Video Game Examples:
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Fighting and Shooters
- In Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, a particularly strong attack will show an animation of half of the Earth exploding, and change the stage you're playing on to a "ruined" version - but will do 1 1/2 health bars of damage. Mind you, this is pretty much exactly how it happens in the series. The Budokai series did this too but ultimate attacks were a bit harder to pull off, and only a handful of them did it. Tenkaichi 2 went a bit overboard as any energy blast ultimate would do it, as long as it hit the character while they were on the ground, or just hit the ground directly. Budokai Tenkaichi 3 had to tone it down a little by having this happen only once certain conditions are met.
- Shadow Warrior is one of the few FPSs with nukes. Since the game is pretty silly to begin with, the nuke's ability to kill everything in the game's largest rooms is reasonably impressive.
- Battletanx: Global Assault features a tactical nuke weapon whose blast wave will generally cover the entire level. Most tanks will be wiped out by the blast, however, the Goliath-class tank can literally stand right on top of the nuke as it goes off, and it will survive with about a quarter of its health left.
- Turok. All bosses shrug it off, though it does still do considerable damage. They just act as if they didn't feel it.
- The Redeemer in the Unreal Tournament games is supposed to be a nuke, but its blast radius is only a few meters. Its destructive power is about what you'd expect for anyone caught in it though.
- Cyborg Smoke's Finishing Move in Mortal Kombat 3 is made of this. He opens a hatch in his chest and fills the arena with tons of bombs. Next shot is the Earth-Shattering Kaboom. And then? Next fight.
- The Tactical Nuke in Modern Warfare 2. Getting a 25 killstreak in multiplayer with this equipped allows you to call in a nuclear warhead to end the match in your favor regardless of the current score. While it does kill every player on field regardless of team, the entire map remains intact and untouched.
- Back again in Modern Warfare 3, this time called the M.O.A.B. (Mother of All Bombs). Unlike the Tactical Nuke, the M.O.A.B. only kills everyone on the opposing team upon detonation, as well as having an EMP-like effect on the other team for one minute and giving everything onscreen an orange tint. More importantly, it doesn't end the round, meaning everyone can still be fighting on a thermobaric ground zero with everything intact.
- Touhou: Utsuho makes it literal. In her first appearance as the final boss of the 11th game, her signature bullet (Minisuns) were only more threatening than other bullets due to being much larger. They do not take multiple lives (fortunately.) In 12.3, they're damaging but (with the exception of Giga Flare for most characters) possible to avoid. They're not even the most powerful attack in the game. (But considering the most powerful attack is basically 7 hits to guaranteed victory....)
- Fridge Brilliance kicks in at once when you remember that all fights in Touhou use the spellcard system, which is intentionally designed to be nonlethal. If Utsuho ever decided not to play by the rules, her attacks would probably be a lot more lethal. Same goes for many of the other bosses, since Touhou has characters with powers along the lines of "instantly destroy anything", "stop time", "invoking death as you wish" and even Reality Warping.
- MDK has the "world's smallest nuclear bomb", which is used to open locked doors. It produces a Mushroom Cloud... about three inches tall.
- Fallout 3 introduces the Fat Man, which ballistically launches a miniature nuclear warhead that produces an explosion that a conventional explosive the size of a satchel charge could produce. But it mushrooms!
- Although it bears mentioning that it is nonetheless, shot-for-shot, the second most powerful weapon in the game (exceeded only by its unique variant, the Experimental MIRV, which fires eight mini-nukes at once) and is more than sufficient to kill anything in the game, save for Broken Steel's Boss In Mooks Clothing super-variants of enemies.
- Old wrecked cars can detonate in a nuclear explosion if shot enough times due to the remaining "fusion materials" somehow left untouched during the original bombs. The cars will even explode in mushroom-cloud style, but it won't do a thing unless you're within conventional explosive radius. Note that they CAN cause chain explosions though!
- Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 loves this trope. Most Ultimate Ninjutsu really should shred the target's body, if not outright vaporize it. They take 3-4 hits to kill from full health. This one probably takes the cake:
Masked Man: Summoning Jutsu: Nine-Tails! [Cue the Fantastic Nuke which explicitly decimates the terrain... and does about a quarter of the enemy's health at best.]
- Madara Uchiha drops a meteor on someone's head, and then another meteor on top of that one. Edo-Nagato forms a floating planetoid with his enemy crushed in the center, then blows the whole thing up with his Arm Cannon. Etc, etc...
- The Gundam Vs Series plays this straight, especially in Extreme Vs. and its sequels where several units' Super Moves are iconic moments from their source anime. Though the moves are appropriately powerful, they can be survived by all but the most fragile of mecha. Examples include Wing Zero's Twin Buster Rifle (powerful enough to destroy a space colony), the Double X's Twin Satellite Cannon (blew up a small island), the Turn A Gundam's Moonlight Butterfly (which single-handedly reverted Earth to pre-Industrial Revolution levels of technology), or even Sazabi's Colony Drop (self-explanatory). The trope is even played literally with a few machines like the Gundam GP02A or Gyan, which actually do throw nuclear missiles at their enemies.
- For all its awesomeness and power (and the blasted rarity of its ammunition), Postal 2's Rocket Launcher has a criminally small area of effect that usually requires that your targets bunch up much closer than they normally would in the course of gameplay. Semi-relatedly, grenades, dynamite, and other explosives sound like they should leave nothing but scattered blood and body parts around when used, but in spite of all their flash, they still have a surprisingly small blast radius, and it takes two grenades to kill most enemies you'd want to use grenades on (mainly police and Taliban).
- Injustice: Gods Among Us gets into this with some of the Supermoves. Superman punching, say, Green Arrow into orbit before smashing them back to Earth does decent damage - but you'd expect them to have been reduced to a fine red mist. Made more blatant by other super moves that avert this trope, yet still do the same damage as the slap-on-the-wrist nukes. Logically, Deathstroke's shooting and stabbing super should do nothing to Superman (or a large portion of the roster, for that matter), but it still does the same damage to all characters as Superman's super. Some of the level changes have this too, as Harley Quinn can get blasted out into space and hit by a runaway spaceship or slapped around a room by Physical God Darkseid yet only take as much damage as a couple of normal punches.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots does this with Crying Wolf's rail gun. It isn't Gameplay and Story Segregation either—her shots will regularly destroy trees outright and fell ones that they graze. Get hit by one and you just get knocked over and some health taken off. This is the same weapon that one-shots Raging Raven. Snake should've been spattered over the snow.
- Warframe: During the 8-player super mission "Law of Retribution", Vay Hek will try and kill the party with a giant laser cannon fired from the orbiting Balor Fomorian battleship. This is a weapon designed to rip a Mile-Long Ship in half, but it doesn't so much as kick up a cloud of dust when it hits the planet's surface.
Real Time Strategy
- In Dune II the Harkonnen Death Hand missile is stated to be atomic. It is a fairly small blast if so. That and in the books any use of atomic weapons by a noble house is grounds for immediate planetary annihilation by the Emperor.
- Likewise, in Emperor: Battle for Dune the Death Hand has a blast radius of maybe fifty meters, and the toughest buildings can withstand a direct hit. It also leaves behind an irradiated patch of ground which damages anything on it, but that dissipates in a couple of minutes.
- Command & Conquer:
- The nukes in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series always were relatively weak for nukes, but those in the first Red Alert game are the worst of the bunch, having barely enough yield to take out a pair of power plants and being unable to even completely destroy a Medium Tank with a direct hit. If you see the white flash of a nuke in the Allied campaign, though, your base just disappeared. Only in multiplayer, though; in single player, the nuke can literally destroy ANY building, including construction yards. Can be used to great effect in some missions of the Covert Ops.
- The Chinese in Command & Conquer: Generals, however, do have an explicit Slap On The Wrist Nuke: an artillery cannon, probably based on the M-338 Davy Crockett, that fires nuke shells. It counts more as a Wave Motion Gun that fires Abnormal Ammo, though. China's superweapon in Generals is also surprisingly weak, given it's an ICBM launched nuke. It's weaker than the GLA toxin-laced Scud Storm, has a longer cool-down timer, and (unlike the Storm) requires power.
- In Command & Conquer: Renegade, nukes (fired only by placing a beacon and waiting 30 seconds) had a pitifully, ridiculously small radius of effect. The damage it did at the center was incredible, killing almost any object in the game with that shot, but you could be literally standing 10 feet away from the nuke and not get a scratch. This gets a pass, partly for balance reasons (as it's the counterpart to GDI's ion cannon), and partly because the default setup allows for 'pedestal victories' where placing the nuke in the GDI barracks automatically wiped out the GDI base.
- Some of the spells in Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars are like this—even though they might take away a significant number of HP, from the spell descriptions there ought to be no way the target can survive.
- And some of the weakest spells in League of Legends include falling stars, a tidal wave and a tornado. Due to Competitive Balance, anything that disables opponents for a significant amount of time deals barely any damage regardless of what it is supposed to be. Ziggs' actual nuke is fairly powerful for an ultimate, but this means about 1/4th of a high-level character's health bar in an area that's half as wide as the river.
- Handwaved in Starcraft by explaining the Terrans use tactical nukes. Tactical nukes are designed to destroy enemy assets, fortifications, and forces as opposed to strategic nukes which destroy enemy cities. This is due to the Confederacy trying to solve a rebellion by lobbing strategic nukes at it until the entire colony was an irradiated wasteland. The political fallout was so bad that the larger weapons were shelved.
- War Front Turning Point plays this straight with the Allied nuclear strike in alternate history WWII. Despite the nuke's magnificent visual effects, it is wide enough only to conflagrate a tight nest of buildings and leave a glowing slagpile. The earthquake bomb, however, topples more, but does little to infantry. German V-2s have a similar blast radius (albeit sans nuke-slag) and cannot be intercepted with anti-aircraft flak.
- The Orbital Bombardment ability in the Dawn of War games, in which the Space Marine faction directs an orbiting Battle Barge/Strike Cruiser to fire its weapons on a target. The ability is impressive and can kill almost anything in one shot, even the bosses in the second game's campaign suffering tremendous damage, except the weapons of these vessels are known to take entire chunks out of planets (and can render a planet lifeless when enough vessels fire them at once), so it is incredibly implausible that anything survives at all, including the Space Marines that ordered it.
- Considering that the Strike Cruiser and Battle Barge are optimized for orbital bombardment and are using their secondary weapons, they probably just turned they power down a bunch.
- In the sequel, the Orbital Bombardment is tweaked; it now does even more damage on those it hits, but each individual blast has pitiful splash damage range, and has an overly long build-up time. You will ONLY successfully pull it off if you can use scouts' infiltration successfully, or call it down on top of your own troops, at which point your other forces still have to mop up at least 50% of the enemy units. Then, in the Retribution expansion, we see that what we thought were godly cannons from the stars were overgrown point-defense weapons, as an Exterminatus fleet arrives to perform its designated function.
- Hearts of Iron features nuclear weapons. To access them, one faction has to research enough technology to build a nuclear reactor to a high-enough level to produce a bomb, and then one is automatically added to your stockpile once a certain amount of time passes (which decreases the more technology you invest into it). Nuclear weapons have the following effects: they destroy all enemy troops in a province; they cause an amount of dissent directly proportional to the target country depending on the population levels, industry, infrastructure, etc.; they completely deplete all improvement levels (infrastructure, industry, etc.) to 0% and make it so it takes years to repair. And that's it. There is no fallout, nuclear winter, global warming, nor anything else. Troops that occupy a province that was just nuked suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, most provinces have such a low population that nuking them isn't effective enough to change anything. The best cities to nuke are state capitals and some high-population provinces in China, and that's it. Though the "no fallout" may be excused when you consider this depicts early nuclear weapons in the WWII era, the technology tree allows you to advance and develop better nuclear weapons that existed in the Cold War, but the basic effects stay the same. Nukes also do not affect diplomacy when one would think they really should. Finally, not only can the AI not handle nuclear weapons, there is no concept of "deterrence"; a country without nukes is just as likely to attack a country with nukes as they are one without them.
- Subverted in Total Annihilation and its Spiritual Successor Supreme Commander, where nukes are extremely destructive, though in the case of the former a single nuke is still a slap on the wrist because of how quickly a base can be rebuilt after being hit with one.
- In Vindictus, Kai's ultimate attack, massive impact, creates an explosion about 60 feet in diameter. Even heavily ranked and used in dark knight form, it doesn't deal enough damage to even stun most bosses even a few stages back from where you would have reached by the time you unlock it.
- Final Fantasy became rife with these as soon as the graphics got far enough along to show it:
- Final Fantasy I has WarMECH and its ability "NUCLEAR". It seems like this ought to destroy the entire dungeon, but it doesn't, and the Light Warriors can survive it (if you've grinded enough). There's also the player-usable spell "NUKE" (retitled "Flare" in later editions) which is stated to work by teleporting in a piece of the sun. Unfortunately, because practically everything in the game has ridiculous levels of magic defence, it will typically do a lot less than your Knight or Master's standard attacks (and the latter is attacking with his bare fists!).
- The Emperor's Starfall attack in Final Fantasy II, despite looking intimidating, has an utterly pathetic damage output since damage spread across the entire party or opposition in this game gets reduced by an incredibly large factor compared to single-target attacks.
- Sephiroth's Supernova in Final Fantasy VII is by far the best-known offender, not the least because the SFX get tedious. Blowing up most of the solar system and engulfing the planet within the flames of a tortured sun does less damage to each individual character than getting poked with a knife by a Tonberry. It's based on a percentage of their current HP - there's no way it can possibly kill. The weirdest part? This attack can even miss, and Sephiroth can attack by destroying the entire solar system and everything in it more than once. Some fans try to lampshade this by theorizing the attack is really just a big fireball, and the galaxy destruction part is just an illusion.
- Given how deep underground the final dungeon is, summoning Bahamut ZERO while inside it (which results in a giant dragon appearing in space and doing an orbital bombardment of the enemy) should logically cause much more damage to the planet than Sephiroth's plot-based Meteor spell.
- Another one would be Bahamut Fury's Exa Flare from Crisis Core. You'd think melting the moon and causing a dust cloud covering half the planet would do some terrain or ally damage... though to be fair it does regularly do 9,999 to all enemies.
- ALL Limit Breaks in Crisis Core can be this in general due to how their damage is calculated. For example, summons are dependent on your Magic or Spirit stats whereas Tseng's helicopter-bombardment of Rush Assault are dependent upon your strength and vitality. So it's entirely possible for a single punch from Rush Assault to do more damage than Meteor depending on what gear you're wearing.
- The third form of Final Fantasy VIII's final boss, a fusion of Ultimecia and the "strongest GF", Griever, has an attack called Great Attractor. It shows the boss pulling planets from across the solar system to collide with the players, and yet they survive! Supposedly it also does relatively little damage.
- There's also one of Squall's Limit Breaks, Blasting Zone. It turns his Gunblade into a gigantic energy blade that appears to be on the order of a thousand miles long. He then brings it down on an enemy and causes the same maximum damage of 9,999 that almost every other attack in the game is limited to. Naturally, no thousand-mile gashes in the Earth result.
- Ark, from Final Fantasy IX, whose attack animation shows it creating a crater that appears to be at least a mile in diameter, deals damage approximately equal to Zidane's Ultima Weapon blade.
- Nearly every summon in that game is a city-destroying weapon in cut-scenes but not in combat. This is either subverted or reaches it's peak when cutscene Bahamut only gives a bloody scratch to Kuja.
- Any of the Aeons' overdrives in Final Fantasy X, but especially Ifrit's. Being engulfed in a fireball, raised twenty feet in the air, hit with a chunk of floor and then dropped from a great height should by all rights be an instant kill, to anything, rather than causing a moderately severe bruise.
- Subverted by Sin, whose Giga Graviton attack obliterates the airship the party's standing on if it's unleashed, resulting in an immediate Game Over. You can't even use an Aeon to block the attack.
- In the international version, one of Penance's attacks is "Tera Graviton", which, logically, should be even stronger than Sin's Giga Graviton. But, here, it only does percentage-based damage! His other "ultimate" spell, Judgment Day, isn't much better either, since you can avoid it by summoning an aeon, unlike Sin's attack, which is an instant game over.
- Final Fantasy XII:
- The Espers' final attacks often fall into this category. They all have long elaborate movies that typically show the Espers creating all kinds of natural disasters such as tornadoes, tsunamis, a meteor from space, and even an ion canon. Zodiark gets the best though, since his final attack seems to be an explosion on the scale of the big bang. Espers themselves are basically useless as allies in this game, dealing nowhere near the amount of damage your regular party would deal in the same amount of time.
- Some of the Quickenings are also goofily underpowered for their special effects. You can have Baltheir drop a building-sized meteor on a boss, back this up with Basch punching it out of reality, have Penelo stop and shatter time, then see Ashe summon a hurricane sized electrical storm and wrap it all up with Vaan smacking them in the face with a tornado. Despite the fact that by rights most of Dalmasca should be in ruins after just the first few, you just deal some nasty damage high above the 9999 cap. If you use Quickenings on a mook or critter, don't count on getting even the more brusque death animation from a hit that causes knockback.
- Final Fantasy Tactics and its GBA counterpart have summons that literally destroy the entire battlefield, but unless you were level grinding, the targets only suffer bruises in a few HP damage.
- In Tactics, the Meteor spell is almost as large as the battlefield, and Ultima (angelic version) engulfs the entire battlefield in "absolute energy" and Divine Ultima's explosion radius would probably cover fields twenty-five times their size. This, despite their actual effect range being 3, 3, and 4 panels, respectively.
- Square Enix in general seems to like the trope. In The World Ends with You, all three of the Level Three fusions qualify. Shiki's summons a Godzilla-like cat monster, Beat's summons a huge tsunami out of nowhere, and Joshua's drops the freaking moon on the battlefield. It's actually justified that it doesn't damage the real world, since the Fight Woosh took you to a different plane of existence — but then you want to know why the Noise plane was also unaffected.
- Golden Sun:
- Isaac's most powerful summon, Judgment, is the apocalypse, but most bosses at that stage in the game shrug it off like nothing at all.
- Same could be said for the Meteor summon. Also done with the final boss's most powerful attack in the sequel, but the damage seems to be random, though deadly most of time.
- The most powerful summon in the game, Iris, attacks by throwing the enemies into the sun. Bosses still survive, though most standard enemies probably won't. It also has the ability to fully restore your HP AND revive fallen members, even though there is nothing showing it.
- In addition, the unleash of the game's most powerful weapon, the Sol Blade, drops a miniaturized sun on the enemy. This doesn't even do triple the damage of a normal attack with the weapon, which is just a sword swing...
- And for extra fun, it's another reference to Armageddon.
- Also, two of the bosses have a Psynergy called "Meteor Blow", which is basically a meteor impact much in the same manner of the Meteor summon. On the plus side, the attack is far more powerful than the summon, and will very likely kill the character with the lowest max HP.
- Daedalus: a giant robot that starts with a Macross Missile Massacre, then fire a huge missile. The first wave deals moderate damage,and on the next turn, a missile the size of the screen turns up and still fails to atomize the enemy.
- The Fireball, Blizzard, Lightning Storm, and Earthquake spells (the last one in particular) in Dragon Age seem like they ought to cause a lot of collateral damage when used inside the rotting wooden shantytown of the Alienage in the latter part of the game, and Earthquake really ought to cause some complications underground of the collapsing tunnels sort in Orzammar.
- In Xenogears, Fei's final spell, Big Bang, is nearly as over the top as it gets, apparently focusing a beam of chi through the gravity lens of a galaxy, and blowing the moon into tiny pieces every time it's used, and yet he can do much more damage by repeatedly punching and kicking the enemy.
- Skies of Arcadia:
- "Prophecy" drops a moon onto the planet. It deals less damage than the protagonist's last special attack and doesn't cause anywhere near the effects you'd expect.
- There is also Galcian's special: "Terminal," which involves him diving at you with his sword and destroying armada ships along the way and plunging the sword into you, creating a large explosion that shakes the Hydra. The targeted character is unlikely to die from this.
- One of Ramirez's attacks, "Silver Tundra", is another offender. The animation ends with one of your party members being thrown into the sky during a blizzard and being impaled on a massive spire of ice. Even though your character should have a massive cavity where their torso was, this attack barely does half of your healer's maximum HP in damage.
- The final ship battle of the game has the boss call down a meteor storm on the whole continent just to hit you. Though it's one of the most devastating attacks in its arsenal, the meteor that inevitably hits your ship is so big you'd think it'd be a One-Hit Kill.
- Games made by Nippon Ichi tend to have plenty of these, though all of them are capable of causing an appropriately high amount of damage with enough grinding.
- Also subverted in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Don Joaquin's Galactic Power summons a meteor which is pathetically weak, and is accompanied by a sound affect which sounds something like "plop".
- One character's ultimate attack in Chrono Cross is the destruction of the entire universe. It does do a lot of damage, though, even compared to a giant Venus Fly Trap or a tidal wave.
- Chrono Trigger does it better, though. The final boss, Lavos, has an attack that, in cutscenes, destroys the planet (or at least takes a good chunk out of the biosphere and makes it nigh-uninhabitable). In battle, it does about 400 damage to each party member (with the HP cap set at 999, that's quite terrifying). However, this depends on your characters' own defenses; enter Lavos when you're severely underleveled and very undergeared and it'll deal a thousand.
- The nuke powers from City of Heroes's top-tier Blast powers look like they'd be rather impressive, and canonical uses treat said powers as being impressively deadly. They're called nukes by players. They still won't kill a same-level minion on their own, though.
- Not only do nearly all of these "nuke" powers consume all of your endurance to use them and have some of the longest recharge times in the games, they can also MISS your foes completely and leave you exhausted and defenseless in the middle of a pack of angry foes.
- The whole "use all your endurance and be useless for the next minute or two" is fine for a Blaster with a team backing him/her up, but for a Defender or Corruptor who is also there to buff, debuff, and heal could end up getting teammates killed by taking themselves out of action like that. Hence why the nuke powers are common on Blasters but often skipped by Defenders and Corruptors.
- It also helps that Blasters do even more damage with a "nuke" than Defenders or Corruptors.
- A little work can also earn you the (one-time, until you earn it again) ability to call down an actual nuclear missile. It makes a depressingly small explosion and isn't much more powerful than the aforementioned Blaster nukes, but it can still help out in a pinch.
- The Legend of Dragoon gives you the ability to summon dragons capable of dealing far more damage than any other single spell, but given the mana requirements only one of them is actually any better then spamming the next most powerful spell, or the non-magical dragoon additions. Hell even entering dragoon mode at all means you'll deal less damage than with your strongest regular additions. Some bosses even impose further penalties on the use of these powers. They are still the most visually impressive moves in the whole game. though. Also, a select few bosses need the defense boosts of that dragoon mode gives to be even remotely beatable.
- Certain powerful spells in Fire Emblem games, especially those used by late game bosses, tend to have impressive animations involving planets, black holes, six foot pillars of light and other such eye candy. However, even if after all that your opponent doesn't outright dodge it, it may or may not be fatal and is guaranteed to only affect one person on the entire battlefield at a time.
- You know what's awesome? Rexflame in Radiant Dawn. Turn off animations, and you'll still see the river of freaking lava swallow up the entire screen, but the only thing hurt is the enemy you were aiming at. Singular.
- Super Robot Wars is the absolute king of this. Generally, the more powerful an attack is, the more over-the-top the animation. This gets especially crazy for final bosses. Although those attacks all mean instant death for the target, keep in mind the final one does damage to exactly ONE individual. And not even more than your characters are capable. This tends to get even more outrageous because of skills that will make attacks deal 1/4 damage to you, have the next one deal only 10 damage to you, no matter what it is, or even miss entirely! Yes, the attack that destroys countless planets just to try and kill one mech can be made to deal a measly 10 damage. Or even miss. There is nothing more satisfying in gaming then this.
- In the Might and Magic series, the nuke spell (also called Armageddon) will do tremendous damage to everything in the same area, including the caster, and will kill all civilians instantly. Due to engine limitations it has no effect on buildings and terrain, though.
- The spin-off Heroes of Might and Magic has the same spell, and the icon for the spell is even a mushroom cloud. Despite this, it's quite easy to get hit by it and only lose half your forces. (Oh, and it can't touch Dragons. Apparently dragon-scale is nuke-proof.)
- Toyed with in the later Wizardry games. Nuclear Blast, the "ultimate" fire spell for the Thaumatergy school, is explicitly described as a miniature fusion bomb, and it does inflict an enormous amount of damage to every enemy present (the distinguishing trait of all the "nuke" spells) and can oftentimes instantly kill several enemies, but most higher-end enemies, or those resistant to fire, will shrug it off.
- Phantasy Star IV features combination attacks that play this trope straight. One of them is even called "Holocaust," which tries to kill every enemy you're fighting. The most powerful combo is appropriately called "Destruction," and is basically a huge bomb. It's powerful enough that one of the characters in the combo has to cast a shield spell to protect the party, but it still can't break the damage limit.
- It's certainly a flashy spell, and guaranteed maximum damage on any enemy has its uses (the spell can't break the damage limit, but won't drop below it either), but considering that individual attacks can deal more than 50% of Destruction's yield against late-game bosses and that you have a bevy of instant-group-kill spells & combos by the time you gather the component parts of Destruction...it's definitely of limited utility.
- One of the Limit Breaks available in Epic Battle Fantasy 3 is a nuke that deals moderate damage to your enemies, a tiny bit to your party, and poisons everyone. Often, the poison will outdamage the nuke within two turns. The nuke itself CAN deal ludicrous damage to enemies who are weak to fire, though.
- ''Epic Battle Fantasy likes it a lot, in fact. Lance especially. Besides the aforementioned nuke, he also possesses an Ion Cannon which plows through the ground, obliterating it with no damage to the party at all and only decent damage to enemies. Natalie, herself, is not one to be outdone. Her attacks include a massive beam of Holy power visible from space itself (pardonable, since it's Holy, after all) and a BLACK HOLE which does deal heavy damage to all enemies and players with a chance to kill, but does not do what black holes are meant to do, which is destroying the world.
- PK Starstorm in EarthBound and MOTHER 3. There is reason to believe that what it really is is the psionic equivalent to a meteor shower.
- A couple of attacks in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team are a bit like this. Like the Zee Egg and its 'nuke the screen with magic' effect, which is still a tad less powerful than you'd expect given its concept (albeit still an Infinity+1 Sword). Or Giant Bowser's stomp attack, where a boss about ten times bigger than your character steps on them... and which can supposedly be survived with health to spare. Or just Luiginary Ball, which sends enemies/bosses flying into the background hard enough they wrap around from the front again... and happens to be the weakest special attack in the game.
- Some moves in the Pokémon series fall victim to this, looking absurdly powerful but in reality not being much stronger (or even being weaker) than some far more mundane attacks. For instance, Palkia's signature move of Spacial Rend is described as tearing apart space itself (and looks as though it practically destroys reality in Pokemon Xand Y), yet it possesses a relatively unimpressive power of 100 (For comparison, Head Smash, which is simply described as being a full-power headbutt, has 150 power), and worse, can be completely nullified by Fairy-type Pokemon due to it being a Dragon-type move.
- Player-generated example in Avencast: Rise of the Mage: since point distribution is player-driven, one can choose to develop a character with high-level spells but a low damage stat.
- In Undertale, Asriel Dreemurr has "Hyper Goner" for his ultimate attack of his first form, where the dodging space expands to cover the entire screen (even the status bar) and he forms a black hole like suction that sucks you and several damaging diamond shaped projectiles towards it. Despite the incredible animation, it can only leave you at 1 HP. After that, though, he transforms into his second form where you're unable to use items at first and you're forced to dodge several tricky volleys of projectiles, though thankfully Death Is a Slap on the Wrist during the entire fight.
- In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, there was a spell in an official Splat Book that basically ripped the target's entire circulatory system (other than its heart) out of its body (an a slightly higher level version that then used said veins and arteries to entangle nearby targets!) - and yet it did exactly half the target's hit points in damage. No more, no less. Funny, one would think losing your entire means of carrying blood to the brain, not to mention the rest of the body, would do a bit more damage than THAT.
- One monster has an attack in which they reach inside you and claw out your lungs, dealing... 1d4 damage, which is on-par with what you take from a dagger wielded by someone with average strength.
- Used constantly on a smaller scale in Warhammer 40,000 and its various adaptations, with weapons that should cause incredible amounts of damage, if not merely instantly killing the target, causing rather standard damage instead. A lot of the time it's justified by the target being equally incredibly resilient, but when Bolters (firing a .75 caliber rocket assisted shell meant to explode a split second after penetrating the target) is used against normal humans without them exploding it gets a bit puzzling.
- Various characters in Warhammer 40k have had the ability to call down orbital bombardments, including Space Marines Chapter Masters, Inquisitors, Masters of the Fleet, Abaddon the Despoiler (from the not-misnamed Planet Killer) and even Orks (who flung asteroids at the planet rather than using their own guns). Considering that guns from all of the aforementioned ships have the ability to render a planet uninhabitable, if not destroy it outright, their effects in-game are quite underwhelming (typically a 5" blast template with STR 10, AP 1, unlimited range, and an increased tendency to scatter). Indeed, there are several tank-based artillery cannons that are just as strong, and more accurate to boot. Given the scale of weaponry mounted by 40k starships, it's actually kind of amazing that they have anything capable of producing a blast that small.
Turn Based Strategy
- Though nukes in Civilization games are incredibly powerful, heavily damaging things and trashing the landscape, in IV they can't kill anything with 100% certainty. This doesn't stop your computer rivals from scorning your name should you use them yourself, however.
- Contrast with the ICBM in Civilization: Revolutions. It will completely destroy anything in the region it is launched at and all units adjacent to it. If used against a capital, it will destroy everything except for the Palace and one unit of population. On the other hand, only one can ever be built.
- Probably because nuclear shelters and bunkers are buildable long before nukes hit the table; completing the Manhattan Project unlocks nuclear weapons for everyone, including your enemies. Therefore, if a nuclear war is inevitable players will stall from building the Project and build up their defenses beforehand, significantly reducing the potential impact of nuclear weaponry when it does occur. On the other hand, throwing half a dozen nukes around will cause rampant global warming, rapidly terraforming random plains and grassland tiles into inhospitable desert tiles, and so on. The Fallout effect also reduces a tile's resource output until scrubbed by workers, so a city can suffer a gradual decline as an after-effect even if it survives the initial attack.
- Averted in Alpha Centauri, however. Planetbusters do exactly that, killing everything in a 1-16 square area, destroying land so water fills it in and destroying any cities caught in the blast radius. Also pisses the planet off immensely, expect the mind worm attacks to increase after every use. And oh, yeah, everyone declares war on you.
- In many 4X games, such as the Master of Orion series, nuclear missiles are the most basic type of missile you can build. This can lead to absurd examples like how in Master of Orion 2, a single unmodified nuclear missile can only kill the weakest ships with a single hit, and it is relatively easy from the middle of the game onwards to build a ship that can survive a hundred basic nuclear missiles.
- Empire and its derivatives likewise have nukes kill everything in their blast radius, but cities are merely depopulated instead of being destroyed (the ability to destroy cities would be a Game Breaker, since cities can not be built, only captured).
- In Advance Wars, Sturm's CO Power drops a meteor onto the field. This power can only drop a unit 5 HP, whether it's an infantry or a battleship, and it cannot kill a unit, only making it drop to 1.
- Same in Advance Wars 2, and in Advance Wars 2 and Dual Strike there's the addition of giant cannons, lasers, and missiles that all have the same effect.
- Also, in the final mission of 2, you can fail and let a doomsday missile be launched, but due to the game's Non Lethal KOs when losing, Sturm can drop the missile as many times as he wants and the world looks unscarred and the allied forces can just keep coming back.
- An odd example: the video game of Spider-Man 2 has a spinning pile driver attack that Spidey can pull on thugs. He can do this from any height, including from the top of the Empire State Building (provided he swung up this high, first). It will seldom kill any thug in one shot, no matter how high you are.
- Touhou Soccer. Earth-splitting attack animations just to score a goal.
- In Fate/stay night, one character possesses a sword said to be bound with the creation of the world. Its main attack is described as 'anti-world' in strength and thus presumably capable of destroying the world — except that whenever it is used, it never seems to do worse than knock the main characters around a bit and put a few dents in the local concrete. The reason being that while it's capable of destroying the world, its wielder has zero interest in doing that (kind of a dumb thing to do when you're planning on ruling the world). The only times we see a hint of Ea's real power is in Fate/Zero and Fate/hollow ataraxia, where Ea is used in alternate dimensions, and thus those dimensions are the "world" that is destroyed by it. At its full strength it's shown ripping holes in reality and annihilating entire armies with a single swing.
- Parodied in Psychonauts during the Kochamara boss battle. Before Kochamara attacks he charges up and shouts the name of the attack, as if he's ready to unleash the fury of Hell itself. Of course, with names like Overly Intricate Combination and Hard To Avoid Area Attack, you don't expect the end result to be very spectacular. And obviously, it isn't. Simply activating your shield saves you from any damage (which isn't a lot to begin with), not very dangerous.
- In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) and Rivals (2013), getting hit with an EMP or a spike strip will not (normally) end the car that is hit. Not a nuke-power thing, but logically a car should not run with knocked out tires/electronics.
- Pretty much everything in Animal Kaiser. A few examples: Crashing various moon-sized objects into the Earth (including the actual Moon), slicing the Earth in half, slicing the Earth into quarters, sending the Earth into the Sun, running completely around the Earth, tunneling completely through the Earth both ways, dropping various colossal objects on the opponent like swords, steam irons, stone arms, and cheeseburgers, squashing the opponent flat, and eating the opponent.
- The board game "Wabbit Wampage" has an Acme mail order H-bomb kit. Assuming nothing else damages them, it takes two H-bombs to destroy the dog's kennel, and six H-bombs to destroy the farm house. Detonating an H-bomb inside a building does no damage to someone standing just next to that building.
Non-Video Game Examples:
Anime and Manga
- In Digimon, Starmon's attack is called, and basically is, a Meteor Shower... but is otherwise an average champion-level attack.
- Saint Seiya has the eponymous Saints use attacks of awesomely destructive power, especially the higher up on the Sorting Algorithm of Evil one goes. However, several of these attacks come with names and animation like "Galaxian Explosion" (attacks with the force of an exploding galaxy) and "Lightning Plasma" (shoots 100 billion shots of plasma at an enemy). Yet for all this destructive power, the only destruction is of the local landscape and structures.
- Things peak with the Athena Exclamation, a technique that releases the power of a Big Bang. Three Gold Saints must work together to perform the attack, and it IS a forbidden technique, but it's eventually used anyways. And then, not too long afterwards, two are used at the same time, against each other. If not for the actions of Shiryu, (or the four Bronzies if you're talking about the OVA) the series would have had a painfully quick ending.
- The JSSDF was forced to hand control over to NERV in Neon Genesis Evangelion when Sachiel treated an N2 mine as this. The "Non-Nuclear" mine has all the power of a state-of-the-art nuclear weapon... and all it managed was to make the Angel take a nap. Justified by the fact it wasn't a particularly big Fantastic Nuke, probably no more than a couple of kilotons; a strategic nuclear (or N2) warhead likely would have taken the Angel out entirely, but only if they didn't mind levelling Tokyo-3 along with it.
- Done with a literal nuke on the Saint of Killers in Preacher.
Saint of Killers: Not enough gun.
- A quarter-gram antimatter annihilation occurs in both the book and movie versions of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, doing little more than shaking things up a tad. Such a reaction would release a medium-altitude areal photon burst of 45 terajoules (11 kilotons), equal to the flash-burn caused by Fat Man, such a burst would handily have blinded everyone in Rome outdoors at the time (especially the large crowd watching the burst) as well as set fire to any medium colored surfaces in line-of-sight.
- A column in SFX by David Langford remembered the dodgy science in a novel where the villain has a giant earth-shattering weapon "with an ammo belt of black holes. Things look bad when he turns it on the hero. Fortunately, it's a glancing blow..."
- Mocked by Weebl & Bob in their Final Fantasy VII parody: The 'super special attack' drops the Moon onto the planet, which itself causes three separate mushroom clouds from the explosion, and finally deals... 7 damage. To a random encounter.
- In Homestar Runner, Strong Bad once presses a self-destruct button on his laptop, creating a mushroom cloud at least a hundred feet high. The laptop and a ream of printer paper were the only things damaged in any way.
- Final Boss Khrima's mostly flashy "Doom Vortex" magic attack shatters the entire planet, the solar system, the galaxy, and even the game's CD. The damage is fairly good but far less than what those events would entail. Lampshaded by Karn before the fact: "Is this going to be one of those destroy-the-planet spells? Because we've seen like nine."
- Also lampshaded in an earlier strip. "You'd think that destroying the entire planet would be more damaging..."
- Spoofed in Flaky Pastry, where a ludicrously powerful spell called Omega Murder Blast literally obliterates all terrain in a huge radius, annihilates whoever it was aimed at, but does not affect any other living creature in said huge radius because "it is a single-target spell."
- Brawl in the Family demonstrates. "Gyarados used Hyper Beam!" [Colossal pillar of light visible on an intergalactic scale.] "Pidgey fainted!"
- In The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob manages to set off a nuclear bomb inside Springfield's Air Force base - that releases an explosion about a foot wide. He then notices that printed on the side of the bomb is the disclaimer "Best before Dec 1959."
Bob: [to himself] There were plenty of brand-new bombs, but you had to go for that retro '50s charm!
- Some tactical and strategic nuclear warheads did far less damage per square foot than conventional explosives, they just covered LOTS of area. A nuclear weapon detonated on the ground will also do far less damage than a nuclear weapon detonated thousands of feet above ground — at least direct structural damage. The resulting fallout, on the other hand...
- Compared to other nuclear arsenals, North Korea's nukes could qualify for this trope.
- Subverted with a dirty bomb. It's not quite a nuke but salts the earth with radioactive fallout, denying the area until the radioactivity sufficiently decays.
- Any fission-based nuke is comparatively this. Even though they were built up as city-wrecking nightmares thanks to the atomic bombings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actually pretty small as far as cities go and the yields of even the largest fission bombs was limited to 50 kilotons. Fusion bombs, on the other hand, have trouble achieving yields of UNDER one megaton, 50 times more than any fission bomb.
- The W-54 nuclear warhead was one of the smallest nuclear devices built by the United States, both in terms of yield and physical size. It was so small that it was used in air-to-air missiles and even an infantry portable artillery piece. It was only about as destructive as the cluster bombs of the day, at least in terms of area leveled. In addition, the fallout the W-54 produced was nearly non-existent. The only really nasty part (which prevented them from being used in actual warfare) was the often-overlooked gamma ray burst that nukes create.
- Unlike normal nuclear weapons, the area of instantly lethal radiation was actually larger than the fireball - which is to say, a large area around the detonation point would be blasted clean of all life, but would be left intact, merely killed - troops would die where they stood from the invisible radiation. This also meant there would be a large number of people outside of the instantly lethal radius who were mostly unhurt by the blast, but who would unprevantably die within days from radiation poisoning. It was worried that folks who knew they were going to die no matter what might want to try and take down as many of the enemy before they succumbed, or in order to avoid a slow, painful death from radiation poisoning.
- In space, only a direct hit with a nuke would do any notable damage to an object as there's no atmosphere to carry a shockwave or heat. However, as those limitations apply to any explosion in space, most "hard" sci-fi will make all space-based explosive weapons nuclear due to the sheer force produced.