The Pros and Cons of Power Levels

Dragon Ball Z Again

Sticking to the theme here, which is really turning into a pseudo-analysis of the Dragon Ball system.  We did energy attacks and powering up, but another thing that comes about are the power levels.  Once Dragon Ball Z showed up, characters started getting numbers connected to their overall abilities.  This is very much like stats in a video game, but not broken down into categories.

There are pros and cons to introducing a leveling system to your story, so let’s get into it:

  • Pro–  The author and audience all know the hierarchy of strength.  There isn’t any mystery to how powerful characters are once these numbers are revealed.  At the very least, you get a base or starting point for each one.  This is also how people will determine who the main heroes and villains are because those with lower power levels won’t be seen as useful in the long run.
  • Con–  As I said, the power levels will be seen as directions as to who are the important characters.  This means supporting cast won’t have as big a reaction and it will be difficult to evolve them to a higher spot.  As long as their levels are below the main characters, they will always be seen as sidekicks.
  • Pro–  The levels going up can help to demonstrate the usefulness of training and experience.  Characters will keep checking numbers to see if they’ve improved, so the audience will see this as well.  You also have the villain numbers acting as something for the hero to surpass, which can be seen through training and battles.  Unlike doing this without levels, you see a less ambiguous result.
  • Con–  Power levels take some of the mystery and tension out of a story.  People assume those with the highest numbers will either win or require those below them to work together.  There’s very little chance of someone from the bottom of the heap jumping up to save the day.  If they do then it throws the entire power level hierarchy and system on its head.  Why would those things matter if a weak character can topple the strongest?

Wow.  I guess I burnt out on the pros and cons already.  Those are really the big ones since all 4 cover some ground.  Personally, I’m not a fan of these, especially when it comes to novels.  Video games work with this because the audience can manipulate the stats on their own.  Beyond that, you’re going to lock a lot of things down.

So, what do you think of power level systems?  Any pros and cons you can think of?

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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8 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Power Levels

  1. It is hard to use in fiction, but not impossible. Years at Hogwarts, the color system for wizards in LOTR. Even a dojo with colored belts can get some of this across. Probably that weird tool that stays in the back of the writer’s tool chest, but does one specific thing for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. New to me. Interesting though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a player in video games, I like them. It’s fun to measure my progress and add new skills and stats. But in that context, the levels are hidden. I know them, but everyone else in the game doesn’t know them. Especially, NPCs I encounter do not know them.

    As a reader or viewer, levels are artificial and they irritate me greatly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’re certainly awkward in non-video game settings. Shows and movies that use those mechanics because it’s a VG world can pull it off. Only other time it’s made sense to me is with transformation power evolutions. I can see how changing to a level 1 Super Saiyan isn’t as strong as a level 2.

      Liked by 2 people

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