Melee classes gain power at a linear rate as they level up. Magic users gain power quadratically as they level up.
A quirk some Video Game and Tabletop RPG game systems share is that melee classes are more powerful, versatile or useful at lower levels than casters or magic using classes. However, the trend reverses at higher levels, when the magic users gain a breadth of both versatility and pure power over simplistic hack and slash heroes.
The divide is usually exacerbated by the ease with which a young warrior can go wading into combat compared to a novice mage. The fighter just needs decent armor and a weapon, and with their marvelous Meat ShieldHit Points they can get into the thick of things and do reasonably well. Magical weapons aren't required but can (usually) be used immediately and give amazing bonuses. Wizards on the other hand (especially young/low level ones) have no such easy shortcuts to massive magical power, they have to study, find or invent spells, and discover magic items that aren't so powerful they cause them to go into a Superpower Meltdown. In the meantime they are nearly defenseless in a fight.
Yet the trend reverses at higher levels. As the trope name says, the power of a warrior is linear. It grows at a steady pace whose increase can be predicted by simple arithmetic. But a wizard's power is quadratic or even exponential: as it grows, the rate of growth also gets multiplied. For example, learning something such as a spell leads to multiple, often unpredictable, varieties of more things to learn, in a manner similar to how a single infected person can infect multiple people unpredictably, or how a Wiki Walk on TV Tropes or Wikipedia forces you to follow more links which lead to discovery of more varieties of knowledge and tropes which have lots of interesting links themselves that lead to more countless instances of discovering tropes, and so on. Thus, in the end wizards must at some point become the more powerful class. For example, while warriors are still stuck at physical hacking and slashing, wizards have discovered how to warp reality itself.
Whether it's the game designers intentionally "making up" for lots of frailty for many levels, or a quirk that comes up during play, the wizard simply outpaces all but the most Min Maxed and Munchkined out warriors.
This isn't just a Sour Grapes complaint against Squishy Wizards or a lack of Competitive Balance throughout the game, but can be a deliberate thematic choice.
First off the idea that Reality Ensues for warriors at some point. They hit the limits of human (or near-human) ability and can't bend physics any farther. Since warriors don't have magic, how is physical force supposed to beat, say, an intangible ghost or some supernatural baddie with the magical ability to ignore it? Basically, warriors can only be so fantastic, so even as they improve, those improvements mean less.
Secondly, In such a setting there may be dozens if not hundreds of small time mystic dabblers, but they quickly thin in numbers, only to resurface as potent adventuring wizards, culminating in the classic mystic powerhouse like Gandalf or Elminster, or the Evil Sorcerer in the Evil Tower of Ominousness. Meanwhile the Conans and Beowulfs have the run of the place, being able to both solo and group. In essence, the mages study under the promise of a dull and complex path with great profits at the end.
Thirdly, there's more than a bit of Wish Fulfillment here. Gamers, and by extension game designers, tend to be nerds by definition. The notion that a wizard (generally something of a brainy bookworm) may start out weaker than the Dumb Muscle, but surpass them entirely in the endgame proving that knowledge is power that can modify the environment itself thus making large muscles redundant in comparison. This counts holds a lot of inherent appeal to them.
However, if this results from a development mistake, or enough complaints convince the author/programmer to change things, there are ways to limit the awesomeness of wizards. These include restrictions on magic itself, the two classic examples being the Mana mechanic or the even more restrictive Vancian Magic. Both of these serve to cap how often a wizard can cast spells. Preventing casting spells whilst wearing armour is another, though this is often partially countered by providing a range of protective magics that work much like normal armour only better, but of course for a limited time. Other restrictions also exist; a common one is simply to make the wizard Squishy. Others involve sanity and corruption systems, or making the casting of a spell a tactically debilitating act.
As you can imagine, players who specifically chose wizards and worked hard to keep them alive with the promise of great power for their effort can be...upset by this game balancing Nerfing, unless (and sometimes especially because) it also beefs up wizards at low levels. The solution is rarely to power up warriors while only slightly depowering wizards generally because, at least in the West, there's an expectation that the warrior be a Badass Normal that you can more easily imagine that you could become with enough effort.
These fixes can result in or from some pretty strange logic and situations. Sure, the wizard can do more amazing and effective stuff than the warrior can, but the warrior can do his less impressive things indefinitely! That makes up for it, right?... Well, sometimes. A tough flurry of Random Encounters can suck a mage's supply of game breaking magic, which will force them to save a bit of juice for that final boss, and not waste their power. But in some games, wizards can recover their magic faster as they level up, and other games have infinitely available elixirs that recover magic quickly. Still other times, you end up with the opposite problem, wizards whose capacity to fight is so restricted that you wonder why the warriors even bother to bring them along (when this makes sense, it's because of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality being applied).
Attempts to keep warriors' capabilities "normal" are far less prevalent in works of Eastern origin, and so the trope has weakened slightly in the minds of the younger generation. The common result is Charles Atlas Superpower.
As Archer points out early on in the visual novel, "It's fine if you think I can only use bows...." He actually uses a kind of magic that lets him use a whole lot of swords all at once, including Saber's sword that fires energy blasts.
And that is why in Tower Of God, anyone who is incapable of resisting Shinsoo to even the slightest degree is sorted out on the second floor. Not only would the Shinsoo that naturally surrounds them in the higher levels kill them, but it is one of the most versatile and powerful tools which has power unlimited if wielded correctly.
Both played straight and subverted in the Slayers universe. Normal swordsmen such as Gourry and physical brawlers such as Prince Phil can only do so much in a land where magic is common knowledge and taught in schools (at least in one part of the world). Swordsman Gourry mainly gets by with supernaturally-powered swords, namely the Sword of Light for the first set of novels and throughout most of the anime, and the Blast Sword in the second half of the novels. The subversion comes in with the magic system. Humans can expand how much magic they can cast by increasing their stamina (Pool Capacity), but the actual strength of their magic (Bucket Capacity) is predetermined at birth. Zelgadis was a poor spell caster when he was a human, but thanks to the properties of the brau demon he was mixed with for his chimeric transformation, both his Pool and Bucket Capacities are higher because brau demons, according to Word Of God, have a lot of magical power. In other words, the non-divine can only do so much to increase their magical output.
Possibly lampshaded in MÄR, where Kouga, one of the knights in the evil Chess Pieces, is incredibly tough, but his lack of magical power means that he's automatically the weakest of his rank. He is easily defeated and humiliated by The Lancer Alviss, whose has a high level of magical power (and competence).
Clear in Dragon Ball, in the early adventures the main characters' power levels increase slowly only by a few hundred by the end of the original series. By the time of Dragon Ball Z, they have mastered advanced Ki techniques and their recorded power levels absolutely skyrocket by thousands and millions, leaving non-Ki fighters like Mr. Satan far out matched.
In Rave Master, Sieg Hart utterly wipes the floor with Haru in the beginning of their battle. Sieg Hart says something along the lines of, "It doesn't matter how good a swordsman you are, nothing is better than magic. Don't you get it? We're not even playing the same game."
Played around with in Those Who Hunt Elves, though as this is a comic series the actual state of affairs isn't pinned down. Most relevant is the backstory of an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy who specializes (entirely) in kicking people in the knees, who after winning a tournament was challenged by "a Thin Man", an emaciated mage who used self-buffs (and expectation of the knee kick) to easily overpower him. Being too arrogant to recognize the serious flaws in his combat style, he decides this trope is clearly in effect, secretly changed his field of study, and has since been wandering around kicking people in the knees with invisible magical shielding up.
Medaka Box: Technically it's more "Abnormal abilities" than magic, but many of the abnormal characters end up becoming far more powerful than any of the Badass Normal characters. Zenkichi can still keep up to some degree, but Savate can only do some much against Reality Warpers.
Doctor Strange went from Dr. Jerk to Sorcerer Supreme. At his height, he commanded enough power to go toe-to-toe with a foe who could defeat the Hulk with a mere thought.
Dr. Strange has fought Galactus to a draw on one occasion, and the main reason he didn't win is because he knew their fight would have leveled Manhattan.
In Marvel Comics, the Invisible Woman, Jean Grey, and the Scarlet Witch were initially the weakest members of their respective teams. But over the years, their powers evolved to where they became the most powerful by a wide margin. In fact, the primary reason Jean is always dying/fainting is because it's damn near impossible for writers to make a worthwhile challenge for her.
Conan the Barbarian subverts this by having the title barbarian outwit the wizards he faces...some might say mostly by act of author-induced Villain Ball on the part of the wizards. Magic in that universe relies relies heavily on ceremony and preparation; a wizard might work a huge spell over months to raise an army of undead, but if attacked he's just a guy in a robe.
Drizzt Do'Urden, R.A. Salvatore's famous character, both subverts this and falls victim to it. Frequently, he or one of his companions completely thrashes a powerful but unprepared wizard, but there are rare occasions where Drizzt is nearly dispatched by wizards who have, as yet, posed no threat to him, exemplified by his being duped into stumbling into a realm populated entirely by demon lords by a Quadratic Wizard in The Pirate King.
On of the best is when Artemis Entreri, Drizzt's Evil Counterpart and one of the deadliest assassins in the world, is put up against a battle wizard he doesn't manage to catch off guard. Said wizard proceeds to utterly school him without using a spell above fourth level. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons versions of Stoneskin (have to be hit a certain number of times before you take damage) and Flame Shield (when you hit someone, the attack hits you) is pretty hard to beat.
Discworld wizards are not merely quadratic, they're most often cubic. Oh, wait! We aren't referring to body shape here? Well, then it remains to be said that a highly trained wizard has no problems with turning a trained warrior into a frog or just burning him, to say nothing about what a sourceror can do.
The series makes it clear that the reason wizards don't rule the world is not that their magic doesn't give them the power to do so, but that wizards naturally fight among themselves (Sourcery claims that the collective noun for wizard is "a war"), and magical conflict is incredibly destructive. The widespread abuse of magic would quickly make the world stop making sense. It's analogized to nuclear weaponry, with talks about avoiding a "first use of magic" in war, and the ancient mage wars leaving behind high levels of residual magic (i.e. nuclear fallout) in the present day. The entire organizational structure of modern wizardry exists to keep them all in one place and encourage them to waste their energies either plotting against each other, immersing themselves in research, or enjoying their cushy academic position.
Played straight in Steven Brusts's Dragaera series, where the single most powerful non-god is the well-beyond-legendary undead mage Sethra Lavode, who is notorious for being able to wipe out armies. She's also probably nothing like what reading that sentence will make you assume her to be like. For instance, her favorite method of wiping out armies is with another army, but with better logistics.
Also subverted in Stephen Brusts's Jhereg series with some degree of regularity, as demonstrated by the signature quote: "No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style."
The Dresden Files: Averted. Magic is portrayed as a tool, and in some cases, a weapon. And the more magic you have at your disposal, the less likely any modern technology is to work while you're around. With enough time and effort, more magical energy can be built up for more powerful spells, but no human can really do anything more impressive than technology already can unless they have the help of a supernatural being, and the most effective way to kill a wizard that isn't properly prepared is with a long range rifle.
A weird Gamebook example: Goosebumps. One special edition played more like a gamebook and required to keep track of items. The hunter sounds rather easy because you can fight off obstacles a lot better, but in practice, the spellcaster was the easiest. On the spellcaster path, you were able to avoid almost every single obstacle until you met the Final Boss unless you made one choice. The hunter, meanwhile, had more "useless" items.
Live Action TV
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a near-perfect demonstration of this trope in action. In the early seasons, the focus was firmly on Buffy, the warrior; Willow, the wizard, was limited to the occasional ritual spell cast from the safety of her own home. In a fight she was no more help than Xander, and sometimes less. As the seasons progressed, however, the balance of power began to shift. This shift became clear at the end of season five, when Buffy described Willow as her "big gun" — pointing out that while she, Buffy, had been unable to even slow Glory down, Willow had actually managed to inflict some damage. In season six, their relative status was no longer in question; Willow was the stronger of the two, and when it came to a showdown between Willow and Buffy in the season finale, Willow threw Buffy around like a rag doll. (The writers made her less willing to use her power for season seven, bringing her back to the point where Buffy was at least relevant; but Willow was still solidly in the Quadratic camp.)
Buffy finally caught up in Season Eight by becoming a Flying Brick.
Merlin and Arthur both follow this trope pretty well. Arthur starts out the series as the literally best knight in Camelot, and most of his leveling up is him learning how to fight outside the tournament arena. Meanwhile, Merlin has gone from no magical training at all (the only thing he can do is telekinesis), to causing earthquakes, summoning gods, commanding freakin' dragons to do whatever he wants, and in the finale, he beats the entire Saxon army, a dragon, and a High Priestess almost casually with lots and lots of lightning.
Season 8 of Supernatural introduces the Men of Letters, a Masonic-esque order of humans who possess vast amounts of supernatural lore and are fluent in rune magic (a novice Man of Letters can time travel), in counterpoint to the Hunters, a loose organisation of blue-collar monster hunters.
Most mythology avoids the whole problem by making everyone magic; heroes like Hercules, Gilgamesh and Cuchulainn would have either supernatural origins, supernatural backing, or both. While they do exist, very, very few mythological heroes are genuine Badass Normals, and it was common (though frequently omitted or downplayed in later Christianized versions) for them to use what we could call 'magic' in one fashion or another. Greek heroes would routinely attempt to divine the future or call upon supernatural patrons, for instance. The modern conception of magic as something a few specific people go into a tower and learn is newer than you might think; by definition, the thinking of most mythological ages was that nearly everything was magical, with Hercules no less magical than most of the monsters he kills.
One of the best examples is in the Poetic Edda, the ancient and very much valor-oriented compilation of Viking oral traditions. During the Svipdagsmal, the hero Svipdag receives enchantments from his mother, Groa, one of which protects him from magic to the extent that "Yet never the curse of a Christian woman/From the dead shall do thee harm." From the perspective of the poem's original audience, a dead Christian woman was a Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot combination of all the attributes that would have made up the deadliest possible spellcaster (to the Vikings who feared Christians like Christians today fear Satanists or Neo-heathens themselves!) (Also it should be pointed out that Groa herself was dead when she gave him this magic, so it's not like this was all a theoretical situation.)
Dungeons & Dragons, though it's most notable in 3.5 edition where it's more like Linear Fighters Exponential Wizards. The actual point at which wizards overtake fighters is somewhere between level one (when they get "Color Spray") and level five (when they get "Fireballs" and "Haste"), depending on who you ask. Either way, at low levels attack spells are both too weak and too few, the main advantages are in buff, incapacitation, area denial or utility magic. It also depends on the type of encounter — one strong opponent or many weaklings.
Another problem is that as primary casters gain levels, they gain access to spells that allow them to do pretty much anything. A Wizard, Cleric, or Druid with access to the huge list of spells published for them can fill almost any party role — often better than the classes designed for that role — while a fighter gains variations and slight improvements on "hit enemy with stick". At level 17, they essentially become gods, with the ability to shapechange at will, stop time, and even create entirely new planes of existence. Meanwhile, Fighters can hit things slightly harder.
Originally the intent of D&D was that the common man was a Fighter and he would be more powerful at low level, but someone who performed magic (a Cleric or Magic-User) would make sacrifices at low level to become more powerful at high level. But this was further balanced by Fighters getting the best followers at high level (and at the time, henchmen were quite valuable even if they were low-level) and because Fighters were the only ones who could use magic swords. The majority (60%+) of magic swords were intelligent and carried special spell-like powers. Since a Fighter was the only one who could wield one, those found in treasure would usually end up in his hands. This limited spell-like ability made up for the Fighter having no spells of his own.
Fighting Men progressed at a faster rate than Magic Users. The difference in XP progression was later (3.0+) deemed ineffective, largely due to when game designers learned basic math and common sense. They realized that given the same amount of EXP the wizard was at best one level behind the fighter, and later actually progressed faster. Getting rid of this also fixed broken multiclasses.
AD&D has rules about followers, so a high-level warrior can easily attract a small army. Sadly, it was often ignored, especially since it required the character to own a keep. Warriors also got Hit Points from high Constitution while wizards didn't. AD&D2 class XP awards, quite sensibly, altered class balance depending on the game style: in relatively peaceful ones, utility spellcasting allows wizards and priests a little XP all the time, in war/dungeon warriors get XP bonus for each defeated opponent.
Dark Sun setting specifics eased it in that high-level warriors' followers are easier to use in an adventure, while wizards are feared and hated by just about everybody thanks to the fact that arcane magic in Dark Sun sucks the life out of everything around the spellcaster. Widespread psionics doesn't quite replace wizardry, as it's more useful against one tough opponent rather than many weaker ones. Most area effects are taxing, unreliable, centered on psionicist and indiscriminate: either plunge into crowd of foes alone for 3 rounds and risk fainting there or knock out your bodyguard(s) with Ultrablast just like everyone else in 50’.
Special powerful creatures could then resist the new unresistable spells. Of course a spell to temporarily reduce a creature's Magic Resistance soon developed...
Yes, another way that earlier editions of D&D dealt with this problem was giving a lot of the more powerful monsters (the kind high-level adventurers would be facing) magic resistance (called anti-magic in some of the early editions). Even relatively low magic resistance could really ruin a caster's day, because, first, magic resistance was a flat percentage, meaning that it didn't matter how powerful a caster you were, your spells still had the same chance of failing completely, and, second, because there were no spells that could directly penetrate resistance. Third edition radically nerfed magic resistance into spell resistance by changing those two things: powerful casters are more likely to penetrate spell resistance, and there were a number of spells that could simply ignore it (the orb spells were incredibly broken, partly for this reason)
The new problem with wizards introduced by D&D3+ is that instead of having spellcasting interrupted by any hit, passing a Concentration skill check can fix this. This would be less of a big deal if skills weren't so easy to boost in 3.5ed.
In 3rd Edition and 3.5, this applies to spellcasting classes in general with a sufficiently large and varied spell list. Clerics and Druids in particular led to the coining of the phrase "CoDzilla" (Cleric-or-Druid-zilla), as if a powergamer looks at the class the right way, they see class features more powerful than entire other classes.
The Druid's Animal Companion is equivalent if not better than an entire Fighter in combat at level 1, making them superior even at low levels. The companion doesn't scale as fast as a Fighter, but given the exponential scaling of spells which a Druid also gets full access to, it doesn't really matter.
Another strange design decision was giving clerics access to heavy armor and most shields. This combined with two feats (Persist Spell and Divine Metamagic: Persist Spell) and the right domains (Planning and Undeath) allows a cleric to, at the cost of one spell slot per day and the lackluster turn undead ability, be every bit as effective as a fighter in melee while ALSO being able to call on nearly unlimited divine power.
The history here is a bit muddled. Clerics (or Priests in earlier editions) always had access to good armors, but no good offensive abilities, magical or martial. The common complaint is that they couldn't do anything well except heal and maybe tank a little, so they were given huge upgrades in both their magical abilities and their martial abilities (generally requiring magical augmentation) in 3rd edition. At first glance this didn't appear unbalanced, especially since most players would tend to either heal all the time anyways or make reasonably effective (but not to the point of replacing Fighters) melee fighters. The real brokenness comes in two flavors. First, creative uses of certain spells and feats (such as the aforementioned Divine Metamagic: Persist Spell) allowed spellcasters in general to break the game wide open. Second, even if you restrained these ridiculous abuses Clerics (and Druids) ended up by far the most versatile class, easily switching from tank, to healer, to controller etc. thanks to the incredible versatility and power of spells in third edition. In general, Wizards and Sorcerors get access to more powerful spells, but Clerics and Druids automatically know every single class spell ever printed for free. Co D Zilla's built in melee ability is the reason they are largely regarded as stronger than Wizards and Sorcerers. If you allow all the insanity arcane spellcasters are stronger, especially with the Prestige Classes like Incantatrix, a class ludicrously powerful even by optimized Wizard standards, which basically lets you pull all the tricks Clerics can do with Divine Metamagic except better, more often, and in several different ways, and Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil — aka You Don't Get Hit Ever: The Class. However, even if your DM restricts those abuses CoDZilla is very strong. This was fixed in 4th edition, but at the cost of removing most of the abilities spellcasters previously had.
Notably, Evil-aligned Clerics tend to make better Necromancers than Necromancers themselves. A specialized Wizard must surrender the ability to cast spells from two other schools of Arcane magic in order to receive said specialization, which confers only one extra spell from their specialized school per day and a +2 bonus to Spellcraft checks. Evil clerics, solely so that the mechanic that the ability of a Good-aligned (or, rather, Positive Energy-channeling) Cleric to turn or destroy undead has its Evil Counterpart, to rebuke or COMMAND undead. Most incorporeal undead also have a standard touch attack that afflicts ability drain, which can be a Game Breaker even at higher levels. What's worse? Some undead create spawn... and control it. Like Wraith
. Suppose an Evil Cleric encounters one Wraith. Wraith's touch attack drains points from the Constitution score, upon which a character's Fortitude save (the thing most likely to save you from Instant Death attacks) and Hit Points have their basis. Upon Con being reduced to 0, a character dies and its soul rises as a Wraith already under the control of the first Wraith within turns. So all Evil Cleric need do to start his own self-propagating army of health-draining, incorporeal, soul-devouring undead is to control SAID FIRST WRAITH
Druids are another example, able to combine the devastating Natural Spell feat with their animal forms, allowing them a melee presence on par with the strongest warriors while losing none of their casting power. Worse, at higher levels they can change form several times a day; morph into an eagle, rain lightning and fire on the enemy from safely out of reach, land, morph into a dire bear, wade into melee—and all while their animal companion is busy doing the fighter's job. Heck, druids are even ridiculous at level one. Produce Flame + Animal Companion with multiple attacks = Ouch.
The supplement Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords caters to those who prefer their warrior-types more superhuman. The Tome of Battle classes have received a mixed reception. It's either a step in the right direction, or growing existing Animesque trend into "Weeaboo Fightan Magic", or melee combatants' rebalance simply doesn't change much in comparison to CoDzilla or Wizards in the first place.
One key part of this is that 4E provides a basic standard power progression through the levels for all classes and that all classes advance at the same rate (the last point already held true in 3rd edition, but it's worth re-emphasizing). Specific added class or racial feature powers aside, every fifth-level character for example will have two first-level at-will, a first- and a third-level per-encounter, a first- and a fifth-level daily, and a second-level utility power at its core, period. Moreover, the effects of most individual powers remain largely fixed now instead of growing automatically more powerful with increasing character level, as often used to be the case with spells in earlier editions; the exceptions are mainly some class abilities that can't be swapped out for other powers in the course of the character's career as "standard" powers can, and the fact that the basic damage output of at-will attacks — which unlike encounter and daily powers don't come in levels higher than first — finally doubles upon reaching 21st (!) level in order to keep them competitive.
Unfortunately this started breaking with Player's Handbook 3, which started to shear away from the standard level progression, and shattered with the "essentials" line, which returned to the older model of having unique progressions for every class and making martial classes "simpler" to play...which obviated one of the major points of 4th Edition to begin with.
the Upcoming 5th edition is trying to do this in an interesting way. While Vancian magic with at-wills is coming back for the Wizard, fighters are getting a new mechanic called "Combat Expertise" where they gain extra damage dice as they level up, but can exchange those dice for adding extra effects to their attacks, such as stunning or pushing enemies, making them more versatile with a sort of build-your-own-maneuver system. In addition, the designers have stated that they intend to make martial abilities equivalent to magical ones, and that they work better in synergy, I.E. a rogue's stealth works as well as an invisibility spell, but when they are combined the rogue becomes essentially a stealth god for a while.
Pathfinder has attempted to solve this problem, but has since raised it own issues.
Hack Master' (based around the older second edition AD&D rules) slightly subverts this by pointing out that looking at the abilities of high level characters and comparing them to those offered in other classes was rather pointless, as there was a pretty good chance you'd be stone dead long before you got that far.
In the Legend of the Five Rings, this trope falls in slightly murky waters. Wizards (shugenja) are most decidedly quadratic — a rank 2 shugenja is immensely better than a rank 1 shugenja, and a rank 1 bushi is extremely likely to be able to carve either one of them into cat food. Among bushi (warriors), however, rank doesn't mean a whole lot — a higher rank means you have higher skills and stats, since rank is derived from skills and stats, but the only thing a bushi gets from rank-up is a new School Technique, which, while nice, is generally not as big of a power step as it is for shugenja. Why does the trope still apply? Because that same shugenja who didn't stand much of a chance before at rank 1 can now have elemental spirits char you into a skeleton by asking nicely, that's why.
The original RuneQuest subverted this trope through healthy realism. Magic in this game was very weak, and you had to spend magic points to cast spells, and characters only had a very small number of magic points. Thus, sword-swingers with the ability to use physical attacks indefinitely could have had a huge advantage over spell-casters. However, if you think about it, nobody can swing a sword all day long: the more you use your muscles, the more tired you get, and sooner or later your arms feel so numb and heavy you can't even lift your weapon anymore. This is why, in the name of realism, the RuneQuest designers made it so that swinging your sword required that you spend stamina points, of which you had only a small number too. A warrior with no stamina points left, like a wizard out of mana, became exhausted and unable to fight.
Also, just about everyone in a typical RQ game will have some minor magic spells. Dedicated priests or Rune Lords (servants of their gods, like D&D's Paladins) have access to significantly more powerful divine magic, without the usual limitations most people have on them. To balance it, they have to spend most of their time on religious duties, severely cutting into their adventuring time.
Warhammer Fantasy plays this straight with a few armies. Lizardmen are a particularly drastic example. Hero Level Sarus are hard fighting warriors and while Skink Priests are solid casters, their lack of access to different Lores (and the Lore of Heaven isn't the greatest lore in the world) and the fact that they're made of tissue paper means that they're often not worth it (at least without an Engine of the Gods). On the other hand, Lord Level Sarus are merely really good fighters whereas Slaan's access to all the lores, the different abilities you can give them and the sheer power of their casting abilities means they can often devastate entire units all on their own.
Warhammer 40000 averts this however, with Psykers often having limited and support abilities, whereas combat leaders can often be much more powerful.
Ars Magica subverts this trope somewhat. On the one hand, magical progression is definitely quadratic and warrior progression is definitely linear — but firstly player character magi normally start play after a 15 year apprenticeship so they're already way ahead of even the most hardened warrior rather than starting weaker and having to catch up; and secondly each player normally controls two characters, playing both a mage and a Muggle, so there is no direct competition between the power levels of different types of characters.
In the Old World of Darkness, werewolves and other shifters were the single most fearsome sort of player character at lower levels. At the upper end, not so much. Their high-level abilities are certainly impressive, but other creatures surpass them, such as mages. At Arete 1, mages have nothing more than a Sixth Sense, but at Arete 10 they can basically rewrite reality on a whim.
While comparing single supernatural powers, for example - Disciplines, to the mages' Spheres, the former usually have either more powerful effects or are at least on par with the Sphere. However, the magical Spheres contain effects from more than one Discipline - so, while Dominate 3 is more powerful than Mind 3*
Dominate 3 allows manipulation of memories - the same effect is achievable with Mind 4
Sin-Eaters in are also very literally quadratic. Each Key opens up new ways to use all of your existing Manifestations. (Also, Keys are cheap and have linear XP cost, unlike all other splats' power boosts.)
Completely turned on its head by mummies, who start each "Descent" (what they call the temporary return to life, since they're "descending" to this world from a higher place) with Sekhem 10, making them unbeatable, civilization wiping, apocalyptic gods... and slowly get weaker as they go, until they eventually run out and return to being dead for another thousand years or so..
Played straight in Dark Heresy, as generally until 4th level a Psyker gets spells such as Cheat at Poker and Summon Local Vermin. Once a Psyker gets to Psychic level 3 (available at 4th level) such as Punch Through a Tank with Your Bare Hands, Warp Reality So That You Can Ricochet Your Bullet Off of a Random Frying Pan and Kill the Enemy General from 5 km Away and Telekinetically Pull the Pins Out of Other People's Grenades While Still Attached to Them. Only subverted in that in casting those spells you have a greater chance of getting you soul eaten by daemons and killing the rest of your party because you got turned into a daemonhost.
Or worse. Not many quadratic wizards have to worry about being sucked into the Warp because they botched their roll.
Death is actually the lesser evil here, as it only damns the psyker himself. On the other hand, demonic possession means dropping an unbound daemonhost (a monster from the top shelf of the bestiary, with more magic power than humans can possibly attain) in the middle of the party. This is not only a near guaranteed Total Party Kill but a potential planet-level threat, well capable of undoing the achievements of a whole campaign.
Played slightly less straight in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Wizards get quite a lot of useful utility spells, but none that can break campaigns, and you need a very high-level wizard indeed to get the ability to reliably deal more damage with spells than the party warrior. Becoming a high-level wizard basically requires DM intervention due to the steep trappings costs (required possessions before you can become one) and the required roleplaying aspects. In addition, wizards in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay suffer from pretty much the exact same problems as psykers in Dark Heresy, to say nothing of the fact that all the filthy peasants the party interacts with hates you because the Empire's official religion teaches that wizards must be burned on bonfires, and most of them are illiterate and can't read your 'please do not burn by order of the Emperor' papers.
Also, 1st ed. WFRP magic has been translated directly from WFB with inches changed to meters and figures changed to targets. In WFB, a capability of killing 3 figures at 48 inches could rout the small unit half a mile away. Killing three people at 48 meters is flashy, but nowhere near "war god" level. Also, with bad rolls, a wizard can end up with Magic Points score barely enough for one or two high-level spells per day. And we're speaking about the best of the best here. Roleplaying potential is another thing, but noblemen, clerics, engineers and witch-hunters still get the upper hand.
In Do DT, a tabletop RPG from Sweden, mages can become unimaginably powerful later into the game, once they've spent a large amount of experience points in magic. The way magic works, they have few direct damage spells, but the effects and usefulness of the spells more than makes up for it. That warrior who specced enough to one-hit a smaller dragon is giving you trouble? Mind-flay him to death, scare him to madness or maybe turn him into a plant and then set it on fire? Easily done.
In fact, since the amount of magic is determined by a dice-roll with a set chance for an extra roll, you can in theory have a mage with an arbitrary amount of magic.
The Legend System was specifically designed to avert this - warriors and wizards alike are equally Quadratic.
Exalted, is at least an aversion, but could arguably count as an inversion - the three levels of Sorcery are largely capped, in terms of sheer power, at the level of Essence at which they become available (3, 4 and 5, respectively), and one cannot learn Sorcery more advanced than your type of Exaltation *
Barring a one-of-a-kind artifact from the first age or making a literal deal with the devil(s) and become an Akuma.
. You can however learn martial arts more powerful than your own Exaltation, and martial artists become exponentially more powerful as they combine more styles. Not to mention that high-end martial art styles are ridiculous in and of themselves - creating and curing spiritual diseases, becoming a proto-Primordial, dragging your enemies into your own mind where you literally cannot lose... As described in the Scroll of the Monk;
"A mundane martial arts master can split a brick and jump over a hedge.
A Terrestrial martial arts master can split a boulder and jump over a house.
A Celestial martial arts master can split a city wall and jump over a mountain.
A Sidereal martial arts master can split a soul and jump to Heaven.
The Dresden Files RPG runs into this with mortal characters because of how the attack and damage values are laid out for spells. A "starter" wizard will likely be able to throw around 3 and 4 shift attacks, rolling from 3 or 4, which gives them about as much kick as a cop with a shotgun might have. But while most character types will increase their effectiveness primarily through increasing skill rolls (same shotgun, better at aiming it), wizards increase both damage and skill rolls—so not only is he throwing around a more intense fireball, he's more likely to hit you with it. Within a few milestones, while that cop is shooting his Weapon:3 shotgun rolling from 5*
Meaning that an average roll against someone rolling a 3 on defense works out to a 5 shift hit, enough to kill a normal human, but barely
, a wizard using his favored element might be firing off a Weapon:7 attack, also rolling from 7*
Meaning an average roll against a 3 on defense works out to an 11 shift hit
. The main thing keeping them in check is that a blown spell roll does damage to the wizard, and the Laws of Magic, which state that a wizard isn't allowed to kill a mortal with magic (which doesn't stop bad guys, obviously).
That said, there are abilities outside of spellcasting that can make a character hit just as hard, and be tougher to kill, but they're still magical abilities.
While it was played straight in older editions it is now mostly averted in the fourth edition of The Dark Eye, while wizards can still be incredibly powerful, a single hit by an arrow or a powerful swing of a melee weapon will cause them to lie on the floor moaning in pain or at the very least make casting spells quite difficult. And while any spellcaster can learn to use weapons, they can rarely attain the same mastery as warriors since they lack the physical attributes to raise their combat talents as high as the warriors. The fact that the most powerful pure damage spell is partly Cast from Hit Points stops the wizards from becoming war gods.
The original Diablo. Although spells could be learned by anyone with sufficient magic stat points, Warriors and Rogues often found themselves limited in learning capability without high magic-boosting equipment. A few of the game's most useful and powerful bread-and-butter spells often hit the required magic stat requirements way before maximum spell level, forcing non-sorcerers to rely on Enchanted Shrines that are difficult to come by. Additionally, spell damage were also frequently dependent on actual magic stat values. In a game that pretty much taught you to either kill overwhelming odds before they touched you or handle them one at a time (which required you to rely heavily on environment), spell-casting, and consequently the character with inherently superior spell-casting qualities, becomes the staple of endgame strategy.
Before the expansion, caster classes shot ahead of fighters early on and then hit a hard cap at about level 50 after their main offensive spell was maxed, at which point fighter classes only got started. The sheer amount of elemental resistances compared to physical resistances was not helping, notably the fact that pretty much the entire final Act in Hell difficulty was 75% fire resistant. The only viable endgame caster builds involved merciless exploitation of percentage based damage (Static Field, Corpse Explosion, Iron Maiden) or bugs (Blessed Hammer) while flat damage spells were only used to finish off enemies reduced to a sliver by Static Field or to kill a handful of enemies at the start of a run so you could get some revived minions up.
The expansion aimed to fix this by introducing large numbers of +skill level items, previously a very rare modifier that tended to come mostly on bad items. The game tilted in favour of casters, at first because it was easy enough to promote area of effect abilities, then because later patches made the game much harder to the point where melee builds without godly items stood no chance. Meanwhile new items solved the early game struggles of caster classes and provided ways around elemental immunities, enabling them to dominate pretty much the entire game from start to finish.
The necromancer before the expansion had spells with awful scaling effects. His poison spells did not gain damage per second when you spent skill points into them, only duration, meaning you could kill anything... over the course of 30 seconds. In an action RPG. The worst of the worst were poison skeletal mages which ended up doing literally 1 damage per second for 3 minutes.
Both played straight and subverted in the BioShock franchise. The gun-toting and club-wielding enemies (or Splicers, as they're known in the game) can give the player some trouble in the beginning, whereas the teleporting, fireball-throwing ones are merely annoyances. In the late game, however, once the player gets crazy powerful enough the teleporters are the only enemies capable of surviving the player's barrage of attacks for more than a few seconds, since they can't be targeted while invisible. Subverted in the player's case, however: at the start, Plasmids (the game's equivalent of magic) are amazingly effective, and a few of them are capable of killing enemies in a single cast. The weapons, on the other hand, start out as rusty, noisy things, and their basic ammunition is nowhere near as effective as the game's damaging Plasmids early on. However, as the player gains access to ludicrously powerful weapon upgrades, alternate ammunition and passive bonuses (known in-game as Gene Tonics) Plasmids start to take a back seat, especially as there's a weapon capable of replicating the effects of the three main ones, only better. In fact, with the right combination of Gene Tonics melee combat becomes the most deadly, as even the game's strongest enemies, the diving-suited Big Daddies, can no longer hold up against the player's trusty Wrench. The sequel tried to balance things out by removing the Plasmid-imitating weapon, making the powers both more accessible and more interesting and generally nerfing the quadratic effectiveness of melee combat. It doesn't help that a fully-upgraded Grenade Launcher, one of the last weapons the player acquires, is capable of clearing an entire room in a single shot.
Incursion has a mixed version of this trope - pure warriors and mages are linear, rogues, priests and druids are quadratic.
Luminous Arc 2 has a rather notable trait about this. While the first one is actually more balanced, the second one seem to use this giving highest MAG Fatima and Sadie (who graces the bottom page picture, compared to Mighty Glacier Rasche) very high AO (turn frequency) and Movement. Their strongest spells? They hit 5 spaces up to 7 panels away.
This is eventually justified. From a gameplay perspective, that is. It's a plot point that late-game enemies tend to be very resistant, if not immune to magic.
Played a hundred percent straight in very early (and now defunct) MMO Sierra's Realm. Warriors at early levels could solo quest easily, dealing considerable damage and killing monsters rather speedily, whereas mages were next to worthless on their own, unable to so much as dent even the rats in the newbie zone. At higher levels, Warriors could still hold their own, though they required full suits of top-tier armor and high-end weapons all sporting as many enchantments as was possible in order to keep any sort of pace with the harsher monsters and possible PVP encounters. High level mages, on the other hand, were capable of obliterating absolutely anything in their path no matter what they wore - even completely naked, a high-end mage could wipe out the game's 'Boss' in only a few choice spells. Warriors were wise to keep their PVP flags permanently turned off, lest a stark nekkid mage toddle over and utterly vaporize them before they could so much as close to melee range.
Many Roguelikes such as Angband and the original Moria (and their many variants) play this straight. Mages are hard classes to keep alive at first, but they become major death dealers by the endgame. Warrior-like classes are fairly easy to keep alive but don't deal as much damage in the endgame.
The text-based RPG Grendel's Revenge had a rather interesting relationship with this trope through it's history. At first it was inverted, magical monsters were fairly balanced with young fighter monster for the first 50 or so levels, but the fighter monsters could get a host of passive, always on Status Buffs as well as timed ones from Leader monsters, whereas magical monsters had very few ways to get a status buffs at all. This got progressively worse since fighter monsters could wear better armor, get skills to boost their weapon skills (and the weapons gotten improves) while magical monsters could only wear a small selection of non-armor magical gear. At the 200+ level mark, fights between equal level solo magical and fighter monsters would be very hard for the magical monster's player since their attacks could not penetrate and they had no defense. Only by using sneak tactics like stunning, teleporting enemies into traps (which Builder clan mates had to prepare for the magical monster) and other means could they hold their own...all of which were not that effective against the fighter player to begin with, which still had very good resistances to these tactics. To make it worse, the maximum number of skills/powers/abilities was capped at 7, so magical characters could not get nearly as diverse a power set compared to fighters, and only Level Grinding to 700 could get you that far. Magical player outcries got so loud and exceedingly deconstructive (the game forum was for many months full of dissertations and long arguments on exactly how and why magical monsters had the raw end of the class system) that the designers made a series of wide ranging nerfs, buffs, and rebalances to fix the issue...which sometimes snowballed into creating other imbalances. It's worked, mostly, but the current state of game balance is unknown at this time.
And don't get us started on game balance issues involving the non-combat classes!
Played straight and later inverted in RuneScape. Melee combat is the cheapest to use (literally requiring no equipment at first), while magic is extremely expensive. Once you've leveled up magic, however, it starts hitting harder and more consistently than melee. Past about level 50, however, melee takes over again as doing the most damage thanks to better weapons. The best magic spells (which allow freezing and leeching hitpoints) allow really good mages to still have the upper hand over warriors, but it takes a lot of skill. Of course, this is in PvP combat. When fighting NPCs, melee is the best 90% of the time due to the lower cost (cost is much less of a consideration in PvP as opposed to PvM) and faster speed, though magic does have its niches. Ranged combat falls somewhere in the middle, able to dish out a large amount of power without costing quite as much as magic. Its progression is much more linear, however.
Inverted in the early years of World of Warcraft, where spellcasters scaled linearly and physical attackers scaled quadratically. Shiny new raid dungeon weapons massively boosted physical damage, while a new staff gave casters...more mana. Stat increases from equipment also followed this pattern; strength boosted physical damage, but intellect only increased caster longevity. Meanwhile of course, the physical attackers used the infinitely replenishing resources of energy and rage. The situation was eventually remedied by greatly increasing the amount of "spell damage" stat found on caster gear, and altering the allotment of item budget "stat points" for caster weapons to favor magic damage over useless weapon damage. The intellect stat has also been altered to increase spell damage, and mana pools are pretty much static save for a few enchants and buffs, with the size determined by character level.
Rage as the resource system made this happen, pre-Cata - the more damage you deal, the more rage you have, which then lets you do damage for real. Therefore, since the beginnings of World of Warcraft, warriors sucked at low gear levels, getting rage starved and thus not able to "press any buttons", and then about halfway into an expansion their "white" (non-rage-consuming) damage exceeded a certain point and they suddenly get 100% rage every time they swing a weapon. A rather simple fix for this happened, however; rage intake now occurs on hits at a flat rate, based on unmodified weapon speed. Taking damage (which is usually suicidal unless you're tanking) and a couple of abilities also grant Rage, for those dry spots.
Inverted with armor penetration. The release of the Ulduar dungeon in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion made the armor penetration stat ridiculously powerful. Armor penetration makes the player ignore a certain percentage of a target's armor. Each point of armor penetration that a player gained would make the next all the more valuable. This effect did not originally cap at 100%. When one went over this cap, they would start to do a great deal more damage as their target's stats started to go into 'negative armor'. The level of gear made available with Ulduar (especially a second trinket that granted a temporary armor penetration bonusnote (Grim Toll from Naxxramas and Mjolnir Runestone from Ulduar)) allowed players to greatly exceed this cap, dealing insane amounts of damage. The stat was soon reduced in value and capped at 100%. Even after it was patched with these limitations, the mechanics were unchanged. Armor pen was still a highly desirable stat, and if a player had the ability to hit or approach 100% its value dwarfed any other available stat in value. (At least for feral druids. Unable to comment on accuracy of statement for other classes)
MapleStoryinverts this, if only for the main stretch of first job through fourth job promotion, for the Explorers. Magicians start extremely powerful while Archers, Warriors, Pirates, and to a certain extent Thieves are scrambling for kills at early levels. As everyone hits third job promotion, Magicians stop gaining power so quickly while everyone else catches up. Then fourth job is reached and Magicians are left in the dust, except for Bishops, who are needed for their extremely powerful buffs.
The skill-based Rune Factory series zig-zags this trope, depending on the version.
In the original Rune Factory, magic is basically useless in terms of damage dealing, since it does less damage than a medium-level weapon and quickly burns through RP (that series version of Mana, but used for every skill including watering your crops)
In Rune Factory 2 and Rune Factory 3, magic is as powerful as weapons use, reliably dealing good amounts of damage at a distance, once that skill is leveled up, and especially once your character has a more powerful magic staff.
Kingdoms of Amalur: the Reckoning plays this trope straight for the most part. The Might discipline, i.e. the warrior class, starts out tougher than than the others and deals more damage than the other disciplines, which at low levels are either excessively hard to play (the Finesse discipline, or rogue class) or just plain weak (the Sorcery discipline, i.e. mages). However, at top levels Archmages have a meteor spell that literally kills everyone in the area, whereas Warlords just get tougher. Rogues scale in-between the two, and are generally a lot more situational. A unique quality to Kingdoms of Amalur is that it allows the player to mix classes, and thus allows for warrior/mage hybrids which have their own scaling. Any discipline that incorporates Sorcery still turns out the most powerful in the end, though.
Sacred has its quadratic equation begin at level 1. Low-level mages are utter gods compared to fighters, with spells such as Gust of Wind, which propels multiple targets miles away for ungodly amounts of damage, and poisons them. Firebolt, the starting spell, is akin to a sniper-rifle, easily reaching 1000 points of damage very early on. Fire Spiral is even worse, having no break between damage calculations, meaning anything that wanders into it will take damage every single second it remains in it. Even 30.000-HP dragons can die from a single Fire Spiral if they are lured through it at their slow pace.
Dragon Age: Origins has earned the nickname "Dragon Mage: Origins" due to the insanely overpowered mage class. It's not one that takes a lot of finesse to do right—just about any mage with any sort of offensive power will be miles ahead of the rest of their non-mage party. The developers even acknowledged this, and said that even so, mages would not be nerfed to balance the classes: they wanted them to stay badass.
Actually any character could outclass a Mage as far as damage was concerned if they developed poison making and had several kinds of poison bombs, since the bombs had no casting time, decent Area of Effect, high fixed damage and low cooldowns. What made mages so good were Game Breaker spells with awesome utility like Force Field, Crushing Prison and Cone of Cold. Though the fact that they could cast spells like Storm of the Century and Miasmatic Cloud and kill enemies before they ever even closed with the party (and in some cases before they could even think about ENGAGING with the party) certainly didn't hurt.
In addition, the Arcane Warrior class lets a mage be a far better tank than any warrior. They do less damage per second than blaster mages and even less damage than regular warriors, but by the end of the game they can have something like twice the armor value of a warrior, maxed out elemental resistances, and absolutely ridiculous bonuses to resist getting knocked down/frozen/etc.
Dragon Age II tries to avert this by making all the classes more balanced. Mages are a lot better at killing groups of weaker enemies, but archer Rogues are nearly as good once you get a few attack speed boosts, two-weapon Rogues are better at killing single foes, and Warriors' getting more area-of-effect attacks and getting even tougher really allows them to take over the pedestal of most powerful class.
Though in Nightmare Mode all the melee characters become much less useful due to friendly fire, forcing the party back to a warrior for tanking, a ranged rogue for opening chests, and two wizards for stunning as many bad guys as possible while you deal with the enormous hordes of powerful enemies.
While Baldur's Gate II does play this trope straight, with Wizards (and other such spellcasters) being much more versatile and broken than anything else in the game, it also avoids taking it as far as some examples; strong fighters at high-levels can very quickly tear most mages apart after getting through their defenses, let alone Mooks, as well as shrugging off most attacks. So a balance of both is still very helpful later on.
Ironically, Baldur's Gate 2 has certain features that allow a fighter/barbarian character to actually become devastating, even when solo, without violating game mechanics. One can use Imoen, a thief, and buy a master thief potion, then pick pocket the Kangaxx character, pre-lich transformation, and gain the Ring of Gaxx, a powerful ring of regeneration. Then gain the ring a second time after the defeat post-lich, and wear two of them simultaneously, for a very powerful regeneration effect. Combined with the boots of haste and the spell-rebounding cloak and a powerful armor, the figher/barbarian becomes an unstoppable juggernaut otherwise soloing through the game, even on the hardest difficulty.
High level barbarian dual-wielding the Flail of Ages and Defender of Easthaven with Hardiness HLA active up has 80% physical damage reduction, slows enemies on hit with no saves, by-passes most protections with several separate ticks of elemental damage, is immune to nearly every status effect except maze/imprisonment when enraged in addition to pushing their STR easily to 25, while wearing a belt that reduces all magical damage dealt by 50% and can swap their main armor for around 50% of any element, that with 2 rings of Gaxx can heal almost as fast as he's damaged. Trading out the flail of ages for the upgraded foebane allows them to deal an additional 1d4 damage and gain it all as health that stacks over their max hit points for several rounds. And using Improved haste from the rings of gaxx or from GWW HLA, they can attack 10 times per 6 seconds. While mages can effectively become invinicible, they can't hold a candle to that kind of destruction. And the fighter's berserker kit is almost as op'ed.
Might and Magic 6 & 7 plays with this trope. Warriors tend to be better in the beginning until the mages get access to their stronger spells and enough mana to be able to use it reliable, at which point magic users outshines them. However at the end game you gain access to blasters which make both equals in damage dealing but the warriors come out on top again. Clerics and Sorcerers still have a fair few Game Breakers, however.
Though, at least in 7, fighters are still quite impressive assuming you're willing to get in close range with that Blaster-spamming Robot. There are plenty of impressively powerful artifact weapons that will let you hit for hundreds of damage.
An unusual case of this trope being averted in Skies of Arcadia, which becomes far more apparent later in the game. Aika and Fina learn magic rather quickly and Fina is the most powerful spell caster out of the six main characters. However, melee weapons become more diverse in effect (i.e Standard Status Effects, plus elemental powers depending on the color you pick for the weapon) later in the game, and melee specialists, namely Vyse and Drachma, will greatly out-power magic by the time the player reaches Dangral Island. Taken even further when more "boxes" and crystals with spells become available to buy (for low prices no less), and most of them are more powerful than any party member with high magic stats.
Also, magic draws from the pool of "Spirit Points", as do Super Moves, that the party members share. Items with spells in them do not have this setback, making the player rely on the also-much-more-useful Super Moves. An example would be the "Curia" Silver Spell, which cures one person of any Standard Status Effects. Fina has two Super Moves that are better than this: "Lunar Cleansing" to cure everyone of SSE, and "Lunar Light," which does the same but can also resurrect those that were knocked out.
In the first half of Kingdom Hearts, Donald Duck, the party mage, is all but useless because of his squishiness and the relative weakness of his spells (except Heal, everyone loves Heal), while Goofy, the party bruiser, is great at bashing stuff from the get go. Because of this, many players will just switch the duck out in favor of the Guest Star Party Member of whatever world you're on. Later in the game, though, because of Leaked Experience and the new spells you acquire, Donald becomes a force to be reckoned with, and becomes the preferred party member to keep on while Goofy winds up dying a lot. (But he still does have MP Gift).
Somewhat averted in 358/2 Days. While magic strength is also dependent on weapons (gear) equipped, and unlike most Square-Enix games where "Fira" is simply an upgraded "Fire" and so on, the spells scale with levels and have different effects, (Cure heals you, Cura regenerates health over time, Curaga creates a field that heals everyone within it over time) the mage characters may often wind up attacking during Mission mode because there is no limitation on how many times you can do that and enemies resist magic. But there are still heartless who have massive weaknesses to certain spells, and guess who you'll want with you during the missions where they show up?
Played relatively straight in Kingdom Hearts II. Picking the Magic-based build during the introduction segments will be a disadvantage early on (especially since you start with absolutely no spells), but sticking with it will make your magic noticeably more powerful toward the end of the game. Conversely, choosing the offense or defense builds don't make a huge difference in the damage you give/take in the long run. If you DO pick Magic as your main focus, you'll be able to shave off multiple health bars from endgame Nobodies in a magic combo, your Explosion finisher (which bases damage on Magic) becomes even more of a Game Breaker than it is with a physical build, and Reflegaturns anything foolish enough to challenge you into Swiss cheese in a single cast. Should you use Magic while in Final form with a Magic build, you'll see this trope at it's prime.
And in Birth by Sleep, it's played straight, but not in the way that you would expect. Terra, Ventus, and Aqua are arguably equally powerful given theiruniqueskills. The characters differ not just in power levels but in leveling up and learning curve. Terra is the easiest to learn due to having higher HP quicker and being more melee oriented, something that most people familiar with the Kingdom Hearts series would know. Ventus meanwhile is also primarily a melee, but is faster and has a steeper learning curve than Terra, but not by much. Aqua meanwhile is primarily ranged fighting (something people who aren't magic enthusiasts or fans of Xigbar in Days probably aren't used to) and has a steeper learning curve, but she levels up faster than Terra and Ventus do at parts of their respective campaigns. So not only has Tetsuya Nomurastated his recommendation to play through with the Terra -> Ventus -> Aqua order will make sense story-wise, but also, gameplay wise. Some fans have said that Terra is easy mode, Ventus is standard, and Aqua is Proud/Hard mode (however, there is a critical mode being added into the international release).
Aqua also gets some of the most flexible unique commands, which take her until around halfway through the game to learn with normal play even assuming the player knows the correct sequence of command melds. Upon gaining these, Aqua becomes able to curbstomp entire waves of enemies with single spells and can demolish bosses with much less fear of reprisal than Terra or Ventus. However, until she learns at least third-level magic she will generally have a much harder time of combat than either of the others, as the low-level spells lack the area of effect or base power to take advantage of her high Magic stat.
Zig-Zagged in the Tales Series. It really depends on the game you're playing; in some the mages are more powerful (Tales Of Destiny II, Tales Of Eternia), in others fighters are more powerful (Tales Of Legendia, Tales Of Destiny) but in just about all of them, you basically need both since the games are often balanced enough that both become powerful end-game. Essentially; fighters aren't limited by casting times but mages have utility.
The Fire Emblem series averts this, because everyone's growth is technically linear. Because magic works almost identically to the way weapons work, the variety that any particular class has partially depends on what weapons it's allowed to use (along with stat caps, movement, and class skills). The advantage of Mages is they're versatile in that they can attack from close-up or at range. However, most are standard Squishy Wizards, especially females (as males are more often the Jack of All Stats). This is even more notable on later games where both enemies and allies get decent resistance. For example...
Radiant Dawn, and to a extent the previous game, averts this. Most enemies, even Knights, have decent resistance and mages have been further nerfed from their already weak Path of Radiance selves by losing their good speed. The extra damage they deal to Laguz becomes a borderline Useless Item as they rarely face any. To top it off, they retain their downsides, such as weapons with low Might and having less Movement that regular physical classes. Even worse, few enemies are mages, making their high resistance worthless. (For what little it matters, several physical units on your team have good resistance but nothing to use it against.)
In this game, Magic stats is used for both Magical Offense and Defense, in a game where most physical units has a little amount of Magic. Although most enemies in the game are physical combatants, this change also affect items such as M Up/Barrier Staff and Holy Water, which increases Magic by 7.
The importance of 1-2 Range attack is relatively higher than every other game in the series, thanks to the relative lack of common and reliable 1~2 range weapons outside of tomes, with magic swords being extremely rare (there are only about 7 of them in the entire game - and two of them, the Light and Earth swords, can only be used by Lief and Nanna respectively), Javelins - though somewhat common - are impractical to use indoors due to the extremely limited number of indoor lance users (and many of the chapters are indoors), and lastly - the inaccurate and relatively rare Hand Axe. Low ranked tomes can be acquired by stealing it from enemy mages or taking it from captured enemy mages, and is relatively easier to steal with your thieves.
Sages has a ridiculous Promotion Bonus that increased Magic by 5, and Skill by 5, Speed by 6, and Defense by 4. This is a very sizable boost in this game due to the lower overall stat Caps in comparison to the other games in the series (Just 20 in Thracia 776 - compared to 25~30 in other titles). In fact, because of these boosts, players often recommend promoting any and all Sage-capable units as soon as you're able to.
Staves are poorly balanced. Status Staves has infinite range, are very accurate, and lasts throughout the entire stage(or until it is cured with a Restore Staff), Physic can heal any allied unit in the map, Fortify heals every allied unit in the map, and the flexibility of Warp, Rewarp, and Rescue more than makes up for the fact that they can miss. There was a saying that "there are only two kinds of units in FE5 lategame: those that can use staves and have high magic, and those that can't".
Dragon Quest varies from game to game. Yeah, MP doesn't always get restored whereas you can attack or use some special abilities all day, but at the same time, mages often get the wonderful Be Dragon spell, which hits for quite a lot, and if you manage to get the right equipment, they can cast magic twice in one round and outdamage the warrior. Mages also have the benefit of being able to attack enemies in groups, whereas melees can only do that with whips or boomerangs. However, really, it depends on the game.
The first two avert this, since magic isn't that useful in the first; it's mostly used for healing and support. In the second game, The Prince of Lorasia is the best tank and melee character, while the princess of Moonbrooke sits back and wastes groups of enemies with her magic. The Prince of Cannock can do either, though of course not as well as the dedicated characters.
Pretty much averted in Dragon Quest VIII, in which the characters are a lot more flexible. Jessica and Angelo's magic are pretty much best used for healing and support, or debuffing, but that doesn't mean they become weak at higher levels. Who just hit the final boss with Twin Dragon Lash for 1.5k damage? Jessica. Psyche up Angelo all the way, have him use Falcon Strike with the Über Falcon Blade, or Needle Rain, then watch the damage stack up. Typically, tension guarantees overpoweredness.
Building on its predecessor, Dragon Quest IX inverts this trope hard. Low level attack spells don’t do considerably more damage than any properly equipped physical class, and it only gets worse from there — by the end of the game, a gladiator with an axe can do more damage to a single target or a group at no MP cost than an equivalent caster using expensive spells. The best strategy for most bosses looks like an episode of Dragon Ball Z*
And since the artwork is all by Akira Toriyama, it really does look exactly like Dragon Ball Z...
, with physical characters boosting Tension for several turns then unleashing hell. (Oddly enough, the game gives your main character an exclusive skill that boosts another character’s Tension, meaning the best possible support character is you.) Multi-target attack spells can soften up multiple enemies, but that generally only saves you a turn or two, and your physical characters can get multi-hit weapons that do roughly the same amount of damage, though they better spend their time dropping one enemy per round each. The single-target support spells rarely do enough good to spend a turn casting them. Most support classes only get party-wide buffs that increase agility and different types of defense, and those matter in very few battles. When you beat the story boss and start facing the real challenges, you don’t even bother with most support spells as bosses frequently Disrupt all positive status effects off you, and their bigger nukes will bypass defense/resistance/reflect buffs anyway. You only care about healing and resurrection.
As a matter of fact, Magic, particularly Kafrizzle, is still effective as a Legacy Boss killer as anything else- and in fact can be even better than the Gladiator Falcon Blade and Falcon Slash strategy... That is, if you disregard the ridiculous amount of set-up time it requires to make the strategy viable. You need four Mages, which have pitiful defenses unless their stats are ground up to the maximum by seed farming. Then you need to waste four turns casting Twocus Pocus on each character. Finally, if you get the attack off- Every Mage using Kafrizzle- you've got to hope that all of your attacks hit one after the another- if the boss goes in the middle, the combo chain is disrupted. Way too much to hope for, it still exists.
Dragon Quest Monsters Caravan Heart plays this straight, as the early spells (Blaze, Fireball) can be inferior to a monster's raw attacking power, and you only have six spell slots per monster. However, those six spells carry over for every reformation, including being powered up, so once a monster has Thordain or Explodet (which hits all enemies), Heal All, and Revive, they're set.
Phantasy Star Online plays this straight overall, but it's a long road getting there. Forces start by being barely able to kill a room full of enemies before needing to go recharge their mana, while physical types have a far easier time of it. The Forces quickly outgrow their Hunter and Ranger counterparts, playing the trope straight, but hit a brick wall in Ultimate difficulty where the enemies' magic resistance gets a huge boost, subverting the trope. However, if you keep playing that Force and level up their high level area magic, you can easily clear an entire room in seconds without suffering a single attack, while a Hunter or Ranger would be swamped by the sheer number of foes. Even better, a Force with high level Jellen and Deband can raise their defense so high and the reduce enemies' attack so low that even a Force, weak armor and all, is in no real danger.
Definitely subverted in Phantasy Star III. Most characters have techniques; the handful who don't, including Rhys, your PC in the first generation, start out as competent warriors but by mid-generation are dishing out the most damage, hands-down. Only healing techniques tend to be useful; combat techniques are far outclassed by standard attacks.
Subverted in Phantasy Star IV. The first and second times he joins your party, Rune is of much higher level than the rest of your party and he can wipe out entire screens of enemies with a single spell. As the game progresses and the rest of the characters catch up to him, the difference in damage output tends to even out.
Oddly enough, reversed in the original Final Fantasy I. Black Mages are indeed capable of casting high-level magic to quickly wipe out the non-boss enemies, but Fighters, Black Belts, and Thieves can hit single enemies much harder in the late/end-game. In addition, because most bosses (read: Fiends and the Big Bad Chaos) have very high magic defense, Black Mages are generally reduced to casting Haste and Temper on the physical damage dealers, and then standing back while they have at it. Meanwhile, White Mages are actually better tanks than fighters. They have the Ruse spell, which raises evade by 80. Cast it a couple of times and almost no enemy can hit you. With careful leveling, they can do damage comparable to fighters.
If anything, the original Final Fantasy is Linear Fighter/Quadratic Black Belt. Black Belts start out substantially weaker than fighters, typically achieve parity somewhere around the volcano stage, and go on to become spicy kung-fu death on a stick in the endgame.
Played more or less straight in the GBA remake, though. Unless you get the Ultima Weapon, at which point Warriors become gods.
Even more reversed in the PSP and Iphone Remake, where Warriors get Barbarian Swords...which is ALWAYS even MORE powerful then the Ultima Weapon, while the best the Black Mage gets is...a shiny new dagger. However, the lack of new effective offense spells makes Mages incredibly useless as anything besides support, especially since endgame Red Mages can do anything the Black Mage can, and more.
Final Fantasy III has a rather tiered class system, with everyone pretty much evening out in the end with Ninjas and Sages being the most powerful classes overall; although ninjas can attack all day long, Sages and Summoners only have a finite amount of spells. Of course, the Sages are Nerfed considerably in the DS remake, and they're rather generous with how much spells you can use...plus one can literally dual-wield staves.
This may have been referenced in Dissidia: Final Fantasy, where Onion Knight's limit break is "Class Change," turning him into a sage when using magic attacks and a ninja while using physical attacks.
Oddly enough though, one of the most powerful classes mid-game (at least in the DS version) is actually a Geomancer... Despite how they were often a little unpredictable and worthless in most games, and frequently tossed aside as either a joke character or only used for a few semi-decent abilities, then ignored. Despite that they attack with, of all things, BELLS, they actually can deal nice physical damage when being dual-wielded (mostly due to the fact that Dual-Wielding is utterly broken in that game) and their special attack (which literally has absolutely NO limits to how much you can use it) may be somewhat unpredictable, but they actually deal consistent magic damage and bypass magic defenses, along with not getting as much worthless status-inducing effects. It may actually not be that uncommon for a Geomancer to get lucky and be the first person to hit for damage in the Vegeta Level.
Final Fantasy V plays this straight. Mage-type characters will eventually be able to turn the party immune to physical attacks, give everyone reflect, reset the battle, take double turns, double cast, and so on. Physically oriented characters get maybe four abilities that don't suck, and to rub it in, one of them (dual wield + sword magic + x hit) depends on use of magic.
But one of the best abilities (considering how little one has to work to obtain it) is obtained by a melee class, the Samurai. It hits every enemy for damage near 7.5k damage, and considering you get it at a point where enemies may have a couple thousand...ouch. Expensive to use but the game throws Gil at you like candy on Halloween and you can just spam it without any thought of finances near the end of the game; they throw thousands of gil at you and there's nowhere to spend it.
As things go, by endgame the three active physical skills that don't suck (RapidFire, Finisher, and Jump) pretty much become your bread and butter due to the sheer damage you can do with them, especially since you can only use two skills at a time anyways (unless you're a mime).
Final Fantasy VI both averts and plays this straight at the end of the game. Magic is amazingly powerful, but the vast number of ways to break the game still makes fighter characters very useful. A favorite is the Genji Glove + Offering combo, which allows characters to attack eight times a turn while wielding such high-damage weapons as the Atma Weapon, the Valiant Knife, and Setzer's dice. The best way to deal damage, however, remains Magic Box + Quick + Ultima.
+ Ultima + Ultima + Ultima. Not dead yet? Just let me use Mimic with Gogo now...
Actually still an aversion because the triple Ultima tactic still does less than 30,000 damage per turn. Offering + Genji Glove + Fixed Dice or Ultima weapon (and any other powerful weapon for the other hand) can easily do over 30,000 damage in a single turn. Add to that a Quick spell and and you've got a physical attack that can destroy almost any boss in the game.
Played straight and inverted in Final Fantasy X. In the early to mid-game, Lulu's black magic is the most powerful offense in the party and this continues as long as she's learning new spells. However, warriors gain more attack power per stat point than magic-users do; Lulu remains strong because of new spells. By the end game, the warriors have caught up in terms of damage, and they have better speed, hit points, skills, etc. On a graph, the warrior power line would rise faster, but the magic power line starts higher and has periodic boosts until around 2/3 of the way through.
Final Fantasy XI made a lot of effort to avert this to the point where elemental casters are nearly useless in a lot of fights. Also, due to the limiting nature of MP, partying with Black Mages fell out of style in favor of "TP Burn" parties where heavy melees simply unleash their awesome all over innocent (and not-so-innocent) monsters.
Case in point: black mages received a serious Nerf when "Manaburn" parties became popular at high levels. These parties, consisting of five black mages and one miscellaneous class (typically a bard or red mage for mana regen), would have the non-mage member pull something and then all the mages would rain holy hell down upon the monster before it could say "broken".
Red Mages did play the trope straight. Early on, they were basically a weaker version of a Paladin with a couple debuffs, since the early damage spells just weren't MP efficient even for a mediocre melee character. They couldn't really compete well with White Mages or Black Mages early on because of the slightly slower spell gain and significantly lower MP pool. Late game, they are one of the most indestructible classes, capable of doing decent melee damage, the best debuffers, the best buffers, and more than capable of competing with White Mages and Black Mages (the Red Mage spell list is much smaller, but they do get the most commonly used spells from both classes).
Scholar is another example, starting very weak and becoming much more versatile late game. Early Scholar is basically a Black Mage with almost no spells, but Cure added to the list. Late game, not only can Scholar replace Black Mages or White Mages with ease, but they have several unique spells of their own that no other class can ever get.
Many enemies in Final Fantasy XIII can't even be damaged without being softened up by a Ravager's (mage) spells. Once the defenses are down, however, Commandos (Warriors) do insane amounts of damage.
Averted in Final Fantasy Tactics where the wizard and summoner classes are most potent in the early and mid game, but fall off a bit in the late game as you start to pick up increasingly powerful characters, most of whom are warrior types. The long charge times of magic, especially summons, also limit their usefulness. But if you've got a mage with Calculator skills, it's played straight again.
To elaborate, most magic-using classes rely on fairly finite MP to cast spells, which can have charge times ranging from immediate to longer than the battle is likely to last. The calculator skillset, however, allows the character to access most of the spells she has learned from many of the magic classes, including some of the more powerful ones, and apply them to enemies instantly at any range without the expense of MP, provided said enemy meets the criteria of a player-generated mathematical "formula." This potentially allows mages to throw veritable nukes into enemy numbers or heal all their allies at once. It's somewhat limited by the calculator class's turtle speed and poor magic stat, but this is easily overcome by giving a black mage (a class with a very high magic stat and decent speed) calculator as a second class.
In Kingdom of Loathing, this applies less to magic users (Mysticality classes) and more to rogues (Moxie classes). Because the Moxie stat determines your character's chance of dodging regular attacks, thieves may be the weakest characters offensively, but with high enough moxie, enemies can only damage you when they land a critical hit (about 1 in 11 chance).
Though it does apply to the other classes as well, in a "Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, Half-Ass Thieves" manner. Mysticality classes are difficult to play at low level, with low hit points, lack of skill with weapons, and weak spells, but they dominate the high-level content, with massive damage and the ability to target elemental weaknesses. Muscle classes start off pretty decent and remain pretty decent all the way through. At high level, they don't do quite as much damage as Mysticality classes, but they're much more survivable due to massive HP and good defenses. Moxie classes are easy to play at low levels (because nobody can hit them), but are considered to be underpowered at high levels (though they still excel defensively, ranged weapons are weaker than melee weapons, and they have no high-damage attack skills or spells, so killing high-level monsters can take a while).
NetHack plays this trope extremely straight, with wizards arguably starting out the worst class at level one and quickly becoming the most powerful as it gains spells and all kinds of magical items.
For example: most classes must rely on what they find, buy, salvage or wish for in order to proceed for success. Wizards can take random junk, put it in piles, and zap it with a polymorph spell until it turns into something they need. Other classes will likely have to use limited-charge wands of polymorph to do this reliably.
Somewhat subverted that non-wizard classes are capable of learning at least a few spells in addition to their physical attacks.
Because of it takes a good deal of inspiration from Nethack, ADOM is just as bad. A good mage will be able to fire elemental blasts of all kinds, death rays, summmon minions (which you can eat, meaning infinite food), teleport at will, carry hundreds of thousands of pounds, replicate any number of rare tools at will, and so on. And because they're pretty much guaranteed to become a Magic Knight anyway, they're great at melee also.
Played straight in Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. At early levels you really wanna play the Guardian and max up their feats, as Sentinels and Consulars die easily, but at high levels a character will take out an entire room with just one or two Force Storms. But let's also not forget the Jedi Weapon Master who can still learn force storm, and can take out a room by jumping back and forth from enemy-to-enemy after cleaning up the trash with Force Storm.
YMMV for Jedi in KOTOR's class system, Guardians can always get a wide range of powerful force abilities. Non-force using party members, on the other hand, are quite limited compared to the force-users, playing this trope straight. Bao-Dur may be an aversion, his unique bonuses to technical skills in his base class and the fact he cannot wear Jedi robes (thus limiting the Force Powers he can use anyway) sometimes make him more useful if you don't cross-class him.
Averted in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Smugglers, Imperial Agents, Bounty Hunters, and Troopers are more than capable of shooting down Force users. A Bounty Hunter even gets an endgame option to kill a Sith Pureblood Darth!
Star Ocean, at least the first two games (and the PSP Enhanced Remakes, which are based off of the PSX version of Second Evolution), averts this because the melee characters are able to surround a boss and stun-lock them, killing them faster than the mages can fire off most of their spells. A powerful party would often consist of three melees and one healbot, or two melees, one healbot, and one ranged fighter. Despite this, offensive-mage-type characters have their uses...they can initiate a stun-lock sequence since the spells cause an enemy to stagger. Plenty of time to surround a tough boss and just beat them up.
Also, the Healbot can be ordered to just use a one-hit weak-spell that does nothing but hit once and causes a stagger.
In the first game probably does it to the greatest extent. Not too far into the game (round about Chapter 2-3) you can pick up Ether Staffs, which allow for Great Magic, but also boost magical power well into the quadruple digits, so without using Great Magic, you'll be out-doing the whole rest of the party for damage by a ludicrous factor; the lion's share of standard encounters will go down with one round of Lightning Bolt to the whole enemy group. With Great Magic, well, even bosses are going to go down in a hurry.
And then inverted once you get access to the endgame and postgame, where enemies who are highly resistant to magic and obscenely overpowered swords (especially) and spears start popping up everywhere. Your mage hitting everyone for 200,000 damage starts looking weak when a single sword user (or the secret characters) can do upwards of 1 million damage between their attack string and their Purify Weird Soul attack. Sure they only hit one character, but most things in the Seraphic gate can take a volley of Great Magic and then stomp you in return. Very few things, on the other hand, can take a full combo from most sword users, especially Lenneth, with the Dainslef or Angel Slayer equipped...
Averted, though, in Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria, where mages are nerfed considerably compared to the other installments. There are still occasions, however, where the right spell will make certain enemies much easier.
Finally, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume brings it back with a vengeance: The mages are alright at first, but are mainly best for building up the charge meter...until that is you get a staff that will push a mage's spell power into the quadruple digits, and gives Great Magic. Immediate game-breaker when you consider your physical attack power unbuffed may be around 5-700 by the end of the game.
In most Shin Megami Tensei games, magic attacks almost always outweigh melee attacks by the endgame. The DevilSummoner games, however, do a decent job of averting this - Raidou's sword will always be one of your best friends.
The Persona games vary. While the guns can be very powerful in the first Persona game and other weapons can sometimes be useful, the magic attacks often outclass them, depending on the user and their compatibility with their Persona. Persona 2 embodies this trope, especially with how much team attacks were rewarded in both games. Persona 3, however, can actually wind up with physical attacks being more powerful than special attacks with enough work. Persona 4, meanwhile...players often don't even buy any weapon upgrades to their characters to save money, and what would be the point of telling them to attack? Just use your Persona to buff your characters and do special attacks. It's better.
And even when doing physical attacks in Persona 4, it's better to use physical-based Skills; the Attack command is nearly useless. Even the HP cost doesn't matter much; as long as you have someone healing HP, your physical hitters will be fine.
Completely subverted in Nocturne though, as there, magic attacks actually get weaker the higher your level is, whilst physical attacks get stronger with level.
And nevermind the fact that you can only reliably damage the True Final Boss with physical attacks.
Devil Survivor 2 encourages you to brutally abuse magic skills, just like the first game. Then it brings in the new Anti-Almighty skill. Many of the Bonus Boss demons that appear in later plays can only be effectively fought using physical attacks.
In League of Legends, linear- and quadratic-ness depend entirely on the champion you are playing: unlike DotA, spellcasters DO scale with items. As a general rule of thumb, carries are moderately strong early and mid and dominate late, but tend to be very squishy to compensate, casters (including physical casters) are strong early and mid game, but fall off late and assassins are weak early, but dominate mid game and are still a threat late. Played straight with bruisers, who are generally strong in early and mid game, but lose effectiveness as enemy champions gain the means to actually take them down.
This is also zig-zagged with a couple cases. Veigar isn't very strong early and mid-game...but once he gets his AP up and gets a lot of good items, he's unstoppable to compensate for a weak early game dependent on farming. LeBlanc meanwhile can take people out before they can even blink in the early-mid game; but once people get more health, she starts to lag behind a bit. Basically; if you have Veigar, you're going to want the match to last longer and if you have LeBlanc, you want push them so hard they surrender. Another example of a late-game mage is Malzahar, who goes from being a good lane pusher to being someone capable of killing any other character in a 1 v 1 fight in an incredibly short period of time. If Malzahar wins the middle lane team fights can rapidly become extremely lopsided thanks to his power curve and the area of effect, damage over time nature of his spells.
All characters technically have exponential scaling (due to item interactions), but some have higher powers of scaling than others (AD Carries have quintic scaling (Attack damage, attack speed, critical strike chance, critical strike damage, and armor penetration), AP Carries only have cubic scaling (Ability power, cooldown reduction, magic penetration), Bruisers tend to vary, and Supports tend to be quadratic (cooldown reduction, levels/utility effects).)
Some champions have abilities which give them a potentially infinite degree of linear scaling (Veigar and Nasus being the most notorious examples of this), meaning they will EVENTUALLY eclipse any other character (who flatline after reaching their full 6-item build). Others scale with the opponent's defenses, making them strong at any level (like the aforementioned Malzahar)
In Fable II, magic attacks start off as pathetically weak, doing virtually no damage and merely knocking foes back a bit, if even that. Guns and melee weapons are much more powerful at this point, melee being just a bit stronger. By the time you learn level 5 spells though, you can nuke huge crowds of enemies with a single spell, while using physical attacks take far longer. Ranged combat ends up being the linear line in the equation, being potent but not overpowered all through the game (unless you happen to grab the Red Dragon).
Being based on Dungeons & Dragons 3.0, Neverwinter Nights featured a lot of this, and the lack of a full party and the focus on combat made it incredibly apparent. When one class' ability is to be a Meat Shield and hack at people, while the other is capable of summoning a creature, making it a better meat shield than the fighter with a few spells, (spells which work just as well on them) then blasting away for much more damage on all enemies than a fighter can hope for on a single target, the lack of balance becomes rather intrusive.
Since the expansions and the introduction of Epic levels, this balance has shifted a little. With the proper equipment, a warrior is all but immune to magic, while a wizard still has precious little HP.
In both, the NWN and NWN 2 Original Campaigns the trope is even more accurate than in Pen&Paper D&D, simply because of absolutely no resting restrictions. A wizard can literally exhaust all spells in a fight, then retreat a few steps, rest for about 10 seconds, and continue with fresh spells as often as he wants, even if it means resting every minute or so. This inherent flaw was corrected in add-ons and lots of custom content via restricting resting to safe areas, adding random encounters while resting, or even restricting resting to no more frequent than every 5 minutes.
It's tough to start as a wizard in Gothic 2. You don't even get any spells for the first third of the game, so get ready to use light swords and run very fast. But, if you stick with it, the later bosses become ridiculously easy. A properly built wizard can kill the last dragon in three shots, before he can even attack you.
Normally used in the Avernum series, where priests and mages tend to become demigods in the second half in the games, vastly overshadowing the warriors' usefulness. Averted, however, in Avernum 6, by having quadratic wizards and quadratic warriors. With the introduction of dual-wielding, a properly built fighter is the best source of single-target damage in the game.
Planescape: Torment does this the same way as the typical D&D game. Of course, high-level mage spells are incredibly powerful. Your ability to get the best possible of the Multiple Endings is directly linked to your Wisdom stats, which would be highly useful for a cleric, which you cannot become in the game. Luckily, the game provides a couple of Chekhov's Guns which, if you remembered to bring them, can help you get that ending anyway.
You can also get the best ending if you have very high charisma... which is extremely easy for mages since they have a spell that greatly increases their charisma. Planescape also gives an additional advantage for spellcasters by being much more dialogue-oriented than most RPGs. There's only 4 mandatory fights in the entire game; everything else can either be bypassed or solved through diplomacy. Because of this, intelligence, wisdom and charisma are extremely useful stats, as they allow you to get the best dialogue options. Mages will by definition have high intelligence, should have enough character building points left over to also boost their wisdom, and can learn the aforementioned spell to boost their charisma.
The Heroes of Might and Magic series embraces this trope. Might-oriented heroes are good in short games or as scouts or garrison leaders, but heroes with a lot of Spell Power throwing level 5 spells tend to dominate the late game. This is reflected in the different types of town: Those associated with Mighty heroes like the Barbarian build up fast, but those associated with extreme magic users tend to take longer to build up but get the most powerful creatures like Titans or Black Dragons.
But at an even later stage, the balance shifts again: despite mage being able to wipe out a small army with one spell, it will be merely a drop in a bucket for the endgame legions, while Might heroes empower each and every creature on their side. Though of course, buffing them with spells is quite viable too.
Morrowind plays this straight in two ways. First is with magic itself—Morrowind allows for custom spell creation, and it isn't difficult to make an extra potent fireball, or give it a massive blast radius. The other way involves the infamous alchemy/enchanting bugs, where a player with a good level of competence in one of those skills could make potions or enchantments to make them better at making potions and enchantments. Recursion ensued and pretty soon one was more powerful than the Daedra lords themselves (literally, in the case of Bloodmoon). Meanwhile, a character whose skills were strictly melee (because alchemy and enchanting dosynergize well with melee skills) were a fraction as powerful, depending on how lucky they were at finding good equipment.
The quadratic power of magic became inverted through Morrowind's expansions, however, becoming less and less effective with each new expansion until Tribunal, where they were nearly worthless in comparison to the base game.
Oblivion, whilst revamping the enchanting and potion-making systems, still had a nasty magic exploit. You could not gain experience from casting spells unless they affected an enemy or yourself. Cue making custom 1-magicka self-targeted spells that you could spam non-stop. Pretty soon you had level 50 spellcasters with god-spells that could kill anything (except the admittedly-broken leveled enemies) with a single touch. Meanwhile the warriors, with the same time investment, would still be stuck at level 15 by then, a paltry level that still has weak loot.
Played straighter in Daggerfall where spells could be learned or created that would scale up with level. In later games, spells created within the limits of an early mage's magicka supply would become obsolete later, and clutter the spell list while more powerful versions would have to be sought out. But in all games, weapon skills are generally more efficient means of damaging, and buffing a more efficient use of magicka.
Played somewhat straight with Skyrim, mostly due to the way the system works; Mages can summon something to take the brunt of damage for them (two, with a Master Conjuration Perk), have alteration to act as their armor if necessary, and master level destruction spells can wipe out areas once you deal with the issue of having low health (usually dealing with the issue takes the place of summoning). NPCs are all shown to be weaker in comparison to a high level PC regardless of class, but a Mage power leveling Destruction will find himself at a top tier (relative to the low level he would have) rather quickly, allowing him to level support magic skills at leisure, whereas a warrior power leveling their weapon will find themselves being a squishy warrior, unable to properly defend against the enemies they fight unless they go back to an easy part and power level an armor skill.
It's reversed at high levels, especially when Enchanting and Smithing are involved. No matter how good the gear, damaging spells do not scale, they only get cheaper. So the best a Mage can do is not run out of magic. Weapons, which do scale in damage, can be double enchanted (through the weapon itself and the armor/clothing you wear) and improved through smithing to to the point where most enemies can be killed in one or two hits.
However, if mages specialize in enchanting, and use certain potions to strengthen alchemy, or better yet specialize in enchanting AND smithing, it is entirely possible to create armor sets which reduce all spell costs of a certain school of magic to zero. If you played a destruction mage, you can now cast unlimited destruction spells, or if you play an alteration mage, you can raise your tank to truly ridiculous levels.
Not only do mages not scale beyond getting more powerful spells, the master level spells have a tendency to be useless across the board due to their shared property of occupying both hands and requiring you to stand still for 4 seconds. If you miraculously do not take a power attack to the face during that time, you can reduce the health of nearby enemies by about 1/4 while aggroing all friendlies in a giant radius. Oh, and if you are a Nord then one of your master spells will deal half damage because it is affected by your own cold resist. Enjoy.
Magic is powerful, and spells like Paralyze and Pacify have a tendency to be win buttons, it is just offensive magic that gradually becomes weaker. Good thing then that magic schools are entirely separate and your warrior can pick up illusion and conjuration and get all that crowd control while still holding on to his atomic sword of ruin and devastation.
The truly quadratic playstyle in Skyrim is the thief. Low-level thieves get caught easily and aren't likely to have very impressive armor or swordsmanship skills, but one who brings Stealth up to decent levels becomes able to clear out entire dungeons with horrendously powerful sneak attacks.
Tip 52. Adepts and Biotics start slow. There is no denying this. It may seem frustrating, but if you work at it, it is beneficial to play a character who can constantly juggle any enemy. No one, not even a high-class soldier, can touch a master adept.
The real problem (or benefit, depending on your point of view...) was that biotics bypassed shields in the first game (and armor/barriers didn't exist); virtually any enemy could therefore be affected by biotics... up to and including the final boss, who becomes a cakewalk when immobilized by biotics. In the later games, the most powerful biotic powers only affect enemies with no shields/armor/barriers. This means that...
At easier difficulties, mages (Adepts) rule, when you can take down hordes of space zombies without firing a single shot.
At harder difficulties, everything is pretty much immune to those abilities until their primary defense is stripped, making the direct damage classes (Infiltrator and Soldier) the best.
That said, leveling the Warp power, taking Energy Drain as your secondary power and picking the Assault or Sniper Rifle when on the Collector ship it is possible to build an Adept that can deal death at all levels.
In full force in Latale, should the wizard in question have appropriate equipment. Access to an armor set that gives an absurd Max HP boost, two separate items that can be enchanted with minimum and maximum damage, and the fact that magic is so hard to actually defend against both in terms of damage reduction and evasion give it incredible potential. The only problem is that early on, you won't have many spells to cast at all.
Used to a degree in Dawn of War 2: Retribution with the Chaos campaign. The Chaos Sorcerer, Neroth, is frustratingly useless early on. You will lose count of how often you've had to stop and drag his Squishy Wizard rump off the ground. However later in the game with the right skills and equipment, he can decimate entire hordes of enemies single handedly, firing off two massive clouds of doombolts for a single casting or sending three huge fireballs at the enemy, automatically firing off flurries of doombolts periodically and more depending on what spells you've given him. However your other heroes can thankfully still hold their own towards the end.
The World of Mana has a love/hate relationship with this trope, depending on what game you're playing.
Final Fantasy Adventure, despite its single character focus, did its best to keep weapons and magic in separate worlds—some creatures were best defeated with spells, some were best defeated with brute force, and rarely did one overpower the other.
Secret of Mana embraces this trope to its fullest; while the magicless Boy is easily the strongest damage dealer early on, he falls to the wayside as soon as the Girl and Sprite gain their various elemental spells. The MP cap of 99 plus the limited inventory forces you to be judicious in using their magic, but one can easily just go through a dungeon using it sparingly, and then waste the boss in under half a minute with a barrage of spells.
Seiken Densetsu 3 eliminates the problem by allowing everybody to become Magic Knights; while Duran and Angela follow this trope to a T, the other characters are mostly on an even playing field. The trope is also played in-story in Duran's case, as he seeks out the Sword of Mana to defeat an especially powerful wizard that, despite Duran's reputation as Forcena's best swordsman, utterly curbstomped him and most of the King's guard with just a few spells.
Legend of Mana and Children of Mana both invert the formula hard. In former, magic is almost always weaker than just smacking something with physical attacks, and in the latter, well...at least you have the capability of healing magic.
Inverted in the Golden Sun series. Psynergy (the magic equivalent of the series) is great to crush mooks early on, but later in the game physical attacks are just stronger overall thanks to the super-powerful Unleashes. The only good attack Psynergies are the ones that factor the caster's attack into the damage. It's also literally inverted in that Psynergy doesn't get stronger with level-ups, while physical damage does grow with level-ups. Yes, you get stronger Psynergies, but more powerful weapons outweigh them. (The developers went even more physical-friendly in the sequels.)
This is largely due to the way they handled powering up the stats Psynergy depends on. Physical stats improve with every level, but to improve elemental affinity and resistance, you need to use Summon Magic. Since most non-boss battles can be handled by pressing A repeatedly, summons and Psynergy both end up neglected. The most useful Psynergy powers are the ones that factor the attack stat into the damage, stat buffs, and heals. Dark Dawn tried to mitigate this by adding stronger attack powers, but even Reigning Dragon just isn't worth it by endgame.
Healing powers ironically tend to follow this trope straight. Venus Adepts (which until late in Dark Dawn were all warriors) get the Cure series of powers which increase at a linear rate. Mercury Adepts (which bar Piers are all primarily casters) get the Ply and Wish series of powers which increase at a quadratic rate. Dark Dawn also shook things up by throwing Jupiter healing into the mix, with effects somewhere between the two.
Played almost painfully straight in Majesty. When your wizards are low-level, expect to hear their "I'm melting!" death cry very often. However, as the occasional lucky wizard survives a little longer (or keeps getting resurrected), and if you keep the library well-stocked with new spells, they quickly turn into apocalyptic forces that are only stymied by the rare magic-resistant enemy. About the only thing faster for clearing a group of enemies is to set a high bounty and then spam the barbarian god's berserk spell on your units, which gets very expensive very fast.
Inverted in Vindictus. Mage character Evie is easily the most powerful character at low levels, due to her strong magic shields and powerful ranged magic attacks. Her quick evasion skills also helps compensate for her lack of defensive ability, since all low-level bosses being Might Glacier types. As the game progresses and strong Lightning Bruiser bosses become more common, Evie's defenses do not scale as quickly, thus it becomes progressively harder to solo. By comparison, the other characters get heavier armour and develop powerful defense and attack skills that make them far more survivable against later bosses, with Tank Fiona and Scrapper Karok becoming the predominant solo characters.
Inverted in Xenogears. Physical combat has 3 different types of attack (light, medium, and heavy), and characters who specialize in fighting can later learn dozens of new ways to link those attacks into powerful combos. Magic, on the other hand, mostly consists of either defensive spells or fire-and-forget elemental attacks, and outside of certainconditions, spells typically don't do any more damage than combos do, even into the late game.
EYE Divine Cybermancy averts this in a special way in that Endurance is just as important as PSI-Force because while PSI-Force increases the potency of your powers and your resistance to others', Endurance increases lowers stamina drain used for sprinting, leaping, and most of all...your powers, and before claiming that this is played straight in a way because you can just be a sort of tanking wizard...other characters have access to Cybernetics that don't get stronger on PSI-Force to use, while each "class" DOES have their own specialty; balancing your stats properly is highly recommended since going for a Dump Stat can produce an overall weak character.
Global Agenda has the Assault class, an absurd tank and a good destroyer, depending on build, but is nearly useless at low levels. The most sought-after teammate class (exceeding even the medic!) at higher levels.
In the X-Men Legends games at first the tank characters can deal impressive damage with or without energy. Late on the ranged characters can attack almost indefinetly and bring up boosts that heavily reduce damage.
Particularly pronounced with Storm and Jean Grey in the first game. They both start out with sort of okay single target attacks. Level them up, and just spam Psionic Scream and Chain Lightning and watch the combo bonuses go crazy and clear entire rooms in seconds. It doesn't hurt that they both have puzzle solving abilities (Storm can weld, Jean can manipulate switches from a distance and make bridges) and they both have some of the best buffs in the game. They were nerfed heavily in the sequels, however, with Storm becoming an area damage specialist and Jean shifting into a more supportive role.
Arcanum becomes noticeably more difficult if you play as a technological, gun-toting character instead of a mage. At high levels you're stuck with a small number of fairly powerful weapons that can't be enchanted, while a high-level mage will have the usual repertoire of room-clearing spells and such.
Inverted in Warcraft III: Since all spells deal fixed damage, high-level melee heroes will almost always win against ranged casters of same level. Many custom maps address this problem by having spells that deal damage depending on stats (Strength/Intelligence/Agility), which keeps them useful at all levels.
Note that Vaarsuvius contributed more to the battle than the entire rest of the order together (except Belkar, who got hold of an at-will fireball attack), and V only fled after the battle was already lost and invisibility was the only spell s/he had left.
In the commentaries to one of the books, Rich admits that Vaarsuvius is, by this point (the party is around level 13 or 14) pretty much a living god, capable of single-handedly affecting the outcome of the battle. Having him/her get knocked off the wall and be unable to rejoin the others was an intentional plot to limit V's impact.
To drive this point home even further, it's important to note that V's particular magic specialization (and as a side effect, forbidden magic schools) are pretty much universally acknowledged as the worst possible way to play a wizard. Vaarsuvius would be much, much more powerful if V didn't bar conjuration and necromancy, and specialized in something other than evocation.
In another of the books, the Order (who are based on D&D 3.5e) meet and fight their 4e counterparts. When V realised that mages had been largely nerfed to try and balance out the classes, s/he was of the opinion that wizardry would quickly die out in the 4e world, as nobody would spend years or decades studying the arcane arts when they could become just as powerful by bumming around in a bad neighbourhood.
And during the second battle against the Linear Guild, the CoDzilla idea of overpowered clerics and druids was explored when the gnome druid was able to take on half the Order, and only the cleric Durkon was able to match him in both physical and magical combat. Even then, Thor intervening was held against him god when he tried to intervene in another region.
Later Durkon finally got to use Holy Word and deafened three members of the Linear Guild, banished another (and evil Outsider), leaving only one high-level member to battle effectively (and he retreated to save the rest of the Guild). The only one who who could take him? The guild's absent-from-that-fight cleric.
Richard in the Looking for Group comics is insanely overpowered. It's less clear with the others, but most magic users do seem to have an edge on non-magic users.
There's been active attempts to avert this in The Gungan Council and keep the essentially magic using Force-sensitives on the same plane as equally skilled non-Force-users. For those that attempt to reverse these attempts, they forgot about the many instances in the Star Wars movies and expanded universe where those without the Force can easily pummel Jedi and Sith.
Mainly true for mutants in the Whateley Universe: while the Flying Brick and Lightning Bruiser need no training to be a serious threat, most of the Wizard class mutants need years of schooling to learn how to collect and save Essence, how to craft spells, etc. But Fey is a good example of a Wizard mutant with years (in her case, millennia) of training, and she can crush most physical threats if she sees them coming.
Funnily enough, this trope is discussed in regards to devisors and gadgeteers versus Flying Bricks. After talking down a gadgeteer with a 100% success rate on whatever she builds, the school's principal confides in one of her teachers exactly how scared she is of said student, because while the principal might fractionally increase her strength in a year if she really tried, the gadgeteer could invent countless improvements to her own devices in the same timeframe.
Played with in Chaos Fighters as attacks tends to have physical-magical duality, as explained here.
Avatar The Last Airbender: At the start of the show, Sokka is the most capable warrior left in the Southern Water Tribe who hasn't already gone to war. His sister Katara is a waterbender who is self-taught and only really knows two tricks. Sokka, while still no match for Prince Zuko, was still a more capable fighter than her. About halfway through season 1 Katara learns the Water Whip move which at least lets her contribute to fights. After season 1 Katara has become a waterbending master, signaling the end of an era for her poor outmatched brother. Even after he Takes A Level In Badass he still can't do anything as impressive as her... although he kinda makes up for it by being a Gadgeteer Genius and a Badass Normal.
Adventure Time: Finn spends most of the show being a highly proficient melee combatant, successfully fighting things to defeat or a draw, be they miniscule or mountains, mortal wizards or their world's version of Satan—and there's every indication he'll only get better at it as he gets older. Then there's Flame Princess, who can torch a dungeon's worth of melee fodder with pinpoint accuracy, or just burn down the whole dungeon if not the entire region it's located in (and is capable of destroying the planet if she's not careful). The trope is played straight in terms of sheer combat force, but Competitive Balance comes in when you consider that Finn has years of fights-time under his belt compared to Flame Princess, who has only recently joined the game.