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Back from the Brink

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Martian Officer: Sir, the Arcturans have destroyed the remainder of the fleet. I've sent a distress signal to all ships across the galaxy, but, we're heading straight into their sun and our engines are about to explode!
Enforcer Drone: I have not yet begun to fight.
Martian Officer: Now would be a great time to start!

In any video game where the player's country/faction is involved in a conflict before the game starts, the game will begin with the enemy about to deliver a deathblow to the allies — they're about to kill off the last regiment, destroy the last base, or capture the last territory. Then the player will immediately take control and suddenly It's Up to You to fight Back from the Brink, completely reversing the course of the war up until that point.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that the enemy has the entire country/continent/planet/galaxy under his control except for the tiny corner where the game begins, the strike force that the enemy sends to finish you off in the first mission will always be almost pathetically weak, easily defeated by the player.

Used in nearly all genres of video game, but especially prevalent in Real-Time Strategy and Turn-Based Strategy.

Compare Late to the Tragedy, except that the main character has been around for the whole time, just not under the player's control. Related to Always Close, but with an entire war. If you tilt your head and squint just right, this trope appears to be connected to Conservation of Ninjutsu: The less territory a side has, the more difficult they are to defeat. This may be a sort-of Truth in Television—barring things like nukes, a side with less territory but roughly the same personnel and materiel will have more people and machines protecting an area of a given size; supply convoys and so on won't have as far to go and thereby remain exposed less often; etc.

See also Near-Villain Victory.

Video game examples:

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    Action Adventure 
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: The previous legendary hero was slain long ago, Ganon's forces have ravaged Hyrule, the Triforce is shattered, and all that remains of the kingdom are a few random old people hiding in caves. And then Link appears to revert gradually the situation and eventually defeat Ganon and his army.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: By the time you reach the first dungeon, the king has been killed, the majority of Hyrule's soldiers have been brainwashed to serve his murderer, and the villain is preparing to sacrifice Zelda as the final maiden to break the seal on the Dark World so its forces can invade Hyrule, your uncle already heavily injured trying to stop them. And then Link gets involved.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: By the time Link awakens in the future era, five of the six temples have succumbed under Ganondorf's influence, outmatching the Sages who attempted to protect them, and as a result all parts of Hyrule have remained in a dire state in one way or another. The only temple that is left intact from the Gerudo king's influence (and therefore has its Sage safe) is the Temple of Time (even then, the Market is still overrun by ReDeads and the nearby Lon Lon Ranch is now under Ingo's control), whose sage (Rauru) entrusts Link the mission to restore Hyrule to its former glory and eventually confront his deadliest enemy.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: By the time Link starts fighting back the Twilight, it's taken over all of Hyrule apart from Link's hometown, Ordon Village. In fact, they would have gotten that area too had Link not come back at just the right time to kill off the Twilight Beasts.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Although things have calmed down in the century since the Kingdom of Hyrule was destroyed, Calamity Ganon is starting to break free of its seal; not only could it destroy the world on its own if free, its evil influence is also causing the Divine Beasts to act up and wreak havoc on the four corners of the land. Link awakens in the Shrine of Resurrection just in time to free the Divine Beasts of that evil influence and ultimately confront Calamity Ganon itself.

    Beat 'Em Up 
  • In The Ninja Warriors Again, the forces of Banglar the Tyrant have beaten La Résistance all the way to their very doorstep. That's exactly when the titular ninja warrior androids are dispatched to take down Banglar's forces.

    Fighting Game 
  • The beginning of Dissidia Final Fantasy informs you that the forces of Cosmos, goddess of harmony, have lost the war with Chaos, god of discord, with the ten playable heroes being Cosmos's last soldiers. This thematic element is a major mechanic in the gameplay as well: the Cosmos Judgment ruleset allows a filled Ex Gauge when HP is drastically low and opponent's is very high and can restore a losing character's summons, with numerous other abilities, accessories, the auto versions of many summons, and more similarly kicking in only when the fighter is at a disadvantage. Contrast the Chaos Judgment rules, which avert this by punishing players who aren't on the brink for not pushing it for all they're worth.
  • This trope is basically the achievement "Only A True Master..." for Injustice 2, where a player beats another online despite a 10%/90% health difference.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • Super Smash Bros. Brawl: In Subspace Emissary, Tabuu knocks out all of fighters appearing before him with one-shot of his Off Waves attack. Luckily, King Dedede had stashed away the trophies of Kirby, Luigi, and Ness with timed release revival brooches, allowing them to go and revive everyone. Additionally, when Tabuu tries the attack again, his wings are destroyed by Sonic, forcing him to fight on even terms.
    • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: In World of Light, Galeem does a World-Wrecking Wave, which Kirby is only able to survive by pushing his Warp Star to its absolute limit, leaving him the only one able to fight back.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Halo:
    • In the original Halo: Combat Evolved, the game begins with your ship fleeing from a Covenant armada that just wiped out an entire human fleet and the planet it was protecting... then you go on to annihilate most of that fleet (okay, the Flood helped, too). It's not mentioned much in-game, but it's All There in the Manual. Or rather, All There in Halo: The Fall of Reach anyway. Then it's subverted when the Covies go on to annihilate most of Earth's population between Halo 2 and Halo 3 anyways, as they had many more fleets to spare.
    • Justified in Halo 3; humanity's in the worst shape it's ever been, but they're able to win because the Covenant has already fallen into civil war, with one side allying with the humans and providing them vital support.
  • Any Quake game except the third (with even more of an Excuse Plot than the others) is like this.
    • Quake begins with everyone in the base but the protagonist dead.
    • Enemy Territory: Quake Wars features the human fight against the Strogg on Earth.
    • In Quake II, humanity's managed to fight back desperately against the Strogg, and launch a counter-offensive; but Bitterman (the PC), is the only space marine who survives past the intro.
    • Quake IV. In the beginning, you are separated from the main Earth forces. When you join them mid-game, however, it gets only more difficult.
  • Doom:
    • The first Doom has the protagonist fighting off a demonic invasion after all his comrades on the Phobos base are wiped out.
    • Doom II: Hell on Earth has the combined forces of humanity making one last counter-offensive to retake the Starport and evacuate Earth. Every last one of them is annihilated besides the protagonist, who must then retake the Starport himself and save the day.
    • Doom³ puts you in the shoes of a marine who is transferred to Mars for reasons unknown. Everybody on Mars is quickly wiped out in an ensuing demonic invasion (much like the first game) besides a handful of marine teams (Who quickly get taken out in a cutscene) and the other 3 main characters. The player is basically responsible for stopping the invasion.
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: Once you start reading the Luminoth Lore, you begin to realize just how close to complete destabilization the Ing brought Aether before you grabbed up that Energy Transfer Module; specifically, the Ing were two rooms away from destroying the planet when you chanced upon them.
  • Homefront feels like this. North Korea has seized practically all of the United States, and you play as a recruit of a small resistance faction that eventually tries to meet up with the remains of the US military and start turning the war against North Korea, even though they have all but won already.
  • Resistance 3 starts off with 90% of Earth's population either killed or converted by the Chimera. It's the player's job to ensure that they don't wipe out the remaining 10% with their terraforming plans.

    Hack and Slash 
  • Drakengard:
    • The main reason the Union comes back from the brink of destruction despite your character having been around the whole time and whooping ass is that he's just gained the allegiance of a dragon. The second level which you play involves killing the entire besieging army with the dragon. Not content to be one-upped, The Empire deploys some interesting Schizo Tech during a later climactic battle, and when even that fails, just screws everyone over.
    • The game starts with both player characters (Caim and the aforementioned dragon) being mortally wounded, forcing them to forge a magic "pact" with each other. This has the effect of completely healing them, allowing them to turn the battle.

  • World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King basically has the good side start with a few cities where the player (almost singlehandedly) takes back huge sections of regions and fights and kills thousands of overratedly-overpowered undead, all the way to the Lich King's throne. Furthermore, when you fight and get the Lich King down far enough in health, he instantly kills your entire raid, at which point the LK's ghost father conveniently comes out of nowhere, resurrects everyone, and then stunlocks the Lich King long enough for your raid to leave, have tea and biscuits, and finish him off.
  • Final Fantasy XIV
    • The Stormblood expansion is all about the Scions of the Seventh Dawn turning two entire military campaigns around into a victory against the Empire. Both Ala Mhigo and Doma have been conquered by the Garlean Empire, and each nation's respective La Résistance is just about ready to give up before Eorzea's hand is forced. The Warrior of Light being on the field turns out to be the biggest thing that pulls the rebels through.
    • Any instance where you're justified in using a healing job's third-level Limit Break. Healer LBs provide substantial HP recovery to the entire party, with the LB3 also reviving any KO'd allies. Many a party has been nearly about to be KO'd, only for the third bar of the Limit Gauge to fill up and let the healer bring the entire party back up to where they started from (give or take anyone who already had Weakened or Brink of Death status from a prior raising). Some Alliance Raids - which require three separate parties working together - can go even further, as a near-wipe can be turned around by healers using LB3 and then raising other parties' healers so they can use their own LB3

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • This is basicaly the premise of AI War: Fleet Command. The AIs have already annihilated the humans and other species in the galaxy, and you're the last bastion. The trope is being subverted, though: You have a chance at all because you are considered irrelevant - the AIs are fighting a greater foe somewhere else. If you do what you'd do in every other strategy game - take back systems one by one to build up power - you will be deemed a threat and eliminated by an unstoppable wave of ships that swat your fleets aside and destroy your stations. Instead, you have to obfuscate your progress by only taking over systems that are actually valuable and then orchestrate a lightning strike on both enemy home stations almost simultaneously. In a game of 80 planets, good players will only ever conquer 20 or so.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 - the first Allied mission. And in Yuri's Revenge the whole world has been enslaved by Yuri's Psychic Dominators, and your only hope is to use the Allied time machine to go back in the past and prevent it from happening.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars: The first GDI missions (excluding the intro).
  • Shockingly enough, used in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.
    • Given the Mêlée à Trois nature of World War III in this setting, two of the campaigns begin with the player heroically throwing back the nearly-successful invasion of Britain/St. Petersburg; the Imperial campaign features one later where, despite winning the war against the USSR, the Empire is nearly destroyed by a surprise Allied counterattack. It also plays in gameplay a few times: in Allied Mission 7, the player begins with a large base, which is promptly annihilated by a triple Psionic Decimator strike and must rebuild quickly to finish off the Imperial defenders; meanwhile in Imperial Mission 9, Zelinsky's last defense obliterates the entire mission area except a few of your troops and a few of his, and it's up to you to finish the mission with the handful of survivors.
    • Uprising's mini-campaigns feature this a few times as well; since the Empire and the Soviet Union lost the war in Red Alert 3, their armies are weakened at the beginning of the campaign, leading to some guerrilla-style tactics involving stolen or improvised equipment. Also, in Allied Mission 2, your base is disabled by a Tech Inhibitor... but since you have Special Agent Tanya on your side, it's not really that big of a deal.
  • In Creeper World humanity has been reduced to a single city which is forced to constantly flee from planet to planet to escape the advancing Creeper substance. It's not until the final level that humanity actually finds a way to fight back.
  • Restoring failing empires in Europa Universalis IV at the time where the game starts is a common Self-Imposed Challenge. Some of them, such as restoring the Byzantine or the Hindustani Empire, are officially recognized with a Steam achievement.
  • Averted in Homeworld, where the grand evil empire has already won and the forces you fight in the first few missions are either petty space pirates or the fringe fleets of said empire who just happened to be in the area. In the briefings of some of the middle missions your intelligence officer even makes it rather obvious that your chosen flight route is designed to avoid having to deal with the bulk of enemy forces.
  • Myth:
    • The first game starts out with only a single major city of The Light still standing through forty years of war. After discovering a powerful magic artifact which allows several victories to be scored, pushing back the torrential hordes of darkness with great difficulty, the magical coup that allowed them turns on you and causes a civil war amongst The Light's already dwindling ranks. Upon regrouping, a desperate plan is concocted in which almost all of your remaining allies are implied to have purposely sacrificed themselves to provide a distraction, allowing you to capture the Big Bad. When you finally destroy him, the ending Cut Scene indicates that you and your entire squad were wiped out in the resulting explosion.
    • Myth 2 retcons it: one guy lived. It wasn't you (or rather the narrator, since you aren't actually a character). He did a decent job rebuilding, too.
  • Averted in Rise of Legends, in which Miana is simply one of several dozen Vinci city-states and your fight is primarily a war of conquest. Played straight in the Alin campaign, however, where the Alin Kingdom has been pushed back to the city of Azar Harif by the Dark Alin by the time Giacomo gets there.
  • StarCraft Episodes IV and VI start that way. And, of course, some individual missions.
  • Standard in Super Robot Wars is to have the player open a chapter with just a few units against an enemy's forward force. Defeat the weak scouting party, and the real army shows up. This is about the time that the player's mother ship makes it's appearance, along with the force you've already collected. This is taken to the max in Super Robot Wars Destiny where it starts out in a Crapsack World but through the uniting of heroic forces (some of them unexpected), turn things around and end things on a far better note.
  • Supreme Commander:
    • The game oddly has the reverse of this. Your side is about to win. The 'enemies' are themselves making their final desperate attempt to fight Back From the Brink and the single player campaign simply has you... delay them a bit.
    • More dramatic than it sounds... both enemy factions make very, very good final and desperate attempts: whichever side you play, the final battle takes place on Earth with the clock on the planet-killing Wave-Motion Gun ticking. Specifically, the Aeon are about to win in all three campaigns. The UEF campaign has you trying to get said weapon built in time, while the Cybran campaign is about shutting down interstellar travel to play for time. In the Aeon campaign you have to keep an omnicidal splinter group of the Aeon from being the ones to finish the conquest, and then do it yourself.
    • Played straight in the expansion, Forged Alliance: The Coalition, the titular "forged alliance", is fighting off an alien invasion, and losing... badly. The briefing for the first mission states that the enemy has somehow found your last major (secret) stronghold, and as the mission begins, they start bombing the base you will get control over, and they just barely managed to get your ACU through the base's Quantum Gate, literally seconds before the Gate gets destroyed.
  • Total Annihilation uses this with its campaign for both sides: play Core, and your first mission to save your last remaining Commander (which is, incidentally, deactivated) from being found by Arm scouts on the Core homeworld, the last planet Core can stake at least a bit of claim to. Play Arm, and you have to defend your last Galactic Gate on their homeworld from the invading Core who have taken over everywhere else. In other words, which side is losing and which side is winning depends entirely on which side you choose to play as. There's some reason behind this, since the game's nanomachine-based construction enables both sides to fart out military-industrial complexes, making strategy much more vital than resources. In essence, both sides are fighting the war with rather chunky Gray Goo: Unless you destroy every single builder unit, the enemy can regain it's strength at an exponential rate. Hence the name, Total Annihilation. No other type of victory will do.

  • The Rogue Like Freeware Game Chess Rogue is a most extreme example - the player is the White King, the only surviving white piece, who must overcome an entire army of black pieces.

    Role-Playing Game 
  • Practically the modus operandi of the Assassins in Assassin's Creed. The majority of the games start with the Templars as the dominant faction and the Assassins on the back foot. To what extent depends on the game: in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, for example, the British Brotherhood is fully functioning but having trouble penetrating central London, while in Assassin's Creed III the American Brotherhood has been wiped out to a a man. The protagonist then dismantles the Templar’s hold over a region, and the cycle starts over
  • By the final act of BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, Arianna has nearly succeeded in her goal of wiping out the virtual world. All that’s left are a few scraps of land floating in a digital void. When the heroes finally make it past her Firewall, they’re not even sure if it’s possible to undo the damage that’s been done. Thankfully, it is.
  • You start Darkest Dungeon with two low-level nobodies, a caretaker, and a hamlet that's virtually ruined. Over the course of the game you build it up into a thriving settlement, especially if you have the "Crimson Court" DLC (which lets you construct new buildings, while the base game is focused on repairing and enlarging the ones you already have). It can also happen within the game itself, where the heroes are fighting a losing battle, stress is piling up, resolves are tested, and suddenly a character reaches a Virtue and single-handedly saves the day.
  • In Dragon Quest VII, after the last battle between Good and Evil, most of the world was sealed away by the Demon Lord. Ultimately, it deteriorated to the point where the only scrap of land left is a small island. On the bright side, there's no monsters on land...! Oh, and there's a set of Ancient Ruins where the heroes can eventually Set Right What Once Went Wrong and restore the world bit by bit.
  • Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest starts off with the main heroine's city not only on the verge of bankruptcy, but she herself is nearly killed in a bandit attack after suffering from a lost battle. The hero's arrival and subsequent actions turn everything around.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In several instances throughout the series, faction questlines play out in such a way that the player brings them back from the brink, often after said faction fell since the previous game in the series.
    • In-universe, this is the case for the Dunmeri Great House Redoran. House Redoran was almost completely destroyed during the Oblivion Crisis after they rallied to defend against the invading Daedra. Skyrim's Dragonborn reveals that Redoran has recovered quite well in the 200 years that followed, organizing most of the relief efforts following the Red Year and raising a standing army to fight back against the Argonian invasion. Now, they're the current leaders of the Dunmer Council and their city of Blacklight has become the capital of Dunmer controlled Morrowind following the Argonian sacking of Mournhold.
  • Fallout 4: The Commonwealth Minutemen, once a potent militia that had a presence throughout the Commonwealth, are down to a single soldier by the time the Sole Survivor encounters them in Concord. If the player chooses to progress through the Minutemen quest line, they can restore it to the power that it once was, to the point where it can defeat both the Institute and the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel in battle.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy VI: The Returners have a stronghold of sorts in the mountains east of Figaro—however, it's about the time that you start the game that the Empire starts occupying cities to build their own power, but also to try and stamp out the Returners. This is a slight aversion of the trope, as your objective as the player is not to win back control of the cities, but, eventually, to solve the issue diplomatically. Just a shame that Kefka has to stab everyone in the back to become the God of Magic.
    • Final Fantasy III does this a lot, first with saving the last crystal from the forces of darkness and then bringing back stability to the world.
  • Mass Effect 3 starts off with the Reapers' invasion of Earth, crushing all resistance in their path. Commander Shepard is forced to flee the planet in order to gather allies and resources to take back Earth. Is ultimately an inverted example: the Reapers can only be stalled, and by the end of the game they go from occupying a few systems to turning the entire map red.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • Zero Wing opens with CATS capturing all your base, setting up you the bomb, and asking how you gentlemen are. You must move ZIG for great justice and prove you have chance to survive make your time.
  • The Star Fox series is quite fond of this:
    • The original starts with launching the eponymous team up against Andross' forces attacking Corneria, then sends them off to Venom, liberating planets and blowing up armadas as they go.
    • Similarily, in Star Fox 64 the Star Fox team is only then called for help when Corneria already is under direct attack, with all oher planets in the Lylat system either conquered or fighting losing battles.
    • In Star Fox: Assault, the Cornerian fleet is about to be decimated by Andrew's forces before the Great Fox suddenly warps in, whereupon Star Fox basically wipes out most of Andrew's army in a matter of minutes. Later on, the Aparoids attack Corneria itself and even nearly assimilate General Pepper in Star Fox's absence. As soon as they arrive to take care of business, the crisis is quickly averted.

    Simulation Game 
  • This trope is a staple in the Ace Combat series, present in almost every game.
  • In the same vein as above, Air Force Delta Strike starts out with one of these missions.
  • In Stellar 7, Earth is being invaded by aliens so they send you, one lone pilot, to fight through them all the way to the alien general and stop the invasion.
  • Double Subversion in Starsiege, which involves a civil war between humanity interrupted by the return of the cybrids. The war against the cybrids isn't winnable, and the apparent last mission is a last-ditch effort to distract the cybrids from your "last hope of humanity" colony ship so it can escape and someone can survive. However, then you find a way to attack Pluto, where the head of the Cybrids is, and kill it, which creates enough chaos back on Earth to allow the Humans to win the war.
  • Downplayed in Starlancer. The player's faction starts at the brink, and seems to be winning back a little bit as it goes along, but the enemy is vastly superior. Ultimately, it turns into an attempt to load up a series of colony ships and abandon the Solar system. All of it, in fact, is the background details described in the intro to Freelancer.
  • Every game in the Naval Ops series opens with the player's faction on the ropes. And yet they never have to really worry about fuel and ammunition supplies.
  • Some MechWarrior games start like this. Mechwarrior 4 starts with the anti-Steiner resistance reduced to a single Drop Ship group at a moon base, preparing to take on a planet. About a quarter of the way into Black Knight, the player's mercenaries are reduced to barely a lance, where all the rest of their elite forces have been wiped out as the player starts the mission in medias res and must avoid annihilation while getting revenge.
  • The Freespace series has something as rare for a video game as this happening (mostly) off-screen — at the end of the first game, the outro makes clear that the expectation is that the Shivans will still win, despite the destruction of the Lucifer superdestroyer (the main victory lies in the subspace nodes to Sol being destabilized, cutting Earth off from the Shivans). Cue the expansion pack, and it turns out that despite the loss of contact with Earth the Terran-Vasudan alliance is driving the Shivan forces out of their space with surprising speed and ease.
  • Black & White 2 begins when the player character deity wakes from a long hibernation to find their civilization on the brink of destruction by the Absolute Xenophobe Aztecs, forcing them to evacuate a remnant to an abandoned village on a remote island to start over.

    Third-Person Shooter 
  • Control: At the start of the game, the Bureau of Control has lost the majority of its employees, the Oldest House is under lockdown, and the survivors are under siege by both the Hiss as well as Molded. Several of its artifacts and dangerous foes have also escaped containment. Jesse manages to single-handedly stop all of these threats and reorganize the survivors under her command.
  • Gears of War starts off with Marcus Fenix the player character getting out of prison because The Cog is just that desperate for soldiers. The locusts have pushed the humans back to their last city.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine starts with planet Graia overrun by Orks, who prevent reinforcements from coming in thanks to air superiority and control of a surface-to-orbit weapon. The first things the player does are crashing their airship and blowing up their gun, opening the way for Imperial Guard reinforcements.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • In Dark Wizard the player, as the latest successor to King Armer VIII, starts with the tiniest, most-defeated remnant of the Holy Army (three unnamed units) that's been squirreled away in the far-off wastelands of Quentin. While a professional army made up of the much-stronger equipment-wearing, magic-using units is impossibly expensive for your tiny starting tax base, you can still fight using a never-ending stream of summoned Mon, just like all of your opponents.
  • In the Fire Emblem series, it's very common for the player's country to be invaded and conquered in the opening act of the game, and the player has to then take on the evil empire with nothing but a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits and a couple of metal sticks to their name.
    • In the second half of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, the player takes control of Seliph and a ragtag band of rebels, starting in an obscure corner of an entire continent that the villain took over during the first half of the game.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. The player starts with the control of Daein's Dawn Brigade, and in the only run the country really is restored; however, in Part III, when you play part their side part (as pawn to The Empire) their opponents', they're steadfastly losing, and their Last Stand ends as a dramatic defeat. It's also averted with the enemy country, Crimea; Crimea was the attacker in the conflict with The Empire, and was not losing in any sense of the word. It's played straight if you think of Crimea's queen, though, who in Part II was under fierce criticism and had faced a rebellion in her own country, and whose position in Part III is much more established.
    • In Part II of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, while the Azure Moon, Verdant Wind, and Silver Snow routes play this trope straight, Crimson Flower puts a unique spin on it. This time, the shoe is on the other foot; you're the empire out to crush the last remnants of the old order so you can usher in a new age of meritocracy and create a world where anyone can rise to the top.
  • Nectaris takes place on the moon. Before the opening mission, the entire moon has been taken over and, in the opening mission, the player commands the last survivors of the Union army (little of this is mentioned in game though; mainly, it's All There in the Manual).
  • Yggdra Union begins with the nation of Fantasinia all but conquered by an invading empire, with the army in ruins, the capital captured and the royal family killed, with the exception of a surviving princess being hunted down. Then she meets a noble thief and a surviving knight...
  • XCOM 2: The XCOM resistance doesn't think they're this trope, as they'd been patiently building up for twenty years until they could steal a warship and rescue their commander from captivity. Unbeknownst to them, the Advent Administraton has been ignoring them because they were less than a year away from achieving their ultimate plans and creating the ultimate weapon, an Ethereal-Human Hybrid species on par with superheroes, and then sabotaging all of their minions on Earth, humans and aliens alike. If XCOM had waited one more year in their weakened situation, they wouldn't get the chance to defend their planet because it would either be ruled by an insane science project or killed off completely.

    Turn-Based Tactics 
  • Advance Wars DS - The first mission (aside from the training one) has the player defending Omega Land's last HQ.
  • The Jagged Alliance series. Being that your troops are a band of mercenaries - essentially a new infusion of ace personnel into a war presumably already won - the enemies start out easy because they're routine patrols that get surprised by people who can actually shoot them. In Jagged Alliance 2 specifically, Queen Deidranna is a vain, cruel, and egotistical dictator who nevertheless keeps a goodly portion of her guard around the things that actually do matter - her gold mines, her towns filled with either smarmy sycophants or cowering subjects, and her SAM sites. The first secures the economy and allows her to maintain her expensive and well-equipped army, the second secures her status as ruler and dissuades open rebellion, and the third forces any would-be saviors to hoof it unless they can destroy or take over the sites.
  • In Sengoku Rance, when Rance becomes the secret ruler and takes control over the once powerful Oda Family, it has been reduced to only one territory. Then after Rance starts his Attack! Attack! Attack! tactic he somehow manages to rapidly conquer the other factions.
  • In Halcyon 6, the New Terran Federation is all but wiped out at the start of the game by a new powerful interdimensional enemy. In a You Are in Command Now manner, the Non-Entity General has been left in charge of the titular Precursor Space Station. It's up to you to upgrade the station, recruit officers, collect resources, rebuild the fleet, locate any surviving colonies and mines, and fight off any power that wants the station for themselves (they were formerly kept in check by the Federation fleet). And, of course, you have to eventually take the fight to the unknown aggressors.

    Visual Novel 
  • This is practically a staple of the Ace Attorney series. Your cases typically begin with the deck stacked against your client (the situation being anywhere between "very bad" and "near-guaranteed conviction"), and while Phoenix Wright and his understudies do fantastic jobs of holding the prosecution at bay and helping their clients, there's very often a point where the defense is on the very brink of losing the case due to being unable to completely prove their assertions (which would clear their client completely). Cue the iconic Turnabout Moment, when the defense makes an incredible comeback that turns the entire case upside down, steamrolling over all counterarguments and coverups, and finally causing the real culprit to have their Villainous Breakdown. Phoenix Wright has made such a history of this for himself that he's earned titles for it: The Turnabout Terror and The Comeback King or King of Turnabouts.

    Wide-Open Sandbox 
  • In both The Godfather games, despite whatever renown the Corleone might have had in backstory, by the start they have been reduced to no Fronts at all.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Carl Johnson comes back home after his mother is killed, and finds the Grove Street Families being in a very weak position. CJ then gets to strengthening the gang by taking over Ballas areas. You do this again a long time after the Wham Episode called "The Green Sabre" where the Ballas defeat the Grove Street Families, starting with Grove Street which has become a Ballas stronghold.
  • In Infamous, Infamous 2 and inFAMOUS: Second Son, the protagonist starts with a completely taken over city and gradually clears them out sector-by-sector. Zig-Zagged with the first game: the cause of the takeover is a direct cause of the protagonist and the player pressing Start, and is made worse by taking out the power in the one island that was better off than the other three.

Non-video game examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Space Battleship Yamato starts off this way, with the Earth a radioactive wasteland, what's left of its population living underground, and its space defenses destroyed.
  • In the end of Dragon Ball Super, Frieza's empire has gone from being functionally dead to a rising threat again, as Frieza himself is taking steps to re-build his empire.

    Comic Books 
  • In the aftermath of House of M, the Scarlet Witch had all but eradicated the mutant populace, down to somewhere around 200 (it varies Depending on the Writer). At the end of Avengers vs. X-Men, Hope and the Scarlet Witch destroy the Phoenix Force, restoring the mutant populace once more... though, not the way it was before.
  • Transformers:
    • The Transformers: Dark Cybertron: The Simanzi Battle/Massacre was one for the Autobots, Megatron had pushed his forces, conquered most of the planet and halved the population. It rained corrosives, and the skies were the color of the Decepticon emblem. How the Autobot's recovered has not been stated.
    • The Decepticons also get this in The Transformers (IDW). After their defeat at the end of AHM they are left stranded on a resource lacking asteroid, with Megatron barely alive, high command either being mysterious or ineffective, and cannibalizing each other to survive. Megatron's spotlight shows his triumphant return and rallying of his soldiers, saying that they are conqurers and shouldn't be in this shabby state. His monologue at the end clinches it.
    "The Decepticons. A million years to create them. A thousand days to destroy them. A hundred words to rebuild them. Everything is as it should be."

    Fan Works 
  • In The Swarm of War, James/Overmind (formerly the leader of the biggest Zerg Brood on Aiur) arrives in the W40K universe with only eight Overlords and some escorts from his force. Three of the Overlords are lost to local Giant Flyers, so he makes do with just over twenty land units and a lot of dead meat from the crashed Overlords. Oh, and a large Khaydarin Crystal from a Protoss Pylon.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A villainous example in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with HYDRA. After the defeat of Red Skull, HYDRA was thought to be completely finished. However, his seemingly less harmful assistant was recruited into SHIELD as part of Operation Paperclip, and from day one began planting the seeds for HYDRA's rebirth inside of SHIELD itself. By the modern day, SHIELD is so thoroughly compromised, that HYDRA comes closer to completing plan than just about any other villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Captain America is forced to destroy SHIELD completely to end the threat. "Cut off one head, two more shall take its place", indeed.
  • A villainous example in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and its direct sequel Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022). Dr. Robotnik ends the first film stranded on an uninhabited Mushroom Planet with no resources, supplies, or plan of escape, but confident he'll be home by Christmas. He makes good on his boast in the sequel, beginning by taking advantage of some mercenaries to open a portal back to Earth and become a threat to Sonic once again.
  • In The Terminator:
    • This is how Kyle Reese narrates the war between humans and machines:
      Kyle Reese: "There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah...Defense network computers. New, powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination...Most of us were rounded up, put into camps for orderly disposal...Some of us were kept alive, to work, loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day - We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah - your unborn son."
    • When asked why Skynet went through all of the trouble of time travel instead of focusing on killing Connor in the future, Reese explains that they had in fact completely turned it around: "Skynet's defense grid was smashed. We'd won. Taking out Connor then would have made no difference."

  • Victor Davis Hanson's book, The Saviour Generals is about five commanders who brought their side Back from the Brink. They are:
    • Themistocles rallied the terrified and fleeing Athenians to fight the invading Persians with their untested and outnumbered fleet in the Battle of Salamis. This battle will be (fantastically) depicted in 300: Rise of an Empire.
    • Belisarius pacified Persia, squashed a revolt, and then re-conquered much of the lost Western Roman Empire's Mediterranean territories for Byzantium while undermanned and untrusted by his emperor.
    • William Sherman captured Atlanta in time to save Abraham Lincoln's re-election from the wave of negative opinion brought on by the butchery of General Grant's Overland Campaign.
    • Matthew Ridgeway stopped the "bug-out" of UN forces in the face of a massive Chinese army, did severe damage to the Chinese, and pushed them back north of the 38th Parallel. This saved Seoul and is why there's a North and South Korea, instead of a unified Communist state like Vietnam.
    • David Petraeus lead The Surge that significantly reduced the violence in Iraq. He did this using his reinforcements to implement a strategy of counter-insurgency. Coalition troops lived among Iraqi civilians and protected them rather than sortieing out from massive secured compounds outside Baghdad. After a brief spike, fatalities fell by nearly a third and continued dropping until the total withdrawal was complete. Given that events are still in motion in that nation, it is debatable whether he was really successful in the long run.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's novel Sixth Column starts off with the United States completely conquered by technologically superior invading forces. The only remaining resistance is a secret underground U.S. Army laboratory which was almost completely depopulated by an experimental accident. Through tremendous effort and quite a bit of luck, the remaining soldiers and scientists manage to whip up several superweapons, create a secret army (masquerading as a religion) and defeat the invaders.
  • That part of the Lensmen universe which features Kimball Kinnison and his colleagues starts like this - the enemy has massive superiority in ships and is plundering the spacelanes with impunity; his ships are faster than anything stronger and stronger than anything faster; Galactic Civilization is on the ropes. It's down to Kinnison, newly graduated, to take an untried and experimental ship, capture an enemy vessel and learn its secrets. And even when he's done that, his worries have only just begun...
  • The Lost Fleet starts with The Alliance fleet being caught into a Syndic ambush deep in Syndic space and sustaining heavy losses. The entire senior command staff is executed when attempting negotiations. The recently-awakened from Human Popsicle state Captain Geary is given command of the fleet. Geary proceeds to escape from the Syndic home system and take a roundabout way to return to Alliance space, while constantly fighting Syndic forces trying to stop him. By the end of the main series, he has not only returned the fleet to the Alliance space but also destroyed so many Syndic ships that it more than makes up for any ships the Alliance lost. Additionally, he then convinces the Alliance leadership to let him lead another strike at the Syndic home system in order to force an end to the 100-year war.
  • The predicament of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings - formerly a continent-spanning Empire, which even in its own beginnings was a remnant rump of the even mighter but now long-destroyed Numenor. By the time of The War of the Ring, Gondor is shrunken to a relatively small corner of Middle-Earth: still powerful, but in a very much diminished sort of way. Its history parellels that of Rome: divided into two parts for administrative convenience, the northern Empire (Arnor) is no more and the southern Empire (Gondor) is reduced to a progressively smaller area as parts are regularly chewed off by insurgent younger kingdoms. It is reliant on alliances with the more friendly new powers (Rohan) and, like the Byzantine Empire, is threatened with invasions from the East. As with the final death of Byzantium in 1453 after a Turkish attack from the East, the siege of Minas Tirith and the battle of the Pellenor Fields echoes the death of Constantinople in 1453. But a last relic of dead Arnor rises to lead the battle and pull Gondor back from the brink of its ruin. And a new Gondor rises.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Power Rangers RPM starts as humanity has been reduced to a single sealed city by killer robots, and the robots keep getting through the walls. They win in the season finale and start recolonizing the planet (or do they?), although the global ecosystem is shot to hell (but implied to be recovering).
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Four seasons after the loss of their ancestral home of Winterfell and three seasons after the events of the Red Wedding led to the deaths of everyone in the family barring Arya, Sansa, Bran, Rickon (who dies in the battle to retake Winterfell) and Jon Snow, the end of Season 6 sees House Stark finally back in the game as Sansa and resurrected Jon Snow rally various allies into destroying the Boltons and retaking Winterfell. "You Starks are hard to kill", indeed.
    • After a crushing defeat that leaves him low on men, material, money, and suffering from depression, Stannis returns in fine form at the end of Season 4, thanks to a loan from the Iron Bank and a rousing victory that gives his forces a much-needed morale boost and a new base to renew his campaign for the throne.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, the arrival of the USS Discovery in the 32nd Century allows the Federation to discover the cause of The Burn and start rebuilding their group. Ending the threat of the Dark Matter Anomaly the next year further helps in the recovering.

  • Any time a team is down 0-3 in a best-of-7 series and wins the last 4. As of 2015, only five professional teams have accomplished this feat in North America, four in the National Hockey League:
    • The 1941-2 Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team to accomplish this feat in a Championship round. They won Game 4 by only 1 goal over the Detroit Red Wings (4-3). Game 1 (Which the Red Wings won 3-2) was a Shocking Defeat for Toronto. The other games were a bit more spaced out and included a few Curb Stomps.note 
    • The 1974-5 New York Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals, with Game 7 being 1-0. They were also down 0-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Semis, won Game 4 in overtime, rallied to force a Game 7, but lost that one 1-4.
    • The 2009-10 Flyers lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semis to the Boston Bruins 5-4 in overtime, lost the next 2 games, won game 4 in OT 5-4, and wound up winning game 7 on a Power Play brought about by the Bruins having too many men on the ice in play! The Flyers won the Conference, but lost the Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks.
    • The 2013-4 Los Angeles Kings had to do this in the first round against the San Jose Sharks. The first two games were Curb Stomps, but the Kings were able to hold the Sharks to OT in Game 3 and win the remaining 4 soundly. Their other Western Conference series went 7 games, but they did win early in those two rounds, enroute to winning the Stanley Cup 4 games to 1 against the New York Rangers.
    • The 2004 Boston Red Sox were the only Pro NA team not in the NHL to accomplish this. After losing the first 3 to their hated rival, the New York Yankees,note  they had a brief Hope Spot when they took a 1 run lead in the Bottom of the 5th in Game 4, but were then down 1 after the Yankee's next at-bat. It wasn't until the bottom of the ninth,note  that the Red Sox were able to tie it again on a stolen base and a double; the game ended in the 12th on a David Ortiz homer. It was also up to Ortiz to end Game 5 in the 14th after the Red Sox had to rally in the 8th to counter the Yankee's 6th inning rally. After that, though, the Red Sox took and kept the lead in Games 6 & 7, and the St. Louis Cardinals became nothing more than an afterthought, though Sox 1st Baseman was wary of this Trope and encouraged his team to not let the Cardinals win that Game 4 lest the Cards Beat Them at Their Own Game.
  • The Cleveland Cavs made history by not only giving Cleveland its first championship since 1964, but coming back from a 3-1 series in the Warriors favor to winning Game 7 on Warriors turf. A first in NBA history.
  • Super Bowl LI: The New England Patriots scored 31 unanswered points after trailing 28-3 against the Atlanta Falcons well into the 3rd Quarter, and won in overtime. The Patriots became the first team to, among other things, win a Super Bowl in overtime and do so without ever having held the lead in regulation.
  • Alan Kulwicki had to overcome a 278-point deficit after crashing out of the September Dover race to win the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. He wrote himself off, as the season was being dominated by Bill Elliott and Davey Allison. But then the unthinkable happened, as both Allison and Elliott started having problems down the stretch that not only dragged Kulwicki into the picture, but also Harry Gant, Kyle Petty, and Mark Martin. Kulwicki pulled off the title, leading one more lap than race winner Bill Elliott, and he did it without first gear for most of the race. (Sadly, he didn't get to enjoy his title for long, dying in a plane crash the following April.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Unlikely but possible for a player in Diplomacy if they get whittled down to one or two units but manage to return and achieve a draw as an equal, or even better come back to win outright.
  • In the background information for the 8th Edition of Warhammer 40,000, the dissemination of the Primaris Space Marines saved a number of heavily depleted Adeptus Astartes Chapters from extinction. The Black Consuls, the Crimson Fists and the Scythes of the Emperor have all been brought back to almost full strength by the addition of Primaris Marines to their rosters.

    Web Comics 
  • In Erfworld:
    • Wanda mentions early on that their side used to hold eleven cities, and at the beginning of the story, they only have their capital. Which is what gets them desperate enough to summon Parson.
    • Faq has been effectively eliminated at least twice, both times only recovering because a third party helped the remaining units reclaim their cities.

    Web Original 
  • Mahu: In "Crownless Eagle", the Polish Commonwealth is surrounded by powerful foes and plagued by corruption and mismanagement. The king starts a war the nation cannot hope to win, a situation not helped by the small fact that the realm's "noble democracy" is near-impossible to rule. That, coupled with taxes the common people can barely pay, are the reasons why soon a Revolution happens and things start to change with the creation of the Commonwealth Republic.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain N: The Game Master opens on Princess Lana's castle being sieged - she's holed up by an entire army with only three of her trusted lieutenants left, and all hope seems lost. Until the Power Glove summons the titular hero...


Video Example(s):


Evo Moment 37

At Evo 2004, Daigo Umehara's Ken had a single pixel of health left against Justin Wong's Chun Li. Even blocking an attack would deal enough damage to cost him the match, and a parry would require perfect timing to escape unscathed. Meanwhile, Wong had access to his super art, which sends out a flurry of fifteen kicks in rapid succession. Wong threw out the super, Daigo responded by making history.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PunchParry

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