years. Apparently GDI looses more ground with each game.
- Infected has this at the end. You've managed to save New York by wiping out all the zombies! Congratulations! Too bad you only saved a few hundred people, at least the entire continental United States is still zombified, and there's no word from the rest of the world. But still...New York! Ayyyy!
- The ending of RefleX is this, but in a much more global scale; ZODIAC Ophiuchus defeats the last ZODIAC and seals away the 12 cores along with its own. However, the collateral damage caused during its quest to destroy the other 12 wiped out almost all of humankind, and it may take centuries or even millenniums for them to regain civilization.
- The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater way more than qualifies as a Pyrrhic Victory for Big Boss.
- Prince of Persia (2008) ends with sealing Ahriman away for a thousand years...except that Elika had to return her borrowed lifeforce to complete the seal. If the player continues, the victory is so crushing that the Prince undoes it to bring her back - unleashing the god of darkness once again. Implicit is the idea that he and Elika may hold the key to defeating Ahriman forever (thus making Ahriman's victory the destructive one), but the story has yet to continue.
- The mission results screen for the penultimate mission of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies notes how victory over the Eruseans came at a very high cost of ISAF casualties, including many aces lost to Stonehenge.
- At least two endings of Oracle of Tao are like this. The best ending has the whole party teaming up to kill off the Big Bad, resulting in another boss, followed by a Playable Epilogue and a whole bunch of new endings. But if you don't meet all the prerequisites, you get secondary endings (the only one of which is actually good involves the use of a legendary sword). One of these involves the hero sacrificing all her energy and half-destroying the universe to kill it off (and STILL might not be enough, so you need some party members that will survive the event, namely your angel/demon characters) just to end the demon's rampage, and the second involves an exorcist ringing a bell that is deadly to everyone who hears it, taking herself out as well. Either of these losses completely wrecks party morale, and the group splits up thereafter.)
- While the effect of the final battle wasn't immediate upon the protagonist of Persona 3, many players assumed that he was just sleeping when he closes his eyes in Aigis' lap on the final day of the game. It turns out he actually fell into his last coma and died soon afterward. The sequel, Persona 3: FES, shows us what effect the protagonist's death has upon the rest of the party. The reveal that the protagonist actually sacrificed his life to become the barrier between Nyx and humanity becomes the main point of contention between the entire party, especially for Yukari, who spends most of the game wanting to see him again, to the point where she would be willing to reset time even if it meant dooming the rest of humanity.
- The bad ending of Persona 4 where you choose to kill Namatame. If you didn't kill him, he would have gotten away with it, right? But Nanako is dead, Dojima is left all alone, and your friends have to live with the fact that they killed a man who they weren't even sure was the true culprit. Heavy fog continues to envelope the world as you say goodbye to your friends...
- Saya no Uta has this in all of its endings, to some degree. The worst example is the ending in which Kouji and Dr. Tanbo manage to kill Saya and Fuminori, but afterwards, Dr. Tanbo dies, and Kouji ends up more or less schizophrenic, and is horrifically traumatised, suffering constant nightmares. He keeps a single bullet in the cabinet in case it ever gets just that bad.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has all characters' endings like this. Terra loses his body to Master Xehanort but his armor and weapons reform by Terra's force of will and defeat his own body, stopping the current plan. However, Xehanort survives to become the Big Bad for the rest of the series, while what's left of Terra is just an empty suit of armor kneeling in the remains of the Keyblade Graveyard and stewing in anger at Xehanort for 11 years. Ventus defeats Vanitas inside his own mind, destroying the X-Blade and stopping the other part of the plan. However the damage to his heart is so severe that he's rendered comatose while his heart seeks safety within Sora's. Aqua finishes off Xehanort's plans for good, except both her friends are gone, she inadvertently sets off the events that would put the first game into motion, and she's stuck wandering the Realm of Darkness alone for years. However, unlike most Pyrrhic Victories, there is the hope of Sora saving them all.
- And then Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance comes along and makes things worse for them: Xehanort is still in control of Terra's body, over a decade later, and no-one else knows what happened to the rest of him. Vanitas is still around inside Ven's heart, and all that Ven's sacrifice did was teach Xehanort he'd been going about his X-blade plan all wrong. But it still didn't slow his plans down in the slightest.
- The Halo trilogy: At the end of the Human-Covenant War the humans successfully prevent Earth from being completely destroyed and permanently end the threat of the Covenant. However most human colonies are lost as well as basically the entire fleet and armed forces, and given that 23 billion humans died, there's barely anything left of their former interstellar empire.
- The Covenant suffer one as well in Halo: Reach. Though the invasion of Reach was a complete success that basically broke the backbone of the human forces, they still loss 2/3 of their fleet trying to occupy and destroy Reach. Not only that, but they also were not able to prevent the Pillar of Autumn from escaping the system with the coordinates of an ancient Forerunner installation. The arrival of that ship on the first Halo in the first game directly lead to the end of the Covenant and prevented the total extinction of all humans.
- Despite their noble decision to form a truce with humanity and aiding in destroying the loyalist forces, the Sangheili are no better off afterwards- without the means to create the vessels that they used (as they were creations of the Prophets backward-engineering existing Forerunner technology), their campaign against the Brutes is long and bloody. Worse still, they lack any spiritual guidance that they once had prior to their race being integrated to the Covenant, to the point where one Sangheili leader in the comic "The Return" revisits a planet he had glassed, simply to find anything that might rekindle their faith. Fortunately, after saving a human, he finds out about the existance of a Monitor, a lead he intends to follow to achieve the ends that he seeks.
- The novel Halo Glasslands also reveals that Sangheili society is on the verge of imploding without the Prophets to maintain any sort of unity amongst the various Sangheili factions.
- ONI's plan in destabilizing Elite was also successful but it will soon comeback to bite them in the ass, as they only created more enemies for the UNSC, as the Storm Covenant sides with the Diadact, and rally more Covenant to their side.
- Really, this is a habit with Bungie:
- The Marathon trilogy had only a handful of the Tau Ceti colony escape alive, plus the Pfhor angered enough by their defeat to pull a Superweapon Surprise as a final “screw you, almost causing the destruction of the universe too through accidental stupidity.
- Myth has your army slaughtered to a man over the course of the game, culminating in a Taking You with Me when you destroy the Big Bad.
- Oni ends with the revelation that the entire planet is ecologically on its last legs.
- The Protoss ending in StarCraft I. The Overmind was destroyed but Aiur is now infested by Zerg. Crazy, disorganised and rampant Zerg.
- The Brood War ending: the fighting stops and the Koprulu Sector settles down into relative peace for a few years, but not because anything's actually solved, more because everyone has simply exhausted their military forces and needs a breather to build them back up. Even the Zerg, who retreat to Char rather than push their advantage.
- From the X-COM series:
- The ending of X-COM: Terror from the Deep not only results in the deaths of the best troops sent to fight the aliens, but also in the deaths of millions from poisons and global warming as the result of the destruction of the alien mothership.
- The ending of X-COM: Enemy Unknown isn't much better - the global financial crisis following the war results in the collapse of most of the world governments. Also, the eventual depletion of Earth's only supply of Elerium-115 results in all Imported Alien Phlebotinum becoming useless.
- If one takes Interceptor into account, while Earth is still a toxic mess, humanity uses alien technology gained in previous games as a stepping stone to a robust interstellar empire, one which successfully wrests control of the stars from hostile aliens.
- The Bureau: XCOM Declassified ends with X-COM fighting off the Outsiders, but thousands of people are dead or have been transported to the Zudjari homeworld. Not to mention that, if we take Firaxis's Word of God that this is a prequel to their XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the fall of the Outsider Empire only leaves a galactic power vacuum that is quickly filled by the Ethereals. Subsequently, defeating the Ethereals results in the death of your most powerful psychic soldier, and the cryptic comments by the Ethereal leader imply an even greater threat out in the galaxy; and yes, you've just created another power vacuum.
- In Chapter 6 of Super Paper Mario, you fail to recover the Pure Heart before The Void consumes the Sammer Kingdom. Afterwards, you return to where Sammer Kingdom used to be (now called the "World of Nothing," and fight a boss to recover the Pure Heart. But even though you get a nearly full "You Got A Pure Heart" victory animation, the Pure Heart has been turned to stone by the destruction of the world it rested in, rendering it useless. The only thing missing from the animation is all your Pixls lining up to do their dance, most likely because even they know it's only this trope.
- The Battle of Parsir in Mitsumete Knight. Sure, Dolphan won the fight in the end... But at the cost of one third of its army, due to enemy General Meehilbis'.
- The canon ending to Blaze Union. The incompetent government has been overthrown, Gulcasa is able to completely ignore the corrupt court by becoming the world's most empathetic and competent dictator, and the people's lives can finally return to normal. Over the course of achieving this, the employer Gulcasa trusted and his Living Emotional Crutch died, his mother bullied him into killing her for the sake of reclaiming his true power, and his childhood friend and mentor tried to kill him out of fear that he might become a monster someday, leaving him a complete emotional wreck.
Three years later, just when his people's lives and his own mental state have stabilized, his attempt to rescue the rest of the world goes as wrong as it possibly can, and he is forced to watch everyone he ever loved sacrifice themselves for him as his country is ravaged by invaders, ending in his own death. Thank God for that gaiden where you can fix this.
- The player themselves can very easily end up in this situation in Yggdra Union if they're not careful, since Morale (the game's version of HP) can only be regenerated by destroying one of your pieces of equipment (which are hard to come by as is.) It's possible to win a battle by the skin of your teeth, only to discover you have no way to recover your near-death army's morale enough to withstand the next battle, essentially rendering the game nigh-Unwinnable.
- Dragon Age:
- In Dragon Age: Origins, a Human Noble PC's sacrifice makes it one for the Couslands. It becomes one for the PC if Alistair sacrifices himself out of love.
- In Dragon Age II this is rampant. Hawke gets his/her family to Kirkwall in the prologue but it costs them a sibling. They strike it rich on the Deep Roads expedition, but their other sibling either dies or leaves the family permanently and they discover Red Lyrium. They either kill the Arishok or get the qunari to leave Kirkwall, but only after the city is already in ruins and the Vicount is dead. And the second option means selling a friend up the river. They step in when the mages rebel, but regardless of which side they're on they must kill both Orsino and Meredith and the city is almost completely destroyed in the process. And they have to go into hiding.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, you finally defeated the Big Bad and the breach is finally closed. But two years later, the two nations that you've helped in the game want the Inquisition to be dismantled which is prone to infiltration from outside forces. The anchor is now causing you pain and slowly killing you. Your former party member, Solas, turned to be an elven god who gave the orb to the Big Bad in the first place which started the whole mess since the beginning and now, he wants to destroy the whole continent in order to save the elves. Though he will cut off your arm with the Anchor in it to prevent it from killing you but it will rendered you crippled. And depending on your choices, the Inquisition is either disbanded or prone to corruption.
- Crysis ending is kind of like this, to the point that the song that plays through the final battle is called Pyrrhic Victory. Nomad and Co. manage to destroy the giant alien ship and exosuit, but the entire fleet was destroyed and only Nomad, Psycho, Helena and Prophet survive the entire island ordeal. To make things worse, you only destroyed a single exosuit, and during the entire battle you see maybe hundreds of thousands leave the sphere on the island...
- You can be told that you have suffered one in Total War: Shogun 2, though if you have truly broken the enemy army and don't have anyone else to worry about your forces will regrow naturally over time without you having to pay, making this a bit of a misnomer. That doesn't mean you can throw your forces away however, other clans may take advantage of your momentary weakness.
- Same in Napoleon: Total War, where this troop replenishment model was first implemented. Unlike the previous games, where a seriously depleted elite unit would lose experience by diluting veterans with rookies (training only does so much), troops starting with Empire: Total War no longer suffer this effect.
- The ending of Arc The Lad 2. Let's have Elc explain it, shall we?
- Elc: It makes me wonder what we were fighting for. Arc died, and for what? So we could inherit this desolate and hopeless future? We didn't stop the world from ending, we survived it. And, now we are left with nothing.
- Mortal Kombat 9 quickly escalates into a Wham Episode about 1/2 of the way through Story Mode and then divebombs into this trope for the Grand Finale. Raiden, after grieving over how his attempts to prevent Armageddon have yielded no positive effects (in fact, they arguably made them worse), finally realizes that the words of his future self ("He must win.") refers to letting Shao Kahn win the Outworld tournament and merge Earthrealm with Outworld, so that the Elder Gods can punish him for his treachery. Raiden, however, has practically crossed the Despair Event Horizon due to the futility of everyone's sacrifices. The only heroes left (out of Raiden, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Jax Briggs, [Cyber] Sub-Zero, Smoke, Kitana, Jade, Nightwolf, Kurtis Stryker, and Kabal)? Raiden, Sonya, and Cage. Even worse, the Sequel Hook with Quan Chi and Shinnok (The Dragon and Big Bad of Mortal Kombat 4) shows that Shao Kahn's defeat has left a major villain vacuum.
- The backstory and supplemental material of Portal explains that the Aperture Science researchers who built GLaDOS found out a little too late that her idea of "supervising the functioning of the Enrichment Center" involved, as a first step, murdering all of them with a deadly neurotoxin. Just prior to dying, the scientists managed to install a Morality Core to restrain her homicidal impulses, but it was far too late for any of them.
- You can use this against Legate Lanius, commander of Caesar's Legion in the final confrontation of Fallout: New Vegas. With a high-enough speech skill, you can convince him that even after winning the battle for Hoover Dam, he would not be able to take on the rest of the NCR due to either a lack of forces or an inability to properly sustain his army. Being a Genius Bruiser with Hidden Depths, this is enough to convince him to retreat.
- In Phantasy Star II, Mother Brain is destroyed, but that's no consolation. Palm, along with most of humanity, was already destroyed by Mother Brain, Motavia's terraforming and technological civilization will collapse without Mother Brain to control them, and most of humanity is too weak-willed by now to survive the desert planet that Motavia will turn into.
- Phantasy Star IV shows that humanity on Motavia has mostly recovered, though it's still far less advanced than it was back in Phantasy Star II.
- While the first Knights of the Old Republic painted the cannon Light Side ending as a fairly straightforward victory of the Republic against the Sith, (only made slightly bittersweet for the PC with Malak's regret before his death, and especially Bastila's possible death). As a part of its massive Deconstructor Fleet, the sequel went into more detail of the effect of the loss of so many resources, leaders, and most of the Jedi on the tired Republic, painting the Jedi Civil War as one of these.
- In the second battle of Bothawui in Star Wars: The Old Republic backstory, the Sith forces have killed all of the Republic forces but suffered massive losses and couldn't keep a foothold on the planet so they decided to just leave.
- In game, the Imperials manage to break the Republic's reclamation efforts and force them off Taris. Of course, that means the Empire just got saddled with a polluted, toxic swamp crawling with rakghouls that has almost no strategic value or useful resources. Meanwhile, the Republic can stop throwing away money on the futile effort (putting it into the war effort) and elects Suresh (who now has even more reason to want revenge on the Imperials) as Supreme Chancellor. Meanwhile the Republic ends up with Balmorra; home of the biggest weapons factories and droid production plants in the galaxy.
- Modern Warfare. The American campaign of the first game sees you struggle against Khalid Al-Asad and his Quaracian army, which has overthrown and executed the lawful president stands poised to dominate the Middle East, and potentially the entire Muslim world. After a series of costly running battles and abortive attempts to end the war, you succeed in dismantling Al-Asad's war machine and forcing him to flee into exile. The cost? He drops a nuke on you and the entire American expeditionary force, leaving you with a very bitter Our Hero Is Dead conclusion to the campaign.
- The consequences of such a Pyrrhic victory hit hard in the sequel. The cost of victory in the first game is so high that the leader of the American forces, General Shepherd, becomes completely disillusioned and allies himself with a Russian extremist in order to incite war against his own country just to wake them up to what they've let themselves become. The belief that his men were lost in vain completely destroyed him. Modern Warfare 2 itself also qualifies as Shepherd is killed but far too long after the fact, not only having betrayed his own men and country, but getting what remains of his anti-terrorist task force marked as defectors and the war with Russia he started is unhindered.
- In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, the best ending has Strelok stopping the C-Consciousness' ulterior motive of tampering with the noosphere by shooting their stasis pods and then escaping their secret lab by means of a portal off-screen. However, this caused the Zone to become even more unstable as emissions have run rampant on a daily basis, resulting in an increase of zombified stalkers, mutant activity, Monolith soldiers, and other nastiness. Call of Pripyat takes place after this ending.
- There is only one explicitly stated goal in Yume Nikki, and that is to collect all 24 "effects" scattered throughout Madotsuki's Dream World. Achieving this will result in a step stool appearing on her balcony for her to jump off of.
- The final boss of Killer7, Greg Nightmare plays like this. You beat him and get an insanely powerful weapon... at the cost of the six/seven recessive personalities, which have been Killed Off for Real.
- Assassin's Creed III: The Earth is saved, but Desmond dies in the process and unleashes a vengeful Physical God on the world. There's also Connor, whose revenge costs him his best friend's life (by Connor's own hand) and in the end, the Mohawks are still forced to relocate, leaving him behind. Worse still is how hard he tried to form a lasting alliance between the budding United States and the Native Americans, and we all know how well that ultimately turned out.
- Final Fantasy I: The heroes confront Chaos, destroying him and shattering the time loop. But because that loop is shattered, no one — not even the heroes — remembers there was ever a battle to begin with. The price of victory? Never knowing your greatest achievements ever were.
- Final Fantasy VI. In the end, the Big Bad has become a Physical God, caused The End of the World as We Know It, ruled over the ruins of the world for a whole year and zap-fried the remaining pockets of civilization whenever people seemed to have overcome their misery. Sure, you eventually get to kill him, but then The Magic Goes Away and all Espers die with him. You don't even get a clear-cut ideological victory against him since he, being a Straw Nihilist, puts emphasis on the fact that everything eventually dies and/or fades away anyway and, by killing him, you prove that he's right; even gods die and even magic fades away. All your characters win by killing him is a ruined world and (hopefully) longer and happier lives than the one he lived... Yay?
- Final Fantasy X has two main examples:
- The Final Summoning means that Sin (if defeated) doesn't come back for a while, and people can live peacefully. Except the Summoner dies, and one of their Guardians is transformed into the Final Aeon (and later the new Sin) to restart the cycle.
- The party's collective defiance of Yunalesca's attempted But Thou Must means that all of the Aeons that have aided Yuna and the party on their journey must be sacrificed, and if that wasn't enough, Tidus can no longer exist in Spira if Sin is defeated; "winning by losing", to paraphrase Yuna in the sequel.
- Final Fantasy XIII has the ending in general:
- The party defeat Orphan, because if they didn't (by Barthandelus' logic) another unfortunate Cocoon citizen would end up in their place eventually. While the world seems to be ending, Fang and Vanille become the crystal pillar and save the day. But they're both crystallized forever (unless they want Cocoon to come toppling down). And a lot of people died anyway.
- The sequel also has fixing the timeline: doing so means that Serah will most likely die, but they do it anyway; the paradoxes all appear to have been fixed, time gates have closed forever, and Hope's new Cocoon is safely floating in the sky, with Fang and Vanille salvaged from the crumbling pillar. Then Serah dies. And then the victory itself is completely undone. The game's true ending in Requiem of the Goddess is more bittersweet, as it implies Lightning will eventually rise from her slumber and find Serah again, but comes at the cost of Lightning turning herself into a statue.
- Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics achieves peace and rulership of all of Ivalice... and loses absolutely everyone and everything he's ever cared about in the process. It really is Lonely at the Top.
- Gears of War ends like this. The Locust Horde and the Lambent have all been killed, 90 percent of Sera has been rendered uninhabitable by the war, from the Hammer of Dawn Counterattack that destroyed huge portions of Sera to the Lightmass Bomb and the rise of the Lambent. 99 percent of humanity has been killed.
- The players win in Guild Wars. The cost? You lose your homeland and your Prince. Your allies in the jungle die en masse. The Dwarven Prince also dies. During many of the missions you see countless peasants and allied mook soldiers die. You unleash an army of abominations on the world, but cut off the flow of new abominations. This ensures there are only enough rampaging abominations to destroy an entire race of powerful wizards. They keep rampaging after that job is done. Later expansions and the sequel were kinder and gentler (by comparison).
- Guild Wars 2 reveals that while you stopped Abaddon from returning, Palawa Joko used the freedom you granted him to conquer Elona and destroy everything you had fought to protect there.
- At the end of the Living Story you finally killed Scarlet Briar, but not before she devastated Lion's Arch and awakened the sixth Elder Dragon.
- Discussed in Fire Emblem Awakening, Virion plays a strategic game with the Avatar and always wins. The Avatar is always frustrated that s/he, a trained and skilled tactician, cannot beat him at all and that he should be the tactician. However, Virion points out that while he is knowledgeable in the game, he wouldn't be so in real life, and if he lead a real army to victory in the same way he played this game, virtually every victory would be this and he himself would have a 0% Approval Rating. Meanwhile, he knows the Avatar will always try to keep their forces alive, just like every player does.
- In fact, players have pointed out that Virion's strategy is just like the Spiteful A.I. that Fire Emblem has... they try to win without bothering to think about units' survival and happily send units to their deaths just to achieve one of these. Heck, in some games where you can make potentially infinite reinforcements, a lot of players would play just like this.
- All of the canon endings in Fatal Frame tend to be Pyrrhic in nature. Usually, it ends with the protagonist solving whatever curse it was driving the ghosts to violence and finally allowing them to rest in peace... but at the cost of one or more of their loved ones. Only in Fatal Frame III is it possible (but difficult) to save everyone, but even then the nature of the story means the survivors are wracked with grief and probably in serious need of some therapy.
- Heck, most of the Fatal Frame II endings are of this nature. Even if Mio saves Mayu, she'd either just get killed by Mayu or go blind in the process. And another has them happily reuniting just in time to become the Repentance's next victims. The only truly happy ending was the XBox exclusive ending.
- The storyline of Mirror's Edge ends with Faith saving her sister, which was the initial goal of her quest. But in the process, her mentor was shot and died before her eyes, and both her best friend and her former boyfriend betrayed her. Happy ending!
- Any "victory" for humanity in The Tale of ALLTYNEX tends to be of this nature. In the first game, 85% of the human race is killed and the remainder have to fight a long, bloody 40-year war against the AI that did it to reclaim Earth. In the second game, humanity only survives by the skin of its teeth against the alien invaders, and gets knocked back into the Dark Ages in terms of technology. The invaders themselves retreat from Earth after all their military forces have been annihilated and their homeworld is on the brink of resource collapse due to the conflict. And finally, in the final game, Earth's civilizations have once again been nearly wiped out by an insane scientist who co-opts the weapons used to drive off the invaders to attempt to annihilate humanity for its transgressions.
- The whole point of Nidhogg is to reach the other end of an arena and getting eaten by the Nidhogg.
- A meta-example for La-Mulana. You slogged your way to the end of Hell Temple? Congratulations. Now you get to see Lemeza wearing a skimpy bikini. And if you're playing the remake, you get to see it through the rest of the game.
- On a less meta level, the events during the timeskip to La-Mulana 2 seem to make Lemeza's victory in the first game pretty Pyrrhic for him, personally. Evidently the public doesn't believe he saved humanity by destroying the ruins - a World Heritage Site - so he's been in hiding and separated from his daughter.
- Megatron's ending for Beast Wars Transmetals is very much this, pointing out the temporal problems with his plan from the original cartoon. In it, he manages to kill Optimus Prime, retroactively giving the Decepticons victory over the Autobots. But it also destroys the Matrix of Leadership, which Hot Rod would need to become Rodimus Prime and destroy Unicron. Hence, when Unicron shows up, it heavily implies he will succeed in destroying Cybertron and the rest of the universe.
- Dawnof War was full of these, Gabriel Angelos defeats the Alpha Legion and kills Daemon Prince Sindri but that wasn't even his original mission. His mission was to save planet Tartarus from the Ork invasion. While he did rescue quite a lot of refugees, most of the population had turned to Chaos, the planet is under Ork and Chaos joint control and trapped in the Warp. Worse yet, Angelos freed a powered-up Greater Daemon of Khorne. For the Greater Daemon this was a pyrrhic victory in turn, he's freed to rampage through the cosmos but during his time of freedom he makes a pact with the renegade Blood Ravens Chapter-Master and they merge into one being. This increases their power, but makes the daemon vulnerable to getting killed and obliterated rather than re-incarnating through the Warp. Finally the Blood Raven loyalists defeat all the traitors and save their home system from a full-scale Exterminatus. But one of their worlds had an Exterminatus done to them, the hive world, Meridian had its legitimate government slaughtered and the Blood Ravens' purge has reduced them to a handful of marines.
- Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2's Infamous Conquest Ending is this. Nepgear defeats the Big Bad, Arfoire, but to get the power required to do so, she had to kill the other CPUs (including her sister). Not only that but with Nepgear being the only CPU left, the nations of Gameindustri have been absorbed into Planeptune, and the game after this sets a bad precedent for Nepgear's rule (though in another dimension). The kicker. Arfoire says that Nepgear actually made Gameindustri's destruction inevitable and that sooner or later the people will Rage Against the Heavens (specifically, her) and that she will return when that happens. Needless to say, this ending is not canon.
- Happens at the end of Chapter 11 of Valkyria Chronicles. After the battle to take the enemy base, Isara is shot and killed by a rifle from an Imperial soldier. It deals such an emotional blow to Squad 7 that the victory is not worth celebrating.
- This happens in Haunt The House whenever someone jumps out the window. At the end, it's revealed that now you have to share the house with that person's ghost!
- WarCraft 3: Archimonde is defeated and the land of Kalimdor is saved but the Night Elves sacrifice the World Tree and lose their immortality. Kalimdor is now settled by the Horde and the Alliance remnants but their peace is tenuous and its only a matter of time before they come to blows again.
- Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. The Aztec campaign ends with them expelling the Spaniards from their city but it is ruined and their people are decimated by war and disease. They do not know if they can stem the tide of the White Man's onslaught in the new world.
- The God of War Series loves this trope.
- In the first game, Kratos succeeds in killing Ares, the god who is responsible for most of his suffering, however, Athena refuses to rid Kratos of the memories that have haunted him since he made a deal with Ares because she said that his sins would be forgiven, not forgotten. She does make him the new God of War in Ares' place, but Ghost of Sparta reveals that he never wanted to be the thing that has haunted him the most.
- Kratos searches for his long lost brother, Deimos, who was taken from him since they were kids. He does succeed in finding him, however, Deimos isn't happy to see him, and they fight one another. Then, because Kratos killed Erinys, Thanatos decides to kill Kratos' brother for killing his daughter. The brothers team up to fight Thanatos, however, Deimos dies. Kratos succeeds in killing Thanatos thanks to his anger over his dead brother but it doesn't feel like a victory, especially considering Deimos' death was Kratos' fault.
- Chains of Olympus has one where Kratos finds his dead daughter, Calliope, and decides to strip himself of his power so that he can enter the Elysian Fields where Colliope resides. After being reunited with his daughter, Persephone tells him about her plan to destroy the entire world using Atlas and the kidnapped Helios instead of keeping him in the dark about her plan and the fact that Calliope will cease to exist as well. Kratos gets the motivation he needs to stop her by killing the residents of the Elysian Fields in order to regain his power despite his daughter's pleas for him to stop, and goes on to fight Persephone. He defeats her and prevents the world's destruction, but he had to resort to evil actions in order to regain his powers to defeat her. As a result, he can no longer enter the Elysian Fields, so he will never see his daughter again. Although, he feels there's no place for him there because of what he did to put his daughter there in the first place, though it was an accident.
- God of War III has the biggest example of this. After all of his years of suffering because of the Gods of Olympus, especially Zeus, he succeeds in killing Zeus and destroying Olympus. However, he realizes that because he was so dead set on revenge he destroyed the world by plunging it into chaos, also, he then realizes that though many have wronged him a lot of his suffering was his fault. In the end, he wasn't satisfied with killing Zeus, so it wasn't worth all the death and destruction he caused. Kratos finally gives a damn about others.
- Undertale has an instance of this trope which will affect the player, should you complete a Genocide run: you successfully beat Sans, the hardest boss of the game, and slaughtered everyone. The Fallen Child hijacks Frisk's body and destroys the very world of Undertale, leaving nothing behind but a black screen to stare at. In the end, it is possible for the player to recreate the world, at the cost of Frisk's Soul, something which will permanently alter the True Pacifist ending. No matter how you look at it, you, the player, lost: either you leave the game for good, knowing that you are directly responsible for this universe's destruction, either you recreate it, only for the Fallen Child to hijack Frisk's body at the very end and kill everyone and everything you hold dear. Your choices no longer matter: whatever you choose, once you reach that point, there is no happy ending possible for anyone, including you.
- Darkest Dungeon: Despite heavy losses, you defeat the eldritch god at the heart of the Dungeon only to realize that he's only one of MILLIONS of baby cosmic abominations, which use Earth as some celestial egg, while mankind is a mutated virus born from the amniotic fluids. And you're now insane. Cue suicide. The ancestor says it best:
Ancestor: Victory. A hollow and ridiculous notion.
- In Ikaruga, Shinra and Kagari destroy the Stone-Like, breaking the cycle from Radiant Silvergun, but they die in the process.
- Red vs. Blue has the defeat of the Meta and dealing with Project Freelancer come at the price of Alpha-Church and several other AIs being destroy in a EMP, Tex imprisoned in the capture unit that Epsilon-Church then joins her in (which is thrown into evidence and deemed useless) and Wash almost killed, then forced to masquerade as Church to avoid prison time. Oh, and Red Team lost Lopez. He comes back (as a head still/again) in season 11, though.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device the Emperor absolutely hates his most loyal subjects because they've basically transformed most of mankind's "victories" into massive unrepairable losses, quadrillions dead and millions of souls devoured for pointless reasons, which sadly, are all entirely canon.
- In Mario Brothers, King Koopa and his army are defeated for once and for all... at the cost of the lives of Princess Toadstool, the Toads, and even the Mario Brothers themselves. The Mushroom Kingdom itself may even be doomed to destruction, since the last we see is the land being overtaken by the lava erupting from Koopa's castle.
- The Volume 3 finale of RWBY ends this way: The Grimm invasion started by Cinder and her faction is ultimately halted, the situation in Vale is stabilized, the Grimm are repelled from the city center and Cinder herself is defeated thanks to Ruby; but the Beacon campus and surrounding areas are lost, communications have been disrupted around the world, and Atlas's reputation among the other kingdoms has been permanently tarnished. Also, while Team RWBY and most of the good guys survive the battle, many of them are demoralized or have been separated, Cinder and her faction have gone into hiding, and the one behind her isn't even phased by this setback. Also can be taken literally, since victory came at the cost of Pyrrha.
- A few episodes of Death Battle end this way:
- Superman vs Goku: Superman came out on top, but the world gets an Earth-Shattering Kaboom in the process.
- Fox vs Bucky: Not quite as harsh as the other 2 examples, but still relevant. Fox manages to kill Bucky, but Slippy Toad was killed before the battle began.
- White Tigerzord vs Epyon: Even though Zechs manages to destroy the tigerzord and kill Tommy Oliver the White Ranger, his beloved girlfriend, Noin, was killed before the start of the battle. The battle ends with him crying Ocular Gushers over the remains of the Gundam she was piloting, while Zordon is left mourning Tommy's death.
- Possibly the case in Guts vs Nightmare. Guts manages to destroy Nightmare/Night Terror, Inferno and Soul Edge, but he was forced into his Berserker Armor to do so. While not outright stated, it will eventually kill his sanity and physical body without anybody in the immediate area around to snap him out of it.
- Played for Laughs in Iron Man vs Lex Luthor. While Tony defeats Lex without any life-threatening results to himself, his victory comes at a literal high cost: $5 billion for property damages that occurred.
- Also Played for Laughs in Donkey Kong vs Knuckles. While Donkey Kong kills Knuckles for digging through his banana stash, he has to find his bananas all over again, thanks to the fight.
- Dante vs Bayonetta: Dante kills Bayonetta, unknowingly failing his mission to retrieve the Left Eye of the World (the Left Eye is Bayonetta herself; Dante was under the impression it was an artifact). Plus, the DMX battle that accompanies this one revealed Dante's partner Trish was killed by Bayonetta's partner Jeanne.
- Joker vs Sweet Tooth. Joker triumphs, but the beating he took during the battle leaves him in no condition to resist the police who show up, presumably to ship him back to Arkham.
- In the prologue of Drowtales, the Sharen won the war against the Nidraa'chal, but the cost was horrible for their clan and their city. In fact, it is an inversion: the Nidraa'chal were not destroyed, and they are the actual winners of this war, with only a few less, and had in fact infiltrated the clan from the inside and were founded by several of the clan's own royal daughters.
- For extra irony, Chapter 46 is a more serious case of pyrrhic victory for the Sharen colony of Felde: the Nidraa'chal push back the Owl faction (allies of Du'vantir from a neighboring city all wearing wingsuits) effortlessly, proving to the rest of the Drow that Felde can stand on its own, but in the process Snadhya'rune and Kalki both separately and very publicly lose their tempers, go on a rampage, and end up alienating their allies by showing their true colors, thereby breaking their true currency of power - fake trust, and in the process causing Snadhya to kill Kalki when she gets fed up with her antics.
- In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn kills the dragon—except his arm is broken, he must spare the mortally-wounded Ember any further suffering, and it was the wrong dragon.
- The end of the Dr. McNinja saga "Doc Gets Rad" has the doc trap Sparklelord in a infinite time-loop, preventing him from conquering the world. Of course, by doing this, he eliminated the one threat that could have permanently defeated King Radical, which Radical is more than happy to rub in Doc's face.
- In Homestuck, the troll session ends with the trolls defeating the Black King and creating our universe - which allows the B1 Jack Noir to gain First Guardian powers, destroy all the planets in the trolls' Medium, including Prospit, Derse, and the Battlefield, and trap the trolls in the Veil for several weeks long enough for internal conflicts to kill off half of them.
- In this The Whiteboard strip, Roger describes the aftermath of an indoor snowball fight (It Makes Sense in Context) as being a Pyrrhic victory after the use of a snowblower results in Doc's office getting three feet of snow dumped into it.
- In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, Leondias and Kratos get into a battle of gay chicken. After a long time, Leondias concedes defeat because he misses his family. Kratos taunts him for giving up just so he can go home to his family... but is immediately reminded that he has no family to go home to now.
- Our Little Adventure has two:
- The second Minotaur battle at the end of book 1. The Minotaur was killed sure enough, but it also killed Pauline, the group's Barbarian and beloved friend. What's worse is that she doesn't come back when Julie attempts to revive her at a temple, due to not wanting to.
- The Silverfronds Invasion ends this way in the end of book 3. The Souballo Empire did not succeed in taking over the Silverfronds Kingdom...because the kingdom is instead being destroyed by a powerful, unwittingly released Demon. The Souballo Empire has since put the war 'on hold' until this new evil can be dealt with.
- Magick Chicks: From the moment Melissa transferred to Artemis and learned Faith was the school's 'big girl on campus', there's only been one thought on her mind: dethrone her. Except none of her plans ever got off the ground. She only wound up becoming the new student council president due to circumstances prompting Faith to abdicate her position. Melissa only wanted the prestige of being the most popular girl, not the responsibilities that came with it.
- This◊ Erfworld story arc involves something on a smaller scale. Gobwin Knob has made a series of losing attacks on the Jetstone forces, which were reported to their commander as victories by the pseudo-magical "rules" that make Erfworld function like a tabletop game. It takes a couple minutes for someone to point out that, by attacking, inflicting losses, and retreating, the Gobwin Knob forces were technically losing the engagement but still inflicting critical damage on the Jetstone siege forces.
- Erfworld prides itself on pyrrhic victories. The first book concludes with Parson linking Thinkamancer Maggie with Croakamancer Wanda and Dirtamancer Sizemore to uncroak the active volcano underneath Gobwin Knob - croaking thousands of friendly and enemy troops and destroying the city. This is then immediately subverted when Rockwell discovers that the tunnels under the volcano have loads of gems, making them the richest side in Erfworld, and Wanda finding the Arkenpliers, which she uses to decrypt all the formerly croaked soldiers of all the armies to her side.
- The second book starts with Stanley and the Royal Crown Coalition II thinking they have a trump card to easily win the major battle in Spacerock. It ends with Stanley losing every dwagon and Archon he had, shifting his capital to an incredibly underdefended position in the Spacerock ruins, and having his casters and Parson marooned in the Magic Kingdom. Meanwhile, every part of the RCC II loses: Jetstone loses Ossomer and King Slately, Spacerock and all its soldiers; Haggar loses Prince Sammy and his army; Transylvito is nearly broke when Jillian of Faq goes rogue; Faq loses all support from the RCC and Charlie all for Ansom, who is still loyal to Wanda; and Charlie loses the trust of Trammenis, the one Jetstone who has faith in him.
- Sluggy Freelance: In "GOFOTRON Champion of the Cosmos", Zorgon Gola tries to invoke this by imbuing a puppy with the light-seeking tendencies of a moth and the universe-destroying-chain-reaction powers of a cascade missile. Once the puppy manages to reach a sun, it will destroy the universe (or Punyverse, as the protagonists call this small alternative universe). Gola's real plan is to wait for GOFOTRON to defeat the puppy but be destroyed or crippled in the ensuing explosion.
- This trope gets weaponized in Goblins, where the antagonist is forced to win the Maze of Many. The problem with that? Said opponent (Psion Minmax) wanted to use the Maze to eradicate his own existence. You cannot re-enter the Maze once you've "won" it.
- In Tech Infantry, every battle in the story is one of these, if not an outright defeat. The first Jurvain invasion of Rios is destroyed, at the cost of a jump gate, then a rebel attack is driven off with such heavy cost in Council Loyalist ships that when a second Jurvain invasion comes in, there's effectively nothing to stop them. The rebel fleet attacks the Federation capital in Avalon, and is again driven off at the cost of such heavy Federation casualties that future offensive operations against anyone are impossible. And the Vin Shriak is defeated, at the cost of so weakening the Federation that they are powerless to resist a subsequent invasion by the Eastern Bloc and their alien allies.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog:
- The titular character gets, in his own words, everything he ever wanted: respect as a villain, entrance into the elite Evil League of Evil, and the defeat of his nemesis. However, it costs him the life of the only woman he's ever loved before he's even been able to tell her how he feels. Not to mention her last words. Can you imagine any satisfaction in his "victory" at all after something like that?
- In the prequel comic that detailed Billy's past, it's shown that his inspiration was witnessing a Mad Scientist villain named Mister Maniacal successfully killing the superhero Justice Joe. Later on in the comic however, it's mentioned that Maniacal was soon killed by a lynch mob afterwards.
- Whateley Universe:
- The Halloween battle. What was originally intended as a cover so that the Goobers could kill Sara Waite turned into a full-on attack on Team Kimba, with many others getting caught in the cross-fire, and it ended badly for everyone- while the Whateley crew won, they ended up with thousands of dollars of property damage, more than a few injured, a staff member dying and that triggering a rager attack by another staff member that turned him almost committing suicide because of the death of his girlfriend. It turned out worse for Englund, the instigator- almost everyone on the staff and more than a few students hated him even though they couldn't prove that he did it, the attack on Sara wasn't successful, and the staff member who went rager now wants to kill him with extreme prejudice. The Syndicate (the main evil attackers) lost hundreds of their soldiers, and the main general ended up nearly losing his boyfriend. In other words, nobody won and everybody lost.
- The attack on Team Kimba in the simulations. On the one hand, Team Kimba managed to successfully fight off the attackers after being placed in a situation where they had no weapons or armour except their powers, and were placed separately against specially-chosen enemies with the sims turned up so any attacks would really injure them. On the other hand, everyone was horribly injured; Tennyo ended up in the grip of a Heroic B.S.O.D. after being forced to remember memories that weren't hers, but that she thought were hers; the New Olympians are now very aware that Team Kimba is powerful enough to potentially defeat them; and while Make and Overclock are captured by the MCO, Ayla and the Mad Scientist reveals that they escaped. Again, nobody won and everybody lost.
- Leviathan is ultimately forced to retreat from Brockton Bay by Scion, but a lot of people are dead, most of the city is destroyed, and it is sheer anarchy in the streets.
- Endbringer fights tend to result in this at best. Either a large portion of a continent is rendered uninhabitable or just SINKS, or potentially hundreds of Capes die forcing the monster back. The exception was the Behemoth fight in India, Scion shows up to KILL him! It doesn't stick, because More Endbringers show up in response, and they're unpredictable and immune to the tactics used against the others.
- The Slaughterhouse Nine tend to provoke this on both sides. The heroes lose members, countless civilians are killed in the crossfire, and members of the Nine drop like flies unless they're Nigh Invulnerable like the Siberian. Their attack on Brockton Bay is a perfect example: They break Panacea, work on depopulating the already devastated city and irreversibly traumatize more than a few of Capes and civilians. In return, the Nine lose Crawler and Cherish, get handed a humiliating "defeat" and have to invoke Lowered Recruiting Standards to get their numbers back up.
- Lampshaded when the host of Feeding The Trolls was planning on doing a video about Lord Steven Christ, a complete whackjob conspiracy theorist known for preaching for 15 years that everyone has been living on the inside of the Earth this whole time, along with other wild antics... until he suddenly came out as "The Best Troll Ever". He did a video about him anyway, claiming that completely destroying his reputation simply wasn't worth it.
- Discussed by The Angry Video Game Nerd, who considers beating The Karate Kid on NES to be a Pyrrhic Victory that leaves no satisfaction, but only regret. He likens it to coming out the winner of a fist fight, but achieving nothing for your victory other than bloody bruises and broken bones.
- In theepisode "The Golden Lagoon", nature-loving Autobot Beachcomber discovers a glen full of organic life and a pool of "electrum" which in this case is a super-protective alloy coating. Cue both factions going through a huge battle to take command of the pool, destroying every single piece of life in the glen. Beachcomber's final words as he surveys the scene? "We won..."
- This is especially paradoxical, since the Autobots have explained time and again that their mission was to "protect life"... apparently, completely destroying a glen full of life in order to control a strategic resource doesn't count. But perhaps the message of the episode was on the tragedy of war: letting the Decepticons have something that would have made them invincible would have been such a disaster for all non-Decepticon life that it was better to destroy the glen than to let the Decepticons have it. A few must die that others may live; that's called war.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara comes across a elderly waterbender named Hama who teaches her on how to improve her Waterbending skills, albeit through questionable methods. Her last lesson is Waterbending's ultimate technique, Bloodbending, where under a full moon the Waterbender can take complete control of his opponent. Katara, of course, is horrified at such a practice and vows not to use it. But when Hama takes control of Aang and Sokka and nearly kills them, Katara has no choice but to use the technique to stop her. Hama laughs at this while she's being carted off by the officials, as she succeeded in making Katara use the technique much to Katara's dismay.
- Even more Pyrrhic if you count The Legend of Korra. Bloodbending survives and gets better despite Katara not passing on the art. It's used by two Big Bads and one Big Bad Wannabe to devastating effect.
- The battle at the Northern Water Tribe counts too. Aang managed to demolish a majority of Zhao's fleet (which is approximately half the Fire Nation Fleet), but by the end of the battle, the Northern Water Tribe suffers heavy losses. Their city is heavily damaged, many lives were lost, and as a result, are in no condition to fight the war.
- The Legend of Korra:
- At the end of Book 2: Korra saves the world from Unalaq and Vaatu, preventing darkness from engulfing and destroying the world as they know it, however in the process the Avatar cycle is destroyed in battle. This winds up costing her ten thousand years worth of skills and knowledge built up in the lives of previous avatars, as well as apparently permanently severing her connection to the spirits of those previous Avatars, including Aang.
- At the end of Book 3: While Team Avatar manage to defeat the Red Lotus and save Korra's life, she ends up confined to a wheelchair due to poisoning sequelae, depressed and with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, without mentioning that the Earth Kingdom remains in complete chaos after the queen's assassination and with no clear fix on sight. And then, Kuvira, Su's captain, makes a Face–Heel Turn to stop chaos and reunite the country with a lot of Su's people, which gradually corrupts them. She eventually becomes a dictator. Enter the new Big Bad.
- In Chaotic, "Allmagedon", a creature uses an attack to defeat an army of underworlders, at the expence of all he was trying to protect.
- In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian are fighting over Planet X. They both finally deploy doomsday weapons, blowing the planet up and leaving a chunk so small that it literally isn't big enough for the both of them. At this point, Dodgers shoves Marvin off the planet and starts gloating about his victory, while the camera pans down to reveal the Space Cadet is hanging on to a few roots, saying "Big Deal".
- In a season 3 episode of Code Lyoko, Aelita willing makes a Pyrrhic Victory at the end of "Sabotage". X.A.N.A damages the Supercomputer and puts a mass of guards on the tower, so Jeremie needs the active tower offline so he can reboot the Supercomputer but Aelita can't get past the guards to use the Code Lyoko — so she willingly uses Code X.A.N.A. code to delete the Ice Sector, allowing Jeremie to reboot the system and stopping the active tower.
- Cartman has one of his victories become pyrrhic in the South Park episode "201" when Scott Tenorman reveals that his father and Cartman's were one and the same, meaning Cartman killed his own father along with Scott Tenorman's mother when he fed them to him as chili for revenge in "Scott Tenorman Must Die" nine seasons prior. Cartman however is more upset that this technically makes him ginger rather than the fact that he killed his own father.
- The Donald Duck/Chip 'n Dale short "Up a Tree" features Chip and Dale defeating Donald by destroying his house. Only thing? The object they used to destroy it with was their own chopped up tree which Donald managed to successfully chop down. Despite the fact that the short ends with the two laughing as always, Donald still manages to succeed in his goal of getting rid of it (making it Pyrrhic for him as well), which means they've lost their home ''and'' likely any food they've gathered up in it.
- Numbuh 363 from Codename: Kids Next Door caused one in "Operation I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.". He brags throughout the episode and hates being touched. He also refuses to help Sector V when Count Spankulot spanks them. Finally, when Numbuh 1 saves his life from Father and he is waken up with Father's Pipe, all he can say is "I WIN! I GOT THE PIPE!". His own sector is appalled by this that they betray him and gag him and give Sector V all of their stuff.
- As mentioned to Shayera Hol in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Hunter's Moon", because she had stopped her people from trying to destroy Earth just so they could create a shortcut to the Gordonian home world and win the war, her former lover and commander Hro Talak ended up sacrificing himself against the Gordonians which resulted in a great loss for the Thanagarians.
- In the old, short-lived Beetle Bailey cartoon, Beetle, Zero, and Cosmo compete in a contest that involves hiking twenty miles. Cosmo eventually wins (he cheats), but that means he has to hike back to Camp Swampy while Beetle and Zero get a ride back.
- Bugs Bunny finally beats Cecil Turtle in "Rabbit Transit", only to be arrested by the police because he was speeding 100 miles in a 30 mile speed limit zone in order to win. There have been no more Bugs-Cecil cartoons, apparently because Bugs was satisfied with actually winning for once, pyrrhic victory or not.
- Subverted in ThunderCats (2011), with Grune and Panthro. Grune coins the line "No price is too great for the defeat of my foe" when he rips out his own fang to slay a giant spider. Panthro repeats it when he lets his arms get cut off to ensure Grune's death.
Panthro: Looking down at his severed arms "Worth It".
- Invoked by Smythe to The Kingpin in Spider-Man: The Animated Series when the Kingpin recovers his lair from the Hobgoblin even though it was trashed. The Kingpin refutes him by saying he can rebuild.
- In the second episode of Static Shock, Virgil feels this is the case even though he defeated Alva and Hotstreak because the evidence proving Alva was complicit in the Big Bang was destroyed. He even compares it to the Trope Namer.
- A few episodes of Danny Phantom end like this, most notably "Public Enemies" where even though Danny manages to beat back Walker's forces, Walker manages to succeed in his plan to make Danny a Hero with Bad Publicity. True, Danny managed to turn it around eventually, although it did stick for awhile.
- An infamous American Dad! episode was about Stan having a mental breakdown after he was repeatedly bested by a car salesman who kept selling him expensive cars at inflated prices instead of the sensible one at half. Since he couldn't provide for his family, Francine has to work three jobs to stay afloat and Hailey resorts to prostitution. The salesman eventually sold Stan the car out of pity, only to realize Stan only pretended to be mad. The episode ended with Stan gloating in his new car, not caring about the damage he has done to his family just so he can "win".
- In Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race the reward for coming in first in challenges is getting to have a head start in the next challenge. However, eight times out of ten something will happen that causes the winning teams to have share their ride to the next location with the rest of the teams or even causes them fall behind the others.
- In the "Uh-Oh Dynamo" episode of The Powerpuff Girls, Professor Utonium threatens to ground the Girls if they don't use his Dynamo invention to stop the Giant Fish Balloon Monster; they reluctantly obey him, destroying the Giant Fish Balloon Monster and damaging most of Townsville in the process.
- In the Rabbit Ears Productions version of Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan was able to successfully chop down all the trees in the forest for the settlers to make their homes at. But then Paul Bunyan becomes upset once he realizes that this would cost many people to not know the wonders of having trees around since they were all cut down. So in the end, Paul Bunyan decided to plant trees across the country to make up for him chopping down all those trees.
- Invoked in a Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Foghorn Leghorn. Foghorn had been trying to shake off Miss Prissy, so she teamed up with the Barnyard Dog. He put on a chicken costume and pretended to be another suitor attempting to woo her. Foghorn got jealous and he and Barnyard Dog got into a fight. After winning the fight, Foghorn grabbed Missy Prissy and rushed off to a chapel to get married. Afterwards, he triumphantly declares "I WON!" It's that moment that he realizes what he just did and then says, "I wonder if there's any way I could have lost."
- An episode of Dexter's Laboratory ends with him finally beating Dee Dee in a round of extreme party games, but Computer points out he destroyed the lab in the process. He ignores this and orders her to make him a sandwich. He gets turned into an actual sandwich.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
- Discussed after Spidey chases Hobgoblin out of Crime Central.
Kingpin: It worked. Exactly as planned.Smythe: (looking at the smoldering remains of their base) Ever hear the phrase, "pyrrhic victory"?Kingpin: You're wrong, Smythe. We're going to rebuild it, bigger and better than before. The main thing is, it's mine again.
- However, the "Tablet of Time" two-parter was also a pyrrhic victory for Fisk, and he couldn't deny it. In his goal to obtain the Tablet, his wife was kidnapped, and though she is rescued unharmed, she decides to leave him at the end, despite his pleas. Fisk winds up with the Tablet, which he had wanted in the first place, but he orders Hammerhead to get rid of it. "The sight of it sickens me," he growls.
- Discussed after Spidey chases Hobgoblin out of Crime Central.