Improbable Power Discrepancy
In games lacking Dynamic Difficulty
, particularly RPGs
without Level Scaling
, the designers will usually design encounters with enemies to balance them against the power level the player is expected to have when first encountered. This can lead to odd discrepancies where enemies are much weaker or more powerful than circumstances or common sense would suggest.
The archetypal example would be facing elite troops or giant monsters right at the beginning of the game, yet slaughtering them with ease while the player is still at level one. Conversely, at higher levels one might encounter rabbits or palette-swapped
imps with grossly inflated abilities that have been placed there simply to provide a challenge, regardless of how unlikely it is that such an enemy would be that powerful.
Related to Sorting Algorithm of Evil
, Fake Ultimate Mook
and Beef Gate
. Can sometimes be a kind of Gameplay and Story Segregation
- World of Warcraft is all over this. Many of the starting zones feature creatures that you won't encounter again for about 50 levels. Furthermore, most starting zones are literally right next to a 40+ zone (although some of these zones are pretty isolated by mountains). Even more disturbing is the fact that incredibly powerful people, such as kings or generals (who are max-level elite bosses) send *you* and your friends out to kill so-called dreaded enemies even though they are surrounded by guards and soldiers who could one-shot them in their sleep. Presumably they'd simply prefer to use disposable adventurers than their valuable men.
- This is very much a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation. From a story perspective, the inhabitants of end-game zones are not actually that much more powerful than those of starting zones, even though the game mechanics say they are. It is done to provide a sense of progress to the player and to guide them through the story in a semi-linear fashion. It is not meant to be taken to mean that the deer and foxes in later areas are capable of killing the demons and dragons of an earlier area.
- A funnier example consists of 'important' Non Player Characters (town guard captains, generals and the like) being an appropriate level for the zone they're in, while regular town guards and merchants can be whatever the max level of the current expansion is. This can result, for example, in a level 15 mayor or guard captain in a town with level 80 guards.
- City of Villains has a case of this, especially in the villains' bank-robbing Mayhem Missions. By the time you're level 40, you've fought insane cyborgs, giant monsters, powerful sorcerers....and yet these allegedly normal rent-a-cops on the way to the bank vault are still a hindrance (Of course one could imagine that in a world of frequent bank robberies and that fairly often sees cataclysmic events such as alien invasions, rent a cops are much less of a joke).
- If you're fighting a hobo in Kingdom of Loathing, you're either in the lowest level area, or one of the highest.
- Many similar-looking enemies like skeletons in Runescape have different strength based on the dungeon they are in. In Daemonheim, the enemies get stronger based on number of players raiding the dungeon and the floor number.
- Warhammer Online has the right enemy types as champions and heroes that you'd expect, but even a level 3 hero is nothing to a level 40 mob. This leads to Elven Princes, Chaos Giants, enormous summoned Daemons and veteran Captains being many times weaker than... a militia member's dog.
- Final Fantasy XI: "No matter how strong you are, somewhere on Vana'diel there is a rabbit who can kick your ass."
- There are fleas in Anarchy Online which could curbstomp many of the dungeon bosses.
- Guild Wars 2 has a weird version of this problem. Due to heavy use of "dynamic level adjustment" scaling higher-level characters down to a power level appropriate to the zone, pretty much no enemy is ever entirely trivial, no matter how much you should outclass them.
- Another example stems from the inconsistent manner in which animals are designated as normal enemies or non-combat critters; one deer might be a reasonable fight with a knockdown ability while another standing mere feet from it might be a one-shot kill.
- In the opening level of Knights of the Old Republic, the player faces elite Sith troopers that have boarded the ship the player character is travelling on. These are considerably weaker than general Sith troops faced later in the game, and were made so solely in order for the then-weak player character to overcome them without difficulty. This is explained later when Bastila tells you that she used her Battle Meditation to help your escape.
- KotOR's story almost entirely ignores your characters' levels as well as those of your enemies. It actually uses Level Scaling to do this, too. The experienced war hero Carth starts with only a few levels, and after a while when neither of you are likely to have many more than that, he's willing to say you have "the skills of an elite commando". The story seems to constantly assume that all the player characters are very tough already, while enemies are always about the right level for you. Towards the end, the game will start to highlight this even more with the player character, who supposedly becomes more powerful than anyone else (like, ever, practically), while only gaining levels just like the rest of them. Of course, the Player Character is always remarkably powerful... It all actually makes sense if you ignore the numbers.
- The second installment lampshades the point. The main character can note this fact to the mentor. The subsequent explanation is that the Sith are drawing power off of you, so as you increase in power, they do as well. It doesn't explain every other enemy in the game, but hey, the Sith are covered.
- The most frustrating example in the first game is the Final Boss Preview around two-thirds of the way through the game. With the sort of stats you'll have at this point in the game, you flatten him, and if you don't, it's Game Over. Then Cutscene Power to the Max kicks in and he irresistibly stuns you, forcing a party member to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to save you. When you meet him for the final battle, his power is magnified by the Star Forge, a Force-imbued, star-powered factory.
- In Awakening, the expansion to Dragon Age: Origins, the hero has already fulfilled his/her destiny and defeated a godlike being, so a bunch of highwaymen on the roads between smallish cities should be easy to dispatch, right? In fact, these bandits could have completed the original campaign for you, and subsequently taken over the capital city.
- An obvious example would be all the Pokémon games. The farther you get through the game, the stronger the wild Pokémon become, in spite of there not being any logical reason for the strongest Pokémon to be the farthest from your home town. Particularly bad offenders are the Gym Leaders; supposedly eight of the strongest Pokémon trainers, and yet the first Gym Leader has two Pokémon, of level 12 and 14, while wild Pokémon of level 30 and over are common-place later in the game.
- The Gym Leader issue makes a bit more sense when you consider that the purpose of a Gym Leader is to gauge a trainer's strength and test them, as it's stated to be the case in the anime. If you're a beginning trainer, then they'll use a team befitting a beginner. If you're more experienced, then they'll start using their stronger Pokémon. In later games, you can fight the Gym Leaders after facing the Elite Four, and the teams they use are strong enough to deserve their titles.
- Though it doesn't explain why some Gym Leaders will turn you away for being too weak to face them or why if you manage to skip a Gym Leader/power level their load out remains the same.
- It is explained if you consider they could be basing their review of how strong you are entirely on badges. It'd be hard to determine a sort of "power level" just by glancing at them, so the use of badges could explain why they act differently. This does have some failings in the regions that are non-linear, though.
- Interestingly, Pokémon in places that can only be reached with Surf of other HMs that can only be received later in the games also generally have levels comparable to the level the trainer would be when they get said HM. So, you can have a bunch of level 5 Pokémon in grass on one route, and surf over one square to an island where there are level 20 Pokemon.
- This is unbelievably blatant in the post-game of Pokemon Black and White 2. The new, exclusive post-game place you can access after defeating the Elite Four and foiling Ghetsis? NUVEMA TOWN. That's right: the beginning town of the previous game is now the post game. Cue the ridiculous Pokemon levels. (There's a PRESCHOOLER with a LEVEL 62 Wooper!) For extra hilarity, the girl standing in a patch of grass will also give you a standard Potion in the midst of trainers with Pokemon that can deal a lot more than 20 HP's worth of damage....
- Similar to that, there are the first few routes of Kanto in Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, which you play in the post-game. Cue Level 50+ Ace Trainers in Route 1 alongside the Level 2 wild Pidgeys.
- The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series has missions revolving around catching criminals. But due to the mission generator, the criminal you'll find is completely random but with statistics based on the mission rank. So, you can fight very weak versions of final evolution mons around half game and unbelievably strong versions of first-stage Com Mons on late game.
- In Valkyrie Profile, one of the most horrifyingly tough enemies in the game is... a hamster.
- Definitely underscored when that enemy spawns from an encounter in the bonus dungeon that would normally be against a recolor of one of the final bosses. You look forward to fighting a survivable battle with a giant.
- Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansion feature both extremes. The Duergar and Bladelings that attack the Doomed Hometown at the beginning of the game are exceedingly weak for an assault force attempting to retrieve something very dear to the Githyanki. In the expansion, the player reaches Epic levels up to 30, and most of the enemies tailored to that power level are ones that you would expect to be very powerful, like fiends. At the same time, however, enemies that should be mundane and much lower in power than the player have inflated strength to present a challenge to the player. For example, there is a "berserker lodge" containing a small number of Rashemani warriors that you can spar with to earn bonuses. If they really were so powerful as they are depicted to be, they could probably travel to the Sword Coast (where the original campaign took place), dispatch the much weaker armed forces of that region with ease and carve out their own kingdom. Or, as a poster on the official forums put it: "A Gnoll warlord who leads many tribes in combat should be Epic level. Gnoll guard #24 should not."
- A clever Neverwinter Nights 1 walkthrough listed the initial destruction of the academy as "Attack of the 1 HP Kobolds" note , who proceed to decimate a school full of several level 1 adventurers and all their teachers. Heck, most of the fellow student NPC's at the graduation ceremony die in the first battle!
- The rating given to enemies is not very accurate when you take your class and powers into consideration. A foe marked as "Impossible" who is a strong meleer but has no magical resistance may give a Fighter trouble but get stomped by a Wizard/Sorcerer. On the other hand, that same Wizard/Sorcerer may get their ass handed to them by a "Easy" foe who has massive magical resistances.
- The level designer makes the inaccuracy of the rating system particularly easy to see - it's easy to make a creature that will be listed as "Impossible" to a level 20 character, with no magic resistance, about 100 hit points, and the inability to do more than 5 damage a blow.
- Final Fantasy games suffer from this one at times, especially when the Bonus Dungeon features Palette Swap versions of regular enemies who are stronger than the last boss. A recent offender is Crisis Core, where the SOLDIER missions feature a fairly limited palette of generic monsters who sometimes appear with boss-level stats as the missions get harder. Most egregious was a Mission tier in which a hard battle with a hologram of Sephiroth was followed by a much, much, MUCH harder battle with... a chicken.
- The Dawn Of Souls remake of Final Fantasy I features Bonus Dungeons where you can fight bosses from the other 2D games. The bosses from III, IV, and V start out as on par with Tiamat in the Temple of Fiends and only get stronger from there, but they're all either elemental fiends themselves, or beings like Gilgamesh or Atomos, so it basically checks out. Then you get to VI, where the bosses include an Ultros with three times as many HP as Tiamat.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind features two Expansion Packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. As they were designed for higher level characters than Morrowind's main quest, a number of enemies are as hard or harder than the final boss of that quest. The final boss of Morrowind is a millennia old god that three other deities were unable to defeat, and very few of the enemies in the expansions are anything nearly so spectacular.
- In Tales of Symphonia, one Bonus Boss turns out to be Celes, Zelos' sickly younger sister. Despite having spent her entire life in a cloister and having done none of the adventuring, fighting or anything that the party has, she's still tougher than most of the regular bosses in the game, which includes dragons, robotic guardians, and 4000-year old combat veterans with Magitek implants.
- And in the way of regular enemies, we have gems like starved convicts that turn out to be more powerful than Desian elite troopers.
- Surprisingly averted in Fallout 3, especially considering it was made by the makers of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a game infamous for leveling enemies with the player, so that at high levels you'd be traveling the countryside running into level 50 Goblins and "poor bandits" equipped with Daedric equipment worth several times their weight in gold. Almost all characters in Fallout 3 are of a fixed level, and your level merely determines what type of character you fight in an area (i.e. at high levels, you'd fight military-grade Sentry Bots instead of rent-a-cop grade Protectrons). This did create its own problems, as at high-levels deathclaws would spawn everywhere for no good reason, except to give you a challenge.
- Broken Steel can use this when it comes to leveling you companions. By the time Dogmeat is at level 30, he'll be able to survive nukes detonating in his face. This means that the mutt can take down squads of power-armored Enclave soldiers and hulking Super Mutants all on his own. To counterbalance this, it also introduces a trifecta of disproportionately overpowered enemies that usually start appearing around Level 15 and increase in frequency onward: Super Mutant Overlords, Albino Radscorpions, and Feral Ghoul Reavers. Worse, they can randomly show up in some locations regardless of the player's level, for example, you can run into an Overlord at GNR Building Plaza during "Following in His Footsteps", the very first story quest after leaving the vault. If you're at a high enough level, you may encounter as many as five Overlords or Reavers at once.
- Played straight in the Point Lookout DLC, where a level 30 player character capable of almost effortlessly slaughtering the Powered Armor wearing, plasma rifle-wielding Elite Mooks of the Enclave can get massacred by nearly naked Tribals and Swampfolk armed with 19th century repeating rifles and woodcutting axes who are capable of taking several shots in the face from a .44 Magnum before going down. And this is because they have an unresistable 35 point damage bonus on top of all their attacks for no reason at all. Fake Difficulty at it's finest.
- The aliens in Mothership Zeta don't deliver unblockable damage bonuses, but since they they level scale with the player, the ones with Deflector Shields have god-like Damage Resistance at the higher levels.
- Averted differently in Fallout: New Vegas, where all enemies scale to your level, but different enemy types have different potential level ranges. So while random thugs don't scale to your level, enemies like Deathclaws, NCR Rangers(particularily the hit squads that appear if you have a negative reputation), Legionary Assassins, Brotherhood Paladins, most DLC creatures, and the final boss can all scale to your level and past it. Enemies all have fixed equipment as well, so the Ranger carrying a BFG and riot armor is concretely stronger than the mook with a shirt and a pool cue.
- Similar to the aforementioned Point Lookout enemies, the DLC enemies can become disproportionately overpowered at high levels, for example at Level 40+ on Very Hard, Lonesome Road's Tunnelers will two-shot you and its upgraded Deathclaws will one-shot you, regardless of armor, and even Lobotomites in Old World Blues deal bonus damage that can chop off up to half your HP, more than you can deal with the same weapons.
- In The Witcher Kikimore are portrayed as pests throughout chapter 3, but can be difficult to take out at the start of the chapter, even though you have at this point killed supposedly much more powerful creatures.
- Not exactly fighting them at first, but in Dungeon Siege II, the Mordens in the first chapter are much weaker than ones that appear later.
- In Kingdom Hearts, Captain Hook, who is merely a pirate captain without any special powers and is often depicted as a Harmless Villain, has higher stats and HP than Jafar's genie form or giant Ursula. The same types of enemies become stronger as the story progresses, as well. This is lampshaded in the opening with the narration reading, "The closer you get to the light, the greater your shadow becomes."
- In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Riku fights his way through Castle Oblivion backwards, so Level 1 Riku is dumped right into Hollow Bastion, traditionally one of the last worlds, if not the last world, in a typical Kingdom Hearts game. Suddenly, fearsome-looking Defenders, Wizards and Darkballs are reduced to being as defenseless as kitty cats.
- In Skies of Arcadia Legends, one of the Bonus Bosses are a trio of con-artist actors who are trying to capitalize on the party's fearsome reputation to scam people for money, and will fight you when you try to bring them in. Despite this definite civilian background, every single one of them have more HP than your entire party combined and possess variants of your own moves that are many times more powerful — which raises the question of why they didn't simply become Air Pirates on their own instead.
- Another Bonus Boss is a young boy who is, by his own admission, a coward who abhors violence and would like to become a basket weaver instead of succeeding his late father into the air pirate business. Again, he is many times more endurable than the party combined and knows many of the highest-level spells for no adequately explained reason.
- City guards and soldiers in the Baldur's Gate series grow consistently more powerful as you go through the games and expansions, to the point that by the end, even basic infantry in the Tethyrian army are magically armed and armored supermen to keep up with the fact that your player character is more or less the biggest Bad Ass on the planet by that point. Humorously, this means that the Amnish guards from Shadows of Amn could effortlessly dominate the Flaming Fist from Baldur's Gate... and the main plot of that game involved preventing a war between those two powers. Guess it's a good thing for the Gate that you succeeded, eh?
- Chrono Cross has this on display too. Early in the game, you face what are billed as at worst Elite Mooks. Naturally, the teenage protagonist and the kind girl next door carve a bloody swath through them. These guys are about on par with mutant plant creatures nearby... and certainly no match for the actual generic enemies later on.
- And let's not forget that the most powerful of the dragoons is not the battle-ax wielding warrior or the muscled mountain of a gladiator, but a nine-year-old girl in a pretty dress, who has more Hit Points than the two others combined and deals more physical damage just by kicking you in the shin with her shoes.
- Dragon Quest IX has the demonic witch Morag. Her backstory indicates that she single-handedly brought about the destruction of the entire kingdom of Brigadoom. However, at the end of the day, she is merely the third boss fought in the entire game. So that legendary demonic witch of lore? Yeah, she got her blue butt handed to her by a few rookies armed with oak staves and laundry poles.
- Post-game DLC (which had probably been planned in advance) reveals that she actually wasn't responsible for destroying Brigadoom, she "only" captured its hero. The actual destroyer of Brigadoom is much stronger (but much weaker than your party will be by the time you unlock the quest).
- Any Lord of the Rings RPG featuring the Uruk-Hai before the orcs. According to Wordof God, The Uruk-Hai are superior to orcs, but they are much weaker than orcs in any RPG where they are faced first. Even the goblins are stronger than them in the GBA version of Return of the King.
- Happens in every Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario game, where you encounter traditional Mario enemies really late in the game that just happen to be about a hundred times more powerful than they have any right to be. Good examples include Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (which has normal Piranha Plants found in floors 70+ of the Pit of 100 Trials, that happen to have endgame stats), Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (which has more ridiculously overpowered Piranha Plants and Boos with sky high defences, despite both being usually common Mario mooks) and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, where Piranha Plants, Goombas and Shy Guys have ridiculously high stats and complex attacks for their species and Bowser Jr is somehow a Bonus Boss with more power than the final one! Who happens to be his dad with reality warper powers...
- Evil Islands: Mostly played straight, with a few aversions. The different types of Underground Monkey have completely different health depending of the island you are, and the giant spiders you fight in the Death Canyon (that you're forced to complete while alone and with obselete equipment) are strangely weak compared to the ones you fight elsewhere in Suslanger. However, in Suslanger you encounter hyenas which have about the same power as the dogs you encountered in Ingos. This actually has some logic, but makes hyenas look pathetic when compared to the rest of enemies in Suslanger.
- Inazuma Eleven zigzags this frequently: on the one hand, random encounters tend to remain pretty much wimpier than you throughout the game, regardless if they are your school bullies or elite body guards (justified in some of the releases, since you're either playing a national team against amateurs or your team is training to be strong enough to defend the world/the sport/the timelines); on the other, depending on when you battle a team throughout your playthroughs it might have significantly worse stats than what the story might imply. One egregious example comes from Teikoku Academy, awarded the national title 40 years in a row but whose stats are inferior to a team of countrymen farmers.
- In Freelancer, the spacecraft you encounter become progressively more powerful as you advance through the game and move from one House to another. This results in the observation that the pirates in Rhineland could easily move in to Liberty and take over.
- Lampshaded in a way if the player goes to planet Crete, where a quick glance at the news shows that the Corsairs actually are planning to invade Rhineland and take over. And they are more concerned about the intervention of other pirates than they are about the other three nations!
- Even tabletop games are not immune to this. In 4e Dungeons & Dragons, there are some particularly eyebrow-raising enemies. One example, the Human Gladiator, is a level 14 Elite Soldier. This means this mere pit fighter is twice as powerful as an Angel of Protection, War Troll, or Stone Giant (all level 14 Standard Soldiers), and level more powerful than Skalmad the Troll King (13 Elite Soldier).
- The Human Insane Noble - literally just a crazy upper class twit who runs around hitting people with a scepter - is level 23. In a game where player characters top out at 30. They're more powerful than most dragons.
- That said, high-level non-player characters are nothing new in D&D in particular. Humans have never been Puny Earthlings in the entire history of the game, settings full of crazily powerful magic and monsters notwithstanding.
- Third edition also had some silly examples, especially as Power Creep, Power Seep began to kick in in the later splatbooks: Examples like the Drowned Dead — a zombie made from a drowned corpse, which for some reason had 20 times the Hit Points of a zombie made from any other old corpse. Using the Class and Level System the Dungeon Master could also create some bizarre opponents for the players, like an epic-level commoner, but such challenges were not built into the system.
- One of the most famous in 3rd ed. was a common house cat. Not a challenge to a PC, but one could easily maim a human peasant in the first round of combat. Or a level 1 wizard.
- Exalted came within a hair's breadth of publishing stats for a rat that could kill farmers singlehandedly in one hit. Not a giant rat. A regular rat.
- Magic: The Gathering can often fall into this, with a creature's stats being disproportionately high or low in relation to other cards. The Horseshoe Crab in particular is a minor Memetic Badass for this; with a P/T of 1/3, a single crab could defeat elven swordsmen, ogre warriors, and, in an arena, entire regiments of cavalry.
- In People's General, depicting a hypothetical war between China and most of the rest of the world starting in 2005, the designers compensated for weak AI by having Chinese units actually be stronger in terms of baseline stats compared to the more technologically advanced units fielded by the US, Russia, and other countries more highly developed than China. In the Western campaign, this was compounded by making most of the Chinese units the player faces ridiculously elite, fully overstrength and have an abundance of special leaders that conferred additional advantages.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, the Lucavi are stated to be powerful enough to battle armies single-handedly. So logically, they'd be ridiculously hard, right? Wrong; almost all Lucavi, save Belias and Elidibs, are very easy to defeat. Hell, more often than not their human forms are far harder as bosses.
- Belias is only even hard because of the demons he spawns with.
- A more specific example of the trope is that enemies in plot-based missions have fixed levels, while random encounters level with the player. At high levels you might be able to easily dispatch the multiple consecutive main villains in the final dungeon, but get slaughtered by random Level 99 monks and samurais while exploring the overworld.
- Happens on Super Robot Wars ocassionally. Who would've thought than the ZGMF-X13A Providence, a standard, if powerful Real Robot, had the same HP than Z-Master.note
- Happens a lot in Disgaea, due to the series' Absurdly High Level Cap of 9999. At the end of the story campaign, the final boss will usually be about level 100, and considered capable of ruling or destroying the world if the protagonists don't stop him. As soon as you enter the post game, however, you'll swiftly be facing regular mooks who are ten times as powerful. You can also intentionally cause this trope by passing Stronger Enemy bills, increasing the strength of every foe in the game for better Level Grinding opportunities.