There is a barrier that blocks the progress of the protagonists unless they are worthy.
Exactly what "worthy" means depends on the work. In a video game, it might mean your character must be at or above a certain level, that the Karma Meter is positive (or that the dark magic hasn't been used more than X times), or simply that you've run across the right event trigger. In an idealistic show, the pure of heart or the innocent will be worthy, and the Card-Carrying Villain will be blocked. In a cynical work, the pure in heart and the innocent will be blocked; the pragmatic will be worthy.
It may happen that there are people on the far side of the barrier who shouldn't be worthy. This trope hinges on the Rule of Perception more than it ought to.
Sister Tropes include Only Smart People May Pass (you are worthy if you're smart enough to solve the puzzle), Only the Knowledgable May Pass, Only the Pure of Heart, Only the Chosen May Wield, Only Good People May Pass.
- A variant: The Gate of Judgment in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie that tests the love between a couple.
- In Fist of the North Star, Raoh was only able to ride the legendary horse Kokuoh after he had gained its respect.
- In the Inuyasha anime, there's a sacred cave near the Demon Hunter Village where the Shikon Jewel was formed, that only people with pure intentions can enter. Inuyasha is able to enter at first, but when he starts talking about how he's going to use the jewel's power to slaughter his enemies, he's forcibly launched outside. He was able to re-enter in order to save Myoga near the end of the episode. Apparently the ejection isn't irrevocable.
- Shaman King. Anyone that tries to enter the Star Sanctuary must prove they are worthy to Spirit Birds. The birds even say the name of the Trope. "Only the worthy may pass".
- In Dragon Ball Z, this is how the Namekian Dragonballs were supposed to be gathered, with each village offering a different test to anyone who came looking for them. Freeza just went with a more direct route.
- Only the sufficiently awesome can wield Thor's hammer (Marvel's Thor anyway). Beta Ray Bill manages it (and gets his own equally awesome hammer). Captain America can lift it; but it's too heavy for him to swing. Superman used it briefly, but rather than meeting the requirements Odin simply suspended them because the current situation was that desperate (it's implied that the hammer likes a warrior spirit, and Supes is too nice). Wonder Woman did it in a non-canon crossover, as has Conan the Barbarian. One unnamed paramedic has also found and returned the hammer to Thor in the aftermath of a battle.
- The hammer can also ditch you almost instantly if you cease to be worthy. When the Jane Foster incarnation of Thor was assimilated mid-battle by the alien Poisons, it took mere moments for Mjolnir to desert her, causing her to transform back into an un-assimilated human.
- A Don Rosa story of Scrooge McDuck trying to discover the lost treasure of The Kalevala leads to Scrooge and Donald seeking entrance to Tuonela, the underworld in Finnish mythology. The guardian of the entrance tells them that only the 'sleeping' recorded in his Book of Sleep are permitted entry. Scrooge tries his own name, which the guardian rejects and denies them entry. Scrooge then asks him to look up Donald's name. The guardian basically rolls out the red carpet without having to consult the book.
- During the Ego Trip in With Strings Attached, the four and the Hunter must use a portgate to get to the Plains of Death. However, the portgate is guarded by the Warrior Women, who will only let the worthy go through. Slight aversion in that because so many people have died after going through the gate, the weakest in the party must prove himself worthy by defeating their champion.
- Among the four, weak is, of course, relative.
- In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, the wizard Shaamforouz won't see anyone who doesn't prove themselves a hero. (Naturally, just because we've been chosen by the gods to save the world doesn't mean a thing, sneers John when he's told this.)
- In The Dresden Fillies: False Masks, the Order Triune is protected by wards operating on these principles. Bob points out how stupid it is and how relying on subjective morality is a dumb idea. Case in point, even the formerly demonically possessed semi-villain who hadn't really learned their lesson managed to pass by being self sacrificing enough to tell the others to go on without them as they were trapped. Basically any basic decency was enough to pass.
- In the Batman fic "Grudge Match," the resting place of the Sword of Salvation is inside a sacred cavern, and a warning essentially saying this trope is etched on the entrance. Batman and Robin enter together, while Talia Al-ghul runs in after them to get the sword for herself. The trio suddenly find themselves separated in the middle of a sandstorm, in a blazing hot desert. Then illusions representing their greatest sins (including perceived sins) come out from the storm to torment them. Batman, with his infamous self-loathing, is quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of spectres, while Talia is too deep in denial of her feelings of guilt to do anything but exhaust herself fighting them back. Only Robin figures out how to appease his demons: Ask for Forgiveness. The sand turns into a gentle rainfall, and the sword in its pedestal appears in front of the boy. Given that the test was designed by a born-again Christian, the presence of Symbolic Baptism was likely intentional In-Universe.
- In the Fairy Tail fanfic The Eagle in the Oak Tree, a Celestial Spirit, Aquila the Eagle, exploits Fear of Thunder to test the bravery of any summoner that would vie for his silver key by hanging the key in a large oak tree and throwing bolts of lightning at any person who approaches, until a Celestial mage is brave enough to climb up and grab his key even as he's throwing lightning at the candidate. Lucy loses all her fear once she recognizes Aquila's test for what it is, remembering the Thunder Palace incident seven years prior and crediting Laxus with forcing her to overcome her fear of lightning by being the instigator-in-chief of said incident.
- In The Rigel Black Chronicles, Aldon Rosier and Edmund Rookwood are intrigued by "Rigel", but set a test before giving their approval to a friendship with Pansy Parkinson: retrieving a cluster of berries from the Forbidden Forest, without magic.
Rosier: Yes, tested! If we're to approve your friendship with Pansy, you must be worthy in some way, and since it is obvious you aren't trustworthy, we'll just have to see if you're another kind of worthy.
- The ancient Egyptian variation below was shown in one of the Sesame Street movies, Don't Eat the Pictures, where a sub plot involved Big Bird and Snuffy encountering the spirit of a young Egyptian prince who had been unable to get to the afterlife because he was unable to answer a riddle. With Big Birds help, he answers the riddle and ascends after Big Bird is able to convince Osiris to let him pass even after he fails the test.
- A subversion in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Only the penitent man shall pass makes it sound like a worthy person is the only one who will get through. But the truth is all anyone has to do to get by this trap is prostrate themselves on the ground. And then do a somersault. You know, like you do in church.
- Played straight by the fourth and final trial you must undergo to get the Grail. It's somewhere in a room with hundreds of false grails that will kill you if you take from them. Donovan, who is neither a scholar or a true believer (he's just a smug rich asshole who wants to live forever) picks out the gaudiest cup he can find, takes a sip and promptly dies horribly. Indy and Elsa then pick out a simple wooden cup from the pile, which is the real one (when you think about it, it's obvious).
- Played with in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Bridgekeeper of the Bridge of Death will only allow those who answer "his questions three" to pass. (Of course, the questions are completely random and their difficulty, if it follows any pattern at all, seems inversely proportional to the confidence of the person to whom the questions are directed).
Bridgekeeper: What...is your favourite colour?Sir Galahad: Blue. No, yellOOOOOOOW!! [is cast into the gorge]*later*Bridgekeeper: What...is the average air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
- The Sphinxes in the film version of The Neverending Story only allow the confident to pass (although Atreyu had to fudge it; it turns out you can dodge).
- Aladdin, at least the Disney version, is the only person able to enter the Cave of Wonders and retrieve the Magic Lamp. It seems to be related to Aladdin's general kindness and lack of greed. The Cave of Wonders refers to him as "a diamond in the rough". Any unworthy person who ignores the Cave's warning gets eaten.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald features a dark variant when Grindelwald creates a circle of magical fire that can only be traversed by his true followers. One minion who doubts Grindelwald tries to pass through and is burned to ashes.
- In The Adventures of Caterpillar Jones, the Life Watch is a series of memories that must be viewed and overcome for a caterpillar to climb the Tree of Life and become a butterfly.
- In the original Aladdin, Only Aladdin Could Pass, but no mention was made of it being due to his character, which is rather lacking before Disneyfication.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Red Fury, Gorn insists that Rafen give him the message intended for Lord Seth. Rafen demands to be treated with respect. Gorn's reaction is that he has some fire after all, and Lord Seth, in the back of the room, comes forward to receive it.
- In Neverwhere, Richard must face an Ordeal in order to earn a special key.
- A subversion occurs in the original book of The Neverending Story. Atreyu assumes that the Sphinxes guarding the Southern Oracle will only allow the worthy to pass, but the gnome who studies the Southern Oracle corrects him: the Sphinxes will sometimes block good and worthy heroes while allowing evil cowards to pass. The gnome's best guess is that whether or not someone is allowed to pass is completely random.
- The Dresden Files:
- The mantles of the Summer and Winter Knights are given to mortals at the Queens' choosings. For each side, there are three Queens: The Queen Who Was, The Queen Who Is, and The Queen Who Will Be. Any may select a mortal they feel has proven his worth, however if an elder queen decides this is a poor choice, then they can override and, if they choose, kill the mortal to take the mantle until they find a better choice.
- Greek God Hades holds this idea in regards to some of his great treasures. One vault filled with riches from literal diamond-spewing fountains and gem-made topiary, to some of the world's greatest artistic works, and the Holy Grail, the Spear of Destiny, the Shroud of Turin, the placard bearing Christ's title, and the Crown of Thorns Christ wore is guarded by three dangerous gates: The Gate of Fire, the Gate of Ice, and the Gate of Death. Any who can pass all three can have their share of things, assuming they don't break anything and set off the security system which is a horde of angry spirits that will kill any who they get their hands on.
- To reach the Sangraal in Stargate SG-1, one must be virtuous, pure of spirit, AND smart enough pass the multitude of tests along the way. Adria (correctly) deduces that she will not be able to retrieve the Sangraal as a result but suggests that Daniel, as a former ascended being, is a perfect candidate.
- The rules surrounding the Great Divide in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland stipulate that only "the pure of heart" can cross. It's a Leap of Faith.
- In Ancient Egyptian religion, your heart is weighed against the Feather of Justice, to see if you are worthy of their paradise. If not, Ammit eats your heart.
- It's more like oblivion/destruction of the soul vs. an afterlife that's an improved version of the life you just lived, rather than Heaven or Hell, though.
- In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says only those who do the will of God the Father are worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Seen in Dungeons & Dragons with its various protective and trap spells that can be keyed to, among other things, Character Alignment. Thus, a character may well run afoul of magical wards for whose purposes he or she is literally not 'good enough'.
- Or not evil enough.
- In the adventure module Apocalypse Stone, the Castle Pescheour can only be reached by those who pass a series of tests of character. Of course, as these things go, the player characters get a break from this rule when they're unwittingly stealing the Cosmic Keystone on the Big Bad's bidding, but when they're trying to get it back to save the world, they have to pass the tests. Or three out of five, anyway. You can't trust PCs to get it right. The tests they are given consist of focusing on their quest rather than running after XP, not selling their superior fighting skills to seriously imbalance an entire small war for treasure, giving a death knight a chance for redemption, investigating an accusation of witchcraft properly to make sure justice is done, and donating magic items to save a village.
- In Warhammer the new king of the High Elves has to pass through the Flame of Asuryan. While Asuryan's standards aren't that high and they've had a few terrible kings, after Malekith schemed and murdered his way to the throne he ended up burned so badly he requires a magical suit of armor to give his ruined body strength. He managed to throw himself out of the flame in time, but never passed through it.
- In several Role Playing Games, you have to put a certain party member at the front of the party in order to pass a checkpoint or get past a specific guardian. In some cases, a spellcaster is not permitted in an area, or the thief has to leave the party until after you enter the building.
- An example can be seen in Interplay's Lord of the Rings, where you can't enter a bar with a kid in your party, or with a horse in your party, or you can't enter a certain hobbit's house when a certain character is present.
- The trope is invoked in the second Dark Parables game, where a door in the palace bears a plaque saying almost this exact phrase. You can't open the door until you're on the hard mode New Game+, when you can receive the MacGuffin that will unlock it.
- The time machine that can save your leader in Dark Reign is locked behind a 12-step lock opened by simulating and beating the key battles of an interplanetary war. After all, there is only enough power for one trip, so Togra wants to be damn sure that whomever comes back to get him knows how to fight and knows the weapons and tactics of the forces they will have to defeat.
- In the end of the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest of Dragon Age: Origins, the Guardian states this out, word for word, and puts you through tests of faith. And by faith, he means logic.
- If you bring Sten with you, he deconstructs this trope a bit when he remarks that Andraste must have a surplus of followers if she is willing to endanger them with these tests.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion does this. You must be of a certain level to begin several of the Daedric quests. In the Knights of the Nine expansion, you are only allowed to begin the quests once you have prayed at nine shrines, one for each deity and you are only allowed to wear the enchanted armor you get if your Infamy is 1 or less.
- In Eternal Darkness, Karim and Ellia guard two of the four artifacts until the Chosen Ones (Roberto Bianchi and Edwin Lindsey) come to claim them.
- In Heretic 2 there is a door with the message "Only those who are Pure of Heart, or possesses the Warrior's Shield, may pass." somewhat subverted in that there's no way to actually prove yourself pure of heart... You need the shield.
- In Jak II: Renegade, Mar's heir must face "The Tests of Manhood", but since he is too young, Jak goes through it instead. Turns out, Jak is Mar's heir, thanks to a Stable Time Loop.
- This is alternately parodied and played straight in a number of places in Kingdom of Loathing:
- Three doors at the beginning of the Naughty Sorceress's Tower require the character to have some sort of effect. Since this is Kingdom of Loathing, they are both arbitrary and wacky (in one ascension you might need spiky hair gel, a piece of pickle-flavored chewing gum, and a potion that makes you randomly teleport in order to pass the gates).
- See also the Altar of Literacy, aka the trial to gain access to the chat.
- There are also three doors you need to pass into the Dank and Dark and Sinister Cave during your Nemesis quest.
- The original Knights of the Old Republic contains either a subversion or an example of the cynical type: There is a program on Kashyyyk which asks questions of the main character, expecting the Dark Side answers that Darth Revan would give before you are able to pass. If you stick to your Light Sider convictions, it repeatedly attempts to kill you with big robots before relenting.
- To elaborate: The MacGuffin has been programmed by you, Darth Revan, to only give out its information to yourself. Since it has been slightly damaged since then, it tries to ascertain your identity by asking you questions. If you answer "wrongly" (i.e. you made a switch to the Light Side in the mean time), it sends you a few droids to exterminate you, but finally recognizes you by your feelings while fighting.
- A similar subversion happens in Fallout 3, where a player with significantly Bad Karma can get into Paradise Falls with no questions asked. Players with Good Karma, on the other hand, are told to go enslave somebody before they're let in.
- Most (if not all) Zelda games have something like this in it. In the original game, no one could enter Death Mountain without the Triforce of Wisdom. This was partly about proving your worth, but also about being able to survive what was inside.
- Only a descendant of the Hylian Knights could acquire the necessary Plot Coupons to succeed in the quest in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
- In Ocarina of Time, the Ocarina of Time, the Song of Time, and three gems belonging to three different races are needed to get to the Master Sword, and the Master Sword itself poses as a barrier to any not worthy of the Triforce, requiring them to not ONLY be fundamentally good, but (according to some people) also physically fit.
- In Wind Waker, one must beat The Tower of the Gods before being given access to the submerged Hyrule. And said Tower is only attainable if you have the pearls of the goddesses in the right places, which must be obtained from their respective guardians.
- This makes up most of the plot of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Link must prove he has the spirit of a hero in order to wield the Master Sword.
All the rest of the time is mainly spent "proving your worth". First you "prove your worth" for the Master Sword, then you "prove your worth" for the three Sacred Flames, and then "prove your worth" a few more times for the Song of the Hero. If I were Link, I'd throw the sword down and yell, "Do you want this motherfucker dead or what?! I feel like I'm trying to arrest the person burgling your house and you keep telling me to fuck off until I've put on some nicer shoes!"
- This was deconstructed by Yahtzee in his review of the game, making him wonder whether the powers-that-be actually really care about stopping the villains more than they do making Link's life difficult:
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has this as the entire game. Ganon's leftover goons need Link's blood to revive their boss, but the dungeons, including The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, are all a big test. Ironically, this is the hardest game in the entire franchise; the test is worse than the actual villains you must face to save the world in the other games!
- In Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, the Star Gate (no, not that one) works like this, but it does lie to Luigi, claiming that he is unworthy when in fact he was all along. It did this ostensibly to get the group to accept a test to prove their worth, but it also seemed to derive some pleasure out of tormenting poor Luigi.
- In Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, there is a person blocking the entrance to Snowpoint Temple. She refuses to let you enter because you're unworthy, and you can only get in after beating the game.
- There's a similar situation in Red/Blue (FireRed/LeafGreen); the Cerulean Cave is blocked by some random guy until you become the League Champion and complete the sevii islands quest (only in Fire Red/Leaf Green). In fact, all of the games have certain areas inaccessible for one reason or another until Championship is obtained. From Generation III and on, it usually opens up some sort of enhanced trading, too, because you would need to beat the champion to get the National Pokedex, allowing you to get Mons not available already in that game.
- And in a slightly earlier instance: you have to prove yourself worthy of the League by obtaining all eight Badges.
- Nocturne: Rebirth requires the player to beat the Final Boss with a party of level 35 or less in order to unlock the Developer's Room. In turn, the door to the room is guarded by the Author Avatar.
- Deconstructed in Path of Exile with the Labyrinth, a sprawling maze of puzzles, traps, and monsters, built by Emperor Izaro with the intent that only the most worthy could find their way to its heart and succeed him. In practice the Labyrinth was a complete failure, as the person who completed it was Chitus Perandus. He was the scion of a wealthy and corrupt merchant family, and won because they had the wealth and lack of morals to support him as he devoted all his time to training for it, bribe its architects to smuggle him the blueprints and sneak in caches of food, and hire assassins to murder the competition.
- In Looking for Group, Cale is the only member of the party allowed to pass through a time travel portal to Gamlon because he has not committed murder with anger in his heart.
- Tower of God. Only those who are worthy may climb the tower. Though what exactly makes you worthy is Headon's secret. A Ranker uses this as the foundation of his own test. He puts up a barrier made of Shinsu and only those able to walk through, regardless of skill, strength or power, are worthy of advancing and anyone who can't his simply a failure. He says tests like this are only testing "luck"... but on the other hand, he also makes it clear enough why the test makes sense, because people without Shinsu resistance can't survive higher up in the Tower anyway.
- It took Green Arrow and Batman working together in Batman: The Brave and the Bold to pull the sword out of the stone when Arthur was incapacitated by Morgan LeFey.
- Something like this happened in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) once: He Man, Man At Arms and Orko need to get inside a cave, but the statues say that "Only the brave, strong and wise may enter" (or something to that effect).
- There is a slight subversion in Young Justice: the sword of Beowulf will only grant its power to the pure of heart. As the villain wielding its destructive power points out, "The legend never said pure good."
- Samurai Jack: In the episode "Jack and the Traveling Creatures," Jack comes across a stable Portal to the Past, but the portal's Guardian refuses him entry, declaring that only one man can defeat him and earn the right to use the portal, and Jack is not that man. Jack takes on the Guardian anyway, only to be defeated after a long and arduous battle in the Guardian's favor, but just as the Guardian is about to finish Jack off, the portal itself flickers, sending him a message. Understanding, the Guardian spares Jack's life and summons a flying creature to take him away, after which an image of a Future Badass Jack appears in the portal; this implies that Jack will eventually be able to get back to the past, but not for several years at the very least.
Guardian: You can't use it yet, Samurai Jack. Not yet... not yet.
- Unfortunately this backfires on a grand scale as it led to Aku killing the Guardian and destroying the portal, making an already bad future even worse.
- A certain base-jumping training camp tests your character by requiring you write a letter to your parents, explaining why you died base-jumping, before you can even start.