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Deadly Upgrade

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"The Morituri metabolism is fundamentally incompatible with the human—and Woody's body rejected it catastrophically, as any body must. Just as it's impossible to predict what powers a person will develop, it's impossible to say just when this rejection will occur. One can't expect a greater span than a year."
Dr. Kimo Tuolema, Strikeforce: Morituri

The human version of Explosive Overclocking. A hero, often one who is already able to transform into a super-charged mode, discovers, is granted, or reveals that he is capable of a further transformation which gives him unstoppable power.

This transformation comes at great cost, though, as, once he uses it, it's only a matter of time before he dies, explodes, goes insane, becomes a mindless super-powered beast, or ascends to a higher plane of existence. Even if it doesn't kill him, he still may have to use his own life force to attack.

When forced to pull it out, the hero's friends will often try to talk him down, if uses it anyway it might result in a Heroic Sacrifice.

Often, the extreme bodily stress will be demonstrated by the character being in incredible pain during the transformation.

Sub trope of Super Mode. Compare Heroic RRoD, My Skull Runneth Over, Phlebotinum Overload, Going to Give It More Energy, Dangerous Forbidden Technique and Power-Upgrading Deformation, which has ugliness as the tradeoff.

As this can be a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The backstory of Beast Wars: Uprising has the Triple-Threat Master process. It’s the ultimate combination of three other upgrades (Headmasters, Targetmasters, and Powermasters) and gives the subject nigh godlike power. Unfortunately, it also damages spark integrity to the point that anyone who receives the upgrade has their lifespan shaved in two. Optimus Prime and Galvatron were the only people to ever risk taking it, the latter because he was crazy enough to not care about the side effects and the former in order to stand a chance against him.
  • During the post-Convergence stories, Superman went through two close-calls - becoming a God after the death of Darkseid during the Justice League storyline The Darkseid War and swimming through the Fire Pits of Apokalips then charging himself up with Kryptonite during Superman: Savage Dawn. That, combined with his Disney Death at the hands of the Kryptonian God Rao lead to the events of The Final Days of Superman, where Superman is now dying because of those changes.
  • Happens when the titular character of Missile Mouse absorbs the power of the Star Crusher. He gets abilities that would make a Super Saiyan stand up and take notice, but will turn into pure energy if he doesn't discharge all that pent-up power soon. He almost suffers this fate, but thanks to a Heroic Second Wind, he manages to hang on just long enough to let all the energy loose. Good thing he had the Big Bad's fleet as a convenient target.
  • In a Spider-Man arc, the Vulture was dying of cancer; feeling there was no need to worry about safety anymore, he set his flight harness to max levels that he never dared set them to before, making himself far stronger and faster than he ever was. (He almost did kill himself in the process, and nearly took Spider-Man with him as he did. It was implied that one of the biggest reasons Spidey saved him was to make him apologize to his Aunt May, who he had threatened during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.)
  • This is the key premise of Strikeforce: Morituri. The process that grants humans super powers against the Alien Invasion ensures that the empowered humans will also die within a year (if not sooner).
  • Citizen Soldier from Stormwatch: Team Achilles had the power to grant a particularly deadly version to others: twenty minutes of superpowers, then they die. Essentially, he made superhuman suicide bombers.
  • Sunspot's power allows him to absorb sunlight and convert it into Super-Strength. At one point he's infected with the M-Pox sickness, which messes with his powers and puts them into overdrive. He can now absorb so much sunlight that it puts his strength on par with the Physical Gods like Hercules and Thor, and quite possibly makes him the strongest mutant on Earth. The drawback is that using his power to that level shaves years off his life, so normally he wears a Power Limiter to temper his absorption rate and keep himself from burning out.
  • Thor's Love Interest Jane Foster was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and is chosen by Mjolnir to become the Mighty Thor. However, Doctor Strange reveals to her that her powers were killing her as Mjolnir purged her body of toxins (i.e. her chemotherapy) while leaving the cancer intact. She later dies in a Heroic Sacrifice, but is revived by Thor & Odin before becoming Valkyrie.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Randolph was already in the process of growing far more muscles than his human frame had room for when he decided to feed on the life of the two women in the house with him, including Cheetah with her own ties to vast magical power, to become truly monstrous.
  • In X-Men related comics (her first appearance was in X-Factor) "Infectia" was a woman whose whole power was this trope. Specifically, she could mutate other people into having superpowers, but then they died within 24 hours.

    Fan Works 
  • The Beloved Helpless: At the end of the fic, Soul makes a deal with the Little Demon to use the Black Blood to save Maka, who was mortally wounded by an insane Dr. Stein. It costs him his soul, and when Maka finds him again, she figures out pretty quickly that the person she's talking to is his killer.
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series: When Calvin gains superpowers, he also is prevented from regaining his energy, meaning that if he doesn't get it fixed (which will De-power him), he'll die of exhaustion. His powers also use a lot of his energy, which just speeds up the process to the point where he dies near the end of the episode, which has to be undone by Hobbes time-traveling to the past and warning Past!Calvin to not do the thing that gave him superpowers.
  • Danny develops a Super Mode in Facing the Future Series. Unfortunately, while it does give him a massive power increase, the energy builds up too quickly and threatens to burn Danny's body out if he uses it too long.
  • Shirou Emiya in Fate Gamer Night manages to unlock both a Made of Iron upgrade and an outright Super Mode, each with their own drawbacks. The first is called "Die Hard" and allows Shirou to keep functioning even at zero health so long as he has stamina left but drains said stamina at a ridiculous rate. The Super Mode is a prototype of Unlimited Blade Works and functionally coats all of his bones with swords, massively boosting both Shirou's offense and defense while also completely shredding his body with every movement.
  • In Imaginary Seas, Percy requests Hephaestus to make his version of Trident Ocean Ray as powerful as possible with full knowledge that it would certainly kill him by the time he's done with it. Since fighting his father would be a Suicide Mission regardless, he says that he might as well have every ounce of power he can to make it one with some chance of success.
  • ChaosGallantmon for Takato in the Tamers Forever Series
  • Paul in With Strings Attached actually starts out with his Deadly Upgrade: he's made so strong that he can't even walk without soaring into the air and causing massive damage when he lands. He manages to shed much of the power by casting a small light spell and pumping energy into it until he explodes like a small nuke. Thereafter he is VERY wary of returning to high strength (which he finds he can do later) and practices constantly to get control of it when he does.
    • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, ten weeks of bad dreams and being afraid to touch his family mean that not only does Paul stridently resist going to high strength when he returns to C'hou, but that he now treats his lower level of strength as a Deadly Upgrade.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Godzilla:
    • In 1990s films, the King of Monsters can fire a much stronger version of his blue atomic beam that is red and has lightning spiral around it if he absorbs enough energy. The downside is if he absorbs too much power, he will turn into a meltdown mode that will cause a Super-Power Meltdown that can burn up the atmosphere and kill all life. In Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, he does end up going into meltdown mode. It's only by his son Godzilla Junior does the Earth survive: when Burning Godzilla finally has a total meltdown, Junior is forced to absorb the excess radiation, maturing into a new Godzilla.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Godzilla is left severely weakened after taking a direct hit from the U.S. military's Oxygen Destroyer missile during his second fight against Ghidorah. While the Monarch scientists determine that Godzilla's injuries are not life-threatening, it will take him several years to naturally recover from them and the rest of the world will not survive that long with Ghidorah still running loose, so they detonate a nuke right next to Godzilla in order to instantly heal him for the final battle against Ghidorah. Once Godzilla and Ghidorah engage each other in said battle, it quickly becomes apparent that the nuke healed Godzilla too much, resulting in his radiation levels overloading to the point of causing a meltdown that will wipe out not only the city of Boston (where the battle is taking place), but a significant portion of the surrounding region. Fortunately, Mothra arrives on the scene and performs a Heroic Sacrifice that stabilizes Godzilla's radiation levels and unlocks his Super Mode to finally eliminate Ghidorah.
  • Lucy: After accidentally getting an overdose of a synthetic hormone, Lucy finds herself rapidly gaining control over her mind and body, the minds and bodies of others, and the physical world around her. She quickly realises that this will kill her, and nearly disintegrates at one point, only stopping it with another dose of the drug.
  • In Thor: Love and Thunder, Thor's Love Interest Jane Foster is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and is chosen by Mjolnir to become the Mighty Thor. However it's revealed that despite her initial belief her new powers didn't cure her cancer, and in fact were killing her even faster as they inhibited her body's ability to fight it.
  • In X-Men, Magneto's Evil Plan involves using a machine that gives mutant powers to normal humans in order to force anti-mutant politicians to change their stance by turning them into mutants. Unbeknownst to Magneto, this machine is fatal to the normal humans he uses it on. Since the resulting mutations are unnatural, the bodies of the affected humans quickly break down due to lacking the Required Secondary Powers that would allow them to endure the physical strain of having and using mutant abilities.

  • The Leanan Sidhe of Irish folklore does this. She grants inspiration to the artistic at the cost of sanity or even life.


By Authors:

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "The Mule": Ebling Mis is able to make intuitive logical leaps, and while searching for the Second Foundation, the Mule uses his mental powers, pushing him beyond normal obsession/endurance in his search. It's not a physical stimulant, but it has the same effect, including physical deterioration to the point of causing Mis's death. The only reason he doesn't die from the boost is because someone else shoots him before he can reveal the Second Foundation's location.
    • Pebble in the Sky: Joseph Schwartz is unable to communicate with anyone due to having been sent forward in time. He's subjected to "Synapsifier" treatment in the hope it will help him learn the language. It does that and more... he starts becoming telepathic, and accidentally kills someone without even intending to. Do this for a couple of weeks, maybe some months at most, and the wear and tear is pronounced enough to make metaphorical 'engine failure' a statistical near-certainty. Evidently 90% of Your Brain is there to keep the brain running for year after year.

By Title:

  • Chalion: In The Curse of Chalion, the god known as the Bastard will occasionally grant a death miracle—the one who prays for someone else's death and the one who wronged him will always die. (The Bastard's death-demon can only enter or leave the world by the hole into heaven made by a death, so two deaths are required each time.) A failed attempt is not fatal, but it is considered a crime of attempted murder—if the god didn't answer, the victim didn't deserve to die.
  • In the Deathstalker books, the eponymous protagonist and all the male members of his family has the ability to "boost", a genetically engineered trait that lets them essentially overclock their bodies in combat. The comedown is at best uncomfortable and can be fatal if the boost is overused.
  • Everywhere in The Dresden Files, if only to prevent the eponymous character from getting Game-Breaker levels of power. These include making a deal with the Leanansidhe twice, and getting shafted both times she winks out of existence without helping him the second time, and later discovers the first time she helped him, he didn't need it due to his special ability to wail ass on Eldritch Abominations all by himself. Then there is the fallen angel whose power he could call on, but too much and he risks losing control of his body. And Soulfire, which powers his spells at the cost of his soul.
  • In David Weber's Empire from the Ashes series, the Earth defense forces give the planet itself one of these — a core tap (essentially a hyperspace funnel that produces ludicrous amounts of power but is highly unstable) is placed in Antarctica to power the planetary shield in advance of an invasion attempt. (And as some idea of just how nasty one of those is, a microsecond hiccup in power would lead to the core tap exploding and flattening "fifty-three percent of the landmass of the continent, tsunamis, sea level rise and the direct deaths of 6.5 million people" with indirect deaths impossible to calculate. That's half of Antarctica, a continent bigger than the US, through three kilometers of ice.) The Imperials who worked with core taps before practically faint at the idea of putting one on a planet — they aren't even safe to use in atmosphere, and it's visible in operation as a two-hundred-kilometer torrent of lightning that is probably harmful to the Earth even when working perfectly.
  • In A.E. van Vogt's Isher stories, the vibratory technology that enables the Weapon Shops can also be used by humans to grow into a several-hundred-foot-tall giant that's practically invincible...but it will also cause you to age at an exponentially increased rate. This is, of course, no impediment whatsoever to secretly immortal benevolent puppeteer of humanity Robert Hedrock.
  • In the Legends of Dune trilogy, the Sorceresses of Rossak have Mind over Matter powers. However, they hardly ever use them. They spend most of the time training for the key moment when a Sorceress unleashes her power at full extent, frying any brain in the area...including her own. This is justified by the ongoing war between the League of Nobles and the Synchronized Worlds. Specifically, a Sorceress's mind blast is the most effective weapon against the Cymeks, whose mechanical bodies are resistant to most human weapons, since a psychic wave can't be shielded against. Norma Cenva subverts this. Her Deadly Upgrade does indeed destroy her body the first time she uses it under Cymek torture. However, her mind is so powerful, she is able to rebuild her body, molecule-by-molecule, as a white-haired hottie (she was previously short and misshapen) by glimpsing at her female ancestors through the Other Memory.
  • In The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, there are numerous ways to do this with magic, usually by trying to do something that carries a mageprice of death (or worse). Another, more specific example comes up in the third book, where it's revealed the city Mages had developed a ritual that would grant them effectively infinite energy for their spells, but the strain of which would kill them in seven years.
    • In the latter case, the more dangerous version was the original source of the High Mage's power. They figured out how to tap the mana of muggles in order to keep their power without burning themselves out and over the generations forgot about the old ways.
  • Quantum Gravity: Lila Black's original cybernetics have Battle Standard mode. This deactivates all of the safeties and limiters stopping them from ripping the user apart accidentally, goes to full power, puts the onboard AI in charge and doses the user to the point of insensibility with painkillers. It's also a bit buggy and doesn't always respond to the deactivation codes, but when you really, definitely, ABSOLUTELY HAVE to kill everything within eyesight via Macross Missile Massacre (watch the ammo expenditure), Beam Spam and Storm of Blades, and aren't particularly worried about your own survival, this should be your first port of call.
  • StarCraft: The Dark Templar Saga: After a Protoss mystic named Zamara takes up residence in Jake Ramsey's brain, he's able to access both her expansive memories of Protoss history and to some low-level psionic powers. But the human brain isn't built to take on a second consciousness, and Zamara's presence leads to Jake developing a life-threatening brain tumor by the second book.
  • The Sword of Truth series has "Wizard's Life Fire", an overclocked version of the already powerful Wizard's Fire that kills the user.
    • Then again, this power is typically only used when all hope is lost and you're about to be killed already. Burn the enemy off the world as they take you out.
    • There is also Con Dar, an overclocking of the Confessor's powers. It means "Blood Rage", and is only invoked on behalf of another. The main heroine survives it, but most, apparently, die after achieving their goal of revenge.
  • In the world of The Wheel of Time, any magic users can do this if they draw on too much of the power. How much is too much varies from person to person, but if they use too much, potential consequences include losing the ability to channel (regarded as a Fate Worse than Death because it's addictive), outright death, and Magic Nukes. When Lews Therin did it, he created a volcano in the process.
  • Near the end of Worm, Panacea unlocks Weaver's potential and the latter's passenger starts taking control. Although this upgrade definitely helps Weaver defeat Scion, it screws with her head and gradually causes her to lose all sense of reason and coordination. By the end of the fight she can't speak, can't understand speech, and can barely stand up straight. This ends when Contessa puts a bullet in Weaver to destroy the passenger and surprisingly spare her life.
    • Also, second trigger events. Basically, there is an extremely small chance that parahumans exposed to really similar circumstances to those in which they had their trigger event will undergo another one that will strengthen, alter and deepen the level of complexity of their power. Second trigger events aren't dangerous on their own, but the psychological toll one must undergo to get one is, and generally speaking those who undergo them die in a few years.
  • The Young Wizards book series features spells of this magnitude on occasion, which involve trading part or all of the caster's life to cast.
    • There is also a "blank check" spell which will exact its price on you at a later date.
    • Performing too many complex spells without rest can fry your brain.
    • If you can get the Lone One to accept the Binding Oath, you can have temporary control over it, but there will be a backlash of negative consequences proportional to the degree of control, and you can only do this once.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Kree in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. drink the Odium as a last resort, a Psycho Serum which turns them into The Berserker with Super-Strength and Unstoppable Rage. It's eventually lethal, but to the Kree it's more important that you get a proper death in honorable combat.
  • Angel:
    • The deadlier sort of Hilarity Ensues when Lorne has his sleep removed for a party. Albeit, unlike most other examples of this trope, this was deadly to everyone else, rather than to Lorne himself...
    • Illyria inverts it into a deadly *downgrade* sort of thing when she, a powerful Old One, revives in a human body — Fred's body can't take Illyria's power for long, and the gang has to drain some of it before she explodes and takes the whole world with her.
    • The Monster of the Week Angel faces in the Season 3 opener "Heartthrob" was James, a former vampire protégé of Angelus who had removed his own heart to make himself unkillable. He sought to use his invincibility to kill Angel as revenge for his killing James' girlfriend, but the powers only lasted for six hours before he spontaneously turned to dust.
    • And Cordelia, who got the visions from Doyle, but they weren't meant for humans, and she had to let herself be made part demon before the visions either drove her insane or blew out her skull.
  • Werewolf George in Being Human finds a way to trick himself into partially turning into a werewolf without the moon in order to have the strength to save his daughter from being killed by vampires. Unfortunately, the Werewolf transformation is compared to dying and being reborn and partial transformation leaves out the last part.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
  • Buffy herself, when she became telepathic. Eventually, she got overwhelmed and went into a Heroic BSoD until the cure was given to her.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • Happens when people who aren't meant to be Empaths take (or are given) a legit one's power anyway. However, Prue really ramps it up: powers in Charmed are fueled by emotion, and the more emotional you become, the stronger your powers become. So, when Prue gets the empathy power she feels more emotions (specifically, those closest to her), so her empathy power becomes stronger. Its area of effect therefore increases, so she feels more (further off) emotions, so her empathy power becomes stronger again, so her area of effect increases again—positive feedback continues ad infinitum. Unfortunately, on top of the fact that these power boosts occur quicker than she has time to adjust to them (making them exponentially unstable), she still has her original powers, which logically "piggy-back" on the gains made by the empathy feedback loop. Given that one of them is telekinesis, the result is...interesting.
    • It may happen when the Sisters receive demonic powers, depending on how they get them. When Paige is infected with a demonic power in Season 4, she gets the ability shoot destructive energy beams, but the side effects include an increasingly paranoid, obsessive and violent behaviour, until the power starts killing her. It's implied it's the same with Phoebe in Season 6 when she absorbs demonic powers from an athame to (supposedly) go and save Wyatt from some demons: she becomes increaingly reckless and trigger-happy, until Paige has to stab her with the magic athame to remove the powers.
    • It also happens when mortals receive supernatural powers, both good and evil, which are not promptly removed: their body and mind can't cope, and they go insane until they ultimately self-destruct. This happens in Season 2, when Dr. Curtis is accidentally granted all three powers from the Charmed Ones, in Season 4, when demonic power brokers infect a woman with an acid-squirting power (similar to Paige's example above), and in Season 5, when Cole, who was left as a human soul at the time receives a ton of demonic powers. Dr. Curtis goes completely insane in a matter of hours and accidentally gets himself killed while trying to get rid of the Charmed Ones; the woman almost gets herself run over while in a confusional state, and almost ends up killing her boss in a fit or paranoid rage (she gets better when the Sisters remove her power with a potion); Cole spirals out of control over several episodes, but is ultimately corrupted and turned evil again by the powers, until he sets in motion events that lead to his vanquish.
    • The Seer takes the cake when she takes the unborn Source's heir into her womb and starts channeling its powers: yes, she does become the most powerful Demon ever seen up until that point (and possibly past that, too), but the powers prove so overwhelming she ultimately explodes, taking the entire demonic council and the unborn Source with her.
  • Chuck does this with anyone not named Bartowski, as the Intersect — a program that downloads all the US Government's secrets into a person's brain — burns out your brain, fries your memory, and at best makes you an emotionless machine, or at worst turns you evil.
  • Doctor Who:
  • Farscape:
    • In The Peacekeeper Wars, John goes rather comatose after activating (and deactivating) the wormhole weapon, as the agreed-upon removal process of the implanted wormhole knowledge had the possibility of frying his brain. Doesn't mean he can't create his own version of the tech in time though.
    • In an first-season episode, a weapon known as the Gauntlet is introduced: it's capable of firing energy blasts, creating energy shields, and it even injects the user with a powerful stimulant which boosts their strength, speed and stamina- though it does tend to give new users delusions of grandeur. However, a season later, Crichton is trying to get help from characters he ran into during the first season, and naturally goes looking for the Tavlek mercenaries who use the gauntlet; unfortunately, the only one he can find has found religion and refuses to help, so Crichton just finds the gauntlet and decides to wear it himself... only to recieve a curt warning that the stimulant dosage has been boosted- enough to kill him in about three hours.
  • In the 2000 The Invisible Man TV series, Darien Fawkes can make himself invisible by the means of "Quicksilver", a substance secreted by an artificial gland implanted in his brain — but the gland also secretes toxins that will drive him mad and kill him, if not neutralized with a shot of "counteragent".
  • Many Kamen Rider series feature a Swiss-Army Hero with different forms, and most of those will have at least one form that poses a danger to the user:
    • Many shows feature enemy generals, who usually get the same perks regarding only being able to suffer a Non-Lethal K.O. no matter how much damage they take that the heroes do. When it's time to actually kill the general off, a popular method of explaining why this time is for keeps is to have them undergo a life-threatening upgrade in a last-ditch effort to kill the heroes.
    • Kamen Rider Stronger was the first Rider to have a Super Mode, or any form-changing at all. (If we don't count Riderman's different arm attachments, anyway.) If he uses Charge Up, he's got to burn through the extra energy in sixty seconds, or else.
    • Kamen Rider Kuuga could potentially become evil if he lost control of his Ultimate Form, marked by its red eyes turning black.
    • Kamen Rider Agito has Kamen Rider Gills suffering from a Deadly Upgrade as the one that lets him transform at all: his imperfect transformation inflicts cellular decay that will kill him after enough uses, and does. Twice. In the same show, the G3-X and G4 Armor use a combat AI to support the human user, but the AI is too advanced for a human to keep up with. For G3-X this caused extreme physical strain until the AI was scaled back, while G4 pushed it even further and wound up killing the user.
    • In Kamen Rider 555, every upgrade is deadly in some way. Orphenochs themselves are former humans who gained a one-time resurrection upon their original death, but now have a lifespan of a few months to years before their new powers go out of control and they burn themselves to death. The Faiz and Kaixa Drivers consume more of this limited lifespan, with Kaixa consuming so much that most users die after a single use. The Delta Driver works for anyone, even a regular human, but wearing it serves as an addictive and aggression-increasing drug.
    • Kamen Rider Blade gains his King Form by fusing with all 13 Category Spade Undead. However, since this is a fusion on the DNA level, it starts gradually turning Blade into an Undead himself. This drawback ends up being helpful in the end, as it becomes the only way to prevent The End of the World as We Know It.
    • In Kamen Rider Hibiki, the Armed Saber can grant a massive power boost to an Oni Rider, but only if they're properly prepared for it; otherwise they lose the ability to transform and need to undergo intense training to get it back.
    • In Kamen Rider Den-O, Zeronos uses cards that consume the memories that others have of him to transform. As bad as this sounds, Den-O's rules of time travel makes it an even worse drawback in context: the past is determined by what people remember of it. When the last memories of Zeronos are erased, he himself becomes Ret-Gone.
    • In Kamen Rider Kiva, the prototype IXA system puts incredible strain on its user's body, and can only be used for a short period of time before apparently overheating. The heroes actually exploit this by tricking a powerful enemy into using the IXA Knuckle, which weakens him enough that they almost kill him before he manages to retreat. The Dark Kiva armor is even more straining than IXA, and will kill a human who tries to use it.
    • In Kamen Rider Double, the FangJoker form was alleged to be this, driving Philip violently insane, but it proved to be a psychological block rather than a trait inherent to the form and was thus overcome.
    • Kamen Rider OOO can use three Medals of the same kind to achieve a Combo, gaining a Set Bonus superpower at the cost of considerable exertion. Ankh warns that Combos will be addictive, which is true based on his experience, but proves to be inaccurate: OOO feeds off and amplifies the user's greed, and Eiji has Insanity Immunity due to utterly lacking worldly desires. However, the final upgrade he receives, PuToTyra Combo, represents the desire for nothing, and the same mindset that makes Eiji immune to corruption by the other Combos lets this one start slowly turning him into a monstrous Omnicidal Maniac. So deadly is this upgrade that in the finale Eiji destroys it to save himself and the world from it, and in all future canonical material TaJaDor Combo becomes his new final form.
    • In Kamen Rider Gaim, three of the main characters undergo such transformations. Gaim's Kiwami Arms slowly transforms him into a Over Lord with each usage, taking away his desire for any food but the fruit of the Helheim Forest. Baron's Emergency Transformation into an Over Lord grants him a monstrous form with vastly increased power, but the infected wound he used to access the form continues to slowly kill him. Ryugen's version, meanwhile, comes across as more of a parody: the Yomotsu Heguri Lockseed he's given by the local Mad Scientist will supposedly use his life force to give him immense power to rival Kiwami Arms. In practice, the upgrade inflicts so much pain on the user that they're left writhing in agony and unable to do anything useful with that power, so much so that Kouta could have beaten him without even transforming if he'd wanted to.
    • Kamen Rider Drive shares the Type Deadheat upgrade with his secondary Rider Mach, which both use to achieve Explosive Overclocking at the cost of eventually going berserk, a drawback Mach eventually overcomes. Type Formula is even more deadly, as its Super-Speed is too much for the user's body and using its Rider Kick might kill them. Unusually for such threats, this actually did happen the one time he used it, but a "Groundhog Day" Loop was in effect at the time and he got better.
    • Emu's first use of the Mighty Brothers XX Gashat in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid causes him to begin suffering blackout-inducing headaches that reduce in intensity but grow in frequency with time, even when not using the Gashat. He eventually appears to overcome this drawback via Character Development.
    • Kamen Rider Build has several pieces of equipment that prove to be unsafe:
      • The first one is the Dragon Fullbottle, which is so powerful that it painfully overloads Sento every time he tries to use it. After a few uses, he gives up and hands it over to Banjou, who is attuned to it and doesn't suffer that problem.
      • The Sclash Driver is said to be an improvement to the original Build Driver, but every usage makes the user more aggressive and violent than the last. For a while Sento does his best to keep Banjou from using it for this reason, but he manages to conquer it via force of will.
      • Build also has the Hazard Trigger, which powers up Build's normal forms to a ludicrous extent. However, prolonged usage causes his mind to shut down from over-stimulation, turning him into a bloodthirsty berserker who attacks friend and foe alike with intent to kill. This causes Sento to kill another human being, triggering a Heroic BSoD. He manages to overcome the problem by inventing the FullFull RabbitTank Bottle, which manages to diffuse the Hazard Trigger's power enough that it's still useful but no longer a threat to himself or others.
      • Nebula Gas, the Green Rocks that Build's technology runs on, turns out to cause this sort of side effect at higher doses. Someone exposed to enough of it becomes much more powerful, but with the drawback that if they're defeated while transformed, they simply die instead of having their transformation broken as usual. Kazumi's own efforts to expose himself to the stuff to avert his Can't Catch Up issue ends up turning the Grease Blizzard form Sento had designed for him into one as well. Because of a mix of the time Kazumi spent tricking the villains into dosing him with the gas and the increased Hazard Level it granted him, Sento wasn't able to tune the form to be used safely, saying that were Kazumi to try and actually transform into Grease Blizzard, then it would be almost certainly fatal. Which it was — Kazumi used the form in battle as a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Geiz's Revive form in Kamen Rider Zi-O works by contracting and expanding time itself to provide his super strength and speed, which puts such a huge strain on his body he comes out bleeding from using it. Woz also mentioned that continued use of its powers would eventually kill Geiz. This drawback was dropped later on, with Word of God lampshading it as Geiz's constant use of the form instead physically trained and adapted his body to overcome the drawback.
    • Kamen Rider Zero-One:
      • Zero-One's MetalCluster Hopper form, which is forced on him by one of the show's villains. The form places the suit under the control of a homicidal AI with Aruto helpless to do anything but watch, and to twist the knife, it hacks the Transformation Trinket so that MetalCluster is the only form available, forcing Aruto to either fight as a berserker or not fight at all. Aruto's allies eventually craft a weapon that eliminates both drawbacks.
      • Kamen Rider Vulcan's 11th-Hour Superpower Orthoros Vulcan is an unusual example, as while it's not especially straining to use, it's such an unstable transformation that after about a minute it causes his belt to explode. He gets another form in a DVD set after the series, Lone Wolf Vulcan, that's even less stable; and trying to recklessly power through it messes him up pretty badly (it's ambiguous just how badly, but it might have killed him). His partner Kamen Rider Valkyrie gets a similarly-unstable form in the same DVD, but her more cautious nature lets her get out with comparatively less serious injuries.
    • Kamen Rider Saber has the Primitive Dragon form, which is a violent berserker that puts Touma under the control of the dragon child the book is about. The Sword of Darkness is a more mental sort of deadly upgrade: it grants its wielder the power to see the future, which tends to drive them crazy because this reveals that every possible future is a Bad Future.
    • Kamen Rider Revice
      • This series has an unusually slow example in the Rolling Vistamp, which allows Ikki and his inner demon Vice to combine into the powerful Jack Revice form. As a side effect, it swaps Ikki and Vice's usual places and makes Vice the physical host and Ikki his intangible spirit buddy... but Ikki still needs to eat, and Vice will still die if Ikki dies, so they have to quickly race to find a solution before they die of starvation.
      • It's also eventually revealed that due to the nature of the contract between Ikki and Vice, Ikki loses some of his memories every time they transform. By the end of the series, Ikki no longer recognizes his beloved family.
    • Kamen Rider Geats has the Boost Form Mark II. Its the fastest form Ace has, the strength it backs up, and it can turn him into a fox. In addition, unlike the regular Boost Buckle, this one does not fly away upon using the Finishing Move. But there is one flaw, the form is taxing on Ace's body and he suffers from fainting spells after every usage. As with some other Kamen Rider forms above, he's soon able to get another bit of gear that neutralizes the drawbacks.
  • Power Rangers is usually Lighter and Softer than Kamen Rider, so it happens rarely, but it turns up:
    • In Power Rangers Zeo, the Gold Ranger powers turn out to be incompatible with human physiology, causing them to become unstable and take an ever-increasing toll on his body.
    • In Power Rangers in Space, Adam was warned not to ever try using his fried MMPR morpher or it could kill him. Obviously that didn't happen, but it was very painful, the suit glitching in and out and giving him an increasingly painful jolt every time it did.
    • In Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue has the Titanium Ranger armor, too powerful for a normal human and causing Carter total agony and the suit unable to even fully take form. However, Ryan was raised by demons, and apparently isn't a normal human anymore.
    • In Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, we find the Sentinel Ranger upgrade is something The Smart Guy Rose came up with but abandoned because she couldn't figure out to make it safe for the human body - even once would be the end of anyone who tried. Fortunately, Mack isn't what he seems.
    • Power Rangers Beast Morphers is more mental than physical - Red Fury Mode will make you increasingly Drunk on the Dark Side until you're permanently driven mad.
  • In an episode of Red Dwarf, Kryten comes up with a plan to restore Holly's computer-senility-ravaged IQ to its original level at the cost of operational runtime. Due to a miscalculation, her IQ is actually doubled...but she ends up with just under four minutes to live.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 did this repeatedly:
      • "Upgrades" had a set of gauntlets which accelerated human metabolism to give them superspeed and superstrength, but which suppressed the user's inhibitions, making them reckless. It also had a built-in time limit due to the user's immune system fighting off the virus it used to generate the effects. Of course, this has to happen at the most inconvenient time, in the middle of a mission...
      • "The Fourth Horseman": An ascended ancient reverts to human form to help SG-1, but effectively overclocks his own brain to hold on to his godlike knowledge, eventually causing severe brain damage.
      • "The Fifth Race" and "Lost City" both dealt with a device used to put information directly into one's brain; however, human brains are not advanced enough for it, and one's mind would eventually be totally overwritten by the knowledge transmitted.
      • This happens to Daniel in "The Quest", though Merlin presumably controlled the information so it wouldn't kill him. However, as Mitchell pointed out, "you don't get fancy mind powers unless there has been major redecorating going on inside your skull!"
      • The concept is lampshaded in the episode "200" where it is mentioned that to maintain the Status Quo, all that had to be done was to add a dangerous side-effect to any super-powers the characters may obtain.
      • Ascension in general in the Stargate universe. By the time you get ascended enough to actually do something, you're not allowed to. Daniel barely got away just talking to folks during his ascension and eventually gave it up so he could go back and actually do something.
      • Oma Desala taking on Anubis' ascended form in an eternal stalemate.
      • Ditto for Ganos Lal doing the same to Adria in The Ark of Truth.
    • Stargate Atlantis:
      • Lt. Ford is addicted to a Wraith enzyme that gives the user superior strength and durability, but causes a kind of madness. Ford's men eventually die in Wraith custody from withdrawal. McKay takes an obscenely-high amount of the enzyme, becoming a small colossus; he overpowers his guards and races back to the stargate, collapsing on the Atlantis control room floor and has to ride out the withdrawal in the infirmary.
      • Also, Dr. McKay gets zapped by an Ascension Machine (I defy anyone to come up with a less ridiculous description) and gets a few superpowers. But of course (in a hilarious scene) he finds out he has to ascend or die.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: An alien woman seduces Jake Sisko, and heightens his creativity so that she can absorb the resulting energy, causing him to write compulsively to the point of collapse and beyond. Needless to say, the heroes discover what is happening just in time to save his life.
  • In Super Robot Red Baron, the titular giant robot has "Baron Full Power", a last-resort attack mode that uses all of its power reserves. However, if it's used for longer than one minute, Red Baron will explode(!). Luckily, that possible outcome is averted, since it only gets used twice.
  • Super Sentai:
    • In Mahou Sentai Magiranger, the Ozu children eventually gain the upgrade Legend Form. Unfortunately, using this form even a little will cause them to turn into Heavenly Saints themselves, thus losing all memory of their human life. The only way to avoid this is for Magi Shine to use a magical limiter on them which lessens the overall power they gain in this form, but ultimately keeps them human.
    • The Karakuri Giant Senpuujin of Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger has a Super Mode called Hurrier Mode, which sheds its armor and allows it to be faster and agile for sixty seconds. If it doesn't revert back within that time, it'll suffer internal damage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Changeling: The Dreaming used Leanan Sidhe to create a whole house of Sidhe who did just that - and a game mechanic for all fae to do the same.
  • In The Dark Eye, druids have a skill to transform all their life points, endurance points and several attributes into magic ability and cast spells without restriction for an hour. Once started, the process cannot be stopped, and the caster ends as a pile of ashes.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The AD&D incarnation of Leanan Sidhe (see Folklore) — a vampiric spirit who charms bards, inspiring, and boosting their abilities, but gradually draining hit points (permanently).
    • The Complete Mage supplement for the 3.5th Edition features the spell "Transcend Mortality" for the Wu Jen. It gives DR 30/epic, SR 21+CL, resistance to all five energy types, immunity to abilitiy damage/drain/disease/poison/death effects, and negates your need to breathe. The catch? The spell lasts for roughly 2 minutes (depending on the mage's level), after which you immediately die and turn to dust. Said death cannot be prevented by any means. As with all things D&D, this can be made into a Game-Breaker. The Spellguard of Silverymoon learns to cast spells on nearby others that normally only work on themselves. And Transcend Mortality can be dismissed by the caster at any time.
    • Also, while Death is Cheap by the time you can use it, only four very, very powerful spells can bring back someone who has been turned into dust. Namely:Wish, True Resurrection, Contingent Resurrection (which is an Epic level spell), and Miracle.(although you can create more epic spells to resurrect someone from such a state).
  • Exalted has a martial art technique known as Birth of the Perfected Ego Juggernaut. Anyone (ally or enemy) struck by it gains an enormous power boost, allowing them to effortlessly succeed at nearly anything...for about ten minutes. Each minute after the effect activates, the power drops a bit, until by the tenth it's gone entirely. The catch is, at no point does the subject of the attack notice the decline. To themselves, they remain an awe-inspiring, completely unstoppable force of nature. The madness creates elaborate excuses for failures and is permanent (barring healing magic, which does nothing to stop any feeling of depression in someone no longer effortlessly flawless).
  • A supplement for the Mutants & Masterminds system includes a drawback (though how much of a drawback it really is contested) called Holding Back. When triggered, the character in question gains a huge power boost, but side effects range from attracting attention from powerful enemies to going berserk on your allies to becoming comatose afterward.
  • One of the mutant powers in Paranoia is Adrenaline Control, giving the character superhuman strength by having his body working at maximum capacity. This is never a good thing: "he's Superman for a minute, but...pays for it."
  • Rifts has two classes that fall under this trope.
    • The first are Juicers. Chemicals (and nanomachines) are constantly pumped into a human to turn them into a superhuman - but at the cost of burning out and dying after five years.
    • The second are Crazies, which use brain implants to coax the mind into pushing the body past its normal limits. The result is a character who is significantly stronger, faster, and more agile than a normal human, but the implants cause a lot of strain on the mind, eventually leading to a long list of insanities.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Eversor Assassins. These drug-crazed killing monsters are called the Latin word for 'Destroyer' for a reason, enemies (or walls) don't last long when they are around. Eventually all of the genetic alterations, combat drugs, and bionics with which they are equipped overwhelm their hyperactive immune system and they overheat rather explosively. The only thing that keeps them alive between missions is that they are kept in cryogenic stasis.
    • While on smaller scale, most of Psykers too. Every single use of psychic power risks to attract Predators of Warp. Better make it count.
    • While Space Marines are typically made immortal/given extremely long lifespans due to their enhancements, their prototypes, the Thunder Warriors, had their bodies and minds overtaxed by their enhancements, so would either go insane or develop severe health problems, leading the Emperor to kill them all as soon as they had Outlived Their Usefullness. It's speculated that the Emperor may have actually designed them this way, as they were too brutal and violent to be part of a society that wasn't at war.note 
    • The Tau Riptide Battlesuit has an experimental Nova Reactor, which enebles it to "super charge" its weapons, shields or jetpack, at the cost of the radiation overload potentially killing the pilot.

    Video Games 
  • Advance Guardian Heroes combines this trope with Deal with the Devil: if you run out of HP, you're given the option of being granted an even more powerful body for a limited time. Accept, and you will be given an invincible body for six minutes. Once the time limit expires, though, your soul will be taken, and you will receive a Game Over, with your progress being set back to before you accepted the offer.
  • Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic has Martyr enchantment: it doubles one unit's HP, but this unit dies once the battle ends.
  • In one mission of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood you get to use the Apple of Eden. Any one within a certain distance goes crazy and starts fighting each other. Anyone in an even closer distance automatically dies. Every time it is used time slows down and your health gradually goes down. And you can't use any of your other weapons. Revelation averts this completely. We find out Altair had the same ability but none of the drawbacks. Apparently he was a major badass for a reason.
  • In Asura's Wrath, the main character at one point enters his Berserker Form, an incredibly powerful form capable of shooting down an entire armada, but at a cost - after Asura is struck directly by the Brahmastra, he enters his Wrath Form. This scorches his body black with the fires of his own rage and it's stated that Asura's attacks do more damage to himself than his opponent when in this state.
  • In Baldur's Gate 2, the PC is granted the ability to assume the form of the Slayer, a manifestation of his dead father Bhaal, the God of Murder. Not only does maintaining the transformation kill you, using it is an inherently evil act that lowers your reputation, and may cause you to turn on party members.
  • Battle Clash and Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge have a power-up called the V-System, which increases your offensive ability and always keeps your opponent centered within your sights. In order to power this, however, your mech's energy gauge is continuously drained until you reach critical.
  • In BioShock, the first Plasmid power you receive causes Jack to temporarily go mad and black out. Habitual plasmid use supposedly causes disfigurement and eventually permanent insanity (hence all the insane splicer enemies you fight), but that never seems to happen to the player no matter how much you splice, but that may be because of the many changes Fontaine and his allies made to you when you were created. If you get the good ending, the Plasmid exposure has clearly taken a toll on Jack, as seen when he's in the hospital with the grown-up Little Sisters he saved, his arm withered and shaking uncontrollably, as his "daughters" console him as he passes.
  • Ragna the Bloodedge from BlazBlue has his Azure Grimoire (or Blazblue to go with the title drop). His right arm gets chopped off in his backstory and is replaced with the remains of an Eldritch Abomination. Said arm makes him a One-Man Army strong enough to be considered to be the most wanted man in the world, however using it causes the arm to assimilate and turn him into said Eldritch Abomination. Naturally Ragna is extremely reluctant to use it unless he's pushed far enough. In gameplay, this translates to his "Blood Kain" Limit Break, which augments his damage output and combo potential but drains his health bar with each passing second.
  • Breath of Fire:
    • Breath of Fire III has the Kaiser dragon form. It's Ryu's most powerful dragon form, but the first version you get you can't control Ryu when he uses it. You can, however, get a controllable version.
    • The dragon transformation in Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter results in rapid accumulation of points on the D-Counter, which constantly increases at a much slower rate, cannot be lowered by any means, and results in a Nonstandard Game Over when it hits 100%, strongly discouraging you from using it at all.
  • Castlevania:
    • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, it is revealed that the Vampire Killer whip drains the life force of any non-Belmont who uses its true power. Jonathan Morris is warned against relying on it too much. Luckily for him, though, it takes longer than covered in one game to kill you...but his father used it too often, which ultimately killed him.
    • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia:
      • You can get an item called the Death Ring. It boosts all your stats by a considerable the cost of you effectively becoming a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
      • The Dominus Glyphs. Using one deals tremendous damage, and at the same time takes off a sixth of your HP.
      • The Dominus Union. It will kill all enemies on-screen at the expense of consuming your soul and thus killing you. This later becomes an important plot point.
  • If the Mimigas in Cave Story consume the red flowers, they transform into giant, hulking, quite literal Killer Rabbits. Unfortunately, this transformation cannot be reversed, it drives them insane with bloodlust, and it kills them after a short time. The Mimigas did once eat the flowers deliberately in order to drive off a great threat, knowing full well that those who did so were sacrificing themselves regardless of whether they won or not.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars: Kane's Wrath has something like this. The Steel Talon subfaction has two of these. The first is the Railgun Accelerator support power. It increases the rate of fire of a unit that has a railgun, but they take damage when it's first cast on them. Not too big of an issue because the Steel Talons can easily repair their vehicles. The second is the Adaptive Armor support power. It makes a vehicle more durable and grants it immunity to EMP weapons (very good for an epic unit because EMP weapons are of the main counters to them), but lowers their rate of fire. This can be countered with the Railgun Accelerator if the unit uses railguns. One common strategy is to draw enemy fire to a railgun-equipped unit and then use both powers on the same unit.
  • In Crimsonland you can activate the Death Clock perk which gives you 30-second invincibility... after which you die.
  • As Deus Ex: Invisible War shows, despite giving him incredible power, JC Denton's fusion with Helios was unstable, forcing him to go into cryogenic storage, while his allies tried to find a way to help him.
  • Devil May Cry:
    • In the original Devil May Cry, there is a mission which has Dante holding a key that will drain the soul of the bearer, and will eventually kill him. As compensation, it does allow him to be in Devil Trigger form permanently.
    • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening has a mission which serves as a Call-Back to the above mission from the first game, with all the same mechanics including the permanent Devil Trigger.
  • Dungeon Fighter Online:
    • Berserkers get the Frenzy skill, which more or less makes them Bloody Murder Personified (blood weapons, Blood boost), but drains health over time. Though use of HP regeneration Avatar items can slow the process.
    • The Berserker skill, Thirst, qualifies as well. At a cost of 12 percent of the berserker's max HP, bleeding damage is significantly increased, certain skills do more damage, and the berserker can absorb more HP from his slain enemies. This, combined with Frenzy, makes the berserker's HP unstable as it's constantly shifting upward or downward.
  • EarthBound (1994) has the party become robots in order to time travel, because time travel does not work on organic matter. No guarantee exists that the characters' souls will find their way back from the robots afterward, though naturally they do.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Becoming a Lich is a very literal case of the trope. Mortal sorcerers, often necromancers, undergo a ritual that turns them undead while greatly increasing their magical power and also gives them the undead form of immortality. This is common among the senior members of the Order of the Black Worm, a reclusive Magical Society who mainly study The Dark Arts, following in the footsteps of their leader (and first ever Lich), Mannimarco, the King/God of Worms.
    • As most prominently seen in Skyrim, Reachmen warriors may choose to become "Briarhearts." A Hagraven will remove the warrior's heart and replace it with a Briar Heart, a magical organic object which looks something like a pine cone. The Briarhearts receive a massive power upgrade at the cost of free will and thought. They also pick up the Weaksauce Weakness that if the Briar Heart is stolen (say, by a skilled pickpocket) or damaged (say, by a skilled archer), they will fall dead instantly.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Ceodore learns an ability called Awaken. When he uses the ability, his stats increase dramatically, but a few turns later, he drops into single-digit hit points, meaning one hit from anything and he dies. This is definitely deadly if a battle is still going on.
    • In Final Fantasy XII, Judge Bergan gets powered up with nethicite. Not by holding a stone of the stuff, but by getting it set in his bones. Thanks to nethicite being as volatile as it is, this leads to it exploding after his boss fight, killing him instantly. The player is spared the details, but Balthier (who took a look under Bergan's armor) is not.
    • Final Fantasy XIV has two of the Tank jobs' invulnerability skills, which grants them immunity to most forms of damage, but at a cost:
      • The Dark Knight has the "Living Dead" skill: if the Dark Knight's HP drops to 0 while the skill is active, they will enter into a "Walking Dead" state that renders them invulnerable for ten seconds. If their HP is not fully recovered before the invulnerability ends, however, they will drop dead on the spot.
      • The Gunbreaker has "Superbolide", which grants them instant invincibility for eight seconds, but at the cost of reducing their HP to 1, leaving them in a highly vulnerable state if their HP is not recovered before the invincibility ends.
    • In Final Fantasy XV, only the Royal bloodline can wear and use the Ring of The Lucii, while most commoners are instantly killed if they dare to wear it. Certain champions of the kingdom can be given special permission by kings and queens past to wear the ring properly and fight like a royal, but at the cost of permanent damage to their health that can end in death, as demonstrated with Ravus, who had to replace his left arm with a magitek prosthesis as well as Ignis, as shown in the DLC "Episode Ignis", who went blind and suffered facial scarring.
  • Front Mission has a fair bit of these as shown in the video games and other media.
    • The Bioneural Device is a unique interfacing device that lets pilots control their machines with human-like precision, often allowing them to exceed said machine's limitations in performance. However, pilots must undergo special augmentation surgeries which don't always quite turn out for the best. Puppet Soldier users have greater control over their machine's motions, but their minds can be taken over and have their actions remotely controlled by a "puppet master". Doll Eye users have 360-degree vision and can control nearby electronic systems to some extent, but are subject to blindness and extreme eye pain if they are hit with flash bang grenades. S-Type users can control their machines as if they were their own bodies and can do incredible feats on the battlefield because of it, but they are physically affected by EMP attacks, their organ sensitivity is so high that even minor damage can be fatal, and they can suffer from massive memory loss. Puppet Soldiers show up in 2089 and 2089-II. Doll Eyes appear in 2089-II and the Dog Life & Dog Style manga. Finally, S-Types can be seen in 2089, 2089-II, 1st, Online, 5, and Dog Life & Dog Style.
    • While it isn't exactly like the other Bioneural Devices, the B-Type also counts in a way. The B-Type is a device which is powered by a human brain and when put inside a machine, allows for autonomous control of it. Machines can attack targets or evade enemy fire without needing input from its pilot. The downside? B-Type devices are very unstable and have led to the deaths of pilots using machines with them, such as Laurent Connely when his B-Type-powered wanzer stopped moving and he was shot to death by nearby OCU units. Appears in 1st and Online.
    • The Imaginary Numbers in 3 also count. The Imaginary Numbers are a group of genetically-engineered humans with above-average intellect and exceptional abilities in combat, such as their reaction time and tactical knowledge. The Imaginary Numbers, while deemed superior to their predecessor the Real Numbers, were far less stable mentally and thus vulnerable to becoming insane under certain conditions.
  • Rion, the protagonist of Galerians is a natural psychic, but he needs drugs to enhance his powers for actual use. In addition, his power steadily increases over time, with a literal bar on screen showing how much the enhancement drugs are affecting him. If the bar gets full, he enters full on Super-Power Meltdown: he can only limp along, occasionally suffers from seizures, and anyone that gets too close has their head explode violently. It also constantly drains his health, and if he can't take a power suppressing antidote, he'll become a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
  • Granblue Fantasy has Geisenborger's "I'll Bet My Soul" skill, which gives him total debuff immunity and the ability to survive all lethal attacks while it's active. The duration of this can be extended by other characters buffing him, but the moment it expires, Geisenborger is knocked out.
  • Hala the Accuser, the Big Bad of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, wants to use the Eternity Forge to resurrect the Kree Empire and her dead son, Bal'Dinn. If Quill destroys it at the end of Episode 3, she absorbs it powers while trying to bring Bal'Dinn back to life and gains the ability to steal people's souls. And if she doesn't keep doing it, she'll die.
  • Sol Badguy from Guilty Gear has a special called Dragon Install where he gains speed, power and extra abilities. If it reaches its time limit in the game, Sol gets temporarily weakened and the opponent will have an opportunity to attack. In the main story this is actually Sol's true form. His Power Limiter is the only thing keeping his human appearance and sanity although recently it begun to lose its effectiveness.
  • In .hack, Kite has Data Drain, which weakens enemies to the point where they can be taken out with a single hit. But using it can result in level and stat reductions or an instant game over. He gets an upgrade that allows him to use it on multiple targets and yet another that increases the chance of getting a rare item, but both increase the likelihood of negative effects occurring.
  • In Haze, you have access to a super-drug called Nectar which gives you enhanced speed, accuracy, and grenade range, but overdosing could result in losing control of your character or even death. And that doesn't count the narrative effects: low exposure to Nectar makes the user susceptible to consciousness alteration, which is used by the corporation that creates it to prevent their soldiers from seeing dead bodies, and by extension seeing the results of their combat actions.
  • The Power Overwhelming card in Hearthstone gives a minion +4 attack and +4 health until the end of the turn, which is a fair amount. At the end of the turn, said minion dies. Horribly.
  • At the end of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, you discover an ancient Atlantean machine that transforms men into gods, and the Nazis want to reward Dr. Jones for the find by letting him be the first to use it and ascend to godhood. Whilst using it does indeed transform the user into a god-like Energy Being, the resulting being never lives for more then a minute.
  • Killer Instinct has this mixed with Ghost in the Machine and Unwilling Roboticisation on Eagle. After ratting UltraTech out upon winning, the company turns him into a machine, Fulgore. Unfortunately, Eagle inverts the Cybernetics Eat Your Soul trope by the 2013 remake, resulting in this.
  • Rugal Bernstein of The King of Fighters acquired some of the Orochi power after '94, becoming Omega Rugal. The problem is that those without the Orochi bloodline have no way of controlling it. After his defeat in '95, the power overloads and reduces him to his component atoms.
  • Used in Kingdom Hearts II with Anti-Form. Engaging a Drive form (other than Final Form) has a chance of instead turning into Sora into something akin to The Heartless (suggested to be his connection to when he briefly changed into one in the first game). Anti-Form is completely unable to gain experience, and it's completely unable to recover health. Slightly related to both, it's also the only form that Sora can't cancel partway through. It's not bad if you're just starting against a boss, and at full health. But if either recovery or experience points are in the coming, you will be affected by the downsides.
  • In the web-only game K.O.L.M., the final upgrade you receive causes a nuclear meltdown that destroys your entire home, the only place you ever see in-game. You, however, can survive.
  • In Luminous Arc 3 Refi receives one that greatly powers him up, at the expense of losing his humanity every time he uses it, starting with his senses. Surprisingly enough, it is strongly implied that he has not regained the senses he lost by the end of the game.
  • The eponymous mark in Mark of the Ninja is made of a plant toxin that, when applied to the skin, gives a variety of sense-enhancing powers to anyone with the tattoo but eventually drives them to murderous insanity. As such, people who accept the mark take an oath to commit suicide once their mission is over.
  • Mass Effect 2 shows this as an ability of the Collectors, a curious race who have more implants than internal organs per member. As Harbinger takes direct control of a mook, these implants go into overdrive, and the individual Collector gains a massive damage buff, biotic abilities, and an evil-looking glow. However, as they take more and more damage, their implants are forced to increase in power, until they can take no more, and the Collector's body is disintegrated. Not like Harbinger cares, though.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption: A central point. Samus gets a powerful "Phazon Enhancement Device" added to her suit that allows her to transform into a hyperactive killing machine, but over-use of it will cause her to become 'corrupted' and end the game. Using the PED also explains why the Space Pirates' experiments with Phazon frequently caused Unstoppable Rage: Firing indiscriminately is the easiest way to get rid of excess Phazon, preventing an overdose. And even if you don't overuse it, it'll probably kill you anyway - witness the PED-equipped Marine with the suspiciously shaky hands in the Preview Channel video, to say nothing of the other three hunters, who apparently go over to the Dark Side right out of the gate, and AU 242's warning to Samus on Bryyo:
    "We have discovered that the unique Phazon in your body, once activated, will eventually overreact, resulting in terminal corruption. In providing you with the PED, we have inadvertently placed you in grave danger. (pause) We are sorry."
  • Mission Critical features the Hype/Telecon System, which allows the player to control the ship's combat drones with his mind - at the same speed as computer guidance systems. Unfortunately, the nanotech injection required causes certain death within a few days.
  • Rampage Mode in the Oneechanbara series, a product of the Baneful Blood carried by most of the playable characters. Their offensive abilities are greatly increased, at the cost of taking double damage and constant health drain. There's also a Double Rampage Mode which is even more powerful and even more deadly.
  • Persona 3 has this in spades. First, many Personas learn physical attack moves, but using them drains up to a fifth of the character's HP. Also, Jin, Takaya, and Chidori were artificially given Personas, which will kill them if not controlled by drugs... and the drugs' side effects include a vastly shortened lifespan. Not only that, the last move that the Main Character uses to seal away the final boss costs him or her their life.
  • Prince of Persia:
    • In Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, transforming into the Shadow shortens your life meter by many potions, and using the Flame costs further health. Both are necessary to defeat the Final Boss.
    • At one stage in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Prince puts on the 'Mask of the Wraith', which sends him back in time and transforms him into a monstrous wraith. In this form his health slowly drains, stopping at 25% of base health (enough to take a single hit without dying, and then only certain ones) but his sand tanks refill on their own at such a fast rate that he effectively has unlimited sand. Under the circumstances, you need it.
    • At certain points in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the Prince transforms into the Dark Prince, who is faster and stronger, but cannot use his left hand for grappling or picking up weapons, instead he has a spiked chain-whip. In addition, he slowly loses life to the darkness (unlike the above, this will be fatal eventually), which can be replenished by absorbing Sands of Time. He reverts back to the original Prince if he touches water.
  • In Street Fighter X Tekken, this is how Pandora works in gameplay: by sacrificing the character that you are currently using, your standby character gets a massive boost in attack power. If you can't defeat your opponent within ten seconds of activating Pandora, however, you lose automatically.
  • Suikoden V introduces Raging Nostrum, a very dangerous drug developed by assassin network Nether Gate. Those who ingest the drug go into a violent rage, with greatly-increased strength... and then die shortly afterward.
  • In Super Lesbian Animal RPG Paula is granted powerful fire magic by The Godess of Magic herself, Queen Verena Allowing her to cast powerful Hellfire attacks in battle. She was infused with so much mana so fast however that her body was not able to handle it, and she collapses halfway through battle. If Melody hadn't been able to use a Mana Drain spell on her in time, she could have died from a mana overdose.
  • Super Mario Bros.: It's not quite deadly, but the Mega Mushroom in New Super Mario Bros. has the side effect of returning you to Super Mario form when its period of invincible Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever wears off. Thus, if you picked it up as Fire or Blue Shell Mario, it has the net effect of stripping Mario of one of his maximum three Hit Points.
  • The Mercenaries of Team Fortress 2 have all underwent an entire heart transplant that replaced their normal hearts with that of the "Mega Baboon" and possibly even the "Loch Ness Hamster" to be able to be used for an ÜberCharge. However, as The Medic has shown, normal hearts tend to explode when exposed to the beam that grants the charge, and he prefers to perform the operation while his patients are still awake. Making the threat of bleeding out or losing vital organs to the madman seem very possible despite the healing devices he has set up.
  • Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume has the titular Destiny Plume - when used on an ally, it multiplies their base stats by 10, makes them immune to status aliments and elemental damage and lets them use an extremely powerful character-specific ability The Hero learns permanently after the battle, but it costs them their life at the end of the battle. It could almost count as a Heroic Sacrifice, except the choice is never theirs to make.
  • Wolverine for the Nintendo Entertainment System makes Wolverine Claws work this way. Once Wolverine unsheathes his claws, they replace the icon of his face and make his attacks hit harder while draining his life bar.
  • World of Warcraft has the shadow priest talent ability Surrender to Madness, the character gives their soul to the Old Gods, drastically increasing their insanity generation. The next time they enter voidform, they have until they run out of Insanity and then they die instantly no matter what and can't be resurrected by anything, not even spells that normally can raise in combat. But since their insanity generation is so drastically increased, and they get a full percentage of haste every second they remain in voidform, the priest is likely to have many of their spells nearly instant cast with no global cooldown, making them the strongest DPS in the game before the rate of expenditure overtakes the extra insanity generation and kills them.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Heaven's Feel route of Fate/stay night, Shirou gets Archer's arm transplanted onto him after his own is lost and Archer is dealt a fatal wound. It is wrapped in a cloth that seals its power, but even if left like this, it would kill him from power overload within ten years unless he cut it off or became a good enough mage to seal it himself. Just loosening the cloth causes significant memory loss. Taking it off completely is a guaranteed death sentence, with rapid destruction of mind and body on top of that with every use. He still manages to overcome Black Berserker, Saber Alter (with the help of Rider; he technically beats Saber Alter alone in a Bad End, but it requires burning out his mind and she's still alive and would regenerate from the damage), Kotomine (by virtue of outlasting his foe's own remaining lifespan), and (in the "Normal End") the corrupted Grail before his mind dies.
  • In Tsukihime, even before the story starts, Shiki had the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception activate, greatly supplementing his killing power. Obviously. Of course, it burns his brain out and he'll die in ten years or so but... Also when he overtaxes even that in order to see Satsuki's polluted blood in his veins, open his brain up to be able to comprehend the death of things that aren't even alive, and worst of all, use his eyes as X ray eyes while looking for poison to kill in Kohaku's blood. The last one sends him temporarily blind as well as surely cutting his life back a few more years.

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue, the Reds' Warthog gets a literal one; it gains a powerful and potent EMP cannon capable of disabling any electronic equipment it hits with a single blast. The downside is that since the car itself is electronic, every time they fire it, the engine stalls. Simons even points out the downside before they upgrade it.

  • Noetic Chiasm's Meristogenous Transgression was developed by Meander, the main character of 10%+, to help counteract his tendency for his mind to wander; it allows him to focus his full attention on multiple things at once (which proves very handy during his battle against Rule). Downside? Putting that much stress on his mind will (and does) cause brain damage.
  • Near the end of the Nailbat story in AntiBunny Nailbat begins trading off the last of his lifespan for enhanced physical abilities, and in the climax flight.
  • In Girl Genius Smoke Knights sometimes use combat stimulants. A severely wounded subject under Movit #6 can run around and fight, grinning maniacally for a few hours. Movit #11 "would kill almost anyone" on its own. When one opponent is using this to Curb Stomp everybody, it turns out the best way to bring them down is to give them ANOTHER dose, thus dangerously overclocking the dangerous overclocking to a level even they can't handle.
    Zola: Did you just try to poison me?! AHA! HA! HA! HA! As if that could stop me now!
    Violetta: (tsk) I know that. That wasn't poison. That was more Movit 11. Now all I have to do is watch you combust.
  • El Goonish Shive: Nanase's Angel spell very nearly became this because it allowed her to keep using magic well past her natural limit. The first time she cast it, she needed to be hospitalized, and although she eventually made a full recovery, her magic was completely burnt out for months.
  • In the webcomic Mindmistress, the title character uses a piece of Applied Phlebotinum that grants her Braniac-level intelligence. But if she leaves it active for too long, it will leave her with brain cancer, if not killing her outright.
    • Similarly, Dauntless, a super-hero imbued by her, must detransform periodically or his enhanced nervous system will cause him to overload on sensory input.
  • Problem Sleuth gained wings, glowing armor, superpowered weapons/writing implements, and access to insanely potent attacks upon using Sepulchritude, however, once his Ink of Squid Pro Quo (which powers Sepulchritude) ran dry, he was left helpless, nearly paralyzed and at the brink of death.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has this with the Avatar state. It's a Super Mode that gives the Avatar the combined skills of all the previous Avatars, making him/her nearly invincible. Downsides are that it's hard to control without training (very bad since it turns the Avatar into a Person of Mass Destruction), and if the Avatar dies in the Avatar state, then the Avatar's cycle of rebirth will end and the Avatar will cease to exist. In The Legend of Korra, it is revealed that Aang had used the Avatar state so much between his 100 years in the iceberg and his adventures afterwards his lifeforce was drained and he died at the biological age of 66(for reference, one of Aang's close friends from before his icebath was in fighting shape at 112 and the last avatar to have a natural death died at 230).
  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Divided We Fall", the Flash goes really, really, really fast, and ends up nearly pulled into another dimension, communing with a quasi-mystical "speed force" that was the source of his power in the comic.
  • One episode of Men in Black: The Series has Agent Jay accidentally use an intelligence-improving device that will eventually cause his head to explode. After using his new brain (and the Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory that comes with it) to deal with a time-traveling villain who's erasing the founding members of the Men in Black from history, Jay manages to fix it by hijacking the baddie's time machine and preventing it from happening in the first place.
  • Motorcity: Kane has his employees invent a chip for his soldiers that makes them fearless, despite his scientists warning him it could be unstable. The cowardly Chuck finds this chip on one of the soldiers and takes it for himself. This does allow him to become more confident and stronger, but also causes him to rage out, including against Mike, his best friend. Mike convinces him to remove the chip.
  • Beast Boy from Teen Titans (2003) transforms involuntarily into The Beast in the episode "The Beast Within", which he from then on is able to become at will. Said beast is incapable of higher thinking and liable to attack the other Titans, but possesses strength beyond that of his teammates and Super-Speed.
  • In Transformers: Animated, Sari, after the Robotic Reveal, uses her Key to upgrade herself and try to fight the asteroid monsters. As soon as the fight is over, though, she loses control of her body and starts destroying everything around her, despite her best efforts to stop, including accidentally stabbing Bumblebee when he gets too close and nearly offlining him.
  • In the second season finale of W.I.T.C.H., the heroines must unleash "their dragons within", literally becoming the elements water, fire, earth, air, and quintessence. Because water, fire, earth, air, and quintessence aren't human, the girls lose their humanity as a consequence, and must be brought back to normal by their loved ones after the end of the fight.

    Real Life 
  • Anabolic steroids are well known for their ability to make us stronger, etc. The downside is that there are a HUGE amount of side effects, not the least of which are heart problems, cancers, "roid rages," and man-boobs. Sometimes Truth in Television. Not all anabolic steroids and analogues are that dangerous when taken in controlled amounts to help with recovery after surgery (assuming they're pure, and illegally-obtained drugs often aren't). Others are suffering in liquid form, inviting the physiological side affects mentioned above and others, as well as significantly increasing the risk of manifestation of psychological disorders in those with pre-existing conditions.
  • The body uses another steroid, cortisone, to reduce inflammation and pain, which it does by suppressing the immune system. It is primarily released during periods of stress, which accounts for consequent illnesses. And any pain inhibitor in general is risky, as pain normally prevents someone from causing injury to themselves. This is likely the cause of what most students experience in the form of the post-finals flu. Synthetic forms of cortisone, including asthma inhalers and cortisol, are used to treat a variety of diseases and symptoms, allowing those with conditions to live mostly normal lives... except for the increased risk of sickness.
  • The vast majority of psychostimulants leave the user in a "smoking ruin" state by the time they wear off, mostly due to straight metabolical overload, so the more performance enhancement given, the more damage caused (usually not permanent). Exclusions (like the Eleutherococcus group) work by rising power throughout and are more adaptogenic with useful side-effects than stimulating.
  • Adrenaline:
    • The body's own flight-or-fight system normally doesn't pump enough of it to harm you. However, combine it with certain heart conditions and you will not survive. Also, external doses of adrenaline are not so limited and can cause your heart rate to skyrocket, or even a myocardial infarction (in layman's terms, a heart attack). And this isn't even getting into adrenal disorders like Adrenaline Overload (as some doctors call it), which is basically the flight-or-fight system activating randomly and not turning off for a while.
    • Adrenaline's pain killing properties and its "tunneling" of sensory perception can also lead to people injuring themselves much more often then usual. This is considered "worth the risk" from an evolutionary standpoint, as whatever damage it does is better than failing in a life or death situation; unfortunately, seeing that the conscious mind cannot control the flow of adrenaline, people often enter this mode when it is completely inappropriate for the situation, with potentially harmful resultsnote .
    • Also, increased strength from adrenaline rushes (like a mother lifting a car off her child) is capable of causing serious damage to the body. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments aren't built to take a beating like that on a regular basis, which is the main reason your body only allows superhuman feats of strength under the most absolutely necessary conditions. The human body generally does not operate at absolute peak performance specifically because of the biological "limiters" that are only deactivated in extreme situations.
    • In short, most of the above substances work a bit like taking out a loan from a loan shark. It gets you what you need, when you desperately need it, but the terms of repayment are absolutely awful.


Video Example(s):


Backdoor Code: THE BEAST

Mari deactivates Unit-02's restrictors, transforming the Eva into a monster and putting her life in danger to get an edge.

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Main / DeadlyUpgrade

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