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Vicious Cycle

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"That's why they're called revolutions. They always come round again."
Samuel Vimes, Night Watch Discworld

Every 1,000 years, the Powers That Be arrange a major event. It may be The End of the World as We Know It (and its subsequent rebuilding) or merely a threat of one, a mass mind-wipe, or it may be something that involves a Chosen One, who is supposed to do something predefined, or the whole effort will derail. And History Repeats.

The reasons why they do so varies greatly. It may be necessary to keep a Sealed Evil in a Can dormant, or to uphold the Balance Between Good and Evil or the Masquerade (in other words, to prevent either side from winning too much or knowing too much). Alternatively, the organizers may do it purely for entertainment, or it may "just happen" Because Destiny Says So, with no further explanation. It doesn't necessarily have to be a precisely regular event - what's most important is the existence of a system with wide negative effects but also a good reason to be kept up, which goes unchallenged (or all challenges to it fail) until the heroes show up.

The bad news is, last time this happened was exactly 999 years and 360 days ago, and our heroes become involved, usually against their will, in the next iteration. Two outcomes can possibly occur: either they accept (or are forced to accept) their destiny and continue the cycle, or they reject it. The former case is risky because the audience are likely to dismiss the story as "pointless". In the latter, what happens next depends on the work's position on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, which can mean either a happy ending, in which the cycle is broken for good, or a Downer Ending. If multiple factions want a say in this process it can result in a Tournament Arc or There Can Be Only One.

Regularly Scheduled Evil is a special case of this. Not to be confused with Cycle of Revenge (though such a cycle is often called this, and with good reason). Contrast May It Never Happen Again.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk's Eclipse, which goes down every 216 years, marks the birth of a new member of the Godhand, which involves the sacrifice of a whole lot of people, and the gathering of every demon in the Berserk universe for a great feast. The most recent occurrence of this happens at the end of the anime when Griffith sacrifices the Band of the Hawk to become Femto, the Godhand's fifth member.
    • In addition, there's the even rarer Incarnation Ceremony, which happens only once every thousand years, and which allows a member of the Godhand to be incarnated into a fleshly form. The most recent occurrence of this happens in the manga, when Griffith is reincarnated using the body of Guts and Casca's corrupted child during the mock Eclipse at the Tower of Conviction.
    • Chapter 362 furthermore reveals that the current five members of the Godhand are simply its latest iteration. In the Skull Knight's last moments as a living being, also about a thousand years ago, he faced down a Godhand that had only one member in common with the present group (implied to be the youngest then and the eldest now), with the other four positions occupied by completely different figures.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, every 5,000 years, the Makyo Star comes close in axis to Earth, so if you have an immortal antagonist trapped in the Dead Zone, such as Garlic Jr., prepare to meet him again! At the end, Gohan blows up the star, ending the cycle.
  • Genesis of Aquarion has the Shadow/Fallen Angels who come back every 10,000 years or so to threaten the Earth, although the cycle is broken during the series itself.
  • In Otokoyo, the losing children are used to light up the city. The light is used to attract new children to the city to play the game.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has the Cycle of Hate of; Killing for Revenge, dying for Revenge. Played straight into the character development for several characters.
    • Returns in Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny in a different instance. Protagonist Shinn Asuka's journey started during the invasion of ORB, where his family was killed in the cross fire. Years later, now with great power, Shinn finds himself back where it all started, but on the other side.
  • This is what the "Endless Waltz" in the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing movie refers to:
    Mariemaia Khushrenada: History is much like an endless waltz. The three beats of war, peace, and revolution continue on forever.
  • In My-HiME, the "HiME Carnival" occurs every 300 years, and failure to comply would result in The End of the World as We Know It. There is a subversion, as it is not Mai herself who ends the cycle, but rather her predecessor, Mashiro.
  • Naruto eventually reveals that the chakra of the Sage of Six Paths' sons regularly attach themselves to a new person, who inherits the traits of that chakra. The two are inevitably drawn into conflict with one another.
  • Paranoia Agent ends with a series of final scenes which mirror the opening scenes of the show, as if to say that the whole cycle will repeat itself since people just won't take responsibility for their own actions.
  • In Princess Tutu this turns out to be the endgame of the Big Bad. Have Tutu collect the shards of the prince's heart, restoring him to his former self, but also releasing the Raven from where he was sealed away. In order to stop the Raven from destroying the town, the prince will cut out and shatter his heart to seal the Raven away again. Repeat forever in an unending cycle of tragedy. Thankfully the heroes manage to Screw Destiny.
  • Queen Millennia: If the title isn't enough indication, for every 1,000 year period, a woman from the planet La-Metal is sent to secretly rule over the Earth and lead the underground organization that secretly controls the entire planet.
  • In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Anthy Himemiya has been trapped in one of these for many years, as both Akio's abuse victim and his Decoy Damsel. In order to put an end to this particular cycle, Utena has to stop being Anthy's Knight in Shining Armor and show her that she can break off and be truly free.
  • This Ugly Yet Beautiful World: the goddess of death and destruction comes back to cause yet another mass extinction on Earth.
  • A major theme of Uzumaki is the seemingly endless repetition of the town's cycle of reconstruction followed by spiralization. Kirie's father discusses the gradual appearance of broad-scale patterns in an early chapter, but it doesn't become obvious that what's happening in the town is just another repetition of an endless pattern until it's far too late.
  • Implied in Wolf's Rain though not stated in so many words.
  • The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village: The Hishigami men and women are part of an endless cycle of growth and destruction. The men build up great financial or political institutions and propel Japan towards the future, but they slavishly follow the "common sense" of Japan which can lead them astray. When the Hishigami men begin to lead Japan down a ruinous path, the women will step in and destroy the institutions, only for a new generation of men to start over.
  • Zatch Bell!: The battle to become Mamodo King occurs once every 1,000 years. As it is shown, the participants frequently have their lives ruined to some degree as a result, and a lot of innocent people get caught up in it. Subverted at the end, when the damage done is repaired and the participants are given the choice to have their memories of what happened removed.

    Comic Books 
  • After multiple storylines in The Mighty Thor involving someone attempting to trigger Ragnarök, it was established that Ragnarök is a cycle that has occurred multiple times in Asgard's past.
  • In the comic book Mini Series Seven Soldiers, the Sheeda wait until mankind has reached a certain point of technological advancement before swooping down and harvesting their technology, effectively 'resetting' mankind and forcing them to start from scratch.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A recurring arc throughout the Black Panther films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the ugly, vicious cycle of vengeance and how it can consume someone. T'Challa's arc in Captain America: Civil War has him realize he must not take his vengeance upon Baron Helmut Zemo for killing his father since he's currently witnessing the Avengers tear each other apart after being manipulated by Zemo; and he solves the problem by simply imprisoning Zemo even when Zemo attempts to goad him into killing him so he can escape justice for his crimes. In Black Panther, T'Challa also sees how Killmonger has been consumed by his desire for vengeance and that he must make it right by opening Wakanda to the world. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the threat of an eternal holy war of revenge between Talokan and Wakanda eventually gets through to Shuri who renounces her desire to kill Namor for murdering her mother Ramonda and allows her to make peace with T'Challa's passing.
  • The movie The Dark Crystal had "The Great Conjunction" of the world's three suns, the time of prophecy when a destined, Last of His Kind hero is fated to restore the balance of the planet. It's noted in the film that every time a Great Conjunction rolls around, something big happens. This can be good or bad (the last Great Conjunction had the Dark Crystal being broken, thus starting everything in the movie). Eventually, the "something big" might even be the destruction of the entire world.
  • The Fifth Element: an evil planet comes to life every five thousand years and attempts to collide with Earth, causing a chain reaction that would destroy all life in the universe. This can only be prevented by the use of an ancient superweapon and, in the film, The Power of Love.
  • In The Matrix trilogy, the Machines destroy Zion and (with the help of The One) reboot the Matrix every 100 years, to prevent the Zion "anomaly" from expanding uncontrollably. Neo is the first One to refuse to participate in the reboot, and later strikes a peace agreement with the Machines, saving Zion and ending the war.
  • The Ring: Samara Morgan's cursed video tape causes whoever watches it to die within a week, unless they make a copy of the video and show it to someone else. Lampshaded at the end by Aidan.
    "It's going to keep killing, isn't it? She'll never stop."
  • Versus: Prisoner, The Man, The Girl and the Yakuza are parties to a never-ending battle raging on through untold centuries. The main three players (The Man, Prisoner, The Girl) don't change in essence, but may change sides (the Hero may be the Villain next time and vice-versa); in all cases, the duel repeats endlessly.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, the memory-erasing department of the Styx means that when souls are reborn, they'll make the same mistakes all over again in perpetuity.

  • In The Broken Earth Trilogy, catastrophic seismic events that cause an apocalyptic volcanic winter called "Fifth Seasons" happen every few hundred years. It turns out that it was not always that way, but the seasons were caused by Gaia's Vengeance over losing the moon, and when the moon is restored at the end of the series, the seasons end.
  • In the novel Decipher, the sun reaches its peak resonance every 12 millennia, causing The End of the World as We Know It due to the solar flare from Hell. To avert it, the heroes have to reach Atlantis so it can quasi-crystalise the planet to protect against the gravity wave.
  • Discworld: Death's master, Azrael, references this. "I remember when all this shall be again."
  • Politics in Dragaera are dominated by the Cycle, a predictable sequence by which each of seventeen Dragaeran Houses takes a turn governing the Empire. Each House's members have strengths that allow it to supplant the previous one, and weaknesses which will eventually allow its successor to claim the Imperial throne in turn.
  • Dragonriders of Pern: The Red Star approaches Pern every 200 years and rains hungry Thread on civilization. The few occasions when it does not do this are termed Long Intervals and end up being an important clue to saving Pern from thread forever.
  • Galactic Marines: In Luna Marine, David Alexander comes up with a possible explanation for the Fermi paradox, especially given the discovery that the galaxy is teeming with sentient life. Moreover, at least three alien races have set up colonies on Earth in the past. He speculates that star-faring races arise periodically and expand out into the galaxy every few thousand years or so. But, at their peak, they're discovered and wiped out by a predatory species, so-called "Hunters", whose mindset is "kill them before they kill us." Then, the Hunters usually destroy themselves through internal warfare or multiple Hunter races destroy one another. This clears the stage for another few millennia until another "generation" of races makes their way into space. David fears what may happen if new Hunters discover Earth before humans are ready to fight them, while his nephew speculates that humans may be the next Hunters.
  • In It, the eponymous monster manifests itself in Derry every 27 years or so.
  • The entire plot of Fredric Brown's story "Letter to a Phoenix" is a man telling of how humanity repeatedly destroys its own civilization and has to start anew every 30,000 years or so — therefore, while all other races reach their peaks and after that must decay and die, humanity can survive forever, thus making it the eponymous Phoenix.
  • The Lord of the Isles: The powers are building to a thousand-year peak. Ordinary wizards find themselves with out-of-control powers that brought down the kingdom during the last peak. In its current shattered state, another such error will destroy civilization.
  • In Manifold: Space, the Galaxy works on a so-called "Reboot cycle", where life, intelligence and civilizations appear practically everywhere in some form (that is, even as lichen colonies on the surface of stars, or giant crabs living of rogue planets). These civilizations advance, and begin a bubble-expansion at increasing speed. From there, the bubbles either collide resulting in omnipresent wars, or collapse in on themselves when they hit the lightspeed barrier and can no longer sustain the expansion. These events lead to massive technological backsteps and extinction events (which is why everyone is bound by lightspeed; nobody has time to get really smart). In addition to this, each cycle ends with the Galaxy getting sterilized by colliding neutron stars releasing massive amounts of radiation, blasting everything back to pond scum. The protagonists actually fail to prevent the current cycle from completing, but succeed in buying some time for the next iteration of the cycle by building a massive solar sail that would stop a neutron star collision.
  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: The Conqueror Star is a long-period comet (at least 500 years, although it seems to vary) whose coming universally heralds the end of an empire. The story opens at the beginning of a unique cycle in which the comet will appear in three consecutive years. This is, of course, the time that the Sealed Evil in a Can Storm King chooses to make his return.
  • In The Mote in God's Eye, the Moties' biology means they must have children frequently or die, this trapped them in a never-ending cycle where overpopulation inevitably resulted in a world destroying war blasting them back to the stone age. One of their enduring mythological figures is "Crazy Eddie", who is reborn (figuratively, at least) time and time again, each time attempting to bring the cycle to an end. Sometimes he's almost successful (in the sense "it would have worked but for..."), but he's always crazy (and the "but for..." is usually some fundamental physical constant of the universe, or at least of Motie psychology).
  • In a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel, there is a planet called Ennth. Because of the moon's odd orbit, every eight years the planet and moon get so close together that their atmospheres collide, causing groundquakes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions, destroying everything on the planet. The people of said planet usually get away and live on colonies until the disasters pass, but there are always casualties. Once done, they move back in and rebuild until the next cycle. Unlike similar stories where the population is locked into one planet, this vicious cycle is entirely self inflicted as galaxy wide travel is common. The population of Ennth could easily abandon the planet for somewhere more hospitable but don't for no adequately explained reason.
  • In the Sword of Shadows book A Cavern of Black Ice, the Endlords, chaotic beings seeking to dissolve the very universe into a hell of anarchy, are locked in a dimensional prison. Every 1,000 years someone is born who, if they lose control of their mind for a moment, can unlock the prison, unless they do it in the eponymous cavern. The longer they resist the temptation to lose control, the more their body fails, until they die and in doing so unlock the prison anyway.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, the eponymous Wheel is a metaphor for seven distinct ages, each of which ends after several thousand years. The last (Second) Age ended in the Breaking of the World, and the Third Age is prophesied to end similarly; presumably this happens every age. More sinisterly, Ishamael appears to have been meddling on a smaller scale this Age — about a thousand years after the Breaking, he sent the Trollocs to ravage the world, and another thousand years later he triggered the "War of the Hundred Years" by preventing Artur Hawkwing from having a living heir. (It looks as if his intent was to keep the technology level down.)
  • In Wolves of the Calla, the wolves visit Calla for harvest every 30 years.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Ahsoka, Baylan Skoll, former member of the Jedi Order, explains this is why he has renounced the Order but also not thrown in with the Sith. Order 66 was just the latest incident in a conflict spanning thousands of years as the Jedi and Sith jostled with each other for dominance, as each faction would inevitably rebuild and destroy the other all over again. He seeks to break the cycle by seeking an unknown power on Peridea.
  • In Babylon 5, the Shadows launch a destructive war every thousand years, which the Vorlons help to put down. In the series, the protagonists object to this arrangement, and try to put a stop to it.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again." Explained more explicitly in a few episodes as humanity creating Cylons, who rise up against them, then create organic versions who are effectively human, who then create Cylons...
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "To Tell the Truth", Dr. Larry Chambers determines that the Janus system's sun is a pulsating star which flashes over once every 1,000 years and that it is scheduled to happen again in several days' time.
  • The Walking Dead: Starting in Season 2, the series largely has a formula of the main group of heroes finding a group of antagonists they fight and defeat only to repeat in the next arc. In the final season, Daryl Dixon realizes the truth of what Rick Grimes preached back in Season 9: that the conflicts between groups of human survivors must stop since their only true enemy are the walkers and they should focus on rebuilding the world instead. He pleads for as peaceful of a resolution as possible during the Reaper conflict (which doesn't end well since ultimately both heroes and villains indulge in their need for vengeance) and later scolds Pamela Milton for encouraging continued conflict between people in the Commonwealth even with an apocalypse outside their gates.
  • The Wire: The series finale closes on the implication that there will be another iteration of the past five seasons starring a new generation of people just like those in the MCU, the Barksdale Organization, and even stick-up boys in the vein of Omar, possibly forever. The message being that bureaucratic mismanagement has turned Baltimore into a kind of closed ecosystem of crime, with a neverending supply of people to fill the niches in a cops-and-crooks ecology that no one has the power to change. And even if an Internal Reformist comes along, there are too many people with too much invested in the current system for it to be meaningfully changed.

  • One of the major theme's of Pink Floyd's The Wall is the vicious cycle of isolation.
  • "In the Ghetto", which has been covered by many artists including Elvis Presley, implies this, when the baby born at the beginning of the song dies as an angry young man while another baby is born, implied to be doomed to the same fate.
  • The first two albums by Dragonland, "The Batle of the Ivory Plains" and "Holy War", take place in a setting in which every century there's a war orchestrated by the goods between the forces of the light (humans, elves, dwarves, and dragons) and the forces of the night (orcs and the like).
  • The song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" by Pete Seeger in 1955 examines how the cycle of war seems to cause nothing but suffering. After asking the titular question, the song answers as followers: the flowers are picked by young girls, the young girls give themselves to young men, the young men become soldiers, the soldiers get sent to graveyards, and the graveyards of soldiers have flowers grow across them. Cue the cycle starting all over again.


  • The Doctor Who audio dramas set in the Divergent Universe weave together a plot of cyclical existence: in fact, the reason the universe has no Time is because no moment has a unique existence to anchor the Time Vortex to. Or something, it's kind of convoluted.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Planescape setting. Every 289 years (17 cycles of the gears of Mechanus) the Great Modron March starts. It consists of a horde of modrons traveling around the Great Ring, causing devastation as they pass.
    • Supplement Treasure Maps, adventure "Sign of the Times". Every 700 years during a specific astrological conjunction of planets, moons and stars the king of a desert empire will fall ill and die, and his son will take his place. The new king will become evil and cruel, raising taxes and invading other countries. Natural disasters (famine, pestilence and drought) will ravage the land.
    • In the Forgotten Realms setting, the ancient elves overcame the dragons by creating the Dracorage Mythal, a work of high magic that caused all dragons on Toril to go into a primitive rampage every couple thousand years or so. The dragons losing their intelligence made them easier to beat in combat. Unfortunately in 1373 DR the lich Sammaster modified the mythal to make the rage permanent, in order to convince the evil dragons to become dracoliches (which were immune). A group of adventurers solves the problem by destroying the mythal entirely.
      • Before Sammaster's meddling, the Dracorage Mythal invoked the Comet of Doom trope — rather than simply keying the Mythal to go into active mode at regular intervals, the elves that created it keyed it to the light of a periodically returning and rather striking comet, the King-Killer Star. There was an attempt by dragons to exploit this to stop the cycle once they figured out there was a connection, but their attempt to destroy the Star missed and grazed the moon insteadnote , and by the time the next opportunity rolled around dragon civilization was too fragmented to repeat the attempt.
  • In Earthdawn and Shadowrun, the Horrors return to Earth from astral space to torment and ravage its living creatures every few thousand years.
  • The Aurora in Magic: The Gathering's Lorwyn and Shadowmoor settings, which changes one world to the other (and the minds of those within). It's eventually revealed to be a magically slowed down day/night cycle. A side effect of it being slowed down is the transformation into a world epitomizing the light of day and the darkness of night, respectively
  • In the Villains & Vigilantes adventure Devil's Domain, every 666 years the Earth's dimension and Hell come close enough together for the Devil to create a bridge between them that will allow his demon horde to pour through.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 galaxy seems forever doomed to be ruled by a seemingly invincible empire, have it suffer a self-inflicted catastrophe which shrinks it into a shadow of its former self, and have the leftovers of that time period stick around to menace the galaxy's new caretakers. It happened with the Necrontyr, then the Eldar, then humanity's first empire, and the "modern" timeline depicts this happening to the Imperium of Man.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Sophia the Goddess of Rebirth created a never ending cycle of reincarnation of creation and destruction. To escape from this cycle, Sombres (Gem Knight Lazuli fused with the Constellar) and Kerykeion (Constellar Raselhague fused with the Evilswarm-infected Ice Barrier Dragons) attacked Sophia, and eventually killed her. And as a result, strange creatures called the Qliphorts appear, and begin attacking everyone, apparently in an attempt to revive Sophia.

    Video Games 
  • In Dark Souls' spiritual sibling, Bloodborne, a vicious cycle known as the Night of the Hunt plagues the city of Yharnam with a lycanthropic affliction known as "the Scourge of Beasts" and the Hunters stalk the streets. It's gotten to the point that it's implied by some NPC Yharnamites that the Night of the Hunt has become a part of their everynight routine, and what's worse is that this cycle is still implied to be a considerable improvement compared to how things used to be in the past, with two precursor civilizations, Loran and Pthumeru, having been wiped out by earlier scourge outbreaks. And if you think that you are going to break the cycle, think again: If you accept Gehrman's offer to free you from the night, you'll leave all of its dreams and nightmares behind to greet the sunrise of the next day, but while this is arguably the happiest ending for your Hunter, it's also just the end of one cycle and the start of the next. Should you refuse Gehrman's offer, you'll instead be forced to take his place as the host of the Hunter's Dream and guide future Hunters of coming Nights. And should you unlock the secret ending you'll turn into an infant Great One, and while this conceivably puts you into a position to break the cycle, there's still the fact of the matter that the source of the last Scourge of Beasts happened to be an infant Great One, and considering that you've hunted down your fair share of Great Ones during the course of the Night, you may just have put yourself into a position where future Hunters will be gunning for you during future Nights of the Hunt.
  • Broken Age: Every 14 years, a Grand Mog visits several towns, eating the maidens that are sacrificed to them. And the maidens consider being eaten to be an honor. This has been going on for at least 800 years.
  • The eponymous castle of the Castlevania series of video games, as well as its lord, Count Dracula, reappears every 100 years in a different form. In fact, one of the major plot points of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is that Castlevania's latest appearance is way ahead of schedule.
    • Castlevania II: Simon's Quest revolves around the player having to revive Dracula ahead of schedule in order to kill him again, in order to break a curse he put on Simon Belmont for defeating him.
    • And the there's Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, where Dracula was finally killed for good. But apparently the world needs a Dark Lord, so now all sorts of lunatics are trying their damnedest to become the new Dracula. Potentially including you.
    • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is another one that interrupts the vicious cycle. With the onset of World War II, a squatter named Brauner used all the hatred and torment felt by those killed in the War to call forth Castlevania and usurp its power for his own misanthropic needs. Because of this, the Belmont Family isn't even allowed to touch the sacred Vampire Killer whip until its next scheduled appearance in 1999.
    • According to the timeline (and taking officially non-canon games into account), there are several times in the 1800's where Dracula is resurrected only to almost immediately be kicked back to sleep by some stranger who walked in off the street.
  • Centipede (1998): Every hundred years, the bug swarms emerge and the Queen Centipede awakens. Played for Laughs in the ending, when the narrator says "you should see what happens every thousand years".
    Every hundred years, they try to overtake our world, and we always think we've destroyed them. The legend also has it that every hundred years... we're wrong.
  • Chantelise: The witch's curse, which afflicts one pair of sisters every few years.
  • A non-malicious example in Deadly Rooms of Death, every 10,000 years the farrow child turns in her sleep, causing gravity to completely invert. There's nothing anyone can do about it, except cause it to happen early, so anyone who knows about it has to survive by living underground.
  • In Dark Souls, the Vicious Cycle is the entire point: the Age of Fire is ending, and the Age of Dark is coming, but the Age of Fire can be extended by having a chosen undead retrieve souls of great power, prove themselves worthy, and link the First Flame as tinder to keep it burning. Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder, linked it first, and all other chosen undead seek to follow in his footsteps. The Chosen Undead can choose to Link the Fire or walk away and become the Lord of the upcoming Age of Dark. However, future entries would complicate things.
    • In Dark Souls II we learn that the world has been stuck in a continuous Vicious Cycle since the events of Dark Souls. Kingdoms and Empires will rise to power before the undead curse appears again, making the entire world extremely hostile. At some point after the curse appears, a chosen undead appears, and begins slaying the inhabitants of the lands. The undead then has the choice of letting the curse continue or link the First Flame. The implication, however, is that eventually both choices will happen, regardless of which is chosen, hence the Ages of Fire and Dark never truly ending/starting but rather remaining in this forever-transitionary state. The previous monarch during was King Vendrick, who took the throne but refused to sit on it. He and his brother Aldia tried to find a way to stop the cycle permanently. It did not work as intended. When the final boss is defeated, the chosen undead can either sit on the throne and become the monarch of the next kingdom or, with the Scholar of the First Sin update, walk away to try and find another way to break the cycle. Dialogue with Vendrick in the Memory of the King reveals that he did find a way, though by the time he did he could no longer do it himself: master the power of the First Flame and the Dark Soul.
      • Dark Souls III takes this to its logical conclusion; artificially extending the Age of Fire by linking the First Flame is having disastrous consequences, to the point that more and more chosen undead are failing to successfully link the First Flame and extend the Age further. It's gotten so bad that five previous champions are revived to try one last time to do it, and they refuse, resulting in the all-but-doomed-to-fail attempt to revive one of the unworthy undead as an Ashen champion to hunt down the five champions and try to link the First Flame with that power. The further you progress into the game, the more it becomes painfully aware that trying to break the Vicious Cycle is having terrible consequences, including the sun going out, people being unable to die without being undead, monstrous creatures of ash appearing, and the Dark Soul appearing and going completely berserk. Even if the Ashen Champion manages to succeed and link the First Flame at the end, it's clear that the First Flame is dying out anyway, as the Ashen Champion isn't even hurt by the weak flames flickering over their body.
      • The DLC 'Ashes of Ariandel' has its own vicious cycle: after an unknown amount of time, the titular Painted World of Ariandel begins being covered by "rot", making the local Corvians go mad and the world, otherwise a "cold and gentle place", turn very hostile and inhospitable, and thus the Corvians regularly "burn" the world so that a new one can be born. In fact, the entire conflict of the DLC happens because Sister Friede halts the cycle and allows the rot to spread. After beating her, a friendly Corvian bemusedly comments that they know how to handle a cycle unlike the "fools on the outside."
      • The DLC 'The Ringed City' make it clear that extending the Age of Fire is disastrous. If the Age of Fire is extended too long, the world will begin to literally collapse, with locations from throughout time slowly contracting into a single point, the eponymous Ringed City. Beyond that, the world is nothing but a wasteland, with even the undead, who cannot die, dying out, the Dark Soul running rampant, and reality literally starting to break down. In other words, the Vicious Cycle between the Age of Fire and the Age of Dark must end, or else.
  • Dragon Age II is built on the Vicious Cycle between mages and the templars meant to keep them in check. To keep them in check, the templars lock mages away in towers and generally treat them as less than human beings. To break this oppression mages turn to Blood Magic. This causes the templars to become more oppressive and by the end of the game both have reached the breaking point and the world is about ready to go to war between the mages and templars. Which side exactly started the cycle is never answered and aids the game's Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • This is a major plot point in Dragon's Dogma. Every several hundred years, the Seneschal unleashes the Dragon, whose goal is to both bring the end of days, and to create an Arisen that has the ability to grow strong enough to face the Dragon. If the Arisen fails, the Seneschal supposedly recreates the world and begins anew. If the Arisen succeeds and the Dragon is killed, the Arisen is given the Godsbane sword and slays the Seneschal with it, effectively becoming the new Seneschal who then creates their own Dragon, and the cycle begins anew. However, when your Arisen kills the Seneschal, they instead choose to turn the Godsbane on themselves in an effort to finally break the cycle for good... which still doesn't work as a New Game Plus playthrough reveals.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In the series' lore, the Kamal, an Akaviri race of "snow demons" are engaged in this. They are said to freeze every winter and thaw every spring, at which point they attack the Tang Mo ("monkey folk"). The Tang Mo have always successfully defended themselves against this attack. The one time the Kamal broke this cycle was to attack Tamriel (the continent where all of the games in the series to date have taken place) but were again defeated.
    • As revealed in Oblivion's Shivering Isles expansion, in a time before recorded history, Jyggalag, the Daedric Prince of Order grew too powerful, making the other Daedric Princes fearful and jealous of him. They came together and cursed him, trapping in the form of Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness. However, at the end of every Era, he is allowed to return to his true form in an event known as the Greymarch. During this time, he retakes and destroys the Shivering Isles, Sheogorath's realm, only to return to the form of Sheogorath at the end. The plot of Shivering Isles is essentially Jygglag finding a way to escape this Eternal Recurrence...
    • Skyrim reveals that the universe itself runs in these, known as "kalpas", with Alduin eating the world and Akatosh renewing it every few thousand years. In the current kalpa, the ancient Nords disrupted the cycle by using an Elder Scroll to cast Alduin several thousand years forward in time. It's implied that Alduin himself disrupted the cycle, by striking before it was time and (in the first Dragon Wars) by enslaving and dominating humanity instead of just destroying the place like he's supposed to. At the end of the main quest, the Dragonborn does not absorb Alduin's soul like he/she does other dragons. It is implied that Alduin will return to fulfill his duty as World Eater when the proper time comes.
  • Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion for Skyrim and a sequel to Nehrim mentioned below, reveals that the events of Nehrim are part of a much larger and much more expansive cycle of total annihilation of all sentient life in the world, which of course the player is tasked to prevent. Then it turns out that trying to prevent the cycle is actually part of the grand scheme that makes it happen; at best the player can postpone it with the hopes of it being stopped in the future.
  • The Grail War in Fate/stay night occurs every 60 years, when there is enough magical energy in Fuyuki to activate the Grail. The system was arranged many years ago by the three mage families in order to determine the Grail's possession. The thing is, the war was supposed to have ended on the fourth iteration, but it's eventually revealed that the process merely sped up, allowing the next Grail War to start fifty years early. The Grail War system was eventually dismantled in the Heaven's Feel route.
  • In Final Fantasy, the entire plot is a result of a Vicious Cycle: 2,000 years in the past, the evil force Chaos arose and woke the four fiends of the elements, sending them into the nebulous "future" to wreck havoc and destroy the world. In the present, the Warriors of Light arise and defeat the evil knight Garland, before going on to defeat the four fiends and then travel back in time to destroy Chaos in the past, who, it turns out, is Garland, sent into the past by the four fiends just before he was killed, to become Chaos and send the fiends to the future. The twist is that the Light Warriors fail to defeat Chaos, who then sends the fiends into the future to start the cycle all over again. The game involves breaking this Time Loop and the resulting Vicious Cycle by finally managing to destroy Chaos in the past. It's implied that the cycle has continued without a clear end a countless number of times, which is why the prophecies of the Circle of Sages and Lukahn are so accurate: they've literally seen it all happen before.
    • Final Fantasy X has Sin, whose cycle is a little flexible — when destroyed, he rises again in a few years, but the amount of time he's active depends on how long it takes a summoner to perform the "Final Summoning" and defeat him. Near the end of the game, the heroes discover that the method of defeating Sin is what perpetuates the cycle — the "Final Aeon" called by the Final Summoning becomes the next Sin. This is because Yu Yevon, the local deity, uses Sin as his vehicle; destroying him breaks the cycle for good.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's 2 reveals that the restaurant has been going through one of these. The restaurant re-opens, a terrible event happens (usually involving one of the animatronics) and then the restaurant closes down.
    • Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator requires you to perpetuate the Vicious Cycle by opening your own restaurant, building it up to be successful, and trying to avoid the terrible events happening to anyone (including you!). It's all an attempt to break the Vicious Cycle by trapping the evil, possessed animatronics in a location in which they cannot hurt anyone, and then burning it down to kill them all once and for all. It works.
  • In Guild Wars 2 the Elder Dragons are normally dormant but periodically rise and wipe out all civilization. Some races such as the Jotuns and Mursaat survived the previous rising, though greatly reduced. Eventually it's determined their awakening is caused by the ley lines becoming overburdened with magic. The Dragons act as a pressure release system, consuming the excess magic from the ley lines and draining any magical artifacts. Without this the magic build up can release catastrophically.
  • killer7 reveals at the end that Harmon and Kun Lan play their game against each other every century or so; no matter who wins their previous match, the game starts again in due time.
  • The Legend of Zelda's Hyrule suffers this chronically, albeit not on a very tight schedule with Ganondorf/Ganon being repeatedly sealed and escaping or dying and reviving/being reborn exactly the same. Even when Ganon doesn't show up, another powerful demon will emerge to cover for him due to Demise's Curse.
  • The four Sinistrals, villains of the Lufia series, are reborn every 100 years... a cycle which can only be broken if Erim, Mistress of Death, is the last one killed. In the first game (second chronologically) she's your childhood friend. Guess what you don't do when she's the last one standing? Cue Lufia 3.
  • Mass Effect's plot revolves around this. Archaeologist Liara T'Soni talks about clues she has found during her research that indicate that every time a civilization has reached a certain level of technological development, it has been violently destroyed, and the next civilization has been founded on technology scavenged from the ruins. Commander Shepard eventually discovers that mechanical Eldritch Abominations known only as the Reapers show up every 50,000 years or so to "harvest" the galaxy's sentient life into extinction. Sovereign, the vanguard of the next Reaper invasion, tells Shepard that they have done this more than once. The game's storyline revolves around Shepard's efforts to prevent the cycle from recurring again.
    • It gets even more frightening in Mass Effect 2 as Shepard finds out that the cycle is basically the Reapers' method of reproduction, melting down organics into an organic metal to create more Reapers.. And to make things even worse, we also find out that they've been doing this for AT LEAST 37 million years and almost definitely longer than that. In other words the cycle has repeated itself around at least 740 times.
    • Many of the abandoned/uncolonised planets in the game have flavour text. In quite a few of them, it will say: There is evidence that sentient life once inhabited this planet. They were obliterated by a sustained, organised and totally destructive orbital bombardment. Every one has the estimated date of the destruction as a multiple of 50,000 years.
    • In Mass Effect 3, we find information that furthers this theme: The Reaper on Rannoch states that the cycle is essential to the survival of organic civilizations, and suggests that there is a higher purpose to it than Reaper reproduction. On Thessia, we find from a Prothean VI that the cycle is more profound than previously thought. Each iteration brings forth the same conflicts and notions: discovery of the mass effect from previous civilization, wars of organics vs their synthetic creations, galaxy-spanning empires, splinter groups trying to dominate the Reapers rather than destroy them, and attempts to deploy the Crucible. The Protheans concluded that these occurrences are far too common to be mere coincidence, and suggest that the Reapers, rather than perpetuating the cycle, are only the servants of a higher power.
  • In Monster Girl Quest, the human goddess, Ilias, has forbidden sexual intercourse with monsters. Seems fair enough, right? Well, all monsters are female, so if human males follow Ilias' commandment, it's genocide. So all the surviving species have adapted to raping human males every chance they get. Which, of course, leads the humans to believe all monsters are evil, which makes them more inclined to obey the commandment. It's only after the real obstacle preventing peace between mankind and monsterkind from happening, Ilias herself, is defeated that true peace finally settles in for both races and Ilias' false religion is forever cast aside.
  • In the computer game Myth: The Fallen Lords and its sequels, it is stated that King Alric and Balor are nothing more but the latest puppets of the Vicious Cycle of destruction that repeated itself at least three times before. Every five hundred or thousand years (depending on what interpretation you want to believe), Mount Tharsus erupts, and the Leveller arises far in the east. He then leads the armies of darkness to lay waste on civilization. Then, after a similar period of suffering, a hero of light arises to take down the Leveller and bring about a new 500- or 1,000-years golden age of humanity, before vanishing mysteriously. Sounds bad? That's not all. In truth, every hero who managed to defeat his age's Leveller is doomed to be eventually corrupted into becoming the next Leveller, destroying everything that he created, and bringing a new age of darkness. Thankfully, the games imply that events in the previous iteration of the cycle may have allowed Alric to break the cycle for good, or that Soulblighter's actions in the sequel may have resulted in this. We don't know for certain, though.
  • Oblivion total conversion mod Nehrim: At Fate's Edge features one: soon after completing the objective worked toward throughout the main quest the Player Character learns that the events that they have experienced have been occurring in a repeating cycle for thousands of years; the final leg of the main quest is an attempt to break the cycle.
  • The titular war in Nexus Clash is one of these, an endlessly repeating battle between gods who use souls snatched from the universe as pawns to fight for the right to shape the next one each time the world ends. Because all of the gods and their worlds are flawed, the world will always end eventually, forcing another battle that continues the cycle. It's a particularly vicious cycle if you're a Player Character caught in the war — if you're even in the war, it means your universe has already been destroyed, You Can't Go Home Again, and all you can look forward to is more battles of the war.
  • In the Phantasy Star series, Dark Force attacks the planets of the Algol system every 1,000 years. In Phantasy Star IV, this is revealed to be because an even worse entity, the Profound Darkness, is sealed behind the solar system itself, and Dark Force, the avatar of said entity, is attempting to free it. Not only that, the destruction of Parma has weakened the seal on the Profound Darkness, so now there are three Dark Forces working simultaneously to release it.
  • Septerra Core subverts the trope somewhat in that the prophesied date on which all of the planet's layers go into a position that allows access to the core is still many years away. Drama is provided by the antagonist destroying layers and messing with the planet's clockwork so that he can access the core during his lifetime.
  • Shin Megami Tensei is very big on this, given the emphasis on the Order Versus Chaos setting, the instability of Neutrality, and the constant reminder that Humans Are Flawed. Particular examples include the Conception in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the Schwartzwelt in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and the constant rise and fall of several of the series' gods. It's a bitter reminder that Order Versus Chaos cannot be anything except a Forever War.
    • It's also a major problem for the Neutral alignment, which vows to protect the potential of mankind, as well as freedom and self-empowerment... all of which brought the End of the World as We Know It in the first place, although the natural tendency for belief to unknowingly fuel civilization-crushing supernatural entities doesn't exactly help.
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV finally breaks down and explains the system. Any victory is inherently temporary because humans will always seek to fix the problems of Law or Chaos. If the world submits to God, then the descendants of the Chosen will want freedom someday; if the world falls into Chaos, then eventually people will build an ordered society, which will lead to religion and in turn to YHVH. A Neutral victory is possible, but that's inherently temporary too; at some point that society will fail as well and either turn to Order or Chaos. The only possible eternal victory is to reduce the world to Nothingness, which really isn't a solution.
    • Shin Megami Tensei V brings attention to the now-called Mandala System at the endgame. When Lucifer killed God and absorbed his knowledge, he came to realize that even if one recreates the world, new Da'at will eventually appear and bring back both gods and demon to wage in endless war. When the Nahobino, fusions of humans and gods, started to reappear with you fusing with Aogami, he finally found a way to break the endless cycle and confronts you when you reach the Throne of Creation so that you can defeat him and gain God's Knowledge. Though the Golden Ending, where you choose to recreate the world without any gods or demons, does leave it vague if the world can really exist outside of Mandala.
  • Dark Gaia of Sonic Unleashed gathers energy over millions of years, then rises and destroys the planet. This is counterbalanced by Light Gaia, who puts it all back together. Dr. Eggman's attempt to harness the energy of Dark Gaia ends up causing a smaller scale version of this in that the planet is split into floating continents, due to Dark Gaia not being at full strength thanks to the early awakening.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri uses this one nicely to explain why the game ends after 500 turns. Turns out every 100 million years, Planet's native life grows into a full-fledged, planet-wide hive mind, but the growth is so explosive it ends up eating everything on Planet and thus destroying itself. When the UN Unity arrived there, it's already been 99,999,500 years since the last outgrowth, and humanity has just 500 years to stop this cycle! What a pisser! There is also some implication that the thoughts of the human colonists are playing a role in awakening Planet and pushing it towards the end of the current cycle faster than it normally would.
    • The Alien Crossfire Expansion Pack introduces the descendants of the Precursors that created Planet. It is also mentioned that a previous attempt by the creators to activate the final stage of the "Flowering" on a planet in Tau Ceti resulted in The End of the World as We Know It for them, with their descendants losing much of the knowledge their ancestors had. Presumably, similar catastrophes resulted from the other four experiments. Chiron is specifically called by the aliens "Manifold Six". One of the factions wants to use the Flowering to attain godhood at any cost, while the other one wants to maintain Planet's self-destructive cycle, avoiding another Tau Ceti disaster.
  • The latest story intel on the Starcraft series (mainly the "Dark Templar" book trilogy) posits that the Xel'Naga are not merely a superadvanced civilization whose experiments with creating the Zerg and Protoss failed miserably leading to their extinction. Rather, both the Protoss and Zerg are exactly what they were required to be, and in time the two species would have come together to create the new iteration of the (essentially godlike, "star-forging") Xel'Naga, as part of a cosmic cycle stretching back to the dawn of time. The current cycle never came to completion as intended, however, because someone interfered with the Zerg's genetic programming, making them savage and all-consuming, as a first step to breaking the cycle and ending the Universe.
    • Worse! The someone who interfered was a fallen Xelnaga who began twisting the cycle to create more fallen Xelnaga(anything but Xelnaga in the Protoss Preservers' minds) by combining Zerg and Protoss DNA.
  • Tales of Symphonia has a similar situation, although it isn't clear if it's quite as regularly timed as most others.
    • It's supposed to be. The Chosen is sent on his/her journey to supposedly reawaken the sleeping Goddess; doing so will revive the land and banish the evil Desians. What it's really doing is controlling the distribution of the remaining mana and preventing anyone's technology from getting to the point of large-scale, advanced war. It's supposed to happen at a fairly regular rate, but thanks to the Renegades killing a Chosen before the journey was completed, Tethe'alla's technology was allowed to get far more advanced than it should have.
    • That world has a larger scale vicious cycle going as well. First, magitechnology is developed. Then, they develop a Mana Cannon. Use of the cannon uses up so much mana that supplies run low, chaos ensues, war escalates due to the combination of scarce resources and advanced weaponry, and humanity is thrust back to the dark ages, often with the help of an external force (usually malicious angels, although at least one meteor). Then, after a thousand years or two, people exploring ruins begin finding out about this neat thing called "magitechnology"...
    • The game also depicts racism as a case of this. Most half-elves hate humans because of the discrimination they suffer, and a lot of them end up joining the evil Desians to either escape it or get some revenge. Of course, most humans hate half-elves because of the atrocities the Desians commit against humans (in a nutshell, they're basically magical Nazis), so in the end both sides are responsible for driving the endless cycle of hate. Zelos of all people gives some uncharacteristic insight when he points out how Genis and Raine have always been good to him and he genuinely does like them, but he's still having trouble shaking his discriminatory views of half-elves because of the way he was raised and the things he's seen the Desians do:
      Lloyd: What, you going to discriminate against them too?
      Zelos: ...I'm sure it sounds like that, but you've got to understand, I've been educated this way since birth. "Half-elves are stupid, savage, filthy creatures." Don't get mad. I'm just stating the common view. Well, I haven't been around them very long yet, but I can tell they're good people, not any different from us. Knowing that, but still being unable to shake the feelings, is what discrimination is all about, though.
  • If you're not careful in This Is the Police, this could happen to you. Poor performance leads to the mayor slashing your budget leads to you having to fire someone leads to poor performance leads to the mayor slashing your budget leads to you having to fire someone leads to poor performance leads to the mayor slashing your budget leads to you having to fire someone leads to poor performance leads to the mayor slashing your budget leads to you having to fire someone leads to poor performance leads to you losing your ability to give a shit anymore.
  • Touhou Project:
    • Every 60 years there's surge of death in the outside world, and since Death is The Slacker Gensokyo gets lots and lots of flowers everywhere, because the spirits have no other place to go.
    • Youkai are required to attack humans and cause incidents, because youkai depend on humans fearing them and would disappear if they didn't, while of course humans defend themselves and embark on youkai exterminations to keep themselves safe and stop the incidents; it's Inherent in the System and no-one has any idea how to stop it. Fortunately in Gensokyo the Spell Card rules mean the fighting is entirely non-lethal, and the combined team of Reimu and Yukari ensure that most incidents are inconvenient instead of catastrophic.

  • It's eventually revealed in Cucumber Quest that, while the Nightmare Knight is indeed the previously stated 50,000 years old, he's actually been revived before the current story. Like, every 5,000 years or so. As it turns out, he's just really hard to kill, and someone eventually gets around to freeing him before they can reseal him. As with most things in the comic, this is less due to the Powers That Be having some agenda of balance or being evil and more due to them being mind bogglingly incompetent. The cycle has taken its toll on the villains — being repeatedly defeated is pretty demoralizing.
  • It is eventually revealed in The Order of the Stick that the world the story takes place in is not the second world the gods made, as previously believed, but that the gods kept trying to trap the Snarl inside worlds countless times before, and it never stuck; every time, the Snarl escaped its prison and destroyed that world, followed by the gods creating another world, and then another after that, and so on.
  • The Myth Arc of Schlock Mercenary eventually delves into why the seemingly oldest species in pan-galactic society are the Gatekeepers, who are only about a hundred millennia old at best. This trope turns out to be the answer: Much like in Mass Effect, the standard Space Opera setting has happened an unknown number of times throughout the history of the Milky Way around every ten million years on average, only for all the principal actors to go extinct and leave the galaxy empty for the next batch of sentient species. Usually, this is because of the actors inventing Teraporting and the Long Gun and destroying each other in a giant war, though sometimes they run afoul of the Pa'anuri first or there's a Robot War.
  • The calendar in Wapsi Square puts the world through cycle after cycle, resetting time every time it hits 2012. One character retains her knowledge through all cycles, and has seen over 80,000 years worth of this cycle.
  • In The Witch's Throne, a girl is chosen as a Witch every ten years, and four heroes must rise up to defeat her.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe
    • A mundane version of this happens with no less then three villains! Deathmaiden dies and returns almost exactly 20 years, and Diane Castle quotes this trope.
    • The Necromancer 'arranges' a death every so often, only to return under a new ID. Furthermore, Deathlist, the rival of the Principal, always pulls a Villain: Exit Stage Left, only to return an indeterminate amount of time. These two may fit another trope as well.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Ice Ages happen every once in a while. It always brings a massive extinction wave and the birth of new species.
  • The fossil record contains evidence of multiple mass extinction events which may or may not be periodic. At one time there was a theory that these were caused by a red or brown dwarf companion star dipping through the Oort cloud every 26 million years or so and sending showers of comets into the inner system. (In case this is worrying you, the most recent event was about 11 million years ago, so we've got a little time yet. Also, over the past decade or so, sky surveys have all but ruled out the Sun having a companion star, even a brown dwarf one.)


Video Example(s):


The Cycle cannot be Broken

Sovereign informs Shepard of the cycle: organic species evolve, develop & create galaxy-spanning civilizations, and then the Reapers exterminate them. Sovereign also notes that its kind, not the Protheans, are the true creators of the Mass Relays & the Citadel. The Protheans were merely the previous of countless sequential civilizations who developed using Mass Relay Technology before being wiped out by the Reapers. And the time of the Reapers' return to begin the next cycle is near.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / ViciousCycle

Media sources: