Common enemies that the attacks are effective against can easily be disposed of by use of normal attacks, which means there's no sense in wasting time and magic power on fancy maneuvers. Who's going to waste 36MP to cast Instant Death on the local harmless Underground Monkey? Or wait for Poison to kill your opponent when often other methods do damage much faster? This is perhaps one of the most common examples of this trope — in some games it's quicker to just beat them up in a couple rounds instead of spending a round or two inflicting debuffs or status ailments and then beating them up. (This varies; sometimes there is a boss or an Elite Mook that requires more strategy.)
The spell simply has a very low success rate.
A glitch in the game's programming makes the spell less effective than it was meant to be.
The effect is something which only becomes significant after surviving a battle. Poison is often far too slow to make a difference during Random Encounters, but you have to cure it or take constant damage even when not fighting.
Of course, when any enemy possesses such spells, they will invariably be effective when used on you, unless you happen to be wearing a type of armor that protects against such attacks or status effects. In many cases, this explains the presence of the spell; it's not so useful in the player's hands, but when the enemy uses it against the party, it's a significant threat.
Most character classes made up of buff / debuff effects like this tend to be much less popular than others for these reasons. However, it's averted with relative frequency; many games do allow for some very effective use of traditionally "Useless" spells. One trick is to pair up the effect with a normal attack, meaning that if the spell misses, the player still deals damage. Other games, especially the more strategic ones, make these spells useful by having Elite Mooks who are genuinely dangerous in battle but without such immunities, or simply by having base Mooks be more credible opponents.
These attacks are also far more useful in MMORPGs due to generally stronger Mooks and player controlled enemies that are very vulnerable to such tactics. Useless Useful Spells are often hated among MMORPG communities for their ability to handicap player characters (often even better than when used on Mooks due to the computer cheating). However, in PvP, that is a different story!
Judging by the way this has been going away in recent years and is less and less accepted, it seems to be on its way to becoming a Discredited Trope. May however be an Acceptable Break from Reality regarding some; because it would not make a boss (especially the Final Boss) very challenging to be able to just hit "Instant Death".
Super Trope to Contractual Boss Immunity. Compare Awesome but Impractical. Contrast with the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality, where the more powerful something is in combat, the less it is outside of it.
When an otherwise Useless Useful Spell is redeemed by being useful against a specific boss or in a particular situation, it is Not Completely Useless.
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Dungeons & Dragons, the original RPG, completely inverts this trope in its 3rd edition; traditionally Useless Useful Spells tend to be the most useful spells in the game, with direct damage spells falling well below them in power level. This is because most spells are equally likely to succeed in affecting a foe, thus a spell which can kill a foe is far more effective than a spell which can hurt one. Some status affecting spells automatically succeed, and many others are essentially the same as spells which outright kill foes because they completely disable them for long periods of time, allowing players to kill them at their leisure. Relatively few foes are immune to such spells, while many foes are resistant to elemental damage spells, adding insult to injury. A wide variety of spells which don't even directly harm opponents are also extremely powerful, and all in all this leads to wizards and other powerful spellcasters being game breakers. This is played straight however in the "mobility" feat, which gives you an AC bonus against Attacks of Opportunity, the problem is that anyone who needs the Prestige Class or feats it qualifies you for has Tumble, which means you don't provoke Ao O...
But it gets nasty in the Epic Level Handbook. If you look at the creature section, you'll see 9 times out of 10 that the creature is immune to: Paralyze, Sleep, Polymorph, Level Drain, Instant Death, Necromancy Effects (those last 3 makes Epic Necromancers hinge their teeth in frustration), Stun, Mind Effects, Daze, Criticals (just to make critical specialization useless). Not to mention that in turn these monsters will almost certain have something like Implosion, Weird or Wail of Banshee at will (save or die for the whole group) and one or two nastier epic spell once a day. Not to mention Greater Dispel or Epic Dispel at will to take out any immunity to death spell the group might have. Of course this is sort of offset by the fact that by then the characters gain the ability to resurrect themselves at will with no XP penalties (there's a price, but minor by now). Still, I didn't get at the billion and one ways these creatures have to kill character class without any chance of revival.
The other thing you have to consider here is that the Epic Spellcasting rules effectively turn any character with 21+ CL into a Person of Mass Destruction. The fact that they pretty much ignore most of the limits and immunities created by normal spellcasting is just icing on the cake. Using the printed rules you can quite easily synthesize a spell that, when cast once, effectively makes the caster powerful enough to kick the asses of every single character ever printed in any supplement. At once. Without using magic. The levels from 20-21 aren't so much quadratic in growth as much as dividing by zero.
Oddly enough, the trope is followed in Dungeons & Dragons Online, the MMORPG. Although instant kills are still very effective against Mooks, bosses are immune to most if not all mind-affecting and instant death spells. Thankfully, this only applies to the main bosses of dungeons, and, anyway, fights with them are not supposed to be "CHAAARGE -- Oh, he died."
They seem to be attempting to fix this with the recent spell passes, and prestiges for Wizards and Sorcerors. And if you're soloing as a Pale Master, Wail and Finger are still the best bang for your buck, spell-point-wise.
In 4th Edition, however, direct-damage and status-effect spells are much more balanced, because although very few enemies are immune to status effect spells, most status effects can be ended with a "saving throw" that the victim has a 55% chance of making every round, so most status effects don't last more than a couple rounds. It is possible, however, to 'permanently' stun an enemy at high levels by using the Orb of Imposition to give an enemy such a high save penalty that he can't succeed.
To add insult to injury, the guys you really want to lock down for a round or two (nasty Solos) are usually the exact same guys that have a +5 bonus to their saving throws, meaning that they will make the save in 80% of all cases. Thus a condition like "... until the end of your next turn" is usually much more useful than "... save ends", because the Solo will most probably make his save anyway, ending the effect on his turn instead at the end of the round.
The Orb of Imposition's penalty now only applies to one saving throw. There are other saving throw penalties that you can apply to all saves, but not enough to make the save impossible (and thus permanently lock the enemy down).
3.5 ed Cleric spells like Righteous Might and Divine Power tend to fall into this category. A fully buffed Cleric is perhaps the most deadly close combat fighter in the game, but by the time you're finished casting spells, the fight is almost over anyway. Now, if you have time to plan your attack, then it's another matter entirely...
Of course,there is then the infamous gamebreaking nightstick, divine metamagic and permanency combo. Basically, nightsticks give turning attempts, stack and are cheap. Divine metamagic allows to do things such as make the buffs last 24 hours for turning attempts. So the ultimate warrior is not the fighter or barbarian but the cleric.
Specific example: Detect Undead. Detect Evil is of the same level and lasts 10 times as long and picks up every undead creature (even the ones of good alignment). The only saving grace detect undead has is that it appears on the wizards spell list as well.
Detect Undead also detects Deathless, which show up as Good instead of Evil — so it's not completely useless... Why anyone who worries about Undead would also worry about Deathless is another matter entirely.
There are, however, "stock" uses for Wish (and its divine cousin Miracle) which are reliable and usually not subject to any Jerkass Genie tendencies the DM may have. These include permanent stat boosts (expensive as hell, but worth it for high level characters), the creation of magic items (though by now you can probably craft them yourself with less XP cost), and duplicating pretty much any lower level spell. That last one is why high level spellcasters love to have a Wish or Miracle available. Sure, trading a 9th level spell for an 8th or lower level one sounds like a lousy deal, but the fact that it can grant access to spells you don't have prepared, don't know, or aren't even available to your class makes it a great tool in an emergency.
In some ways the blast weapons of Warhammer 40,000 is starting to turn this way. Most blast weapons are quite powerful, especially heavy ordinance weapons, but due to the new way of resolving Blast weapons, you'd be pretty lucky if the shot land anywhere near your intended target (it's entirely possible that the shot will make a "return to sender" move, and there's a good chance of it happening too!). While a Space Marine can be very accurate with his aim-based Krak Missile, he is a worse shot than a drunk stormtrooper when it comes to firing the explosive Frag variant. Both missiles are fired from the same weapon.
Also, there are very powerful weapons called meltas that basically take any vehicle or Elite Mook and melt them into slag. However, nearly all meltas in the game have a 12" range (pretty much the shortest range outside of some irregular Tyranid ones) and only obtain their extra armour penetration ability within half that. While Space Marines with insane defenses can quite happily walk up to an enemy Heavy Support unit and annihilate it with one of these, more physically frail units like Eldar will often find themselves floored by the entire enemy's weapons before they can fire them.
Which is why everyone pulls them in a transport, and thanks to the Eldar having some of the fastest ones in the game it completely makes the meltas range issue moot.
The tyranids have a variant of this. Warp Lance is a powerful Anti-tank weapon with a Strength value of 10 and AP value of 1 (the best the stats can be) as well as the Lance attribute, meaning the only thing it's short of being the best anti-tank weapon in the game is Melta. It however only has a range of 18 inches, just barely outside of charging range. On top of that the Zoanthrope is a classic example of a Squishy Wizard, having a low number of wounds and a save easily penetrable by rapid-fire weapons, not to mention being gibbed by most tank weapons, the very things it's trying to hunt. There is also a slight chance that the Zoanthrope will suffer a brain tumor if the spell goes awry.
Pinning is worse off. Blast and Melta weapons have limitations that can be overcome, as the tank-happy Imperial Guard are happy to demonstrate. Pinning requires that the enemy is vulnerable to it. Most armies have either a preponderance of Fearless units (Chaos Marines, Chaos Daemons, Tyranids, Orks), very high Leadership (Space Marines, Eldar, Dark Eldar), or else use many small units of infantry who rely on tanks for their big hitters (Imperial Guard). Ironically, one of the few armies vulnerable to Pinning, the Tau, are its biggest users.
For Grey Knight Paladins, Feel No Pain. Paladins are Terminators that have 2 wounds, and with Feel No Pain can virtually double that survivability because statistically half the wounds of small arms fires will be ignored. Looks great on paper, not so much in practice. The Apothecary upgrade needed for that Fn P costs 75 points, enough for another Paladin to join the squad (note that this upgrade does not give the unit another body, it just makes an existing Paladin an apothecary). On top of that, because of their high armor save and 2 wounds, Paladins are scared shitless of any AP 2 or Strength 8+ weapons already, which are the only things that will now stop their Feel No Pain, turning them from once being possible targets to now Tankshell magnets. Several who argued that Feel No Pain was considered a Game Breaker later had a serious case of Did Not Think This Through.
The Elder Scrolls games tend to fall victim to this. They typically include lots of negative status effects and very strong buffs, but most status effects fall victim to "why don't you just kill him" syndrome while buffs tend to last for a very short time and keeping them active slows you down more than being a little more careful in combat ever will. In the end, all you need in combat is paralysis and the biggest boom you can get.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and its gazillion offensive and defensive magic effects, almost all of which available to create custom spells, most of them useless compared to simply blasting away with damaging spells.
Noise: 3-8% chance that an enemy spell fails, melee range, lasts 5 seconds. This is admittedly a low level spell, but all of the higher level ones have a very low minimum chance (2-60%??) and all of them last 5 seconds.
Armor Eater: 10-30 points of durability damage to an equipped item. Given that each individual piece of armor has three figure durability and unique items often have thousands of it, and there are 9 armor pieces, good luck grinding away their items. Or you could just make a spell that drains 100% of their armor skill, which leaves them with 0 armor and takes one cast and about twenty times less magicka and doesn't make you repair their loot.
Buoyancy: swim 1% faster for 20 seconds. There's also a potion like it, which lasts 8 seconds. It does give you the spell effect for use in the spell maker, but Fortify Speed is twice as effective for the same magicka cost and also works on land.
Spite: drain 5-20 points of personality from the target. The only personality stat that matters during conversation is your own, and casting it on your conversation partner counts as assault. The other Drain Attribute effects are equally dubious; it is neat that you can drain 5-20 points of luck from the target and reduce their chance to hit by up to 2.5%, but you probably have better things to do with your time. And then there's a series of Damage Attribute spells that do the same thing but less so and permanently.
Resist Corprus Disease doesn't do anything because the only time this disease is inflicted on you is during a quest and this always succeeds. Also, Weakness to [any] Disease spells are useless because the player has no way to apply diseases to enemies.
Overlapping spells in general. You can slow enemies with Burden, Damage Strength, Damage Speed, Drain Strength, Drain Speed, Damage Fatigue, Drain Fatigue, Absorb Fatigue, Paralyze (or a 1 point Levitate due to a bug), or weaken their casting capabilities with Sound, Silence, Damage Intelligence, Damage Willpower, Damage Magicka, Drain Intelligence, Drain Willpower, Drain Magicka, Absorb Magicka; ...
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion the spell/poison effect "Burden", which reduces the carrying capacity, potentially over-encumbering the victim, is only really useful for opponents to cast against the player, not the other way around, since the player is the only creature in the entire world who regularly (OK, always) carries enough stuff to almost max out their capacity. The player would have to inflict enormous amounts of the "Burden" effect on opponents to slow them down or stop them — and that only works on humanoid opponents who actually carry any equipment, unlike the numerous animals and monsters.
That said, the game is otherwise almost completely devoid of "it only works on the player" spells. It just makes the really useful effects either nearly inaccessible or extremely costly (not that this prevents players from finding Game Breakers).
Until later in the game, the Chameleon spell is entirely worthless, because it lasts a short time for a high cost, and only makes you partially invisible. That is, until you infuse 5 pieces of armor with 20% Chameleon effect, making you 100% invisible, ALL THE TIME. It utterly destroys the enemy AI's response mechanics, allowing the player to hack down everything with impunity because nothing would even attempt to attack you.
Drain spells for the most part affect enemies in ways that they would never use anyway. Drain personality and drain luck, anybody?
Drain health 100pt for 1 sec, on the other hand, is a Disc One Nuke. The victim gets the health back after a second, except if he died. Drain strength/agility/speed are also useful.
Certain Status Effects are the key to ultimate power. In particular, Weakness to Magic and Weakness to Fire/Frost/Shock. Combined, you can kill anything that vulnerable to it.
Dragonhide. This is one of two Master Alteration spells, requiring a quest that involves killing a dragon and retrieving an item. It is supposed to be the pinnacle of the line of alteration armor spells, and it delivers: it reduces physical damage taken by 80% and maxes out your armor rating. For 20 seconds (30 with the appropriate perk). Also, unlike every other armor spell in the game, its cast animation is not a quick 0.5 second one handed gesture but an elaborate 4 second ritual that takes up both hands and prevents you from moving. Any enemy deserving of 80% damage reduction is going to kill you before you can complete its casting.
The thu'um Elemental Fury ("Su Grah Dun") increases the speed of your weapon swings temporarily (i.e. you can attack more times in the same period). And it has no effect on enchanted weapons, which is the only kind most players will use. Compare with the Slow Time ("Tiid Klo Ul") shout, which works just fine with enchanted weapons and helps with evasion, as well.
Dogmeat, the player's canine companion in Fallout 3, is extremely death-prone at high-level play due to his low hit points. Since death is permanent in Fallout, Dogmeat therefore became of extremely marginal use. To counteract this, the Puppies! perk was added in a DLC expansion; this perk allowed Dogmeat to respawn (replaced by one of his puppies) any time he died. Trouble is, that same DLC expansion also made Dogmeat level with the player; thanks to his explosive Hit Point growth, Dogmeat became allsortsofinvincible, almost completely obviating the need to have him respawn. At best, you'd use the perk oncenote because the leveling-with-the-player feature doesn't kick in if you install the DLC after finding Dogmeat unless you use the perk to respawn him and then never take advantage of it again.
Might and Magic VI is a weird mix of aversion and using this trope. For one, most mind spells are useless against almost all tough enemies, which is where you would want to use them. There is a spell called Finger of Death which instantly kills a foe but has small rate of success (however your foes have much higher rates than you) and it's completely ineffective against tougher foes; plus you don't have access to it early on. On the other hand, there is a percentage damage spell which is extremely effective against powerful enemies (mass distortion) and other feels-like-cheating spells join the chorus as well, such as Fly, Town Portal and Lloyd's Beacon (instant teleport, by placing gates wherever the hell you want). And again, on the other side of table, you have spirit magic, a whole school of magic, which becomes completely redundant when you acquire light and dark magic, save for the life sharing spell, because there are three spells in these schools which cast all of the protective and boosting spirit ones, at a much higher level (they also send a fair amount of the other schools to the trash). There are also spells like fear, petrify, paralyze, etc, which only work on very low-level foes, making them redundant (by the time you acquire them). There's a resurrection spell on spirit magic, but after you become master of water it becomes redundant, since you can town portal to a temple and have them resurrect you.
Though this is mostly averted in the game, Persona 4 has light and dark spells, which only work on mooks, because they insta-kill. They also have much higher spirit point costs than regular elemental attacks, and a lower chance of hitting. Each character in the game has a particular skill specialization (fire, ice, physical attacks, etc), and Naoto has light/dark skills as a specialization. At worst, this trope can make Naoto's character as a whole next to useless, and many players don't even bother to level Naoto up or use the character at all as a member of their permanent party.
Naoto gets better in Persona 4 Golden, with a handful of other elemental attacks to balance them again.
Following the above, Persona 3 plays this trope straight for about twenty levels, then suddenly averts it. Persona 3 introduces "Mudo" (darkness, chance of instant death) at level 10 — it's a skill included with a persona available in the card shuffle. Unfortunately, Hama and Mudo skills won't become valuable for another 20 or so levels, when personae with much higher hit rates are available. "Mudo" is generally a Useless Useful Spell, particularly on a low-level persona, but Mudoon doubles your chance of success from 25 to 50 percent. Since "luck" is always boosted by at least one point when increasing "agility," your chances of inflicting instant death can easily overcome 1:1. The first spell in any sequence is usually "good idea, no chance of executing it" until you're able to acquire skills like Charm Boost, Auto-[Defence/Attack Boost], etc. This goes for your enemies as well — outside of a boss fight (or a Boss in Mook Clothing "purple Shadow" fight), they are equally incompetent with Hama, Mudo, Marin Karin, etc. Their best hope of success comes when (1) they are using at least the second evolution of the spell; (2) the party is significantly under-leveled; and (3) they target someone unable to resist. Junpei is defenseless against Hama and Mudo skills, but with a high evasion rate (or by decreasing the hit rate of the enemy), it's a moot point. If the enemy has the first turn, however, and a 1:1 chance of success, they may take out half your party with a group "instant kill" spell.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has the Dementation discipline "Vision of Death" and the Dominate disciplines "Suicide" and "Mass Suicide", all of which kill human and lesser Sabbat mooks instantaneously. They do not, however, have the same effect on tougher foes, although they can do a lot of damage to them.
Although one boss-level opponent (Chastity, a Slayer type, can be one-shotted with Vision of Death, if you catch her before she's braced for combat (and a Malkavian can). If you're not putting points towards guns, don't have Bedlam yet, and are still feeling violent, there are also ambushes where it's a solid alternative to trying for stealth kills.
The Gravity/Demi spells in almost any Final Fantasy suffer from a similar, if not quite identical, problem. Gravity spells cannot traditionally kill your enemy — it deals a percentage of their current health as damage, usually in increments of 10% or 25%. Theoretically, this is very useful for bosses and strong enemies — however, both of these tend to be resistant or immune to gravity. When they're not, though, it's often quite effective. It was also one of the best spells in Kingdom Hearts since it could work on several enemies in close quarters and would pull them to the ground and immobilize them; in the sequel, however, it was removed and replaced with the Magnet spell, one with somewhat more obvious uses.
The Demi series, surprisingly, works against EmeraldWEAPON. Since Emerald has, literally, a million hit points, you'll do 9,999 damage with it on nearly every turn, and when it starts inflicting less than 9,999 it means you're almost there. Of course, 9,999 is but a scratch to that boss, so better couple it with W-magic and Quadra Magic. And then mimic it.
Earth based magic and techniques tend to fall to the wayside due to a good amount of bosses and large enemies hovering above the ground, which makes all earth based attacks miss. On the plus side, those bosses tend to be resistant to Gravity instead of immune to it.
Several monsters in Final Fantasy VIIabsorb gravity—using it on them restores a percentage of their HP instead! With the right combination of materia (Elemental paired with Gravity on your armor) and sufficient Level Grinding (you need 40,000 AP on an Elemental materia), you could do this to your party as well.
Instant kill spells are particularly prone to this. When you get the spell, you're too desperate for the MP to use it; but the readier you are to use it, the more likely the enemies are to be highly resistant. And naturally, bosses are immune. Occasionally a boss will be vulnerable to the insta-kill spells, just for variety. The classic example is Tiamat, Fiend of Air in Final Fantasy, who can be killed instantly with BANE/Scourge or BRAK/Break (though it'll take you a few tries).
Reflect in most of the series are usually more trouble than they are worth. Most enemies that cast a spell that are either elemental and can absorb that element so you wind up healing them if the spell is bounced back or the spell they use is immune to being reflected. In some of the games, the computer says fuck it and can use spells on you while ignoring your reflect status completely. Using reflect also means more micro managing since beneficial magic like Cure and Esuna can also be reflected, making you use items instead (some games give the party the ability to ignore reflect status when casting).
FFIX averts this heavily for reflect, at least, though: not only can Eiko/Garnet pierce reflect to heal, but Vivi can double his damage output by reflecting his spells off his allies into his enemies, allowing him to hit the damage cap with Flare the moment he learns Reflect x2.
On a similar note, the confusion status is rarely helpful since the confused enemy may attack itself, snapping itself out of confusion. For the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Immobilize is useful at the start, but it quickly loses usefulness when you encounter enemies that have ranged attacks or have abilities that can hit you no matter where you run to.
Final Fantasy had more useless spells than any other game. AMUT (Vox in re-releases) reversed the effect of silence spells, except there is only one enemy in the entire game that uses it and your chances of ever seeing said enemy use it are slim. RUB, ZAP!, QUAK and XXXX (Death/Reaper, Warp, Quake and Kill in re-releases) were all useless instant death spells because by the time you could learn them... all enemies were invulnerable to it, except those that a White Mage could kill in a single punch. Even useful spells like HEAL, LIT2 FIR2 (Thundara and Fira) and others could be replicated by specific weapons and armors used as items during battles (Thor's Hammer for instance can cast LIT2).
Due to programming mistakes in the game, many spells actually did nothing...unless they were used on you, in which case they were absolutely devastating.
In a similar fashion, Steiner's Thunder Slash skill is supposed to cause lightning damage to an enemy, but it would always fail because of a programming glitch that mixed up its success rate with Iai Strike. When you fight Beatrix ( and later when she joins as a guest member), her version of the skill never fails because her skill isn't under the same programming like Steiner's. If Vivi is in the active roster with Steiner, you could get a similar effect by having Steiner use Thunder/Thundara/Thundaga Sword attack.
A notable exception was Kary/Maralith, who was actually quite vulnerable to several useless-useful status spells. Possibly the most hilarious way to deal with her was Confusing her into attacking herself for several rounds. So much for the Legendary Fiend of Fire.
Most spells in Final Fantasy II were useless aside from Cure, Life, element Magic, Flare, and Osmose. The reason for this is that any spell you picked up needed to be ground from scratch, which was painstaking even if you used the glitch that allowed you to speed it up by several orders of magnitude. You needed to cast buffs several hundred times before they'd reliably land on one person, much less the whole party. Debuffs needed even more ludicrous grind, since foes already have a propensity for resisting or being immune. The plot-central Ultima not only started at level 1 and came into play near the end, but nearly scaled worse than the spells you bought at the beginning of the game — and certainly worse than normal attacks.
However, if you did take the time to power up spells, they turned out extremely useful. A high-powered Teleport spell is relatively easy to get and kills a surprising number of creatures reliably. The Berserk and Haste spells make your physical attackers walking death machines, and proper application of the Toad spell makes much of the game a complete joke. (remakes of the game also significantly cut down on the grind needed to level up) Ultima still sucks, at least in the original release. It's meant to scale in power depending on every other spell and ability you've leveled up, but a glitch means that it, in a word, doesn't.
Kimahri picks up quite a few of these in Final Fantasy X if you find his Blue Mage-like ability to be interesting. For example, you can have him master the Stone Breath attack of an enemy...except that then we guarantee that whenever you use that particular Overdrive attack, the target will be immune to petrification. Even if it's a random encounter. That doesn't have petrify effects.
While Final Fantasy XIII averts most of the usual useless useful spells of the franchise, it still has one in the form of Quake. Quake is a technique, not a spell, so it runs off of Tech Points, which can only be recharged by doing well in battle, by using a particular accessory, or using a ludicrously rare Ethersol. You can have a maximum of five tech points, and Quake uses one. Yes, it hits everything on the field, but you're not going to waste a tech point on a rather weak spell when you could use it for offensive boons like Dispelga, Renew, or summoning your Eidolon.
It has one use: If you get a preemptive strike on a large group of enemies, Quake will instantly stagger everything on the field.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 has the Wound spell. Wounding reduces the max HP of the victim. On your characters, getting severely wounded was a grave concern, and a serious impetus to finish battles against enemies capable of Wounding quickly. Since enemies tend to have high HP and don't usually heal much, it's much less useful in player hands unless you have a monster with the Bloodthirsty ability.
The Jungle Law passive ability certain monsters have. It increases the strength and magic of the monster against enemies with less HP than they have, but decreases it against enemies with more HP. This is a game where your average mook has five digit HP, and since only a handful of monsters break five digits, it generally reduces them to infusion fodder or permanent benchwarmers.
The first Phantasy Star game had another almost certainly unintentional exception. There was a ROPE spell that would paralyze a monster, and a medusa boss that required a mirrored shield to defeat. If you successfully used the ROPE spell on the boss, the paralyzed medusa would not be able to turn anyone to stone and could be killed without the item.
However, Phantasy Star IV directly averts this. There are a number of instant death spells, most of which with a high enough success rate to be worth using against many enemies. (Still worthless against bosses, though.)
The fact that most of these spells didn't use MP but instead had their own limited use count also meant that you're not losing anything but a battle turn when the spells fail. Weapons with an added instant-death effect also didn't have a significantly lower regular attack power like in most other RPGs. Nice.
Baldur's Gate and its sequel. Bosses were invariably immune, petrification and disintegration would destroy your enemy's loot as well, and silencing was particularly useless, as every enemy wizard would immediately cast the "Vocalize" counterspell. Of course, you had to make sure to be protected against all of this; helmets of Charm Protection were indispensable. However, there were exceptions; debuff spells like "Dispel Magic" were indispensable even in your hands, since many of the bosses and mini-bosses of the game were spellcasters with so many protective spells stacked on that they were literally invulnerable without their aid. Furthermore, in the first game many of the bosses can be Charmed and even forced to kill themselves with their own spells.
To counteract this, several spells exist solely for making enemies more vulnerable to magic, occasionally making the Useless Useful Spell, well, useful. If you're enough Crazy-Prepared with spells of "Lower Resistance" (Self Explanatory) and "Greater Malison" (lower save rolls) then you can kill pretty much anything except the Big Bad and The Undead with a single "Finger Of Death" spell.
Very few bosses are in fact totally immune (as opposed to having ludicrous magic resistance or good saves) to every kind of status effect or instant-death attack. The trick is almost always to use the * right* one. It got even more ludicrous in Throne of Bhaal: One of the bosses' magic resistance can only be breached by a level 8 spell, but he ALSO casts a spell which protects against that particular kind of magic, so you need to use a separate level 7 spell to breach that one...
Most boss fights in Baldurs Gate 2 and Throne Of Bhaal are almost puzzle-like in nature, in that you need to figure out precisely what protections the boss is using, combined with innate abilities, in order to neutralize them. When you add the fact that many bosses have hidden immunities, that some of them bend or outright ignore the game rules, and that none of this is explained in the manual or anywhere in the game, it all adds up to a massive headache. In the end, it's usually easier to rely on the universal "dispel magic" spell (or even better, Inquisitor ability), summon creatures, and just whack everything with a big sword until it dies, rather than try to figure out the spell-counterspell tangle. Thankfully, in later games the whole system was somewhat simplified.
The second game also introduced Power Words which induce a status effect (sleep, silence, stun, or death, depending on the spell) in a single target. However, they're ineffective against targets with too many hit points, and in this case "too many" generally means "enough to be worth using a spell slot on it". The best use of most Power Word spells is in conjunction with Spell Trap and Project Image to refill a wizard's spell slots, although even that can be done faster with Wish.
Baldur's Gate and sequels use Vancian Magic: if you've got more Silence spells prepared than the enemy has Vocalize spells, you win. Of course, you've probably got better things to do with those spell slots, so...
Diablo 2 used to be chock-full of these — before synergies were introduced, characters would spend their early levels not wasting skill points on any low-level spell because it would be supremely ineffective even before the end of Normal, much less Nightmare and Hell difficulty. But even after synergies this trope persists, with several spells per character falling victim to Useless Usefulness:
Necromancers: The Weaken curse has never been useful; despite cutting monsters' physical damage by a third and having a wide area of effect, it is unnecessary in Normal and doesn't do nearly enough mitigation in Nightmare and Hell. It is also outclassed completely by Decrepify, which cuts monster offense in HALF, along with the monster's defense AND speed. Talk about obsolete!
The Magic Arrow spell lets 'zons fire arrows/bolts without worrying about ammunition. Yet arrows are so cheap, so many monsters drop them and they stack to such huge amounts that this never matters.
Ice Arrow. Completely outclassed by Freezing Arrow aside, it doesn't even synergy well with FA, only providing a measly 0.2 extra second of freezing per hard point.
Conversion is one of the worst attacks in the game. While it does have a chance of converting monsters, doing so usually takes much longer than just killing them. Even worse, after they change back, they retain your beneficial aura (or are immune to your offensive aura) for a short period of time. So the demon charging at you has your own Fanaticism...
The healing aura, Prayer, heals far too little and drains too much mana to be of any use, even at the beginning of the game when you get it. Their Blessed Aim and Might Auras are also outclassed (by Fanaticism and Concentration), plus the former two can be obtained on a mercenary.
Two words: Increased Stamina. More words: You never really have trouble with stamina, and even if you do, there are always better places to spend your skill points.
Leap is almost totally outclassed by Leap Attack, which lacks the limited range of Leap. The only function left for Leap is if you want to knockback a group of mobs for some reason.
Assassins: Psychic Hammer, a hilariously low-damage skill that really can't do anything other than maybe knocking people out of desync.
Magic (as in the elemental type 'Magic', separate from 'Fire' and 'Lightning') in the first Diablo. It was represented by three spells, including the high level Bone Spirit which removed 1/3 of an enemy's current health. Because of this spell, almost every single enemy in the higher difficulties was magic immune, making it and the other two magic spells useless — ironically even if it did work on everything it would be far weaker than your elemental spells which could kill any non-immune monster in one hit or all monsters on the screen in two.
Diablo's unofficial expansion Hellfire attempted to take care of the Magic immunity problem by implementing a few monsters vulnerable to magic but not to fire or lightning. Unfortunately Bone Spirit couldn't actually kill the monsters because it did fractional damage and the other two magic spells were so weak that players simply treated them like triple immunes in the regular game: Stone Curse and bash them.
Most ether effects in the first two Xenosaga games were virtually useless, with the notable exception of spells to change a character's attack element that were available in Episode 2. Episode 3 largely remedied this issue.
World of Warcraft boss mobs are notorious for their immunity to crowd control spells like polymorph, shackle, and fear.
And often using more powerful variations of those spells. One particular boss parodies mages by turning the whole raid into sheep at low mana, and then sitting down to drink (which restores mana). The effect cannot be broken like the regular spell either, and even works on most druid forms, even though they are immune to polymorph. Another boss uses an area fear with such a wide range that only casters and hunters with the right talent to increase their range can avoid getting caught in it.
Relatedly, in Vanilla WoW, a lot of bosses had resistance to a certain school of magic. Fire mages hated that. Are you the class that dishes out most damage in the game? Well too bad: The first two raids will have nothing but bosses who are immune to you!
On the other hand though, such spells tend to work quite well on regular enemies, and better than on players, which cannot be disabled for longer than ten seconds (especially true for the priests Mind Control, which gives full control over a monster, but only allows movement and basic attacks on a player). Such spells, usually referred to as CrowdControl, are a vital part of group gameplay, since they can be used to reduce the number of enemies that need to be fought at once. Their only limitation is the enemy type. Undead for example can not be affected by most of these spells, but priests may shackle them.
In Arena/PVP, this trope is completely inverted. Not only are these 'status' spells like Hex and Polymorph useful, you would be very, VERY hard pressed to win at high brackets without them.
There have been notable mishaps involving bosses and instakill spells. For instance, one of the bosses uses a curse which drains 100% of the player's maximum health over 8 seconds (necessitating a well-timed heal). Then somebody discovered you could reflect this curse upon the boss and he wasn't immune to it...
Warlock's Infernal and Doomguard were like this for a long time. Infernal summons a powerful demon, but the spell keeping it in control broke after 5 minutes, causing it to attack the user. It also replaces the Warlock's normal minion (which has to be resummoned with a long cast time) and could only be used outdoors. Doomguard was even more useless: The ritual required to summon it killed one party member at random, it had to be enslaved by the warlock and wasn't really much stronger than the normal minions. In the new expansion, the spells got retooled to make them more useful (both demons had their damage increased and now despawn instead of breaking free. In addition Infernal can now be used indoors and Doomguard no longer kills a party member when summoned). They're still situational at best, but no longer completely useless.
The warlock spells Detect Invisibility and Breathe Underwater also border on useless. The latter was quite useful for lower level underwater quests (which weren't really popular), but the expansions have cut back on those and provided players with consumables for the same effect. The time a player can breathe underwater unaided was also tripled. The former suffers from Crippling Overspecialization, as it only helps against actual invisibility, not stealth. Only a few mobs in the game use invisibility, and on the player side it's only the succubus pet and a mage skill added much later.
Unending Breath also got a buff in the newest expansion, as an Affliction Warlock can now burn a gem to change it into a walk-on-water spell.
Shadow Ward, Fire Ward, and Frost Ward are also rather useless useful spells. They absorb shadow, fire and frost damage, right? Well unfortunately; you had to know when you were gonna take Fire or Frost Damage otherwise you're just wasting mana, potions could do what Fire and Frost ward did and better (And could bypass class barriers; mages could only use it on themselves) and a lot of enemies dealt shadow or nature damage, making them useless anyways. They also absorbed a set amount of damage, too, so they didn't scale. They've been retooled in Cataclysm though: Fire and Frost Ward were merged into Mage Ward, which absorbs Arcane, Frost and Fire damage even more awesome 1. It scales! 2. It empowers Arcane mages when absorbing damage.. Shadow Ward is still there, but there's a Destruction warlock talent that makes it absorb any kind of magic damage.
World Of Warcraft also had a useless useful weapon skill: Unarmed and fist weapons. It should be rather obvious why people don't even bother to level Unarmed unless they're looking for an achievement or the occasional "naked duels". Fighting without a weapon pretty much gimps your stats anyways, so why bother? Fist weapons on the other hand use the same skill as unarmed, but it's not commonly used for one main reason: Lack of selection. You could actually count on one hand how many fist weapons were in the classic game, and could see why people didn't even bother leveling it. Things improved a little in Burning Crusade, but even then, the dual-wielders picked daggers, swords, maces, and axes more solely because there were way more.
Additionally, several of the best rogue attacks require daggers to be used, so using fist weapons would leave you short several excellent damage options, making them even less desirable.
Fear is this in general when playing solo. If a mob fears you then you are likely to run into other mobs causing them to join their friend and attack you. But if you Fear a mob then they are also likely to run into nearby mobs, causing said mobs to attack you.
It's recently had its glyph overhauled, which now causes feared mobs to cower in place rather then run but gives it a short cooldown.
In Cataclysm, Warriors got a wonderful new ability: Heroic Leap. You can select where you want to go and you soar through the air to reach your destination, dealing damage as you land. This sounds INCREDIBLY awesome... Until you inevitably discover that it won't work uphill, won't cross gaps, you need a PERFECTLY straight line between you and your destination, you can't jump over objects no matter their size ("Whoops, blade of grass no leap 4 u!") and half the time, it just refuses to work (Blizzard is doing a great job at fixing that though). No wonder people at the start of the expansion called it "Heroic Fail" and "Heroic No Path Available" (The error message that appears when either Heroic Leap or Charge cannot reach a target due to pathing issues.) However, it does prove to be an excellent gap-closer when it works, can be used to instantly get out of the fire and somewhere safe and can be used to move around faster when you leap closer to where you're going.
Mages feel your pain. We've had this sort of glitches with Blink since vanilla.
Prior to Cataclysm Hunters could equip thrown weapons, but even though they didn't use ammunition in contrast to ranged weapons, you still needed a ranged weapon to use any of your Shots or Stings, rendering them useless for most hunters (especially ones specializing in the Marksmanship talent tree).
To be honest, thrown weapons are this in general. Rogues are the only class that will get any use out of them at all, and with the only other two classes that can use them, Hunters and Warriors, Hunters will, as mentioned, pretty much exclusively be using a type of bow or a gun, and Warriors really only need ranged weapons at all for a stat boost. The only other reason a Warrior might need a ranged weapon is when a mob runs away and they just don't feel like chasing after it. And even in the case of Rogues, there's a problem. Rogues are a close-combat class. Even if the mob runs away, you're probably better off just chasing it.
In Cataclysm, Blizzard got rid of thrown weapons altogether, as well as giving every ranged weapon "infinite" ammunition.
For a long time in PvE, The Paladin talent Reckoning has been this way: It currently provides Protection Paladins with a 20% chance that a blocked attack will enable the next four weapon swings to generate an extra weapon swing almost simultaneously. Sound fun and useful for increasing singe-target DPS but a major problem with it is that most of the Paladin's threat to a creature is generated by player-cast attacks and spells, and (at least before the Cataclysm expansion) attacking more often increased the risk of a Boss parrying an attack and getting a DPS increase on the Tank (making them harder to heal). Not to mention, this type of paladin is not intended for maximizing DPS, unless threat-output is concerned.
Many, many glyphs. Players can use a limited number of these to tweak their character but after Cataclysm all the good ones (that actually increased damage/healing/survivability) were removed. Every class now has multiple major glyphs that are either so situational as to be useless or that have any benefits cancelled out by the appearance of the word 'but' in their descriptions (e.g. 'Slightly improves ability X but doubles its cooldown').
Not really, unless you're one of the players who doesn't care about anything but DPS. What Blizzard attempted to do was remove the glyphs that were deemed indispensable, making the Glyph system something that each player tailors to their own playstyle rather than a system where everyone just picks the few that “Stop Having Fun” Guys have deemed the most powerful(granted, in many cases, there are still some that are considered more necessary than others, and the specific encounter also tends to come into play). For example, the "Improves X spell but increases its cooldown" example above can apply to players who don't use the spell often, so they can get a greater effect when they do use it.
Golden Sun on any number of counts. That Infinity+1 Sword you picked up? You'll only be using it on Mooks you could easily kill anyway. Likewise, Bosses are functionally immune to most status effects, so the one case in which it would be worth your time to try for some strategy, it simply won't work. And in GS2, by the time you pick up the best Summon Magic in the game, there is exactly one creature left worth using it on, and the cost of doing so is very high; depending on your class setup, it can cost you your best healing for several rounds.
However, this is often averted in at least the first game, as bosses can be afflicted with various useful status effects (Like Sleep which, as you might guess, makes the target completely inactive for several rounds) reasonably often, sometimes even multiple times per fight. Sadly the same cannot be said for the summons of the second game, as mentioned above.
The first game's Tempest Lizard, especially. An optional boss that could be fought repeatedly, gives out loads of EXP, always dropped a potion when it was beaten, and could easily be effected by the Curse Psyenergy, which would make it go down after attacking a certain number of times? And it attacks twice per turn, speeding it up that much? Sign me up!
Heck, nearly all of the Pysnergy you learn in all three of the games quickly get outclassed by the more exotic weapons with fancy unleash abilities. Aside from using the fancy and strong weapons to deal damage faster, it is usually faster to attack one enemy at a time instead of trying to hit all enemies at once every time and waste PP with Pysnergy doing so. Most of the time, the only Pysnergy you will use are healing/revive types, Pysnergy that boosts your stats, or Pysnergy that factors in your weapon strength, such as Ragnarok and Plume Edge.
And in a less combat-oriented sense, Insight Psynergy in Dark Dawn. In theory, it's supposed to be an at-will hint-dropper for the game's myriad puzzles. In practice, all it does is make you want to yell at Amiti, with relatively minor exceptions (Djinn in hard-to-reach places sometimes have to be knocked down with Fireball or Slap, and the goat puzzle can be solved by using Insight to map out a path for each goat).
Both played straight and averted Lost Odyssey. Enemies tend to inflict lots of nasty status effects on the PCs that they themselves cannot cast as effectively at that point, but any status effects enemies aren't outright immune to tend to be equally easy to inflict upon them, and in fact it's a necessary part of several boss battles. The fact that the programmers decided to signify status immunity with a "miss" instead of "immune" like in Final Fantasy X for example for some weird reason and not showing anything when the enemy isn't immune to the status the spell inflicts but it doesn't manage to connect doesn't help the said spells' reputation much though.
Also amusingly inverted in that by the end of the game, your entire party can also be immune to all status effects (except Instant Death, only enemies can be immune to that), but of course the Artificial Stupidity never catches on and the enemies will cast them at you constantly.
In Sailor Moon: Another Story, using a Holy Grail to transform Moon or Chibimoon to their Super states gave them increased attack powers. It also took away their healing powers and kept them from using Team attacks with the other Senshi (besides one team attack with each other). Not to mention the attack boost didn't put them that much above Saturn or Uranus (The game's designated tanks)
In Odin Sphere, one potion leaves behind a toxic cloud that kills anything after a short delay, regardless of how much HP it has left. Unfortunately, this has a tendency not to work on boss enemies, but always on you. Sure, it kills slimes, but you've always got Napalm for doing that cheaper.
Etrian Odyssey manages to mostly avoid this trope (see Aversions below), but the Beast class suffers from a severe case of this trope with their Loyalty skill, which makes a Beast take a blow for any other available party member. The problem? Loyalty makes Beasts take damage depending on the Defense-stat of the character they're defending, as opposed to their own Defense (so if your Beast is defending, say, an Alchemist, they'll take more damamge than if they were blocking a Protector from the same attack]]). This ends up damaging the Beast-class as a whole, as some of the Beast skills require mastery of Loyalty to some degree.
The Dark Hunters can learn a skill named Ecstasy: when maxed out, it has a 100% chance of automatically killing any enemy that is affected by all three kinds of Bind effects (Head, Arms, and Legs). This would be an aversion, as surprisingly few enemies are resistant to OHKO-moves, except that all four of those skills need to be maxed out to be reliable, and by the time they are, you can just outright kill a monster using the individual skills as opposed to depending on Ecstasy. Fortunately, there's Climax...
In an odd RTS example, in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, a few missions from the end the allies acquire the ability to use the Chronosphere, a teleportation device. However, in game (more powerful in Cutscene Power to the Max), you can only teleport a single tank at once, and cannot teleport air units or APCs with people, with the given reason that the people in the APCs will die, which really doesn't make sense because the tanks have to have people in them (and a known cheat can disable it). This is largely corrected in Red Alert 2, where the Chronosphere has the power to teleport up to 9 small tanks, including vehicles with people in them, as well as some air units. In fact, you're able to teleport land units into the sea and sea units onto the land, making it somewhat of an offensive weapon too. Unshielded infantry still die in Chronoshifting.
Also in Red Alert, the Soviet Iron Curtain is somewhat useless, as it can only make a single tank or building invincible for a short period of time. Also corrected in Red Alert 2, the Iron Curtain then has the ability to protect up to 9 tanks, flak tracks, or terror drones.
The Iron Curtain can protect a valuable building that is in imminent danger of being destroyed, such as a Construction Yard, which can buy you time to kill off the invading force or repair it. Another (more fun) strategy is to send a M.A.D. tank towards an enemy base or attack force, and just as it reaches firing range, use the Iron Curtain to keep it from being prematurely destroyed since it's too slow to reach a target on its own armor. Place it in the prime center of devastation and deploy it — if it's still under the Curtain, it won't actually explode and damage everything until right after the effect fades, giving the enemy no chance to actually counter it.
However in Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge, the Genetic Mutator (Yuri's secondary superweapon) sounds good on paper, turning all infantry on a large area into brutes at your command, but since it's rare your enemy will ever have a large collection of infantry in one spot, the only use it can ever be is to turn your own or other players' slaves into usable soldiers, since slaves are free.
When you figured out the secret, the Mutator was possibly the best superweapon in the game. Use it with the grinder and Yuri has potentially infinite cash, especially useful in a long game where the ore has run out.
Likewise, City of Heroes shows why designers tend to put these limitations in place. Archvillains and Heroes (not PCs) sport the standard immunity (most of the time) and are always highly credible threats. Anything below that level of resistance will be sleeping, frozen, confused, blinded, suspended from the ceiling and have its accuracy, resistance, defense, damage, regeneration and anything else floored to minimum values before it can say, "these are support effects any other MMO would kill for!" As a result, Player Versus Environment gameplay tends to end up being rather easy.
This leads to a very rewarding experience if you play the Dominator class. Dominators rely on status ailments to disable foes while dealing decent damage and even get a Super Mode to make their status effects harder to resist. When properly built, Dominators are the only class that can overcome an Archvillain's status protection by themselves (Controllers can also achieve this feat, but it usually takes 2 or 3 of them).
City of Heroes support effects are very powerful indeed, however, their power is mitigated by the sheer number of opponents you face. It's ludicrously easy to debuff a Mook into oblivion, then again, your average solo mission pits you against groups of 3 to 10 bad guys at the same time (depending on the faction you're fighting). Numbers are exponentially larger for group endeavors and boss battles. Note also that direct damage is equally over the top — any class (properly built) can pretty much turn a roomfull of Minions into chunky goop in a flash. The real challenge of any mission is always the boss fight, not the slosh through the hordes of faceless goons. Par for the course in a superhero game, innit ?
Technically, Hero/Archvillain/Giant Monster types aren't completely immune to status effects, they just have really high protection against them and cause them to wear off faster.
It's much easier to actually mezz a boss in a raid situation, which are only possible in the field. Since all Mezz effects stack, enough Controllers or Dominators (Or Warshades, or Fortunatas, Or...) could hold the Hamidon, if not for very long. (Indeed, prior to it's revamp, this was a requirement in order to keep the raid from wiping).
The Death Spell in Seiken Densetsu 3 deals 999 damage (the damage cap) and can be used on bosses, but it only works on enemies that are at a lower level than the caster. The only character class that learns the spell can already OHKO most regular enemies with cheaper elemental spells, and if you're ever at a higher level than a boss, you've probably level grinded enough to not even need the Death Spell.
Also, Jedi in your party have access to two abilities that remove force power buffs (absorbing damage, attacking faster etc) from enemies. Well, most of those buffs are Light Side powers, while you only ever fight Dark Sidedforce users, who rarely use the neutral buff powers either. The only enemy that reliably buffs himself is the final boss, who uses force immunity on himself.
Shining Force 2 gives you the "death" spell, at a late point in the game where most of the enemies you'll be fighting are undead or demons, both immune to that. Of course, it does work perfectly well on the player party.
Desoul (the aforementioned instant death spell) shows up in the original Shining Force as well, and is a fair bit more effective on enemies. Instead, the spell Muddle literally does nothing in the original game, but in the second is a style of confusion spell that can be at times quite amusing. Not that it's any more accurate than it was before.
The remake averts this — well, partially. Status infliction spells are still worthless; but as for status buffs, especially Narsha's? These easily veer into Game Breaker-level of usefulness. Heck; one of the best ones is one that buffs your movement. In a strategy game where you're limited by how much you can move at once? That's really useful!
Used in Fate/stay night in the form of the "Projection" magecraft, which allows users to create objects out of their own Mana. However, since it relies on the user's own image of the object, the result is always degraded from the original and disappears eventually. Basically, "if you know everything about the object and its material composition, why not just get the resources and physically make it?" However, it is also from this "useless" spell that the protagonist gains his powers.
Technically, he's cheating because he's not even using "Projection" magecraft in the first place, as he's actually using an application of a Reality Marble.
Nondamaging spells in Breath of Fire II are especially guilty of this, for all three of the listed reasons, but especially the third one. The one that was supposed to lower agility doesn't work on anything.
The pocket watch in the Castlevania games is largely a Useless Useful Item. Paying 5 hearts to stop time for 5 seconds sounds like a good deal — until you realize that almost all the bosses, and even some of the stronger normal enemies, are still able to move during the watch's use. The watch is occasionally useful in some of the game's more Nintendo Hard segments (such as some difficult platforming sections with flying enemies around), and does quite well against Medusa, the second level boss in the first game (one of the few bosses in the entire series who is vulnerable to its effect), but it's largely useless, and hardly ever more useful than any other weapon you can carry.
This is averted in Haunted Castle however, as it makes the watch cost only two hearts, making it actually efficient, and it can affect bosses in the game.
Similarly, an early-acquired weapon, the Red Rust, will curse enemies (preventing them from attacking). Of course, it's slower and weaker than punching with fists, has a random chance of failing to swing on Alucard's part, and only affects one? enemy in the game.
And again in Castlevania: SotN, we've got Dark Metamorphosis, which allows our vampeal hero to heal with the blood shed by enemies... of course, most things, exploding into flames on death and dying in one hit, or being animated armor or skeletons or whatever else, don't bleed; the most powerful early-game weapons (Jewel Knuckles and spells) won't draw blood from any enemy; and the late game most powerful weapons (Crissaegrim, Alucard Shield, spells) are such complete game breakers you'll almost or entirely never will need to heal.
Also, from Order of Ecclesia, there's Scutum. It's the first shield spell you get, and is entirely useless against attacks that aren't directly above you. Guess where the hardest-to-dodge attack of the end boss comes from?
Fire Emblem's Sleep and Silence staves are guaranteed a 100% hit in the SNES game provided the user's magic is higher than the target's magic defense, but are severely downgraded in the GBA installments to the point where 90% of the time you might as well sell the things for money rather than waste time trying to put an enemy to sleep or block their magic.
Although they do give nice experience even when they miss.
FE 4's "Berserk Sword" — a sword with a chance to inflict the Berserk Status upon foes. Seems useful, right? Well, it's only got a range of 1. Which means: Either the enemy is still going to attack you on their turn or, have already used it. So it's kinda pointless. However, the Staff has a 100% chance to hit if the enemy's MDEF is lower than the caster's MAG stat... which is an aversion. Hilarity Ensues when that hits the right target, like say, That One Boss, when she's next to the Final Boss.
The series also loves giving skills that increase the Skl stat to archers/snipers, classes that already have absurdly high levels in that stat. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones even gave them a skill that allowed a guaranteed hit when activated, despite their chance of hitting probably never dropping below 100 due to the aforemented Skl stat.
Lifetaker in Fire Emblem Awakening seems like a good idea, healing you if you kill an enemy. Only works on your turn though, so it's useless if you want to restore the hitpoints to survive an onslaught of enemies, and overshadowed completely by Sol or Aether (which has Sol embedded), both of which have a chance to restore HP on each hit and even works on enemy turns.
Mega Man X: Command Mission suffers from this greatly, although spells are relegated to items. None of them will ever work...EVER unless they are attack or healing items.
Skies of Arcadia plays this straight with the silver-magic "Instant Death" spells. Bosses use these (with such high levels of success) so often that you must use Aika's magic-nullifying Delta Shield every single turn... which renders all your other spells useless! You're better off just using items, since they can replicate magic effects, cost no SP to use, bypass the Delta Shield and are piss-easy to acquire.
The reason that the instant death spells have such high levels of success is because they were built that way. Eternum has a 100% chance of instant killing anything not totally immune to instant death, and does a pretty decent amount of damage to anything that is. While this may sound like an aversion, it also costs a fairly large amount of SP.
The online RPG Murkon's Refuge has many high-level spells that attempt to paralyze, silence, or even instantly kill entire monster groups. Naturally, the highest dungeon levels are rife with monsters immune to these spells, especially the undead and the ones capable of paralyzing your front-row characters in a single hit. In a semi-subversion, you can actually retrain your characters into Assassins who can deliver similar instant-paralysis hits (without having to use MP!) and even instant-death critical hits (at least on the non-immune monsters). Plus, you can make your own characters immune to paralysis if you boost their armor class enough.
Mesmers in Guild Wars are dangerous in PvP due to their ability to drain their opponent's energy and disable their skills. In PvE, however, enemies rarely show detrimental effects from energy denial (making such skills typically used for their secondary effects if at all) while powerful bosses are typically immune to skill disabling (as they would be too easily rendered helpless otherwise).
Interrupts are essential Mesmer fare in PvP. Try having an interrupt-battle against an AI-controlled Mesmer though, and you'll likely see your interrupts interrupted (something which takes insanely good timing for a human to pull off).
Hexes still work, though. Actually, they work better in PVE because the AI is too stupid to stop attacking/casting through them.
Conditions still work on bosses as well (though some bosses are only affected for half the stated duration). Daze is extremely helpful in Factions, Nightfall, and Eye of the North, since bosses get a 2x damage bonus.
Inverted, even, with certain hexes that have an effect if they end without being removed, since they end faster. In particular, Wastrel's Worry (Which deals damage after a certain amount of time if the target hasn't used a skill) becomes spamable and does quite a bit of pain.
Nearly every offensive spell in the first Rune Factory, as the player character only has 100 RP per day to work with (for the most part) and the spells have a fixed RP cost. Fixed in the sequel, where magic costs decrease with practice just like every other ability.
The Kingdom HeartsFinal Mixes seemed to be bent on making the respective games' useless useful spells, abilities, and forms into actually useful skills: Stop is necessary to defeat most of the added monsters in the original Final Mix, and the same for Aero (which was not so much useless as too costly for its benefits). In Final Mix+, a whole slew of Bonus Boss fights and sidequests became either significantly easier or even possible in the first place by cunning use of Wisdom Form, the by-far least useful of Sora's forms in the main game, or various kinds of magic (including limits), often eschewed in the main playthrough or the original versions as it is generally easy enough to off the mooks with regular attacks.
Vexen can be incredibly trivialized in Final Mix 2+. You can attack while moving so you can avoid the trap that collects data and summons a Shadow Sora while you destroy his shield...then what do you do after that? FIRAGA SPAM!!! Lexaeus also likewise requires you to pretty much spam reflect unless you don't wanna get crushed by tons of boulders.
However, Reflect is an extremely useful skill even in the original Kingdom Hearts II. It not only prevented enemies from damaging you, but it could be cast three times in succession and reflects damage back to the enemies. It was also essential if you want to win a tough fight quickly or didn't want to be hit by Xaldin's hurricane sweep in Beast's Castle.
In the Mega Man games, the player may obtain a shield weapon which supposedly offers protection. But there were problems with many of them until Jewel Satellite in 9. Basically they would either disappear after anything hit it or were limiting in some way (such as if Mega Man moved, the shield would be "shot" in that direction). Rolling Shield in Mega Man X was a slight aversion, but the only enemies that didn't cause the shield to disappear were Goddamned Bats.
The two exceptions are the Leaf Shield and Junk Shield. The former takes hits quite well and can destroy an unlimited number of annoying Pipi birds and weaker enemies, but you automatically throw it when you press the D-pad. The latter lets you move freely and is very durable; enemies gradually wear it down by breaking off small pieces of it upon contact.
The Water Shield from Mega Man 10 is similar to the Junk Shield, and while not as strong defensively as the Jewel Satellite, it is often the go-to weapon against large enemies due to the number of times it can hit.
Flash Man's power, Time Stopper, was a Useless Useful for 95% of Mega Man II. Its only real use came against Quick Man, where it could be used to give you a free fall through a long sequence of insta-death beams, and could also knock off a major chunk of the boss's life bar.
It could be argued that all Magirock spells in Terranigma falls under this category — most of the standard enemies are relatively easy to dispatch through conventional means, and Magirock is not usable in nearly all boss battles.
The key word there is "nearly". You are notably allowed to use magic against at least one boss- That One Boss. Bloody Mary.
In Legend of Legaia, one of the Seru whose powers you can absorb is Nighto, and when used by one of your characters, has the power to either confuse or kill a single enemy. Sounds pretty good, right? Well...the chances of confusion actually working are fairly low (compounded by the fact that confusion, although doing exactly what one would expect in that it causes monsters to attack fellow monsters, tends to last only one turn on stronger beasts, much like other status changes in this game), and the chances of actually killing an opponent are almost nil. But, there's one glorious exception, and that's the very difficult mid-game boss Berserker, where Nighto's chances of instantly killing Berserker are actually quite good.
Legaia's fairly bad about this, actually — the majority of your Seru (essentially your magic spells and main means of dealing out huge damage to bosses) will reduce enemy stats or have other such effects at higher levels... but typically kill normal enemies in one hit, and of course bosses are immune to these effects. And even if someone does bother to fight normal enemies, magic doesn't regenerate and boss fights are generally wars of attrition that involve healing spells every turn... hope you stored a lot of mana poti- I mean mana leaves.
Valkyrie Profile 2 often had useful status effects against bosses 0- paralysis, Frailty (which stopped enemies from healing themselves) and some are even susceptible to Stone.
The same happens in other Valkyrie Profile games. In the first, Might Reinforce and Sap Guard are two of the best spells in the game. There are very few spells that afflict just status, but they are capable of damaging so they are not entirely worthless. And in Covenant Of The Plume, moves such as Suspend Motion are very useful (just not on bosses), and it's possible to Sap Guard or Sap Power the bosses.
The Spirit Engine has a really vicious one. At first, the Life Drain spell seems really great — it deals the highest damage in the game, doesn't take too long to cast and completly bypasses any protection an enemy may have. And it really IS great for the majority of the game. And then you come to the final two bosses. Not only are they two the worst difficulty spikes I've EVER seen, they're also completly immune to this spell. Since you likely sunk all your skill points into this spell, what with it looking like a gamebreaker, you'll be left with at least one useless character. Since combats are luck-indepentent in The Spirit Engine, you may have rendered your game unwinnable.
Fortunately the skill system is set up so that unleveled skills are still ok if used in an appropriate situation, and you can't put more than half your points in one skill (unless you count putting the rest in HP/MP). The shield spells are still useful for the semifinal boss and the final boss's first and third forms. The problem is if you were so foolish as to rely on the spell that completely ignores armor as your main method of beating armor, because the final boss's second form has obscenely high damage resistance that half the game's attacks can barely dent, and shields are only useful as a backup plan if you fail to stop secondary attack—once. The game throws you a bone with The Cavalry showing up if you're losing with a strong attack... except there's no real way of protecting the guy and his health will not last through the battle. The author learned his lesson and in the next game the only boss that has damage soak higher than the stronger normal enemies is an optional fight.
Bombchu in the Gameboy Color Zelda games. In the N64 games they could sometimes be useful to hit far-off bomb sites that a normal bomb can't reach, and Phantom Hourglass made their use essential, but The Legend of Zelda Oracle games? You'll never need them. Ever. They're completely pointless. Worse, you can only get them by completing ALL of one game and at least a significant portion of the other. By the time you get them, you don't need them.
The Bombchus in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are equally useless...What they work best for (hitting far away or otherwise hard to reach targets) could be handled much more easily and quickly by just combining regular bombs with arrows for exploding arrows.
Also in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is Farore's Wind. Pretty easy to find some time before the Time Skip occurs, and its purpose is something of a save point in dungeons that let you teleport to almost any room you set it up in (almost like the Ooccoo in Twilight Princess about 8 or 9 years later), but it eats up a decent amount of magic, and it isn't very helpful in contrast to sheer patience or soft resetting.
Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships contains a particularly egregious example. In one of the most involved and lengthy quests you can eventually gain a special item that allows you to resurrect any of your companions who get killed in combat (and who, given the game's relatively realistic setting, would otherwise be gone for good). Sounds great, except for the fact that raising them makes all items in their inventory disappear, which means that, assuming you can even carry all that additional weight, you have to loot the corpse first before you resurrect your companion, and afterwards give all the stuff back to the crewman in question, and all that in one of the worst inventory systems ever conceived in a computer game. In short, rather than actually use the ability it's easier to choose the lesser of two annoyances and simply load a saved game, hoping the bugger won't die this time.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver has glyph spells. They're only attainable by completing increasingly complicated side-levels (some of which would be nigh-impossible without a strategy guide). Since the bosses are all puzzle-fights (figure out their one weakness, which always involves environmental weapons), the glyphs are useless against them. In addition, the "magic points" necessary to use them are limited and hidden. On top of that, only two of the 6 glyphs could consistently kill normal enemies. The only reasons to actually use them are laziness (they restrain/kill enemies in a large area), gratification for completing the ridiculous puzzles necessary to find them, and because they look cool.
Played straight and subverted in Endless Frontier both cases, the snipe effect is very good in keeping mooks from attacking you while you gang up on another grunt yet it is totally worthless against bosses. In a game where even with high level equips your foes can finish you in two hits if the CPU felt like it.
Devil Survivor, despite being a Mega Ten game. Normal enemies die too quickly for status effects to be useful, and bosses are invariably immune to them. Buffs and instant kill abilities just don't exist.
The one exception is Stone, which can be very helpful due to its effect of making enemies unable to attack, and vulnerable to being broken by a single physical strike.
Attack spells, especially single target ones, in quite a few RPGs, especially if healing spells are available for the MP to be used on. Who is going to spend even 2 MP on spells that the most powerful of which rarely deal much more damage than your physical attacks? For that matter, why not use that MP on healing if plausible so that your characters live to deal more damage? Super Mario RPG is a particularly big offender because you get a healer early on, your healing spells are very cost effective, and everybody shares FP; but any other RPG can be just as bad about it because the spells may run into immunities or even be absorbed. Luckily for these spells, though, bestiaries have been put in use as of late, so the elemental weaknesses aren't as much of a potential Guide Dang It as before, although if you have to have already defeated the monster to know its weaknesses, it's no help against bosses.
Another example is the Resist spell, whichmakes the caster immune to damage at the expense of his or her own turn. Useless in its own right, but it finds a purpose with the chain formation when your fastest (and defensively weakest) character is leading the team and taking most of the damage.
In Team Fortress 2, The Sandman was subject to a lot of complaints and balance changes. Eventually, Valve made a drastic change by removing the full stun (except at the maximum range) and replacing it with a "scared" animation that disabled weaponry and reduced movement speed. Due to a bug, however, the 'stunned' players could still fire their weapon. Once that was fixed, however, it became a pretty balanced sidegrade.
The playerbase goes back and forth on whether the Razorback is this or not. It's a wooden shield with a car battery taped to it. It completely blocks one backstab while also stunning the Spy who did it for 2 seconds. However, it takes up your secondary slot (thus preventing you from using your SMG or the highly-useful Jarate), only works once (you have to run all the way back to base to get another one), and there's nothing stopping the Spy from just shooting you instead. In high-level play, however, where a Spy lives or dies on how well he can slip past (and kill) enemies while in disguise, the Razorback is a god-send since it's a major inconvenience to the Spy, who must stop to pull out his Revolver and shoot it (which breaks the Spy's disguise, as well as being fairly loud).
The Scrambler perk in Modern Warfare 2. In theory, it lets you jam enemy radars, so that they won't know where you and your teammates are. In practice, it tells them exactly how close you are, and they can still read their radar perfectly fine until you're very close. There's also a killstreak reward called the Counter-UAV, which does it much better and with no drawbacks.
Defender missiles in EVE Online. One race's ships are heavily reliant on missiles, and another race's make moderate use of them, so anti-missile missiles would seemingly be quite advantageous. However, many missile types can take two or three hits before being shot down, Defenders must be manually fired, and- critically- defenders cannot be intercept missiles fired at friendly vessels. In all but a few niche circumstances, it's just easier to load offensive missiles and shoot the bastard.
The Cure and Detoxify spells in Ragnarok Online. The former cures Blind, Confusion, and Silence, while the latter cures Poison. Both spells are covered under a single, dirt-cheap, Green Potion purchasable at Tool Dealers in almost every town.
Thrown rocks in Ancient Domains of Mystery are an inversion of this: even to low-level player characters, they are usually just a nuisance, while they remain a very useful weapon for player characters of every level. The latter is because missile damage in ADOM is primarily dependent on the fixed damage bonus that grows with experience, with negligible hit dice (1d4 for rocks) from the missile itself.
Any magic spell in Ys IV: Mask of the Sun and Ys V. And you can't use magic at all in the latter's boss battles.
Most status effect skills in Mass Effect 2 fall into this trope at higher difficulty levels. This is due to everyone (players and enemies) being immune to them if they have shields/barrier/armor remaining. On higher difficulty levels, every enemy outside the tutorial segment in the beginning has at least one of these. By the time you get through these defenses, killing your target only takes a couple more shots.
Though, it is worth mentioning that on lower difficulty levels, skills like Dominate and Hacking, which are nearly useless in the higher difficulty levels are basically Game Breakers.
Elemental spells and weapons become less useful as your reach higher levels in Infinity Blade since most enemies will have some elemental resistances. The God King will become immune to everything after beating him once making Healing the only magic worth using against him. Appropriately enough, this means that the eponymous Infinity Blade, which deals more non-elemental damage than any other weapon in the game, is the best weapon to use against him.
In Borderlands the entire shock element is useless as it's only useful for removing shields that only appear on a select number of human enemies and are easily dealt with without shock weapon. Furthermore the Hunter class gets a late game ability to bypass shields all together. Their only real use is against a few enemies that spawn is a very specific location and the hardest boss in the game.
Trespass is also an example. It let's you bypass shields, but outside one type of enemy, shields are meaningless defenses. It is further hurt by being the cap skill on Sniping, which is inferior to Gunslinger, the pistol tree, even in terms of boosting sniper rifle damage.
In Baten Kaitos Origins, you can get a variety of artifact magnus that do things such as ward damage off, display enemy health, or slow the opposing party down. However, most of those are too limited to be of any real use, and given how the battle system in this game works, it's much smarter to just pack weapons and armor.
Civilization IV has several Civics that are of varying usefulness. Probably the most notorious for this trope, however, was Environmentalism. In its original form, it gave your cities a small Health boost, plus one Happiness for each forest and jungle within your culture's borders. The problem is that you got a production bonus for clearing jungles and forest, and you can't use Environmentalism until very late in the game, so by the time you can access it, it gives you almost nothing. Fortunately, Firaxis retooled this with the Beyond The Sword expansion — in it, Environmentalism gave a substantially larger Health bonus, another one for building Public Transportation, and a money bonus for Windmills (which are useful anyway) and Forest Preserves (which give Happiness on their own). This made Environmentalism a very useable late-game Civic.
Chrono Cross features 'sealing' elements, which shut off elements of a specific color. This will seem ridiculously useful, until you realize that these are only worth using against bosses, which are usually completely immune to sealing. Even more so for SealAll, which shuts off all elements on the battlefield; however, using it in a boss fight tends to result in it missing the boss but leaving your party sealed.
Splash potions in Minecraft. Splash potions are just potion effects that can be thrown and affect anyone caught in range. In general, the only kind of potions you could use on monsters are harming (damage) weakness (less damage), and slowness (slower movement). Not only do monsters rarely cluster together to make these potions effective, but you can wind up hurting yourself if you are too close. Not to mention undead monsters are immune to some effects and get healed by potions of harming. On top of this, Ghasts and Ender Dragons fly out of your sword range so you can never hit them with a splash potion (and the dragon is immune to potion effects anyway). It's just a lot easier and faster to attack monsters with your sword or your bow and arrow. However, on multiplayer severs, splash potions can become valuable if you are fighting several players at once.
Disgaea and healing spells. They are useful for much of the game (the entire story mode, for example), but as soon as you start getting into the post-game, battles tend to be an offense only affair. Eventually both you and the enemies will be so powerful that any attack will kill in one hit (advantage yours, since you go first), and in-combat healing is meaningless.
For the same reason, defensive buff spells. Shield is useless late-game, since no matter how high you get your DEF you still can't take hits. Magic Wall is likewise unnecessary, since RES acts like DEF for magic spells (and boosts healing magic, which as stated above is useless). Speed Boost gets a pass, since SPD is a damage dealing stat for Fist and Gun users, and enemies who miss you entirely are still a possibility. Offensive buffs in general remain handy.
In Holy Diver, the Blizzard spell is most useful for temporarily freezing Lava Pits, but it also freezes some types of enemies. Most later enemies, let alone bosses, are immune to this secondary effect.
Power bombs in Metroid Fusion had their usefulness reduced. While still incredibly powerful against enemies, you don't need them to progress like in other Metroid games — their sole use in exploration is to find more power bombs. Metroid: Zero Mission doesn't make them much better, as the one obstacle they seem necessary to pass (blocks in the path to the Final Boss) can be skipped entirely through a hidden tunnel; once again, their only other real use is finding more items.
Bowser's magic spells in Super Mario RPG are mostly worthless due to Bowser's magic power being the lowest out of everyone in the party.
Avadon. Nearly all debuffing abilities(and there's a heck of a lot of debuffing abilities there) almost never work on bosses. Take stun, for example — sure, you can easily stun a grind mob with it (only why would you want to? it's faster to simply kill it), but when it comes to a boss (e.g. to a situation where you really needed) your chances are abysmal. You stun them occasionally, but it's totally not worth it. And same goes for the acid, poison, slows and other debuffs. Buffs are also not that useful since, once again, you don't need them versus common creeps and when it comes to bosses, tough ones, it is usually more efficient to use buffing scrolls\crystals\potions. Summons also don't do much to bosses, they can't even hope to tank them.
A number of moves and abilities in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series are virtually useless in the hands of the player, and exist mostly for the purpose of letting enemies make your life miserable. Some examples include Embargo, which denies the usage of items (Enemies are almost never holding items and even fewer actually use them), Bug Bite/Pluck/Incinerate, which are weak and use or destroy an edible item in the target's possession (Pointless for the same reason as the previous move), and Heal Block, which prevents any HP recovery for its duration (Enemies go down too quickly for it to be worth using on them).
Dragon Quest IX has Treasure Eye Land as the ultimate Thief ability, which marks the location of red treasure chests on your map (including towns) and the stairs to the next level in grottoes. Sounds good, except that the only treasure chests in grottoes are blue, meaning you still have to look for them yourself. Depending on when you get it, it can range from a time saver to only useful on the first two floors (which have no chests).
The Monster Hunter series has Armor skills that fall under this. Increasing your max HP or stamina is pretty much useless as not only are there easily acquired items to do just that and possibly more, eating food before heading out on a hunt can also do this. You're gonna eat before every hunt, and unlike every other food effect, getting HP or Stamina doesn't depend on the combination of food but rather the level of food (for stamina) and the stars that appear on the menu (for health). If you levelled up the canteen a few times, you'll rarely even have use for the items that do these, let alone ever present armor skills.
Some people view Mind's Eye as this. The Armor Skill prevents your weapon from bouncing off an enemy regardless of sharpness. It may be useful earlier on if you don't have access to higher sharpness weapons or sharpness increasing skills, eventually it'd be better to just increase the weapon's sharpness level as there are very few monsters, and of these monsters only a few certain body parts that deflect weapons regardless of sharpness. You're gonna sharpen your weapon once it decreases anyway due to the lower damage output as well as the fact that a deflected weapon strike does not actually decrease the damage you do with the attack, only preventing you from comboing (unless you're using a hammer in which case it actually lets you combo faster than if your attack went through completely) and leaving you more open than a non-deflected attack (which is less of a problem once you learn a monster's patterns). The only real problem that results from deflected attacks is that the cause weapon sharpness to decrease faster, but giving your weapon another level of sharpness means you can let the weapon drop more levels before sharpening, which in the end means you'll end up sharpening your weapon LESS than if you didn't deal any deflected attacks at all. Plus, the required sharpness to attack a body part without the attack deflecting decreases to the point that you probably won't worry about deflected attacks once that part is broken, which will happen if you're attacking the deflecting body part enough to worry about your attacks being deflected.
There are quite a few food effects that help out on quests that don't do with hunting a monster, such as helping when carrying something or climbing a wall. These quests are few and far between as the focus of the game is hunting. Thankfully, as food effects, you can choose them with those quests and then just forget about it.
Gryphon Wing and Anti Raigeki in Yu-Gi-Oh! are particularly nasty counters to Harpie's Feather Duster and Raigeki, respectively. Except that unless you know your opponent has one of those cards 'and' you're not going by Tournament rules (which dictate that Harpie's Feather Duster and Raigeki are banned)...it's just wasting space in your deck. To add insult to injury, Harpie's Feather Duster was a friggin rare card while Gryphon Wing came in a Structure Deck.
Averted somewhat with White Hole, which prevents your monsters from being destroyed from the opponent's Dark Hole. Dark Hole is fairly used and rarely on the banned list for too long, so it has some utility to it. You're still better off with Dark Bribe, though.
Sorrow's Path is too complicated and far too expensive. Being able to swap your opponent's blocking creatures is merely okay. Having to pay 2 life and suffer 2 damage to every creature you control is like saving money on glasses by stabbing yourself in both eyes.
Apocalypse Chime destroys all Homelands cards. If Homelands cards other than Autumn Willow and Baron Sengir were actually useful, this card would be.
Common Cause. Pointless since all Nonartifact creatures must be the same color, even your opponents. Stupid errata...
Spells and abilities that endow creatures and to a lesser extent other permanents with specific abilities (including but not limited to the aura subtype of enchantments) may fall under this. Consider Flight. From the enchanted creature's perspective, it's potentially a great effect — it gains flying if it didn't have it already, allowing it to bypass most non-flying blockers and/or block flying attackers itself. Get to the point where you actually want to put the card into a deck, though, and you'll soon realize that if having flyers is important to your strategy, you'd best include a number of creatures that have the ability in and of themselves already in case you don't actually draw that Flight card...yet the more of those you have, the less good the card actually does you in the first place! (This logic does not, of course, apply to abilities that actually have a cumulative effect. However, many of the more commonly granted abilities — like flying, first strike, or trample — do not fall into this category.) Then there's the issue that the empowered creature isn't necessarily any harder to kill, potentially taking the entire investment in extra cards, mana, and/or other resources to the graveyard with it...
Magic the Gathering also has a fair share of "instant win" cards — as in, they actually SAY "You win the game" or "Target player loses the game". However, they're either highly situational, require a certain action that will almost certainly get interrupted, or are just ridiculously expensive.
And finally, we have Great Wall, generally considered the worst card in the game. All it does is let you block creatures with plainswalk, of which there are only four that no one uses, only one of which was around when Great Wall was released.
What about Mudhole, a card that removes all the lands from a player's graveyard which is flat-out inferior to cheaper options (including Tormod's Crypt, an artifact with a 0 mana cost!) which just remove their entire graveyard? The only practical use would be to get around removing a specific non-land card in your opponent's graveyard to screw over some bizarre combo that doesn't even exist yet.
There exists a variant of Rock-Paper-Scissors where one may cast two other moves in addition to the three standards. The first, "Fire", beats Rock, Paper, and Scissors, but may only be cast once in a person's entire lifetime. (Presumably, players of this variant use the honors system.) The second, "Water", can be used an unlimited number of times, but loses to everything... except Fire, against which it is an automatic victory. The conditions for using Fire however are so ludicrous that nobody would ever have reason to use it, which makes its counter equally useless. Thus, in practice, the game is identical to standard Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Aversions and parodies:
All Force type character classes in later versions of Phantasy Star Online have particular technique specialities, techs that they have a higher level cap for than other classes. The FOmar's speciality are the buff and debuff techniques, which at max level make an enormous difference to the affected stats and have a massive area of effect. Having Shifta and Deband maintained whenever possible is standard procedure for PSO, and the FOmar is generally the preferred caster of choice for the task.
Dervishes in Guild Wars have enchantment (buff) stacking as their gimmick. Typically any given one only has minor effects, but given that many of them synergise well and Dervish primaries gain energy every time an enchantment ends, it tends to be essential to maintain a lot of them.
Any boss in Science Girls is just as vulnerable to status effects as regular enemies, so you can poison them or drop their stats from the start of the fight. It's balanced by some bosses having moves that can cancel them out after they're afflicted, but it at least makes them waste a turn.
Persona 4 (and from all reports, all Mega Ten games) seems to avert this trope with some degree of gusto. Not only does stat-up/down work on most bosses (and are necessary at points to avoid death) but instant kill techniques such as Chie's Galactic Punt Follow Though technique will instantly remove everything up to and including mid-bosses from battle.
Hilariously, this trips up even veteran RPG players at times, as evidenced in the Giant BombLet's Play of the game where the hosts were constantly re-rolling a fusion for Jack Frost because they kept getting Sukunda (A spell that decreases the hit/evasion stat of one enemy and is incredibly helpful throughout the entire game against bosses.)
Still, they later learn their lessons on buffs and debuffs, though they mainly use them on bosses. Their playing style tends to lean towards Awesome but Impractical generally, though it's somewhat forgiven by the fact that they're playing the game blind without consulting a gameplay guide.
While the single target enemy debuffs in the Persona games are at least useful against powerful single targets such as bosses, the single target party buffs (Tarukaja, Sukukaja and Rakukaja) are of very limited worth. They only target one character and last at most a mere 3 turns. By the time you apply a buff to your 4th character like this it'll have worn off the 1st one already. The all-target buffs (Matarukaja, Masukukaja and Marakukaja) are very useful though.
A good example of this aversion is the first Mid-Boss. A knight like shadow who can and will kill off your entire party within a few turns, presuming you don't have any plans of power-leveling IN THE FIRST DUNGEON. Pick up one of the ugly little Slime Personas, cast the attack debuff, and the fight will go through without a hitch.
In Shin Megami Tensei I, the instant-death Mudo spell averts this severely. While it doesn't work on bosses, it costs only 3 mp (out of what's typically a hundred or so, less than almost any other attack spell), attempts to kill two enemies at once in an enemy group, and never fails against big, high-health low-intelligence Elite Mook enemies that can otherwise be a huge pain.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey has a series of spells that hit all enemies for "heavy" damage and have a chance to inflict status ailments—a Ma-dyne spell and a all-targeting status spell rolled up into one, if you will. However, the status doesn't always connect, each spell costs 65 MP (enough to cast Megidolaon), and worst of all, the damage output ranges from on par with Ma-dyne spells at best to no better than first-tier spells at worst.
Notably, the (first) That One Boss in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Matador, is specifically designed to act as a brick wall to inform players new to Mega Ten that buffs and debuffs are about as powerful as the strongest attacks. If you go in without the proper buffs and debuffs, Matador will kick your ass.
Heck the game's earliest Disk One Nuke is Fog Breath which greatly decreases your enemies accuracy and evasion. You will find yourself using it all the way to the end.
And of course, the instantly-killing spells. Unlike other instant-death examples which tend to have low odds of killing ONE opponent, the series has developed horrors such as Die For Me! and Judgment Light, both of which have the potential to utterly waste every member of any enemy party with an 80% degree of accuracy. Granted, the series' trademark difficulty makes it a point not to make every Mook vulnerable to one or the other, and mostly you'll have to start from Mudo and Hama... which do have low chances of killing, but can be abused with the right enemies. And even though they can't kill bosses, most normal enemies in the game can be killed by them, and quite a few normal enemies can be major Demonic Spiders made much easier with Hama or Mudo.
Finally, we have Standard Status Effects. Not only they have a great hit chance (which can be boosted), they are much powerful than normal. As an example, Poison deals high damage AND can kill. Finally, most status in the games (most of them, at least), drops the Critical Hit resistance a lot, if not ensuring Critical Hits. That, coupled with Press Turn system, means that sometimes it's best to inflict an status effect on an enemy than directly kill him.
In most RPGs, status-altering skills are pointless. In Etrian Odyssey, they're key to breaking the game wide open. For this reason, many Etrian Odyssey players warn newcomers against using Hexers, as they might make the game too easy. As long as you're willing to master the skills in question, putting enemies to sleep, poisoning them, or even trying to kill them in one blow is a wonderfully valid tactic that will save you time and visits to the inn, as well as land you special conditional-drops that will lead towards better equipment and the money to buy it.
Some enemy can take the usefulness Up to Eleven though. One of the Bonus Boss in the third game is notably easier if you play with a limited amount of party member and a Beastmaster to summon enough beast with the exact status altering skills, thus nulifying most of the boss attack, including its One-Hit Kill. To put it simply, strategy in team building is the most important part of these games.
Notably averted in the Wizardry games. Blinding Flash, Silence, and Sleep are absolutely vital spells up until the late game, and they even work (if unreliably) on bosses. The Alchemist and Psionic classes (and the classes that pick up spells from them) favor status effects, though Priests and Mages get some, too. However, monsters can and will [ab]use the same effects against you, usually earlier and more reliably than you can.
Averted in Jade Empire. Not only are the status-affecting "Support Styles" useful all the way up through the game (even on the Big Bad) but they cost no chi or focus to use, unlike the Magic and Weapon styles. Demons are immune to them, but of the two demon bosses in the entire game, one is a Puzzle Boss while the other is optional.
Both the SaGa series and the Dragon Quest series avert this trope; random encounters are generally much more difficult than in most RPGs, and some powerful bosses aren't immune to status effects or instant death, making those powers valid tactics. You have spells that double your attack power, double your defense, halve the enemy's defense, and can give the enemy less than 10% accuracy or prevent them from casting any spells. And these, as a general rule, will work on 99% of all bosses in Dragon Quest games, including the Final Boss and Bonus Boss. Some bosses cast a spell that removes the buffs on your party or on the enemy party, but if they're wasting a turn removing buffs, they're not attacking.
Stone is very good in random encounters in Makai Toshi Sa Ga (The Final Fantasy Legend). Best of all, it works on an entire group of enemies. The same game also has the Saw weapon (a chainsaw, to be specific), which automatically deals a One-Hit Kill to opponents weaker than you. Or rather it's supposed to work that way, but because of a bug it only works on opponents stronger than you. Naturally, this includes the Final Boss. (Who is none other than the world's god.)
In Dragon Quest I, almost all combat spells eventually become nigh-useless near the end, thanks to the proclivity of magic-immune monsters and the dearth of MP-restoring items. The only spells that stay useful are Sleep and Stopspell, for the few enemies not immune.
Dragon Quest IV did have one example of Useless Useful Spell, but that was due to your allies playing A.I. Roulette. Specifically, Kiryl turned stupid the moment he learned Beat / Thwack, constantly casting that instead of concentrating on fighting or healing. This was so prevalent that it's even referenced in one of his specials in Dragon Quest: Monster Battle Road. Luckily, the re-release let you change tactics (you could do this in the original game, but only to a limited degree — the tactics were character-specific, and there were some things you just couldn't actually stop your characters from doing, regardless of setting) or take direct control, so even though the strategy for "Show Now Mercy" is still just spamming the One-Hit Kill, it's not the only options.
Dragon Quest IX has an inversion with the very first Sword skill learned, Dragon Slash (a move which deals great damage to Dragon-type monsters). However, you can get it when the only monsters around are slimes and bats, making it useless for quite a long while before you actually run into anything worth using it on (but at least it doesn't cost MP to use).
Many relatively early RPGs, like Wizardry and Might & Magic, were created before this trope came into vogue, and are noticeably lacking it. By inheritance, games modeled after them, like Etrian Odyssey, also tend to lack it, for the most part.
The Bard's Tale games pretty much have no immunities or even significant resistances at all. The Big Bad of the first game can be killed by a relatively simple death spell, which is only fair considering he and his cohorts are flinging one-hit kills right back at you.
Averted almost entirely in the Pokémon series. Most status-changing abilities are usually effective. If they aren't, it's either because it's a One-Hit KO move (Fissure), or it's because the status effect is an unexpected bonus (Ice Beam). Not only that but the "bosses" in Pokémon are simply leveled-up versions of those you find in the wild, meaning that Confuse Ray will work just as well on the Gym leader's level 50 Alakazam it did on that level 3 Pidgey you found in the grass.
There are still actual Useless Useful Spells, though; one move in particular (Feint) is intended to specifically bypass moves like Protect, the problem being it doesn't really do anything but bypass Protect, etc. Since so few Pokemon use those moves to begin with, you're better off giving up on it.
The reason for this was a typo in the game's code— it was meant to increase the chance of a critical hit by 25%, or in other words multiply it by 1.25. Instead, the code used multiplied the chance of a critical hit by 0.25, quartering it.
There's also a move called "Attract", which sets a status that makes the opponent fail to attack 50% of the time. However, the move only works on Pokemon of the opposite gender, it doesn't work at all on Pokemon with no gender (like Porygon or most legendaries), and is cured by removing the affected Pokemon or the one that used the move from battle. Attract can be useful, but only in combination with with other moves (that also decrease the chance of successfully moving) it stacks with. At least one official match, Venus in Colosseum, uses it to good effect.)
Attract becomes entirely the opposite in the first two Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, however, where they just ignored gender completely. As such, it works on every single Pokemon, including legendaries, and it also prevents them from attacking 100% of the time rather than 50%. This was fixed in the later Mystery Dungeon games, which give Pokemon genders like in the main series.
Genesect's Techno Blast is a brilliant subversion. It's a typical gimmicky ability that changes its type depending on the "Drive" item you hold. Generally speaking, it's one of the worst moves Genesect can learn — it has merely 5 PP and zero special effects, and none of its types get a STAB. All of its various types seem to be covered by other attacks he can learn. Chill Drive? Ice beam deals more damage, has more PP, can freeze. Shock Drive? Thunderbolt. Burn Drive? Flamethrower. Douse Drive? Well, Genesect can't learn any other water moves. Moreso, it's the only move in his entire moveset that is super effective against Fire type. And Fire type is Genesect's only weakness.
Players who do most of their battling either in-game or in casual matches (where the simplest — and often best — strategy is to simply spam super effective attacks) with friends might be surprised to find out that, in the serious competitive Meta Game, tons of attacks that get a passing glance in casual matches are practically ways of life. Moves like Thunder Wave and Spore go from just being used to catch Pokemon to the preferred method of crippling the opposing team, and fellow status moves Will-O-Wisp and Toxic join them to inflict passive damage on hugely defensive Pokemon (or in the former's case, to effectively neuter physical attackers). Swords Dance, Nasty Plot, Dragon Dance, and their ilk are the standard for lategame sweeping. Moves like Substitute, Knock Off, Leech Seed, U-Turn, and a host of others that take some practice to learn to use properly can wreck entire teams if played correctly. And then there's entry hazards, one of which (Stealth Rock) is such a ubiquitous and dangerous move that an otherwise fantastic Pokemon can be reduced to a joke if it has a weakness to Rock types.
And in the anime status effects, especially Sleep become some of the most overpowered things ever made. This is due to the anime being ever so slightly more realistic, which makes it that much harder to justify the difference between 'Sleeping' and 'Fainted' so sleep inducing moves become OHK Os with insane frequency.
Averted in Wandering Hamster. James' Poison Suds and Soap Shield spells are surpisingly effecient, especially during boss fights.
Same goes for Bob's spells, though part of the reason why they might be classed as useless is the fact that Bob uses Vancian Magic as opposed having his spells be fueled by Mana, which prevents MP restoring items from restoring his magic points.
Ditto Skeppio's Unguard spell, which makes it easier to defeat MeatShield enemies.
In Shadow Hearts, you'll notice that none of your spells affect status, though there are the requisite Status Buff spells — very useful. Instead, the status-changing effects (from the second game on) are equipped to your attacks, similar to Junction. Delay works surprisingly often against bosses, Petrify and Instant Death help a great deal against Demonic Spiders, and even if they don't trigger, you still get your attack and don't use up MP.
The Poison status effect in Disgaea is universally lethal as it does a fixed percentage of your HP in damage each turn, even with a serious level difference between you and your enemies.
Additionally, it's possible to overcome any status effect resistance by going to the Item World, subduing the proper specialist for that condition, and move to the weapon of choice to increase the ability of it to inflict that effect, as well as how long it can last/how likely the victim is to resist it (it works similarly for elemental resistances, just with different specialists).
In The 7th Saga, spells like Vacuum1 and Defense2 are very useful.
Unless, of course, you try and use them on a boss (which are immune to them ), the three overpowered mooks (Despair, Doom, and Reaper), and any apprentice you're fighting. Yes, that means that every playable character EXCEPT the one(s) in the party is immune to them, and that an ally you recruit will lose said immunity when they join you and regain it when they leave you.
Averted in EarthBound. While some enemies are immune to certain ailments, they will always be open to at least one kind. Several bosses can be put to sleep or paralyzed with ease, the sixth "Sanctuary" boss can be killed instantly with PSI Flash, and even the final boss is capable of being frozen or feel strange from the Brainshock spell.
One interesting note is that the resistance of an enemy being vulnerable to brainshock or hypnosis have an inverse relationship. If an enemy is immune to hypnosis, brainshock will have a 99.6% effectiveness (or vice-versa). If brainshock works on an enemy 10% of the time, hypnosis will work 50% of the time (or vice-versa). These four combinations are the only possible combinations of hypnosis and brainshock resistance in EB.
Case in point the second Sanctuary boss is vulnerable to Paralysis, making that whole cave a rush to beat him, then taking advantage of the cowardly enemies to level grind Paula.
The useless Pray spell that more than often cursed your party with a negative ailment? You need to use it during the final fight with Giygas.
MOTHER 3 maintains this tradition, and every boss is always vulnerable to at least one status effect. You can frequently put these to great use to defeat them. Plus, Sleep—through either PSI Hypnosis or Duster's amulet—has one of those most useful effects in the game. It reveals an enemy's "heartbeat," which is the special rhythm you need to press the buttons in when attacking to rack up massive amounts of damage. For some songs, which are made deliberately confusing or difficult, this is a massive help. Plus, his Wall Staples, which paralyze an enemy for a turn or two, are quite effective.
Furthermore, using spells and abilities that raise your stats and lower the boss' stats are quite effective on most bosses and practically required for some of them. Even if they can negate the changes, that's a turn spent not blasting you with powerful multi-targeting PSI attacks.
Almost every boss in the game can be frozen or lit on fire, but it's somewhat rare to do so.
Straight example: In Earthbound, the PK Thunder (AKA: Electric Shock Attack, Crashing Boom Bang Attack) moves are not nearly as useful for you as they are for your enemies. The move will target a random enemy each time it goes off (higher levels means stronger shots and more shots). However, if there's few enemies, there's a large chance that each shot will simply miss. It's very unlikely that you'll hit the same enemy more than once with the same move, even especially if you're using Omega (4 shots) and it's the only enemy, meaning it's also not useful against bosses. Meanwhile, you have a party of up to 4, and the enemy is far more likely to, even then, just zap the same party member until they die.
PK Thunder is greatly improved in MOTHER 3; it's a lot more accurate, and is therefore much better for use against bosses, especially when they have a shield, because it hits through shields.
Another straight example is the Neutralizer (technically, it's not a spell, but it's similar enough). It sounds like an upgraded version of the Shield Killer, which is an extremely useful item, until you realize the Neutralizer neutralizes everyone in battle, including yourself. It's only really useful if the entire enemy team is shielded (rare) or if everyone in your party has been severely debuffed (also rare).
Also averted in Monster Hunter: status-effect weaponry will eventually cause the relevant effect on your foe, provided you hit them enough times (the game keeps track rather than using a random chance), and the enemies are tough enough that status effects are actually helpful. Of course, there are cases (not that common, but not unknown either) where the enemy dies before you hit them enough for the effect to happen.
The Heroes of Might and Magic series has both, and sometimes the spell's usefulness is directly related to the hero using it. Most of these classics are best in the hands of Might oriented heroes to buff their troops, while a Magic hero is better advised to use his turns to sling damage spells or spells like Puppet Master. Most spells also work regardless of the enemy faced, though the undead are immune to a number of debuffs and some other creatures are highly resistant to magic in general.
Creatures with spells are a special case as the spell effect doesn't scale well with the size of the stack. A couple of mages have relatively strong spells, but when you get into the hundreds it's generally better to just have them attack instead.
The Dominus Glyphs in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. The two attack ones are quite powerful... but also damage you heavily every time you use them. You can put all three together for a combination attack that deals obscene damage — enough to one-hit kill anything short of a boss, and even some bosses... But if you use it any time before you're supposed to, it kills Shanoa instantly, rendering it useless.
Most status-inducing spells in the Avernum series by Spiderweb Software, particularly ones that impair combat ability (Slow, Sleep and Charm), are ineffective against opponents, while the player is very inconvenienced by them. This is more due to tactics than game mechanics, however: The player tends to be outnumbered by a horde of inferior opponents (except for rare boss battles), and naturally incapacitating one of a dozen mooks is useless compared to slowing or incapacitating one of four high-level killing machines.
Averted on higher difficulties: on Torment, where mooks often have stats as high as or higher than PCs (though far less versatility), suddenly daze and charm spells seem a lot more useful.
Sailor Moon: Another Story has the spell "Time Stop" which can freeze enemy actions for three turns. You'd think this spell would have severe limitations, but no, casting it freezes all enemies at once including the final boss with 100 percent accuracy. With judicious item use it is possible to keep Time Stop in effect throughout the entire final boss fight ...
Wild ARMs: Alter Code F, the remake of the original Wild Arms, makes all of these very useful. There are no instant-death equivalents (that you are allowed to cast), but all of the status effects land 100% on everything. Even the final boss. These are timed debuffs, so you only get a few turns before you have to cast them again.
Averted in Luminous Arc. Even the instant death spell works on the majority of bosses (giant bosses seem to be immune), providing their level is below that of the character who knows the spell (she's a healer, and since you get a good chunk of exp every time you heal someone, this isn't hard).
Averted in Dragon Age: Origins. Many of the status effect spells actually have a reasonable chance of working even on tougher enemies, some have effects which apply even if they are resisted, and many of the difficult fights involve a group of enemies instead of a single untouchable one. There are also several spells which deal good damage in addition to a status effect — the fireball spell, for example, has a chance to knock people over when it explodes.
Except for Crushing Prison, which will nearly never hold down very tough bosses (orange names), but Force Field will.
It stil does have its uses against tough bosses because it inflicts damage over time. It certainly isn't a waste; considering the other DoT doesn't work on bosses.
There is one shining example in the form of 'Curse of Mortality', which inflicts minor DoT and prevents healing. Extremely dangerous in enemy hands but useless to the Player since few enemies can heal anyway and it only affects a single target.
Though in an interesting twist this spell is absolutely critical to defeating Gaxx'kang the unstoppable bonus boss. Otherwise it is a brutal dawn out brawl in which he heals and you feel pain.
In the .hack//G.U. trilogy, status effects (charm, paralysis, curse, etc) can be equipped to weapons or learned as magic. They're quite effective at shutting down regular enemies, even bosses like Doppelganger.
In the older IMOQ quadrilogy, debuffing pesky enemies with paralyze or sleep becomes pretty much the most efficient ways to dispatch regular enemies. Particularly the lethal Lich series of mobs which is fast, casts very deadly spells, and can be summarily executed by putting it to Sleep first and then hacking it to bits (due to its low physical def stat).
The "Warlock" subset of spells (i.e. attack magic) in Vagrant Story. They look great, and most of the elementals (Radial Surge, Explosion, Avalanche, etc.) can be upgraded by finding copies of the spell books that teach them. Problem is that these spells require ungodly amounts of MP to cast, in a game where Magic Point boosts are hard to come by. Enchanter spells (changing Ashley's elemental attack or defense) are also of very marginal use, as you can only have one in effect at a time. However, Sorcerer spells (buffs and debuffs) start out useful, are always useful, have reasonable MP costs, and remain that way for the entire game.
While Final Fantasy is mostly in the "more efficient to just beat the enemies up than debuff them then beat them up" camp, Final Fantasy V actually averts most if not all of this trope, what with how many bosses simply don't have just one strategy for defeating them — some strategies for beating bosses involve crippling the boss with moves like Mute or Stop, or even deleveling them and then using moves whose effectiveness are dependent on levels. (Namely Level 5 Doom — which inflicts instant death on enemies whose levels are multiples of 5.) For this reason, Blue Mages are often a Game Breaker — and rightfully so!
The Bonus Boss Odin. He's got lethal hit-all attacks, and will insta-kill you in 60 seconds. He is not, however, immune to the "Break" petrification-effect. Trying to hit him with the actual "Break" spell won't be very effective, however, due to its inherent low hit-rate. The solution is to use the "Magic Knight" job, which can enhance a sword with a magical spell, activate "Break Blade", and finish Odin with a single attack.
The Bio spell at first glance appears to be a typical poison spell. However, even if an enemy cannot be poisoned, Bio is the most powerful spell available for the majority of the game and does about 40% more damage than the second-level elemental spells.
Hilariously, L5 Death works on bosses (provided their level is divisible by 5). DarkShock (halves the target's level and does some rounding if necessary) also works as does L2 Old (gives the target a debuff that gradually lowers their level). So with proper timing, almost any boss can be taken out by L5 Death.
One of the bosses in the Final Dungeon is a Blue Mage. If you attack him with Exploder, he will use it on his next turn, effectively committing suicide.
You can't talk about FFV without menthoining the insanly overpowered "mix" ability. Now, there are a few examples that stand out. One combination of items, I forgot what it's called, gives you berserk, image, and haste. not quite useless, but towards end-game you are using special skills that do more damage than a normal-super powered attack. Here are a few pre-cursors to this info. First, berserk over-writes any A.I. scripts. So anything a boss would normally do, he doesn't. transforming, final attacks, yadda-yadda. second, the combination bypasses any immunities a boss might have. After you think you beat the final boss in the game, he transforms into a stronger form. Unless, of course you use the combo on him. he'll just die. no transforming, no death soliloquies, nothing.
Final Fantasy IV will rarely let you land a status effect on bosses, but features several random encounters that showcase your immobilizing status effects. Most standard enemies that counter your attacks are vulnerable to Stop, Hold, or Edge's Pin — and many (such as the instant-death-happy Coeurl) will demolish you if you don't.
Additionally, Reflect will usually land on bosses — usually because it's their strategy, but you can apply it to them yourself. This seems counterintuitive, but it bounces heals and buffs as well as offensive spells. This is in fact the key strategy to defeating Asura, who spams high-level heals on herself and counters hard enough that you really want them landing on you instead.
The DS re-release of Final Fantasy IV, however, changes it so most bosses actually are weak to most, if not all status effects. To balance it out, though, most bosses are made significantly more difficult... unless you hit them with status effects.
Final Fantasy VI has Wreksoul, a Puzzle Boss whose gimmick is that he disappears mid-fight and "possesses" one of your party members, and in order to damage him you have to kill your party member thus forcing him to reappear. The two Mooks he leaves behind when he disappears are unkillable by normal means but are, however, vulnerable to the instant-death spell X-Zone — so if you cast it and kill both of them at once, the game glitches and views it as a victory.
Final Fantasy VI also has both magic and random encounters and magic that are more powerful than usual, and one counters the other. Single status effects aren't practical, but AoE spells like slowga, banish or graviga, and the flash tool can be quite useful. In addition, many bosses are vunerable to slow, including the mighty Ultima/Atma Weapon.
Several appendages of the final boss are vulnerable to the Death spell, a fact used in at least one low-level run's strategy.
The Vanish status would prevent physical attacks, but make magic always hit. The check for Instant Death immunity (but not other status ailments) would be skipped if the target was Vanished. Result? Almost every monster in the game could be killed by casting Vanish and Doom (or X-Zone) on it. The Playstation rerelease made a select few bosses that could break the game immune to Vanish of all things, before the Game Boy Advance version came along and quietly fixed the bug, making all three spells Useless Useful Spells again.
Likewise, Final Fantasy VIII generally makes abnormal statuses useful most of the time, particularly when 100 of them are junctioned as Status Attack. For instance, the Propagators are susceptible to Death, so equipping 100 Deaths in Status Attack ensures a very high One-Hit KO strike. Even major bosses are not immune from being blinded and having their defenses go down to 0. Tonberries who are generally immune from all status effects can be easily dealt with by spamming Demi or summoning Diablos, which are percentage-type attacks.
Final Fantasy XIII in general is an aversion, since only a couple enemies in the game are immune to all status ailments. It's probably safe to say that if an enemy's Libra data says it's "susceptible to (status effect)", it translates to "if you don't use that status, YOU. WILL. DIE." Both forms of final boss Orphan are shining examples. The first form, which otherwise treads into That One Boss/Luck-Based Mission territory with its ability to instantly KO your leader, can be utterly destroyed with Poison. Plus, if you can get the final form to stagger, and have Vanille use her Death ability on it, it actually works.
The easiest way to defeat Final Fantasy XIII-2's Bonus Boss Caius in the postgame? Use the series' newest spell Wound for 12 minutes to cherry tap him down to about 25% of his Max HP, and then just beat him to death.
Believe it or not, Quina's LV5 Death spell is actually much more useful than most people give it credit for. It won't work on bosses, of course, but there are a surprising number of enemies that can be mass-killed with the spell...including every single type of enemy in the Desert Palace except those electric cat things. LV3 Defenseless also comes in handy against a couple of bosses, including the Meltigemini and the Earth Guardian.
Similarly, what is normally That One Boss in Final Fantasy IX, the Earth Guardian, is a pantywaist if you hit him with Quina's Bad Breath spell. He subverts this trope heavily, being vulnerable to most of Bad Breath's effects, making it much easier to kill him. As the icing on the proverbial cake, said boss can also be eaten.
The various modes of Seymour tend to be just as immune to status effects as any of the other bosses. However, most of his forms (first, second, and third fights) are trivialized by using Yuna's Nul-spells carefully (since Scan tells you what order he spams elemental spells), abusing Reflect (which he doesn't dispel in a fight until the third fight, and then only every fourth turn), and Lulu's Bio spell—poison is incredibly effective in this game, taking out a fourth of the target's maximum HP (unless the 1/4th of the target's HP is still more than 9999) if they can be affected by poison at all. Other than that, just keep whacking away like you would with any normal enemy.
Also, poisoning the "pet" in fight 3 is an easy way to get the boss to kill itself.
In Final Fantasy X-2, the Songstress's dances afflict a status ailment on every single enemy or major buffs on all allies. They will always work, barring total immunity to the status, have a set duration (which makes timing easier), and better yet, you can also Stop them in their tracks, guarantee crits for you, put them all to sleep. It's less effective as the game goes on, since bosses start gaining immunity to the ailments Songstress provides, but surprising few regular enemies are immune to ailments that absolutely cripple them.
Likewise, very few of XII's Marks are immune to all status effects. Usually, you can find one that cripples an otherwise massively powerful mark (exampe: use Berserk on the Mindflayer).
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. Granted, Status hasn't really been used in most Kingdom Hearts games outside of maybe Stop or Magnet, 358/2 days uses them. Despite that several moves don't really apply to enemies (Such as Interface Screw or control-jacking), Burning, freezing, and air-knocking are perhaps the most effective ways to kill That One Enemy...the Emerald Serenade.
Vexen can even inflict freezing with his melee combos.
Stop is one way to kill Black Mushrooms in the first Kingdom Hearts game. A very effective way at that.
At higher levels in Kingdom Hearts, Gravity becomes a very useful attack, especially against Elite Mooks like the Behemoth. Continually cating Gravity on his horn will deplete his health far faster then keyblade combos will, at least when he still has high HP. Also, during the No-Gear Level sequence, Gravity is the only damage-dealing spell that still does useful damage, since it's percentage based, and not based on Sora's Magic stat.
Magnet meanwhile in Kingdom Hearts II is obviously a very good way to grind — some heartless don't just stay still, Magnet remedies that.
By the time you've got Magnega, there isn't a single basic enemy that will honestly last more than 5 seconds against you if you use it right. And it actually affects SephirothandXemnas. Magnega = Broken.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep inverts this trope vis-a-vis status effects so hard it may be subverting it. Status effects on any of your three heroes make for a rare, mildly annoying experience. Meanwhile, the myriad status spells available to the player from very, very early on in all three modes will utterly devastate the vast majority of Mooks, turning, say, a quartet of the toughest the game has to offer into helpless punching bags. And while lots of the bosses have some form of Contractual Boss Immunity, few of them are immune to everything. Vanitas getting you down? Magnet or Zero Gravity. Braig being a Jerk Ass? Burn him up, poison him, or just put him to sleep. Zack making you frown? Freeze him solid. Hook causing problems? Give him a whole host of them, he's only immune to three. In short: Having trouble with Birth By Sleep? There's a status for that.
And yes, if you are playing Proud Mode or higher, YOU. WILL. NEED. ALL OF THEM. Seriously, it's almost a requirement to deal with tougher Unversed and bosses.
Most bosses in Touhou Labyrinth are pretty vulnerable to debuffs and status effects (though some are immune and some are more vulnerable than others). A good thing, as you really NEED those debuffs and statuses to stand a chance at winning most of the time... Also, random encounters on later floors can be difficult enough that it's imperative to have a fast character paralyze them before they can act so slower attackers can dismantle them without worrying about getting hit.
Sands of Destruction, although it tends to go in and out of this trope. Buffs are highly useful. One of the best abilities in the game, though? Naja's Cleansing Cry...because when the enemies buff themselves, they can get to be VERY annoying and wipe out an unbuffed party while dodging everything that gets thrown at them. Debuffs? Meh...you can just wipe 'em out.
In Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, most opponents are vulnerable to status effects — so far only the "guardian" bosses seem capable of making those spells miss. Naturally, those are the ones you really wish you could find a guaranteed weakness for.
Addendum: Magic Pots also appear to be resistant/invulnerable to status effects (as well as resistant to magic in general).
The Stasis skill in Mass Effect may at first seem like a useless useful skill: it freezes the intended target, but also makes them invulnerable. However, this can be useful in situations where there is one very strong enemy—perhaps a boss or just an Elite Mook—and several regular Mooks, where (especially on the higher difficulties) the stronger enemies can kill Shepard in one hit. Additionally, the Bastion Prestige Class gains the ability to damage enemies in stasis, which (especially combined with upgrades which drastically reduce the cooldown time on abilities) makes the skill an utter Game Breaker. (Your squad becomes fairly useless when you can render the final boss immobile and kill it by yourself with just a dinky pistol.)
The Mass Effect 2 version of Stasis also gets pegged into this trope, despite actually being one of the most devastating status effects if used correctly. There are three reasons for why Stasis is good. The first is it is one of the few non-damage oriented abilities in the game that actually works without removing enemy defenses first. The second reason is that enemies hit with Stasis take significantly more damage between the time Stasis wears off and when they get back on their feet.note This is an intended effect, when Stasis wears off the enemy ragdolls and falls to the floor, both of which cause damage x2 while in effect for a total of x4 You can legitimately one shot many enemies in this time period. The third is a bug which for a brief moment causes the difficulty level to not be taken into account when dealing damage meaning that enemies take damage as though the game were at Easy difficulty regardless of the actual difficulty, so while it is supposed to allow you to deal massive damage to enemies as part of the design it ends up being Beneficial Bug overkill and one hit killing them. The major point is that none of this is listed in the game so most players look at the immediate effect of the ability, which isn't that useful most of the time, without ever realizing about the damage boost when it wears off.
Mass Effect 3 turned Stasis into a full blown Game Breaker against the Cerberus faction. A fully evolved Stasis Bubble in a chokepoint is able to stop an entire army of enemy units, as it only does not work on enemies with armor. As the only armored Cerberus unit is the slow Atlas, this led to a player with Stasis Bubble and a sniper rifle to utterly trivialize Cerberus. In Multiplayer, the tactic was made less effective by giving Cerberus Dragoons, who possess armor while moving relatively quickly. The real Useless Useful Spell is Sabotage, when fighting the Reaper or Collector forces. Both of those enemy types lack "synthetics", making the hacking portion of the ability worthless. In addition, most of the Reaper forces prefer to use melee, meaning they don't have guns to overheat.
In Gothic 2, there is a spell that does truely massive damage cheaply, but only to undead. The Big Bad is undead. Three casts of this spell kill him in seconds. I'd be disappointed if it wasn't for the fact that it's an undead dragon that fights exactly the same as the 5 dragons you already beat before this point, just with a bit more hitpoints.
Averted in NetHack; once you've learned "Finger of Death", that's all the offensive magic you'll ever need.
Provided, of course, you have reflection. If you don't, and happen to run across something that DOES, it's Yet Another Stupid Death.
In its early stages, status-inflicting moves and items in Opoona are not very helpful. This is especially so since battles are timed, and there's not a lot of time to waste fiddling around with menus. Then, the game decides to stop messing around, and throws at you parties of 8+ enemies, many of whom can heal, some of whom deal devestating damage, and many of whom live in battlefields strewn with bombs. Suddenly, the ability to prevent enemies from casting spells looks pretty useful. Poleena also has several abilities which can stun all enemies at once, which is extremely useful.
The Last Remnant easily averts this trope by simply having all status spells and items deal damage as well. There are few magic spells that don't cause some type of status ailment, in addition to causing damage. The staus ailments themselves are quite useful: poison does a decent amount of damage, while sealing an enemy's mystic and combat arts greatly reduces their offensive capabilities.
Vampires Dawn: In both games, using the Suck Blood ability (which has no costs and also refills part of your blood pool for further magics) causes a Bleed status effect that damages enemy health every turn in a percental value...and it lasts the entire fight. It also affects nearly every enemy, except for those that logically do not have blood, golems and such. Of which there are not many anyway. Needless to say, using Suck Blood on a tougher boss in the first turn is a VERY useful way to kill them quickly.
Averted in Heroes of Might and Magic 4, where clever use of these spell allow a lone hero to defeat entire legions of enemies.
In fact, buffs and debuffs are key in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. If you have 500 Conscripts attacking at once, which hardly put a dent in your wallet, Blessing them to do 2 damage instead of 1-or-2 can earn you up to 500 extra points of damage, and that's using one of the most pathetic units in the games as an example.
Completely averted in Star Stealing Prince, where inflicting status ailments and debuffs is a huge part of the gameplay. Nobody, not even the Final Boss, is immune to any status ailments, and many attacks deal damage and inflict status ailments at the same time. On the flip side, status ailments don't last very long, and nearly every enemy has at least one attack that deals status ailments, so they're just as capable of burying your party under a mountain of ailments and debuffs as you are.
That said, though, Paralyze is the least effective status ailment, as other than the really powerful attacks, it only shows up in one other attack, which doesn't deal very much damage and isn't really worth using when the character also has a full-party attack that causes Silence and Confusion.
Averted in Dark Souls. Weapons and spells that induce poison, toxin, or bleed are incredibly useful against most enemies. Bleed in particular is actually better when you cause it. When a monster causes Bleed, your health slowly drains until the bar is empty or you cure the ailment. When you cause Bleed on a monster, then it instantly takes off a chunk (usually around 30%) of their lifebar—even some of the bosses.
Averted prominently in The Denpa Men. Status-upping skills (like Speed or Defense increases) can help prevent your party from taking excess damage in random encounters, and when HP is at a premium (as in this game), every little bit of damage dodge helps. Similarly, stat-downing skills help take the edge off the game's brutal random encounters. Some skills are borderline necessary to survive in certain dungeons—such as status-curing skills when certain enemies love to spam you with status effects. And finally, Denpa Men with status-effecting skills tend to be less squishy than Denpa Men with attack skills.
Xenoblade Chronicles flat-out Inverts this! Status effects are immensley useful when used by you, in fact they're part of what makes Riki the Lethal Joke Character he really is. Not only do they work on just about everything, even bosses, but there are at least four separate damage-over-time effects (Bleed, Poison, Blaze and Chill), and they all stack with each other—yes, somehow being frozen stacks with being on fire, but let's not think too hard about that. Riki is caplable to taking major advantage of this, stacking all four on enemies quickly and re-applying them when they wear off ad-infinitum, to the point where he's considered one of the best boss killers in the game. The other main status effects, Break/Topple/Daze, render enemies not immune (and only flying monsters generally are, even the final boss can be toppled) completley immobile and vulnerable to damage, and at higher levels the party can spam these to make sure they never have a chance to get up! On the other hand, the same status effects are usually only mild annoyances when used by enemies: damage-over-time effects are easily out-healed, and active party members can snap eachother out of Sleep, Topple or Daze. That said, there are enemies who can apply Topple or Daze to all your party, or apply flat-out ridiculous damage-over-time effects (we are talking thousands per tick in a game where the HP cap is 9999), so it kinda depends on the enemy. Moreover Sharla's status-curing ability actually has the additional effect of making the target immune to further debuffing for a short while, (and she can hit your whole party with it later) making them all the more useless!
Speaking of Sharla, she has an instant kill move that also doesn't suck. Head Shot. It has a 15% chance to kill an enemy it hits provided it's suffering from Daze (and yes Sharla has a way to inflict Daze), and does good damage if it fails. More importantly, it's the only art she has with a red icon, which is relevant to get good (read: hundreds of thousands) damage off of Chain Attacks.
The bonus dungeon in Mana Khemia contains some truly hellish Bosses in Mook Clothing that won't take more than Scratch Damage from anything less than a critical when attacked directly. Fortunately, they have no status immunities other than seal, which means they can be delayed, insta-killed, put to sleep, and poisoned for full damage while the party plays defense.
Epic Battle Fantasy often subverts this. Many tough enemies are made easily manageable with some syphons and dispels, which would otherwise be laid aside. And if you don't get the point? In comes a Wake Up Call Boss that will beat your ass repeatedly if you don't play it smart and use these when necessary. A lesson learnt the hard way, but you won't forget that anytime soon.
Averted in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, where any attack, item, gear effect or badge effect is effective on anything up to and including the final boss and bonus boss. With the slight exception of the Shock Bomb, which still works on anything other than a boss with a 100% success rate. This kind of threw balance out the window as a result, making about half the badges and gear ridiculously overpowered.
Averted in Tales of Xillia. EVERY ENEMY in the game is susceptible to every status effect. This is the true use of Rowen, who may otherwise be seen as too much of a Squishy Wizard. Even the final boss is susceptible to every status effect, they also stack and most of the fights have multiple enemies, which makes confusion very helpful. There have been humorous anecdotes of either of the combatants in the final battle, as it is a Dual Boss, activating their Limit Break on each other, making short work of half of the fight.