Balance? Yeah, balance. Each element usually governs a certain part of nature, and for the world to operate properly, the elements must be equal in power. Else, there might be a risk of a world-wide disaster.... The balance might be realized by having one element being strong to another and weak to another.
Therefore, you would expect all things associated with the elements to be balanced as well, right? The Ice Blade should be as strong as the Fire Blade, right? The spell Water3 should deal the same damage as Thunder3, right? The Lightning Elemental and Wind Elemental should be equal in power, right?
Sometimes, things associated with elements are actually not balanced in power. There might even be a case where Fire is weak to Water, but the Fire elemental is so much stronger anyway that it completely defeats the Water elemental. This is actually more like Real Life than the alternative. Splashing someone with water should be as effective as hurling fire at them? Really?note
This is particularly annoying to people who have favorite elements: imagine finding yourself forced to "upgrade" from your favorite element to the element you absolutely despise.
As a general rule, expect the elements of Light and Darkness to be stronger than other elements in the Elemental RockPaperScissors, but still belong in it. Related to Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness. Compare Element Number Five or Infinity +1 Element, which are purposely designed to be much stronger and do away with the rock-paper-scissors completely. Compare also Spell Levels, where spells within the same element/school further have different power output levels.
- Lightning in Dark Souls is the most powerful element in terms of both gameplay (almost nothing has decent Lightning resist except the bosses in Artorias of the Abyss) and story (it was the preferred element of Gwyn, the most powerful Lord Soul holder, and the Achilles' Heel of the otherwise Nigh Invulnerable everlasting dragons).
- This was likely an early design goal for lightning in Dark Souls III, as it would explain most of the lightning weapons and spells being only obtainable very late in the game. Bafflingly, lightning is actually only decent, and fire, the most easily obtainable element in the game, is immensely powerful. Every boss during the first half of the game is massively weak to fire with the exception of the Old Demon King, and during the later half of the game + the DLC, all bosses are either weak or at the very least minimally resistant to fire, with the exception of dragons and one specific DLC boss. Fire is also nearly always effective versus enemies and will even stun and stagger some fleshy enemies. This is on top of all the other bonuses pyromancy receives over sorcery and miracles, including faster cast times, easier attainability, minimal investment needed, and viability for PVP.
- In Monster Hunter: World, Fire elemental weapons get the short end of the stick because most monsters weak to it are not really much trouble to begin with, with others being either neutral or resistant. Only one trouble monster, the elder dragon Vaal Hazak, is weak to it. Dragon to an extent has shades of this as most Elder Dragons aren't really that weak to Dragon, but the Rathalos/Rathians are and the addition of Elderseal on most Dragon element weapons stops them from falling into the same rut. Thunder on the other hand is the king of elements because a ton of powerful monsters like Bazelgeuse, Deviljho, Nergigante and Kushula Daora are weak against it. That being said, status ailment weapons are more universally useful because they affect all monsters equally: Poison has been buffed from previous entries and with enough points in the Poison Attack skill you can inflict the effect three or four times in a hunt with considerable damage each time; Sleep is quite powerful if you bring bombs or have a partner with a Great Sword, otherwise it just offers windows for healing and sharpening; Paralysis gives you and any partners a window to just go ham. And with the addition of skills that boost the damage of non-elemental weapons, forgoing an element weapon entirely is quite viable too.
- In the game EOE: Eve Of Extinction, each weapon has a specific element and is also more powerful than the one that came before it.
- Common in the Final Fantasy series with the Summon Magic; the recurring summons Shiva, Ifrit, and Ramuh are ice, fire, and electricity respectively, but their power is usually based on the order you find them, although the difference is minimal. They are usually surpassed by the water-elemental Leviathan, who is still weaker than the non-elemental Bahamut.
- In Final Fantasy I, the fire and lightning spells were on lower spell levels from the ice spells, and therefore ICE1/Blizzard did more damage. This is probably due to influence from Dungeons & Dragons, where the iconic Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells are on a different level from the iconic ice spell Cone of Cold.
- In a lot of FF games, there are more uncommon elements like Air and Earth, but they are harder to come by or use and are a Useless Useful Spell.
- You also fight the Four Fiends in order of their power, although elements are swapped around: Lich (Earth), Marilith (Fire), Kraken (Water), and lastly Tiamat (Wind).
- In Final Fantasy II, many enemies resist the Death element, making the sole Death-element spell (Death) a Useless Useful Spell. The Matter-element spells that act as instant-death* , on the other hand, are rarely resisted and can be outright Game Breakers with a bit of levelling.
- In Final Fantasy IV, you fight the Elemental Archfiends in order of their strength, from the weakest, Scarmiglione (Earth), then Cagnazzo (Water), Barbariccia (Wind), and finally the strongest, Rubicante (Fire).
- The various elemental type enemies in Final Fantasy X are encountered one by one as you advance through the game. The ones you meet in a recent area will be stronger than the ones you previously meet. Ditto for the various elemental Flans. The trend continues with Final Fantasy X-2, although the order of strength has been juggled around.
- While Final Fantasy XI utilized Elemental RockPaperScissors - Stone < Aero < Blizzard < Fire < Water < Thunder - it also handed out new spells very slowly. Black Mage received them the quickest at the rate on 1 every 4 levels (speeding up a little at higher levels). With 6 spells per tier - received in the order Stone/Water/Aero/Fire/Blizzard/Thunder - this meant there were as many as 20 levels between Stone and Thunder, and thus even against something weak to Stone you'd still do more damage with Thunder or Blizzard until you received the next tier of Stone and started the whole cycle over. Once at level cap any element besides Thunder of Blizzard was basically worthless - until Merit spells were added, then it was whichever merit spell you had.
- In Final Fantasy XII, the elemental weapons vary wildly in power. Often they are only effective in the chapter they are first available.
- Another example. Each Esper is associated with an element, but they are divided into three tiers.
- Tier 1 includes Belias, the Fire Esper; Mateus, the Ice Esper; Adrammelech, the Lightning Esper; and Zalera, the Esper of Death.
- Tier 2 includes Shemhazai, the Soul Esper; Cu Chulainn, the Poison Esper; Exodus, the Non-elemental Esper; Hashmal, the Earth Esper; and Zeromus, the Gravity Esper.
- Tier 3 includes Famfrit, the Water Esper; Chaos, the Wind Esper; Ultima, the Holy Esper; and Zodiark, the Dark Esper. Also, despite his affinity with Wind, Chaos can use all elements except Earth (which is his opposite element).
- In terms of conventional spells, Water magic oddly stops at Watera for the party. Higher-level Water spells do exist, but they're enemy-exclusive, making Water by far the weakest element for your characters later in the game.
- Yet another example. In this game, after performing a chain of Quickenings, you may perform an extra attack called a Concurrence. There are eight Concurrences, and while they all do Non-Elemental damage, their animations are very clearly based on the elements. Their order from weakest to strongest are: Inferno (fire), Cataclysm (earth), Torrent (water), Windburst (wind), Whiteout (ice), Ark Blast (lightning), Luminescence (light), and Black Hole (darkness).
- Another example. Each Esper is associated with an element, but they are divided into three tiers.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, while Aero has the same power as other basic spells, Aerora and Aeroga are stronger than other -ra and -ga spells. Aerora is as strong as -ga spells of other elements, and Aeroga is even stronger. However, they also cost more ATB meter, making them slower to cast. Most characters can't even cast Aeroga until 3/4th of the game.
- In Final Fantasy XIV, Black Mages and thaumaturges have access to Fire, Ice, Lightning spells, though out of those fire does the most raw damage (though ice recovers MP and tends to inflict the Bind or Heavy status, and thunder is a Damage Over Time spell). White Mages and Conjurers have access to stone spells, which like fire deal raw damage, while aero similarly does Damage Over Time. All of these spells have stronger Elemental Tiers. Oddly, there is no plain old water spell like in previous games, only giving access to Fluid Aura, which is a knockback skill. It's made even more strange because enemies have been shown to use Water spells very frequently. Though White Mages also have access to Holy, which does a fair amount Areaof Effect damage.
- Like past games in the series, the summons also do this. The order you fight them, from weakest to strongest: Ifrit, Titan, Garuda, Good King Moggle Mog XII, Leviathan, Ramuh, Shiva, Bahamut, Bismark, Ravana, Knights of the Round/King Thordan, and Alexander. There are also Hard and Extreme mode versions of these Primal fights, but those tend to shuffle their strength levels around a lot more.
- This game is also notable for being one of the few Final Fantasy games to avert Elemental RockPaperScissors, just because only certain jobs have access to certain elemental skills and spells.
- In EarthBound, elemental attacks have different areas of effect. Ice is a single-target, Fire hits a whole row but does less damage, and Lightning targets a random enemy and is prone to missing frequently unless there are many enemies. So even if you're facing a lightning-vulnerable boss you probably want to use ice, and same goes for if the fire-weak enemies are on multiple rows.
- This issue was fixed to a degree in MOTHER 3, where PK Thunder is much more accurate and PK Fire now hits all enemies no matter what. In both games, however, the elemental attacks end up being mostly outclassed by Non-Elemental PSI like PK Starstorm and PK *insert name of choice* Omega due to them having higher damage and not being resisted by anything (Late game bosses are generally just less resistant to a particular element, rather than weak against it).
- In the Dragon Quest games, lightning spells are typically the most powerful in each game and exclusive to The Hero (or the Hero vocation).
- Golden Sun:
- The ultimate weapon in all three games is earth-aligned, in spite of the fiery animation of the latter. The Infinity Plus One summon is fire-aligned, but so very impractical (and seeing little use) that the Infinity Minus One summons are used (and more for their effects than straight damage).
- Though this trope is subverted because the most useful element in the last two games are wind/lightning-aligned since almost all enemies take super effective damage against it. Even the resident Game-Breaker in the third series is a Wind Adept. Earth-aligned offenses, though strong, are resisted by the same lot of enemies as well.
- The elemental imbalance is actually mentioned in the second game- because the Mercury (water and ice) and Jupiter (wind and lightning) beacons are lit, the world is starting to turn cold too fast, to the point where when you first enter the Mars (fire) lighthouse, it's frozen over.
- In the first Atelier Iris game, the first and weakest offensive Mana Item you're able to synthesize is the Bomb Ice (Ice). Then you get the Obake Bag (Dark), Flame (Fire), Thunder Rod (Lightning), and finally the strongest one is Dragon Gem, which is also fire-based.
- In the second game, Atelier Iris 2, Ice items are again the weakest, since there are only two of them and the stronger one only deals medium damage. Meanwhile, there are a lot more Fire-based items and the second strongest item (Cerberus Flute) is Fire-based. The strongest item, however, deals all four elemental damage at once.
- Seems to be a trend in Atelier series. In Atelier Rorona, the absolute strongest item, Tera Bomb, is Fire-elemental.
- In Shin Megami Tensei games, sometimes there are the 'Element' race. They always have Erthys as the weakest, then Aeros, then Aquans, and Flaemis with the highest level. Sometimes they are followed by Paracelsus' elementals, but the element order stays the same, with Gnome as the weakest, followed by Sylph, Undine, and Salamander. Not that their levels matter much, since they're usually fusion fodder. note
- In Persona 3, Bufu and Zio spells have higher MP cost than Agi and Garu spells. They actually have the same power, but Bufu and Zio can inflict Freeze and Shock ailments, respectively, while the other two only deal damage.
- In Persona 5, Agi spells cost the same as most other elements, but can now inflict Burn. Garu spells do extra damage to foes afflicted with Burn and are cheaper than other elements. Frei spells do extra damage to foes afflicted with Freeze, Shock, or Burn, and Psi spells do extra damage to foes afflicted with Confuse, Despair, Fear, Rage, and Brainwash. Kouha and Eiha spells... have no particular upside and no access to Severe-level damage (except one skill that is unique to Tsukuyomi).
- In the first generation of Pokémon, Psychic was the clear top tier element, as the only two intended weaknesses were Bug (which had no good offensive attacks) and Ghost (which also had no good offensive attacks, and due to a programming oversight was accidentally made to deal no damage at all to Psychic Pokémon, anyway). The next generation introduced Dark and Steel types to combat this, and every year Psychic's power has been waning. Some things remain constant, though - Poison has pretty much always been at the bottom of the rankings, even though it got an advantage against the newly-introduced Fairy-type.
- It's worth noting that a given type's attacks may be of vastly different value than having a Pokémon of that type. For instance, Ice-type attacks are very good (four enemy types are weak against them, one of which is otherwise weak only to itself and a newly-introduced one) but being an Ice-type is terrible (four weaknesses, three of which are incredibly commonly used; and a single resistance, to Ice). Steel-type is the opposite (the majority of other types do reduced damage against Steel-type Pokémon, but only three take extra damage from Steel-type attacks).
- The move Stealth Rock has had this effect on the metagame. Its effect is to do damage every time a Pokémon switches in, and that damage is of Rock typing. Since its introduction, nearly every team has carried the move and it is much easier to set up than to remove, with the result that a Pokémon can drop a tier or two just because it carries a Rock-type weakness and has to take a truckload of damage before it can even do anything.
- Less by design but outcome schools of magic in World of Warcraft had this going on initially. Holy and Arcane had little to no weaknesses, while Fire, Nature and Shadow spells were frequently unusable because many enemies were immune to them. At the same time, raiders needed a lot of resistance those elements in the first raids.
- In Granblue Fantasy, the Light and Dark elements are often seen as endgame elements for players because they have no weaknesses, weapons of that element have a good variety of attack boosting skills and high attack stats, they have some of the most powerful summons to boost those weapon skills, and several characters aligned to that element are incredibly useful for DPS racing in raids.
- In Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, the elemental talons and saddles (weapons and armor, respectively) feature a gradual progression of values for base strength and upgrade limit. The sequence is Fire < Water < Thunder < Ice < Earth.
- In Heroes of Might and Magic III, the elementals have a hierarchy of power: Air elementals are the weakest (level 2), then Water elementals (level 3), then Fire elementals (level 4), and the strongest are the Earth elementals (level 5). The Armageddon's Blade expansion, which added an elemental-themed town called Conflux added in even stronger Psychic elementals (level 6) and upgraded versions of all elementals (Storm, Ice, Energy, Magma, Magic)
- In the first Disgaea game, the various tiers of Dragon and Great Wyrm monster classes have many variants of skills that differ only in the element. For the Dragon class, each tiers learn different combinations of elemental skills, although only the weakest one learn any Wind. For the Great Wyrm class, the first tier learns Fire skills, the second one learns Wind, and the third Ice. The fourth and fifth are Non-Elemental, and the sixth and final tier learns Fire again.
- The Fire Emblem series normally avoids this, with each magical element (Wind, Fire, Thunder, Light and Dark) having its own strengths and weaknesses... except in the fourth game. All elements have the same power across all their Spell Levels (lowest level spells have 4 Might, the next ones up have 14, then 20, then 30) and accuracy, but their weights differ, with Fire being heaviest, then Thunder, then Wind lightest. Since weapon weight lowers the speed of the user, which affects evasion and the ability to double attack, this resulted in Fire magic being nearly useless (even when having a favourable Elemental RockPaperScissors matchup) while Wind was a Game-Breaker. Light and Dark were also, in that game, effective against all three other elements, though in practice most of their spells suffered from the same weight problems Fire did, sometimes even worse. Later games would have Thunder as the most powerful, but also the heaviest and least accurate, with Wind being light and accuracte but weaker, and Fire being a middle ground between the two.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, Ice reigns supreme due to the sheer number of monsters that are weak against it, which range from the common Goblins to the rare but very dangerous Hydras; the only things it's not useful against are the seldom seen Blue Dragons, who absorb it, and the Bombs, who resist it. Lightning is a very close second; it may not have as many enemies that are vulnerable to it, but nothing resists it either. Plus, it gets a damage boost during rainy weather, making it a very dependable element all-around. Finally, Fire is at the bottom. A lot of enemies are resistant to it, and the monsters that it is strong against are typically undead, which are much more easily dispatched with curative spells and items.
- Terra Battle initially only has Fire, Ice, Lightning, and Darkness, all of which are on equal grounds. Then, a patch introduces the Photon and Graviton elements, which deal extra damage towards Darkness and Lightning, respectively, but not vice versa, making them superior to the old elements. A later patch then follows suit with Solar and Lunar elements, which deal extra damage to Ice and Fire respectively.
- Zigzagged in Evil Islands, even though it seems the designers wanted to play this trope straight. Fire magic is rendered obsolete because of this trope, but it's averted with acid magic, and lightning magic is the ultimate magic instead, despite coming at the middle of the game (check the Last Disc Magic entry there for more info, but to be short, some reasons are lightning magic doing extra damage against enemies wearing metal armor, and high mana cost and magic requirement on acid magic combined with a low range of attack).
- Runescape's elemental Hand Blast spells come in five tiers of power; within each tier, air, water, earth, and fire are sorted in increasing spell level and damage output. Similarly, the Ancient Magicks use smoke, shadow, blood, and ice as alternative elements.
Non video game examples
- The Four Gods in Chinese myth are each associated with a direction and an element in the Elemental RockPaperScissors. Xuanwu represents Water and north. Qinglong represents Wood and east, Zhuque represents Fire and south, and Baihu represents Metal and west. Then there is the fifth and the strongest beast, Huanglong, who represents Earth and the center. Averted in the Japanese version, where there is no beast to represent Earth and the center is associated with void instead.
- In Chinese elements, Earth is one of the elements in the rps. Specifically, in the destructive cycle, it destroys water and is destroyed by wood, while in the constructive cycle, it supports metal and supported by fire. Yet the beast that represents Earth is stronger than other beasts. It's not actually treated as the strongest in actual mythology. Although it almost certainly is in fictions.
- This is alluded to in The Wizard of London when Lady Cordelia is working on her plan to Grand Theft Me David.
- In the Phantom Lord Arc of Fairy Tail, we have the Element Four. Aria of the Air is explicitly stated to be the strongest of them all. And if you want to get technical, Black Steel Gajeel and Master Jose Porla are even more powerful than him.
- In 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, a supplement introduced the orb of cold/fire/acid/electricity/sonic/force spells. While each elemental version of the spell was of the same level, they dealt different amounts of damage. Fire typically dealt the most damage, with sonic and force generally dealing the least. This was probably due to the fact that after a few levels, just about every monster worth its salt has fire resistance - or even immunity - while very few are resistant to sonic and nothing resists force except for very specific defensive spells. Additionally, each element came with a secondary effect (paralysis, nausea, deafness, etc.) with the sole exception of force which only dealt damage.
- In 4th edition, out of the nine types of elemental damage, Radiant and Psychic have the combination of not being resisted by many creatures and having excellent support in terms of items and feats (with Radiant also being super effective against just about all undead, who tend to have a decent presence in most campaigns). Thunder, Lightning, Frost, and Fire are all well-supported with some powerful tricks even when resisted, while Acid is basically neutral. The only stinkers are Necrotic and Poison damage, since they have few unique tricks and are commonly resisted by many enemies (such as undead), with many creatures who are outright immune to poison entirely, necessitating the odd Obvious Rule Patch for those who wanted to poison their foes.
- There are the basic 6 elements (Fire, Water, Wind, Ice, Stone, and Earth), and then there are Elemental Light and Darkness. Light is explicitly more powerful than the other elements in Toa and Matoran because it was one of the first Elements they were created in, while Shadow is considerably more powerful than the base 6 because it's used almost exclusively by one species that has other powers. In addition, all beings are said to have a literal light and darkness in them, which is also part of Elemental Light and Shadow.
- Above Light and Shadow, there stands the three "elements" of Life, Time, and Creation, each of which is personified in a Legendary Mask (the Ignika, Vahi, and the one that Arktakha wears) that would destroy one of these fundimental laws of the matoran universe should the associated mask be destroyed. The masks themselves are also extremely hard to use: The Ignika demands a sacrifice for the use of its power, currently no one has been able to master the vahi without being sucked into its own time dilation bubble, and so far no one other than Arktakha has used the Mask of Creation, as he won ownership over it during the creation of the universe (and he is very stingy about its usage).
- Finally, there are also various "secondary" elements like Plasma, Magnetism, Sonics, Plantlife, etc...While not inherently less powerful than the core 6 elements, they are much less known and used because their users are few and far between (Matoran and Toas of these elements are rare and almost never appear in the stories, while the only toys ever released that used these were the 6 Bohrok Kals, and they were explicitly 6 individuals rather than 6 breeds).