With great power comes great responsibility, right? Well, godlike power also tends to come at a steep price, no matter what the situation. Fiction is full of situations where characters in need have acquired phenomenal cosmic powers, but only at a tremendous cost to themselves. For this post I’m gonna focus on the good guys, but there are plenty of bad guys that fall into this scenario as well.
Spoilers for Madoka, Homestuck, Doctor Who below the cut.
Kaname Madoka from Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a great example of this trope. She sees firsthand over the course of the anime the brutal toll that becoming a magical girl exacts on her friends, but in the end the price she pays is even steeper than just trading her soul for power. Madoka, already an insanely powerful magical girl because of Homura’s constant refolding of the timelines, wishes to destroy all the witches that have ever existed. (In Madoka, witches are a distructive and evil force, created from a magical girl when she can no longer hold back the darkness within herself.) Because as a magical girl Madoka will eventually become a witch, this creates a paradox that forces Madoka out of physical existence and into godhood. She becomes the embodiment of Hope and a savior to all magical girls in every timeline, but in doing so her human life is erased and her friends basically forget she ever existed.
The God Tier versions of the Homestuck kids is where I got the idea and the name for this post, so it’d be a disservice not to bring them up. After a Sburb player levels up to their God Tier form, they are able to access tremendously powerful attacks and magics related to their role within the game (John, the Heir of Breath, can do a Windy Thing; Jade, the Witch of Space, can teleport stuff and manipulate matter, etc.). They are also granted conditional immortality: as long as they don’t die doing something heroic or something totally evil, they’ll be resuscitated indefinitely. The sacrifice that comes into play here is simple: to achieve God Tier, first you have to die. That’s a lot to ask of a bunch of 13–16-year-old kids who just thought they were gonna play a fun video game together, and for some, it’s too much.
Doctor Who’s Rose Tyler is a bit of a special case. She achieves godlike status when she becomes the Bad Wolf in the Series One finale, but it’s not intentional. Rather than consenting to opening herself up to the time vortex in an informed way, she does so out of desperation to save the Doctor. Nevertheless, it still exacts a terrible price—a mortal human body like hers is not capable of holding the power of the time vortex, and she is close to dying herself when the Doctor siphons that power away. In doing so, he dies himself, and regenerates into the Tenth Doctor.
I tend to be fond of this trope because it really tests characters and helps them to grow. But it also seems to suggest that regular humans are just not capable of wielding ultimate powers—they have to somehow level up into godhood to do so. In leveling up, they often gain a new understanding of the world around them, usually verging on the omniscient. But there’s still some sort of gatekeeping involved in acquiring the power in question: they have to prove that they’re worthy of the power by displaying selflessness in some way. Even in Doctor Who, Rose received her power from the TARDIS, a sentient life force—if it had judged her unworthy, it’s likely that she wouldn’t have been able to become the Bad Wolf.
Have you got any other examples of good guys making an ultimate sacrifice to get crazy powers? Let me know in the comments!