Created By: RaustBDJanuary 4, 2012 Last Edited By: morenohijazoApril 3, 2013
Troped

Elemental Tiers

Elemental weapons and sometimes spells are drastically different in power level

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Page Type:
Trope
The power of the elements. The basic building blocks of the world. The foundation of magic and the supernatural. Keeping the balance of the world at equilibrium.

Balance? Yeah, balance. Each element usually govern a certain part of nature, and for the world to operate properly, the elements must be equal in power. Else, there might be a risk of a world-wide disaster.... The balance might be realized by having one element being strong to another and weak to another.

Therefore, you would expect all things associated with the elements to be balanced as well, right? The Ice Blade should be as strong as the Fire Blade, right? The spell Water3 should deal the same damage as Thunder3, right? The Lightning Elemental and Wind Elemental should be equal in power, right?

Nope.

Sometimes, things associated with elements are actually not balanced in power. There might even be a case where Fire is weak to Water, but the Fire elemental is so much stronger anyway that it completely defeats the Water elemental. This is actually more like Real Life than the alternative. Splashing someone with water should be as effective as hurling fire at them? Really?

This is particularly annoying to people who have favorite elements: imagine finding yourself forced to "upgrade" from your favorite element to the element you absolutely despise.

As a general rule, expect the elements of Light and Darkness to be stronger than other elements in the Elemental Rock Paper Scissors, but still belong in it. Related to Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Effectiveness. Compare Element Number Five or Infinity Plus One Element, which are purposely designed to be much stronger and do away with the rock-paper-scissors completely. Compare also Spell Levels, where spells within the same element/school further have different power output levels.


Examples:

Beat Em Up
  • In the game Eve Of Extinction, each weapon has a specific element and is also more powerful than the one that came before it.

Eastern RPG
  • Common on the Final Fantasy series with the Summon Magic, since you go finding them in your way, each one tends to be stronger that the previous one regardless of elemental atributes, at the end of the game you'll probably end using only the last summons you got, and maybe some of the weaker ones that are used for a support role. Some of the games avert this by allowing either to allowing to level up the summons or making their power directly proportional to yours on a more balanced way.
  • In the first Final Fantasy the fire and lightning spells were on lower spell levels from the ice spells, and therefore the ICE 1/Blizzard did more damage. This is probably due to influence from Dungeons And Dragons, where the iconic Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells are on a different level from the iconic ice spell Cone of Cold.
    • In a lot of FF games, there are more uncommon elements like Air and Earth, but are harder to come by or use and are a Useless Useful Spell.
    • In the first Final Fantasy, you also fight the Four Fiends in order of their power, although elements are swapped around : Lich (Earth), Marilith (Fire), Kraken (Water), and lastly Tiamat (Wind).
  • In Final Fantasy IV, you fight the Elemental Archfiends in order of their strength, from the weakest Scarmiglione (Earth), then Cagnazzo (Water), Barbariccia (Wind) and finally the strongest Rubicante (Fire).
  • The various elemental type enemies in Final Fantasy X are encountered one by one as you advance through the game. The one you meet in a recent area will be stronger than the one you previously meet. Ditto for the various elemental Flans. The trend continues with Final Fantasy X 2, although the order of strength have been juggled around.
  • In Final Fantasy XII the elemental weapons vary wildly in power. Often they are only effective in the chapter they are first available.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, while Aero has the same power as other basic spells, Aerora and Aeroga are stronger than other -ra and -ga spells. Aerora is as strong as -ga spells of other elements, and Aeroga is even stronger. However, they also cost more ATB meter, making them slower to cast. Most characters can't even cast Aeroga until 3/4th of the game.
  • In Earth Bound, elemental attacks have different areas of effect. Ice is a single-target, Fire hits a whole row but does less damage, and Lightning targets a random enemy and is prone to missing frequently unless there are many enemies. So even if you're facing a lightning-vulnerable boss you probably want to use ice, and same goes for if the fire-weak enemies are on multiple rows.
  • According to the manual for Dragon Warrior, HURT is a fire spell and HURTMORE is a lightning spell.
  • Golden Sun: The ultimate weapon in the first game is earth-aligned, and fire-aligned in the last two (despite the only people able to use it being earth-aligned). The Infinity Plus One summon is fire-aligned, but so very impractical (and seeing little use) that the Infinty Minus One summons are used (and more for their effects than straight damage).
  • In the first Atelier Iris game, the first and weakest offensive Mana Item you're able to synthesize is the Bomb Ice (Ice). Then you get the Obake Bag (Dark), Flame (Fire), Thunder Rod (Lightning), and finally the strongest one is Dragon Gem, which is also fire-based.
  • In the second game, Atelier Iris 2, Ice items are again the weakest, since there are only two of them and the stronger one only deals medium damage. Meanwhile, there are a lot more Fire-based items and the second strongest item (Cerberus Flute) is Fire-based. The strongest item, however, deals all four elemental damage at once.
  • Seems to be a trend in Atelier series. In Atelier Rorona, the absolute strongest item, Tera Bomb is Fire-elemental.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei games, sometimes there are the 'Element' race. They always have Erthys as the weakest, then Aeros, then Aquans, and Flaemis with the highest level. Sometimes they are followed by Paracelsus' elementals, but the element order stays the same, with Gnome as the weakest, followed by Syplh, Undine, and Salamander. Not that their levels matter much, since they're usually fusion fodder.
  • In Persona 3, Bufu and Zio spells have higher MP cost than Agi and Garu spells. They actually have the same power, but Bufu and Zio can inflict Freeze and Shock ailments, respectively, while the other two only deals damage.

Roguelike
  • In Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, the elemental talons and saddles (weapons and armor, respectively) feature a gradual progression of values for base strength and upgrade limit. The sequence is Fire < Water < Thunder < Ice < Earth.

Shoot Em Up
  • In Touhou, fairies are the embodiment of nature. The strongest one is Cirno, the ice fairy. (Although none of the other fairies introduced have classic elemental powers, I'm not sure if this counts)

Turn Based Strategy
  • In Heroes Of Might And Magic III, the elementals have a hierarchy of power: Air elementals are the weakest (level 2), then Water elementals (level 3), then Fire elementals (level 4), and the strongest are the Earth elementals (level 5).
  • In the first Disgaea game, the various tiers of Dragon and Great Wyrm monster classes have many variants of skills that differ only in the element. For the Dragon class, each tiers learn different combinations of elemental skills, although only the weakest one learn any Wind. For the Great Wyrm class, the first tier learns Fire skills, the second one learns Wind, and the third Ice. The fourth and fifth are Non Elemental, and the sixth and final tier learns Fire again.

Western RPG
  • Zigzagged in Evil Islands, even though it seems the designers wanted to play this trope straight. Fire magic is rendered obsolete because of this trope, but it's averted with acid magic, and lightning magic is the ultimate magic instead, despite coming at the middle of the game (check the Last Discmagic entry there for more info, but to be short, some reasons are lightning magic doing extra damage against enemies wearing metal armor, and high mana cost and magic requirement on acid magic combined with a low range of attack).

Non videogame examples

  • The Four Gods in Chinese myth are each associated with a direction and an element in the Elemental Rock Paper Scissors. Xuanwu represents Water and north. Qinglong represents Wood and east, Zhuque represents Fire and south, and Baihu represents Metal and west. There is the fifth and the strongest beast, Huanglong, who represents Earth and the center. Averted in Japanese version, where there is no beast to represent Earth and the center is associated with void instead.
    • In Chinese elements, Earth is one of the elements in the rps. Specifically, in the destructive cycle, it destroys water and is destroyed by wood, while in the constructive cycle, it supports metal and supported by fire. Yet the beast that represents Earth is stronger than other beasts. It's not actually treated as the strongest in actual mythology. Although it almost certainly is in fictions.
  • This is alluded to in The Wizard of London when Lady Cordelia is working on her plan to Grand Theft Me David. I don't have the book with me, but IIRC her thought is on the lines of "instead of the weak Power of Air (Cordelia's element) behind the Power of Ice, she would have the Power of Fire (David's element)".
  • In the Phantom Lord Arc of Fairy Tail we have the Element Four. Aria of the Air is explicitly stated to be the strongest of them all.
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • January 4, 2012
    Damr1990
    Common on the Final Fantasy Series with the Summon Magic since you go finding them in your way, each one tends to be stronger that the previous one regardless of elemental atributes, at the end of the game you'll probably end using only the last summons you got, and maybe some of the weaker ones that are used for a support role, some of the games avert this by allowing either to allowing to level up the summons or making their power directly proportional to yours on a more balanced way
  • January 4, 2012
    dalek955
    This is just Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Effectiveness But More Specific. Plus the title is terrible.
  • January 4, 2012
    arromdee
    I agree that the title is awful, but I think it's otherwise a real trope. The key is the observation that the type on the weapons is useless because the advantage from having higher tier weapons overwhelms any advantage from the type.

    It's another way in which video games make apparently useful effects useless. It's related to Useless Useful Spell and Useless Useful Stealth. Useless Useful Attack Type?
  • January 4, 2012
    DracMonster
    I have to agree with dalek955, this seems too much like Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Effectiveness to warrant a page, unless there's enough examples to cross the Sub Trope threshold.
  • January 4, 2012
    Euodiachloris
    I'm adding my tuppence, too. Yup - we got it covered. I don't see the point even of a sub-page, as it just looks like a pointless split (or a really weird combo with Elemental Rock Paper Scissors)... Unless... Maybe change it to split Magic and Non-magic Weapons? But that seems more like TYPES of weapons, needing only Types 1 (mundane), 2 (magic) and 3 (none of the above) definitions on that page. Dunno - just throwing ideas out there.
  • January 4, 2012
    arromdee
    It's a specific phenomenon. It's often an effect caused by Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Effectiveness but it's not the same as that trope.
  • January 4, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Too bad we can't call it Sorting Algorithm Of Elemental Effectiveness.

    Maybe Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Elements? Bah, I'm not helping.
  • January 6, 2012
    morenohijazo
    Zigzagged in Evil Islands. Fire magic is rendered obsolete because of this trope, but it's averted with acid magic, and lightning magic is the ultimate magic instead, despite coming at the middle of the game (check the Last Discmagic entry there for more info, but to be short, some reasons are lightning magic doing extra damage against enemies wearing metal armor, and high mana cost and magic requirement on acid magic combined with a low range of attack).
  • January 6, 2012
    MarkIV
    In Final Fantasy XII the elemental weapons vary wildly in power. Often they are only effective in the chapter they are first available.
  • January 6, 2012
    c0ry
    For a better title, I suggest something along the lines of From Pebble To Tornado, to capture the progression from power levels and elements (small Earth power to massive Air power).
  • January 6, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Nope, that doesn't work either. The title needs to convey that it's about elements.
  • July 9, 2012
    morenohijazo
    Deleted.
  • July 9, 2012
    abk0100
  • July 9, 2012
    unfound
    • In the first Final Fantasy the fire and lightning spells were on lower spell levels from the ice spells, and therefore the ICE 1/Blizzard did more damage. This is probably due to influence from Dungeons And Dragons, where the iconic Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells are on a different level from the iconic ice spell Cone of Cold. I'd want to double-check to confirm that's true in the original edition D&D that FF ripped off, but I'm pretty sure it's the same situation.
      • In a lot of FF games, there are more uncommon elements like Air and Earth, but are harder to come by or use and are a Useless Useful Spell.

    • In Earth Bound, elemental attacks have different areas of effect. Ice is a single-target, Fire hits a whole row but does less damage, and Lightning targets a random enemy and is prone to missing frequently unless there are many enemies. So even if you're facing a lightning-vulnerable boss you probably want to use ice, and same goes for if the fire-weak enemies are on multiple rows.
  • July 9, 2012
    Bisected8
    What about; Elements Of Bias? Elemental Power Gap?

    • In the game Eve Of Extinction, each weapon has a specific element and is also more powerful than the one that came before it.
  • July 9, 2012
    TBTabby
    According to the manual for Dragon Warrior, HURT is a fire spell and HURTMORE is a lightning spell.
  • July 9, 2012
    NimmerStill
    This is actually more like Real Life than the alternative. Splashing someone with water should be as effective as hurling fire at them? Really? Is there some sort of "elements are equal" trope that this would be an aversion of?
  • July 9, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Also, the explanation is overly complicated.
  • July 9, 2012
    abk0100
    Elements are necessarily equal, but they're usually equal enough that Elemental Rock Paper Scissors still works.
  • July 9, 2012
    abk0100
  • July 9, 2012
    BecomeTheFuture
    How about just, 'Fire Melts Ice' ? Such a title demonstrates one element handily conquering another and the 'x beats y' structure references Rock-Paper-Scissors as a mechanic.
  • August 6, 2012
    morenohijazo
    ^ I would never guess what that means by that title.
  • August 6, 2012
    Stratadrake
    And that title suggestion sounds trivial, and doesn't capture the spirit of the trope at all.

    How about Elemental Tiers? Sort of like how there are Character Tiers, but this is for elements, and where CT are generally fanmade (and debated), it's pretty objective to see when one spell is a higher power than another.

    Definitely related to Sorting Algorithm Of Weapon Effectiveness.
  • November 24, 2012
    captainpat
    The description needs to be rewritten. see Example As A Thesis. Just explain the trope and leave the examples to the example section.
  • January 26, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Golden Sun: The ultimate weapon in the first game is earth-aligned, and fire-aligned in the last two (despite the only people able to use it being earth-aligned). The Infinity Plus One summon is fire-aligned, but so very impractical (and seeing little use) that the Infinty Minus One summons are used (and more for their effects than straight damage).
    • Pokemon: Often a few levels in difference is able to negate elemental weaknesses. May qualify as a form of Cherry Tapping.
  • January 27, 2013
    morenohijazo
    ^ I think only the first example counts. The second one is just Scissors Cuts Rock.
  • January 27, 2013
    TrueShadow1
  • January 27, 2013
    Koveras
    Compare Spell Levels, where spells within the same element/school further have different power output levels.
  • January 27, 2013
    aurora369
    In Heroes Of Might And Magic III, the elementals have a hierarchy of power: Air elementals are the weakest (level 2), then Water elementals (level 3), then Fire elementals (level 4), and the strongest are the Earth elementals (level 5).
  • January 27, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    • In the first Atelier Iris game, the first and weakest offensive Mana Item you're able to synthesize is the Bomb Ice (Ice). Then you get the Obake Bag (Dark), Flame (Fire), Thunder Rod (Lightning), and finally the strongest one is Dragon Gem, which is also fire-based.
    • In the second game, Atelier Iris 2, Ice items are again the weakest, since there are only two of them and the stronger one only deals medium damage. Meanwhile, there are a lot more Fire-based items and the second strongest item (Cerberus Flute) is Fire-based. The strongest item, however, deals all four elemental damage at once.
    • Seems to be a trend in Atelier series. In Atelier Rorona, the absolute strongest item, Tera Bomb is Fire-elemental.
    • In Touhou, fairies are the embodiment of nature. The strongest one is Cirno, the ice fairy. (Although none of the other fairies introduced have classic elemental powers, I'm not sure if this counts)
    • In Final Fantasy IV, you fight the Elemental Archfiends in order of their strength, from the weakest Scarmiglione (Earth), then Cagnazzo (Water), Barbariccia (Wind) and finally the strongest Rubicante (Fire).
    • In the first Final Fantasy, you also fight the Four Fiends in order of their power, although elements are swapped around : Lich (Earth), Marilith (Fire), Kraken (Water), and lastly Tiamat (Wind).
    • In the first Disgaea game, the various tiers of Dragon and Great Wyrm monster classes have many variants of skills that differ only in the element. For the Dragon class, each tiers learn different combinations of elemental skills, although only the weakest one learn any Wind. For the Great Wyrm class, the first tier learns Fire skills, the second one learns Wind, and the third Ice. The fourth and fifth are Non Elemental, and the sixth and final tier learns Fire again.
  • February 12, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    See also Element Number Five and Infinity Plus One Element, which are purposely stronger than all of the other elements.

    • In the Phantom Lord Arc of Fairy Tail we have the Element Four. Aria of the Air is explicitly stated to be the strongest of them all.
    • In Shin Megami Tensei games, sometimes there are the 'Element' race. They always have Erthys as the weakest, then Aeros, then Aquans, and Flaemis with the highest level. Sometimes they are followed by Paracelsus' elementals, but the element order stays the same, with Gnome as the weakest, followed by Syplh, Undine, and Salamander. Not that their levels matter much, since they're usually fusion fodder.
    • In Final Fantasy XIII, while Aero has the same power as other basic spells, Aerora and Aeroga are stronger than other -ra and -ga spells. Aerora is as strong as -ga spells of other elements, and Aeroga is even stronger. However, they also cost more ATB meter, making them slower to cast. Most characters can't even cast Aeroga until 3/4th of the game.
    • The Four Gods in Chinese myth are each associated with a direction and an element in the Elemental Rock Paper Scissors. Xuanwu represents Water and north. Qinglong represents Wood and east, Zhuque represents Fire and south, and Baihu represents Metal and west. There is the fifth and the strongest beast, Huanglong, who represents Earth and the center. Averted in Japanese version, where there is no beast to represent Earth and the center is associated with void instead.
  • February 12, 2013
    morenohijazo
    Not sure if the last example about the Four Gods counts. What do you think?
  • February 12, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    Why do you think it doesn't count? My impression is that it's about how elements in the Elemental Rock Paper Scissors are not always equal. In Chinese elements, Earth is one of the elements in the rps. Spesifically, in the destructive cycle, it destroys water and is destroyed by wood, while in the constructive cycle, it supports metal and supported by fire. Yet the beast that represents Earth is stronger than other beasts.
  • February 13, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    Also, I made a new description to replace the part from the beginning to the paragraph starting with "What's going on?". This is to avoid Example As A Thesis. Not the final version yet.

    'The power of the elements. The basic building blocks of the world. The foundation of magic and the supernatural. Keeping the balance of the world at equilibrium.

    Balance? Yeah, balance. Each element usually govern a certain part of nature, and for the world to operate properly, the elements must be equal in power. Else, there might be a risk of a world-wide disaster.... The balance might be realized by having one element being strong to another and weak to another.

    Therefore, you would expect all things associated with the elements to be balanced as well, right? The Ice Blade should be as strong as the Fire Blade, right? The spell Water3 should deal the same damage as Thunder3, right? The Lightning Elemental and Wind Elemental should be equal in power, right?

    Nope.

    Sometimes, things associated with elements are actually not balanced in power. There might even be a case where Fire is weak to Water, but the Fire elemental is so much stronger anyway that it completely defeats the Water elemental.

    As a general rule, expect the elements of Light and Darkness to be stronger than other elements in the Elemental Rock Paper Scissors, but still belong in it. Compare Element Number Five or Infinity Plus One Element, which are purposely designed to be much stronger and do away with the rock-paper-scissors completely.
  • February 15, 2013
    morenohijazo
    ^^ That example would only count if the Earh being the strongest part is true, something I haven't found a reference for and I hadn't heard before.
  • February 15, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    ^Hmm...What I meant was that as an element, Earth is on equal footing with the others, but the beast that represents Earth is stronger than other beasts. But after I looked around a bit, it's not actually treated as the strongest in actual mythology. Although it almost certainly is in fictions.

    • The various elemental type enemies in Final Fantasy X are encountered one by one as you advance through the game. The one you meet in a recent area will be stronger than the one you previously meet. Ditto for the various elemental Flans. The trend continues with Final Fantasy X 2, although the order of strength have been juggled around.
  • February 16, 2013
    morenohijazo
    Have you finished with the new description, anyway?
  • February 16, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    I was hoping someone could give some feedback actually...
  • February 19, 2013
    Antigone3
    The new description is much better.

    If you're open to non-game examples, this is alluded to in The Wizard of London when Lady Cordelia is working on her plan to Grand Theft Me David. I don't have the book with me, but IIRC her thought is on the lines of "instead of the weak Power of Air (Cordelia's element) behind the Power of Ice, she would have the Power of Fire (David's element)".
  • February 22, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    Not sure if this counts, but...

    In this case, the one with the elements are the unique moves, but the tiered-ones are the wielders. I'm not so sure whether the moves themselves are equal in strength or not. A Lso, the Septentriones themselves are not strongly elemental-themed. Other than their signature moves, their skill assortments are pretty much random.
  • February 22, 2013
    morenohijazo
    I would say not.
  • February 26, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    • Yet another FFXII example. In this game, after performing a chain of Quickenings, you may perform an extra attack called a Concurrence. There are eight Concurrences, and while they all do Non Elemental damage, their animations are very clearly based on the elements. Their order from weakest to strongest are : Inferno (fire), Cataclysm (earth), Torrent (water), Windburst (wind), Whiteout (ice), Ark Blast (lightning), Luminescence (light), and Black Hole (darkness)
  • April 2, 2013
    TrueShadow1
  • April 2, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    Roguelike
    • In Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, the elemental talons and saddles (weapons and armor, respectively) feature a gradual progression of values for base strength and upgrade limit. The sequence is Fire < Water < Thunder < Ice < Earth.

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