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Sorting Algorithm Of Threatening Geography
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 well-tended 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, or intimidating giant machine.

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.

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.


Examples:

Literature
  • 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.

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
  • The popularity of the Green Hill Zone trope is based off this. Game creators ease players into the game by having a level that is less inherently threatening.
  • World of Warcraft plays with this with each expansion. Classic WoW generally plays this straight: Virtually all the starting zones are very friendly looking, whilst the high level plaguelands most certainly aren't.
    • The Burning Crusade plays with this. The demon-infested Hellfire Peninsula fits this trope as it continues on from the classic zones, however after that are the pleasant looking zones of Zangarmarsh, Nagrand and Terrokar Forest. However the highest level zones, Shadowmoon Valley and Netherstorm fit this trope to a T.
    • Wrath of the Lich King plays this completely straight, going from harshly beautiful fjords and tundra, to the zombified Icecrown Glacier.
    • Cataclysm averts it. The high level zones are all very esoteric and threatening, except for the highest level zone Twilight Highlands, which is mostly verdant hills and woodland.
  • Minecraft has the Overworld, then the Underground caves, then the Nether, and finally the aptly titled End.
  • Portal also falls into this, with you starting in the clean, pristine test labs, progressing to more and more damaged/deadly labs and finally into the off-limits zones and GLaDOS's chamber.
  • Universally since Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Bros. games start in Green Hill Zone and end in Lethal Lava Land. Shifting Sand Land is usually world 2, Under the Sea or another aquatic level is typically world 3. An ice world and a jungle world are also common somewhere in the middle.
  • In Morrowind, you start on an ordinary-looking seashore, and travel to your first city through unthreatening countryside. During the course of your adventure, you visit deserts of volcanic ash, jagged rocky shores, labyrinthine lava scathes and reach the climax of the story in flat our Mordor.
    • In Skyrim you're first given free reign in the warm, wooded areas of the game, as opposed to the completely frozen parts you'll run into later.
  • Pick any game in The Legend of Zelda series. Any game. Special mention goes to the games with multiple worlds.
  • Touhou games typically start somewhere comparatively hospitable to humans, ending up somewhere else that is not. PCB starts on a snowy village, going up through storm clouds and end up in an Elysian afterlife. SA starts in a cave and end up in Hell.
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail starts in a glade where deer run by you peacefully and stays in forests, hills and plains at first. The middle part of the game is spent in a cave, cemetery and snowy mountain (complete with ice spikes and avalanches), and it finally ends in some volcanic area.
  • This trope is inverted in Final Fantasy XIII; the game starts in a ruined city and the party travels through many industrialized areas, but most of the endgame takes place in Green Hill Zone.
  • Guild Wars plays this straight in Nightfall (Start in the settled mixed terrain of Istan, than the deserts of Kourna and Vabbi, than the poisonous and empty Desolation, finally the dark hell like Realm of Torment), and somewhat straight in Prophecies (Pre-searing is Green Hills, and the game ends in the volcanic Ring of Fire), but with some mix-ups on the journey. Factions and Eye of the North largely avoid this.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy III plays this pretty straight, going from Green Hill Zone to Palmtree Panic to Slippy-Slidey Ice World to Shifting Sand Land with Ruins for Ruins' Sake to Lethal Lava Land in Mordor to Space Zone. Gaiden Games Bullet Heaven and Adventure Story are pretty good about this as well, with the former going from Green Hill Zone to Palmtree Panic to Shifting Sand Land to Lethal Lava Land and the latter from Green Hill Zone to Shifting Sand Land to Slippy-Slidey Ice World to Lethal Lava Land. Now the next game, on the other hand, subverts it pretty much all the way. The First Town is in the same setting as the previous games' opening stage, and the rest of the forest, the actual first level in this game, is full of fire and brimstone. The crystal caves are beautiful, but deadly. Then you find another town in this game, this one taking up the ice world. West is a really small, optional Big Boo's Haunt leading back home, but east is a great big Eternal Engine with a toxic sewer midway through and an ice bit right near the end. After beating that level, you can go to the Jungle Japes fourth level and find old friends from early in the last game (that are no easier than the guys from last level). After that's taken care of come the third and last town (in Shifting Sand Land with a bit of Palmtree Panic) and the last dungeon, a much more involved Temple of Doom leading up into Bubbly Clouds.


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