When starting a game, often the player starts out with an extremely powerful party, character, weapon or ability, which can easily slaughter anything it comes across, playing through a short battle or dungeon. The player is in no real danger of losing at this point, but this incredible power never lasts long. Once the introductory segment is complete, the player switches to the real party, usually at level 1 with basic starter gear.
The primary purpose of this trope is to get a player into a game and teach them the rules without overwhelming them with dangerous enemies early on. This can also give them a preview of the powers and skills they'll be acquiring later in the game. Common marketing wisdom is that you have to sell your game on the players in the first ten minutes, or you risk them not sticking around to get to the really good parts - hence A Taste Of Power to draw a player in.
Another advantage to A Taste of Power is that the player gets to do something and have some fun while the scene is set and the story established, instead of sitting through a non-interactive opening cutscene or simply wandering around the First Town talking to people and trying to figure out what to do.
Frequently used in RTS games to allow the player to be given a tutorial of all the game elements in one sitting.
This is sometimes done by means of a Crutch Character, who leaves, is killed, or is depowered after the segment is over, weakening your fighting strength. It frequently ends with a Warmup Boss.
If some programming oversight allows you to retain some of this power, such as by removing the ridiculously powerful equipment from a temporary character, the result may make the game incredibly easy.
Also known as "Abilitease" on the Giant Bomb wiki.
In other media such as film and literature, the Taste Of Power is often used to show the future potential of a protagonist, or to justify a character's extreme future efforts in developing themselves. As a typical example, a character may have A Taste Of Power when first using magic in order that they will know magic exists and they have any talents necessary to perform it at the highest level, this justifying the character going on to spend months or years studying it and leaving the reader trusting that the results will be spectacular.
Compare Bag of Spilling, where a player character's hard-won power is somehow lost between the end of one game and the beginning of its sequel. If you wind up having to fight the Crutch Character later, you've been walking in Villain Shoes. May coincide with And Now for Someone Completely Different. The inversion is Eleventh Hour Superpower, where you get special abilities at the end of the game. Also contrast Second Hour Superpower, where the player character starts generically and gets his/her defining ability only partway through. May be Purposefully Overpowered.
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Onimusha 3 starts Samonosuke off with the fully-powered versions of his three primary magic swords from the first game (Raizen, Enryuu, and Shippuu) only to rob him of all three by the second level, leaving him with naught but his regular, non-magical katana once again until he can find three new magical weapons. If you manage to find the special orbs in the Dark Realm you can start a New Game+ using the above-mentioned magical swords.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a textbook example of this trope. After the (skippable) introductory scene with Richter Belmont, Alucard comes to Castle Drac with a full complement of his signature equipment... which is promptly swiped from him by Daddy's Dragon, Death. It's not until you've explored the entire castle twice that you can get back everything you lost.
Humorously, it is possible to skip past the room with Death using Luck Mode, making the rest of the game absurdly easy due to your crazy armor that reduces most attacks in the first half of the game to Scratch Damage.
Kameo: Elements of Power begins with the titular character infiltrating the fortress of Thorn, the troll king, with three Elemental Warrior transformations intact. Instructions are given on how to transform and use the Warriors' abilities. The attack on the castle fails; Kameo loses her Elemental Warriors, and must retrieve them, along with several other transformations.
Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time: Ecco begins the game not having to breathe, as a token of the Asterite's power granted him in the first game. Once something wipes out the Asterite offscreen in one of the first levels, though, be prepared to see that oxygen bar start going down...
Shadow Complex starts with you controlling a different character who has the (mostly) assembled suit of Powered Armor you find the pieces of once you start the game proper. For this one shootout with a boss fight afterwards, you have plenty of armor, an assault rifle, grenades and missiles, and a double-jump.
NieR starts off with Nier accepting power from Grimoire Noir and becoming the Shadowlord in order to protect Yonah. He levels up like crazy and quickly gets access to the Sealed Verses that you have to quest for in the real game.
Alter Echo grants the player all three forms in quick succession during the opening chapter, allowing the player to get used to the shapeshifting mechanics and using all three forms in tandem effectively. At the end of the first chapter, the resident super-villain steals all but your basic form until your ally restores your other forms after beating the second and third chapters.
Forza Motor Sport 3 starts out with the player racing in a nice red Audi R8. After the race, you have to choose between a few cheap hatchbacks (like the Ford Fiesta) for the next races until you buy another car.
The forth game has a similar beginning, only now you are in a Ferrari 458 Italia.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted begins with a flash-forward featuring the player racing in a high-performance BMW which becomes disabled partway through the race. The game then flashes back six days to show how the player got to the race at the beginning before coming full circle and having the player lose the car in the opening race. Then the player must start the actual game by purchasing a more modest vehicle and working back up to overpowered racing machine.
EA Games loves this trope, because the same thing happens in Need for Speed: Carbon. Instead of having the car for three and a half races, however, you're treated to a sort of intro to canyon racing that you can only lose if you stop trying, before your car is totalled.
Similarly, in Need for Speed: Underground, when you begin a new career, you immediately start a circuit race with modded cars. After you win the circuit, it turns out the whole race was just your daydream, and your own car is completely unmodded.
The ending cutscene potentially (and eerily) makes this a dream-within-a-dream.
In Need for Speed: Underground 2, a friend of a friend lends you her modified Nissan 350Z as transportation once you touchdown at the city the game takes place in. You're asked to meet up with her at the car lot on the other side of the district as soon as possible so you can pick out a starter car using the insurance payout from your wrecked R34, but you can participate in up to three races with the Z before she gets pissed and demands that you get to the car lot at once.
Strangely, Need for Speed: Undercover completely averts the trope when it'd be entirely logical to have it in full force. You're not some out of luck wanna be racer, you're undercover for the FBI. You think they'd give you more than a barely decent car...
Pokemon Fusion Generation does this by giving you a Lv. 70 Rayquaza in the opening of the game before Oak takes it away from you and puts it in storage.
Pony Fantasy VI combines this with Early-Bird Cameo in order to accomodate its changed mechanics. Unlike the original game, only unicorns can learn and use Magic, while pegasi can all Soar and earth ponies get to double up on special skills. To compensate for this, right after joining, Celestia reveals she has the Unicorn Esper. This lets all the unicorns/Winged Unicorns learn a few good spells well before you 'offically' learn about Espers, but up until that point, you only have the one.
First Person Shooter
The first two Metroid Prime games begin with a fully suited-up Samus playing through a short level, after which she loses her extra abilities and the real game begins. This is now a Beam Me Up, Scotty! joke for the franchise; "Samus always loses her powers near the start of the game". Metroid Prime 3 just uses the Bag of Spilling, but starts Samus off with the Space Jump Boots, Morph Ball and its bombs, and the Charge Beam. Word of God says that it was fun to make Samus lose her gear, but by the 3rd Prime game, they stopped doing it as a plot point because it wasn't fresh anymore.
In Chaser, the only gun you get in the first level is the G11 — a powerful and accurate assault rifle with a 50-round magazine and an attached mini-scope. After getting used to effortlessly pulverizing every Mook in sight, you're downgraded to low-power pistols and submachine guns.
Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer has something like this. The default classes that can be chosen have stuff, like the noobtubeGrenade Launcher for the FAMAS or red dot sight for the UMP45, that will not be available immediately after you gain the ability to customize your own classes.
Modern Warfare 3 continues this; only two of the five default classes give you primary weapons you'll immediately have once you unlock Create-A-Class, the other three equipping you with weapons you won't be seeing until level 28 at minimum. A lot of the late-unlocked weapons in multiplayer are also available much earlier in Survival mode, as well - for instance, the last unlocked shotgun in MP is available from the beginning in Survival.
Mysteries of the Sith, the Expansion Pack for Jedi Knight, had you play as Kyle Katarn, the full-powered Jedi Knight from the main game, for the first few levels. Then your point of view switched to Mara Jade, who was still in training.
For Third-Person Shooter example, in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Agent William Carter starts alone, but quickly gets first Thomas Nils (a Recon) and then John Kinney (an Engineer) on his squad. Both Nils and Kinney have advanced abilities and are pretty good in a fight. After the introduction mission, Kinney is assigned to a different squad, while Nils is killed by an Outsider infiltrator, leaving you stuck with a bunch of rookies. The trope doesn't apply to Carter himself, though, as he plays through the intro at level 1 with Healing Hands as his only ability.
Hack And Slash
God of War II begins with Kratos as a (slightly depowered) god, allowing the player to slaughter his way through the armies of Rhodes, before he becomes all the way depowered.
He actually starts the story with fully godlike powers, but Zeus removes some of them with his first backstab, somewhere around a minute before the player is first given control.
Similarly, shortly into the third game, he falls into the river Styx, losing almost all of his power in the process. Hardly the worst excuse ever, though.
Chaos Legion starts the main character off with Thanatos as his legion, whose powers include wiping out everything and anything that happens to so much as look at you. You lose it once you meet the Big Bad at the end of the tutorial stage, and have to reassemble it.
In Guardian Heroes, Han starts off with the powerful Sword of Legend. He loses it to the Golden Hero after the first stage, but may gain another, equally powerful sword if he follows the right path.
In Phantom Breaker: Battleground, your character starts the game off at "Level ∞" with all of her combat abilities and spells. After defeating the boss of the prologue, your abilities get stolen and your level is reduced to zero, and you need to collect coins and gems to earn enough experience to regain your old combat strength.
In some MMORPGs, when creating your character, it is depicted wearing very impressive looking, high level equipment. Once your character is actually created though, you only have basic, dull gear.
Aion has a version of this around level 5-6, with a couple of flashback quests that take place in The Abyss, a much-higher-level PVP area. You're in impressive-looking armor, can fly, and characters around you are calling you their hero. In the second quest you'll also be facing off against some really tough-looking enemies who nonetheless go down easily before your "might", plus a "legendary" hero from the other faction, who ultimately kicks your butt in a cutscene.
In MapleStory, making an Aran places you through a tutorial in the form of a flashback. It introduces you to the Aran's basic playstyle by allowing you to use a maxed out Triple Swing/Final Blow, a 4th job skill combination.
In City of Heroes, the first mission of the first Incarnate arc gives you a taste of what you're going to be working toward; during the mission, you fight several heroes and archvillains – some of whom number among the most challenging in the game – and they pose no threat whatsoever.
Two missions added in the August 9th patch of LEGO Universe temporarily give new players special armour that has roughly the power of level 2 faction equipment and 4 extra hearts in order to fight the Spider Queen.
In Battlestar Galactica Online, one plotline mission gives you a chance to take an Escort-type starship for a spin. If you accept that mission as soon as it's available, it'll probably be the first time you're going to get to use an Escort if you haven't been Bribing Your Way to Victory.
The Secret World has a relatively low key version of this. Each new character plays through a scene wherein they experience a major event in the game's storyline through the eyes of another person. By the end of the tutorial, you'll have five skills. When you start the main game, and reach the newbie area, you'll have three, maybe four (depending on your choices) skills. It doesn't take too long to catch up, though.
The tutorial in TERA Online is a flashback which has the player at level 20. When the game starts proper, *after* the events of the tutorial, the player is back to level 1.
World of Warcraft has a few variations on this, mostly not involving gear but other gameplay features.
Several quests allow access to vehicles that act like mounts long before your character could have similar mounts normally. The goblin starting zone the draenei starting zone both have quests that give you mounts or mount-like things for the duration of the quest, and Hellfire Peninsula has several quests that involve flying on a preset route. When it was released your character would get to Hellfire Peninsula at level 60 but not be able to fly on its own until level 68 at the earliest (although later patches reduced that.)
The blood elf starting zone included a relatively simple version of an Alliance Meter. That was a big part of the endgame when it was released, but for everyone other than blood elves, would not matter before level 40 at the earliest. The gear available from that faction could quickly be replaced, except if you liked the look of the Bragging Rights Reward.
The Sega classic Wonder Boy III The Dragons Trap starts you off in the labyrinth lair of Meka, the Dragon, equipped with Legendary Sword, Shield and Armor, bunches of Heart Containers, and mooks that drop heart refills nearly all the time, making it practically impossible to die at this point unless you do it on purpose. Then you reach and defeat Meka, and he leaves behind a Wisp that curses you, turning you into a lizard-man with a wimpy fire breath.
In Captain Comic 2, you get unlimited fuel for your jetpack in the second to last level. The last level prevents you from using your jetpack at all.
The new Bionic Commando game has a tutorial shortly after the beginning with several powers available to you. Although you get to practice them all, don't expect to use any of them until the game tells you it's okay (except zip line kicks, those you can do right away).
Real Time Strategy
Command & Conquer 3 allows you to use the GDI's superweapon in the tutorial mission. However, you won't be able to use it again until much later into the game.
Also an example of Cutscene Power to the Max. While being highly devastating, Ion Cannon does not, normally, evaporate entire enemy bases in one shot. The NOD buildings are just rigged to all die no matter what via map scripting - try firing the ion cannon at the outskirt of the base rather than the center.
The tutorial of UFO: Aftershock consists of 3 missions during which you control characters (1 in first mission, 2 in second and 3 in last part) with early game weapons but with armour (at true beginning you have no armour for your soldiers) and mid/late game skills and abilities (probably most notable is Ranger wielding double laser pistols).
The first Spellforce has a lengthy tutorial with a level 5 character who's in little danger thanks to being a tanky Paladin type. Your created character comes in after this and starts at level 1.
During the Orc campaign of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, in one level the player has to kill a demigod named Cenarious, which is nearly impossible under normal circumstances since, in addition to him having a decent sized base , he has the highest HP of anything you fight in any of the campaigns and divine type armor which means most attacks only do 1 point of damage to him. The way to beat him is completing the main quest in the level which leads you to a fountain of life that's been corrupted by a demon named Mannoroth, and the genre blind orc leader Grom Hellscream and his warriors drink the blood. This comes back to bite them after the level is over, but until then, the player gets Chaos orcs, which deal chaos-type damage, meaning max damage to all armor types, including Cenarius', new Black Mage-type spellcasters called Warlocks, and Hellscream's stats skyrocket.
Supreme Commander does this in the UEF campaign, where the player's commanding officer gives him a couples of T2 tanks and missile launchers while lampshading the fact he can't build them because "they're a bit above your pay-grade". The don't break the mission right open, but careful use of the missile units will make clearing out Point Defense Turrets a cakewalk.
During the tutorial of R.U.S.E., you are assigned the task of reaching Colditz Castle and given a small battalion of Super Pershing tanks, arguably the best armored unit in the U.S.A. faction. After the tutorial, most of the game focuses on what happened following up to that event and are only given access to infantry and other light units. Slightly justified as Pershing tanks were not developed that early chronologically.
The Total War series will often combine this with Crutch Character at the start of the game by giving a faction a unit far stronger than what they'd be able to recruit themselves at that point in the game. For example, in Rome: Total War, The Julii Romans will start with a unit of Triarii spearmen and the Greek Cities a unit of Spartan hoplites. Both units are at least two full tiers above what those factions would actually be able to recruit themselves for many in-game years. These units could almost single-handedly cut a swath through the low tier rabble the various "Rebel" faction neighbors have at that point, but any attrition suffered by the elite unit will hurt as the player will not be able to replenish the unit or recruit more for quite some time.
In Guitar Hero Metallica you begin Career Mode as Metallica. You have a slow walk out onto the stage to their actual entrance music as fans cheer you on and then immediately start playing "For Whom the Bell Tolls." You get to play another Metallica song as an encore before you're relegated to playing as the warm-up band for the next several songs.
Role Playing Game
Lufia & The Fortress of Doom starts the player off with a party of very high-level characters, taking on one of the most powerful beings in the game's universe. This turns out to be a flashback that sets up the story for the rest of the game.
In Spectrobes, you begin the second game by having everything you obtained in the first game stolen. You technically get it back.
Chrono Cross begins with a dream sequence with Serge, Kid and one randomly selected character, at a somewhat elevated level and powers. Perhaps uniquely, it's a premonition, and the party goes through the very same events later in the game.
Although in the opening, it's possible for the third, randomly-selected character to be one that's impossible to have in your party at that point. It's also impossible to have the weapons depicted (Silver), as you don't start getting Silver until after that particular dungeon.
Devil Children: Book of Ice/Fire takes place sometime after the events of DemiKids, and for a couple minutes you have what would have been a relatively powerful party by storyline standards. However, one of the Big Bad's henchmen does something to reset your level, your Guide's rank, and destroy the device that holds King-class demons.
Final Fantasy II gives you the horrendously overpowered Minwu after playing for a short time. The catch is that he specializes in White magic, meaning he can heal you and protect you, but damage is not his forte. In this way, you're allowed to level up your characters without too much worry about death.
Final Fantasy III tricks you into thinking you're getting this: the game starts in a cave, and you have to kill the boss to escape and begin the game proper. Fortunately, you're given a number of Antarctic Wind items, which have the same effect as the Ice2 (or Blizzara) spell, and the boss just happens to have a weakness to ice. Nevertheless, you're not actually more powerful ( and you should save those items for the much more difficult Jinn boss that's coming up).
The original version of Final Fantasy IV shows Cecil taking out monsters with powerful attack items in an automated battle at the start of the game. The DS remake changed this by placing the player into a real battle with the aforementioned attack items in the inventory, presumably assuming that the player has played the original and remembers the items. Or the player can just take out the monsters themself, using regular attacks. They're not difficult.
On a longer term note, you have Tellah, who joins you on two separate occasions. The first time, he arrives with low-level magic that just so happens to be the weakness for everything in the dungeon you'll face, a powerful healing spell, an MP recovery spell, and an MP pool that, for the time, is ridiculously huge. The strategy for the game quickly becomes, "Have Tellah kill things." The second time you meet him, he starts off unchanged (and rather weak for the point you're at), but soon after gains access to nearly every spell in the game, many hours before you would ever normally see them, with spells so ridiculously powerful that he is capable of soloing bosses. His MP pool, however, remains unchanged, meaning he can only crack off about three of the highest level spells before needing to recharge. The strategy thereafter becomes, "Conserve MP until we get to the boss, then have Tellah kill things."
The sequel gives Ceodore two comrades who have better gear than what he starts with, Fira and Cura in their spell lists, and a Band that destroys everything in the dungeon. You lose them soon after, though you do gain The Hooded Man. Later, you take control of Magic Knight Cecil, who has White Magic and better stats then Ceodore at the time. If you're smart, you'll strip him of his gear and give it to Ceodore.
Final Fantasy VI gives Terra a pair of soldiers and powerful Magitek armour until the Esper is found, at which point the armour is destroyed and both soldiers are lost.
Note that you only get Magitek armour again for a single (and a second, optional) sequence. And just like the beginning, only Terra can utilize the advanced functions (i.e. anything beyond Healing Force and Fire/Ice/Thunder Beam).
Final Fantasy VII does this about six hours after the game begins, when Cloud is telling the story of his trip to Nibelheim with Sephiroth. Sephiroth has a six slot linked weapon, and a six slot linked armor piece, along with mastered materia coupled with All materia, in addition to a ridiculously high strength rating and the inability to be touched by enemies (all attacks default to 0 damage). Needless to say, if and when you find yourself in battle, he kills everything before you can even act. And then we all know what happens next...
Think you can let Cloud have a piece of that mastered materia action? Tough luck, because Sephiroth won't let you unequip anything from himself.
If Cloud is K.O'd in one of the battles, Sephiroth will use Life 2 on himbefore continuing to own everything in sight.
In Final Fantasy X, in the rematch against Sinspawn Gui, himself being a fairly challenging boss, especially for new players, the game gives you a party of White Magician Girl/Healing Hands Yuna, Badass Longcoat/...just badass in general Auron...and Seymour. Seymour is perfectly capable of winning this fight singlehandedly without a scratch on him, and everything he does (asides from his character-specific Overdrive, naturally) is something the player will be capable of doing. It's very impressive.
Even Seymour's Overdrive is available by using Rikku's Mix.
Final Fantasy XII had you play as Reks who, while still only Level 1, travels with a small squad of Dalmascan soldiers, most notably Captain Basch, who will kill everything that isn't boss-strength in one hit, and one soldier that throws around healing potions to anyone who ever needs them, and never runs out. Then you change to his little brother Vaan. To put in perspective, you have to grind to at least level three in the first area to survive the sub-boss you have to face upon taking control of him. Also, you are introduced to the wonder and glory of the greatsword weapon class through the guest party character Vossler—you won't have effective greatswords of your own for quite some time. Another example is Lamont/Larsa, who has unlimited Hi and X-Potions, and isn't afraid to use them. During your first trip with him, dying isn't much of a concern.
Final Fantasy XIII-2, on the other hand, plays this straight, starting you off as a very powerful Lightning before you switch back to Serah. To put it in perspective, Lightning has roughly ten times as much HP as Serah does at that point.
Since the main hero in Suikoden V is a prince, he gets to spend much of the first part of the game with a party of strong allies, including the kingdom's most powerful bodyguard, who is compelled to leave him midway through the game. (The hero still has his own personal bodyguard and aunt as permanent tagalongs, until plot events remove them from gameplay as well.)
Suikoden II starts you off with Jowy and Riou, the two main characters. Although they are relatively weak, being only level 1, they have access to the devastating Combination Attack "Buddy Attack", which hits every enemy without fail for as much damage as they would inflict with two regular attacks. Needless to say, the enemies that survive the attack are quickly killed.
Suikoden IV does the same thing in the beginning, with Lazlo and Snowe having access to the powerful Friendship attack at the beginning of the game. It only targets one enemy, but is more than enough to take out any bosses you meet with two or three shots.
Tales of the Abyss has a powerful spellcaster join you during a seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight, allowing you to defeat it very easily. Shortly afterwards, aboard his ship, all his powers are suddenly sealed.
Baldur's Gate had an illusionist at the very start of the game teach you group tactics along with several midlevel NPC friends (who weren't illusory) against swarms of illusory monsters that would have overwhelmed your character normally but which didn't deal any damage.
And, just to be clear, there was a way to glitch their equipment so it could continue existing well-beyond the tutorial. As many times as you could fit it in your inventory and carry.
EarthBound has your player character engage in his first boss battle with his bug-like guide, Buzz-Buzz, circling him around. You also have two somewhat helpful NPCs with you as well (Picky and your Dog), as well as one totally useless one (Pokey). Because of Buzz-Buzz's great and awesome PSI abilities, you are basically invincible for the first few minutes of the game. Then Buzz-Buzz gets swatted by Pokey and Picky's mom, who thinks it's a bug. Now you are all alone.
It is technically possible to lose the first boss battle, though it is very unlikely. If Starman Junior gets an attack in between Buzz-Buzz's shielding, Ness is probably going to die. The chance of this happening actually increases with Ness's level, which means that if you spent awhile power-levelling Ness at the beginning of the game, you are actually MORE likely to lose the un-loseable battle.
The Hentai RPG Knights Of Xentar starts your character at the lower-mid levels, with decent stats. However, the moment we're done with the introductory area, the plot depowers you and strips you nude.
In the older computer RPG Ultima VII part 2: Serpent Isle the player starts off with a good set of gear from the previous game, including the Infinity+1 Sword from the previous game's Expansion Pack, the Blackrock Sword. This sword can kill any foe in one hit. Upon setting foot on the titular Serpent Isle with all of the amazing gear from the first game, you and your party members are struck by magical lightning that swaps all of your gear (and your party members themselves) with otherwise innocuous objects, leaving you alone, wielding such things as a pumice rock and a furrier's cap. However, each item is a clue to where the corresponding powerful item ended up.
Star Ocean: The Second Story has one of the two primary characters start out with a futuristic (and powerful) energy beam weapon. It doesn't take long for it to run out of energy, and the game doesn't provide a way to recharge it.
During the battle tutorial in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the main character has a ridiculous amount of HP and MP, but has only about a tenth of that in the first real battle. This is explained in-game by the tutorial being a video game within the game's world. (This is also foreshadowing.)
Secret of Evermore gives the player character the bazooka, one of the strongest ranged weapons in the game, in the very first fight. However after going into an escape pod afterwards and landing on Evermore you lose the bazooka and have to fight your way to the next village with... a bone.
Halfway through the game, this trope strikes again. You meet someone that found your bazooka, and he gives it back to you for free - with one round of ammo. You can buy more ammo from the guy that sold you the bazooka, but the cost is extremely prohibitive (1000 gold coins for 10 shots, compared to 1000 creditsnote that's 125 coins for 50 shots later).
Breath of Fire III forces you into dragon mode at the beginning of the game. Your attacks consist of a normal melee attack (which is weak) and a dragon breath attack (which kills all enemies in one hit). In the event that you don't get initiative and the enemy attacks first, you have a 100% counter rate and automatically use the dragon breath attack. The only way to die in the initial battles is to attack yourself a few times (although doing this still advances the plot).
Breath of Fire IV lets you play as the game's Big Bad at certain points in the story, usually near the beginning of each chapter. He's at a ridiculously high level and has the best equipment in the game, giving you a taste of what The Hero can do once he achieves the same level of butt-kicking power.
He is not only a ridicolous high level, he is above the level limit your normal party has! Mind, your normal party can have a maximum level of 60. The Big Bad starts of at 60 and will most probably end up at 61 and 62 in the end.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter does this in an odd way - the main character is given the power of The Wyrm Odjn, after being 'killed' by Bosch. Using this power, you can do tremendous damage to anything in your way - the catch is that every time you do, The Wyrm takes over a little bit of their soul. When The Wyrm takes over their soul completely... Odjn bursts out of his body violently, ending the game.
Kingdom Hearts II had an early boss fight in which you fought with two keyblades. It also had one with an inordinate number of reaction commands. The latter taught you how to use them. The former was just a teaser, and the ability wouldn't be regained until you went to Yen Sid's Tower.
Crisis Core, while it didn't exactly dazzle you with power, had the strongest of the 3 basic spells, a decent command attack, and several levels put on Zack for a level with a bunch of soldiers and a Behemoth.
It can happen again later in the game, when Zack is assigned to protect Hojo. A simulation designed to test new materia gives that materia to Zack and forces him into a fight. The materia is quite powerful...and lost as soon as the fight is over.
The real kicker is that that materia exists only for that battle - it's completely unobtainable in regular gameplay.
Legacy of Goku II uses a "flash-forward" version, taking full and clever advantage of a plot point in the show... the alternate future where the androids have destroyed everything. You play as Trunks, at a fairly high level (but unable to go Super Saiyan yet). And future (Bad Ass) Gohan runs you through the basics of your power and Ki Attacks, including, as mentioned, a failed attempt at going Super Saiyan. Then you're released to chase after Gohan just in time to see him killed by the Androids. Then in the cutscene, Trunks goes Super Saiyan in a rage, the screen flashes white, and you end up in the present, as Gohan, at Level 1, with none of the power or Ki abilities he and Trunks had in the future.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World has the player start with Richter in his party, who can take down any of the first-dungeon enemies with ease. He leaves after about twenty minutes and only rejoins for four other brief periods in the game, and that's assuming you do the sidequests.
The prologue of Tales of Innocence gives the player control of Asras for one easy battle. Asras controls are quite different from any other character you actually play, even his own reincarnation.
In Avalon Code, after receiving the Book of Prophecy, you use it to summon twin "Genesis" swords for a fight, which are very powerful. Immediately after, the Book runs out of power, and the Genesis sword becomes a rubbish rusty old sword.
In Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django, you start with the very powerful solar gun, Gun Del Sol. It is stolen from you a few screens later. You get it back near the end of the game, but it is damaged and uses many times as much energy as it used to.
In Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, you start the game in a battle where you have a Level 50 Salamence squaring off against a Level 50 Metagross. After the battle you realize that it was just a sim battle and you actually own a Level 10 Eevee instead.
The first chapter of Riviera: The Promised Land is Ein (our hero) and Ledah heading to the title country. Ledah carries one of the two Unbreakable Weapons in the game, heals far more health than he can be damaged for each turn, and is capable of doing about 200 damage a hit (which is usually instant death), and both characters are far stronger than their foes. Once you complete the chapter, Ein gets zapped away, ending up with his stats cut in half when he lands in Riviera proper.
Note: if you look at the list of special items Ein and Ledah have at the time, there's a certain item right at the top of the list that is specifically stated to give you extra power. Ein's cut stats are presumably because this item is lost when he gets zapped away.
In the first chapter of the Flash game MARDEK, the main characters pretend that they are legendary heroes, and the tutorial is played through using their extremely powerful imaginary personas.
Tower of the Sorcerer has you starting out with the Holy Sword and Holy Shield, which you promptly have to hand over to the Big Bad in Tower 3, and get thrown in prison. Luckily, there's a friendly thief (oxymoron much?) who will get you out, albeit with you unarmed.
The Neverwinter Nights module Kingmaker starts you off at level 10 with four level 10 allies in a War Sequence populated by enemies that would be moderately challenging for a level 2 character. Then you get killed and resurrected at level 2, and have to choose two of your allies to resurrect alongside you.
In the first dungeon of Lunar: Eternal Blue, Lucia has incredibly strong magic until you leave the dungeon (at which point plot/the Big Bad strips them from her), which she'll eventually get back later in the game. This is actually very useful, since you can use her to level up your other characters to make the upcoming boss fight much easier.
Dragon Quest V has the Hero's father Pankraz accompanies you early in two points of the game with Sephiroth-like strength. He can wipe out all monsters before you can attack. You'll be awarded with exp. and even heals you after battle.
Fallout 3, as well as the first two games to a lesser extent, occasionally allow the player to come into possession of a powerful late game weapon early on. However, ammo for it is often limited to a point it cannot be used regularly until much later. For example, A3-21's plasma rifle, one of the most powerful weapons in the game, can be acquired as early as level 3, but the microfusion cells it fires are highly uncommon early in the game (unless you know exactly where to look), and the repair parts in the form of other plasma rifles to cannibalize on are practically non-existent until around halfway around the main quest.
However, if this isn't the player's first playthrough, he may be able to utilize the game's non-linear nature to turn an early taste of power into a Disc One Nuke.
Digimon World: Dawn/Dusk gives you a full party, and depending on the pack you choose, two Ultimates whom will slaughter everything in their path with little difficulty, even against your rival, who has mons several levels ahead of yours. Even after the mysterious interloper devolves both of them, you still have a level 20 Coronamon/Lunamon and two level 1 rookies with high stats right off the bat.
Before your first boss fight in Shin Megami Tensei you can fuse your dog with a demon and get the very powerful demon Kerberos, who will obey you even though you're far below his level 43. (Usually demons won't obey someone who's lower level than them.) After the fight, he unwisely attacks a teleporter station and vanishes. Later you can catch up with him in Tokyo Land, though unless you carry a specific item he will be Brainwashed and Crazy. With it, though, he's healed and rejoins you. The trick is revisited in the sequel, set thirty years later, with the same Kerberos, although more justified: The Madame lends him to you to track down a rogue scientist, and returns to her when you're done. After Valhalla District is devoured by Abaddon, he'll join you again permanently, even if you're still underleveled - he recognizes your strength and potential, and he wants revenge on the people responsible for killing his master.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has this when Isaac and Garet join your party for a bit and let you borrow their Djinn. They let you have enough Djinn to use at least a level 3 summon, but when combined with their Djinn, you can summon a level 4 one. After they leave the party, they take back their Djinn too, putting you back in square one.
Agarest Senki 2 has Weiss facing off against Summerill, servant of the dark god Chaos. He at this point is level 99 and equipped with Veldafard, a very powerful sword. You get to own Summerill in your first fight. After which, a cutscene happens and you get flung over to who knows where at that point. When Weiss recovers, he gets reduced to level one, and you can't equip his sword anymore for some weird reason, not to mention he now has amnesia. Turns out, there's a lot more to that story later on.
Inverted in Inazuma Eleven 3, where the opening cutscene shows off some of the awesome power of the rivals you'll be up against, as well as foreshadowing little bits of the plot involving those characters.
Subverted for a first few matches. Your character do have evolved skills and game breaking abilities, however, these players have horrible stamina, and get tired after a few uses of specials, usually even before the first half ends.
The opening section of Infinite Space, which also doubles as the tutorial, has you fighting a couple of easy battles as the dread space pirate Valantin, at the helm of his awesomely powerful battleship Corsair, capable of basically annihilating anything you point it at. After this sequence is over and the rest of the introduction has played out, you're left as a teenage boy at the helm of the good ship Daisy, a converted civilian vessel.
In Tales Of The Drunken Paladin, Anebriate starts off with the maximum amount of gold, experience, etc. After a Curbstomp Battle, you lose everything and get to stare at your old items when they pop up from time to time in NPC shops.
Dunban in Xenoblade Chronicles provides this, with you controlling him in the opening whilst he wields the Monado, the game's titular weapon. He later temporarily rejoins the party for an early segment of the game, still wielding the weapon, and while he relinquishes it to Shulk before the end of that segment, he's still likely to be around 10 levels higher then the rest of the group and far stronger then them even without it. He rejoins for good at a point where everyone is likely to have caught up to him in level.
Vacant Sky has the Villain Shoes variant; you start out controlling Sandarga, Vastale, and shortly afterward Weapon, all of whom are fairly high-powered right from the start.
If you go to the Arena for a tutorial in Resonance of Fate, your party will have access to a hero gauge with 8 bezels or so in it. When you start actually playing the game, your hero gauge has only 3.
Midway through the first Fossil Fighters game, the at-that-point Big Bad gets their hands on a godlike superbeing from ages past named Frigisaur, and plans to use it to freeze the world. In order to combat it, you resurrect an Olympus Mon named Ignosaur. Ignosaur has insanely powerful moves, is resistant to all attacks, and has stats that are high even for a max-leveled vivosaur (when your own are likely still pretty far from maxed). You can play around with Ignosaur, but as soon as you beat the boss, he vanishes from your party. The only way to get Ignosaur (and Frigisaur) permanently isn't available until the Playable Epilogue.
Wingnuts 2 starts you out with the best plane in the game (fast, strong, a ton of missiles, etc.) as you shoot down training blimps. Then, when the action starts and the Baron busts loose of the Temporal Prison, you have to fight a boss... which steals your plane right as you defeat it. Your next selection of planes is... not as good.
Ace Combat 5 Arcade Mode, Operation Katina, gives the player an F-22 Raptor to toy with, which is far more capable than the F-5 Tiger that the player is made to start off with in campaign mode. The Raptor doesn't become available again for quite some time (even if the player unlocks it for purchase from the start by beating Operation Katina, being a high-tier plane it's hideously expensive).
While not a clear-cut example, Tachyon: The Fringe starts with you having a decent fighter with medium-level weapons. Then, after a number of missions, you are framed for a mass murder and exiled to the Fringe. The game then cuts to a few months later when you fly a tiny fighter that will blow up if you so much as sneeze at it and have to work your way up to better fighters and weapons.
In Assassin's Creed I you start off with all equipment and a great deal of health. Sadly none of this is enough to stop you from failing the first mission (albeit by the fault of the protagonist), and being stripped of everything - including, rather confusingly, abilities that shouldn't be possible to take away, like dodging and being able to grab ledges while falling.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood starts off right after the final battle of Assassin's Creed II, with Ezio having all the endgame equipment of that game, only to lose most of them soon afterward when his villa is sacked, Ezio having woken up and rushed to the ramparts with only a longsword and a hidden blade vambrace — fortunately, it was the one with both a built-in pistol (a late-game weapon in AC2) and a poison injector (an AC2 mid-game assassination tool).
While the Armor of Altaïr that he wears in the beginning was lost in the villa attack, the player may also unlock an Armor of Brutus that's statistically identical, and/or download an Armor of Altaïr outfit through the Uplay service so that Ezio will appear to be wearing those robes and armor irrespective of what he's equipped with.
Justified in the Splinter Cell: Double Agent. In the first mission, you're flouncing through the fjords weighed down with a plethora of high tech gadgets. In the second, you're locked up in prison and have to crawl through an air duct to snag a lockpicking kit. Ouch.
Makai Kingdom opens with the player taking control of the level 2000 "Badass freakin' overlord" (yes, that's his actual title) Zetta (who also has the best stats in the game) during the tutorial battle, who in the first subsequent cutscene ruins his entire life by accident and is rendered unusable as a playable character, despite still being the main character. When appearing — in book form — as a Bonus Boss in Disgaea 2, he is still the most powerful overlord in the multiverse.
Another example from in the game is when Alexander tries to kill Zetta, Salome, whose level 1200, interferes and allows you to take him down easily. This is actually necessary since Alexander is level 1000 and unless you're leveling up the BonusBosses, you have no chance of beating him.
Soul Nomad & the World Eaters has moments of this in both its normal and demon paths. In the normal path, the player can get boosted to level 2000 if they accept Gig's power during during the first fight with Fienne, allowing for an easy win, but resulting in a Non-Standard Game Over afterwords since accepting Gig's deal leads to him taking over your body. Later there's an automatic occurrence of the player getting the same level boast during the 2nd fight with Fienne for no reason apart from the fact that she, like Alexander in Makai Kingdom, is far too strong for the player if they been leveling up normally. In the Demon Path, the player briefly Guest Star Party Member in the form of Blazing Ghestal/zombie Median the Conqueror, who is by far the most powerful unit/character in the game.
The first level of the Ryusei route in Super Robot Wars Original Generation lets you play as the best pilot in the game, although he's in the worst unit. He doesn't become permanently playable until the penultimate level. The Kyosuke route is a better example, featuring several levels with the equally Badass Sanger Zonvolt and his Grungust Type 0, who leave the party for most of the middle of the game. Since both of these guys show up as bosses in the mean time, it serves as a taste of the bad guys' power as well.
The 2nd game does the same thing with the Aggresors: Gilliam, Sanger and Elzam, oops, Ratsel for a nice chunk of the game. They joined for good during mid game for Gilliam, and late game for Sanger and Ratsel complete with their Mid-Season Upgrade. In return, the game also give you Ace PilotBadass Normal of the Aggresors Kai Kitamura, who is just as good as the rest of the Agressors and has an advanced Spirit Command compared to the whole team, turning him into a Disc One Nuke.
In Super Robot Wars Alpha 3, especially in Kusuha and Bullet's route, you get Mazin Kaiser and Shin Getter Robo right off the bat, with everything from Alpha 2. A few stages later and a lot of GaoGaiGar ass-kicking, and they're right back to Mazinger Z and Getter Robo G (granted, it's plot related - Mazinkaiser's getting its Scrander back and Professor Saotome's gotta fix Shin Getter's power imbalance)
An unusual cross-game example: Super Robot Wars Z2: Hakai-hen gives you brief access near the end of the game to Allelujah Haptism's fusion with his other half Hallelujah, turning them from a mediocre pilot into easily the best pilot of the four. The ability is lost right after the stage you get it in and doesn't return until Saisei-hen, where it follows the normal format for this trope, making an appearance in a prologue stage and then vanishing again until much later in the game.
Ramza's first battle in Final Fantasy Tactics is fought at the courtyard of Orbonne Monastery, defending it from brigands with the help of two Knights, a Squire, Holy Swordswoman Agrias, and Dark Knight Gaffgarion. The party is monumentally overqualified for engaging the brigands, it's nigh-impossible to get a Game Over, and Agrias and Gaffgarion make short work of them with their skills. Upon the end of the battle, the game flashes back to several months ago, where Ramza is allowed only a few other Level 1 Squires and Chemists to accompany him on his mission.
Unlike other battles, if Ramza is KO'd, then he gets flashing stars over his head indicating he will not be turned into a crystal, and the NPCs complete the battle normally. It is in fact, almost impossible to lose this battle.
Interestingly, if you take the time during the flashback to level Ramza up to a higher level than he was in this scene, it will carry over to the rest of the game. Meaning that Ramza could, in theory, go from being a fair match for the brigands to curb-stomping them within one in-game day.
In two Tactics Ogre releases: Let us Cling Together and The Knight of Lodis, you play the first few levels with the support of very powerful, experienced units (the Zenobians in LuCT, and Rictor + Orsen in KoL.) You're separated from these powerhouses quickly, and left commanding nothing but a bunch of poorly-armed rookies.
Also in Orge Battle 64, during an Escort Mission where the player has to protect prince Yumil, which is kept from being nearly as bad most missions of its kind by the fact that he's protected by four black knights, a high level melee class that isn't available to you until much later in the game. Unlike most examples on this page however, the black knights are guaranteed to rip through everything because while they're much stronger than anything the enemy throws at you in the level, you can't control them and they never stop heal, meaning they can die if they get worn down by too many fights.
The final campaign in Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East starts with a level 25 Zehir, but as he has to pay with experience to move his flying city, the very first summon (enforced in a cutscene) promptly drops him to level 8.
Hilariously, his aide doesn't tell him about the price until after he moves the city.
The Advance Wars series often does this with an early (but not first) mission giving you an overwhelming force with a crushing tactical advantage, allowing a new player to learn about these new fragile, situational toys while seeing just how powerful they are when used properly.
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume gives the player two level 10 allies for the first battle (who are veteran mercenaries who also dispense tutorial advice), as well as a level 1 partner with three standard attacks and a Finishing Strike, two weapon attributes which will not appear together again for a long while. The protagonist willingly leaves the first two (who can optionally rejoin, but at that point of the story he'll be about the same level), while the latter dies to demonstrate the power of the Plume.
Wide Open Sandbox
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories sorta does this. Vic is in the army and guess what he gets? Military hardware. That means while the Cholos and average thug is limited to baseball bats and pistols, you are cutting them down with your handy rifle received from unsuspecting patrols in your base (they will retaliate after the first patrol dies though.)
The start of Scarface: The World is Yours has the player take Tony through the film-ending mansion shootout and play around with an unlimited-ammo M16+ M203. After the mission ends, Tony loses everything and is somehow made to lose the rifle too, forcing him to rebuild his reputation. The M16 does not become available again until much later in the game and it is no longer unlimited-ammo out of Blind Rage.
Prototype begins with a scene featuring Alex Mercer rampaging through Times Square, showing off several of his powers. Then we flash back to three weeks prior, when his life bar was smaller and he didn't have the blade, hammerfist, or claws.
Similarly, the first mission of Saints Row IV also gives you fully-upgraded guns with Bottomless Magazines. Then Zinyak takes over and drops you into the simulation, forcing you to restart from scratch.
Non-video game examples:
Anime and Manga
Digimon Xros Wars: In the first episode, Taiki somehow manages to create a strange spectral incomplete variation of Shoutmon X3 from just Shoutmon and Ballistamon, which is powerful enough to cause severe damage to MadLeomon's forces. They wouldn't be able to properly form Shoutmon X3 until numerous episodes later, when Dorulumon finally joined Xros Heart. Also the very first Digi Memory he summoned was Leviamon, the Demon Lord of Envy.
Mazinger Z: In the first dozen of episodes, the Mechanical Beasts barely can even scratch Mazinger-Z, let alone threatening it. They were too weak, their weapons not powerful enough, and the battle was over as soon as The Hero Kouji managed connecting several consecutive attacks. The only reason for Kouji struggled during that time was he was still trying to learn how piloting his HumongousMecha. When Spartan K5 -a Gladiator-alike Beast single-handily beat the crap out of Mazinger as easily shrugging all its weapons off- showed up in episode 14, it was a wake-up call of playtime was over and Big Bad Dr. Hell was at last stepping up his challenge.
Naruto: In the Bridge Builder Arc, Kakashi does most of the fighting until he is caught in one of Zabuza's attaccks and injured. This forces the rest of team Seven to use their rookie level skills and ingenuity to free him and do some training on their own.
More generally in the Invasion of Konoha Arc, Sarutobi fights Orochimaru, who summons the First and Second Hokages to fight for him. This is the first Kage level battle in the series. By midway through Shippuden/Part II the main cast are able to fight with a few techniques as large and flashy, and by the Shinobi World War Arc, almost every fight is essentially at this level.
He makes a protective pane of glass disappear without wand or incantation - a level of magic comparable to the staff at Hogwarts - before knowing anything about it. When he's at Hogwarts, he initially can't even cast a simple levitation charm correctly.
He also earns his position as seeker on the Quidditch team - where he is taught to expertly fly a broomstick in order to catch an elusive small object - by actually flying a broomstick and catching an elusive small object (Neville's rememberall) while never having ridden a broom before.
The first couple of times Harry speaks Parseltongue he does it by instinct and doesn't even realize he's doing it until Ron and Hermione point it out to him in Chamber of Secrets. Later in the book he struggles to do it on purpose.
In The Magicians, Quentin performs a whole series of spectacular transformations in order to gain entrance to Brakebills, but in his first lesson resorts to mundane stage magic tricks to hide his inability to do anything else. The professor does comment that's normal for a wizard to experience such a surge of power at first.
In Eragon the title character casts his first spell instinctively from desperation (he uses a fire spell to kill a pair of attacking urgals), then has to be trained on how to use magic in a controlled fashion. Brom explains that the Dragon Riders of old raised this to an art form by forcing their apprentices to perform impossible tasks until they ended up casting a spell to complete it out of frustration.
In His Dark Materials, Lyra Silvertongue is given an alethiometer (a device to discern truth) and has a natural talent for reading it — which normally takes an adult many years of study to learn. Unfortunately, when (and, it is implied, because) she reaches puberty, she loses her talent, and embarks on the long study needed to regain it.
Live Action TV
In the first episode of Kamen Rider Decade, the Power Copying main character turns into Kabuto, Faiz and Hibiki in quick succession. Kabuto's Super Speed, Faiz's transforming bike and Hibiki's fire powers are all used on their respective breeds of enemy. Then their cards gray out, and he has to start traveling worlds to meet Riders and gain their powers the slow way.
In the pilot of Merlin, the titular character has instinctive magical powers that simply involve him looking at the target. These abilities include telekinesis and localized time control. Starting with the second episode, he begins to learn spells from a book his uncle gives him... and no longer uses his initial ability, even when it's more powerful (and quieter) than using words.
In Mummy: the Curse, there's a Descent mechanic whereby the main characters start with tremendous levels of power, but gradually lose it over the course of the chronicle until they're scraping by with barely-distinguishable-from-mortals levels in the late stages of the game.
In one Grey Hawke advanture Vecna Live, characters start the adventure playing members of a council of 20th level magic-users who are investigating an ancient burial mound. In the process, they awaken someone who was buried with the Hand and Eye of Vecna. That someone promptly uses time-stop and slaughters all the powerful mages in horrific ways. After that, the PCs play as their normal characters investigating the deaths of the council.
Parodied in the Sluggy Freelance storyline "Years of Yarncraft." When Torg first creates his character for an MMORPG, he's got a cool looking sword and some impressive armor. These are almost immediately revealed to be a cardboard cutout concealing the real character, who's only got some cheap clothes and a small dagger. The game then takes away Torg's dagger and gives him a stick.