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Sometimes our heroes are faced with a foe they simply cannot withstand. Not only is it a fight they cannot win, it's a fight they have no hope of even surviving. They have two options: run away, or fight and die.
This enemy is usually rare and always notorious. Its very presence may inspire panic. Perhaps they're The Dreaded. Perhaps it's not an individual, but The Swarm or The Corruption. In any case, anyone who fights it is screwed, and anyone who could possibly end up fighting it knows it.
The key to this trope is that the threat is very powerful, but also impossible to predict. After all, if you can see it coming and avoid it, then it's not very scary, is it? But when it could show up almost anywhere, virtually without warning, and there's nothing you can do but hope to escape, then that's terrifying.
Of course, none of this will keep our heroes from fighting it sooner or later. If encountered early in the story, it may require a Heroic Sacrifice from one character to allow the rest to escape. If the sacrificial character is wounded, he may insist that I Will Only Slow You Down; either way, expect him to tell the enemy that You Shall Not Pass before making his Last Stand. If no sacrificial characters are available, then someone may show up unexpectedly and tell the heroes to Come with Me If You Want to Live. If the foe isn't fought until later in the story, it will probably be after the heroes have discovered its Achilles Heel, or somehow dramatically increased their Power Level (though a Super Mode, Dangerous Forbidden Technique, or whatever), and it will still be a difficult fight. If it's fought both early and late, then the latter fight will be a Heroic Rematch.
Anime and Manga
- During Bleach's Soul Society arc, Yoruichi advises the protagonists to run if they meet up with a Soul Society captain. Chad ignores the advice and ends up getting captured.
- During the Fake Karakura Town Arc, Gin Ichimaru informs Ichigo (who's been in a quite a bit of a slump up to that point) that he's in one of these situations.
- This is the Karakura crew's entire strategy when Aizen busts into the real Karakura Town. With no spiritual powers whatsoever, Tatsuki, Keigo and others have no option but to run as Aizen slowly chases them down. Worst part? The only reason they survived was because Aizen was toying with them. If he had decided to kill them instantly, they would be dead.
- One Piece had one of these come out of virtually nowhere during the Saboady Archipelago arc. It was probably the biggest Plot Twist ever seen since the manga started back in The Nineties.
- Done even more significantly in the following arc, Impel Down. Luffy and the prisoners he's broken out are making their escape. Hot on their tails is the prison warden, Magellan. Normally taking on one guy wouldn't be a problem for Luffy and his allies, except Magellan's power is generating poison, so fighting him is suicide no matter how strong you are.
- Done to a less extent with Smoker. Before the timeskip his intangibility made him invulnerable to the Straw Hats and a very dangerous threat to them, so much that they just ran whenever they encountered him.
- High-ranking demons in Slayers. Short of employing a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, they're Physical Gods that can shrug off any attack and kill you with a snap of a finger.
- In Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple, Kenichi's masters are furious when Kenichi tries to take on a Master-Class sword-fighter by himself, claiming that the only acceptable course of action in that situation would have been to run for his life. Seeing as how even the most worthless Master-Class fighter could easily kill Kenichi in one hit and that he survived that fight mostly through sheer luck, this is an understandable reaction on their part.
- In Naruto, during the Third Ninja War there was a "Flee on sight" order on the Fourth Hokage, with Run or Die heavily implied.
- Invoked in Sekirei. When the Black Sekirei, Karasuba, decides to fight the weaker duo of Mitsuha and Akitsu, the latter tells the former to run or she'll die. Mitsuha ignores the warning and is quickly killed while Akitsu ran away and lived.
- An early Silver Age Captain America story has Rick Jones seeing Cap is in trouble and a Mooks tries to silence him. Rick manages to take him down and a mate with a club as well, but as others are approaching, Rick remembers Cap's lesson that only a fool fights impossible odds. So, Rick decides he must make a break for it to get help and manages to escape. Just as the goons decide that they can subdue Captain America and get away before The Cavalry can arrive, Cap appears and takes them on considering for a One-Man Army like himself, two dozen to one is hardly impossible odds to him.
- The Agents from The Matrix, providing the page quote. The sequels downgrade most of them to Elite Mooks at best for Neo after he's become The One, though they still remain significant threats to protagonists other than him and Smith remains the most dangerous of them all.
- In the original Terminator, though the sequels tend to focus more on the Terminators fighting each other.
- In the original The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf simply says of the Balrog "The counter-spell was terrible. It almost broke me... swords are no use here!" and a little later "this foe is beyond any of you." In the film, after explaining to them what a Balrog is, he helpfully adds "...RUN!"
- Phantoms from Final Fantasy the Spirits Within. They're limitless in number and their touch is instantly lethal (via pulling out your soul); any fight against them is necessarily a delaying action until you can retreat... or a Last Stand.
- Steel Inquisitors from Mistborn. Nigh-invincible Blood Knights who are definitely fighting at a higher Super Weight than the protagonists. The fight against one at the end of the first book is a Crowning Moment of Awesome, and they remain the single biggest threat for the rest of the trilogy.
- In Robert E. Howard's Iron Shadows in the Moon and The Pool of the Black One, Conan the Barbarian faces this. But then, both times he was dealing with what were effectively Eldritch Abominations.
- The Bugs in David Weber and Steve White's In Death Ground. Given the colonies the military had to protect, running was the worst option.
- In some version of The Silmarillion, King Finwe was the only inhabitant of Feanor's fortress of exile who did not run for it when a hostile Melkor approached to steal the Silmarils. He is slain for his trouble, and no surprise, since Melkor is the most powerful being ever created by God. Fighting him, for an Elf or a Man, is a losing proposition.
- The Wheel of Time introduces several enemies like this in the first book alone. People don't enter the abandoned city of Shadow's Waiting unless they're forced to, because the evil that killed it is still trapped there and looking for new victims. People don't enter the Ways unless they're desperate, because the magic that created them was corrupted, and now they're haunted by the Black Wind That Steals Souls. And people don't enter the Blight unless they're suicidal, because, well...
- The Labyrinth dragons in The Death Gate Cycle are so dangerous (Even by the standards of a Death World where the inhabitants face Everything Trying to Kill You - including the geography) that most people run for their lives if they even think that there's one in the area. If they do fight, it isn't to kill the dragon, it's to force the dragon to kill them quickly instead of slowly torturing them to death. The only Patryn in the history of the Labyrinth to fight a dragon and win is Xar.
- The orc army plus Balrog in The Lord of the Rings. "Fly, you fools!"
Live Action TV
- Near the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 5, the Scooby Gang decide this is all they can do against Glorificus.
- In the Doctor Who two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead", this is all you can do against the Vashta Nerada. Seriously, the characters are never once able to take offensive action against them. The Doctor only gets them to back off by threatening to do something unpleasant based on his reputation, with no evidence in sight of how he would actually make good on it.
- Your odds against the Weeping Angels from "Blink" and the "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" two-parter, also Steven Moffat episodes, are only slightly better. By being very lucky, our heroes trick them into being stuck in the former and being destroyed in the latter.
- In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, at the start of the second season, Cameron takes damage to her processor and reverts to her default orders to kill John Connor. Through the entire episode, the only thing the Connors can really do is run the hell away from her as she doggedly pursues them. The only thing that stops her is pinning her between two tractor trailers and cutting her central processor out of her head.
- Cyrano De Bergerac: At act I, Actor Montfleury, who has dared defy Cyrano prohibition to act, makes his choice after Cadet Cyrano claps a third time: He runs for his life. Later, The Bore also makes his choice, when after bothering Cyrano too much, he literally kicks his ass. It was the correct choice for both of them.
- Quite a few from the Final Fantasy series:
- Bahamut from Final Fantasy III. You encounter him very early in the game, and if you don't run then he'll kill you on turn one.
- The "Guardian" mecha in Final Fantasy VI is used as Border Patrol. You can finally fight and defeat it in the endgame.
- Final Fantasy VIII has at least two examples:
- The spider robot during the Dollet mission, which appears unexpectedly and chases the party all the way back to the evacuation point. It doesn't have a particularly powerful offense, but it's impossible to kill (except at one point) and it appears during a Timed Mission so you can't waste too much time fighting it.
- A minor example is the T-Rexaur, a goddamn T. rex encountered in Balamb Garden's training center and the forest nearby, which you are repeatedly warned about by various characters. It will kill you early in the game (unless you've already abused the Junction system to Game Breaker levels). The first time you encounter one with Quistis in your party, she even tells you to run away, just in case you missed the other warnings. She also tells you exactly how to defeat it (junction Sleep to your status attack), as the T-Rexaur is absolutely vulnerable to the Sleep effect.
- The battle against Ba'gammnon in Final Fantasy XII in the Lhusu Mines. Some members of the party suggest fleeing from him and his gang, as beating them all in a head-on fight is extremely difficult without level grinding. If you exploit their weaknesses to certain status ailments, however, it's possible to win at a normal level.
- Invoked in Halo when you first encounter The Flood. After the cutscene introducing them, the game changes your mission objectives to, quite simply, "Escape!". You can try to kill every Flood you see, but the cost in health and ammo will be high; you're better off running from most of them and fighting only when you can't avoid it.
- Anyone who's played the Etrian Odyssey games long enough to encounter a FOE (which isn't very long) will tell you that unless you're massively overleveled for the floor you're on, you run the hell away from them. One particular case in Heroes of Lagaard is Salamox, who's nest you need to steal a MacGuffin from for a mission early on in the game. The chancellor, as well as the game itself, warn you that if you try to fight past it, you will die. They aren't kidding.
- The Silent Hill series' infamous Pyramid Head is an example in all of his incarnations.
- Guild Wars has a few examples
- In Prophecies, the last part of the "Great Northern Wall" mission has the character running away from a large group of Charr.
- Later, one mission has you running from an army of Mursaat. If you attempt to fight, the party will die in seconds, due to the Mursaats' ridiculously powerful Spectral Agony attack. It is only after you have your armor "Infused" with spells to neutralize that attack that you can fight them on equal terms.
- In Eye of the North, the quests in Kamadan, Kaineng, and Lion's Arch that take the character to the Eye of the North areas end with the player running away from destroyer groups.
- In Prophecies, the last part of the "Great Northern Wall" mission has the character running away from a large group of Charr.
- Prince of Persia: Warrior Within has your encounters with the Dahaka except in the true ending, by which point you'll have a weapon that can kill it. All you can do is run away and try to find somewhere where it can't get to you.
- In Metroid Fusion, the SA-X is ridiculously overpowered compared to Samus, being comparable to your power level at the end of Super and Samus being gimped by her new weakness to cold and a suit that doesn't protect her much. Your friendly AI commander actually gives you this instruction in as many words. As you progress through the game, you go from hiding, to running from, to preventing from following, and finally combat at the very end of the game.
- True to the film series, the video game adaptation of Terminator: Salvation treats the T-600 series like this, especially the first few times you run into them. They're insanely durable, have mini-guns as their default weapons, and just keep coming. If you try and stay and fight the first time just one shows up, it will kill you. Later battles are only possible to win because you have lots of cover, explosives, and gun emplacements of your own.
- Every enemy in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. You have no means of self-defense, so if you encounter a monster, your only hope is to run as fast as you can and hide until the monster stops chasing you.
- The "Tycoon Wil" scenario in SaGa Frontier 2 - it's a Hopeless Boss Fight in which all you can do is defend until the "Run" option comes up enough times for the ending cutscene to trigger.
- The Hunter in Dead Space. You can attack it if you want, but it won't have any effect beyond briefly slowing him down. In order to escape, you have to lead it to the appropriate place to turn it into a Mutant Alien Zombie Popsicle; later on you have to do the whole thing again, but this time you get to Kill It with Fire.
- Even before that, in both games, you're attacked by a swarm of Necromorphs without any weapons, stasis, or kinesis. Your only hope is to flee.
- After the planetary shield drops in F.A.K.K.2, tough new enemies appear and Julie straight up declares that fighting them with her current weapons is futile. They technically can be killed, but it requires the better part of your current arsenal's ammo cap to down even one, so it's pretty awesome when your shiny new toys later in the game can grind them to hamburger.
- In one of the third round of missions in Jedi Academy, a mutated rancor appears and you have to run away from it through the entire level (while fighting dozens of dark Jedi) until you can achieve an environmental kill. In an earlier level, you have to help prisoners escape from a rancor pit, usually by leading the rancor away from their group while they Run or Die.
- The first two Paper Mario games have Clefts. If examined, you'll be warned that sometimes there's no shame in running. There's one fight in the second game you can't win, though losing that one instead of running away doesn't result in Game Over anyway.
- Mother 3. The Chimera Factory. The Ultimate Chimera. If it touches you or any member of your party, that's it. No Hopeless Boss Fight, just a cutscene where the Chimera chomps down and the screen quickly turns red before you get to the Game Over screen.
- Fatal Frame final boss ghosts are like this whenever you encounter them prior to the end of the game. All of the games have a sequence where the main character must just run the hell away from the invincible ghost, lest she catch you and end your game instantly (interestingly, with the exception of the Kusabi, all of these ghosts are female). The third game has the Final Boss as a Random Encounter throughout (hint:RUN!), and also reintroduces the Kusabi from II in the Minakami Village areas. Though you can fight him off once or twice, it's really a better idea to just flee. He's freaking tough.
- In the Play Station 2 remake of Tales of Destiny, if you run around in one place with all your party members set to Auto for grinding purposes, bonus boss and Tales Of Destiny 2 antagonist Barbatos Goetia will eventually show up and exclaim that he's giving you the choice to run away or die. He's not kidding, since even if you do somehow manage to get his HP to zero, he'll just keep on fighting.
- World of Warcraft: In the dungeon Halls of Reflection, after beating a couple preliminary bosses the final "boss" consists of running from the Lich King until help arrives.
- Pikmin 2 features the Water Wraith in one dungeon, which cannot be killed except with a Pikmin variety that cannot be brought in and can only be created at the last floor. Once it drops down, you haul ass to the exit.
- Goblins - When facing down Mr. Fingers, a monstrosity from whom one touch will melt you to purple goo, there's really only one response.
- Ironically it does end up being fought... and goes down. At a tragic cost.
"I... told ya... I... do... the eating."
- Roza: "You can't beat this guy. Just run!"
- Double Subversion in Another Gaming Comic, during a Matrix-pastiche arc. The Agents are hyped up as unkillable, unstoppable monsters who, if you do somehow manage to kill them once, will just come back again. Since the protagonists are highly talented power gamers, their first encounter with an Agent results in the agent getting one (high-damage) hit in and then getting vaporized. The heroes then proceed to run away very quickly, explaining it to Nuclear Dan as they go.
Joe Chaos: He will win eventually, if only by attrition.
- The Blood Red King is one of two Omega Level Metahumans in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. Being the Anthropomorphic Personification of Terror and Fear with New Powers as the Plot Demands, he's the one foe no one ever wants to engage in a standup fight. The only ones who have knew they were making a Heroic Sacrifice so other people could get away. The only hero who ever succeeded in beating him was Amnesty, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Kindness and Mercy. She is the setting's other Omega.