Pyrrhic Victory

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone."

King Pyrrhus of Epirus in the Battle of Asculum, his second Pyrrhic Victory against the Romans.

Few victories come without cost, but the cost of a Pyrrhic Victory is ruinous to the victor. A Pyrrhic Victory will often involve a Heroic Sacrifice or people asking Was It Really Worth It?. If it happens at the end of a work, it will inevitably lead to a Bittersweet Ending or even a Downer Ending (and likely Inferred Holocaust). Often the implication of a Lonely at the Top situation, where someone gets everything he wanted, but lost everything and everyone that helped him get there. A clever enemy can use a Defensive Feint Trap to trick an opponent into "winning" such a victory.

These are common in Darker and Edgier series and is one of the defining characteristics of a Crapsack World. Compare to Pound of Flesh Twist. Contrast with Pyrrhic Villainy and Shoot the Shaggy Dog. If the bad outcome of a victory is due to post-victory arrangements rather than victory itself, you may look for Won the War, Lost the Peace. When dealing with Eldritch Abominations, this overlaps with Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu. Contrast Xanatos Gambit, where "losing" might benefit the planner more than outright victory.

Has nothing at all to do with the victories of Pyrrha Nikos from RWBY.

No real life examples, please; we'd be here all day.

As an Ending Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.

Examples of Pyrrhic Victories include:

Anime and Manga

  • At the end of Hellsing, The Major and every last one of his Millennium vampire soldiers have been slain, but he dies content. The cost of his defeat was the destruction of London, with almost all of its population dead overnight, Alucard apparently destroyed, Pip dead, Walter dead and also a traitor, and Integra missing an eye.
  • Mazinger Z: After a long and hard battle, Kouji defeated Dr. Hell with Mazinger Z. However, the Mycene immediately attacks without giving any time to rest and he is unable to do anything to stop them. Mazinger Z, Venus A, Boss Borot and the Photon Research Institute are easily destroyed (and several world cities, including Tokyo, in the movie). Kouji is saved by Tetsuya and his Great Mazinger, who claims that Mazinger Z isn't needed anymore.
    • And in Great Mazinger, the heroes finally defeat the Mykene army... but it was due to the Heroic Sacrifice of Prof. Kabuto -Kouji and Shiro's biological father and Tetsuya and Jun's adoptive father-. In spite of they had won, nobody felt victorius, and in fact Tetsuya felt awful and blamed himself for his father's death. And rightly so). Not to mention in one of the adaptations, Tetsuya himself bite the dust.
  • Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas. By the series final, you can count the number of survivers on two hands.
  • In Slayers, the Koma War (translated variously as "Dark Lord's Resurrection War", "War of Demonic Invasion", "War of the Monsters' Fall") a thousand years ago ended badly for pretty much everyone. Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu destroyed Aqualord Ragradia... but was permanently frozen in the Grim Up North, all his power sealed. Half the Golden Dragons in the world were slaughtered... but Mazoku also suffered the deaths of two Priests and two Generals (who are irreplaceable), as well as the desertion of Chaos Dragon Gaav and all serving him. Even aside from Gaav's outright betrayal, without Shabranigdu organizing them, the Five Retainers couldn't get along and started bickering amongst each other over the best way to end the world. Humans suffered devastating losses, including losing the ability to perform Holy Magic and being confined to a single continent by the Mazoku God-Sealing Field, but on the other hand started developing increased levels of Black and Shamanic Magic. In short, nobody won. Thus, in the novels, when Dynast Grausherra decides to bring about the resurrection of Ruby-Eye through a second Koma War, even his fellow Mazoku are opposed to the idea.
  • The ending of Death Note certainly feels like one of these. Soichiro Yagami, one of the only truly good characters in the series (according to the artist himself,) is dead, L is dead, Mello is dead although that was just as planned, poor Matsuda's probably going to need some serious therapy, there is no afterlife (at least in the manga), god knows how many NPCs are dead, and a year later, the world's practically returned to normal. Kira barely changed anything. Ouch.
    • The movie version is only marginally better. L gains 23 days, but he still dies. Kira is stopped sooner, but the world still goes back to normal. There's still no afterlife (at least for Death Note users). This time, he survives, but Soichiro's the one that needs therapy now.
  • In Bleach, Uryu's fight with Mayuri Kurotsuchi ended with Uryu defeating Kurotuschi at the cost of having all of his powers semi-permanently sealed away.
    • When Ichigo wins a fight... by losing his internal fight against his Super-Powered Evil Side. Also, his final victory against Aizen. Aizen can only be sealed away and imprisoned meaning there's always a chance he could return. Meanwhile, Ichigo sacrificed his powers and his ability to be a substitute shinigami. Thinking he has no right to complain about this, he tries to go on with a normal human life for 17 months, his grades slipping and not planning for his future because he's unable to face up to reality that having the power to protect is an integral part of who he is, without which he's reduced to simply existing instead of actually living. It takes another substitute shinigami shaking up his life to make him face and accept the truth.
  • In Digimon Tamers after defeating the D-Reaper, the effects of the weapon they used on it take effect on their Digimon, who revert back to their In-Training levels and end up having to go back to the Digital World, otherwise they will die. This unfortunately separates them from their partners.
  • The anime ending of Chrono Crusade qualifies. Chrono and Rosette manage to save Joshua and defeat Aion, but Joshua is badly brain damaged and can't remember them, Chrono and Rosette are badly injured during the final battle and die together six months later, Satella kills her sister and herself in order to stop Fiore from taking Joshua back to Aion, Remington is left broken and filled with regret, Aion's plans cause the Great Depression, and in the 1980s Remington witnesses a man that appears to be Aion take out a gun and shoot the Pope. It's also implied that Aion is revived by humanity's sins and will live on as long as sin exists in the world, meaning that Chrono and Rosette's sacrifices only seem to stop Aion temporarily.
  • In Monster, Tenma got his moral victory... at a great cost.
  • Whether you believe Tabris the 17th Angel allowed Shinji to kill him because he truly respected/cared for Shinji, or because he wanted to make Shinji suffer as he died, it's indisputable that the destruction of the last Angel in Neon Genesis Evangelion ruined the last of Shinji's self-confidence and mental stability. It gets worse in the Movie, when we realize the Angels are actually NOT the real threat as his Magnificient Bastard of a father AND SEELE an Ancient Conspiracy begin their plans for World Instrumentality.
  • One of the premises of G Gundam:
    • After winning the previous Gundam Fight, Master Asia looks back and is horrified by the carnage and the damage he and the other participants have caused. He becomes bitter at humanity's willingness to go through such lengths and has thus chosen to be extreme in his own way.
    • Domon himself. He defeats the Devil Gundam and saves Rain and his father, but in the process he loses his mother, brother (twice over), and mentor in true Tear Jerker fashion.
  • At the end of One Piece's Paramount War arc, the Navy succeeds in their stated goal of killing Ace and Whitebeard, proving the strength of their justice. Unfortunately, as a result, islands once under the old man's protection are now open game for far less ethical pirates, and because of the war itself, dozens of vicious convicts have escaped from Impel Down, the great undersea jail. Whitebeard's Famous Last Words have triggered a second Great Age of Pirates, and his formidable earthquake powers are now in the hands of Blackbeard. To top it off, the Navy, due to the losses in the war, are unable to deal with either problem effectively.
    • It Gets Worse, due to various reasons because of the war, the Navy loses Garp, Sengoku, and Kuzan. and thereby dropping its overall power DRASTICALLY. If another such battle were to occur, they wouldn't stand a chance.
  • D.Gray-man: At the end of the Noah's Ark Arc, after battling all these Noah, Allen Walker restores the Ark by playing a special song in a secret room within the Ark that the Noah don't know. Of course, Everyone who came along for the journey, got left behind, and supposedly died come back, but when they get back, poor Allen is charged for knowing how to control the Ark, since only certain Noah know how, and for being the container for the 14th. Not only does he have to control this monster inside his head, he has to be subjected to some not so good treatment from Leverrier. Now is that the way to treat your savior?
  • Twenty years before the main story in Mahou Sensei Negima, Ala Rubra stopped the war in the Magical World and saved the world. Unfortunately, this was only achievable through the sealing of Asuna, which caused the floating capital to collapse and destroyed the cultural center of the world. The dynasty of the founders and kings of Ostia was also assumed to be wiped out when Arika was blamed for the disaster.
  • Arguably, the end of Code Geass goes something like this- Lelouch is dead, Suzaku's had to fake his death (and both of their reputations are in ruins), the entire populations of both Tokyo and the Britannian capital are dead and it's likely that Nunnally and several others are likely to need some kind of therapy. The world's at peace, but it's come at a heavy price.
  • My Hero Academia; Bakugo feels his victory in the U.A. Sports Festival was this, as he knows his opponent in the final match - Todoroki - was holding back the full extent of his powers. (He isn't wrong, but Bakugo has his own reasons.) He makes no secret of his belief that he didn't deserve to win, and actually has to be tied up for the award ceremony!
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka a Phyrric Victory is achieved by an antagonist in a beauty pageant. By cheating the voting system, she manages to beat Tomoe in the pageant, but as she receives her reward, everyone in the audience boos her and claims to want Tomoe to be the winner.
  • Gurren Lagann: The Anti-Spirals are defeated, but more than half of the Gurren Brigade are dead, including Kittan, and Nia dies soon after returning to earth, because her life force was tied to the Anti-Spiral. On her wedding day of all days.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: In any timeline (excepting the penultimate one) where Walpurgis Night is defeated, all the local magical girls are left either dead or having expended so much magical power that they'll soon be powerful witches themselves.
  • The resolution of the Yurin/Flit/Emily Love Triangle in Gundam AGE. Sure, Emily got to both marry Flit and be the mother of his children Asemu and Unoa, but this is because Yurin was horribly killed off, thus Emily's "second-best" for him. And she's very aware of it. And we're not counting how Flit himself was broken beyond belief by the death of Yurin... enough to become the Dark Messiah Anti-Hero.

Comic Books


Joker: You managed to find a way to win... and everybody still loses!!

  • Crisis on Infinite Earths: The heroes beat the Anti Monitor but in the process the entire multiverse is lost (and this is canon.) Arguably, the heroes can't be held responsible for the worlds lost before they got involved, but there were still six or seven worlds remaining when they began their counter offensive, two of them were destroyed and the other five were collapsed into one that was almost but not quite like one of the five with a few borrowed elements from the other four.
    • And thanks to Brightest Day, the Anti Monitor is back and ready to give it another go. We're either in for epic Villain Decay or the Grand Finale of the DC Universe.
    • At least there are now 52 universes but none of them are the ones that were destroyed (though some are like the ones lost.)
  • In one Iron Man story, Tony's armor malfunctions, and he kills a foreign ambassador, in public no less. With the public labeling Iron Man a murderer, Tony has to forego the identity, and while the Avengers are more willing to believe it was a malfunction, they insist he hand over his armor so it can be examined, and he relinquished his role as leader to Captain America. Eventually, Tony's name was cleared when it was all discovered to be a plot by his Arch Enemy Justin Hammer, but while the good guys won, Tony would never be the same. The "Demon in a Bottle" storyline showed that the idea that an innocent man might been killed via his own faulty design had brought him so close to the Despair Event Horizon that he started drinking heavily as a coping mechanism, causing him to struggle with an addiction that would haunt him for years to come. One thing was for sure, Iron Man would never be the same afterward.

Film - Animated

  • The Alternate Ending of The Lion King was one of these for Scar. He beats Simba and throws him off Pride Rock but unknowingly saved Simba's life in the process, as the fires engulf Pride Rock, killing Scar. All Scar's 'victory' did was result in killing himself and allowing Simba to become king.

Film - Live-Action

  • The Dark Knight: Pretty much every time the good guys win something at ANY point in the movie it comes at HUGE cost. Might even be the movie's main theme.
    • By the end of the film Harvey Dent has gone insane and started murdering people, has gotten killed and Batman has taken the heat for the murders all so the Joker won't win.
  • Transformers Film Series: The first (Transformers) and the third (Transformers Dark of the Moon) film had some elements of pyrrhic victories, not so much for the humans but for the alien robots.
    • Transformers' ending had Megatron defeated, but at the cost of the Allspark, which means the aliens' home planet Cybertron can never be restored.
    • DSOTM's ending had all the major Decepticons killed off, and the Autobots managed to save humanity from enslavement at the hands of the Decepticons. Cost? Only eight Autobots are confirmed to survive the trilogy. Chicago's in ruins and the Autobots' Hero Insurance are rather lukewarm in this series. Cybertron was also implied to be destroyed, making it pretty impossible for any Transformer to return home, let alone restore it. (The upcoming sequel may prove otherwise).
  • L.A. Confidential: Ed Exley has to destroy pretty much everything he cares about over the course of the movie.
    • Even moreso in the book. By the time White Jazz rolls around, Exley is effectively cut off from every other character, using them as pawns to achieve his own ends.
  • Any zombie movie or doomsday movie where only a small pocket of humanity survives.
  • Michael didn't want to 'get mixed up in the family business', things didn't exactly work out that way by the end of...The Godfather Part II
  • The 1954 film Gojira certainly applies. Sure, the titular monster was killed...but at the cost of the life of a human being who chose to die alongside the monster rather than expose the secret of the weapon chosen to kill them and It's HEAVILY implied that Godzilla isn't the only one of his species...
  • In Ginger Snaps, Bridget manages to escape being eaten by the werewolf by accidentally killing it. And it's her sister, the only person in the world she loved, and who she'd hoped to cure.
  • An implication of The Descent was that this was the only way the characters could beat the monsters and escape was to become equally as savage and primal, which was the main character arc for the lead. Although in the end she subverts it when--after about twenty minutes of being progressively Ax Crazy--she sees her dead daughter, and chooses to stay with the hallucination rather than keep fighting.
  • Set It Off. The protagonist escapes with a fortune stolen from a bank but her friends were killed, she had to leave the man she loved behind and she can never return to the United States.
  • Blade Runner. Director's cut ending. Deckard runs away with Rachel, a Replicant, a very illegal act, despite her having less than four years to live.
  • In The Wrath of Khan, they defeat Khan, but Spock dies, temporarily.
    • Similarly, The Search for Spock ends with Spock revived and the Klingons defeated, but at the cost of Kirk's son David Marcus, the Genesis planet, and the original Enterprise.
  • Clonus ends with Clonus being exposed and Senator Knight's political career ruined. However, anyone who tried to help Richard is now dead, Lena is lobotomized and Richard's own heart now beats in the body of Sen. Knight's brother (who Richard was cloned from) For added downer effect, we learn that Walker's first name is George.
  • Mallrats: the Stinkpalm, a practical joke which involves sticking one's hand between one's own buttocks before shaking hands with the prankee.

T.S.: "What's the point?"
Brodie: "You know how long it takes for that smell to come off? Scrub all you want, it'll stick around for at least two days. How does he explain it to his colleagues and family? They'll think he doesn't know how to wipe his ass properly."
T.S.: "Meanwhile you yourself are left with a hand that smells like shit."
Brodie: "Small price to pay for the smiting of one's enemies."

  • Cloverfield: The monster is (probably) defeated, but every single main cast member (except one, and she may well actually be dead too) is dead, along with most of the population of New York City, and the city has been destroyed.
  • For most of The Book of Eli, the Big Bad chases Denzel Washington's character across the wasteland, trying to obtain the book. He finally gets it in the end, but loses so many men that he can no longer rule over his people. Also, his wound is infected, which is usually a death sentence. To top it off, the book is in Braille, and the only person who could possibly read it just lost the fear that had kept her obedient and subservient.
  • In Bullitt, Lt. Bullitt succeeds in finding all the people responsible for the death of a man under Witness Protection. All of these criminals end up dead, thus ruining the larger goal of acquiring testimony to bring down The Mafia.
  • The Pledge is an interesting case, where the main character doesn't even realize he's won a Pyrrhic victory. He used a little girl as bait in an unsuccessful attempt to draw in a serial killer. The child's mother finds out and hates him for it. His former colleagues lose all respect for him. He ends up alone in a pit of guilt and self-pity. But it turns out the plan would have been successful, if the killer hadn't died in an accident before he could be caught.
  • In One Eight Seven, Rita invokes the trope name when talking about the Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in her commencement speech after Garfield's war with the K.O.S. gang leaves the key players dead, including Garfield.


  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Defines Jon Snow. Even when he wins he loses. The Battle of the Blackwater is another excellent example. This is something of a hallmark of the series. A non-Pyrrhic victor tends to be an Unwitting Pawn, up to and including some of the competing Chessmasters.
    • Robb Stark's situation for close to three books. His Northern army curb stomps the Lannisters in his first major battle, putting him well on his way to winning the war in short order. However, other circumstances come into play, and while he is never beaten on the field, with every "victory" his situation becomes more and more precarious as the North stands alone while Tywin Lannister forms alliances with the other ruling families against him.
    • The Lannister victory in the War of Five Kings. Yes, they won the Iron Throne, but in the process virtually every important member of the family was killed, exiled, or maimed.
    • Robert's Rebellion in the backstory, especially if you're Robert. His entire motivation was to rescue his beloved, Lyanna Stark, from the Targaryens. She died before he could do so. He ended up with the throne but not the girl (and with a loveless marriage).
  • R.A Salvatore's The Crystal Shard has the final battle presented as one of these for the good guys.
    • The Thousand Orcs has another. The last of the survivors of the attack on the town are spirited away by means involving a fake idol of Gruumsh, the orc god. When the other orc shamans hear about this, they not only bring in thousands of new recruits to avenge the sacrilege, they also perform a rare ritual on the orc king that makes him permanently stronger and quicker.
  • In World War Z humanity managed to be victorious over the zombie hordes. But the war and overall situation devastated the planet.
  • In A Darkness at Sethanon, the invading army of the moredhel finally capures the city of Armengar, but with devastating losses—not only is the city an invader's nightmare, built with technologies and magic long lost to mankind, but those in charge of the defense blow it up just when the invading army has finally broken through, leaving the moredhel with a ruined city and great losses. Ten years later, the risk of a devastating defeat or a Pyrrhic Victory is what spurs one of the moredhel chieftains to oppose the efforts to launch another invasion, going as far as allying himself with the humans to accomplish it.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel The Brothers of The Snake, a chapter of Space Marines retake a refinery from Chaos forces. They realize that the place was tainted by something it had pumped up from under the earth, and it could not be used any more—which meant they could just have blasted it from orbit, without losing three Marines in the fight.
    • In a similar vein, the defense of Vervunhive, which leaves the hive with so many dead it is officially decommissioned at the end of the war. Although with Heritor Asphodel dead, Chaos has nothing to celebrate, either.
    • Ciaphas Cain, in Caves of Ice, digs his troops in to protect a Promethium refinery that he later has to annihilate to stop a Necron tomb from reawakening. (Still, taking out an Ork Waaugh and a Necron force is a solid deal for one refinery, especially since they managed to evacuate the facility beforehand.)
  • The third book of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Memories of Ice, has two. First the siege of Capustan is lifted when the protagonist army arrives, but the defenders (who are honorable mercenaries) have nearly been killed to the man. This trope is used again in the concluding battle where the protagonist army captures Pale. But a huge percentage of the named protagonists are killed during this second battle and the army is a shell of it's former self.
  • In The Warlord Chronicles, the Battle of Baddon Hill is a major one for King Arthur. He smashes the Saxon forces, (including mortally wounding Aelle, one of the Saxon kings), but... his most powerful and reliable ally, Cuneglas, dies in battle, the Christians gain greater influence in the sectarian battle against Pagans, which they later use to undermine Arthur's non-sectarian government, Mordred discovers a taste for battle, Nimue turns against Merlin and Arthur for good, etc. Some of these results are directly linked to Arthur's downfall.
  • Lampshaded in The Lord of the Rings: "Today we may make the enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet [we may] rue the exchange. For he can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company."
    • In fact Pyrrhic victories are quite common throughout Middle-Earth's history. The War of Wrath ended with Morgoth's defeat, but all of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements. Even the final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was Pyrrhic, in that destroying the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-Earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
  • Lampshaded in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Locke and Jean kill their enemies, but they have to leave Camorr forever, they're both injured (Locke especially so), and all their friends are, by the way, dead. The exchange goes something like:

Locke: So this is winning.
Jean: It is.
Locke: It can go fuck itself.

  • The Dresden Files has several such victories, most notably in Turn Coat. Morgan is dead, the (only identified) traitor in the council is dead, Dresden and McCoy have no further information on the Black Council, the White Council has lost three of its most valuable members (the man Morgan was framed for murdering, Morgan, and the traitor), virtually everyone within the council needs to go in for deprogramming from mind-control magics, the Senior Council is now living in a permanent state of wondering if their actions were truly their own, and their newest member may or may not be a member of the Black Council.
    • Also, Grave Peril. Dresden got the girl back, but couldn't save her. And in the process, started a war.
    • Changes So Harry won the war, saved his daughter, but what he did to do it...
      • Of course, getting his daughter back and destroying the entire Red Court was one hell of a victory. More was gained than lost to be sure. But what was lost was painful, and it's not just Susan.
      • Subverted. There's a reason why you don't just perform genocide on a race of psychopaths; they get replaced by something WORSE. Explained in Ghost Story.
  • Described as an inevitability in Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Genome in a war between two galactic powers with relatively equal military strength. A historical example is cited with the ancient Taii Empire, whose territory once spanned much of what is now owned by the younger races. They engaged in an all-out war with another empire, resulting in a Taii military victory but at the cost of utter devastation of their empire. The Taii briefly described in the book are now a dying power, holding no more then several dozen worlds and flying enormous ships that are ridiculously inferior when compared with more modern ships of the younger races. The same fate is predicted for the humans or the Czygu in a total Bug War. This prospect would force the humans to recruit the aid of a colony of Church Militants whose goal is the total extermination of all aliens for the betterment of the "true children of God." This would cause all other alien races to ally against humanity, resulting in a Pyrrhic Victory for everyone who survives.
  • In the Farsala Trilogy by Hilari Bell, the Roman Empire expy have many rules about their conquering of other territories and one of those rules is that if they don't have full control of the country within a year then they will withdraw their forces and offer allegiance with it instead or just leave it alone. This rule was put in place because early in their history, they were victors of a Pyrrhic Victory and vowed that victory would never cost so high again. According to the books, they're so good at taking over countries that out of the dozens they'd taken over only two were been able to resist past the time limit.
  • In the Percy Jackson series, Kronos, the Titan Lord, is called 'the Crooked One' for his ability to engineer schemes which leaves the good guys in a tight spot either way. It is possible to foil him, but it almost never happens without cost, often a heavy one.
    • The third book is a good example of this. They finished their quest, saved Artemis and stopped the baddies from harnessing the powers of a world-destroying beast...but two of their teammates died in the process, and the younger brother of the second one is not happy. It Got Worse when Percy realized that not only did he have another demigod bent on killing him, but said demigod was a son of Hades, which qualified him in the prophecy that could destroy Olympus and all of Western civilization. Ouch.
  • In Starship Troopers, it's pointed out early on in the war that killing 1,000 bugs for each human is a net victory for the bugs, as their soldiers can be hatched at need and can be ready to fight in a matter of weeks, while it takes the better part of a year to make a Cap Trooper battle-ready.
  • In Arena, a short story by Fredric Brown, an energy being, right before the first major battle between humans and aliens, states that they cannot coexist peacefully, and a war between the two will end in one extinction and one stone age. Since both races had the potential to evolve to the energy-being's level, unless their civilization was ruined by this war, the energy being snatched up both a human and an alien Roller and pit them against each other in a one-on-one duel with the complete and instant annihilation of the enemy's battle fleet up as the stakes specifically to avert this outcome.
  • The backstory to the Wheel of Time series has the triumph of the Light and the sealing of the Dark One in the Age of Legends made out to be one of these for all concerned. The backlash of the sealing left a taint on the male half of the One Power that doomed every man who touched the Power to creeping insanity and death, without exception; this left a bunch of completely insane men with the power to level cities and raise mountains running around causing almost as much damage as the war that they ended would have, destroying so much that the knowledge and culture of the Age of Legends was in large part lost forever. And for Lews Therin, the hero who led the charge to seal the Dark One? His nemesis tracks him down at his mansion and uses a Dark version of Healing to cure his madness, allowing Lews Therin to see that, while insane, he had murdered everyone and everything he had ever loved. He did not take it well.
  • Time Scout: Congratulations, Skeeter! You just stood up to a bully! A bully with massive wealth, criminal connections, government power, and a vindictive nature. And you've a checkered past he won't have any trouble using against you.
  • "The Hunger Games": After Katniss and Peeta win the first Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell is announced, which is implied to have been rigged by President Snow to take Peeta and Katniss out- it requires each district to choose tributes from their pool of victors.
    • Also, when President Coin and others of the rebellion/District Thirteen, including Katniss and Haymitch, are discussing what to do now that they've taken the Capitol, they decide on yet another Hunger Games to be held, but this time with the Capitol's children, as revenge.
    • Katniss' mental breakdown in Mockingjay. Even though the Capitol fell, Prim's death takes precedence.
  • In one of The History of the Galaxy novels, the first battlefield use of the LIGHT annihilator device by La Résistance results in the total destruction of not one but two Earth Alliance armadas. However, the colonists lose nearly all ships in the process, leaving them with a total of eight warships, while Earth still has plenty of ships in other systems. They also lose the only existing annihilator they have (at the moment). Their only advantage is the fact that Earth has no idea the colonies are virtually defenseless. The new colonial admiral manages to enact a daring plan to steal two flagship-class cruisers from an Alliance shipyard... by stealing the shipyard with tugs.
    • Oh, and the admiral's own son was killed in the explosion.
  • Invoked by name in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. This triggers Fridge Logic when you wonder who it was named for.
  • In Dickens' Bleak House, one of the major plot points of the book is the infamous legal case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Near the end of the book, the characters finally win the case, but the cost and time—several years, and the modern equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars—that had to be invested in trying to untangle its legal Mind Screw rendered it bankrupt by the time they finally finished. It ate up all its own assets, which would have been worth a fortune if it had been some halfway competent lawyers who drew up the mess in the first place.

Live Action TV


"You may win this war, Commander, but I promise you, by the time it's over, you will have lost so many ships, so many lives, that your 'victory' will taste as bitter as defeat."

  • Discussed in the two-part special "The Way of the Warrior", when the battle between Deep Space Nine and a Klingon attack force reaches a stalemate.

Worf: "Consider what you do here today, Gowron! Kahless himself said, 'Destroying an empire to win a battle is no victory '! "
Gowron: "'And ending a battle to save an empire is no defeat'."

  • In the opening battle of the Dominion War, Dukat managed to capture Deep Space 9, but lost over 50 ships, a vital shipyard, and failed to bring in reinforcements through the wormhole. Nevertheless, that didn't stop him...
  • In The Shield's series finale Vic succeeded in getting away with everything he's done, but no friends in the world, his family relocated out of fear from him, and his new employment is guaranteed to be Hell for the next three years. So yes, he won, but the cost was obscene.
  • During the evacuation of New Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, the Galactica and most of the civilian ships manage to escape the the cost of massive damage to Galactica and the loss of the high-tech, advanced battlestar Pegasus, which was capable of building Vipers. Nice job breaking it, Lee.
  • Londo Mollari on Babylon 5 had a few of these.
    • In the third season, Londo collaborates with G'Kar to assassinate the villainous Lord Refa, which ultimately removes the only moderating influence on an even worse leader, the insane Emperor Cartagia.
    • And then in the fourth season, Londo and Vir kill off Cartagia and Morden and blow up all the Shadow ships stationed on Centauri Prime, finally freeing the planet from the Shadows' influence... only to cause the Drahk to take over the place in revenge in the final season, leading to Centauri Prime's isolation from the rest of the galaxy, the firebombing of its cities, and just general devastation of the whole planet. And not only does Londo have to watch all this unfold, but he also gets possessed by a Body Snatcher — and he has to live with all this for the rest of his life. Brr.....
      • Londo could very well be the Trope Codifier. This is in fact the whole point of his arc—his association with Morden and the Shadows gives him everything he says he wants, but each time at a terrible cost—bringing into sharper focus the Shadow question, "What do you want?". The DVD commentaries point this out, but really, it's plain for all to see.
  • "You've got to! Come on. It can't end like this. You and me, all the things we've done. Axons! Remember the Axons? And the Daleks. We're the only two left. There's no one else... REGENERATE!" "Look at that.. I win..!"
    • To give that line some context, at the end of "Last of the Time Lords" the Master gets shot by Lucy Saxon after the Doctor's ended his regime over the Earth. Rather than regenerate (and subsequently spend the rest of his life imprisoned on the Doctor's TARDIS) he chooses to die, leaving the Doctor alone as the only living Time Lord once again. It's a pyrrhic victory for them both.
    • And more recently, the Doctor's victory in "The Waters of Mars." He saved the remaining crew but changed history in the process, believing that the rules of Time will bend to his will. Adelaide realizes how wrong the turn of events is and subsequently kills herself in order to correct the timeline.
      • The only thing her suicide did was cause the Doctor to realize how wrong he'd been, thinking that he's untouchable. The timeline was already altered, as the survivors revealed what happened to the authorities; in the original timeline, the events on Mars remained a mystery.
  • At the end of the Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth, Jack manages to save the world. However, in order to do so, he had to kill his grandson. Not to mention that his boyfriend also just died in the previous episode...
  • In That Mitchell and Webb Look one episode of Numberwang went on for so long that the game went into 'sudden death'. The first contestant to inhale enough of the poisonous Number Gas won. But, y'know, died.
  • In Power Rangers RPM, in the Grand Finale, after three long years the rangers win the Robot War... but by the time the Big Bad goes down, at least 90% of humanity is dead, with the entire planet outside of Corinth's protective dome having been bombed to a post-nuclear war wasteland. Plants are just starting to regrow in the less radioactively "hot" areas, but the global ecosystem is by and large too far gone to recover most of the lost biodiversity or return with new life with any speed.
  • Sylar finds this out the hard way in Volume 5 of Heroes. He's got everything he ever wanted. He's the most powerful Evolved Human on the face of the earth. He's immortal and invulnerable to harm. There's maybe a gran total of two people (That we know of) who could realistically pose a threat to him and he can easily take all the powers he wants. He's also killed the only two people who ever cared for him and realises that he's now going to be utterly alone, wretched and despised for eternity. It's enough to mke him have yet another Heel Face Turn this one seemingly more permanent than the previous ones.
  • In the series finale of Angel the main cast has successfully set back Wolfram and Hart's plans for the apocalypse by at least several years. The cost is the loss of their control over the firm's earthly assets, the death of two major characters, abandonment of a third, severe wounding of a fourth, and a textbook Bolivian Army Ending. And despite all of that, they decide to make their end memorable.
  • 24 excels at these, but Day 3 is particularly notable for how Jack Bauer, Tony Almeida and Gael Ortega set in motion a Plan to destroy the Cordella virus. The day ends with Gael having died horribly of the disease, Tony being shot and watching the scheme nearly kill his wife and facing 20 years in federal prison, and Jack breaking down crying in his car. But hey... they do accomplish what they set out to do, which is contain the virus.
    • At the end of season 7, the Sangalan rebels are defeated, the nerve gas is captured, and the head of a wider conspiracy is finally caught. The cost, a) the President lost her son, and almost lost her daughter and husband, b) a loyal FBI agent loses her boss and close confidant, and it is implied, her sanity, c) the White House is shot up to shit, d) a man who was royally screwed by a previous Presidential administration sacrifices his life to save the White House staff, e) one of Jack's most trusted allies turns on him and f) Jack nearly dies an agonizing and undignified death.
  • There's an odd example the end of the fifth season of Supernatural, Sam and Dean manage to defeat Lucifer, but at the cost of Sam having to jump into Lucifer's cage. Particularly heartbreaking because all Dean was trying to do was save his brother for most of the series. Then it turns out that Sam's actually alive after all

And if this wasn't bad enough, season seven opens with Castiel smiting numerous angels who opposed him and humans who offended him, and losing control of this power so it releases voracious, unkillable monsters from Purgatory on the world.

  • The eponymous team of Stargate SG-1 is accused of this from time to time in the show. In one episode they're bragging that they've done more in the last few years to defeat the Goa'uld than other groups have managed to do in centuries. The ally they're talking to points out that all they've really done is create power vacuums among the System Lords that have almost inevitably resulted in even worse individuals attaining power. Since Jack is usually the one this is directed at, his response amounts to "at least we're trying."
  • The Chinese Paladin (Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan) TV Series definitely qualifies here, as the main character, Li Xiaoyao, literally loses everyone dear to himself except his newborn daughter a couple scenes right after the "final battle."
  • Played for laughs in Friends when Chandler got the highest score in Ms. Pac-Man but his hand became spasmed and stuck in a "claw" formation.

I got the highest score, but at a price.

  • The Battle of Witchhead in Andromeda turned into this for the Nietzscheans, although they arrived to the battle preparing to ambush a fleet of 100 High Guard ships with an armada of 1500, which would've been a Curb Stomp Battle. Then Hunt (AKA the Angel of Death) shows up and wipes out 1000 ships, damaging the rest, and sewing disarray among the Nietzchean ranks. The High Guard fleet shows up shortly after and is still wiped out, but the Neitzscheans are left with hardly anything themselves. In fact, the ruling Drago-Kazov Pride was supposed to form the dynasty for the new Nietzschean Empire, but their losses mean that they no longer have the power to unite the warring prides, resulting in a 300-year power vacuum.


  • This was, according to medieval myth, the fate of anyone who stabbed a basilisk. Lucian described it thusly: "What though the Moor the Basilisk hath slain, and pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain, up through the spear the subtle venom flies; the hand imbibes it, and the victor dies."

Newspaper Comics

  • In a Peanuts, Snoopy (as "Joe Motocross") has some trouble at a race. His bike's chain broke, the brake pedal bent, he ran into a hay bale, snapped his rear shock rod, had two flat ties, and blew his engine. Snoopy himself is in bad shape too, ending up with a bloody nose, bruised elbows, and losing three teeth.

Snoopy: But I WON A TROPHY!!

  • In FoxTrot, Jason often purposely fools his siblings into "winning" bets that are this:
    • In one Horrible Camping Trip, Jason bets Peter a dollar he can't hit a tree with a hatchet. Peter takes that bet, and hits it perfectly. When Andy is angrily chewing him out for doing something so dangerous, Jason considers the show a dollar well-spent.
    • On one Thanksgiving, he bets Peter a dollar he can eat more than him. He eats two helpings and calls it quits; Peter eats 27 platefuls before even checking the score, eventually passing out without closing his eyes. Again, where else could Jason have had so much fun for a dollar?
    • It happens to Jason himself when he bets Marcus fifty cents that he can write a longer essay. His thousand page essay easily trumps Marcus' 500-page one, but while Marcus gets an A on the essay, Jason, for all his work, gets a D, and fifty cents. And he doesn't learn a thing afterwards.


  • Despite winning via unanimous decision in a ten-round match against Luis Melendez of Colombia, Filipino boxer Z Gorres collapsed shortly after the verdict was announced, and was treated for haematoma, later undergoing extensive physical therapy for him to regain the ability to do day-to-day tasks. Said injuries have unfortunately spelled the end of his boxing career.

Tabletop Games

  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The Thran race "won" the Thran-Phyrexian war, but their civilization had been damaged too greatly to recover, and soon collapsed.
    • Urza and company then won the second Phyrexian war, but at the cost of the lives of pretty much every named character, leaving behind an incredibly powerful artifact which started the next big war on Dominaria, whose conclusion left Dominaria in a state that very nearly tore the multiverse to shreds.
      • This later led to the conflict on Mirrodin, both of which were caused by the phyrexian oil. The first one was won, but at the cost of basically depopulating the plane. The second one didnt go much better.
    • Something tells me the Phyrexian's where named that way for a reason.
  • Warhammer 40,000 is chock full of these, the best example by far being the Imperium's disastrous triumph against Chaos in The Horus Heresy.
  • The first battle of the Horus Heresy did not go well for the traitors, despite ultimately winning. The traitors weren't even supposed to fight the Battle of Isstvan III. Horus and his allies deployed suspected loyalists and soldiers in their units to a planet via drop pod to fight the planets inhabitants. And then Horus would wipe out all life on the planet. Trouble is, one loyalist (Tarvitz) was not deployed to the planet, caught wind of the treachery, and warned the loyalists to reach some bunkers. Tarvitz told Garro (another loyalist not on the planet) to take control of the vessel and warn the rest of the Imperium (the regular Faster than Light communication wasn't working so Garo needed to deliver it). Tarvitz and Garro both succeeded. Before Horus could decide to leave the loyalists on the planet marooned there or bomb them some more, his ally Angron deployed for battle. The loyalists took a heavy toll on the traitors and cost the traitors a considerable amount of time. In the end, Horus just bombarded the planet some more. If it wasn't for a massive victory by the traitors (i.e. Drop Site Massacre) to even things out, there was no way the traitors would have a snowball's chance in hell of winning.
    • Oh so very many games can technically qualify as a win even if an army of 40 Dark Angels, including a squad of Terminators led by a Librarian and Grand Master Frakking Azrael, is whittled down to two and a half squads of basic long as the entire opposing army is dead.
    • "Pyrrhic" is practically the definition of victory in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It's practically a miracle if you haven't lost more than you've gained in the end.
    • The original one in the setting was Khaine's victory over Khaelis Ra (the Nightbringer) in the War in Heaven. Khaine destroyed the Nightbringer's body, but his actual form just transferred to a new one, he nearly killed Khaine, and he implanted an intrinsic fear of death into all sentient life except for the Orks. Though Khaine got the Destroyer aspect out of it all, which lead to some of the best Eldar units in the game, which led to the most overpowered Biel-tan army of 3rd edition (30 Dark Reapers, anyone?), so it wasn't all bad.
    • Slaneesh's victory over Khaine during the Fall of the Eldar not only didn't actually destroy Khaine, but also weakened Slaneesh enough that Cegorach could escape him and Nurgle could steal Isha away from him.
    • Any victory against the Tyranids. The three Hive Fleets that have been encountered so far were stopped, but... they lost dozens of worlds and countless lives before even recognizing the fleet's advance, many more worlds were lost in the scramble to stop it, and the battles that finally broke the fleet came at a staggering cost to the armies involved.
      • The Imperium's fight against the Tyranids provides a rather interesting example. A common strategy for the Imperium is to suck the Tyranids into a war of attrition on a planet until the place is on the verge of being overrun, at which point Imperium conducts an Exterminatus. What makes it interesting is that this can be made into a sort-of Pyrrhic Victory for both sides: sure the Imperium has damaged the Hive Fleet, but it also has lost a planet with all its resources and there are always, always, always more Tyranids out there. On the other hand, the 'Nids may still have plenty more creatures to throw at another planet and their 'prey' may be weaker, but it still lost a whole lot of biomass that it could have used.
    • Tyranids however specifically avoids this result as long as the entire planet still possesses biomass, since the final phase of any invasion is to harvest and devour any biomass on the planet, both friendly and enemy. Thus they actively use this trope to their advantage, creating troops solely for the purpose of wasting enemy ammunition and manpower so that they would either retreat, or draw the battle out until the enemy eventually just collapse and dies.
    • Eldrad's destruction of Abaddon's Planet Killer, breaking the back of the Thirteenth Black Crusade, was accomplished when the Farseer bound himself in eternal conflict with the daemonic spirits controlling the starship and hurled them both into the depths of the Warp.
    • Meta-example: Any world-wide campaign would usually result in this, usually due to not wanting to piss off half the fandom by saying their faction lost. All global campaigns usually end in an Imperial (specifically Space Marine) victory, but reading deeper reveals that while they held whatever planet they were fighting for, the enemies usually made off with some powerful artifact or got what they came for (most notably, while the Dark Eldar were officially defeated in the Medusa campaign, it's stated they've managed to grab so much slaves that they can gorge themselves for eons).
  • Ravenloft, for both heroes and villains. The heroes won't be able to achieve particularly significant things, and it's quite likely they will die in the process of saving a handful; on the Darklords' side of the ledger...well...Count Strahd saved his homeland at the expense of his youth and became immortal at the expense of the life of the woman he loved, to name just one example.
  • Risk- If you've played a few games, this has happened to you at least once.

"Oh, they only have two defenders, my fifteen troops should plow right through that territory into their continent!"
(several rolls later) *one army is left to occupy the territory before the continent* "FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU"



  • Hamlet manages to avenge his father, but virtually every major character dies as a direct or indirect consequence. Lampshaded when he asks an actor to recite a speech about Pyrrhus, albeit the Homeric Pyrrhus and not the trope namer.
  • An Irish play called The Field has a farmer trying desperately to get a plot of land from the woman who owns it. The reason? He wants to pass on something to his son. Of course, the farmer goes to such awful lengths to get the land (including killing someone), that by the time he finally does get the land, it's worthless to him.
  • Both Elphaba and Glinda have these. The former has survived her death sentence, but must pretend to be dead, grievously hurting her best friend, and accept voluntary banishment. Glinda, said best friend, has ascended as the effective ruler of Oz, but at the cost of the lives of her friends and fiancé.

Video Games

  • Grief Syndrome: Congratulations. You are victorious, Mami! Wish I can say the same for your friends though...
  • In Vol. 3 of You Don't Know Jack, the answer for one of the Impossible Questions was 'Pyrrhic victory'. However, if you got it right the game took points off you anyway. Oh how we laughed.
    • Episode 9 of the 2011 release had a question about the definition of a "pyrrhic victory", and demonstrates by having Old Man suffer one when he manages to drink a gallon of milk in one hour, but gets a nasty case of diarrhea in the process.
  • Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics achieves peace and rulership of all of Ivalice... and loses absolutely everyone and everything he's ever cared about in the process. It really is Lonely at the Top.
  • All four Mega Man Zero games end in Pyrrhic Victory for Zero and his group. Z1=Zero goes missing, Z2=the Dark Elf, the one who caused The End of the World as We Know It, was free and Mega Man X's body destroyed, Z3=Neo Arcadia is taken over by the Big Bad Dr. Weil and Z4=Neo Arcadia is destroyed, and Zero dead, for the last time.
  • It doesn't matter if you take the "Deal" or "Revenge" path at the end of Grand Theft Auto IV because either one ends badly for Niko. The "Deal" ending is far worse than the "Revenge" one.
  • If you don't do any of your partners' loyalty missions and just rush through the game, Mass Effect 2 ends with one: The collectors' base is destroyed/given to Cerberus, but at the cost of the lives of you and your entire squad.
    • However, if you end up taking your sweet time at a certain point, you will end up losing Chambers and Doctor Chakwas, as well as most of your crew.
    • The situation on Rannoch in Mass Effect 3 can quickly turn into this. Shepard just took out a Reaper on foot, freeing the geth from their control. But this also made the geth vulnerable to the still-at-war quarian fleet. If you haven't earned the requirements for peace between the two sides, you have to choose between them. And you will probably feel horrible no matter which side you choose.
    • As it turns out in Mass Effect 3 ALL the endings are this trope.

In two of the Endings the Reapers are defeated at the cost of destroying the mass relay network, cutting off all galactic civilization, and the allied fleets are stranded in the Sol system with no way home. If the player rushed through the game and didn't gather enough war assets for the final fight then Earth is also destroyed.
In the other Ending all of organic life somehow gets bonded with artificial life, essentially trading organic diversity for a forced homogenous existence with the Reapers.

  • In the last GDI mission of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, choosing to drop the Liquid Tiberium Bomb not only wipes out all of the Nod forces, but all of your own forces and sets off a chain reaction that kills twenty-five million civilians.
    • Each sequel reveals this is what happened for the last game. In Tiberian Sun, it's revealed that after Tiberian Dawn, Tiberium contamination spread to uncontrollable levels and while Nod is pacified, they have developed cyborg technology and several splinter cells are trying to take command. In Tiberium Wars, it's revealed that the cure discovered at the end of Tiberian Sun was not only ineffective, it caused Tiberium to mutate, becoming even more toxic than before and causing 80% of the world to either be thrown back into the dark ages or become dangerously inhospitable. By the fourth game, Tiberium not only took over the world, but threatens to kill off the entire human race within 6 years. Apparently GDI looses more ground with each game.
  • Under-rated PSP game Infection has this at the end. You've managed to save New York by wiping out all the zombies! Congratulations! Too bad you only saved a few hundred people, at least the entire continental United States is still zombified, and there's no word from the rest of the world. But still...New York! Ayyyy!
  • The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3 way more than qualifies as a Pyrrhic Victory for Big Boss.
  • 2008 Prince of Persia ends with sealing Ahriman away for a thousand years...except that Elika had to die (again) to put him away for good.
    • If you keep playing through the *real* ending and the downloadable Epilogue, Ahriman's "victory" smacks of Pyrrhic Villainy. By bringing Elika back, the Prince freed Ahriman to destroy the world, but it seems that Elika is also somehow vitally important to finally defeating him—reviving her enabled his release but will probably result in his ultimate destruction (assuming sequels happen).
  • The mission results screen for the penultimate mission of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies notes how victory over the Eruseans came at a very high cost of ISAF casualties, including many aces lost to Stonehenge.
  • At least two endings of Oracle of Tao are like this. The best ending has the whole party teaming up to kill off the Big Bad, resulting in another boss, followed by a Playable Epilogue and a whole bunch of new endings. But if you don't meet all the prerequisites, you get secondary endings (the only one of which is actually good involves the use of a legendary sword). One of these involves the hero sacrificing all her energy and half-destroying the universe to kill it off (and STILL might not be enough, so you need some party members that will survive the event, namely your angel/demon characters) just to end the demon's rampage, and the second involves an exorcist ringing a bell that is deadly to everyone who hears it, taking herself out as well. Either of these losses completely wrecks party morale, and the group splits up thereafter.)
  • While the effect of the final battle wasn't immediate upon the protagonist of Persona 3, many players assumed that he was just sleeping when he closes his eyes in Aigis' lap on the final day of the game. It turns out he 'died' that day, and the sequel, Persona 3: FES, shows us what effect the protagonist's 'death' has upon the rest of the party. The reveal that the protagonist actually sacrificed his life to become the barrier between Nyx and humanity becomes the main point of contention between the entire party, especially for Yukari, who spends most of the game wanting to see him again, to the point where she would be willing to reset time even if it meant dooming the rest of humanity.
  • The bad ending of Persona 4 where you choose to kill Namatame. If you didn't kill him, he would have gotten away with it, right? But Nanako is dead, Dojima is left all alone, and your friends have to live with the fact that they killed a man who they weren't even sure was the true culprit. Heavy fog continues to envelope the world as you say goodbye to your friends...
  • Saya no Uta has this in all of its endings, to some degree.
  • Super Metroid: Samus defeats Mother Brain and takes down the Space Pirates, but loses not only the Larva she went down there to save, but her childhood home as well.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep has all characters' endings like this. Terra loses his body to Master Xehanort but his armor and weapons reform by Terra's force of will and defeat his own body, stopping the current plan. However, Xehanort survives to become the Big Bad for the rest of the series, while what's left of Terra is just an empty suit of armor kneeling in the remains of the Keyblade Graveyard and stewing in anger at Xehanort for 11 years. Ventus defeats Vanitas inside his own mind destroying the X-Blade and stopping the other part of the plan. However the damage to his heart is so severe that he's rendered comatose while his heart seeks safety within Sora's. Aqua finishes off Xehanort's plans for good, except both her friends are gone, she inadvertently sets off the events that would put the first game into motion, and she's stuck wandering the Realm of Darkness alone for years. However, unlike most Pyrrhic Victories, there is the hope of Sora saving them all.
  • The Halo trilogy: At the end of the Human-Covenant War the humans successfuly prevent Earth from being completely destroyed and permanently end the threat of the Covenant. However most human colonies are lost as well as basically the entire fleet and armed forces, and given that 23 billion humans died, there's barely anything left of their former interstellar empire.
    • The Covenant suffer one as well in Halo: Reach. Though the invasion of Reach was a complete success that basically broke the backbone of the human forces, they still loss 2/3 of their fleet trying to occupy and destroy Reach. Not only that, but they also were not able to prevent the Pillar of Autumn from escaping the system with the coordinates of an ancient Forerunner instalation. The arrival of that ship on the first Halo in the first game directly lead to the end of the Covenent and prevented the total extinction of all humans.
    • Really, this is a habit with Bungie. The Marathon trilogy had only a handful of the Tau Ceti colony escape alive, plus the Pfhor angered enough by their defeat to pull a Superweapon Surprise as a final “screw you” (almost causing the destruction of the universe too through accidental stupidity;) Myth has pretty much your entire army slaughtered to a man over the course of the game, culminating in a Taking You with Me when you destroy the Big Bad; and Oni ends with the revelation that the entire planet is ecologically on its last legs.
    • Despite their noble decision to form a truce with humanity and aiding in destroying the loyalist forces, the Sangheili are no better off afterwards- without the means to create the vessels that they used (as they were creations of the Prophets backward-engineering existing Forerunner technology), their campaign against the Brutes is long and bloody. Worse still, they lack any spiritual guidance that they once had prior to their race being integrated to the Covenant, to the point where one Sangheili leader in the comic "The Return" revisits a planet he had glassed, simply to find anything that might rekindle their faith. Fortunately, after saving a human, he finds out about the existance of a Monitor, a lead he intends to follow to achieve the ends that he seeks.
      • The novel Halo Glasslands also reveals that Sangheili society is on the verge of imploding without the Prophets to maintain any sort of unity amongst the various Sangheili factions.
  • The Protoss ending in the first StarCraft. The Overmind was destroyed but Aiur is now infested by Zerg. Crazy, disorganised and rampant Zerg.
  • From the X-COM series:
    • The ending of X-COM X-COM: Terror from the Deep not only results in the deaths of the best troops sent to fight the aliens, but also in the deaths of millions from poisons and global warming as the result of the destruction of the alien mothership.
    • The ending of X-COM: Enemy Unknown isn't much better—the global financial crisis following the war results in the collapse of most of the world governments. Also, the eventual depletion of Earth's only supply of Elerium-115 results in all Imported Alien Phlebotinum becoming useless.
    • If one takes Interceptor into account, while Earth is still a toxic mess, humanity uses alien technology gained in previous games as a stepping stone to a robust interstellar empire, one which successfully wrests control of the stars from hostile aliens.
  • Final Fantasy I: The heroes confront Chaos, destroying him and shattering the time loop. But because that loop is shattered, no one—not even the heroes—remembers there was ever a battle to begin with. The price of victory? Never knowing your greatest achievements ever were.
  • In Chapter 6 of Super Paper Mario, you fail to recover the Pure Heart before The Void consumes the Sammer Kingdom. Afterwards, you return to where Sammer Kingdom used to be (now called the "World of Nothing," and fight a boss to recover the Pure Heart. But even though you get a nearly full "You Got A Pure Heart" victory animation, the Pure Heart has been turned to stone by the destruction of the world it rested in, rendering it useless. The only thing missing from the animation is all your Pixls lining up to do their dance, most likely because even they know it's only a Pyrrhic Victory.
  • The Battle of Parsir in Mitsumete Knight. Sure, Dolphan won the fight in the end... But at the cost of one third of its army, due to enemy General Meehilbis'.
  • The canon ending to Blaze Union. The incompetent government has been overthrown, Gulcasa is able to completely ignore the corrupt court by becoming the world's most empathetic and competent dictator, and the people's lives can finally return to normal. Over the course of achieving this, the employer Gulcasa trusted and his Living Emotional Crutch died, his mother bullied him into killing her for the sake of reclaiming his true power, and his childhood friend and mentor tried to kill him out of fear that he might become a monster someday, leaving him a complete emotional wreck.

Three years later, just when his people's lives and his own mental state have stabilized, his attempt to rescue the rest of the world goes as wrong as it possibly can, and he is forced to watch everyone he ever loved sacrifice themselves for him as his country is ravaged by invaders, ending in his own death. Thank God for that gaiden where you can fix this.

  • In Dragon Age: Origins, a Human Noble PC's sacrifice makes it a Pyrrhic Victory for the Couslands. It becomes one for the PC if Alistair sacrifices himself out of love.
  • Crysis ending is kind of like this, to the point that the song that plays through the final battle is called Pyrrhic Victory. Nomad and Co. manage to destroy the giant alien ship and exosuit, but the entire fleet was destroyed and only Nomad, Psycho, Helena and Prophet survive the entire island ordeal. To make things worse, you only destroyed a single exosuit, and during the entire battle you see maybe hundreds of thousands leave the sphere on the island...
  • You can be told that you have suffered one in Total War: Shogun 2, though if you have truly broken the enemy army and don't have anyone else to worry about your forces will regrow naturally over time without you having to pay, making this a bit of a misnomer. That doesn't mean you can throw your forces away however, other clans may take advantage of your momentary weakness.
    • Same in Napoleon: Total War, where this troop replenishment model was first implemented. Unlike the previous games, where a seriously depleted elite unit would lose experience by diluting veterans with rookies (training only does so much), troops starting with Empire: Total War no longer suffer this effect.
  • The ending of Arc The Lad 2. Let's have Elc explain it, shall we?

Elc: It makes me wonder what we were fighting for. Arc died, and for what? So we could inherit this desolate and hopeless future? We didn't stop the world from ending, we survived it. And, now we are left with nothing.

  • Mortal Kombat 9 quickly escalates into a Wham! Episode about 1/2 of the way through Story Mode and then divebombs into this trope for the Grand Finale. Raiden, after grieving over how his attempts to prevent Armageddon have yielded no positive effects (in fact, they arguably made them worse), finally realizes that the words of his future self ("He must win.") refers to letting Shao Kahn win the Outworld tournament and merge Earthrealm with Outworld, so that the Elder Gods can punish him for his treachery. Raiden, however, has practically crossed the Despair Event Horizon due to the futility of everyone's sacrifices. The only heroes left (out of Raiden, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Jax Briggs, [Cyber] Sub-Zero, Smoke, Kitana, Jade, Nightwolf, Kurtis Stryker, and Kabal)? Raiden, Sonya, and Cage. Even worse, the Sequel Hook with Quan Chi and Shinnok (The Dragon and Big Bad of Mortal Kombat 4) shows that Shao Kahn's defeat has left a major villain vacuum.
  • The backstory and supplemental material of Portal explains that the Aperture Science researchers who built GLaDOS found out a little too late that her idea of "supervising the functioning of the Enrichment Center" involved, as a first step, murdering all of them with a deadly neurotoxin. Just prior to dying, the scientists managed to install a Morality Core to restrain her homicidal impulses, but it was far too late for any of them.
  • You can use this against Legate Lanius, commander of Caesar's Legion in the final confrontation of Fallout: New Vegas. With a high-enough speech skill, you can convince him that even after winning the battle for Hoover Dam, he would not be able to take on the rest of the NCR due to either a lack of forces or an inability to properly sustain his army. Being a Genius Bruiser with Hidden Depths, this is enough to convince him to retreat.
  • In Phantasy Star II, Mother Brain is destroyed, but that's no consolation. Palm, along with most of humanity, was already destroyed by Mother Brain, Motavia's terraforming and technological civilization will collapse without Mother Brain to control them, and most of humanity is too weak-willed by now to survive the desert planet that Motavia will turn into.
  • While the first Knights of the Old Republic painted the cannon Light Side ending as a fairly straightforward victory of the Republic against the Sith, (only made slightly bittersweet for the PC with Malak's regret before his death, and especially Bastila's possible death). As a part of its massive Deconstructor Fleet, the sequel went into more detail of the effect of the loss of so many resources, leaders, and most of the Jedi on the tired Republic, painting the Jedi Civil War as one of these.
    • The second battle of Bothawui the Sith forces have killed all of the Republic forces but suffered massive losses and couldn't keep a foothold on the planet so they decided to just leave.
  • Modern Warfare. Full Stop. The American campaign of the first game sees you struggle against Khalid Al-Asad and his Quaracian army, which has overthrown and executed the lawful president stands poised to dominate the Middle East, and potentially the entire Muslim world. After a series of costly running battles and abortive attempts to end the war, you succeed in dismantling Al-Asad's war machine and forcing him to flee into exile. The cost? He drops a nuke on you and the entire American expeditionary force, leaving you with a very bitter Our Hero Is Dead conclusion to the campaign.
  • In STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl, the best ending has Strelok stopping the C-Consciousness' ulterior motive of tampering with the noosphere by shooting their stasis pods and then escaping their secret lab by means of a portal off-screen. However, this caused the Zone to become even more unstable as emissions have run rampant on a daily basis, resulting in an increase of zombified stalkers, mutant activity, Monolith soldiers, and other nastiness. Call of Pripyat takes place after this ending.
  • In Halo, the war between the Forerunners and the Flood technically ended with victory for the former group; all they had to do was eradicate all sentient life in the universe so the Flood would starve, and leave behind technology that would start evolution of every race over at the beginning. That was the only plan these Sufficiently Advanced Aliens could come up with to kill these things. Indeed, the Flood is really bad news even in present day, the only way to stop the spread of the parasites is to quarantine the infected area and blow it up, such operations often done via cooperation between humans and Covenant forces, the two usually being Arch Enemies.
  • In both World Heroes games, winning the tournament is this for Jenne; she is the champion, yes, but still fails her true goal, finding a husband she can respect. In the second game, her ending has her wondering if she'd have more luck if she used her power to conquer the world so she could take anyone she wanted.

Web Comics

  • In the prologue of Drowtales, the Sharen won the war against the Nidraa'chal, but the cost was horrible for their clan and their city. In fact, it is an inversion: the Nidraa'chal were not destroyed, and they are the actual winners of this war, with only a few less, and had in fact infiltrated the clan from the inside and were founded by several of the clan's own royal daughters.
  • In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn kills the dragon—except his arm is broken, he must spare the mortally-wounded Ember any further suffering, and it was the wrong dragon.
  • The end of the Dr McNinja saga "Doc Gets Rad" has the doc trap Sparlelord in a infinite time-loop, preventing him from conquering the world. Of course, by doing this, he eliminated the one threat that could have permanently defeated King Radical, which Radical is more than happy to rub in Doc's face.

Web Original

  • In Tech Infantry, pretty much every battle in the story is one of these, if not an outright defeat. The first Jurvain invasion of Rios is destroyed, at the cost of a jump gate, then a rebel attack is driven off with such heavy cost in Council Loyalist ships that when a second Jurvain invasion comes in, there's effectively nothing to stop them. The rebel fleet attacks the Federation capital in Avalon, and is again driven off at the cost of such heavy Federation casualties that future offensive operations against anyone are pretty much impossible. And the Vin Shriak is defeated, at the cost of so weakening the Federation that they are powerless to resist a subsequent invasion by the Eastern Bloc and their alien allies.
  • The titular character of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog gets, in his own words, everything he ever wanted: respect as a villain, entrance into the elite Evil League of Evil, and the defeat of his nemesis. However, it costs him the life of the only woman he's ever loved before he's even been able to tell her how he feels.
    • Not to mention her last words. Can you imagine any satisfaction in his "victory" at all after something like that?
  • This Erfworld story arc involves something on a smaller scale. Gobwin Knob has made a series of losing attacks on the Jetstone forces, which were reported to their commander as victories by the psuedo-magical "rules" that make Erfworld function like a tabletop game. It takes a couple minutes for someone to point out that, by attacking, inflicting losses, and retreating, the Gobwin Knob forces were technically losing the engagement but still inflicting critical damage on the Jetstone siege forces.
  • 'Red vs. Blue has the defeat of the Meta and dealing with Project Freelancer come at the price of Alpha-Church and several other A Is being destroy in a EMP, Tex imprisoned in the capture unit that Epsilon-Church then joins her in (which is thrown into evidence and deemed useless) and Wash almost killed, then forced to masquerade as Church to avoid prison time. Oh, and Red Team lost Lopez.
  • The Whateley Universe has the Halloween battle. What was originally intended as a cover so that the Goobers could kill Sara Waite turned into a full-on attack on Team Kimba, with many others getting caught in the cross-fire, and it ended badly for everyone- while the Whateley crew won, they ended up with thousands of dollars of property damage, more than a few injured, a staff member dying and that triggering a rager attack by another staff member that turned him almost committing suicide because of the death of his girlfriend. It turned out worse for Englund, the instigator- almost everyone on the staff and more than a few students hated him even though they couldn't prove that he did it, the attack on Sara wasn't successful, and the staff member who went rager now wants to kill him with extreme prejudice. The Syndicate (the main evil attackers) lost hundreds of their soldiers, and the main general ended up nearly losing his boyfriend. In other words, nobody won and everybody lost.

Western Animation

  • In the Transformers episode "The Golden Lagoon", nature-loving Autobot Beachcomber discovers a glen full of organic life and a pool of "Electrum" which in this case is the opposite of Kryptonite. Cue both factions going through a never-ending battle to take command of the pool, destroying every single piece of life in the glen. Beachcomber's final words as he surveys the nuclear war scene? "We won..."
    • This is especially ironic in nature, since the Autobots have explained time and again that their mission was to "protect life"... apparently, completely destroying a glen full of life in order to get to a major plot point doesn't count.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara comes across a elderly waterbender named Hama who teaches her on how to improve her Waterbending skills, albeit through questionable methods. Her last lesson is Waterbending's ultimate technique, Bloodbending, where under a full moon the Waterbender can take complete control of his opponent. Katara, of course, is horrified at such a practice and vows not to use it. But when Hama takes control of Aang and Sokka and nearly kills them, Katara has no choice but to use the technique to stop her. Hama laughs at this while she's being carted off by the officials, as she suceeded in making Katara use the technique much to Katara's dismay.
  • In Chaotic, "Allmagedon", a creature uses an attack to defeat an army of underworlders, at the expence of all he was trying to protect.
  • In the original Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century short, Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian are fighting over planet X. At one point, they start drawing bigger and bigger guns in an attempt to destroy the other and end up blowing the planet up, leaving a few minor scraps so small that it literally wasn't big enough for the both of them. At this point, Dodgers shoves Marvin off the planet and starts gloating about his victory, while the camera pans down to reveal the Eager Young Space Cadet is hanging on to a few roots, saying "Big Deal".