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Desperation Attack

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"A man or animal driven through terror to desperation, is endowed with wonderful strength, and is notoriously dangerous in the highest degree."

In Real Life, most physical fights get less dramatic as time goes on. What started out as two guys in their physical prime going at each other, if it goes on for ten minutes, becomes two guys bearing the accumulated injuries (and fatigue) of ten minutes of fighting. Big hits become fewer and farther between, there's a lot more slow grappling, and it just starts to look sloppy. Similarly, if one opponent at any point becomes significantly more injured than the other, that disadvantage tends to persist throughout the remainder of the fight.

Unfortunately, this does not make for good storytelling, so when the heroes in most media start losing, that's generally because they're about to come back from behind and win the fight in the end. After all, it wouldn't be very interesting if they just stomped the baddies without even trying, and it wouldn't be very satisfying if they got stomped without being able to make some kind of comeback.

The problem with video games, though, is that the progress of the hero is directly tied to the skill of the player. And a player who's bad enough to start losing is probably bad enough to continue losing. While video games rarely simulate the negative effect that injuries have on fighting prowess, this still makes video game fights more similar to reality than the heroic mano-a-mano battles seen in movies.

The solution is to make characters more powerful when they're near death, to make the dramatic comeback a possibility. Hence the Desperation Attack, abilities or equipment that power up as the player character starts losing. Which, for most games, usually means when their health gets really low.

Occasionally, this leads to a situation where the best strategy is to run around on the edge of death for the massive bonuses it gives you.

Not to be confused with so-called "desperation moves" in Beat Em Ups, which are just special moves Cast from Hit Points, though these are sometimes replaced with Desperation Attacks when health runs low.

Related to the Limit Break, which is frequently accessed by taking damage but does not strictly require the user to have critical HP before use. Can also be a Sub-Trope of a Critical Status Buff (or its enemy counterpart, Turns Red; which in turn has a move-related subtrope, called Last Ditch Move) as well as Situational Damage Attack (if the attack gets more powerful the closer you are to death). Can also overlap with Last Stand. This kind of attack might be unleashed if the Godzilla Threshold has been crossed in a story (usually of the Nuclear Option variety) as the situation is now dire enough to allow the potentially massive destruction. Compare Rubber-Band A.I.. Contrast Full Health Bonus, an ability that works best when your health is full.

Video Game Examples:

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    Action Adventure Games 
  • Alice: Madness Returns has 'Hysteria Mode', which is activated when Alice's health is down to one rose. Time slows down and she is able to deal more damage to enemies. However, it only lasts for a short while.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow has the Lubricant soul, which raises your stats as your health drops. It also has the helpful item spoilt milk, which drops your health to one.
  • In The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, when Hulk's main life bar is depleted, he enters Adrenaline Rush mode, which reveals the last of his life, increases his strength and gives him unlimited Critical Attacks. It's not easy to get or maintain an Adrenaline Rush as Hulk will regenerate to 75% of his main life bar when he's not getting hit and gets health from any enemy he defeats, meaning any situation that puts him into it will likely kill him before he can use a Critical Attack.
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • [PROTOTYPE]'s Adrenaline Surge ability grants Alex temporary invincibility and one Devastator use when he's nearly dead. Unsurprisingly, it's made by the same team as the Incredible Hulk.

    Action Games 
  • In Devil May Cry 2, the secret Devil Trigger transformation (later known as "Majin Form") is a mechanic that grants several desperation attacks. If Dante's health is critically low (indicated by his health bar turning red), activating Devil Trigger will allow Dante to transform into a towering, nigh-invulnerable and vastly more powerful demon behemoth until his Devil Trigger Gauge runs out. In this form, he has a greater damage output and an entirely different moveset; he uses two blades that protrude out of his arms, throws fireballs, and can perform Limit Breaks such as a laser beam of light and dark energy, and a flash of light that deals Area of Effect damage. These allow Dante to mow down the enemies and bosses with the greatest of ease. The only drawback is the increased DT gauge consumption, but it isn't an issue if you're capable of easily killing enemies with this form anyway.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Giant Fist continues the EXTRAPOWER tradition of being able to perform a powerful transcendental attack when player health is low enough.
  • In Ninja Gaiden, the Unlabored Flawlessness becomes the most powerful weapon in the game if your health is at critical levels.
  • In Ninja Gaiden III and Sigma+ on the PlayStation Vita you get the option for "Hero Mode" which activates at 30% or less health and makes guarding and evading automatic, rendering death almost impossible, and last for a fairly long time.

    Fighting Games 
  • Art of Fighting introduced the Desperation Move, which can only be used when the player's health is under about 1/3rd. This was retained in future SNK Fighting Games.
  • Dead or Alive 5 has the Power Blow, a move that, if it connects, unleashes a cinematic combo and ends with you aiming where you want to launch your opponent, like into a stage hazard or off an edge. What makes it a Desperation Attack is that it can only be used when you're below half health.
  • In the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai games, there are several ability capsules you can equip that activate when your health drops below a certain point. Character-specific examples are Babidi's Mind Control for Vegeta (Turns into Majin Vegeta when health is at one bar or less) and Freeza's Space Ship for Freeza or Cooler's Space Ship for Cooler (Turns into Mecha Freeza or Metal Cooler respectively when health drops to zero). Other examples include Senzu Bean (Restores health to full when health drops to zero) and Senzu Bean 1/3 (Gives you an extra bar of health when health drops to zero).
    • Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension for the Super Famicom had actual desperation attacks for the characters, which could be used when the characters' health dropped to a certain amount.
    • In Dragon Ball FighterZ, each player has 'Sparking Blast', a Comeback Mechanic that allows the user to break out of combos, more easily follow up their own attacks, regenerate blue health, and increase the rate their Ki bar fills. What makes it a Desperation Attack is the fact that the fewer characters the user has remaining, the duration and strength of Sparking increases further, from 9 seconds when all three characters are left, to over 20 seconds when they are down to just one character.
  • In the doujin Fighting Game Eternal Fighter Zero, each character has a unique "Final Memory" move, which is a level 3 super that is only accessible when the character is down to their last 1/3 health. These range from extremely damaging attacks to special effects like freezing time or granting hyper armor. In many cases, the attack models the canon scene in which the character dies, hence the name.
  • Fatal Fury was also one of the first and most well-known uses of the trope.
  • The King of Fighters had both the Desperation Move and the Super Move. If you had low life and a full super meter, you could perform Super Desperation Move. Later, this mechanic disappeared, so supers were Desperation Moves only in name. However, these returned in The King of Fighters 2002 and its Unlimited Match remake. In these games, a character's MAX2/Hidden Super Desperation Move can only be executed with 3 super bars and 35% health or less.
  • Some minor SNK games (and certain Grooves in SNK vs. Capcom) would allow the player to perform unlimited Supers if their health was critical.
  • Magical Battle Arena combines this with the Super Mode mechanism. A few of these moves, however, inflict damage on the user, which is a bad thing since you have to be on your sixth and final bar of health in order to use the attack in the first place.
  • In Marvel vs. Capcom, Jin Saotome has a Golden Super Mode that triggers if he's the last member of his team and drops below 30% health, which gives him Super Armor, more damage, and enhances his specials.
    • In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, knocking out Phoenix with the super meter at le-le-le-le-MAXIMUM fully heals her, turns her into Dark Phoenix, and provides her an enhanced moveset. This health is meant to be balanced, as: Phoenix and Dark Phoenix each have 420,000 hp (the lowest for any other character, including resident Glass Cannon Akuma, is 800,000); the pair have pitiful defense; and Dark Phoenix's health drains constantly (though it alone can't knock her out). The two of them do have a Healing Field super, but it's very short-ranged and so either powerful or punishable.
    • 3 introduces the X-Factor ability, which is available to everyone on the cast, although the actual effect is unique to each character. It can be triggered at any time but is best used as a Desperation Attack because the fewer characters you have, the stronger and longer the effect.
  • Street Fighter IV introduced the concept of "Ultras". The unique twist with these is that instead of directly being based on the amount of HP a player had, the game has a separate "Revenge" meter that filled up as the player took damage.
  • Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and onward: All characters have "Awakening Mode", whereupon they transform into their respective Kickass modes. To wit: Naruto—>4 Tails form, Tobi—>"Madara"
  • In Persona 4: Arena, all characters enter "Awakening" mode upon breaking out of a combo with 35% of their health left or lower, granting increased defense, 50 SP, and a new SP attack, which is in arguably every case, their strongest attack. (outside of the Instant Kill moves.) This is averted for Shadow characters in the sequel, as while they can use the SP attack at any level of HP, they never enter Awakening and thus never gain the benefits associated with it.
  • Samurai Shodown 5 had a mechanic called Mu no Kyouchi ("Circumstance of Nothing"), which caused the opponent to slow down and opened up a powerful attack, but which could only be accessed after one already lost a round and had lost a certain level of health. Also inverted with the game's finishing attacks, which only worked if the opponent had already lost a round and a certain amount of health.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl:
    • Lucario's attacks get more powerful as his damage percentage increases, peaking out at 168%. This is invoked in an event match where you have to play as Lucario starting out with high percent (182%).
    • If a character is down several points or stock, they automatically gain Final Smash powers the next time they drop down onto the stage.
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Terry Bogard has Fatal Fury's Desperation Moves as a unique mechanic; If Terry's damage reaches 100%, or 1/3 of his total health in Stamina Mode, he can use the moves Power Geyser and Buster Wolf that are much more powerful than his standard arsenal. However, if he is healed beyond these thresholds or is KO'd, he loses access to them again.
  • Tekken 6 has "Rage Mode", which activates when a player is near death, making them much stronger.
    • Also a case of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, as in arcade mode, and most modes, in fact, when you fight Jin, at the start of every round he will begin in Rage Mode. Even worse, the true final boss gets an upgraded Rage Mode, where both attack and defense increase dramatically. And it's also activated at the beginning of the round.
    • Rage Mode is more akin to a Comeback Mechanic. It amps up your fighter's strength but does not give them any new attacks. However, Rage in 7 HAS been elevated to a full-on Desperation Attack as it enables the use of "Rage Arts" and "Rage Drives", powerful last-ditch moves the characters can only use when in Rage. However you only have one shot at it: using the attack, hit or miss, will burn any opportunity to use it for the remainder of the current round.
  • Double Dragon Neon: Once Giga Skullmageddon Turns Red, he starts using his Cinematic Flash Step Combo of Doom, which is guaranteed to take off a life if you get caught in its crosshairs.
  • Dropping to red health in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle will put you into Rumbling Mode, where your attack increases, the Heat meter fills faster and a cool cut in of the character flashes. Certain characters instead get Preparedness Mode which grants Super Armor when not moving.
  • Punch-Out!!:
    • The Wii version gives Mr. Sandman a brutal desperation attack when he's on the cusp of losing the match. He roars with anger, huffs with exhaustion and wipes sweat between throwing an onslaught of punches with no openings, and surviving long enough to land a counter-attack is the only time the game gives you a free star... and landing that star punch will knock Mr. Sandman out guaranteed. Those familiar with Mike Tyson, the man Mr. Sandman was based on, will recognize this as a reference to Tyson having a lung condition which made him tire quickly, forcing him to rely on a very aggressive fighting style in order to win before tiring out.
    • Aran Ryan has this as well, but it's much more realistic in its execution...cheating aside. Namely, he tries using a boxing glove on a rope, but he's really slow because of all the damage he took during the match, to the point where he won't hit you unless you intentionally let him.
  • In BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Yang Xiao Long has her Rage Semblance; it activates if she's low on health and turns her into a Glass Cannon, enhancing her attack while lowering her defense. It also changes the current BGM to her battle theme.
  • Mortal Kombat 11 eschews the X-Ray attacks from Mortal Kombat 9 and Mortal Kombat X for the new "Fatal Blow" attack, which can only be executed at the last 30% of your character's life meter and is one-shot (you only get a single Fatal Blow for the entire fight, although it only counts against you if it actually lands).

    First Person Shooter  
  • In Borderlands 2, Krieg has a skill called "Light the Fuse" that makes it so that when his health reaches zero, rather than being forced to his knees and hip-firing, he instead breaks out a bundle of dynamite and becomes a Suicide Psycho. In this state, he can freely run around and chase down enemies while tossing dynamite at them. When the timer runs out or if you trigger it, he'll then blow himself up. If he manages to score a kill, he'll earn a Second Wind and be back to normal (though killing enemies by suicide bombing them earns him a temporary speed boost). Most of the skills in his "Mania" skill tree is about dealing as much damage as he takes. His most powerful skill, "Release The Beast" lets him transform into a Badass Psycho when he's at 33% health.
  • In the Half-Life 2 level "Water Hazard" you get into a gunfight with a helicopter that starts dropping tons of bombs when close to death.
  • Several enemy types in the Halo series can do this when they become vulnerable.
    • Starting from Halo 3, Grunts may pull out a pair of Plasma Grenades and charge the player in a Suicide Attack if their morale is depleted, usually by killing their squad leader. This can suddenly make them quite dangerous in close quarters if you're not careful.
    • The last Brute in a pack in Halo 2 will drop their weapon and leap towards the player in a "berserk" mode, attempting to maul them with a melee attack. A toned down version of this behaviour returns in subsequent games.
    • Also starting with Halo 2, high-ranking Elites will pull out an Energy Sword if you get close to them. In Halo Infinite, they will do this after you pop their shields, and also pop Active Camoflage at the same time for good measure.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Soldier's Equalizer is meant for this. Initially, it would not only increase in power the lower his health but also allow him to run faster. Since the weapon has been split into two different weapons, one dedicated to each of the original's bonuses, the new Equalizer is now solely dedicated to this. On top of this, the weapon blocks healing from Medics (until the Gun Mettle update changed to 90% less healing), making it even more of a desperation attack. Finally, as a last resort, the Equalizer reaches its ultimate in its desperation. As a last-ditch effort, the Soldier can toss it away, then use one of his grenades to blow himself up, along with any enemies and buildings within six feet of him.
  • PAYDAY 2 has the Swan Song skill, which lets the user stay on their feet for a few seconds after losing all their health so they can either run away to safety so another player can revive them easier or take down as many cops as possible until they go down. Acing the skill not only extends the timer, but it also grants the player infinite ammo (as long as there's one bullet left in the current magazine) so that they can tear cops a new one (specific guns won't get infinite ammo this way for balance reasons).
  • The Vex in Destiny 2 go berserk if their heads are shot off, charging the player and firing.

    Hack And Slash 
  • Both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games have Musou attacks, Limit Breaks that build by attacking and getting hit. However, if your character is at red health, the Musou meter will fill up on its own over time and the attack will come in the form of a stronger version called a "True Musou".
  • No More Heroes has at least one desperation attack for most bosses. Some bosses, mainly in the first game, gained a One-Hit KO when they were down to about half health.

  • City of Heroes gave the Blaster archetype the inherent ability of Defiance, which raises their attack power as their health drops (as of the eleventh update, this is no longer true—Defiance in that form was widely considered to be useless at best, and actively detrimental at worst by encouraging stupid play—so it was retconned into a more widely useable form). Defenders also get a desperation power called Vigilance, which reduces the endurance cost of their powers as their teammates' health drops (and this is also generally considered quite useless, as it 'rewards' you for doing your job badly, so a good player is unlikely to ever see this benefit).
    • Amusingly, Defiance was originally called "Desperation" during beta testing of the update it was added in, but the name was changed due to player complaints. Considering how useless the original version of it was, it remained known as Desperation amongst players until it was finally upgraded.
    • Vigilance was better than Defiance, in that it's more practical to keep a mixed (or all-Defender) team at a specific percentage of health than a single Glass Cannon, and most Defenders had more productive things to be doing with their powers in many situations than keeping teammates at full health. Unfortunately, a team competent and organized enough to take advantage of Vigilance didn't actually need it, so the concept remained mostly undeveloped.
  • Dungeon Fighter Online's Asura's have the Deadly Enticer skill. While the requirement doesn't specify that they must be at low health, they have to have taken a certain amount of hits, and the most practical application is to use it when caught in an opponents Spam Attack which is usually going to be lethal
  • In Guild Wars, an elite Necromancer skill stole enough health from a target enemy to bring your own to 50%. Though double-edged (it could lower your health, and heal the enemy if used when you were above 50%), and originally intended as an "oh $(@#" skill, it was rarely used that way. The skill was used to destroy some otherwise very difficult bosses by pumping the Necromancer's max health as high as possible, having the Necro hurt themselves down to very low health, then hitting this skill to tear away a big chunk of a boss's health.
    • Guild Wars 2 has downed skills. If a player is brought to zero HP, they will fall on the ground, unable to move, and a second, smaller health bar will start ticking down while all the player can use is four relatively weak abilities. If the player manages to kill a mob with these or fill the downed health bar to full, they will rise back on their feet with a portion of their regular HP refilled. However, if you get downed too fast four times in a row, then it's over for good and you have to respawn at a waypoint or wait for another player to resurrect you.
  • In The Lord of the Rings Online, the Warden class has a single skill that restores power, which is needed to execute skills. However, this skill can only be used when the Warden has less than half of its health remaining. This is an interesting case since the Warden also has a few skills that heal itself. This means that as long as the Warden doesn't heal itself too much, it can find a balance between regaining health and regaining power, allowing them to stay in a fight where other classes would eventually run out of health or power. This technique, known on the forums as "morale-surfing", essentially comes down to relying on your Desperation Attack to keep you from dying, while slowly burning down your opponent.
  • In RuneScape, the full Dharok's armor set has the effect of increasing the maximum hit when all four parts (helm, platebody, platelets, greataxe) are worn and remaining life points are low. As this armor degrades if dropped on death, players will often enter safe minigames (where nothing is dropped on death), and intentionally reduce their health to near-zero in order to inflict massive damage and gain massive XP. A favorite trick of players who train combat with this armor is to get one's health extremely low, then activate a protection prayer to stop damage, keeping him or her locked in desperation mode. That said, this only works against NPCs (and even then not most bosses), as PvP instead has protection prayers make that combat style less effective, rather than stopping all damage, as a form of balance.
  • Star Trek Online Has the ability "Go down Fighting" which allows the player to do more damage the lower their ship's hull condition is.
  • World of Warcraft: The troll racial ability Berserk used to be stronger at low health.
    • The Warlock class has a talent that increases the effectiveness of their Drain Life spell when their health is below 30%.
    • Many boss encounters are more dangerous at low health due to this.
      • Honorable mention goes for this quote: "So much unstable energy... but worth the risk to destroy you!"
    • In a tactical sense, if a party is wiping with the boss at low health some players may use self-resurrection abilities just to get in a few extra seconds of damage.

    Platform Games 
  • The Skeleton Pirate boss in Binary Boy can only attack by shooting scripted cannonball sequences from the background. He begins with eight cannonballs that are easily dodged, but their number doubles with each successful hit on the shipwreck you need to destroy to win the battle. By the end of the battle, he'll fire about 60 of them.
  • Iji has the Retribution technique. You can only activate it when Iji's health is 5 or below and you have all 8 basic weapons, plus it only works once per area/boss. Still, it comes in handy for when you really want to dish out the hurt. As a bonus, it's also an Invulnerable Attack.
  • All the first 8 bosses of the Mega Man X series starting from X2 gain one on low health. These generally do a lot of damage to the player (Crush Crawfish's Bum Rush, Bamboo Pandamonium's Youdantotsu), or put him in an undesirable situation (Wheel Gator drills spikes into a wall, Blizzard Buffalo fires a Freeze Ray).
    • In X8, all of the first 8 bosses' Desperation Attacks are also used by the first form of Lumine.
    • Two particular Mega Man X attacks have the ability to One-Hit Kill the player: Duff McWhalen/Tidal Whale's rapid-fire barrage of ice cubes that smash you into a wall of Spikes of Doom on the other side of the arena in Mega Man X5, and Lumine's "Paradise Lost" in Mega Man X8, which puts the rest of the fight on a timer that ends in instant death if you don't finish him off in time.
    • In Mega Man Powered Up the robot masters all have these. In normal mode, they will use them at half health or lower, but on hard mode, they can use them whenever they want. These moves are unavailable when you actually play as them, of course.
    • On hard mode, all of the fortress bosses in Rockman 4 Minus Infinity, with the exceptions of Super Shadow Man, the Optical Capsule and the Petit Robot Masters have a special attack they unleash once their health is depleted.
  • Six of the first eight bosses in Mega Mari have these. A notable one is Reimu's, which continually spawns high damaging yin yang orbs until defeat. The orbs (and most attacks for that matter) can kill you even after the boss dies as well.
  • Most of the bosses in the Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon games have a hard-to-dodge screen-filling attack that they unleash just before they die. It can't kill you, but you'll get an extra life if you dodge it.

    Racing Games 

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • In League of Legends, there are several champions who get their stats boosted as they take damage. Olaf gains attack speed, Tryndamere gains bonus damage, and Aatrox heals himself more. Poppy's innate ability will typically cause her to take less damage the lower her health is. There is also an item called Maw of Malmortius that gives more attack damage the lower your health is. In fact, Maw is only cost-efficient when you are low on health, stat-wise.
  • Star Wars: Empire at War and its expansion have, for some units, the ability to self-destruct. The TIE Mauler was the only one to have this in the first game, and considering how pathetically weak its armour is, the self-destruct became useless unless the player managed to park ten of them at full health in the middle of an enemy formation first, just to ensure that at least ONE did some damage. The expansion gives this ability to the following Zann Consortium units: MZ-8 Pulse Cannon tank, Vengeance-Class Frigate, Aggressor-Class Destroyer. Much more effective for them since a. It's automatic and b. those units could actually survive long enough after taking a shitload of damage for the ability to be effective.
  • In the Warcraft 3 map Defense of the Ancients (later remade as Dota 2):
    • Terrorblade the Soul Keeper has the Sunder move that swaps his health percentage with a target's, naturally becoming stronger as he gets weaker.
    • Huskar the Sacred Warrior has Berserker's Blood, which increases his magic resistance and attack speed as he takes damage, but only increases in power down to 10% health.
      • Huskar is basically Desperation Attack: The Hero, as his Inner Vitality skill grants regeneration to any ally that increases if they're below a certain health threshold, and his other abilities are Cast from Hit Points.
    • Abaddon the Lord of Avernus has a variant in his Borrowed Time move, which turns any damage taken into healing while active, and can auto-activate if he drops below 400 hp and it's available.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Epic Battle Fantasy series: Starting from Epic Battle Fantasy 2, Matt has access to the "Revenge" skill, an attack which increases in power as his health drops. In every game barring the third, it gains an additional power boost for each dead ally Matt had. Matt lampshades it in the fifth game:
    "Beating the crap out of me and my friends will only make me stronger! (Don't you know how anime and video games work?)"
  • Breath of Fire I has your characters attack faster when their health points are dwindling.
  • Breath of Fire IV has Scias activate Rahkasa, when on low health. It removes all his Defense and adds it to Power, making Scias a Glass Cannon.
  • Persona 5:
    • The game features a skill called "Desperation", a move that increases attack power greatly, but causes defense stats to become very low.
    • Persona 5 Royal adds a type of special attack called "Showtime," a flashy special move sequence which can be used pairs of characters other than Joker. These are randomly triggered based on certain conditions, among them being if Joker is downed or in low health, or if the triggering party member is in low health.
    • After you defeat Shadow Madarame's painting form, he reverts back to normal and spams a move that lets him make up to four duplicates at once, each of them with an elemental affinity. While it sounds powerful on paper, it's mostly to buy time so he can unleash a party-wide Artist's Grace. As long as you keep using multi-target moves, Madarame will have no choice but to keep spamming his duplicator move to maintain his numbers.
  • The Crisis Arm, one of Robo's final weapons from Chrono Trigger, claims to work this way, but actually depends on the last digit of your HP. There are actual desperation attacks in the form of Frog's "Frog Squash" tech and Ayla's "Dino Tail" tech.
    • Then, there's the Combination Attack Grand Dream, which is a massive, impressive three-character Desperation Attack. It's surprisingly effective against the final boss, simply because he has a habit of near-flattening you. Grand Dream contains Frog Squash as one of its components.
    • The similarly insane Frog Flare (a Combination Attack of Frog Squash and Lucca's * Flare) is universally acknowledged to be the best way to take out the final form of Spekkio, who uses Hallation a lot - particularly if you're playing the DS version and got the Game-Breaker armor for Lucca, which renders Hallation Spekkio's only attack capable of damaging her - and you're never going to die from HP to 1 attacks.
  • Dark Souls:
    • The Tearstone Rings from Dark Souls increases your damage (Red) or defense (Blue) when you are near death. It is common for Glass Cannon builds to pump their health to 1 via Power Within pyromancy (which also increases your damage) and land a One-Hit Kill onto their opponent.
    • By the time of Dark Souls III, the Morian Blade, which has the same effect as Red Tearstone Ring, actually can stack with Red Tearstone Stone's damage boost, combining with the fact the Morian Blade can be used as offhand weapon and it still boosts other weapons and spells, it results in what essentially can be described as wearing two Red Tearstone Rings at once, effectively delivering more One-Hit Kill than before.
  • Fenris from Dragon Age II has the Veneer of Calm ability, allowing him to do increased damage as his health drops. This ability is also on the Ravager talent tree somewhere.
  • Etrian Odyssey:
    • Etrian Odyssey: The Hexer's Revenge ability is straight defense-ignoring damage based on how little HP the Hexer has remaining. It was toned up and made even more powerful in the sequel.
    • Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City: The Yggdroid has the "HP Cannon" attack, which deals the difference between its maximum and current HP. And it helpfully has a passive ability which damages it each turn in exchange for a boost in attack power, which never kills it and instead leaves it with at least 1 HP.
  • The Fallout series of games have a few perks that reflect this ability, such as Adrenaline Rush (raising your strength if you drop below 50% hp), Die Hard (raising resistances to damage when you drop below 25% hp), and Nerd Rage! (increasing your strength to maximum if you dropped below 25% hit points — and requiring a certain amount of Science skill).
  • One of these shows up in many of the Final Fantasy games.
    • Final Fantasy V, has a Blue Magic spell called ??? (which actually has no call box). It does damage equal to the difference between the user's max HP and current HP. Therefore, using it when you're at critical HP will do damage almost equal to your max HP. It shows up in many other Final Fantasy games after V, as a Blue Magic spell, either named "???" or "Revenge/Revenger/Revenge Blast", or a Dark Knight (or equivalent) technique named "Minus Strike" or "An Eye For an Eye".note  However, it's a bit of a Useless Useful Spell, as enemies who have the move tend to have max HP many times higher than what you ever get, making it a potential One-Hit Kill in their hands.
    • Final Fantasy VI introduced actual Desperation Attacks to the series, incredibly powerful attacks that can randomly occur when a character with critically low HP is given the "Fight" command. However, they have only a one in sixteen chance of occurring, meaning most players don't ever see one. There is also the Valiant Knife, whose power increases as the wielder's HP decreases, making it the opposite of the Ultima Weapon, which gets stronger the more health one has.
    • Final Fantasy VII has the Final Attack materia, with which almost every spell materia can be paired. Equipping it on someone lets that character cast one last spell upon their demise, but the right combination can bestow functional immortality. Phoenix is recommended.
    • Final Fantasy VIII's Limit Breaks. The availability of the Limit Breaks is predicated on how much HP there is left proportional to your total HP, so if your health stats were high, which is easy to accomplish even early in the game with proper junctioning, you'd still be able to access your Limit Breaks with a reasonable number of HP. The game lets you know exactly when you can use them by turning the stat display yellow, and you can reset the Attack option an unlimited number of times per turn with the circle button until it gives you the option to use your Limit. This feature makes them your primary mode of attack, not a desperation attack, and all but renders them Gamebreakers.
    • Final Fantasy IX has Steiner's Revenge ability, as well as his Charge!, which causes every other party member at low HP to use their normal attack without using up their turn.
      • And the Blue Magic Limit Glove, an otherwise unremarkable spell which is guaranteed to do 9999 damage if (and only if) Quina has exactly 1 HP left when using it. Mostly useless because of this limitation, but with proper element cancellation...
      • The standard strategy is to give him/her Auto-Revive, and then let something kill him/her - which brings him/her back on 1 HP. Failing that, Phoenix Downs are close to useless for all other purposes, because they only provide single-digit HP; however, that means there's a one in nine chance...
      • A lot riskier and more luck-based, but if one of Necron, the final boss's, attacks reduces one character to 1 HP. However, that both requires Quina to be the target, as well as Necron not launching a follow-up attack that does any measure of damage to Quina.
      • Savvy players will knock Quina out in a battle, then go to a save point and revive him/her repeatedly (resetting each time) until s/he has 1 HP. Perfect for taking out that tricky boss in one shot! It's also available extremely early (from the moment you get Quina, in fact), letting you lay the smackdown on the rest of disc 1 and most of disc 2 (by disc 3 more reliable means of violence become available). By extension, it's also a valuable skill to have when doing the Excalibur II challenge.
    • Final Fantasy X has Auron's Infinity +1 Sword, which does more damage as his health gets lower.
    • Several items in Final Fantasy XI, such as the Sorcerer's Ring or the Rasetsu armor set, have effects that only activate when the wearer's HP drops below a certain percentage.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics has the Meatbone Slash Reaction Ability, which deals your max HP in damage when your HP is critically low. It also has several other Reaction Abilities that function on the "Critical HP" principle, usually bestowing healing or auto-life effects. Finally, there are several attacks that utilize differences in your HP or MP to do damage.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has several "Last" abilities that cast a specific spell on the character at low health, such as Berserk.
    • In addition, several of the games have skills that do a set amount of damage equal to a character's maximum HP minus their current HP.
    • In a diversion from the usual Limit Break method of dealing with this for the series, Final Fantasy XII allows you to combo attack much more frequently the lower your health. One of the best methods for dealing with most of the Optional Bosses uses this to its advantage by berserking 2 of your characters in critical health while using the third as a decoy. There are also unlockable options on the Licence grid that increase your Strength, Defence and Magic stats when HP Critical.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has the Blue Magic spell Cornered/Limit Glove, mostly used by Rockbeasts, which does 999 damage if the user has single-digit HP. Auto-revive is needed to learn it since one must survive the hit. Amusingly, the AI will try to use the attack once they reach critical HP, even if their health is still too high for the attack to have any effect.
    • Dissidia Final Fantasy has a variant of this with the Cosmos Judgment rules. When a player is in danger of dying in one more hit, their EX Gauge will instantly max out, giving them a chance to turn things around. There's also the equippable support ability 'Back to the Wall' (which increases the player character's critical hit rate when their HP is in the red). 'Cat Nip' (which increases the player character's critical hit rate when they're at risk of losing in one HP attack) can often count as this as well, but the nature of the battle system means that the attacker can potentially win with one HP attack regardless, assuming their BRV gets high enough to allow this.
  • Fuga: Melodies of Steel: The Taranis is equipped with an ultra powerful Wave-Motion Gun dubbed The Soul Cannon, which becomes available to use when your health falls below 50% during boss battles. It instantly ends the fight upon using it, but as the name implies it requires a live sacrifice in order to power it up. After use, the child chosen to fire The Soul Cannon is rendered dead and cannot be revived by any means until your start New Game Plus.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The original game and Chain of Memories have the ability Berserk, which does indeed increase attack at critical health levels (the latter requiring the use of the Hades enemy card).
    • 358/2 Days has traditional Limit Breaks, which can only be activated once your HP falls to 25% (50% with the right panel equipped). However, the threshold keeps getting smaller with each use, and most characters are incapable of moving or defending themselves during their Limit Breaks, making each Limit Break riskier than the last.
    • Rage Form in III has a chance of becoming available when Sora's HP is critically low. Activating it heals him, but sends him into a berserk state in which he can then sacrifice health to power himself up.
    • In all of the above games, nearly all bosses have their own desperation moves, typically used at or after the halfway point of the battle. III changes things up in its DLC expansion with bosses that can use their desperation moves at unusual times or even at the beginning of the boss fight.
  • Atton Rand from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords has "Fighting Spirit," which causes his saving throws to increase as he takes more damage.
  • Mana Khemia's version of Pamela has a skill called "No Bullying" which gets stronger as her health decreases. Unusually, her immunity to physical attacks makes it easy and fairly safe for the player to power this up by using one of her high-level Cast from Hit Points skills first.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Bowser may become afflicted with "Fury" (which causes him to dish out and receive more damage) if he is weakened enough.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, if you take out one of the Koopalings in their duo battles (Roy and Wendy or Larry and Ludwig), the surviving one will start attacking with a very powerful magic blast attack (which is pretty easy to counter and deals a hefty amount of damage to said Koopaling). Somewhat justified, as defeating their companions removes the battle gimmick (Wendy attacking Roy if you counter his giant rock attack onto her, or Ludwig and Larry using battle cards).
  • The Muramasa Blade in Mega Man Battle Network deals damage equal to how much HP you don't have. It caps off at 999, or 500 in later games.
    • The Dark Cannon dark chip in Battle Network 4 did damage equal to the amount of HP you lost as well, capping at 999.
    • If you haven't already used quite a few dark chips, you're only able to use them when you're taking a hammering, albeit at the cost of losing 1 maximum HP permanently for every battle you used them.
    • In Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar: MegaMan is still capable of entering Beast Out even if the EmotionCounter is at zero, entering a mode called Beast Over instead. In Beast Over he's fully invincible and deals double damage but is also uncontrollable for the turn, and once it ends he enters the Very Tired state. Very Tired sets all Buster stats to 1 and causes MegaMan to bleed out HP at a stupendously high rate as drawbacks. Beast Over is meant to only be used in last-ditch situations where you need to finish off a limping opponent safely.
  • Paper Mario has a couple badges that only kick in when Mario is down to 5 HP or less, such as Power Rush, which boosts Mario's attack power by 2. Then there's Mega Rush, which boosts Mario's attack power by 4 (increased to 5 in the sequel) but only when Mario has exactly 1 HP left. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door also allows you to obtain and equip multiple Power Rush badges to stack their effects, although damage is capped at 99 per hit.
  • The Pokémon games have several of these:
    • Flail and Reversal are moves that get stronger the weaker the user is. When the user's HP is at less than 4% of maximum, these moves do the most damage.
    • Pain Split divides your current HP and your enemy's current HP evenly between you; the more HP your opponent has than you, the better.
    • Endeavor lowers the enemy's current HP to match your own.
    • The Abilities Overgrow, Blaze, Torrent, and Swarm are boosters for Grass, Fire, Water, and Bug-type attacks, respectively: if the user's HP is 1/3 or lower, any attack of that type is strengthened by 50%. While there's a decent pool of Bug-types that can have the Swarm Ability, the only Pokémon that can have the first three are the starter families in each Generation and the Pan- and Simi- monkeys from Gen V.
    • The moves Eruption and Water Spout are inversions: they get stronger the more HP the user has.
    • The Guts ability dramatically increases in strength if the user has a status ailment, whereas the Marvel Scale ability improves defense under the same circumstances. A bit more specifically, the Tangled Feet ability doubles evasiveness if the user is confused.
      • Quick Feet is Guts/Marvel Scale for speed.
      • Facade is Guts turned into a move.
    • Overheat, Psycho Boost, Draco Meteor, and Leaf Storm sharply reduce the user's Special Attack level, making them less and less powerful the more times they are used. Superpower and Close Combat are variations of this; they are slightly less powerful, but lower the user's Physical Defense as well as another stat (Physical Attack for Superpower, Special Defense for Close Combat).
      • The Ability Contrary then inverts this trope: rather than these moves becoming less powerful the more they are used, they will actually buff you instead, becoming stronger with use.
    • Struggle is an Emergency Weapon (and Cast from Hit Points at that), as it only executes when the Pokémon has run out of normal combat moves. It also comes into play if the opponent's Pokémon has used Encore, which blocks the player's Pokémon from using any moves other than the one it last used, and that move is out of PP. It is completely exempt from the usual Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors.
    • Last Respects is a unique example which depends on the entire party than just the user as it starts at 50 base power but gains an additional 50 for each ally in the party that is fainted including revived Pokémon up to 100 times, capping this attack to have a maximum base power of 5050 which makes it the strongest attack in the game by just base power.
  • Since the PlayStation version of Tales of Phantasia, Cress can obtain the "Meikū Zanshouken/Dark Blade", the original Mystic Arte. To use it, he needs to be at full health and be hurt enoigh to end up in critical levels to use it. He also needs a specific title in the Game Boy Advance version.
  • Tales of Eternia has Reid's Aurora Sword.
  • Tales of Symphonia has the Over Limit form, which cuts damage in half and makes the character Immune to Flinching. It activates when a character's invisible Tension gauge is filled, which can be done in many ways, but the most common way is taking a lot of damage. Unfortunately for the player, boss enemies can go into Over Limit, too!
    • Also, some characters have Mystic Artes that can only be used in Over Limit mode, and a few of them also require the character to be at low heath. Lloyd's Falcon Crest, for instance, can only be used when his health is at 16% or less. Presea's Crimson Devastation, from the Updated Re-release, is even worse. Not only does it require Presea's health to be low, but every other party member must also be KO'd. And even then, whether or not the move activates is random. To balance it out, Crimson Devastation is by far the strongest attack in the game, capable of cutting the health of even the toughest Superboss in half.
  • Wild ARMs 3 has Valiant, a spell that adds the difference between the recipient's current and max HP to their attack power.
  • A number of clothes in The World Ends with You have abilities called "SOS", which only trigger when the player is in "mortal peril" (their health bar is completely off one screen and less than half is left on the other).
    • Later in the story you can use the Lapin Angelique Suicide Special (LASS) strategy, which puts you in mortal peril at the start of battle. As the name suggests, all the gear you need is from the Lapin Angelique line, which tends to be oriented towards this trope anyways.
  • Xenogears has an equippable item which increases your attack power ridiculously when near death. If you give it to Fei, he can do 19998 damage every turn when not inside his Gear... and being outside his gear means most of the time gear-sized enemies miss him. He becomes a gear-destroying machine.
    • There's a similar accessory in the Spiritual Successor Xenosaga Episode 1 called the Bravesoul. It increases the equipped character's attack power as their health falls, leading to noticeable bonuses at half health, and a situation reminiscent of a Final Fantasy VIII Limit Break-fest at critical health.
  • The Jew class in South Park: The Stick of Truth deals more damage as health drops. Naturally, Kyle is of that class.
  • In Undertale, Papyrus will skip right to his final attack if his HP is low enough.
    • During the last fight against Mettaton, the Pose action boosts ratings by a greater amount when the protagonist's HP is low.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has the Chevalier and Magius Master Quartz where a character equipped with one of these can inflict a lot of physical or art damage respectively the lower their health is. Keeper meanwhile boosts defense when the character's health is low. Cue seeing bosses go from inflicting four digits of damage to as low as a zero even on Nightmare difficulty.
  • In Divinity: Original Sin II, using the Death Wish skill gives you a damage boost depending on how much percentage of life you lost.

  • The Binding of Isaac has the Whore of Babylon item which Eve starts with. When their health drops to half a normal heart, the player turns into a demonic form with greatly increased damage which lasts as long as the player exits the room with half a normal heart. One strategy is to get an item which slowly refills soul hearts and use a Blood Bank to get down to half a normal heart to keep this ability going. This item is not a desperation attack for one of the unlockable characters, though: when he picks it up, the effect is permanent.
  • The Flagellant from Darkest Dungeon is based around this. He (and he alone) gains a Critical Status Buff at 38% HP that allows him to hit harder, and he gains a Life Draining Megaton Punch called "Exsanguinate". The lower his HP, the higher his Attack, and at Death's Door he's an absolute monster. He also has the ability "Suffer," which steals Damage Over Time and Marked to Die statuses from an ally so he can get to the point where he can use it sooner. He also has shades of The Berserker, since he becomes Ax-Crazy at 100 Stress, whereas anyone else either becomes Afflicted or Virtuous at that point.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: a number of Malfeas Charms actually become nastier as your wound penalty increases, such as the Parry DV penalty reducer, which starts providing more bonuses as you take more injuries (that don't cause penalties because Feel No Pain is a major part of the Malfeas charmset). The most impressive, however, has to be Driven Beyond Death, which allows you to respond to being killed by going full-on One-Winged Angel.
  • The second version of Prince Vladmir Tzepesci in Iron Kingdoms has Might of Kings, gaining a stat bonus the lower his health gets.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • There's the Fateful Hour mechanic introduced in the Dark Ascension block, in which some cards become better when your Life is 5 or less. Mind you, it's a game where the adage is "it's OK if you have 1 Life, as long as your opponent has zero".
    • The card Near-Death Experience causes you to instantly win the game if you have exactly 1 life on your upkeep.
    • Soulbast, from Kamigawa, takes the same general idea behind Fling and applies it to every creature you control, which has the unfortunate side effect of leaving you defenseless against other creatures.
  • Trogdor!! The Board Game has the mechanic "Trogdor's Fiery Rage!" If Trogdor takes a hit when he's at zero health, he goes on a burninating rampage before fleeing the battlefield; the players draw five Movement cards and move Trogdor around the board, automatically destroying any tiles, peasants, knights, and cottages along the way. If Trogdor manages to completely burninate the board before his Fiery Rage ends, the players win.
  • The Unofficial Hollow Knight RPG: The Brutal Instinct weapon art allows a bug to add the difference between their maximum Hearts and current Hearts as damage to their next attack, as well as adding bonus dice to the attack roll equal to the number of status conditions and Damage Over Time effects that they currently have. Immediately after making this attack, they lose all status conditions and DoT effects and the bug falls unconscious until the end of the Scene.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Disgaea 2 is rife with this, some characters getting random 1-Hit-Kills, Double Attacks, or stat boosts at 25% health. To help with this, you can equip an accessory that limits your HP to 25%.
  • Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War has the skills "Wrath" and "Ambush", which activate when a character drops below 50% health, giving automatic critical hits and first strike, respectively. And "Prayer," which activates in the low single digits and greatly increased evasion.
    • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn brings back Wrath, now nerfed to providing a +50% critical chance when below half of maximum health, and Resolve, which boosts Speed and Skill when below the same health level
    • Fire Emblem: Awakening brings back Wrath (nerfed to +20% critical chance at half health) and makes Ambush (now known as Vantage) this again, after Path of Radiance made it an always-active skill. Awakening also introduced the new skill Vengeance, which boosts damage based on the difference between the user's maximum and current HP.
  • Super Robot Wars games have the Prevail skill to simulate this effect: as the pilot's HP decreases, they gain damage reduction as well as bonuses to accuracy, evasion, and critical rate. The higher the level of the skill, the sooner it activates and the bigger the bonuses, which at high levels often makes it advantageous to avoid healing your damaged units. The game's morale system also rewards some pilots for taking damage by letting them unlock their more powerful attacks more quickly if they have the right personality.
  • In any Total War game, if a unit breaks and is unable to flee, it goes into "Fight to the Death" mood, boosting the unit's attack.

    Wrestling Games  
  • When your momentum gauge flatlines in WWE Day of Reckoning 2, you gain access to a powerful Momentum Shift attack, which swaps your and your target's momentum gauges.
  • In WWE '12 a character can have the "Comeback" ability. This allows a severely damaged character to get up and/or launch a flurry of attacks in a quick-time event which leaves the character's momentum gauge full and their opponent dazed, ready for a Finishing Move.

Non-Video Game Examples:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Mamoru Onodera of Deadline Summoner has an extremely powerful spell only available to him at the brink of death. Upon use, it temporarily allows him to ignore all of his wounds, and use far more magic than he normally can to summon all of his Battle Harem, and have a massive combination attack that's more than enough to destroy whatever stands in their way. Particularly notable in that he is even more gravely injured after every use, but as a comedy, it's always Played for Laughs.

    Fan Works 
  • In the climax of the Leviathan arc of Weaver Nine, Leviathan pulls out several new tricks as the fighting worsens for him, and his final attack- a massive open portal to the source of his water -creates a wave that reaches above the clouds.
  • The "Last Resort Robo-Launcher" from Calvin & Hobbes: The Series.
  • Near the end of What Is Written In Blood, Angel rips her vectors free of her limbs to concentrate them into a single powerful attack when her battle against Lucy doesn’t go her way.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Death Blossom, an aptly named, cinematically gorgeous and single-use Macross Missile Massacre close-range attack performed by The Last Starfighter against an armada of space fighters.
  • In Independence Day, after the Invaders destroyed 36 cities across the world, we see the President of the United States order airstrikes on the ships that leveled Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington. Within the span of about one hour, what was supposed to be the opening phase of a counterattack, ends in failure as, thanks to the Invaders' Deflector Shields, every aircraft sent up to meet them were shot down, and their bases were destroyed. Citing this failure, the Secretary of Defense levies the possibility of using nuclear weapons, but the president is against the idea. Hours later, after a captured pilot forces its way into the lead scientist's mind and reveals their ultimate plan to conquer earth, kill every living thing, and take every natural resource for themselves, the president finally agrees to use nuclear weapons. When a nuclear missile is launched at the ship hovering above Houston, Texas, the president and his staff are ecstatic to see the detonation. Unfortunately, the ship's shield saves it, and the president orders every aircraft with a nuclear payload to abort the mission.
  • In 1954's The War of the Worlds after all conventional weapons prove useless against the Martians' "protective blisters" the president of the United States orders to use the latest model of atomic bomb on the Martian warships. Once the smoke clears, the warships move, unfazed, towards their next target, while surrounded by their "protective blisters."
  • Star Wars:
    • At the end of the duel between Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, after being driven back onto a walkway with no way to escape and being knocked onto his back by Vader, Luke tries his best to counterattack and manages to get back on his feet and land a shallow cut on Vader's shoulder. However this merely seems to make Vader angry and he swiftly defeats Luke in seconds afterward.
    • In Return of the Jedi, the A-Wing pilot Green Leader is hit and his ship is damaged; he then does a kamikaze attack on the Star Destroyer Executor by ramming his fighter into the bridge, wiping out the crew and causing the Star Destroyer to lose control and crash into the Death Star. This attack only worked as well as it did because the bridge's energy shields had been damaged.
    • In The Last Jedi, one of the most visually stunning scenes in the whole series is when Admiral Holdo, as a last-ditch tactic against the First Order's fleet, stays behind after evacuating the cruiser under her command and does an much more overpowered kamikaze attack by engaging the hyperdrive on purpose to crash the ship into the First Order's; doing this attack at hyperspeed releases a huge amount of energy and damages a lot of ships. This scene was hotly debated by fans because of the Fridge Logic of why if it was so effective nobody had ever done it before in the series (ramming with ships had been done, but not with the hyperdrive). This was explained in The Rise of Skywalker by a Call-Back in which the heroes talk about trying it again but point out that it was an unlikely move to work; presumably Holdo was extremely lucky and happened to hit at the right speed, trajectory and timing to be the most damaging.

  • In The Art of War, Sun Tzu warns against a combination of this and Last Stand. "Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape, and even when faced with death they will not flee." In actuality, Sun Tzu was warning against this because desperation attacks can still be pretty effective even if the enemy dies while doing it; that is, if someone dies but takes out a decent chunk of your infantry while doing so, they've still won since you need time and manpower to replenish and must potentially stop your forward progress. His answer was to always leave an escape route for the enemy, thus allowing them to rout, making them easy targets... and allowing them to run into the ambush you set up on the escape route so you could take them out there.
    • In modern amphibious assaults, this was one reason for their success. The attacking soldiers have nowhere else to go and so they have no choice but attack directly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Charmed (1998):
    • The Charmed Ones have managed to narrowly escape certain death by chanting "the Power of Three will set us free!", which never fails to vanquish any evil, but it requires the sisters to be out of options and about to die themselves before it'll work.
    • In the Season 7 finale, it's revealed that the Book of Shadows has a spell written to banish the spiritual Nexus that lies under the house, just as a last ditch attempt to stop evil from getting possession of it. The sisters kill two birds with one stone by letting Zankou absorb the Nexus first and then casting the spell. The resulting vanquish would have killed them if they didn't use astral projection to cast the spell.
    • The Hollow, an Eldritch Abomination that can absorb the powers of any magical creature but will also consume everything else, is sometimes unleashed to perform one of these. Both the Charmed Ones and the Jenkins sisters summoned it at exactly the same time, splitting the power between them and essentially nuking themselves to near oblivion when they fight in the penultimate episode (with the Grand Finale being about reversing time to prevent the deaths of most participants).
  • Jeopardy!:
    • The Daily Doubles and "Final Jeopardy!" can turn into this if a contestant is trailing first place by a large amount, forcing them into a huge wager to attempt to at least get back in contention. Much like a Death or Glory Attack, this can also obliterate any chance at victory if a contestant is wrong.
    • Some trailing contestants will also get more trigger happy on the buzzer late in "Double Jeopardy!" in an attempt to get first dibs on answers, but this leaves the risk of either getting locked out or ringing in before figuring out (or knowing the answer), and falling even further behind as a result.

  • In sports where points are gained by scoring goals, a team that only needs one goal late (generally Football variations) in the game will send their goalkeeper to attack especially from corners. It's very risky as it leaves an open goal but when it works, it works well. The FIFA games in particular have implemented this behaviour for since '08. Down to the Last Play has more examples of when this comes off.
    • A less extreme but still risky version of this is if a team has a tall defender, they will often be sent to play up front of the attack as a target man. The team will attempt to punt, cross or lob the ball in a way that the defender can score a headed goal or knock the ball down to a team-mate. An example of the tactic is that Manchester United would often send their central defender Nemanja Vidic up front if they were down towards the end of the game.
      • An inversion of this tactic is when a team's attack has tall forwards who play the entire game as 'target men'. This is generally called the "long ball" tactic and considered to be a low-skilled, non-technical style. It is often utilized in lower divisions where fast and technically-skilled players are rare, but physically strong and tall players are common.
  • Ice Hockey has the tactic of 'pulling' the Goalie, where the goalie leaves the rink and is replaced by a non-goalkeeper. The few occasions that a Goalkeeper has scored in the NHL, it was as a result of the other team pulling their goalkeeper and leaving an empty net. It has also led to a handful of embarrassing own goals by misplaced passes or a player being unaware the goalkeeper wasn't going to be there to receive the pass. It's statistically a goal-losing proposition (in the NHL, empty-net situations with a one-goal difference at the end of a game on average sees the team in the lead score a goal about 1/3 of the time and the team behind score just 1/9 of the time), but regardless of the margin of victory a loss is a loss.
  • There is an inversion in Australian Rules Football. At the end of a match where a team is down by a few points, if they receive a mark or free kick both teams will 'flood' their entire team towards the goal area. The inversion is that it's not the attacking team that causes this, but the defending team who seek to cause as much disruption as possible to any attempt to catch the ball which can result in a free-kick at goal. If the defending team does not flood back, it is better for the attacking team who would prefer the open space for their attackers to use to run onto a ball or jump to catch it. When they do, the attacking team has nothing to do but send all their players forward to try to counter the numbers of defenders. It is a desperation defense which the other team will then turn into a Desperation Attack.
  • In a sort of meta-example, there is this famous comeback video of a Street Fighter III match between two high-ranked players. The comeback was not the result of a desperation attack, but by the skillful (and lucky) application of another game mechanic built into the game in the context of a situation which would have called for a desperation attack had one been implemented into the game. To elaborate on the feat: Daigo Umehara (playing Ken) was reduced to 1% health. Any damage at all, even chip damage, would have caused him a KO. Justin Wong (playing Chun Li) decides to show off by using the "Houyoku Sen" Super Art, thinking it would close the distance and trap Daigo completely. Daigo then proceeds to parry each and every hit before dealing out a devastating combo of his own. Also a rather unforgettable case of handing the match to one's opponent because of trying to be fancy in front of a crowd rather than playing it safe.
  • In gridiron football, the quarter does not end until the clock expires AND the ball is dead. Therefore, it is always possible to score a touchdown on a single play. With seconds remaining in the 4th quarter, a team down by a 4-8 points (or by 1-3 but out of field goal range) will execute one of two plays to try to score in one play: the Hail Mary Pass, which calls for five wide receivers breaking for the endzone while the quarterback throws up a jump ball, or the Hook and Lateral, wherein the quarterback throws a short to medium range pass, and then the offense attempts to cobble together broken field runs and lateral passes to keep the play alive until they score. Also, since the half cannot end on a defensive foul if the defense commits a penalty on such a play, the yardage is applied and the offense gets a free play. A defensive pass interference on a Hail Mary Pass gives the offense one play from the 1-yard line.
    • Another desperation play in the onside kick, in which the team kicking off attempts to recover the ball after it has traveled ten yards down field or been touched by an opposing player. Usually, it's used when the kicking team is trailing without sufficient time to get the ball back by playing defense, but it's also occasionally used as a trick play at the start of a half. It has about a 10% success rate, in part because the receiving team is usually expecting it and in part because the receiving team doesn't actually have to recover it, they just need to prevent the kicking team from recovering it. If the ball goes out of bounds or is touched first by the kicking team within ten yards of the kick, the ball goes over to the receiving team. (Unexpected onside kicks do have higher success rates, though the "higher" rate is still only about 33%, and it has to be saved for only very special occasions, as a team doing it too often makes it no longer unexpected.)
  • The famous Scott Smith/Pete Sell fight in the UFC featured Smith taking a direct hit to the liver which, for those who don't know, basically puts you on a very short timer before temporary paralysis sets in. While Sell moved in for an entirely-unnecessary follow-up, Smith threw one last punch. Sell, naturally, thought he'd already won, so he'd dropped his defence. Then this happened. Smith's not faking there; immediately after that moment he collapsed too.
  • In basketball, a missed final free throw on shooting and floor fouls is live, so a team down by 2-3 with one free throw remaining and only a few seconds left on the clock will attempt to miss the free throw and recover the rebound for a chance at a field goal to tie the game. This has a success rate similar to onside kicks in gridiron football.
  • Baseball imposes no restriction on defensive formations beyond needing to have a pitcher on the mound and a catcher behind home plate. Thus, on rare occasions where the winning run is on third with fewer than two outs, the center fielder may come all the way in to second base to serve as an extra infielder, since a fly ball to the outfield will mean the batting team wins whether or not it's caught (either as a base hit or as a sacrifice fly).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Spades: Blind bids (usually Blind 7 or Blind Nil) involve a player staking a bet on how many tricks they will take without looking at their cards to gauge the strength of their hand. Rulesets allowing for blinds usually only allow them for teams down by 100 points and/or holding a negative score. Succeeding on a blind is worth twice the usual points for an equal bid, but failing is likewise twice as costly.

    Real Life 
  • An adrenaline rush is the body's way of invoking this. When the brain releases enough adrenaline, a person's muscles work harder, and any pain will temporarily numb. However, this also comes with an increased heart rate and faster breathing, and going for too long at high intensity can result in a Heroic RRoD when the adrenaline wears off. Besides that, there's a reason our muscles aren't allowed to use their max strength all the time. Sure you can lift a car with enough adrenaline, but you'll probably end up pulling or tearing something for the effort.
  • The very name of the "last-ditch effort" refers to a desperation attack. In the Vaubanesque era, most fortifications consisted of subsequent sets of ramparts and ditches. The last-ditch was the innermost ditch before the citadel. A last-ditch effort would be an all-out sally directly from the citadel with all available forces, which would decide the battle in either way.
  • When the battle became desperate for Japanese fighters in WWII, rather than surrender, they would fly their own planes into opposing Allied ships.
  • The Banzai charges were the same, but on foot.
  • Nobody in the Pacific Theater had a monopoly on this, as shown by the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The battle was a lynchpin and both sides knew it; if the Americans could retake the Philippines, they would completely sever Japan from its supply of oil in the Dutch East Indies and cripple their war effort.
    • On the side of the Japanese, their navy was in tatters and they knew it; the plan was as much about making sure the ships weren't sunk in port as it was about stopping the American advance into the Philippines. They had so few planes that they used their entire carrier force as a decoy, and their surface fleet attacked with zero air cover.
    • On the American side, there were the submarines Darter and Dace and the Taffy 3 escort carrier group. The former pair ambushed the Japanese force despite having been spotted by radar, surviving by sheer Refuge in Audacity (the Japanese had not taken anti-submarine measures, as they didn't think the two subs could possibly be so stupid as to actually attack the massive fleet). The Taffy 3 was caught alone by the Japanese Fleet (including the super battleship Yamato, which alone out-displaced the entire group), and responded by throwing every available thing that went boom at the Japanese (they had little in the way of anti-ship ordnance), with their destroyers charging straight into point-blank range so their tiny guns would do something. Despite taking a severe mauling, Taffy 3 fought so damn hard the Japanese thought they were facing the actual fleet (which had fallen for the carrier decoy) and withdrew. A big portion of the Taffy 3 victory was the hundreds of aircraft launched out of every nock and cranny the Allies could find. In fact, when worse came to worse, pilots often used their machine guns on ships just to keep up any sort of pressure they could.
  • Island fighting in that same theater was this for entire battles- the islands in question were generally so tiny and bare that there was no room for retreat or maneuvering. Getting caught up in one meant that the only way out would be to kill or capture every last member of the other side- who would also know this and be doing the same thing. Island fights were horrific meat grinders from the word go, with no real way of blunting casualties.
  • Ramming Always Works is basically this trope in Real Life. Your vessel is going to suffer catastrophic damage unless specifically reinforced for that purpose, but hopefully the enemy is going to suffer worse.
  • The Attack of the Dead Men was a World War I example. The Germans had just used a Deadly Gas attack on a Russian position - so the Russians charged through the gas to counterattack the Germans. The Germans broke and ran in a panic, thinking that the attacking Russians were actually walking dead - and given that the Russians' faces and lungs were practically melted by the chlorine, it wasn't too far from the truth.


Video Example(s):


Black Bowser final attack

Black Bowser, after losing almost all his black paint, sacrifices the rest of it to unleash one massive attack. Blocking it wins you the battle.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / DesperationAttack

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