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When a story contains a vast variety of Elemental Powers to choose from, the most powerful are inevitably the least complex. For example, individuals with elemental control over technology, rubber, string, plastic, fish, etc., has less to work with against those who have elemental power over such basics as light, darkness, energy, gravity, life, death.

The reasoning behind this could be that as the concept/element becomes simpler/broader, it encompasses more, giving its controller a larger dominion. This is especially true considering that Artistic License Physics is often involved anyway; the more defined something becomes the less room you have to fudge the rules. This is the reason Lightning Can Do Anything after all. On top of this, the less complex the concept, the closer it is to a facet of reality rather than an idea of man's.

See also Rock Beats Laser and Heart Is an Awesome Power. Contrast Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, which is where the weakness/strength relationships are between the broad powers only. Can be a cause of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, since "skilled with a bow" is narrower than "Magic". What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? is often an exception to this rule (broad but useless). Heart Is an Awesome Power is too: the user's creativity invents more uses for the power. This Looks Like a Job For Aquaman is this trope's logical conclusion: a power so complicated it's only useful in circumstances so specific they're contrived.

Examples of Inverse Law of Complexity to Power include:


Anime & Manga

  • One Piece's Devil Fruits are usually more powerful if it's a logia type, which are things like fire, electricity, sand, ice, light, darkness, etc. It's notable that the protagonist has a rather narrow power (made of rubber), but still beats everybody. Of course, you could also argue that everyone has a "broad" power given some of the wacky things they do, but only important characters with simple powers use them in weird, complex ways.
  • In the manga Psychic Academy, the characters each have dominion over a certain thing, such as string, fire, steel, healing. The most powerful elements are light and darkness.
  • Jojo's Bizarre Adventure averts this more and more with each subsequent part. Jotaro's Star Platinum is rather simple in concept. Compare that to his daughter's stand Stone Free, which teaches the lesson that there are MANY things that can be done by turning your body into string.
  • Inverted in Naruto, where the more complex elements (both in what is required to use them and what they are capable of doing) which are formed by a combination of the basic five are consistently shown to be vastly more effective, mostly due to the numerous special abilities those elements confer but also in absolute terms. The list of characters who have the ability to use these elements is short, but everyone on it is a certified badass.


Comics

  • Neil Gaiman's Sandman features the seven Endless who are all Anthropomorphic Personifications of concepts starting with the letter D. From oldest to youngest: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium. Death is arguably the most powerful of the lot. Although the nature of Dream tends to allow him to control things like say... all of reality.
    • Arguable. His powers allow him to affect how others see reality, and yes, reality is defined by his absence. He is, however, constrained by his nature; he cannot alter reality, because to do so would alter himself, which he cannot do. And none of them are 'more' or 'less' powerful; they are all omnipotent within their sphere. Desire could toy with Dream's heart, but Dream could destroy Desire's reality (at the end of The Doll's House, he hits Desire with a BSOD by explaining something. That's all.).
      • Though Death is the one that will not be fazed by any of them, since she is certainly going to be the last one standing. They even admit she will almost certainly "exist" in some form longer then the rest of them.
  • Empowered's Syndablokk averts this entirely. He's a C-List super, but that's because he holds back; his power is elemental control of ARCHITECTURE. Villains have a 0% chance of touching him in a city, near a freeway, or basically anywhere. He never uses it except when really, really pressed, because of the massive collateral damage buildings-wise.


Literature

  • A Fistful of Sky has the LaZelle family who develop magic gifts around puberty that tend to specialize in various areas. On one side of the scale is Jasper, who gets the lame and extremely specific ability to be magically good at musical notation. On the other end is Gypsum, who gets the power to curse, which when used properly, can pretty much control anything.
  • In The Passing of the Techno-Mages trilogy, Galen develops his spell language in terms of mathematical formulae, making it less of an art and more of a science. He orders the known spells he translates from other mages' languages in several groups based on the progression of terms. Then he discovers that, instead of coming up with more complex spells, he could try breaking down the basic two-term spell even further into a simple one-term spell. The result - a Sphere of Destruction that can make anything within it cease to exist. No one else can replicate his achievement (on their own, at least), as the spell languages of others are more artistic than functional. Later, he tries the same thing with the other progressions and comes up with other extremely-powerful spells, such as an organic (Shadow) skin that absorbs energy, energy beams shooting out of his palms, etc. He finally realizes that he can become even more powerful by casting a zero-term spell; which results in the implants working in harmony with him. Only one other mage manages to accomplish this latest feat and only on his deathbed.
    • Just to illustrate how powerful of a spell the Sphere of Destruction really is, see the part of the trilogy where Galen uses it to destroy a large chunk of a city by casting the spell about a hundred times in a short time frame. A skyscraper is brought down by making its support columns disappear. He then destroys several warships by making chunks of their reactors disappear. Even Kosh is wary of approaching him, knowing they're about equal in power.
  • Every person native to Xanth has a single magic talent. Talents like "make a fancy light show" or "change color of your urine" are at the weakest level of the spectrum. Talents like "make perfect illusions", "transform anyone into anything" and "perfect protection against any threat (including ones you don't know about)" are Magician-class and makes you eligible to claim the throne.
  • In Wrong Time For The Dragons by Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov, magic is subdivided into Elemental and Totem (imitating various animals). Of the two, the elemental mage clans are considerably more powerful than the totem clans.


Live Action TV

  • The Gaia Memories in Kamen Rider Double get much more powerful the more vague their "title" is. For example, memories like 'Cockroach' and 'Money' typically give only one ability to the Monster of the Week, but more abstract memories like 'Nazca' or 'Utopia' have long lists of powers they grant their users.
    • This can be argued with, since the users of the Gaia Memories like 'Nazca', 'Taboo' and 'Terror' have had them MUCH longer than any other character AND unlike the weekly opponent, they don't use them by attaching them to their skin, but using special devices similar to W's henshin belt, seems this is a much more effective method...


Tabletop RPG

  • Averted in the tabletop RPG Nobilis. PCs can have control over very specific things, but their utility is dependent more on how much control the user has over the domain rather than the encompassing nature of the domain. An example of that straight from the rulebook is that a character that has dominion over Emotion might only be able to affect emotion related to artists. One with the more specific control over Fear might be able to control darkness and monsters. In addition to this, your powers tend to only be as useful as you are creative. An example of play in the book had the power of treachery convincing bullets and guided missiles to turn on the people who fired them.
  • Averted in most points-buy based superhero RPG systems. A power that allows a player to control a vast variety of effects, such as Time Manipulation, Matter Manipulation, and such tend to be MUCH more expensive than those that are more focused, such as Metal Manipulation or (to borrow from the original DC Heroes game) Omni-Arm - the ability to control the shape and structure of one's arms. This means the character with the more 'complex' power, with limited focus, can buy that power at a much higher rank than those with the broad, far-reaching effects.

Video Games

  • Touhou both averts and plays this straight.
    • Simple powers: Yukari Yakumo's "Manipulation of Boundaries" is flexible enough to make her an insanely powerful Reality Warper. Likewise, Suika Ibuki's "Manipulation of Density" lets her change size, create black holes or copies of herself, turn into mist or even induce a spree of parties by controlling population density. On the other hand we have Rumia's "Manipulation of Darkness". It lets her create a sphere around her where no one can see. Including her.
    • Specific powers: Reimu Hakurei has the power to "float through the air". In a setting where everyone can fly. Turns out she can use this to float outside reality, becoming completely invincible without hindering her offensive abilities. On the other hand, Rinnosuke Morichika's power to "recognise the name and purpose of any object" keeps giving him useless information ("Nintendo DS: World-controlling device"[1]) and doesn't tell him how to use them.
  • Averted in Fate/stay night. Most spellcasters have one of the five basic elements, but hybrids of multiple elements can generally create more powerful effects. Shirou and Sakura have the bizarre elements of "Sword" and "Imaginary Numbers" respectively, both of which turn out to be insanely powerful - the former leading to Mega Manning and Storm of Blades, and the latter to Eldritch Abominations.
    • To be exact, Sakura's original element is used to create effects that can harm spiritual beings (such as Servants), which is quite different (but still powerful), and her being able to create Eldritch Abominations comes from forced element change Zouken performed on her and being the dark grail container. And Shirou's abilities are only powerful because of 2 reasons - his Reality Marble, and him coming into contact with a lot of powerful weapons he can replicate using them.


Web Original


Western Animation

Notes

  1. As in it lets you control a fictional world. Definitely not something related to Nintendo's long-term plans.
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