Quality Over Quantity

"The galaxy still bears the scars of the horde. But it will learn to fear the lance."
Warlord Okeer, Mass Effect 2

It's no secret that there's always an inverse relationship with quantity and quality. For whatever reason a lot of writers tend to take the side of quality.

It's likely because it's commonly viewed as being easier to produce many things with little effort than producing a single thing with a lot of effort. At times, this is often intended as a Take That towards companies who subscribe to the above theory by making cheap but low-quality products.

Most commonly the protagonists in a given work are a small elite group pitted against a large group of weak mooks. Possibly because throwing away the lives of people on your own side is seen as unethical.

Conservation of Ninjutsu is a demonstration of this trope, while Zerg Rush is a specific inversion of it.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A dilemma that Section 9 has to deal with in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The Big Bad of the second season points out that no matter how good the members of Section 9 are, they would still lose if they were out-numbered. Batou later has to decide whether he should decrease the difficulty for new recruits to join S9, knowing that doing so would reduce the overall quality and potential each member has. Ultimately, in Solid State Society, Section 9 has expanded its ranks.

  • The good guys in Star Wars tend to subscribe to this philosophy: a highly trained and well-equipped clone army in the prequels, and better-armed and -defended fighters in the original trilogy and EU. The bad guys, meanwhile? Millions of flimsy, rock-stupid battle droids for the Trade Federation, while the Empire sticks millions of Stormtroopers in a Highly Conspicuous Uniform and sets the passing score to 5% at the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Which is inexplicable really, since it means the Empire completely reversed it's doctrines between trilogies.
  • The heroes in The Lord of the Rings. Vastly outnumbered but far better trained and armed forces on the side of good vs. a massive horde of undisciplined Orcs and savage Uruk-hai who usually win by steamrolling the opposition with their sheer numbers.

  • The novelization of The Karate Kid (the original one) had Daniel complain to Mr. Miyagi before the tournament that he didn't know very many moves. Miyagi replied that he was better than the Cobra-Kais at the ones he did know.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • A recurring theme for the Royal Manticoran Navy, due in no small part to their primary threat being the expansive People's Republic of Haven, whose fleet they could not hope to match in numbers. Over the course of several decades, King Roger, and after his death, his daughter Queen Elizabeth, funded a series of secret R&D projects which, when paired with a very aggressive shipbuilding program, meant the war between Manticore and Haven was a long series of Superweapon Surprises for the Havenites to deal with.
    • The Manticoran Alliance faces a similar problem when war breaks out with the Solarian League. The Solarians have more superdreadnoughts than Manticore have cruisers, but their technology and doctrine are several centuries out of date because no one has dared fight them until now and they grew overly confident in their presumed superiority. The primary concern held by the Manticorans is that they may run out of ammo before the Solarians run out of ships.
  • Common in Tom Clancy's Ryanverse - Executive Orders and The Bear And The Dragon particularly so

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who, "Doomsday".
    Cyberleader: Daleks, be warned. You have declared war upon the Cybermen.
    Dalek Sec: This is not war... this is pest control!
    Cyberleader: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?
    Dalek Sec: Four.
    Cyberleader: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
    Dalek Sec: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek! You are superior in only one respect.
    Cyberleader: What is that?
    Dalek Sec: You are better at dying!
    • Taken up a notch when the Daleks notice the Doctor in the background.
    Rose: Five million Cybermen, easy. One Doctor, now you're scared.

  • Nintendo Power once had a debate on which was the better series, Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Zelda essentially won with the rebuttal of quality over quantity, arguing one Link to the Past was worth far more than multiple Mario Partys, despite the long time between Zelda games.
  • This trope was Nintendo's whole argument during their dominance in the 80s and early 90s before they changed their policies after being accused of monopolistic practices with their licensing agreements. The original agreement was that licensees could only make up to five games a year; the reasoning behind the decision was that it was better for the developers to focus on creating a few smash hits than to flood the market by churning out mediocre games, as was the case with Atari before the crash (some companies with a good track record for quality would make up bogus development houses to go above the five-per-year limit, like Konami did when they made up the Ultra Games label).

    Video Game 
  • In the WarioWare series, this is the contrast between Mona Pizza and Pizza Dinosaur. While in their shared theme song, Mona Pizza boasts about how great their pizzas are, Pizza Dinosaur only boasts about how they're everywhere, while acknowledging that their pizzas are terrible. In WarioWare: Twisted, Pizza Dinosaur has its business being taken away by Mona Pizza, driving them to use more aggressive measures of competition. The series in general is about a small team of people cranking out games on a per-minute rate. Each game is about 4 to 8 seconds long, and hundreds of them pour out at a time. Wario has seen much success with this model, both in the stories for the games and in real life sales of the video games in this series. (So basically, this game is an inversion where quantity wins out.)
  • In Mass Effect, Saren tries to cure the Krogan Genophage so he'll have a Krogan horde at his back. In Mass Effect 2 Warlord Okeer derides the idea of sheer numbers, calling it the mistake of an outsider. He, himself, has created Grunt, whom he considers a perfect Krogan warrior.
  • Invoked in universe by Donna in Final Fantasy X. She berates Yuna for choosing a large number of Guardians (AKA the rest of the cast) over one quality one. She even says "Quantity over Quality, what were you thinking?" (She herself only has her Lover Bartello). And in the end it's averted because Yuna ends not only Beating Donna to Zanarkand, she end up saving the world for good. Donna even referred to Yuna's father High Summoner Braska, pointing out that he succeeded with only two Guardians. She's undercut when Bartello realizes that one of Yuna's Guardians is Auron, one of Braska's former Guardians. Yuna has quantity and quality on her side.

    Visual Novel 
  • Gilgamesh from Fate/stay night believes that this applies to humanity. Back when he ruled there were far fewer humans but his rule was a golden age and his kingdom was a glorious one full of advanced super-technology. His Evil Plan in Unlimited Blade Works is to use the Grail to thin out the human population so he can rebuild Babylon with the worthy survivors as his new subjects.

    Western Animation 
  • In Spongebob Squarepants, King Neptune challenges SpongeBob to a frycooking competition where whoever cooks the most Krabby Patties wins, but he concedes to SpongeBob when he finds out that his mass-produced Patties are terrible while SpongeBob's singular Patty made with love is superior. Slow and steady wins the race, indeed.
  • Seen in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic when Sweet Apple Acres gets into a cider making contest against some slick salesponies and their Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000. This trope is Double Subverted because the machine is shown to make good cider, but when the Apple family, along with the Mane Six, start pulling ahead the sales ponies turn up the power and turn off the quality control, which lets them churn out far more barrels of cider but it's the kind no one wants to drink.
  • An episode of Baby Looney Tunes involves the babies raising money for a volleyball net. When they gets five dollars, Granny takes Bugs to the toy store so he can buy a net for five dollars. Bugs is tempted to buy several toys that cost one dollar each. The cheap toys easily break. Later, Bugs sells his toy rocket ship and manages to buy another net.

    Real Life 
  • The ancient Spartans were an example of this. The only people allowed to join the Spartan military, still remembered today for being the most hardcore fighting force ever assembled, were males of full Spartan citizenship. With the borderline-insane amounts of training they had to endure from a young age, they were raised from early childhood for the sole purpose of becoming a member of Greece's (and probably history's) most feared and respected military force. While this approach did produce incredible soldiers, the strict entry criteria (most citizens of Sparta were not actually full spartans, such as the Helots) meant that their army was, while still not small, not really large by the standards of the time either.
  • Subverted with tanks in World War II, when superior number of M4 Shermans and T-34s overrun individually superior Tiger and Panther tanks. Played straight in modern warfare though, where technologically superior M1 Abrams steamrolled greater numbers of export T-72s in Desert Storm. The important lesson to take away from this is that while the machine can be replaced, the men behind it can't. The increased quality needed for competent tank crews, the cost of training them, and the importance of combined arms, mean that tanks and their crews can no longer be considered expendable.
    • Inverted, in that the Panther tanks were actually notoriously low quality. Panther tanks featured incredibly thin side armor, a shell that was useless for anti-infantry work, and a transmission so incredibly shoddy that most would break down in under 150 miles. Worse still, the team based assembly crews of the Germans meant that no two Panthers were alike; unlike the standardized Sherman and T-34 tanks, you couldn't just get repair parts sent in, or scavenge them from broken down tanks. If something broke, its replacement had to be machined to fit.
      • A lot of trouble with the Panther was that it was the first of the post-World War 2 tanks that appeared a few years earlier than its equivalents and designed only to defeat its contemporaries. It was certainly larger and more advanced in various features. Its armor layout was actually superior since heavy front armor with fairly thin side armor provided both good protection and saved weight, provided that the crew was sufficiently skilled (It is very difficult to get a good shot at a tank from the side from a distance, provided that the crew is aware of the surroundings and can maneuver the tank accordingly.) and became the standard feature of many 1950s and 60s tanks. But its margin of superiority over Sherman and T-34 was slim at first and could be largely overcome with few upgrades. In the hands of untrained crews (especially during the Lorraine campaign late in 1944), the Panther became a deathtrap. Compared to its true equivalents, such as the Pershing/Patton, the Centurion, and the T-44/54, the Panther was a joke.
    • Generally speaking, and contrary to Common Knowledge, the Shermans and T-34s were roughly even with most German tanks they opposed, requiring around a 2:1 advantage in numbers to be guaranteed victory (German tanks requiring a similar numerical advantage in most cases). And when Shermans and T-34s faced each other during the Korean War, the balance was tipped heavily in favor of the better-trained American crews versus their Chinese and North Korean counterparts.
    • This can be seen in the air as well. Fighter aircraft are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and requiring more time to engineer and manufacture. Like tank crews, training fighter pilots is a lengthy, demanding, and expensive process.
    • One of the horrifying realizations for the Japanese Airforce during WW2 was this; the Kamikaze attacks they conducted were having diminished success later into the war because while the Japanese have been effectively tossing their airmen at the enemy by the bucket loads, the Allies were fending them off and learning new strategies on how to counter them. Near the end of it, the majority of Kamikaze pilots were young men barely out of basic training piloting what were essentially slapdashed planes made from spare parts, while the Allied airforce against them were veterans of the entire war armed with the most advanced interceptors of their time. They also realized that, at this point, very soon they wouldn't even have the numerical advantage.
    • Overall, the US air forces preferred a hybrid of the two. In contrast to Japan (which had a very few natural talents and a lot of newbies), the Americans would ship the pilots who demonstrated the greatest skill back to the States to serve as trainers. As a result, they had a number of solid, but not outstanding pilots who could nonetheless outnumber the enemy aces and outfly the cannon fodder.
  • Overall military philosophy that emerged from World War 2 (with early insights as early as last few years of World War 1) can be seen as this. The masses of poorly trained and equipped infantry armed only with rifles adds relatively little war-fighting value, while a small but well-trained and well-equipped army (represented by heavy artillery, tanks, air force, and the like) capable of swift, precise, and lethal maneuvers, can achieve a decisive victory quickly. This is the core of the blitzkrieg concept.
  • The Battle of Cannae:
    • The forces of Hannibal were outnumbered by the roman legions, by almost 2 to 1. Hannibal instead decided to use greater tactics against the numerical advantage. Due to the fact that Roman command rotated when two consuls (their supreme commanders) were present, Hannibal took advantage of that cycle and drew in the roman legions on the day the hotheaded consul took charge (who thought his massive legions were enough to simply steamroll over Hannibal). Hannibal had placed his weakest troops in the center of his own formation (an inverted crescent), while his strongest troops on the edges. The Roman Consul took this as an opportunity to route the center of Hannibal's forces and cut the latter's army in two, before routing them. Instead, Hannibal had placed himself within the center formation, resulting in them not being completely curbstompped, but simply moving back. His outer forces did not budge however, and instead closed in the right-side crescent formation. His own cavalry then later closed what little gap there was left, and thus Hannibals much smaller army was now able to butcher the Romans at their leisure (some accounts describe that the space was so tight between the romans that many of them could not even raise a sword or shield to defend themselves). Cannae would be one of the first times in history that a larger army was defeated by a smaller one.
    • Subverted by a small but crucial part of the armies: Hannibal's cavalry, including the elite Numidians, outnumbered their Roman counterparts (10,000 vs. 6,400), with the victory of the Numidians being crucial to the triumph. While the Numidians were high quality too (the best light cavalry of their time), Roman cavalry was equally good (in the Pyrrhic War they had repeatedly crushed Pyrrhus' Thessalians, until then considered the best heavy cavalry of the world), and only the combination of numerical superiority alongside Hannibal's instructions to avoid meelee allowed them the quick defeat of the Roman cavalry that made the overall victory possible.
    • Later played straight when the Romans conquered Numidia: still proud of their performance under Hannibal first and Scipio later in the Second Punic War, and forgetting they had switched sides and were even a unified kingdom because Scipio had crushed the Numidians allied with Carthage, they thought they could win with ease, only to find out that even in its last days the outnumbered Roman cavalry could defeat the Numidians whenever the latter let the former close into meelee range (something that actually did happened multiple times).
  • The idea of Capital Ships was central to this in naval warfare for a very long time. Due to being able to mount heavier armor and armament, a heavier warship (such as a Battleship) would always be at an advantage against an equal tonnage of smaller ships (such as cruisers). The introduction of newer weapons such as self-propelled torpedos, submarines, airplanes, and finally guided missiles caused the balance to change in favor of whoever could shoot the other first.
  • Bruce Lee on dangerous martial arts opponents: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times."