What Exactly is an Energy Attack?

Kamehameha from Dragon Ball

My son and I started watching Dragon Ball a few months back.  This got me thinking about energy attacks and the overall power structure that was introduced in this series.  Also, how it differs from what I use:

  • I work with a magic system, which has a central energy source that exists within everything.  Trained or untrained people can manipulate this energy to create spells that vary according to their will.
  • Dragon Ball has an energy system, which has a central source called Chi (Ki).  It exists in everything.  Trained or untrained people can manipulate this energy to enhance their physical abilities and create various energy-based attacks.  The power depends on skill and willpower.

They are very similar, but the big difference is that energy attacks in Dragon Ball are less complicated and varied.  At least, on the surface.  Nyx can hurl fire around in the form of balls, beams, waves, fists, and whatever else she imagines.  Goku tends to have beams and balls for the most part.  Nyx can change her element while Goku remains with his Chi/Ki energy.  So, Nyx kind of wins on versatility, but Goku certainly takes the crown when it comes to pure power output.  I’ll admit that the Dragon Ball characters are much more destructive than most of mine because of their energy and power level system.

The concept of energy blasts is rather strange too.  We’re so used to there being a bigger explanation or a variety of visuals that these beams and orbs can all blend together.  Yet, those who love the series can identify each one fairly easily.  Usually by the hand gestures and poses, which is similar to a caster conjuring a spell.  Again, we find ourselves seeing how similar these things are.

I think energy attacks like the Kamehameha and Destructo Disc are harder to do in a novel than more visual mediums.  Having a small variety of beams go bouncing around can be both confusing and boring.  This is why casters will have elemental attacks, illusions, defenses, shape-shifting, and any number of spells that can be described in detail.  This paints a better picture using only words.  With an energy blast, it can always be seen, but there isn’t as much vividness, especially if multiple characters are making the same types of attacks.  This can work if you don’t want complicated action scenes, but it’s a problem for someone who uses them as a staple of their style.

As you can tell, I’m torn on the whole thing.  I think for novels, a more detailed magic system works best.  Graphic novels, movies, video games, and cartoons can work with a Dragon Ball type of energy system.  Does seem like such a minor aspect that I’m trying to pull into a week long topic though.

So, what do other people think of this topic?  For those who have no experience with it, what does it look like from the outside?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to What Exactly is an Energy Attack?

  1. L. Marie says:

    I watched Dragon Ball Z back in the 90s. 😃 Seems like this kind of attack is a good check and balance for a magic system to keep the magic from seeming too unlimited. You have to have the skill and the will. But using it can be costly. And I agree that this kind of thing works better in a visual medium though I can see this working well in a graphic novel.

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    • I’m curious to see how my son takes to DBZ. We’re still in the original series, so the energy blasts are minimal. I don’t even remember there being a cost in DBZ unless the plot required it for suspense. So, the energy system definitely seems for undefined than magic.

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  2. I am always amazed at the topics on this post. Until now, I didn’t know anything about energy attacks. From reading your books, I knew about spells, etc. I never gave different energy styles any thought. I guess I have to pay attention more. It seems that those attacks that require a certain skill might be the most interesting (Nyx and fire, for example.) The energy attacks would certainly be exciting

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  3. I’m torn. Describing a visual in a book is a good thing. However, some of it gets overdone. I keep trying to find new ways to accomplish the same things without a lot of finger twisting and arm waving. So far I haven’t had a lot of luck.

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  4. I came up through gaming, and I always think of the endurance cost when my characters shoot out blasts. But it is very different from written storytelling, where witches and wizards would have to spend hours gathering materials, stirring a pot, chanting a spell, or something like that.

    Authors have a lot of leeway to individualize their spellcasting, though. That’s part of what makes different work unique.

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    • I think endurance and energy limits might be where DBZ works really well. Sometimes better than magic because authors won’t always keep the expenditures consistent when it comes to spell size. Regular energy attacks are easier to categorize by size and power.

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