Sorting Algorithm of Threatening Geography

"Every other Mario game has used pretty much the same roadmap: grasslands, desert, forest, jungle, ice world, fire world, boss."

Mainly a video game trope, this describes the odd phenomenon in which the landscape the characters travel through gets steadily scarier and more esoteric as they get closer to the end of their quest. The quest is likely to start off in a sleepy village nestled within a landscape of green meadows and idyllic woodland. After that, the adventurers tend to enter the wilderness areas: huge forests and mighty mountains. Toward the end of the quest, icy glaciers and searing deserts are common, whilst the climax usually takes place in a burning wasteland, creepy Monster-Shaped Mountain, intimidating giant machine, or outright Eldritch Location.

This can be justified if the lands they visit are steadily more influenced by the Big Bad. Often, however, this isn't the case, and the landscape just happens to look more threatening as the story goes on, even if it means placing the treacherous ice level next to the slightly-more-treacherous volcano level.

Another possible reason is that the land's steadily rising outlandishness is to signify that the characters are getting farther and farther away from familiar territory: things like their hometown and other villages or landmarks they visit regularly in their daily life. Any place tends to feel a little bit scarier during the first visit, and having the environment get more and more imposing as the journey continues helps convey the feeling that the heroes are in uncharted waters, at least for them.

Remember, this is about the appearance of the area, not its actual threat level. Characters might travel through the creepy Lost Woods completely unscathed, whereas the pleasant-looking plains could be the site of a climactic battle in which hundreds die. If the plains come after the lost woods, it is not this trope.

See also Video Game Settings.


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  • In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam travel from the peaceful Shire, to harsh wilderness, to well... Mordor. Justified with the homework Tolkien had done creating his universe. Frodo and Sam's path got progressively worse because they came at Mordor from the northwest, which was the path that Sauron fled Mirkwood between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and his influence was persisting. The rest of the group only really had Moria, which was also a direct result of Sauron's actions.
  • This also happens in The Hobbit. The adventure starts out in Hobbiton and proceeds through hobbit lands, then into the semi-wilderness Lone-lands where they meet the trolls. The party enters the Misty Mountains, passes through the darkness of Mirkwood and eventually reaches the Desolation of the Dragon - the "bleak and barren" land around the Lonely Mountain.
  • The Eye of the World also does this. It starts off in the sleepy farming country of the Two Rivers, progressing to various grand cities, then we go to the harsh, icy pine forests of Shienar and then to the plagued jungle that is The Blight.
  • In Pat O'Shea's fantasy novel The Hounds of the Morrigan, two children living in modern Galway are drawn into the other Ireland of myth and legend. As their quest progresses, the mythological landscape is at first funny, absurd, Disney-Oirish, even, with hints of something deeper beneath. It gradually becomes darker, bleaker, more sinister, as the life-or-death nature of their quest asserts itself, and the final showdown with the forces of Not-Good takes place in a Mordor-like bleak and barren place. It's like going from a leprachaun Hobbiton to a Mordor ruled by the Morrigan.
  • Played with in Murderess. The notorious Myles Mountains are about halfway through Luís journey, followed by the pleasant Myles forest; Doubly Subverted, as it turns out Luís prolonged stay in the forest could make her stay a Moondaughter permanently and unable to finish her quest. The road from the forest to the Refugee Camp is fairly calm and beautiful (and brief), while the Refugee Camp itself is where Lu has to get a Training from Hell.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The journey through Oz begins in idyllic, rural Munchkin Country, and there are pleasant-looking spots along the way ... but the journey also progresses through (in this order) a deep forest, a field of poisonous plants, a country controlled by a wicked witch, a bizarre wilderness populated by fighting trees and creatures with heads on springs, and then, to top it all off, a city full of unfriendly people who are made of porcelain. Steadily more esoteric indeed.

     Mythology and Religion 
  • Journey to the West starts in what was then the center of the known world, through youkai-haunted no man's lands, and end up somewhere beyond this world. It's a good thing that the majority of the travelers possess magic.

     Video Games