You Can't Thwart Stage One

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"You fool! Don't you know evil always triumphs in the middle!"


Finagle's Law meets the Rule of Drama. Any time the villain is putting together an Evil Plan, we can always expect it to reach its final stage, no matter what the hero or heroes do to try to stop it. If the villain is trying to collect the Three Cosmic Keystones that will allow him to become a Physical God, he will assemble them all. If the villain is trying to unseal a Sealed Evil in a Can, it will break free and need to be defeated or re-sealed. If the villain is planning to disgrace the king, Hypnotize the Princess and rule the kingdom, he will accomplish the first two before The Hero stops him. And so on.

No matter what the hero tries, the forces of villainy will inevitably come within inches of victory, forcing one final showdown with everything at stake. This does not mean The Hero must be completely ineffective until this last battle -- Dragons may be defeated and minor complications may be done away with. But as for the brunt of the threat, there's no averting it until the eleventh hour. Naturally, once the eleventh hour arrives, The Good Guys Always Win, but they'll cut it close.

This is especially painful to watch when The Hero or otherwise a good guy will attempt to foil the Evil Plan in a way that In-Universe seems like a perfectly good idea, but from a Doylist point of view is too anticlimactic to work. In the best case, they fail at the earliest opportunity in a relatively harmless way. Otherwise, they may appear to be making progress—obstacles will be cleared and the stakes will rise—only for the story to inevitably Yank the Dog's Chain and pull the whole thing into catastrophic failure.

You Are Too Late is often involved. Hostage for Macguffin, MacGuffin Delivery Service and Xanatos Gambit are frequently employed to make the hero effective without routing the villain. Team Rocket Wins can give the heroes more of a challenge and justify failing at first.

Compare Your Princess Is in Another Castle.

WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Examples of You Can't Thwart Stage One include:

Anime and Manga

  • The heroines of Lyrical Nanoha were almost able to thwart stage one in each of the three seasons, having retained one half of the Jewel Seeds in Season 1, convinced the Wolkenritter that finishing all 666 pages of the Book of Darkness might be a bad idea in Season 2, and rescued the Mysterious Waif before she could be used by the Big Bad in Season 3. Almost doesn't cut it though as Precia executes her plans anyway with what she has no matter how unstable it is, the Masked Man intervenes and uses the Wolkenritter's essence as fuel for the remaining pages of the Book of Darkness, and the Numbers invade and destroy the heroes' HQ to reclaim the Mysterious Waif respectively.
    • Thankfully, in the first season, Amy was already searching for Precia's base while Nanoha was fighting Fate for the last time, knowing that if Nanoha lost the duel and forfeited all the Jewel Seeds to Fate, they'd still have a way of stopping Precia.
      • In any case, Precia revealed herself too early when she launched a cross-dimensional attack, allowing Amy to trace it back to the hidden lair.
    • You could argue that they did thwart stage one in the first season. Precia just went through with the plan anyways because she's a suicidal lunatic.
    • FORCE looks set to use this too, with the Huckebein having kicked hero tail thus far in the first major engagement.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima manga Kyoto arc, not only did Negi fail to thwart Stage One -stopping bad guys from kidnapping Konoka-, he also failed to thwart Stage Two -saving Konoka to stop Demon God from being summoned- and even failed in defeating the said Demon God after it was summoned. It took Villainous Rescue by Evangeline to save the day.
    • Similarily in the immediately following Festival arc, Negi lost the entire game and only rectified that through use of time travel.
  • Double Subverted in Yu Yu Hakusho: The Big Bad of the Dark Tournament arc is revealed to have a plan to make a portal to the demon world, but it stopped when he was still gaining sufficient funds. However, the villains of the next arc have the same plan, but already have the means to do so.
    • The Chapter Black saga also mostly plays it straight, as the heroes fail to prevent Kuwabara from being kidnapped, fail to stop the opening of the portal, and destroy the barrier themselves. While they prevent a demon invasion, they learn that they were playing into Sensui's alternate plan.
  • In One Piece, during the Water 7 arc, the Straw Hats try to get Robin to come back to the crew on several occasions, but fail each attempt due to CP9 threatening the Straw Hats with the Buster Call, which prevents her from coming back. It takes them breaking into the heavily defended Enies Lobby, convincing Robin she's one of them and saving her just before she is to be taken beyond their reach. Similarly, in the Impel Down arc, Luffy doesn't manage to save Ace inside Impel Down, but has to go all the way to Marine Headquarters.
    • And he ultimately fails, despite managing to free Ace from the execution platform.
  • Almost every arc in Bleach.
    • One way Rukia's execution falls into this trope is in Ichigo failing to prevent Byakuya and Renji from arresting her, and it takes Ichigo until the last possible second to show up to save her. In another way, while the heroes prevented Aizen from getting the Hogyoku as a result of Rukia's execution, he managed to find another way and escaped to Hueco Mundo.
    • And then averted with the end of the arrancar arc. Assuming Aizen had won that battle, he'd still have to create the King's Key and beat Squad Zero. Since that involves the destruction of Karakura and the deaths of 100,000 people, including many the heroes know, it's clear why they can't let him succeed.
    • In Bount Arc villains successfully invade Soul Society and almost blow it up.
    • The Zanpakuto Tales arc also follows this with Muramasa's true plan, as Ichigo unknowingly helps Muramasa acquire control of Ryujinjakka by attacking him with Getsuga Tensho, and Muramasa manages to unseal Kouga.
    • In Fullbring Arc, the villains' plan goes off without a hitch and he steals Ichigo's Fullbring, leaving him powerless again. Then Shinigami arrive and restore his powers.
    • The War Arc if also shaping like that, villains already control Hueco Mundo.
  • As an added Gut Punch to the already bleak universe of Elfen Lied, the anime version's cut off point kicks off the second phase of Kakuzawa's plans in the manga. The protagonists who are warned of the incoming threat are unable to stop Kakuzawa launching a missile filled with the Diclonius virus set to explode over the Japanese shoreline, infecting hundreds of thousands of civilians over the course of a few months, and would later spread throughout the entire world. Of course, if it was stopped, or if it never happened, then the storyline would have ended like in the anime: abrupt.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Father plans on using Amestris to make a philosopher stone, like he did with Xerxes 400 years ago, which requires tunnels being dug throughout the countries, bloody battles taking place at critical points on the circle, and five people who have opened the gate being gathered. The presence of Pride makes destroying the tunnels impossible, so the heroes plan on defeating Father before "The Promised Day" arrives. During the siege of Central, Father manages to gather Hohenheim, Ed, Al, Izumi and Roy as his sacrifices. This is Justified, as the centuries-old plan was already nearing the final stage when Ed and Al were born. Technically speaking, the plan is never thwarted at all -- it's reversed after being completed.
  • In Chouja Reideen, the heroes are completely unable to stop the Chouma from gathering the Zodiac Orbs by the simple problem of the fact that they don't even know they exist, much less that the enemy is gathering them.
  • In Dragonball Z, The Big Bad of each season will always reach his strongest transformation, especially in cases where this involves absorbing somebody. However the only strong characters have chronic cases of Honor Before Reason and typically let the enemy get to their maximum power so that there's no doubt of who's the strongest when its over.
    • The most straight forward and egregious example being the beginning of the Buu saga, wherein Goku and Vegeta who were at least twice as strong as The Dragon and 100s of times stronger than the Big Bad not only failed to stop Buu's revival but agreed to cause it so they they could settle their infighting. Cue 60+ episodes of trying to undo the damage.
  • Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo, being a parody of shonen series, manages to double-subvert this. When Czar Baldy Bald III, the arc's Big Bad, is about to emerge from a century of cryogenic freezing, Bo-bobo seals him back in, throws the container around a bit, and then blows it up. However, the Czar had managed to escape through his martial art: magic.
  • In Mai-Otome, the protagonists make moves against Nagi's plans for the first 16 episodes, but are unable to accomplish enough to stop him from taking over Windbloom or activating the Harmonium, leading up to an attempt to liberate Windbloom, destroy the Harmonium and defeat him.
  • In Naruto, Akatsuki need to seal all 9 of the Tailed Beast for their goal (both the ones Pain and Tobi stated) to be completed. Inevitably, in the Rescue Gaara arc they fail to get Gaara back before his beast is sealed, beast 2-7 were sealed off-screen, and Tobi seems to be able to at least partially make up for the absence of the 8 and 9-tailed beast with a fraction of each one's chakra found in a severed tentacle and the body of a man revived by Kabuto, respectively.
  • In Katekyo Hitman Reborn, the Big Bad of the Inheritance Ceremony Arc, Daemon Spade, manages to steal Mukuro's body near the end of the arc. He receives a massive power boosts since he now has access to his full power, and the rest of the arc consists in the final battle against him.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has You Can't Thwart Stage One meets New Game+. Homura can't prevent Madoka becoming a Magical Girl, but time will be rewound in case she can't protect Madoka anymore. Nobody Can Complete Stage One, that is.

Comic Books

  • A variant on this was standard procedure in Silver Age DC Comics: The villain would always pull off one or two crimes with a given modus operandi before the hero beat him. Lampshaded by the Penguin, who commented that if you actually look at the numbers, he defeated Batman more often than Batman defeated him (people just remember Batman's victories because the Penguin went to jail afterward).
  • Humorously deconstructed in the Astro City "Show 'Em All"—the Junkman pulls off a major heist without a hitch, and lives a life of luxury while everyone wonders who was the brilliant criminal who committed the robbery. However, he is soon frustrated at not getting recognition for the coup and the public's assumption that the heroes caught the criminal somehow. This drives him to repeat the plan again—albeit with deliberately-induced minor flaws—until he becomes famous for the initial robbery. He is eventually arrested and sits through a high-profile trial, at which point he escapes the consequences anyway.
  • An aversion happened in the Sin City story Family Values. Throughout this graphic novel, Dwight and Miho decimate an entire mob family with only a few instances where it's possible that Dwight may be killed or arrested. The drama actually comes from the mystery surrounding the reason why Old Town is going after this mob family and how the random pieces of information all link together.

Fan Works


  • The Incredibles: Syndrome managed to launch his robot before the heroes were able to take him down.
  • Star Trek: In Star Trek Generations Picard and Kirk can use the Nexus to travel anywhere in time or space to thwart Doctor Soran's plan to blow up a star. They decide to go to Soran's launch site, a few minutes before Soran fires the missile. Not, say, half an hour earlier, before Soran realized Picard had discovered him. Or six hours earlier, before Soran had arrived to prep the missile. Or back to the Enterprise, two weeks earlier, when Picard could have radioed the science station to warn them about Soran's secret lab and the Romulan commando raid. Or three weeks earlier, when Picard could have emailed his brother to suggest he take that year's family vacation at Eurodisney rather than the Lethal Fire Caves of Vraxinor IX. And let's not even think about Soran going back to get his family the hell off his homeworld before the Borg attack...
  • Star Wars: Played straight in A New Hope, where the Death Star was in firing range of the rebel base before it was destroyed. In Return of the Jedi, they destroy the Death Star while it's under construction, but it still counts because the Death Star is already operational, halfway through wiping out the Rebel fleet, and luring the Rebels there was the Emperor's plan all along.
    • As the middle film of the trilogy, the whole of The Empire Strikes Back is this trope, as the Rebels get chased off Hoth, Han and Leia spend the entire film on the run (before they get captured anyway and Han gets carbon-frozen) and Luke screws up his Jedi training, loses his hand and gets severely emotionally traumatized.
      • George Lucas has stated that this was to give the trilogy the plot of a three-act play, in which the worst part always comes in Act II.
    • In Revenge of the Sith, the good guys are, of course, doomed to failure since otherwise the original trilogy wouldn't happen. If you watch the series in chronological order, their failure to stop Palpatine in Sith becomes this trope in play.
  • Batman Begins: The League of Shadows manages to start spreading the toxin throughout Gotham (and are most of the way to blowing up its water mains) before they are defeated.
  • Rocky III restores the drama by having the now-champion Rocky lose his title at the beginning of the movie to Clubber Lang, from whom he eventually regains it.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, the Big Bad says early on that he will kill three people and Holmes will fail to save any of them. He succeeds in doing so, but Holmes thwarts his plan before he can attack his fourth and final target.
    • Likewise in the sequel, the Big Bad Moriarty is always one step ahead of Holmes, managing to pull off his schemes without a hitch while distracting and misleading the good detective at every turn. By the end of the film with minutes left to go it looks like The Bad Guy Wins until Holmes reveals the fruition of his Batman Gambit to get Moriarty's notes which allow the police to dismantle his financial empire. Even at this stage, Holmes's Awesome By Analysis fighting style predicts that he will be on the receiving end of a Curb Stomp Battle from Moriarty unless he performs the iconic Heroic Sacrifice over Reichenbach Falls.
  • In Collateral, Vincent kills all but one of the people on his hit list, although it's not until the fourth one that Max begins actively trying to stop him.
  • In Avatar, Jake and the Na'vi fail to repel the human invasion until the last possible opportunity.
  • In The Manchurian Candidate remake, all efforts to reach out to Marco fail until he decides at the last possible second to have himself and his mother get shot instead of the president-elect, thwarting the conspiracy's plans.
  • Austin Powers Subverts and lampshades this. In song.

Dr. Evil: Austin caught me in the first act/what's up with that?

    • It's also one of the things on Austin's "Things to do Before I Die" list.
  • Surprisingly averted in Johnny English. The titular agent gets too close to the Big Bad's attempt to kidnap and impersonate the Archbishop of Canterbury, so he abandons that plan.
  • Gremlins: Billy and his mom almost succeed in killing the first five gremlins, which would end the movie, but of course the head gremlin just manages to elude him and replicate by jumping into a swimming pool.
  • Lara Croft Tomb Raider would have ended a lot sooner if Lara Croft had followed her father's instructions and destroyed her half of the Triangle of Light.
  • In Hush, Helen, who is expected go give birth at any minute, manages to hijack a car and get the hell away from the mansion of her insane mother-in-law who has been holding her hostage for the purpose of taking her baby from her and then killing her. So Helen drives around in blind panic for several minutes, finally manages to find a nearby highway and collapses in exhaustion at the side of the road, raising her hand in desperation for someone to pick her up and get her to a hospital... And, what, five seconds later a car pulls by... And it's her evil mother-in-law! What are the odds of that! Said Evil mother-in-law then takes her back to the house so they can both be there for her giving birth.
  • In the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation, the Haters attempt to thwart the Antichrist Franco Maccalousso's Day of Wonders virtual reality program from going live by uploading a virus into the program. While they succeed in doing so by the end of the movie through a miracle, the virus only delays the program from going live, as it is seen in full use in the following movie Tribulation.
  • In the second Hellboy movie, the plot could have ended halfway in if Liz melted their piece of the MacGuffin immediately after they got it instead of waiting until after losing it to the villain and having to defeat him to get it back.


  • Soon I Will Be Invincible: Doctor Impossible manages to acquire all the components and build his Doomsday Device before he's finally stopped. It's a Troperiffic tale, so the heroes even discuss that they're not likely to out-guess his Evil Plan before it's ready.
    • Also averted: One of the past plans Dr. Impossible mentions never even got to the evil stage before being shut down: the plan that created superhero Fatale.
  • In The Amulet of Samarkand, the first installment of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Lovelace manages to trap the British government and summon Ramuthra before he is defeated.
  • Angels & Demons, where The Dragon manages to kill all four of the Preferiti before the plan is stopped. Subverted in the film where Langdon saves the fourth from his watery death.
  • The Seventh Tower series ends with the heroes fighting the Big Bad to regain the Violet Keystone - if they're too slow, their world's defense fails. They catch up to him just when he's summoning his army.
  • Subverted somewhat in Dune. Baron Harkonnen's plan to take over Arrakis, destroy House Atreides, and eventually place his nephew on the Imperial throne has several important factors go wrong from the beginning (such as Paul and Jessica surviving and his second-in-command Piter being killed before he could assume control of Arrakis, and keeping a member of the Atreides staff alive and in his employ). The repercussions of these factors ultimately ruin the Baron, and probably meant that his plan wouldn't have succeeded in any case. As the Princess Irulan said, "A beginning is a very delicate thing".
  • Arthur Dent and company totally fail to thwart the Krikket robots and their masters until the end of Life, the Universe, and Everything. This is one of very few tropes The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy plays totally straight.
  • Inverted in the Megamorphs book Elfangor's Secret, where the heroes thwart stage one by saving Henry V at Agincourt but fail to prevent Visser 4 from killing George Washington and Admiral Nelson. They win in the end though.
    • Inverted in another way by going back in time decades before stage one and thwarting the entire effort.
  • Averted in The Obsidian Trilogy when the Endarkened's first tactic is defeated before they can destroy their enemies. It still did a lot of damage before it was stopped, though, and they had other plans already starting to be implemented at the time.
  • The Left Behind series includes several points where the main characters could probably disrupt the plans of The Antichrist, averting the Tribulation entirely (or at least greatly throwing off the predestined order of events). They usually either reason that they cannot or should not, because the Tribulation is God's will.
  • The Doom of Mandos is basically a divinely-ordained version of this in The Silmarillion. The Noldor and everyone associated with them are doomed to fail in all their efforts against Morgoth until they ask the Valar for forgiveness, and they only do when Morgoth has pretty much won.

Live Action TV

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: One of Glory's minions opened the portal home before Glory was defeated.
    • The same thing happens in Seasons One and Three, as well. In Season One, the confrontation itself triggers the final phase, as the Big Bad needs Buffy's blood to give him the strength to set his plan in motion. In Season Three, by the time they figure out who the real Big Bad is, he's completed a ritual that makes him invincible until he's ready to go One-Winged Angel. (In this case the Scoobies do actually capture an artifact required for the ritual, but, in doing so, Willow was taken hostage by the Big Bad. Wesley argued that they should accept Willow as lost and destroy the artifact there and then, but in the end, the Scoobies traded it for their friend.)
      • This also happens in Season 2. Personally, I'm sensing a pattern.
      • And season 4 also, with the big 'combine our powers' spell so Buffy can beat Adam. Wow. You think this might extend to seasons 6 and 7 too?
        • Actually Season 4 is a subversion of this trope. Adam was potentially the most dangerous foe that Buffy ever faced, but they managed to kill him before he secured a powerbase. If he had succeeded and gained the resources of The Initiative, then they would've really been in trouble!
      • Short answer: Yes. Dark Willow is seconds away from destroying the world, and most of the major events of season seven go the way they do in order to have the climatic battle at the end.
      • Long answer: No. The trio were the main villains for most of Season 6, only a handful of their plans even got past stage 1 and none of them really went the way they anticipated (leading up to a frustrated Warren just going to buy a freaking gun...). Season 7 (and the span of human history leading up to it, according to the First Evil) went mostly according to the Big Bad's plans, but Buffy took it off the rails before the invasion was scheduled to begin. It all still came down to an all-or-nothing final battle with everything on the line, but it was done on the Slayers' timeline before the Big Bad could open the Hellmouth and have the army of super-vampires start pouring out.
  • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue - the Rangers fight the demons for an entire series, but can't defeat Bansheera until after she succeeds in bringing her evil fortress to Earth.
  • First Wave: Was a short lived, low budget series about trying to do exactly this, the title being about the first phase of the aliens' three-step plan.
  • Each season of Twenty Four has the villains' plans succeed to some extent:
    • In the first season, the plan to kill Teri Bauer succeeds while the Palmer assassination fails.
    • Season 2 has the bomb go off, even though only Mason is killed. This is significant because Palmer is forced to follow through on his threat that if the bomb goes off on U.S., soil he will wage war against the people responsible.
    • In season 3, hundreds of people are infected with the virus although a city nation-wide epidemic is averted.
    • In season 4, one nuclear meltdown succeeds, and Keeler is incapacitated and possibly killed after Air Force One is shot down.
    • In season 5, the gas attack on the shopping mall partly succeeds, as does the attack on CTU headquarters.
    • In season 6, 12,000 people are killed by a suitcase nuke in Valencia, California.
  • The 3rd season of Star Trek: Enterprise is the epitome of this trope. Over the course of an entire season, the Enterprise doggedly and valiantly track the Xindi effort to build and launch their Sealed Death Star in a Can. However, no matter what they do, they cannot stop the Xindi from launching the device. For bonus points, the Xindi open one of their spatial rifts which enable them to cross the distance from their part of space to Earth in something like 4 hours. Note, it took the Warp-5 Enterprise months to reach the area.
    • Every move the crew of the Enterprise makes to stop the Borg fails until the Borg arrive within spitting distance of Earth.
  • Samurai Sentai Shinkenger has Sujigarano Akumaro planning to open up the barrier between the world of the living and Hell by creating six wedges out of human suffering. He succeeds in creating the wedges, but underestimates the true nature of the Blood Knight he manipulated into helping him with the final stage of his plan.
  • In Kamen Rider Fourze, a Zodiarts has yet to be stopped before entering its Last One phase.
  • Discussed in Mitchell and Webb's sketch about one Nazi suggesting to another that they are in fact "the baddies" rather than the good guys. Among other telltale signs such as having skulls as their insignia, he says that while the war has been going pretty well so far, he can think of lots of stories where the villains succeed initially only for the heroes to rally and defeat them, but none where it happened the other way around.

Tabletop Games

  • The mechanics of Mutants and Masterminds actually help set up this structure. You have a few encounters with the villains, during which they set up their plans and, thanks to GM fiat, escape or muck up the heroes' plans. However, these complications allow the heroes to gain "Hero Points", which they can use to shift the odds in their favor or gain temporary bonuses, so when the final fight rolls around everyone's at their best.
    • On the other hand, there is a power under Luck Control that allows the PCs to cancel Villain Points, effectively telling the GM, "No, you do not get to escape this one!"
    • Interestingly, the inverse system used by Deadlands leads to the same metagame : players start each gaming session with poker chips, and can earn some more in a variety of ways. These chips can be used at any time to get bonuses on rolls, or reroll failed actions, or negate injuries etc... However, whenever a player uses a chip, the GM gets one, to be used on NPC actions. So, while using chips early in the story to stop Mooks or avoid an injury might seem like a good idea at the time, it WILL come back to bite the PCs in the ass. Trust me, pilgrim : let the outlaws rob the bank. Take the sucking chest wound. Use 'em chips when you know who the real Big Bad is, and are drawing a bead on his noggin'. No sooner.
    • 7thSea has Drama Dice, which work roughly the same. But of course, the entire point is heroism and general Large Ham behavior, so you really ought to hold out for the supervillain.
    • A similar dynamic exists in basically every incarnation of the FATE system. The Dresden Files in particular makes it explicit that powerful characters (including wizards like Harry), on account of having a low refresh and thus starting out with potentially no more than one lonely fate point to their name when a scenario unfolds, basically have to earn more the "hard" way by accepting setbacks and rolling with the punches as best they can in order to eventually have enough to help wrap up the plot.
  • The M&M example above can apply to any campaign where the PCs gain experience and level, but the villain or villains don't. The first time they meet their enemy, the heroes are outclassed. By the climax they have gained more skill and gear, and can face their foes on a more even footing.
  • Can be averted if the PCs out maneuverer the GM. Usually causes the session to end early

Video Games

  • It's often said that the easiest way to beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is to get the Kokiri Emerald and then stop playing. Now that Ganondorf can't collect the three Spiritual Stones, he'll never enter the Sacred Realm.
    • While the game otherwise plays it straight, Word of God is that it was actually subverted offscreen. After beating Ganondorf in the Final Battle, Link went back in time and used his knowledge of the future to expose Ganondorf and have him arrested before his plan could really get started. This created two alternate timelines: one where Ganondorf was defeated during the climatic showdown (which led to Wind Waker and its sequels) and one where Ganondorf was defeated early on (which led to Majoras Mask and Twilight Princess). On the other hand, Twilight Princess showed that Ganondorf attempted execution was a spectacular failure that only served to set up a new crisis, so that zigzags things back to being played straight.
  • In Majora's Mask, no matter what you do you can't reach the Skull Kid until 5 minutes before the moon crashes into Clock Town. Despite the Groundhog Day Loop giving you effectively infinite chances to try to get on top of the clock tower before that point, you never can.
    • You CAN use a cheat or clipping glitch to get into the loading zone for the clock tower and the sky will even still reflect the time of day, but you will still have the same 5 minute timer.
    • Just like you can never get to Mikau (Zora guitarist you get the Zora's mask from) until he's seconds from death.
  • Almost a little ridiculous in the Super Mario Bros. games, where Bowser will always succeed in taking over most of the kingdom and Mario won't find out about any of it until he kidnaps Princess Peach. Actually averted in Super Paper Mario, where Mario and Luigi go to rescue Peach from Bowser before Bowser ever did anything, leading to quite a bit of confusion on the part of both parties as to who did it.
  • In Super Paper Mario, you can't stop the annihilation of all worlds. In fact, you get caught in the middle of one being annihilated! Everything is remade at the end, however.
  • In Baldur's Gate II, no matter what you do you can't avoid having Irenicus steal your soul and having Bodhi steal Imoen's.
    • Also, closer to the beginning of the game, there is nothing you can do to prevent Imoen from being taken away to Spellhold. She will always cast that one spell that makes the Cowled Wizards take her away, even if she has no spells left and/or is wearing armor that prevents her from casting magic.
  • Persona 2 shows us what happens when the team rises to fight the growing darkness... and Stage Two is still completed.
  • Mass Effect: Sovereign manages to dock with the citadel before it is destroyed.
    • Mass Effect 2: Even if you install all the ship upgrades as soon as possible, you can't use them against the Collector Ship until the Final Battle.
      • To be fair, Shepard wasn't really available (If You Know What I Mean) while the Collectors were doing most of the legwork on their plan.
      • For that matter, you cannot prevent the destruction of the Normandy SR-1 and Shepard's death in the prologue.
      • Specifically, Shephard can install the highly destructive Thanix Cannon (which one-shots it in the Final Battle) before running into the collectors' ship two more times, without using it—The Normandy was disabled by a virus the second time, but could have easily destroyed it the first time if not for this trope.
  • Subverted in the Star Trek Generations game: If you can win an extremely difficult (but not hopeless) space battle, you can put an end to the Big Bad's plan and win the game long before the villain's plans come to fruition. Unfortunately, while this rewrites the canonical Bridge Drop, Kirk still stays dead.
  • In almost every Final Fantasy game starting with Final Fantasy II, the heroes are riddled with varying degrees of incompetence at stopping the villains. Why not 1, 3 or 10? Because all the major stuff happens before the start of the game.
    • In the second game, the Empire finishes its Warship/Dreadnought just before you reach it, necessitating a more involved plan to destroy it.
    • And of course you can't stop the Cyclone from destroying most of the cities in the game. Mysidia survives, and Salmando and Bofsk, and you just manage to save Phin; Altea, Paloom, Porft and Gatea go bye-bye. The Emperor destroys Palamecia castle himself, and Dist and Kashuon are both abandoned and/or in ruins anyway.
    • Arguably, the party's entire goal in the first game is to subvert this trope by winning a battle that, according to the Stable Time Loop, you're destined to lose.
    • In Final Fantasy IV, you can't save Damcyan or Fabul from Baron. You can't save a single Crystal, Light or Dark, from falling into Golbez' hands. You can't stop the awakening of the Giant of Bab-Il (though you can blow it up from the inside.) You can't even fight the Big Bad yourself, only his One-Winged Angel form.
    • In Final Fantasy V, you can't save any Crystal from shattering. Ever. You can't save the Elder Forest. You can't keep the worlds from merging. You can't stop Exdeath from unsealing the Dimensional Rift and all its Eldritch Abominations. You can't stop Exdeath from vanishing half the planet inside the Void.
    • In an extreme case, Kefka succeeds at becoming a god and Destroying the World As We Know It a year before Our Heroes finally manage to kill him and liberate the few survivors.
    • In Final Fantasy VII, you can't topple Shinra, stop Sephiroth from acquiring the Black Materia or summoning Meteor, or even stop him from skewering your White Magician Girl in a Plotline Death.
    • In Final Fantasy VIII, this is because of a Batman Gambit. Ultimecia has to be Hoist By Her Own Petard, as her use of time compression is what allows you to go into her time and defeat her.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, Zidane always arrives just after the villain has finished destroying the town. If he's lucky, he arrives a few minutes beforehand, and then the town is destroyed.
    • Final Fantasy XII avoids this by removing every "easy" way for the heroes to succeed early. If they had killed Vayne early on, then Archadia would have come down hard on Dalmasca, the war between the two Empires (with Dalmasca right in the middle) would never have been averted, and the Occuria would have retained their grip on the world. The entire plot is a gradual movement of all the pieces in play until the heroes can strike a decisive victory.
      • However, it's played utterly straight regarding the Nethicite. You can't stop the Dusk Shard falling into the hands of the empire. You can't work out how to use the Dawn Shard, and you utterly fail at destroying the nethicite in the Empire's possession. In fact, the entire plot is an exercise in futility- every time you walk halfway across the map to get some plot-important artifact, you arrive back home only to find that Vayne has done something to make your efforts entirely useless. Sure, killing Vayne may not have saved Dalmasca, but so much aggravation would have been avoided if you'd just sliced the sneaky bastard's head off at stage one.
    • In Final Fantasy Tactics, you can't save Alma from capture; you have to leave her under the protection of the monastery while you go off and do hero stuff. And that's just scratching the surface: earlier you can't save Teta, then you can't stop Ophelia from siding with Volmarv, you can't convince Zalbag to avert the resulting Lion War, you can't stop Delita's machinations. An Unwitting Pawn is you, Ramza.
  • Somewhat averted in the first Time Crisis game, where the villainous mastermind Sherudo gets killed halfway through the game, though the rest of it is spent chasing The Dragon, Wild Dog, through the fortress.
    • Arguably, it's played straight in another sense, as you get a chance to save the girl at the end of the first and second levels, but the boss arrives and prevents you from doing so.
    • In Time Crisis II, Keith and Robert fail to stop the military satellite from being transported via train, and can only stop it when it's about to be launched
  • Suikoden does this quite a lot, though it's especially obvious in V. While there may be battles and encounters with major enemies early in the plot, any attempt to stop them before you recruit The Strategist is doomed to failure (although you will be forced to try anyway).
    • Once you get The Strategist, on the other hand, it's more a matter of the enemy being unable to thwart your stage one. At that point most army battles become very difficult to lose.
    • Again in Suikoden V, you cannot prevent Lord Godwin from taking over the castle with Nether Gate, the King and Queen being assassinated, or Lymsleia being kidnapped and eventually forced into puppet-queendom, no matter what you do.
  • Listing all the times this happens in Skies of Arcadia would likely require a trope page all of its own.
    • The all-encompassing one, of course, is that our heroes spend the whole game collecting five of the six Moon Crystals and keeping them out of enemy hands—and then have no choice but to let the big bad take all six, prompting a final battle.
  • In an amusing example, one speedrun of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars features beating the boss Punchinello on first turn using Mario's Super Jump attack to cause more damage than the boss has HP. Punchinello normally goes through "stages" where he summons and throws bombs of increasing size; when killed early, he runs through all of his bomb summons animations sequentially and then goes right into his death animation.
  • At the start of Super Metroid, you encounter Ridley making off with the Metroid hatchling. Nothing you can do can stop him. If he beats you, he'll escape to Zebes with the larva. If you beat him, he'll drop the larva, then pick it up again and escape to Zebes anyway.
  • Ace Combat can be pretty bad about this. Let's just take one game: Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War. The big final scheme involves the use of a very large rocket with a nuclear payload. You fight your way through a tough squadron of ace pilots then through a twisting canyon with ridiculous SAM coverage overhead, and then fly into Avalon Dam to destroy the launch controls. Even then, the missile is still launched and you have to take out your former wingman Pixy who turns out to be controlling the launch from his supertech-loaded plane; the final fight becomes a race against the clock to destroy the plane and thus the control before the missile can make reentry.
    • At least it makes sense based on two things: #1, all other Allied Forces were essentially sacrificed to ensure your successful attack run on the Avalon Dam (whether intentional or not on the enemy's part it left you all alone) and #2, you're the freaking Demon Lord of the Round Table, who liberated your country's capital, "pulled Tauberg's sword from the stone" (destroying the beam superweapon Excalibur), and defeated multiple Belkan ace squadrons along the way. None of them had a backup...
    • Ace Combat 5 is almost exactly the same: Fight through defenses, destroy launch controls, fight ridiculous air battle anyway. Against a Kill Sat.
      • This example is arguably justified, as the Kill Sat in question was specifically designed to fall on the supposed enemy capital in the event of uplink loss to the ground control station. It's just that no one knew about it until after the ground control station was destroyed.
    • One more example in Ace Combat 6 is that the opening mission of the game is the defense of your country's capital city. Despite the player possibly being able to destroy every enemy aircraft there is (not counting the respawning ones) plus drive off the enemy aces, you're ordered to retreat anyways. Only to have to fight through everything again to reclaim the capital. Not to mention the end-all doomsday weapon mission afterwards.
    • Shattered Skies had Megalith still go operational even after ISAF desperately battled through Erusea's forces in an attempt to end the war before it could be used.
  • Notably averted in Chrono Trigger, where the final boss is introduced relatively early and can theoretically be beaten less than halfway into the game.
    • You can beat him within the first 20 minutes, which incidentally makes for an amusing conversation given that the fight has canned dialogue, so people who have no idea who or what the boss is are saying things along the lines of "So that was his plan all along!"
      • Of course, the game assumes you're playing on New Game+ (and already know the plot) if you have the levels required to take him down that early in the game. An extreme amount of Level Grinding is also a possibility, but who'd have the patience for that?
    • Played straight when attempts to prevent Magus from summoning Lavos or the Mammon Machine from awakening him fail, and you ultimately have to defeat Lavos yourself.
      • Which wouldn't really have stopped him, anyway. It would have prevented him from annihilating two heavily antagonistic societies, but had you succeeded at preventing them, he would have just kept snoozing right on up to his apocalypse nonetheless. Lavos's plan pretty much consists of "wake up and kill everything", and you can put a stop to it as early as 14,000 years before he would do it.
  • Mega Man X examples:
    • In the first X game, when you get to Sigma's Fortress, Vile will be waiting for you. Zero intervenes and gets his ass handed to him. At this point, it is possible to have already acquired the Secret One-Hit KO Hadoken. However, Vile's Ride-Armor is resistant to it, and will proceed to throttle you, as there are no walls to hang onto. Once he loses that Ride-Armor, though...
    • In X2, a robot boss called Morph Moth goes through two distinct fighting phases, changing between them when its health is less than halved. Just before you fight him again in the fortress, you can gain a skill that kills any boss in one hit. Against Morph Moth, however, you have to do it twice - once to beat his first phase (2/3 health), and again to beat his second phase.
    • In X5, your initial defeat of Sigma is part of his plan, setting in motion a Colony Drop. You then spend most of the game building machines to prevent the crash—but no matter how good your Luck-Based Mission is, you can't stop it completely. What's more, the second thing you try may turn Zero evil, and this was also part of Sigma's plan. (Even if Zero's okay, he and X will end up fighting, leaving just one hero to stop Sigma.)
    • The missions you undertake in the Mega Man Zero games fail a lot. For instance, in Zero 2, you'll just about catch up with Elpizo several times before getting a chance to actually stop him.
    • Mega Man Battle Network lives and breathes this trope. In all six games, Lan and Mega Man defeat lots of bosses but never stop them from getting what they're after, be it TetraCodes or Alpha or whatever. Only by beating the final boss can they score a decisive win.
      • In general, the original timeline in Mega Man (i.e. the one not involving Battle Network and Star Force) suffers from this tremendously. Every robot created before X and Zero is "Three Laws"-Compliant. In other words, Mega Man can only hope to lock up Dr. Wily for a few months at best. The one time he actually did try to kill Wily (7) ends with Mega Man's A.I. going into a Three Laws loop, which allows Wily to escape. Years down the road, Wily finishes his greatest creation: Zero. When Zero is released is 21XX, he goes on a rampage. Sigma manages to put him down, but has his data comprised by the Zero Virus, slowly driving him mad until he finally snaps and declares war on humanity, manipulating various parties in the process, spreading the Sigma Virus over Earth, and (worst of all) dropping the Eurasia onto the planet, turning it into a hellhole. Sometime after Sigma finally goes down circa X8, Zero's anti-viral programming is examined, producing the Mother Elf as a way to eradicate the lingering effects of the Sigma Virus. Then Weil enters the picture. For no reasons other than his belief that humans are superior to Reploids, he steals Zero's mindless body (reprogramming this blank slate into a psychopathic killing machine known as Omega) and corrupts the Mother Elf (turning her into the Dark Elf), starting the Elf Wars. Final count? 60% of all humans and 90% of all Reploids have been wiped out. In order to seal away the Dark Elf, X gives up his body, forcing the creation of an unstable Knight Templar copycat of himself to rule Neo Arcadia in X's place. This... doesn't bode well. By the end of Zero 4, Weil has been defeated and the world is saved, but at the cost of Zero's life. In the following centuries, humans augment their bodies with cybernetics and Reploids are given lifespans akin to humans, merging into a single race (Humanoids). Then Model W (heavily implied to be Weil's soul merged with fragments of Ragnarok from the finale of Zero 4) rears its ugly head in ZX. This threat is presumably dealt with, but the world somehow is sacked by a great flood and humans all but disappear and are replaced by a race of Artificial Humans known as Carbons in the next 4400 or so years (the time of Mega Man Legends). And there are still problems in the world. And all of this can be indirectly traced back to one heroic robot being unable to kill one Mad Scientist. It is a vicious domino effect like no other.
  • Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is practically the poster-child for the trope. The initial Big Bad succeeds in destroying the world within the first few minutes of gameplay, and, due to the structure of the plot, it only gets worse from there. You can't stop your friends from turning into half-human monsters, heaven forbid talk them out of their Face Heel Turns, you can't stop Hijiri going insane, you can't stop Isamu sacrifing him, you can't stop Chiaki from slaughtering the Mannikins, you can't stop Hikawa from opening the Ark of the Covenant, you can't stop anyone from gathering enough Magatsuhi to summon their "God" and its only at The Very Definitely Final Dungeon where you're able to defeat anyone, and if you go for the True Demon ending Metatron can't stop you, plot-wise, from teaming up with Lucifer to destroy all worlds and Rage Against the Heavens. That said, this is averted when Hijiri announces he'll form his own Reason, then is promptly kidnapped and killed by Isamu, and if you decide not to pursue the True Demon path, preventing Lucifer's plan from even really starting. It's also subverted if you go for one of the Reason endings, since there you might not want to thwart stage one.
  • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid; turns out Snake could've stopped stage one easily if he died. Ocelot accidentally killed one of the Hostages with the PAL codes (it's revealed later he had his reasons), so they couldn't launch Rex's nuke. Except that Armstech had created a special card key which would deactivate the nuke (if it was activated) or activate the nuke (if it was deactivated). All they had to do was convince Snake that they had the codes, and Snake went along and completed stage one for the terrorists ("You found the key and even activated the warhead for us").
    • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Act 3: Ocelot wins. He captured Big Boss's body while you were distracted by a decoy. He has enough control over the SOP system to completely shut down the world's armed forces. All that's left is to ensure that he cannot launch nuclear strikes as well.
    • The Metal Gear series provides one of the most excessive examples of this in all of gaming: the first five games are all stopping terrorists, who are eventually revealed to have been rebelling against the very dangerous conspiracy which is only thwarted in the final act of the last game. Arguably, the world would have been much better off if Solidus, Liquid, or Big Boss had killed Solid long ago.
    • Solid Snake arguably did more good than harm. A better example is if Ocelot, Liquid, Zero or Big Boss had been killed off early, the dangerous conspiracies would never have even taken place at all.
      • The HD Collection lampshades this with the Trophy/Achievement "Problem Solved, Series Over", which you get for killing Ocelot in MGS 3.
  • In Xenogears, the Big Bad Deus is resurrected and nearly at full power. Because of what it has to do to resurrect itself (transforming the bodies of humans and fusing with them) almost all of humanity is wiped out. The hero, of course, slays Deus, though not before this all happens.
  • True Crime: Streets of LA had a branching storyline, so it was entirely possible to completely screw up the bad guys' plans and get them all killed before the plot could come to fruition. However, this gets you a bad ending, since the plot never had a chance to get underway and as a result you never were able to piece together exactly what the hell was going on in the first place.
    • More importantly, in the Bad ending Nick Kang loses his job for accidentally killing Big Bad (or dies) and remains bitter for not finding closure. In the REAALLY Bad ending Nick's brother is murdered, prompting him to go full-on vigilante, Big Bad escapes and Dragon teases Nick about knowing about what happened to Nick's father just seconds before dying himself.
  • Played really straight in the Game Cube Resident Evil remake. When playing as Chris, you come across Wesker fighting Lisa Trevor. He'll say "Chris! Take a piece of the action!" when he sees you, and you fight her off together. However, Wesker can get knocked into the abyss by Lisa's attacks. If he does so, he'll still appear unscathed during the final battle, with no explanation.
  • Blizzard seems to enjoy this trope as a means for making proper drama.
    • In StarCraft, the chronological order of the campaign is Terran -> Zerg -> Protoss, with the Terrans introducing most of the cast and the threat of the Zerg, the Zerg campaign having them run rampant over most of the galaxy, and the Protoss managing to barely pull off a last second victory despite a fully manifested Overmind on the surface of Aiur
      • Subverted in the Brood War expansion, as the order is changed to Protoss -> Terran -> Zerg, with the Protoss simply doing their best to survive in their campaign, the Terrans introducing the new UED antagonists and succeeding much like the Zerg before them...and then Kerrigan betrays everyone and the Zerg finish the game as the pre-eminent power in the Sector, with only Kerrigan's mercy holding them from overrunning her former allies she used to bring down the UED.
    • In Warcraft, the first two games were a continuity snarl as the Alliance and Orc sides had different, mutually exclusive endings if you played through them. Reign of Chaos however introduced a similar progression to StarCraft, with the Alliance campaign ending on Arthas' corruption into a Death Knight, the Scourge campaign rolling up most of Lordaeron, before the Horde and Night Elf campaigns manage to beat back the Scourge's Burning Legion backers in an exciting climax.
      • And much like StarCraft before it, Frozen Throne starts with the Night Elves dealing with the aftermath of the first game, moves on to the Alliance campaign setting up Illidan's powerbase, and then ends with Arthas beating all comers around the titular Frozen Throne before putting on Ner'Zul's armor and becoming the Lich King, with the unlimited power the position entails no longer kept in check by the Throne's prison.
    • In short, you can't stop Stage One because, at any point where stopping the bad guys early is a real possibility, you're playing as them.
  • The Matrix: Path Of Neo actually averts this trope. The first stage has Neo try to escape the Agents trying to arrest him at his office. Unlike the movie, however, Neo can climb the scaffolding and make it to the roof, meeting up with Trinity, and leaving the office undetected. All this does is unlock Hard Mode, though.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 features this trope multiple times.
    • In "No Russian", in which shooting the terrorists you are undercover with results in a scolding for trying to be a hero and not going along with their attack. You can skip the level (though its events still enter into the canon), though.
    • The game's Big Bad, Shepherd, can be found as an NPC on the first level. Shooting him results in a friendly fire game over. The concept does make for a rather amusing video, though.
    • The Big Bad Shepherd also helps Private Allen up at the start of the second level before walking away - if you shoot at him, however, gunfire will not hit him.
  • In Quest For Glory V: Dragon Fire, no matter what you do the Dragon of Doom will rise and need to be defeated at the end of the game. Never mind that you and everyone else that matters in the Kingdom know which exact artefacts need to be protected in order to prevent that occurrence, and where these are; they get destroyed anyway. Also, the mysterious assassin makes a few appearances during the game; of course you stand there like an idiot and can't deal with him until the plot says you can.
  • Averted in the Extra endings of Shadow of Destiny, where you gain the ability to foil the entire game in the prologue. Especially notable in that, depending on how you interpret the game, this is the final canon ending. If you take the time to consider how a lot of the plot plays out, ANY of the endings could be stage one.
  • Taken to its logical extreme in the first Wonderland Adventures game: the thwarts succeed. The plan worked. The Void WILL engulf Wonderland no matter what you do. However, you get the chance to, essentially, repair the world. Tell me that isn't awesome.
  • All over the place in the Pokémon series:
    • You do thwart stage one in Red/Blue/Yellow: Whatever Giovanni had planned for Silph Co, you beat him down before he can get it, earning yourself a nice shiny Too Awesome to Use Master Ball for your efforts.
    • Justified in Gold/Silver/Crystal by the fact that the guard won't let you higher up the Radio Tower, and, even if he isn't in on the whole thing, there's no way he would buy the excuse, "The director was kidnapped and Team Rocket has a fake up there!".
    • Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald really had no excuse. You knock out Maxie/Archie's Pokemon, and have him cornered, with his back to magma, just asking for a Disney Villain Death. But he escapes.
    • Nicely handled in Platinum with Cyrus trying to attack you about 5/8ths in, letting you beat him down. He still escapes though, and you aren't able to access the Galactic Hideout early, even if you grind to level 100. That receptionist must have balls to still not let you go past at that point.
    • Happens again in Black and White where you will never be able to stop N from defeating the Elite Four and Champion, no matter how fast you get to the Pokemon League. Alder states that he is going to give N the best thrashing he can, and while he fails, he insists you hold on to whatever stone your game provides in case things don't go as he expects (and, as stated above, they do go awry).
  • Averted in Time Hollow when after finishing the game normally and starting a new game, Ethan can foil the antagonist's plot by jumping straight to the solution. Considering the premise of the game, this makes perfect sense.
  • In Cave Story, the Doctor succeeds in kidnapping the Mimigas, acquiring the demon flowers, and even creating a concentrated form of the flowers' active ingredient. You can't stop him until he's on the verge of turning the Mimigas into his personal army of monsters.
    • Destroying the core was probably the Doctor's stage two plan, but it probably still counts, as you can't thwart that, either.
  • Happens quite commonly in Project Sylpheed, thanks to the New Game+ feature. The first time you, the player, take on an enemy cruiser, it's quite the accomplishment, being very, very difficult even on the easiest difficulty settings. Your commander even admits that he's impressed, but he doesn't want to see you try anything that stupid again. Of course, over the span of then game, your space fighter gets weapons upgrades that are Game Breaker-level improvements... Which in no way effect the game's storyline or allow you to rescue or otherwise impact the story in any meaningful way. Even when you're regularly wiping out entire enemy fleets, your own fleet will still be desperately on the run.
  • Surprisingly averted in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance in that after defeating the villain, the Sealed Evil in a Can is never unleashed (until the sequel) despite having been an apparent Chekhov's Gun throughout the game.
  • Command & Conquer 4 is pretty extreme about this if you compare the two choices: you either work against Kane or with him. In both cases, he wins. Although it's debatable if his ultimate plan is evil or not, his means certainly are.
  • Disgaea 2 has the protagonist try to summon the final boss at the very start of the game. It doesn't work, but he does try.
    • Actually averted, sort of, as he DOES summon exactly what he was trying to summon. He just didn't know the final boss was a fake Zenon and that the real Zenon has reincarnated as the bratty girl who called herself Overlord Zenon's daughter.
  • Singularity is a deconstruction of this trope. Near the start of the game, your character, Renko, is thrown 50 years into the past - going from a destroyed building to a building on fire. Coming across someone trapped in the fire, Renko saves him, then jumps back into the present - where he (Dr. Demichev) has taken control of the world. Unfortuantely, if you try to kill Demichev or leave him to die, the game will end.
    • This is explained by the endgame. After fighting through Demichev's troops, Renko manages to create a bomb powerful enough to destroy the island's reactor - he detonates it in the past. When he comes back to the present, Demichev is waiting for him in front of an operational reactor. He says that it was pointless to destroy the reactor - he just rebuilt it. Dr. Raikov, a supporter of yours, then says that the problem with the time loop wasn't the reactor, but Demichev - since you rescued him from the fire. Demichev then says that you've already tried killing him in the past, and it changed nothing - as evidenced by notes scrawled on the wall by someone who turns out to be Renko. Raikov then realizes that the only way to stop the loop is to destroy the one thing not present in the original timestream - Renko.
  • Touched on in one of the opening levels of Max Payne 2 which sends you to investigate a warehouse where gunfire was recently heard. One of the corrupt commercial cleaners at the place lets you in and shows you around the place, eventually leading you into an ambush. Killing him beforehand averts nothing, but instead causes the protagonist to make an off comment in his rampant monologuing about how obvious a brawl he was walking into.

Max: The perp's disguise didn't fool me. He was leading me into a trap.

  • Averted and played straight in City of Heroes. Straight examples: when playing through story missions, it always seems to come back to a climactic battle between you and the villain of the arc, even if you've successfully completed all the missions beforehand (and should have already thwarted his plans). However, you can also do one-off missions such as "Prevent the Xs from obtaining the Oxygen Destroyer!" Once you complete the mission you never hear about it again; it is never explained just what would happen if the Oxygen Destroyer was obtained, but fortunately you thwarted stage one!
  • In Mafia II, there are several scenes where your target is visible running away from you, with the intention that you'd be too busy dealing with the next group of Mooks to shoot him then. But if you DO take some well-aimed shots, he's seen taking the hits and completely ignoring them, even headshots. Killing some targets earlier may have spared you having to drive Henry to El Greco or saved Marty's life.
    • Averted with the mission where you have to warn Leo that Henry's been sent to kill him. It's difficult, but it is possible to simply avoid him and escape with Leo. If you get caught, Henry strikes a deal and allows Leo to leave town, letting him get payment for the job and keeping your old friend alive.
  • In Adventure Quest Worlds, every major Chaos Lord so far has succeeded in awakening a Chaos Beast and breaking one of Drakath's seals before being defeated by the hero. The one time the hero does actually prevent a Chaos Lord from summoning a Chaos Beast during the Mythsong saga, it turns out that he's not the real Chaos Lord, and that the real Chaos Lord, Kimberly of One Eyed Doll, was controlling him. And she has a Chaos Beast all ready for the hero to fight.
  • The Elder Scrolls Four. Cutscene Incompetence stops you saving the Emperor from assassins at the start of the game. You arrive at Kvatch the day after The Daedra burn it to the ground, though thankfully Martin, the man you were sent to rescue, survived by hiding in a chapel. You take him back to the priory just as the Mythic Dawn have finished ransacking the place and taken the Amulet of Kings. You can't stop Mankar Cameron fleeing to paradise with the amulet, you need to adventure the length and breadth of Cyrodiil looking for components to build a portal so you can follow him. And even when you finally get the amulet, Mehrunes Dagon still achieves his goal of being summoned to Tamriel.
    • If you join the Dark Brotherhood, Lucien Lachance can't stop you murdering half of the Brotherhood, all the way up to The Listener. You can't save him when the surviving members of the Brotherhood execute him for treachery, and the only way you can expose the real traitor, Bellamont, is when he tries to kill the Night Mother, by which time only you and one other Brotherhood leader, Arquen, remain. (Justified, the Night Mother is fully aware of Bellamont's treason, but reasons that if the rest of the the Brotherhood can't find him, they deserve death for their incompetence.)
    • And you can only delay Sheogorath's transformation into Jyggalag and the triggering of the Greymarch, not stop it completely.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Sora spends so much time trying to lock every keyhole that he doesn't even find out the Princesses of Heart are being kidnapped until he finds them in the final level, where they're being used for Stage One of "Ansem's" takeover. THEN Sora carves out his own SOUL and completes Stage One for the guy. Is this kid just genre blind or what?!
  • In the Infocom text adventure murder-mystery, Witness, the murder itself doesn't actually happen until a few minutes into the game. It's entirely possible to prevent the murder and completely derail the plot by doing something utterly insane (i.e. shooting the killer, or even murdering the victim yourself). However, any such act would end the game immediately with your character being sent to jail.
  • In specific missions, the Grand Theft Auto games sometimes do allow you to thwart a stage—avoiding a car chase by planting a car bomb beforehand, sniping a villain who's fleeing to a speedboat, etc. The grand plot, however, is pretty strict—sometimes you'll even have a required Escort Mission for a character you'll have to kill in a later mission.
  • Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom: you can't stop Yuyuko from resurrecting herself with the stolen essence of Spring. The best you can do is dodge her final spellcard, during which she is invincible.
  • A repeating plot in the Sonic series between Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed. In each game in that range, Sonic tries to stop some evil from being released or brought to full power (or in one case the Chaos Emerald from being collected, which unbeknownst to him and Eggman releases an evil anyway). Said plot goes underway anyway despite his best efforts, and the final boss is him going Super Sonic to face the unleashed evil and bring peace to the world again.
  • Inverted in EarthBound. Everything that Giygas does to prevent the prophecy about the Chosen Four from becoming true, from having Pokey steal a helicopter to prevent them from reaching Summers or Scaraba, to launching an attack on Onett when the kids need to obtain a piece of the meteorite, fails miserably, and in one case, even backfires. (If you need clarification on that, Apple Kid, Dr. Andonuts, and a Mr. Saturn were kidnapped into the Stonehenge base. This leads to them regrouping at Saturn Valley after Ness saves them, and brainstorming how they can help Ness and co bring Giygas down once and for all.)
  • In Batman: Arkham City, not only is Arkham City established before the events of the game, but Protocol 10 kills a quarter of all inmates before Batman can stop it.
  • In the very first chapter of the original Neverwinter Nights game, it's not hard to figure out that Desther is up to something fishy; even if you haven't played to the point where he finally openly sabotages the attempt to find a cure for the Wailing Death yet, a number of clues pop up before then. Yet you can't actually do anything with them before it's time for the scripted final battle; he can't be fought until then, and any accusations that the dialogue system even allows will simply be met with disbelief from the NPCs.
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, you can never prevent the deaths of the seven heirs who's ancestors sealed Rhapthorne.
  • In the game Catherine, it is ultimately up to the player whether Vincent remains faithful to Katherine or leaves her for Catherine, but the player cannot stop him from cheating on Katherine initially.

Web Comics

  • Magellan: Miasma and DragonKlaw manage to open the Equis portal before they are defeated.
  • Order of the Stick: Big Bad Xykon, being Genre Savvy, suggests to Roy that they follow this trope and declare the battle for one of three remaining gates that Xykon needs to examine a Mulligan: Instead, Roy can build up levels and they can have a final tussle all good and proper at a more suitably dramatic time. Roy rejects it. Xykon kills him. He gets better.
    • Not long after this, Xykon encounters a defense of the gate so powerful even he can't overcome it. Naturally, Miko shows up to accidentally ruin everything just before Soon Kim can kill Xykon and Redcloak.
    • Most notably, Darth Vaarsuvius, recently and temporarily powered up later decides to go and just teleport into Xykon's palace and assault him directly by him/herself to end it all at a very anti-climatic moment, before either party has still seen the last two portals, or managed to control one. S/he fails.
  • This is arguably the overriding theme of Book 1 of Erfworld, wherein the main character, Parson, had been intending to do this to a group of PCs in a game he was going to run, and is instead pulled into a gaming universe where it continually happens to him. Finally becomes Genre Savvy about it here.
    • Especially if you believe that Stanley's side is The Empire, it's clear who's going to win the Battle for Gobwin Knob, though not how this will happen. If Parson wasn't working for the bad guys in Book One, then he certainly is considering what happens afterward.
  • Sluggy Freelance: The Sluggy crew try to stop Gwynn from summoning the demon K'Z'K. Doesn't work. They try to trick Bun-Bun into killing Gwynn while she's possessed by K'Z'K. Doesn't work. They try exorcising K'Z'K from Gwynn. It works ... but it unleashes K'Z'K in his full power upon the world. They try freezing K'Z'K in time. He ends up going back in time instead. Only when Torg and Zoe also go to the past, where K'Z'K has amassed an army of demons to conquer the world, do they finally succeed in killing him.
  • In General Protection Fault, Trudy's plan to split up the cast proceeds smoothly until Nick is in the Statue of Liberty, unwittingly using his Velociraptor device to power the Kill Sat that she is using to hold the United Nations hostage in her bid to take over the world, leading to a final desperate attempt to stop her. Then again, it took until the previous chapter for the heroes to even realize there was a plan.
  • Homestuck: A version of this occurs by necessity in all games of Sburb. In every session, someone must defeat the White King (good guy) and begin the Reckoning, a 24 hour period during which meteors from the Veil (asteroid belt) bombard Skaia (sparkly planet-thing in the Medium vital to winning the game). The catch is that Skaia has defence portals which can send the meteors to the host planet (i.e. Earth in the comic), and these portals can send things to the past. It just so happens that the players of Sburb invariably create themselves, and the baby versions of themselves get sent back through these portals to become themselves. So if the Reckoning did not happen, the players of the game would not exist! So if Stage One were thwarted, that would cause a time paradox. Which doesn't happen in this universe (usually).
  • Cuco in Cucumber Quest would very much like to avert this trope by preventing the Nightmare Knight's summoning, but the enemy—and even some of his allies—are determined to have it played straight.
  • Obama in Obama Guantanamo Escape can’t prevent himself from being kidnapped by Bush's two much larger henchmen as part of a plot by Bush to impersonate Obama, but he can free himself from the titular prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Web Original

  • In Suburban Knights, Malachite regains the magic gauntlet that the heroes have been searching for, despite efforts from the over twenty adult nerds attempting to stop him.
  • The first three volumes of RWBY all lead up to the dramatic strike by Cinder Fall that results in the destruction of Beacon Academy and the Vale communications tower; the latter disrupts inter-kingdom communications and the former was accomplished with the help of subverted Atlesian military assets, giving the impression that Atlas was involved in the attack. Beloved characters died or were seriously injured. And even though the heroes of the show had twigged on to parts of the plan, they were unable to do more than change some of the scheduling, and in fact some of their early "successes" actually played into the villains' hands.

Western Animation

  • Common and constant in Jackie Chan Adventures. Every season involves the heroes rushing around the world to find objects of power before the forces of evil can collect them all and become all powerful. Nearly every season ends with said forces of evil collecting everything anyway and having to be defeated at their most powerful. This was only averted twice: the first time, Jackie and co. did manage to stop Shendu from freeing all of his demon brethren, but then Shendu manages to find an easier way to do it and it happens anyway. The second time is to stop Daolon Wong from collecting Shendu's scattered powers (echoing the plot of the first season) - in an amusing twist, the season ends with Daolon having only some of them, trying to make a deal with Shendu to get it all, and then Shendu tricking him and getting all the power himself. Again.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The gang originally had the sensible idea of waiting until after Sozin's +300 Comet of Firebending was gone before deciding to take on the Fire Lord. Then they find out at the last minute that, in a shocking plot twist, the villains do not plan to spend their period of temporary nigh-omnipotence sitting in their respective throne rooms eating take-out. Slightly more surprising, they don't intend to use the power to merely overpower the remaining resistance forces in the Earth Kingdom; instead they plan to incinerate the entire continent. So the heroes no longer have the luxury of waiting. Then various operational delays keep them from being able to attack the Fire Lord in the 48 hours available before the arrival of the comet. Nope, the final battle just has to be on comet day, and no other day.
    • Also, the fall of Ba Sing Se and the failure of the invasion on the Day of Black Sun are both instances of this trope in action. Had the heroes been successful in either, the epic battle of the season finale wouldn't have been quite as epic (if it had even happened), as the Fire Nation's resources would have been depleted.
      • What's even worse is that they absolutely could have prevented Azula's takeover of Ba Sing Se, in fact it looked like they were just about to do it... Until Zuko put Honor Before Reason, betrayed them to his family, and shook up the battle enough for the Dai Li to show up, and for Azula to back-shoot Aang with lightning in the middle of his transformation into the Avatar State. And in turn, a victory by the Gaang in Ba Sing Se would've allowed the Day of Black Sun invasion to have been carried out with the entire army of the Earth Kingdom instead of just a few dozen people.
  • In Barbie and the Diamond Castle, despite the attempts of the heroines to keep Melody out of Lydia's clutches, the evil muse gets her hands on the girl-in-the-mirror and nearly gets her to give up the location of the Diamond Castle before Liana and Alexis arrive to save the day.
  • Lampshaded in Spaceballs The Animated Series. In one episode, Dark Helmet tells Skroob that it's time to move to Phase 2 of their plan. Skroob suggests staying at Phase 1, because things always go so well during Phase 1, and Lone Starr never shows up to ruin things until they move to Phase 2.
  • Pretty much every episode of Kim Possible sees her thwart the villain's scheme on the verge of either success or massive destruction. Particularly noticeable in A Sitch In Time, where she can't stop the villains from assembling the time monkey, or going back in time, or Shego escaping to use it to Take Over the World, but fixes it by undoing that whole timeline.
    • Also played with in So the Drama; Kim foils Drakken's attempt to kidnap Mr. Nakasumi, preventing his capture and theoretically stopping or at least disrupting Drakken's plan long enough to foil it another way, but instead Drakken gets what he wants; from Nakasumi's suit, which was all Shego could recover from the mess. This eventually gives Drakken what he needs to launch the scheme, thus using the trope somewhat straight despite being foiled.
  • The first three episodes of the second season of Gargoyles were unqualified successes for Xanatos: He got Fox an early parole in "Leader of the Pack" (which he outright stated was all he wanted to do); he turned Elisa's brother against the Manhattan Clan in "Metamorphosis"; and he acquired the code for the deadliest computer virus in the world in "Legion."

Real Life?

  • A famous Gandhi quote: "When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always."
  • From 1923, when he first appeared on the German National Stage, until 1945, there were at least 43 different schemes to kill Adolf Hitler, success of which would have vastly altered history. Many had no chance of success, but some came close to success, being thwarted by a twist of fate. The most memorable of these is the July 20 Plot, as seen in the Tom Cruise-starring Valkyrie. A lesser known example involved placing a bomb with a timer set to six days, so he could get to Switzerland and establish an alibi.
    • One of the ringleaders of the July 20 Plot panicked when somebody almost walked in on him while he was assembling the bomb, and thus he ended up using only half as many explosives as planned, not having time to put a detonator in the second set of explosives. MythBusters confirmed that if he'd put the second explosive charge in the bag, even without a detonator, it would've been impossible for anybody in the room to survive (the blast of the first charge would've set off the second). That's not even getting into the possibility of him going back to the room after the blast to make sure it worked, which would've allowed Colonel von Stauffenberg to simply pull out his pistol and shoot the dazed Fuhrer.
  • In Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, he writes about the true story of retired General Paul Van Riper, asked to play the part of the commander of the opposing force (or Red Team) in the Pentagon's Millenium Challenge wargame. Early in the mission, the Blue Team cut the Red Team's fiber-optic lines, thinking that all of Red Team's orders would now all be on tappable phone lines. Detecting no enemy communication, Blue Team then moved a fleet of ships to engage Red Team. Though Blue Team didn't hear anything, Red Team then launched a salvo of cruise missiles at the fleet that sank nearly all of them, resulting in 20,000 simulated casualties. When asked how he could possibly coordinate that attack, Riper replied that he had used motorcycle couriers, coded messages inside prayers, and flashlight signals - "Don't any of you remember World War Two?" Two days after the attack, however, he recieved word that the clock was being turned back - all of his cruise missiles were miraclously shot down by a new missile defense system. In addition, he was told that he had to power down his radar and pull back his forces so that Blue Teams ground forces could land without interference - and Blue Team won the now scripted battle.
    • Justified by one of the other Generals involved: "You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days' worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?" If you take this logic at face value, the events would be closer to Save Scumming (though only completely so if the lessons during the "kill on the first day" scenario were integrated into real-life war decision making... which they weren't).
    • This wargame took place in the Persian Gulf in 2002 - and its success predicted similar success in any future wars fought in that area. Right?
      • Actually the forces were not the type of insurgency fought in Iraq, it was a conventional enemy, the type that was defeated in less than a month of actual warfare.
    • Several accounts state that what Riper did was really just cheating by being a Rules Lawyer. Those missile attacks that destroyed the 20,000 sailors spawned from nowhere under the argument that the US Navy would ignore fishing vessels in that area simply because he wanted them to. When that failed, he argued that his missiles were fired from converted fishing vessels, the Navy then claimed that it it would be structurally impossible for a fishing boat to carry an Anti-ship Missile. When this was explained to him, he used this fact as an example of how inflexible the conventional military is in their thinking. In other examples, he assumed his communications were instantaneous despite using the much slower systems. And he was finally fired due to his excessive Munchkin behavior, at the expense of useful experience for the soldiers in the exercise and any realistic sense of strategy. In Gladwell's account he doesn't talk to anyone else from the exercise, hence his biased account see here for an analysis.