Underrated and Overleveled YKTTW Discussion

Underrated and Overleveled
When a character in a game (particularly RPG) is far stronger in-game than the plot justifies.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-12-23 13:53:00 sponsor: dsollen (last reply: 2013-01-04 08:40:28)

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Bob is a Super Soldier who has fought many wars and led his army to victory in all of them. Alice is an Arch Mage. They lead a team of equally Bad Ass allies who have defeated magical monsters, dragons, and robots. Only a team this strong stands a chance of defeating the current evil threatening the town...so why is this 10 year old child with no combat training insisting on traveling with them to help? Surely a child will just get in the way and need saving right? Wait, is he doing almost as much damage to the giant with his baseball bat as Bob? Did he just cast a spell that Alice doesn't even know? Where did he learn to do that? How is someone with no apparent training or experience still powerful enough to keep up with experienced adventures? Clearly this kid is Underrated And Overleveled.

This trope is a variant of Gameplay and Story Segregation in which a character is more powerful in actual combat than is justified within the story. A character is 'underrated' any time he would reasonably be expected to be weaker than his allies according to plot, whether this is due to lack of training, being too young/old for combat, using outdated/weaker weaponry, other characters commenting on this character being weaker and/or less skilled, or any other reason that would leave the audience questioning the character's strength.

A character is not 'underrated' if the plot draws attention to, or provides justification for, the fact that this character is able to keep up with allies that would otherwise appear to be more powerful than he is. This trope also does not apply to a character who starts out as weak in combat as one would expect from someone with no training and poor equipment, and grows strong enough to take on more powerful foes only after appropriate level grinding.

This is most common in Role-Playing Games due to the tendency to start new characters at the same level as the rest of the party to avoid situations where the new character Can't Catch Up. Sometimes, this will be all that stands between a useful Guest Star Party Member and a laborious Escort Mission. Thus, any character who is introduced late enough in the game is likely to fall prey to this trope. When your main character is introduced as as a powerful warrior at level 5 near the beginning of the game and proceeds to grow stronger through half of a game, he's going to be so powerful that it's difficult to justify any character being on-par with him unless they have a truly Bad Ass Backstory.

Contrast Overrated And Underleveled


Eastern Role Playing Games

  • Final Fantasy VI has the main characters battle an entire empire and win, they even have the empire soldiers comment on how powerful they are while negotiating peace terms. Not long after this the main characters meet Strago and Relm. Strago at least is justified as being pretty Bad Ass in his youth, but Relm is an 8 year old painter who somehow manages to make a strong party member. This is partially justified for both of them, as they are both mage characters whose gift with magic is justified by their being descendents of warriors infused with magical power during the war of the magi. This, however, doesn't explain why Relm manages to be only a little weaker with her morning star the someone who was one of the world's top generals BEFORE she started to Level Grind (Celes being a Magic Knight character herself).
    • While not as severe a case as the two listed above, Setzer may also aply. Setzer is a ....gambler. That's all he is, he gambles a lot and is good with airships. He joins the party right as the main characters are about to attack a major facility in the Empire's capital city, and proves competent with a sword (or throwing cards).
  • Final Fantasy IV featuresPalom and Porom, a pair of Half-Identical Twins with powerful magic and Wonder Twin Powers that allow them to wipe out regular encounters in an eyeblink. They provide Cecil with some much needed support when he's separated from his main party, despite being only five years old.
    • This one is debatable depending on who you ask. They did come from a town who's hat is being made up of all mages, and it's briefly stated that they are child prodigy. They are still little kids; so how much this applies depends on how much one is willing to accept the "their prodigy" explanation as valid or just a hand-wave.
  • Valkyrie Profile averts this in Hard Mode, where every einherjar starts at level 1, but plays it very straight in Normal and Easy modes. Arngrim is a One-Man Army Guts Expy, who starts at level 1 because he's the first character you recruit. Other characters who should be significantly less powerful, like Lawfer (who regarded Arngrim as an unmatched genius whom his own skills could never approach,) Kashell (a fellow mercenary who never received anything like Arngrim's acclaim,) and Lucian (a former childhood friend of Valkyrie's human form, who became a thief and probably has no formal training and little practical experience in swordsmanship,) all start at higher levels because they're recruited in later chapters.
  • Chrono Cross manages to employ this without actually having character levels. Characters gain stat points after each battle up to a limit set by the number of bosses you've defeated (making your power in combat almost completely dependent on what point in the game you're at.) Characters always join your party with stats appropriate to the point of the game where they're recruited, meaning that some characters who ought to be particularly strong, like the Four Devas of the Acacia Dragoons, join your party with lower stats than later-joining characters such as Orcha, the head chef at the castle they're stationed at.
    • In fact any Role-Playing Games (like Chrono Cross) that emphasize a massive cast of recruitable teammates tend to be particularly guilty of this. The huge hosts of characters guarantee at least a few will be mundane people with little or no combat training, and the inability to focus much plot on each character means that the developers don't have time to give in story justification for everyone's combat capabilities. Noteworthy examples include Radiata Stories and every single Fire Emblem and Suikoden game.
  • Final Fantasy IX does this with Eiko. While most of the strength of each character makes sense, Eiko is the second to last character received and the strongest healer in game..and is a little girl with no training. Her talent with Summoning is explained as her being the last of an ancient summoner tribe, but her power with healing isn't really explained at all.
  • Resonance of Fate manages a little of this and Overrated And Underleveled during the beginning of the game. Vashyron is an experienced war hero who taught the others everything they know about fighting, Zephyr is much younger, but was trained by Vashyron for some time and Leanne is the naive newbie and The Chick. Logically one would expect that their combat strength would be Vashyron > Zephyr > Leanne, but the game starts them out as nearly identical in strength (though vashryon does have a little more health, they're mostly interchangeable this early on). This wouldn't be too bad if the in combat banter of the first quarter of the game didn't make constant references to Leanne being inexperienced and supposedly weaker then the rest of the team.
  • A minor, and very subtle, example occurs in The Legend of Dragoon. When Lavitz is replaced by Albert, Albert has the exact same level as the person he replaces. Since Albert is a king trained in combat from a young age his combat strength wouldn't be too odd for when he starts, if he hadn't explicitly stated that he learned everything he knows about combat from Lavitz. This seems reasonable until one visits the fridge and realizes that Lavitz was a much lower level when he joined the team, so if Albert had learned everything from him before the main game Albert should at most be equal to his starting level, not the level he was at when he was replaced.
  • Lost Odyssey appears to be a pretty horrible offender. Seth and Kalm are immortal beings who spent the nearly a thousand years fighting and developing as warriors, Jensen was picked by the strongest mage in the capital to be an ally for them, and Queen Ming (who is received only shortly later) is an immortal queen known for stooping an invasion of powerful magic beings single handedly with her powerful magics. Fighting along beside this team are... two little kids with no combat training at all. However the kids do join the party early enough that the main party isn't made too powerful by Level Grinding. Also, Cooke is a White Mage who's physical combat skills are just as bad as one would expect from a little girl, and when Mack joins the party he is a Magic Knight who's magic ability at least is justified as it's heavily implied that he was given spirit magic as a side effect of being possessed by the remains of a tribe with a gift for spirit magic. However, Mack is still a little too powerful physically for a little kid with no training running up and hitting you.
    • some Fan Wank can help justify this further. It could be assumed Cooke's power with White Magic is from her wanting to heal her sick mother. Presumably she started studying to try to help her mother recover, it would be in character for her even if it's never explicitly stated in game. As for Mack, well since spirit magic has a heavy emphasis on strengthening yourself and weakening enemies one could possible claim that Mack's physical combat ability is actually partially a result of the same experience that gave him his magic, ie. his magic is making him hit stronger/faster then a young child should be naturally. Though that's pushing the limits of Fan Wank a bit.
    • Completely, and skillfully, averted with Tolten. As a prince who presumably received training in combat throughout his upbringing he would be expected to be competent with a sword, and indeed the first time he is used in combat he is about equal to the rest of the party in strength and shown being capable of defending himself when forced to. However, by the time he becomes a regular party member he is the exact same level, making him far weaker than the others, who have been growing steadily stronger for another fourth of the game. He has to be placed in the back row where he can be protected to keep him alive through the first few battles and he can barely dish out worthwhile damage...luckily the combat system (ie, the ability to easily gaurd low health and vulnerable allies in the back row from damage temporarily) prevents his low level from making him a liability that dies all the time, and the leveling system ensures he gains levels absurdly fast so he will catch up to a useful level in very little time. This fits very nicely with his characterization, he is depicted as too afraid to fight, or stand up for himself, alone, and has to learn how to be a stronger/braver man just as he has to gain xp in combat before he is an equal to the rest of the team.
  • In Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle , the main character is liable to become this. She gains experience and raises her level throughout the course of the game almost entirely through activities that have nothing to do with combat, likely leading the player to believe that her stats are simply a way of keeping score, with no function beyond the cosmetic. However, the game does contain combat, and by the time she reaches it, the Duchess is likely to be capable of fighting on par with the Awesome Fellowship, a highly experienced band of adventurers whose exploits shape the fates of nations.
  • Every single party member in Persona 4 counts. (except MC, Yosuke, and Chie since they are your starting members and join at low levels) All of them joins right after getting their Personas and resting for about a month with obviusly no experience in using their Personas. All of them joins with the appropriate levels and skills for the stage of the game they're in.
  • Adell's younger siblings Taro and Hanako in Disgaea 2. Especially since they were visibly level 1 NP Cs beforehand and their levels suddenly shot up when they join.
  • Brutally averted in Atelier Iris 2 with your last party member Viese, who joins at the third to last chapter at level ONE. Somewhat justified since the plot of the chapter she joins is to backtrack to previous areas.
  • May possibly be the case with Ariel in Kingdom Hearts. One could try to argue that the rest of the group are actually fighting at an extreme disadvantage (not being use to fighting in water as fish-people) and so Ariel having grown up in a water world has the home field advantage. However, by that logic every single mermaid should be just as good, or better, in combat then Ariel; which leaves one wondering why the giant city full of Bad Ass mermaids wouldn't have driven the heartless away long before our characters appeared.
    • This also could possibly apply to Jack Skellington, who's original movie never once shows him fighting, or Aladdin, who in the movie is somewhat competent at Deadly Dodging and wields a sword at one point but without training. Both characters join Sora after mid-game and are possible a bit too strong compared to their movies. But then again, it's ambiguous enough to mostly be forgiven (just how strong SHOULD a giant skeleton be in a fight anyways?)

Western Role Playing Games
  • This can occur in the first Mass Effect if you wait to rescue Liara as long as possible. Liara's strength is not that unreasonable if she is rescued near the beginning of the game when she expected to be saved (being a mage in a world where her people are presented as the strongest Biotic users). However, if the player waits to rescue her until near the end of the game she can come out of suspended animation as powerful as now-legendary characters, but the plot will still play her as the weak and inexperienced character she was suppose to be in the beginning of the game.

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