Strong as They Need to Be
Wait a damn minute, something's wrong here. Gohan:
Back on your planet, the Namek couldn't even stand up to Nappa
. Yet here he is, now, taking on Freeza
. In his second form! Gohan:
What do you think happened? Vegeta:
Well, either Freeza hit me so hard I'm in a delusional coma, or... Gohan:
Or...? Vegeta: POWER LEVELS
Every so often, the villain is just too powerful. They're going to destroy the world
, or at least control it
. Sometimes, if the writers really want it to seem like a big deal, the villain will threaten the entire galaxy, universe, or even multiple realities. It seems all hope is lost. And there's nothing the heroes can do to stop it.
Then, suddenly, the hero will decide that he's serious. This time is for reals. He'll whip out some until now unforeseen strength
, and promptly show the villain what for
, usually demolishing the bad guy so completely that it prevents them from ever pulling that world threatening crap again, or at least until the writers want them back.
This trope isn't merely The Power of Friendship
, nor The Power of Love
. It isn't just a Forgotten Superweapon
, and only rarely is it related to positively sick levels of training
. No, this trope is only really in effect when a character suddenly displays a level of power that has not even been hinted at up until its point of use. There have been no scenes depicting the character practicing towards this level, and no dialogue has given any indication that the character is aware that they are capable of it, or indeed, that they even know this level of power to be possible. They simply find themselves in need, and are subsequently capable of defeating their enemy, with no outside help whatsoever.
If any explanation is given at all, this is usually handwaved
as the character having simply held everything back
up until this point, never mind all the dangerous, possibly near-death encounters they've most likely been through up until this point that could've really used something like this
Another possible explanation is that the extra power is used only in dire emergencies because it's extremely dangerous (or, worse, is positively guaranteed to cause Really Bad consequences). If so, it's an example of Godzilla Threshold
, not this trope.
This trope does not always need to involve powers relating directly to beating the tar out of things, of course. If any hero is suddenly able to call upon powers they've never shown or hinted at before, with no explanation given by him or any other character, chances are they're Strong As They Need To Be.
It goes the other way too. Characters can often be found struggling to defeat a particular foe, when considering their skill and compared to the baddies they faced in the past, it should be a piece of cake. Used to pad out time length with elongated fight sequences as well as to prevent the protagonists from defeating a villain that the writers need for later. This conspicuous decrease in power invariably is a staple of shounen
Often a result of the writers letting the Rule Of Cool
take over. Compare with I Am Not Left-Handed
, Only The Author Can Save Them Now
, and New Powers as the Plot Demands
. Can overlap with Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
, and Power Creep, Power Seep
, and Berserk Button
. If called upon to Handwave
or put a lampshade
on this, the character might give a "World of Cardboard" Speech
. Contrast Drama-Preserving Handicap
. For the phenomenon of "As Big As They Need To Be", see Artists Are Not Architects
, Your Size May Vary
, and Telescoping Robot
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Asuka, in the End Of Evangelion, manages to kill (sorta) NINE EVANGELIONS. Each with the ability to fly, and each armed with a massive greatsword that can turn into a replica Lance of Longinus and ignore any AT Field. With only 20 seconds for each, due to her power cord being cut. Armed only with a short knife. After having just wiped out a small army of a battleship, several tank battalions, a couple of artillery brigades and a few more VTOL gunships. Then subverted, as they were faking being defeated.
- In Dragon Ball (particullary Dragon Ball Z), this is very common. One character is beaten, and a few moments later (without any chance of training), he is so much stronger that he can beat the guy who has just defeated him without even sweating. This is Justified by saying that "Saiyans get stronger after losing a fight".
- Bleach's Ichigo. For a large amount of time during the Bount Arc, Ichigo is unable to use his Bankai, for very loose reasons. Then once he is able to, he still isn't as strong as the last time, despite being immune to the spirit damping effects of the real world.
- Also true for Kenpachi. Ichigo was able to match him in open combat with his reiatsu fully released, and yet for every fight after that Kenpachi displayed more and more strength. Justified in that he was unconsciously suppressing his own reiatsu. With each fight where he nearly died, he released more and more of his reiatsu.
- Ash Ketchum. One minute he's beating a League champion in a tough battle. The next he's struggling against some also-ran. Though to be fair, a lot can depend on which Pokemon are being used at the time...
- His Pikachu too, for that matter. At one point, it manages to One Turn Kill a newly rested Regice with Volt Tackle (only the second time in the series that a Legendary Pokémon lost a one-on-one fight with a non-Legendary, and the previous time was a long, drawn-out fight in which the non-Legendary had a Type advantage). A few episodes later, it's having trouble fighting an Elekid.
- By now he's started intentionally handicapping himself by starting with a totally new team for every league save Pikachu. That doesn't explain why Pikachu's performance is spotty at best. All in all, it's actually gotten weaker as the series goes along, perhaps a reaction to the writers realizing Pikachu winning every battle would be boring. On the other hand, it'd be nice if they justified it in some way at least.
- Pikachu has lost against Crest's Panpour. Yes, Pikachu lost against the first Unova gym's water-type pokemon, who was then defeated by Tepig.
- In Paul's case at least, he actually battled in the Kanto, Johto, and Hoenn Leagues, so he has as much experience as Ash.
- Ash has more. Ash did the Battle Frontier in Kanto and won (And offered a position as a Frontier Brain). Paul has not been shown to have participated and later actually challenged and lost to Brandon and express surprise when he discovered Ash had previously beaten him.
- Ash had several advantages in his battle against Brandon Paul did not have. Brandon used four Pokemon against Ash, and he wasn't allowed to substitute, while Ash could. Brandon could use six Pokemon against Paul, and both could substitute. Meanwhile, Brandon used Regice, the legendary he had the least time training with against Ash. With Paul, Brandon used all three. Not to mention Ash won by the skin of his teeth.
- Also, Paul's emotions got the better of him at the time, not like Ash was perfect in his battle against Brandon either. Seismic Toss on a Ghost type? Really? That's an amateur mistake unfitting someone of Ash's experience no matter how you look at it.
- In episode 746, Iris' Axew, a mon in its first stage with a spotty at best record, managed to somehow put up something resembling a fight against Cynthia's Garchomp a mon that beat four of Paul's team with one hit each.
- In episode 648, for Ash loses against friggin Kenny, of all people, due to his rather foolish choice of using Buizel against an Empoleon.
- Soul Eater, such as with the ending of the anime giving the main groups a couple of late superpowers. While the 'courage punch' had some precedent (the important of courage having been used numerous times, but never quite so explicitly), things like Maka's Weapon form and Kid's Sanzu Lines had no such setup whatsoever.
- While Maka's weapon form was certainly an example, Kid's Sanzu Lines were nothing new if you read the manga-the alternate ending is to blame, here.
- This is an explicit power of Kuwabara from YuYu Hakusho - his spirit energy literally increases when fighting a stronger foe. It's also evident and completely ignored in most of the rest of the cast.
- D. Gray-Man revels in this trope. One time you'll see the whole cast ganging up on a single demon and taking several episodes to beat it, at great cost. The next day, despite being weary of the fight, they can kill them by the dozen.
- Somewhat averted with level 4 akumas, who are still crazy tough and require you being general strength just to beat one. The first one actually had a lot more punishment than the rest of them as it had all the generals, the protagonist and a recently re-empowered Action Girl against it.
- In Sailor Moon, Mars and Jupiter seem to have natural abilities that may or may not carry over in their transformed states. Mars uses hers often; Jupiter's implied ridiculous amount of strength, alas, does not really jibe with how fights are choreographed and is much rarer than it should be compared to some other shows. She also tends to get her ass handed to her if she does get to use it.
- Yoshimori Sumimura works two ways: either everyone's praising him for being way stronger than he should be because he took out a tough opponent; or he's getting lambasted for letting a weak opponent walk all over him. The way he fights tends to be ludicrously inefficient against weaker opponents, though, which provides a legitimate flaw for somebody who's Weak, but Skilled to exploit.
- At least in the manga, Samurai Deeper Kyo was this trope. Period. There are even one or two techniques used by the heroes that they had never tried, just imagined, and after getting a power up or going into a Super Mode, they just do it. And we're not talking about trying a "roundhouse back flying kick". We talk about "the technique that draws my blood make-up over your body to boil your blood from inside".
- One Piece: This tends to be played for laughs; Luffy defeats Arlong in the previous arc, who was the most powerful pirate in the East Blue. Yet he's easily restrained by Buggy and his mooks for his "execution" despite showing displays of super-strength and persistence.
- The most glaring example is the Davy Back Fight Arc. Last arc, Luffy defeated Enel, an extremely skilled fighter who used one of the most powerful Devil Fruits ever seen. In the Davy Back Fight, he has trouble with Foxy, who, even if one takes into account his Weak, but Skilled status, is indeed extremely weaker than Enel.
- A rare villainous version: In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Anti Spiral King is shown to only use as much power as the Dai Gurren Brigade uses. This is to specifically invoke Hope Spot after Hope Spot — every time the heroes get stronger, the Anti Spiral King effortlessly powers up to match them, all in the name of maximizing the terror and despair they feel. It doesn't work.
- The Deconstruction is also mentioned: The end result of being "As strong as you need to be" in a universe where everyone else can do the same thing is the "Spiral Nemesis" — eventually, two factions each following this trope will fight each other, leading inevitably to the explosion filled destruction of the universe. Given the fact that the last fight between the ASK and DGB literally destroys one universe, he probably has a point. It's also mentioned that those with the Spiral Power instinctively recognize the truth of the Spiral Nemesis when told about it.
- Fiamma of the Right from To Aru Majutsu no Index explicitly has this as his power. His ability, The Holy Right, usually manifests itself as a giant bird-like claw growing out of his shoulder. The Holy Right is nearly omnipotent, but it only uses the right amount of force to accomplish what Fiamma wants at the moment. The more powerful his opponent, the more powerful it becomes.
- Inazuma Eleven the Orge take this trope which has already been used regularly up to eleven. First season Raimon has to fight the third season's Bonus Boss, who can easily defeat Zeus, the first season's Big Bad that the heroes needed to struggle so much to win in the TV anime. What do they need to win within 30 minutes? A Kid from the Future, four new players, and some four-tier above abilities the heroes learn because they're getting really serious.
- In Naruto, the 4th Shinobi War has Kabuto using Impure World Resurrection to summon an army of invincible dead ninja. By invincible, I mean they regenerate at insane rates, often From a Single Cell. To beat them, the Allies have to wound them, and then quickly seal them with a Cloth Binding Jutsu (or a few other techniques used by some main characters) before they heal. So, how fast do they heal? When the Seven Swordsmen appeared, the entire Third Division launched a Worf Barrage at them, only for the Swordsmen to heal before anyone could respond. In the anime, when Gari was "killed", Pakura jumped in and started fighting the protagonists of the week. Only after they gained the upper hand in a lengthy, drawn out fight did Gari recover and stop them from sealing Pakura.
- Superman loves to do this, to the point that he has occasionally become so powerful that, in order to allow him to believably fight small-time thugs, the writers actually needed to reset the universe. Twice.
- That would mean Superman's enemies as fall under this, so he doesn't one hit KO them, or vice versa.
- Early seasons of Justice League left Supes vulnerable to strength fluctuations to give the rest of his teammates a chance and front row seat to The Worf Effect. One instance during the first movie had him taken down by a foot soldier with just one laser blast; the writers admit that they purposely did this as to prevent his teammates from becoming obsolete. Lampshaded in one episode where Flash offers to answer Big Barda's request for help from the League, only to initially be told anyone who wasn't Superman was useless to her.
- Even with the post-Crisis Superman, some writers (Mark Waid is a good example) like to write him as a being of godlike power, capable of surviving things like the super-nuke in Kingdom Come that would kill literally anyone else. Eric Burns describes this as Superman having his "no one can kick my ass because I'm Superman" bit set that day.
- In the defense of Kingdom Come, there ARE hints earlier in the book that this Superman is much more powerful than others. Luthor himself mentions that Supes is so soaked up on sunlight, he's now immune to Kryptonite.
- Also, what was stated was that the bomb would have killed Superman if it had hit him point blank. Captain Marvel was presented as exactly as powerful after all, and it took his sacrifice to save Superman and the others powerful enough to take it. (Doctor Fate & Green Lantern, who protected about half of the fighters)
- And on Smallville, his powers actually do fluctuate, based on solar coronal activity, the fact that they're still developing, and the fact that he lives in a freakin' town full of Kryptonite.
- Some stories suggest that, like Hulk, Supes' power level is affected by his mood. In For The Man Who Has Everything, he was so mad at Mongul that he actually wanted to kill him, and he went absolutely apeshit on him. Mongul is normally stronger that Supes* .
- One of Superman's mainstay abilities is his Eye Beam, traditionally his only true ranged-attack. Rarely limited by an official explanation (save it perhaps de-charges him more quickly if he's acting as a solar-powered battery), Supes generally only uses it against opponents when he's completely restrained or when it wouldn't result in the censors bearing down on him for using it.
- His invulnerability fluctuates this way too. In some comics, you can put him in a room with a little red sun lamp and kick his ass. In others, he can fly through a red star, then smack into a planet and get up and fight (albeit depowered) as happened in the definitely canon Infinite Crisis.
- Thor frequently invokes this trope, with the idea that he was "holding back" for fear that unleashing his true power would kill his opponent. Almost always accompanied by a line such as "Now you must face the full might of Thor!"
- Thor states that even against superhuman foes on Earth, he doesn't dare use his full strength for fear of killing them. There's clearly some ego involved in this, of course, since Earth has some superhumans who are every bit as strong and durable as Thor, if not moreso (see: Hulk, Juggernaut, Hercules, Sentry, etc).
- For another DC example, what powers the Martian Manhunter has, and to what degree, varies enormously with who's writing him and the needs of the current story. He seems to have all and only the abilities he needs to put the story where the writer wants it. Sometimes he's like a combination of Superman and Plastic Man (except weaker), and other times he is the most powerful being on Earth (as in a storyline where he turned evil and everyone was terrified of fighting him).
- For that matter, his Kryptonite Factor toward fire is alternately treated as a Weaksauce Weakness that keeps him from being too overpowered, or a psychosomatic weakness that can be overcome with willpower; the two inconsistencies go hand in hand.
- In Blackest Night, a zombie MM points out "I'm as powerful as Superman. Why does everyone FORGET that?" before kicking some ass.
- The Infinite Crisis OMACs are an interesting case. They're villains, which is unusual for this trope, and Strong As They Need To Be is their explicitly stated ability. When they sight a superhero, they'll identify the hero and reconfigure to have the powers and abilities they need to win the fight. Nearly everyone has asked the obvious question, which is: Why are the bad guys going out of their way to give the heroes a fair chance? Why don't they just configure themselves with the Superman-killing abilities and lay waste to everyone? No answer has yet been given. Fan theories quite naturally abound; for example, as machine-based creatues, it's been suggested that it would take far more energy for them to hit someone as hard as Superman could all the time than to reconfigure into more limited forms.
- The fact that the Infinite Crisis Brother Eye was made by Batman would explain a lot.
- The Hulk's level of physical might and durability varies tremendously. This one, however, has a built-in explanation: Hulk's physical might—and in the 2003 movie, his physical mass and size—is directly related to how angry he gets. Hence the Catch Phrase "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets." For example, Wolverine has fought him several times—most of the time to a standstill until he manages to get one good cut in and piss the Hulk off enough that his anger really flares up. At the same time, during the Onslaught event, in the last battle with the titular villain, Jean Grey mentally removed any blocks Banner may have had to restrain himself, and he beat the hell out of the physical form of a being that could alter reality with a thought. In short: hope your first punch knocks him out.
- Similarly to Darwin below, in one story Hulk developed the ability to breathe in space by getting angry enough.
- Darwin, the Evolving Boy from the X-Men comics literally has this trope as his superpower. Whenever placed in a situation he is unsuited for, he will gain a new power capable of dealing with it. Place him in total darkness and he gets the power to see in the dark. Stick him in a burning building and he becomes immune to fire. Trap him underwater and he grows gills.
- However, he only gains a power that will let him survive, which doesn't necessarily mean winning. Stick him in a fight with The Hulk, for example, and he gains the ability to teleport into the next state or Nigh Invulnerability that would let him weather The Hulk's fury (but nothing that would let him actually fight back).
- The Amazons from Amazons Attack, when Wonder Woman's people invaded the United States seemed to fluctuate wildly in their power. In one scene they're giving Supergirl and Wonder Girl a hard time, then Superman shows up and trounces them effortlessly, then they're taking down fighter jets with flying horses and spears, Batman can beat them in a straight up fight, they can invade Washington DC and the army can't do a thing to stop them, then they get shot down by soldiers. They're not Immune to Bullets, and they beat the US army with spears and giant bees!?
- Stygian Killer Hornets, thank you... Bees. My God.
- Spider Man has this problem very often. His strength, while theoretically possible to mathematically calculate, is subject to plenty of fluctuation. Even his webbing is subject to this, sometimes being broken by a Badass Normal and sometimes strong enough to hold up a car or two.
- The ultimate expression of this was when he was attacked by Firelord. Panicking, dodging, and running for his life, he sees the Herald of Galactus survive everything he can throw at him unharmed, up to and including an exploding gas station. But when two kids nearly get killed by his uncaring foe, Spidey loses his cool - and proceeds to pound Firelord into the pavement, punctuating every barrage of fists with statements on the order of "Hey, you don't attack kids!" It takes the arrival of Captain America and the Avengers to snap him out, by which time Firelord is flat on his back, eyes crossed, and dazed for quite a while. Just to elaborate, this is a being on a power level roughly equal to Thor or the Silver Surfer, and leagues above the power level of Spidey or any of his usual foes.
- On at least two occasions Spider Man has been trapped on tons of debris when someone's life was at stake. In two occasions he was able to tap into a reserve of strength that allowed him to lift the debris of him, all the while disbelieving it ("Come on, Thor couldn't lift this...the Hulk couldn't lift this!").
- Subverted when Spider-Girl happened to be in similar situation, with evil god Set trapping every superhero on Earth under unbreakable forcefield. May was doing everything she could to beat him and even dropping a building on him didn't slow him down. However, when May called all her Heroic Resolve for one final attack and it was looking like this trope was going to be used....she kicked him in the nuts. After that, Set admitted that he was holding back on her. Unluckily for him, that kick was painful enough to make him stop upholding the force field and released the superheroes who unleashed a giant ass-kicking upon him.
- The Thing is another character whose strength has actual limits and there are some foes that he simply cannot overpower. Although we pretty much have to be told this for this to be true, at one point he was even asked point blank how strong he was and his answer was "STRONG ENOUGH!"
- Peter David pretty much stated this trope when responding to comments of his writing of She-Hulk. Fanboys were quibbling about She-Hulk's power level under PAD's run and he said she'd be as strong as the story required - as the story was more important than the stats.
- Legion Of Super-Heroes has the character Nemesis Kid, whose power is exactly this. He develops abilities strong enough to deal with anyone he's directly fighting. If he fights a martial artist, his skills will be superior, if he fights a cosmic powerhouse, his strength will go through the roof. Naturally the only way to defeat him is to go after him in pairs because he can only adapt to one power at a time. He dies at the hands of Princess Projectra, not a particularly strong fighter, whose only ability is casting illusions. He can see through them, but this does not stop her from snapping his neck for murdering her husband.
- Sentry has this problem, one time being able to fight with Hulk as equal, having his ass handed to him by She-Hulk or Hercules another and then going into a level where he can kill Ares, wipe the floor with Thor and destroy Asgard single-handedly or kill Molecule Man. May be justified as his powers may depend on his emotional level or how much he's infulenced by the Void
- Not to mention the writer. At any given time he may just be Super-Fabio, but then again he may also be a high scale reality warper, have complete control over every molecule in the universe, or be the angel of death
- Gladiator from the Shi-Ar Imperial Guard and his evil female version Stronian have powers depending on their confidence, so if they fell even smaller fear, doubt or regret, they're getting weaker.
- This is actually part of Venom (Mac Gargan)'s powers; when injured or threatened, the symbiote can increase in mass and strength to meet whatever threat it is fighting with equal force.
- Deadpool, whose healing powers are literally taken from Wolverine, has his own healing ability fluctuate wildly depending on how powerful they need to be for the plot. This is explained away as a result of the constant battle between his cancer and his healing powers, as sometimes the cancer gains ground and sometimes the healthy cells gain ground. It even becomes a major plot point when his healing factor stays in a weakened state and he seeks medical attention to try and improve it. He is literally immortal though, since after meeting Death herself when he was having near death experiences he fell in love with her, Thanos became jealous of Deadpool and prevents his soul from passing on so they can never be together.
- Jack Kirby's Celestials, through it's more visible at alternate realities - in Earth X they as a whole cannot match Galactus, in other worlds they are capable of effortlessly killing three wielders of The Infinity Gauntlet and in What If: Secret Wars they can take Doctor Doom, possessing the Infinity Gauntlet AND the power of the Beyonder, despite that both are individually powerful enough to defeat Abstracts, who are supposed to be far above Celestials. And in another reality one of them is no stronger than a fleet of spaceships.
- Deconstructed with Plutonian in Irredeemable - he doesn't really have super strength - he is a reality warper and breaks laws of physics without thinking about it, so he can subconciously set himself to be as strong as the situation requires him to.
- Lobo may have this as an explicit superpower. Or he could have been lying. Regardless, he can go toe to toe with Superman and regenerate From a Single Cell... and then get himself killed (briefly) by a surprise knife to the guts.
- Wolverine pulls this off in X-Men: The Last Stand when he faces down Phoenix in the climactic scene of the movie. His healing powers are inexplicably multiplied to the point where he can walk up to Phoenix (who by this point had already atomized several main characters and the entirety of Alcatraz island), taking multiple psychic blasts which flay the muscles from his bones only to fully regenerate in less than a second. Keep in mind that this version of Wolverine took some time to heal from a single gunshot or being hit by a log. This was so egregious that it got a Word Of God Retcon, stating that Phoenix's out-of-control abilities also amplified the powers of nearby mutants.
- In Push, Nick starts out unable even to fix a roll of the dice, and ends up kicking Victor's well-trained and highly experienced ass, even though Victor was shown earlier literally mopping the floor with Nick... and the ceiling, too. Similarly, during the fight he lost, Nick is shown deflecting a bullet, a trick he had not practiced or even seen until just moments before. All this with no training, and with very little practice, apparently only because It Was Time For Him To Win.
- Also, during the final confrontation, Agent Carver clearly pushes Nick mentally ("WHERE WERE WE?!")... but instead of jumping, as he was presumably pushed to do, Nick turns around and tele-punches Carver. How did he do this? No one, before or after that moment, was ever shown as able to resist a push.
- Godzilla's power varies from film to film. Sometimes, he's able to defeat enemies with a single breath of his atomic breath, while others, he struggles in a tooth-N-claw battle against his enemies. Most of this is explained by many of the movies are set in one of several Alternate Universes, so they would be different versions of Godzilla. Still, particularly in the later Showa era, Godzilla usually suffers a total Curbstomp Battle in round one, and then inexplicably bounces back more powerful than before. During his "second wind" he will be able tot counter or outright ignore the attacks that caused him severe injury the first time. While Godzilla does have regeneration as one of his powers, the speed and convinence of these turnarounds is still somewhat odd. The best example of this is in Godzilla Vs Gigan, where Godzilla gains a true second wind after being beaten to the point of being little more than rag doll in Gigan and King Ghidorah's claws, to turning the entire battle around after being thrown into a building and smashing it. A variant of this occurs in Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla which had him gain a new power (temporarily) to get a good grip on his foe.
- This is actually the ability of David in Unbreakable where he is as physically strong as he needs to be. Demonstrated where no matter how much weight that was added he could still lift it.
- This happens on both sides of the fence in the Warhammer 40000 fiction. Often Chaos Space Marines or other alien enemies of the Imperium require a lot of Imperial Guard cannon fodder to be hurled at them before they die. Then you have series like Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts, where the killing of Chaos Space Marines is almost-but-not-quite offhanded.
- This is often true of the loyalists as well.
- Guants group did shoot them in the back from ambush while they were utterly massacring another Imperial unit.
- Orcs get this treatment a lot too. Sometimes they are almost a joke and a minor threat to guardsmen unless they have a huge numbers advantage, and sometimes the same kind will be a difficult fight to Space Marines one-on-one. Same applies to Tyranids.
- Orcs are a special case. A feral Ork army is almost laughable in terms of strength, while a carefully constructed WAAAGH! is almost unstoppable. Often, you'll see something in between the two. The strength of the Orks depends on the strength of the local WAAAGH! It's a species that runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, thus Strong as They Need to Be is easily justified. The writer just has to limit how hard they can "clap."
- This is not strictly correct. The strength of Orks actually depends on the strength of their opponent. Orks are a survivor race, and much like the Darwin Boy example in the Comics section, Orks are actually a very straight example of this trope. Orks who face a more powerful and able opponent will be just as tough, whereas if the opponent is incompetent they wont be any worse, but they'll not be any better than they would normally be. So it isn't about the whole Clap Your Hands If You Believe, which is not just innaccurate, but overused concerning Orks, but it is that Orks get better through reacting to stimuli. Comparing Orks between stories, or in certain games such as Gorkamorka, where they don't have as much of a dedicated opponent, the contrast is rather striking.
- Possibly justifiable in cases where the story is about different chapters/regiments/hives/etc. as experience plays a big part in war.
- The Imperial Guard often suffer from the inverse form of this trope being as Weak As They Need To Be. Their performance will be pitched at a level where they are being beaten and thus need rescue by the heroes of the story but not being so badly outclassed that those few heroes can't make the difference between defeat and victory.
- This is an explicit rule in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. The Powers That Be ensure that every wizard has enough power to deal with whatever the current crisis is. Luckily, drama is preserved by making failure a real option; just because you're strong enough to solve the problem doesn't mean you'll figure out the solution, or want to pay the price.
- This is also why older wizards tend to be weaker than their younger counterparts. Their skill with magic is such that they don't need as much power.
- Done well, and justified, in a fight scene from Too Many Magicians: Lord Ashley is dueling a villain whose sword is enchanted, and keeps flickering in and out of visibility. As he's pressed hard by his foe's invisible attacks, Ashley's fear activates his own power of prescience, allowing him to intuit exactly where the blade will strike next. This turns the tables on the villain, who begins a fighting retreat ... at which point, Lord Ashley's growing confidence causes his prescient power to shut down again, as it's established that it only works when he's under stress. Luckily for him, his opponent doesn't realize that's what happened, and when Ashley hesitates, his foe seizes the opportunity to escape rather than attack.
- In the Dragonriders of Pern book All the Weyrs of Pern, a character asks one of the dragonriders how much a dragon can lift. F'lar, the Dragonrider, considers the question before answering "they can lift as much as they think they can." This turns out to be Justified a few books down the line, when it's revealed the dragons have telekinetic powers that somehow no one had noticed in over 2,500 years.
- In the Elric Saga, Stormbringer is noticeably fickle this way. It can empower Elric to slaughter his way through hundreds of human opponents or even kill gods one day and have trouble dealing with a single lesser (if generally still supernatural) foe the next, as the plot and Rule of Drama demand. Of course, it's worth remembering that the runeblade is itself of demonic origin, alive and sentient in its own fashion, and obviously evil to the point of outright treachery at times...
Live Action TV
- Pro wrestling loves this trope. The good guy will consistently get beaten and be depicted as brutalized and exhausted, until they suddenly bounce back for a victory.
- Inverted in the MST-bait Puma Man, in which the "superhero" is capable to tearing apart a car or ripping into a brick wall with his bare hands, but at the movie's climax is just barely able to overpower an elderly Donald Pleasence in a struggle.
- In the Buffyverse as a whole the strength of vampires varies greatly, from clearly superhuman on a level that can't hope to be matched (Buffy and Angel Season 1) to being able to be beat by the Badass Normal of Angel, Charles Gunn, easily.
- When asked about the strength of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon replied, literally "as strong as the plot needs her to be".
- Angel tended to do this a lot as well. Particularly notable with Connor, whose abilities seemed to correspond directly to how inconvenient it would be. When he's on their side, gets beaten up by practically everything not an ordinary vampire. When fighting against them, took out almost the entire team single handed, twice.
- But then again, he ended a threat that had lasted for an entire season by punching a hole in the face of an "evil" goddess'. Because he was the only one awake who could.
- In Smallville's Grand Finale, Clark flies up to Apokolips, a planet with engines on it, and shoves it all the way back into space saving the day and exhibiting about a billion times the super strength he's ever demonstrated in the TV series. This is Silver Age level power for Superman and even that character was normally moving inert planets when he moved something that massive.
- In Supernatural, vampirized Hunter Gordon Walker was strong enough to rip off two vampire's heads and could even kill his partner with his bare hands, but when fighting Sam, his strength appeared to be downgraded.
- Castiel tends to fall in to this as well, likely because he's so powerful the writers feel they need to gimp him to keep the Badass Normals relevant. In his first appearance in season 4, he's described as "cosmic" and both the heroes and villains seem to think he's more powerful than anything they've encountered. Half a season later, he gets his ass kicked by Alistair. In season 5, he's cut off from Heaven and gradually loses his powers, however the order he loses them in doesn't make much sense (his healing is gone by the second episode, yet he's still able to time travel halfway through the season). In season 6, he gets his powers back, but major villain Eve is somehow able to nullify them by virtue of being older than he is. The writers tried to reverse this in season 7 by making the leviathans even stronger than angels, but due to them displaying far less power and routinely getting their asses kicked by humans, demons and ghosts (all of which are much weaker than angels) this came off as a bit of an Informed Ability.
- In Toku series such as Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Power Rangers and the like, this trope is in effect, with power levels depending on how pissed you are, what time of episode it is and how fast the plot needs to move past one fight, and how loud you yelled before rushing in. Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger, a parody Super Sentai series, had the Rangers realize that the general leaving is like an Event Flag for the good guys to start winning; the Monster of the Week was been invincible before, but they realize what always happens soon after the general says something to the effect of "I'll leave this to you" to the monster. As suddenly they're pummeling the previously-unbeatable foe, Red triumphantly cries out that consistent power levels do not exist! Yeah, it's that kinda series.
- Cutscenes. In any game Cutscenes will either give you a game breaking ability you never get to use in gameplay or knocked out by the but of a gun despite normal gameplay that only makes you slightly dizzy.
- In any game with Action Commands expect to see this happen. Characters do notable things getting to that point in the fight, but then do something a fare deal more impressive well when they need to.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake's barely able to fight after being stabbed in the shoulder, but spends a good five minutes in a microwave corridor intended to vapourise anyone who entered immediately after suffering a heart attack, and is still just about able to kick away Scarabs.
- In Devil May Cry 4, Nero's Devil Bringer can bring small enemies in and toss them easily and against large ones bring him in fast. Against bosses it gets alot more powerful, tossing a dazed Berial and Dagon, block punches from the massive Savior and become five times larger to break its face apart.
- God Of War: Kratos has this all the time. It's particularly notable in the second game when the Colossus of Rhodes stamps on him, and he tosses it away. But there's a wall in the way? Must go all the way around this convoluted route rather than just, I don't know, knock a hole in it. Or in the first game, when your method of getting through a gate with thin bars that something else already ripped a hole in is to push over a 60 foot high statue.
- Maybe Kratos has extra powers when attacking statues?
- In God of War 2, his insane strength might be justified that in the beginning Kratos still has all the powers a full-fledged god can brag about, he doesn't brag "Fear the new god of war" while beating the first mooks for nothing, still the trope applies for the rest of the second game and the sequel as well, in God of War 3 Kratos stripped of all his powers he gained on the previous game, can take the pressure of Chronos — a being who dwarfs the Colossus of Rhodes — trying to squash him and push him away, after this display of strength it makes one wonder why Kratos needs to face through all the puzzles and locked doors at all.
- Well, he's a god of war. Maybe he's strongest when he's got something to fight?
- No, look, Kratos is CHAMPION of this trope. Strength: he has to struggle to overpower and mouthstab a minotaur, but he is also able to pry apart Chronos's fingers, and just before Chronos he was overpowered (depending on your quicktime reactions) by an old man, Daedalus, who is a great inventor but NOT a warrior by any means. Durability: he can take blows and blasts from Gods and hill sized Titans and stand up singed but fighting fit, but miss a jump over a 20 foot cliff face or land on spikes or in the ocean or something and he dies...
- Ser Cauthrien in Dragon Age: Origins is a boss example. Despite being an experienced soldier and undeniably a Badass Normal, she somehow has almost as much health as a fifty foot tall dragon.
- In the older Warcraft games and stories, Deathwing was, while powerful, still rivaled by the other Aspects and it was only by tricking them into creating the Dragon Soul and wielding it against them was he able to pose a significant threat to all four of them combined. This was also initially the case after he returned in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, as he fought the Life Aspect Alexstrasza in the Twilight Highlands and, while Deathwing won, the fight was fairly even and both of them were severely injured by the end of it. It's later revealed that Deathwing was saturated with dark energies to such an extent that he was effectively unkillable even by entities like Alexstrasza and the other Aspects. In order to wipe his matter from existence and kill him for good, you need a much greater amount of power delivered in a much briefer assault—so they grab the Dragon Soul from the past, supercharge it with more power than it's ever had, attune it to Deathwing so it can harm him, and get Thrall to fire it at him... and even then, it takes multiple shots.
- Sonic the Hedgehog's speed is very inconsistent from game to game. At Sonic's best he's fast enough to outrun planes, rockets, missiles, etc. while at his worst Sonic can barely outrun an eighteen wheeler.
- Bayonetta's ability to activate witch time seems to be on when the plot needs her to have it. She can activate it for minutes at a time at will with no cost, during normal gameplay she needs to precisely dodge attacks or use magical energy with a device.
- How high and how far Mario is capable of jumping varies from game to game and whether or not he is under player control at the time. For instance, Mario will be unable to jump over obstacles unaided if at all that he would have been more than capable of jumping over unaided in other games, and/or still not be able to do the same despite demonstrating the ability to jump significantly higher than said obstacles in cutscenes or in battle in the very same game.
- The superheroine Tennyo in the Whateley Universe. In the novel "Boston Brawl", she suddenly gained increased regeneration and strength. In her novel "Christmas Crisis" she went all out to save her parents, and pretty much ripped reality apart. And maybe survived a tactical nuke, or else she somehow teleported away. The author hasn't told us yet.
- Chou Lee can be 'filled with the Tao', and according to her author, become strong enough to kill anything.
- Angry Video Game Nerd example. The nerd is able to beat Jason in a fight, but has trouble beating The Nostalgia Critic.
- Every single character from Bob and George (though it is sometimes justified). For example, at one point George can't even harm the villain with any of his lightning attacks. Yet later on he destroys an entire castle/base by accident. Megaman's intelligence (and thus, battle skills) also fluctuate alot, but this is explained within the story.
- Actually, it was explained why George couldn't use his powers against Mynd; Mynd was able to just absorb the electricity. There's also the fact he appears to have a limit on how often he can use his powers (his MP- er, Weapon Energy). And by accident? He destroyed that castle because he was pissed that he had been hung up from the ceiling for months and could have done something about it, but he couldn't because he forgot he could.
- Played for Laughs in The Order of the Stick with Crystal. As Haley's personal rival, she is always the same level as Haley. Even if she does nothing to earn these levels.
- Nodwick's muscle strength is just enough to carry whatever load he is asked to move but is not suggested to have super strength.
- Unlike most of the examples here, people have noticed this as an ability of henchmen in general and taken advantage of it. One villain even kidnapped the entire henchman guild to use them to build a temple because each one could lift stone blocks that would take a team of men.
- In L's Empire, the king or queen of the Kayoss will always be stronger than the combined power of those they are fighting.
- In Homestuck, during the Trolls' battle against the Black King of their session, Gamzee suddenly unleashes never before seen power against him, doing almost as much damage as Vriska, a God Tier character with manipulation of luck.
- Not almost as much - it was stated he did the single strongest attack in the battle. No one has any idea what he did, but he was stronger that everyone.
- Butch of Chopping Block is overweight and out-of-shape, and was once outrun by an old lady with a walker, but whenever his life is in danger, he becomes absurdly lethal. Chalk it up to the strip's Negative Continuity.
- In Teen Titans, due to the emphasis on the Rule Of Cool, the team's powers and abilities were considerably up and down. One infamous example was the case where superpowerless Boy Wonder was able to singlehandedly beat down Cinderblock, with his bare hands. Every other time however, Robin and his teammates struggled to defeat him. The Titans often reached literal godlike levels during the season finales.
- Let's not forget Cyborg's little trick of reassembling himself after Brother Blood literally took him apart in a fight. This was so ridiculous that the writers included a line of dialogue stating that this was a one time thing.
- Raven's strength fluctuations are legendary. In some cases she's been beaten by just having her mouth forced shut, but when the plot calls for it she's capable of soloing her Physical God father. Justified because Raven's powers are fueled by her emotions; the more passionate she becomes about defeating an enemy, the stronger her powers become in order to accomplish it.
- Starfire is pretty bad about this trope. She can survive extreme environments when the plot calls for it, and be totally helpless when it doesn't. In one episode, Starfire winds up wandering around frozen tundra, apparently in danger of freezing to death. Given her super speed and flight abilities, there was nothing in that episode stopping her from flying out of the area, or back to Titans Tower to get proper equipment if things get too hairy. Then too there might be an explanation for both her (and Raven's) powers in that they're emotion based, which means that theoretically, a villain could defeat Starfire by getting her depressed enough.
- But the strangest would have to be on 'Haunted' where Robin(HUMAN!) manages to "hurt" her just by grabbing her arms?! Granted at that moment she is really shocked and confused at the way Robin was acting. But this is an alien that took a blast to her face in 'Troq' where she was also visibly upset at being discriminated by Val-Yor.
- Cyborg and Starfire's Super Strength also varies greatly just compared to each other, as one can be shown at any given moment to be several magnitudes stronger than the other.
- In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, certain of the more powerful villains were shown to be able to give He-Man a good trouncing on their very first try. However, if the same villains found themselves tangling with his weaker archfoe Skeletor, they were shown to be unable to inflict so much as a wrinkle on his clothes. This went on up until the introduction of King Hsss, who proved to be eviler than any of them.
- In the 2002 version, He-Man's Strong As He Needs To Be nature was perhaps best exemplified by the time he effortlessly lifted a stone tower that had to weigh in excess of a hundred tons and threw it into the sun. Punching any of the bad guys with a similar level of force should've turned them into a pasty smear on the nearest wall, yet they were always treated as legitimate threats.
- In the comic book version He-Man's special power is specifically defined as the ability to have exactly the amount of strength he needs to accomplish what he's trying to do at the moment, but no more.
- The Powerpuff Girls are notorious for this. One episode will have them
swatting skyscraper-sized monsters with ease (often with just one of the girls doing the dirty work) proving themselves to adult heroes as the mightiest supers in their entire universe, and another will have all three girls get beaten down by a gang of ordinary thugs.
- Not to mention one time where an overweight nerd was able to trap them in toy packaging. I mean, SERIOUSLY?!
- Ladies & gentlemen, The Tick. This trope is a perfect description of his "drama power."
- The in-story description of it is "nigh-invulnerability." The Tick is always the exact right amount of invulnerable to keep the plot going. So he's much more vulnerable during slapstick scenes.
- The Simpsons: Comedic example: Mr. Burns. He's always depicted as frail and weak, but just how frail and how weak depends on whatever makes the joke work.
- Mesmero from X-Men: Evolution. In his first appearance, he's a strong enough telepath to fight Xavier to a draw, but in his next episode Xavier defeats him easily. For most of his appearances he's a Squishy Wizard, but in the Dark Horizon Season Finale he can suddenly take on Wolverine and Sabertooth at the same time. Possibly justified because Mesmero's powers were granted by Apocalypse, and the old mutant may well have adjusted how much power he let his minion use based on how much he thought he'd need.
- Actually, even in his first appearance, Xavier was mindraping Mesmero quite well until a mysterious voice(Apocalyse) said something about not knowing who he's dealing with, and suddenly Xavier is being plastered on the ground.
- The Enforcers of Jackie Chan Adventures. In some episodes, Jackie effortlessly curbstomps all three with no effort, and a handicap to boot; in others, just one is enough to give him trouble for no noticeable reason.
- As noted above, Gladiator powers are based on his confidence and his appearances during Phoenix Saga in X-Men really shows it. At his first appearance he simply ignores Juggernaut punching him and then threw him to the ocean with one hand. Later, feeling conflicted about fighting Rogue against his personal code allows her to knock him out with one punch.
- The mane cast of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is often subject to this. One example is Twilight Sparkle, whose telekinetic strength varies quite a bit (at one point, she lifts a huge bear and large water tower simultaneously, then later in the series, struggles to pull Fluttershy out of a box, even with the help of her friends). Fluttershy is almost a literal example, as she can match the speed of Rainbow Dash, the fastest pony alive, when she needs to, but in "Hurricane Fluttershy", can only get about one-fifth of Dash's wingpower, despite her training beforehand, and only pulls about half Dash's wingpower because she absolutely needed to. Big Macintosh is able to pull and entire two story house in one episode, but struggles to carry a large cake in another (although balancing is admittedly more difficult than pulling). Spike is repeatedly, explicitly shown to be stronger than his size should allow, but sometimes has difficulty in fetching large books.
- This is common in Gargoyles, especially with Goliath. Sometimes he can rip the pusher off a bulldozer and hurl it through the air but at other times he has trouble taking on one very strong human.
- Adrenaline does this. People lift cars up to get someone they care about out from under them.