Overrated and Underleveled
Within the plot, a character is introduced who has a preexisting reputation of being a master fighter and quite renowned. This character is then implied to be a potential rival, obstacle, or ally of the party.
The problem arises after this character joins your party, and a dedicated player notices aside from perhaps being a few levels
higher at first, this character is inevitably weaker than the main character.
This can sometimes be explained by a simple matter of not leveling the newcomer properly, but usually a heralded "strongest character" simply never is for long, or is certainly not as useful as their strength would suggest. Maybe programmers are underestimating gamers. Sometimes it can also be explained another way, such as they're weakened by something, commonly, age. (You're not as strong at 50 as you were at 20.)
It could also be its own variation of The Worf Effect
. A dangerous foe or ally, whose reputation for being powerful is well-known, is overshadowed by the main character as a way of showing the player just how powerful they've become.
Inevitably, this is almost always for game balance reasons, preventing a Disc-One Nuke
When applied to equipment, it's the Penultimate Weapon
. Redemption Demotion
can be seen as a variation of this. Also Bag of Spilling
, in which a previous playable character doesn't retain their weapons/skills.
One of many examples of Gameplay and Story Segregation
. Contrast Underrated and Overleveled
or Purposely Overpowered
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura:
- At the end of the game, you can add Arronax to your party. While he's at the maximum possible level allowed by the game engine, he equips no weapons nor armour, and most of the time prefers fists to his (quite decent) magic. This may, however, just be a result of a glitch. The dude single-handedly destroyed advanced technological civilization and was bad enough to be generally regarded as his world's Crystal Dragon Satan. This also happens to the other Banished villains - for example, a half-man-half-dragon creature whom the collective of most powerful mages of the world defeated after days-long battle.
- In general, most of the recruitable NPCs avert this. They're all set at static levels, and the locations you find them are often within their realm of ability.
- Franklin Payne (Gentleman Adventurer!) is hyped continent-wide for his famous and daring expeditions. By the time you qualify to invite him, any gunslingers currently in the party could have been better developed and better equipped, and all other character types are more effective in their specialty and still broadly useful. Franklin is a nice chap for such a Glory Hound, and entertaining to listen to, but he's a little late for the True Companions.
- Garr in Breath of Fire III. The story presents him as a extremely powerful warrior with skills way above the strongest warriors in the world. He always joins the annual Warrior Tournament as a solo entry, while the standard is to register a team of three. Balio and Sunder, the duo of the previous two Hopeless Boss Fight you have, tremble by just being stared hy him. Turns out he eventually joins your party in the third battle against the duo, and after killing them, casually remarks that he was eventually planning of disposing them. Turns out that, in-game wise, he's just the standard Mighty Glacier character who is easily outranked by Ryu. He has a plethora of Fire spells but his magic is so low that even his strongest spells can't match the power of his standard attack.
- In The Legend of Dragoon:
- Rose was one of the original Dragoons, and arguably the strongest considering she was the only one to survive the final battle. Since then she has had 11,000 years to train. So why is she no stronger then two (admittedly competent) soldiers when she joins the party after all that training?
- Kongol, a former enemy boss, is also something of a disappointment when he joins you.
- This applies to half of the main characters in Final Fantasy X. The former guardians Lulu, Wakka, and Auron supposedly had all completed most or all of the pilgrimage, and Level Grinding that entails, prior to the beginning of the game, but all start at effectively level 1. The monsters at the Calm Lands, which all three Guardians supposedly made it to, could have killed all three guardians with a sneeze at the beginning of the game.
- Auron at least may deserve a little slack here. It's not unreasonable to presume that one doesn't walk away from dying without suffering a few physical setbacks.
- This also occurs very blatantly in a plot-relevant Minigame: While the original members of your Blitzball team are certainly not the best players out there in the long run, the extremely-hyped, won-the-championship-many-years-in-a-row Luca Goers are a highly competent, tough to beat team... at level 1. They also have pretty much the worst stat growth in the game, rendering them ineffective by the time players' levels are in the teens. The first, story-mandated, match against them needn't be won, which is good because winning it usually involves taking advantage of the fairly simple blitzball AI and Tidus's unique special moves. By the second or third league season they almost never even pose a challenge. The Al Bhed Psyches, on the other hand, start and remain a formidable team, and their starting goalie is a prized recruit for players who seriously pursue Blitzball; however, the story never actually makes much of their abilities, even having them try to win by cheating in a cutscene-only match. They're also the first team the pathetic Aurochs defeat in ten years in the storyline, making it even more confusing once you play them normally.
- Quattro Bajina in Super Robot Wars Z is a variation on this, he's one of the best pilots in the game(He usually is. In fact, here he's probably second in Z only to Kei ) but rather than getting his own top of the line mobile suit, he's got the OK Hyaku Shiki, which is not very good compared to the units you get late game. UNLESS you do what many do and put him in the Turn A Gundam.....
- Quattro in general really. It's most prominent in Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden, where his stats are some of the worst in comparison to other Gundam main characters including normal pilots like Kou Uraki and even Loran Cehack. And like in Z, he only get the Hyaku Shiki, and Sazabi is an Easy Mode only unit that is decent at best.
- Rather disappointingly enforced by paladin Artix of DragonFable In his own movie (Artix VS The Undead), Artix was shown to slay hundreds of Undead with a swipe of his sword. In game however he is a level 3 Paladin who seems weaker than your main character, bar his four-hit Light combo. Justified when you find out while talking to Artix that after fighting a deadly creature summoned by a Master Necromancer, he sealed the monster inside his battleaxe and as a result of the battle lost 30 levels. Implying that before the battle, he was still very much a badass at level 33. Even at level 3, his four-hit combo is extremely powerful, and turns most fights at lower levels into cakewalks. Add the fact that the increase in damage from level 3 to 33 is generally at least 1000% and you realize that he was originally probably capable of taking out the player's full-grown dragon.
- in Star Ocean: The Second Story:
- Dias is the classic version, a legendary swordsman who frequently calls party members weak. Once joining the party, he is quickly outclassed by Claude. In Dias' case, this trope was somewhat turned back; in the PSP remake he was vastly improved, and more on the level of badass the game makes him out to be.
- Also happens to Albel Nox in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, who is level 29 (according to the guide) when you fight him, and level 24 when you get him.
- And Ashlay in Star Ocean, who is a grizzled and aged veteran, swordsman known the world over, personal friend of most of the world's royalty... and joins at level 15, only to be very quickly overshadowed by Ratix. However, unlike most examples of this trope, there is an easy way to justify this though: Much of the story of his skills were in the past, by now he's obviously past his prime thanks to being almost sixty years old and he only has the use of one arm (in the remake, he is flat out missing the arm.) Ashlay actually plays this trope fairy realistically too - Sure he knows a lot of technique, but isn't very good long-run because he literally is an old man.
- Adray, praised as a great magician and swordsman, Fayt absolutely destroys him in swordplay and Sophia outclasses him in magic to the point of seeming like a Goddess by comparison. Justified as she had genetic engineering for that purpose and Fayt had been training with videogames his whole life and had the destructive gene
- Leon in Tales of Destiny is supposed to be an elite military warrior, carefully trained since childhood to be a prodigy general. Yet when he joins the party, he's at the same level as the low-level thieves (+ country bumpkin) he easily wiped the floor with moments before.
- Kratos in Tales of Symphonia is supposed to be a powerful, experienced mercenary, adept at both blade and magic, but when he joins he's only a level or so higher than the rest of the party (which at that point consists of only random schoolchildren) and knows only a handful of weak techniques. (Of course, there is a spoilerrific reason for this.) Later in the game he is replaced by another character, Zelos. Despite being a pampered noble, Zelos is effectively Kratos in combat: they have the exact same skills, weapon proficiencies and combat role, with only a few minor differences in stats (Zelos' are lower) and attack style (Zelos is better at using certain attacks). Oddly enough, when you have to fight them, even if they just left your party in the previous cutscene, they're suddenly tough enough to match the entire party all over again... but, of course, they're using their Angelic powers during those fights.
- Alter A.I.L.A. Genesis:
- Erin is an interesting version of this. She is not a bad character by any means. She is a healer with a healing ability which can, with proper equipment, be made capable of activating every two rounds and heal the party completely, rendering many battles easy so long as you can avoid a TPK for two turns. For players that don't like using allot of healing items she is arguably the strongest character. However, her strength comes entirely from her ability to quickly heal the party, she is otherwise underwhelming in health and especially damage. The Fridge Logic kicks in here, because in the early game, the time when everyone insists she is powerful, she always fights alone. A solo Erin, before drives made it possible to speed up her healing, would easily get overwhelmed and killed before she could build up resources for a heal or do much damage. Effectively she is only powerful when put in a team and the only times the plot calls her out as powerful is the times she isn't with a team. Plus no one ever mentions her ability to heal when mentioning her danger, despite this being the only thing that makes her a viable character at all.
- The bonus characters are all NPCs that were either bosses or allies who were powerful in cutscenes, but they all start at level 1. The only saving grace is that they have lower EXP requirements and good stat growths, meaning they can easily surpass the main party members.
- Jade from Tales of the Abyss is advertised as one of the most powerful and feared sorcerers in the world, but is hit by a bad guy's special item early in the game which causes him to lose access to all but his most basic spells. He spends the rest of the game gradually breaking the seals on his magic, which by a crazy coincidence happens at more or less the same rate as the other, less-experienced characters are learning new skills. Crazier still, after he remembers all his old abilities and regains his old stats, he keeps gaining new ones at the same rate. He joins your party for a short while before this, and he's a good 40 levels higher than your party by that point (assuming the player isn't grinding). He drops to around the same level as you when his artes are sealed.
- The Fire Emblem series of tactical RPGs has more instances of this than can be conveniently listed. The reason is primarily a result of the games' mechanics — since death is permanent in this series, late recruits exist only to give the careless and the inexperienced a fighting chance in the later levels. As a result, the experienced knights, powerful generals and legendary warriors of the world (who come later in the game) are almost invariably weaker than the rank novices, random mercenaries, and inexperienced students (who join early) raised to the same level. Almost without exception, a character who starts out at level 5 and is raised to level 15 will be far stronger than a character who starts at level 15, even if the character who starts at level 15 is renowned for his peerless strength and skill. (The only exceptions are Game-Breaker units who join on the final chapter of most games.) Too many specific examples to list, but a few are Cecilia, Dayan, Juno, and Niime from FE6; Karel, Karla, Renault from FE7; Innes from FE8; and Elincia's retainers from FE9. There's actually a bit of Fridge Brilliance regarding them, as you'll read.
- Jeorge of the Archanea series is notable for being renowned as the "greatest sniper on the continent" but is a prepromote who's average and not really noteworthy statwise. This is explained in-game, however: due to the high-class nature of his bloodline, people have been spreading ridiculously exaggerated rumors about him, leading to this false reputation.
- Karel in particular since in Fire Emblem 7, he is referred to as the "Sword Demon" and his supports with Dart and Karla show how skilled he was, yet a well-leveled Lyndis or Guy can outclass him. In Fire Emblem 6 though, he has actually grown far more but can still be outclassed by Rutger or Fir if leveled correctly. Karel is an Eleventh Hour Super Power - he's got the best growth rates, but he can only use it once. You'll notice that in Fire Emblem 7, he joins at a lower level than in Fire Emblem 6, So obviously he was training. The seventh game has a fair number of characters who avert this. Marcus, who despite being a "Jagen" (a pre-promote who you get very early and is very powerful at first, but is outclassed later on) manages to be solid fighter for most of the game. Vaida is a Mighty Glacier (even if she's a huge case of Redemption Demotion), and Pent, who manages to avert this trope to such an extent that his joining chapter involves him being a One-Man Army.
- The penultimate chapter in 7, Victory Or Death, introduces Renault, a mysterious, high-level Bishop with rare equipment and the ability to heal numerous units at once - initially, he may be seen as a godsend thanks to the continuous stream of high-level, dangerous enemies present in the level. However, his magical abilities are absolutely atrocious, implied through support conversations to be because Renault was a former mercenary who renounced his violent ways and embraced religion as penance. The process of discovering this, unfortunately, requires bringing a seriously underpowered character into the most dangerous part of the game.
- Same with Lucia and Bastian, the retainers of Elincia in PoR/RD. While both have excellent growth rates, they also have atrocious base stats for their high levels. The third, Geoffrey, is ironically the lowest leveled despite being the head knight, and his base stats are much better suited to his level.
- Although, the trope is notably averted with Stefan, who, while a much higher level than the rest of your team at that point, has a stat spread that's more than adequate for his level (except for his paltry Luck score). This trend continues in the sequel, where he's among the last units you recruit in the game, but is no less effective than his fellow swordmasters (still has low Luck, though). It might have to do with his recruiting requirements and the implication that he's descended from a legendary member of the tribe that produced one the Game-Breaker Laguz kings that joins in the final chapter.
- Inverted by Pelleas, a character who sits out most of the battles. When he finally does join a battle, he admits that he's never actually fought before, and is so scared his legs are trembling... and yet he starts out as a Level 12 Dark Sage. While he is still underleveled compared to your other characters, that's pretty impressive for someone who's never had a chance to do any Level Grinding. This is, however, something of a plot point. He got his power from making a contract with a Spirit, which is the final clue that he's not really Almedha's son.
- Then this gets completely defied by the Greil Mercenaries when they make their grand return in Radiant Dawn. Famed In-Story and the heroes of the previous game, they'd be a disappointment if they were anything less that absolute badasses more powerful than any other unit you have... so they're absolute badasses more powerful than any other unit you have. Despite the enemies scaling appropriately, the Greil Mercenaries have a much easier time with combat than any of the previous groups you control, and their chapters are made difficult mostly by virtue of escortees or time limits. Even once perspective shifts back to the other teams and they get enough experience to reach the same level, the Dawn Brigade and Royal Knights will struggle to outclass the Greil Mercenaries.
- Zig-zagged with Gotoh from Marth's games. He was the original 11th-Hour Ranger in the series, and in the original NES game his stats definately befitted his legendary status, having 20's in most areas, which was the maximum at the time. In the remake, Shadow Dragon, however, stat caps are higher than 20 but Gotoh's base stats were left unaltered, leaving him to fall victim to this trope. He's never playable in either version of Mystery of the Emblem, probably to avoid this trope.
- Defied by the royal families in Fire Emblem Fates. Between amazing bases, growths, and being perfectly specced for their jobs, they all come across as the Badass Family of Royals Who Actually Do Something the story says they are. Although this does have elements of Tropes Are Not Bad, since this makes it very hard for other units to compete for a place on your team when a royal fills that niche - to the point where they're collectively considered a high-Tier-Induced Scrappy in some circles, and not using any of the royals is commonly considered a Self-Imposed Challenge.
- Langrisser 2 employed this to hair-pulling extent, where Leon, a Level 6 Knight Master, joins you as a computer-controlled unit for one battle and then offers to join you. If you accept, he loses nearly 30 levels on the spot. (To add insult to injury, several party members leave you and appear at least 10 levels higher as enemies the very next stage.)
- If a writer wants to put a little effort into explaining this, they often use amnesia as a vehicle:
- In Vagrant Story, the main character's backstory involves him being among the baddest of badasses, but he gains amnesia before the game starts and forgets most of his past — and most of his fighting skills. He doesn't actually learn new attacks; he "remembers" ones he already knew from before he lost his memory.
- Zero, the "Legendary Hero" from Mega Man Zero, was violently awoken from his 100 year rest and has forgotten most of his fighting techniques. True to his series heritage, he recalls most of his techniques after beating a boss and mimicking its attacks.
- Played extremely straight in Planescape: Torment - The Nameless One doesn't so much learn new skills as he remembers what his previous incarnations knew... and some of those were absurdly powerful.
- Used in Knights of the Old Republic: Carth is "one of the Republic's best pilots," "a hero of the Mandalorian War and a legendary soldier." He's only a couple clicks higher than your starting character, possibly justified in that being a crack pilot doesn't mean much in on-the-ground fighting (the bulk of your game). Bastila? The paragon of Padawans and key to the war effort - at less of a starting level than you will be at that point, which is also handwaived by her being an adept of Battle Meditation, an exceedingly rare ability which boosted her reputation. The "amnesia" excuse shows up to explain why you, the ex-Dark Lord and galaxy-feared Badass are unpowered and a rather pathetic fighter for a few levels and also further explains why your "exceptional" compatriots seem so mediocre in comparison. And in the second game, damage and age are used to explain the low starting levels for Canderous, who becomes the Mandalore and the droids when Exile finds them.
- Kingdom Hearts actually zig-zags this trope quite a bit, often starting you at level one with no abilities by putting you in control of a different character, while playing the trope straight and explaining why it's played so.
- Magus from Chrono Trigger is an infamous case, as he is an incredibly powerful dark wizard with powerful magical barriers when he fights against the party, but upon joining becomes a run-of-the-mill spellcaster who has to learn all of his Dark spells over again. This is justified by having the game's Big Bad drain him of most of his power shortly before he joins the heroes, but we all know it's really thanks to Health/Damage Asymmetry.
- In Neverwinter Nights, the novice players are tasked by Lady Aribeth to defend the city. Aribeth is a legendary fighter and defender of the realm. In a major plot point she later turns heel and the players must fight her. Fortunately, by this time the players have been adventuring for a few months and any one of them could mop the floor with Aribeth without much difficulty.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2, we have Ammon Jerro, who is stated by several characters to be "a wizard of some power," others to be "a powerful sorcerer," and still others "an extremely powerful Warlock." In-game, he only has Warlock levels, and is fairly powerful, but all the descriptions of him suggest that he is, in fact, every single frelling spellcaster class available short of Bard, and should technically have more levels than the game suggests is possible. When you actually fight him, his summoned help is ever-so-slightly harder to beat than he is.
- Although this is justified by his powers being based on various pacts and agreements with certain fiends: When you destroy his Haven you strip him of his power, which he mentions. And all those NPCs calling him sorcerer or wizard are in no way knowledgeable about differences in spellcaster classes - all they know is that he uses spells.
- By the time you get him, he is level 15+. By Dungeons & Dragons standards, this is actually an extremely high level, especially for anything that is remotely a caster. People forget this because 3.5 started developing an unhealthy obsession with epic levels where you character is functionally a demi-god.
- Justified in Final Fantasy VII, where Cloud Strife is introduced as SOLDIER First Class, and is clearly much weaker than SOLDIER Third Class, and is only stronger than the regular MP. The reason? Cloud was never in SOLDIER, and is repressing his actual past due to trauma and being experimented on by Shinra.
- However, by the end of the game, Cloud is, in fact, more powerful than any other SOLDIER, including Sephiroth.
- Sephiroth, for that matter, massively averts this when he is briefly on your team for a flashback sequence (where "SOLDIER First Class" Cloud is yet weaker still); he is literally invincible, has high-level magic attacks that can destroy entire teams of enemies with ease, and is strong enough to kill a dragon in two hits (although at higher levels, you can kill those dragons in one). He is so powerful that you don't actually control him at all- he attacks on his own, and he's there partly to showcase what a badass he is, and partly just to show you up. He will sometimes kill every on-screen enemy before you have a chance to do anything.
- Continuing with Final Fantasy IX, we have the character Beatrix. Being the general of an entire army, she can take quite a few hits from the party before she falls, and in fact can't be defeated at all. However, in the short time you fight alongside her, she is just about as strong as just any other party member, and it shouldn't take more than a few hits to K.O. her. Of course; she doesn't have as much health as she appeared to have.
- Though this is in part due to a glitch; her HP, stats and abilities are identical to when she's a foe (save for the plot-convenient version of Stock Break she uses to end the battle). A glitch in her two strongest attacks mean they don't register as special attacks rather than regular attacks, greatly reducing her usefulness.
- However, Steiner can actually learn Beatrix's moves - including Shock (which was pretty much an instant-kill attack). By the time you get Shock, it's actually stronger in your hands than when Beatrix uses it due to mixture of the aforementioned glitch as well as the fact that Steiner's stats will get higher.
- And speaking of Steiner, he too gets hit by this trope fairly hard: he's consistently billed as Beatrix's equal, even accidentally wounded her in a sparring match once, yet at the beginning of the game he's on first level.
- There are quite a few examples in Final Fantasy XII. They include a sky pirate and his partner, who is described as a "master of weaponry" but is only two levels ahead of your character when you recruit him.
- Fran is the oldest of the main cast, comes from a race of magical huntresses and can single-handedly take down several imperial soldiers during cutscenes. Which makes it all the more surprising that she is the statistically WORST party member by a small margin. The game also makes a big deal in one boss battle about how she (and presumably other Viera) goes into a feral rage when mist starts filling the area. This is represented by putting her in permanent Berserk status for that battle; later in the game, you go to areas that are permanently filled with mist with no similar effect.
- In Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, many of the heroes, according to their backstory, ought to be powerful beyond belief already, but for balance everyone starts at level 1.
- Adell in Disgaea 2. Although he starts the game at Level 1, as appropriate for an RPG hero, he's already traveled all over the world of Veldime looking for Overlord Zenon, whom he's sworn to defeat — and Veldime has some pretty dangerous regions to search through. When he couldn't find the Overlord, he instead traveled all over Veldime again to collect the ingredients his mother needed to summon Zenon — which included killing a few mighty beasts. So, he's supposed to be much stronger in the story than his level in the game indicates. This is how he can block one of Etna's attacks in a story segment, even if gameplay wise she has over 100 times his Level.
- You could explain this through the game's Fourth Wall-lessness, where Adell should be level 1 as it's the start of the game.
- Disgaea also contains a mechanic that allows a character's level to be reset to 1 in exchange for higher base stats. It's possible he Reincarnated just before the beginning of the storyline.
- Adell's passive ability is to do more damage to enemies that are a higher level than him. While this wouldn't allow him to match enemies that are of a significantly higher level in actual gameplay battles, it could be used to justify his power in the storyline.
- The Updated Re-release of Disgaea 2 parodies this with one of the DLC unlockable characters, in which Hanako sacrifices a copy of Phantom Brave in which all the characters are leveled up to 9999 (Don't think too hard about the fact that Phantom Brave is disk based...) for a summoning ritual. All that comes out of it is a level 100 Marona.
- Near the beginning of Disgaea 2, your party runs into Demon Lor...erm...Beauty Queen Etna from the first game, who is Level 1,000 (compared to your party being maybe Level 10 or so.) Later on, Etna becomes the strongest Demon on the planet and is inadvertentely summoned by Adell's group when they try to summon Zenon again (only this time, by not summoning Zenon specifically, but by summoning "The Strongest Demon In The World" instead.) However, since Etna gave them bad summoning materials out of spite, she messed up the ritual and suffered severe level drain in the process. Only now does she join your party (or rather, stalk your party until she gets her levels back.)
- Near the end of the first game you are stopped by some "powerful" demon lords (they're roughly level 80) and your group starts to lose hope when they're inspired by the sudden appearance of... Kurtis! Who joins your group so you can fight the enemies properly. ...Except he's level 50 and has no notable equipment, and you can't take the time to change equipment or level him up until after you've defeated the demon lords. He's also reincarnated as a prinny to atone for his sins, and his old friends have trouble taking him serious at first.
- Note that at the same time he is Underrated and Overleveled as he joins as a Level 50 Prinny.
- Luna, from SoulCalibur 3's Chronicles of the Sword Mode, is a recurring boss from the first half of the mode who wields the titular SoulCalibur. She joins 2 chapters before the end, is average level, has a class with unexceptional growth rates AND she has the ONLY moveset in the entire game without a known anti-AI move, near required against Chronicles of the Sword's cheating AI
- Feena from Grandia fits this as well. She's supposed to be a legendary explorer and adventurer, and everyone is in awe of her, but once she joins you she's not particularly powerful compared to anyone else.
- Many characters from Growlanser I return in Growlanser II. They seem to have lost all their levels between the two games, which is given no explanation whatsoever.
- Terry from Dragon Quest VI suffers from this; in his first appearance, he is stated to be an extremely skilled swordsman and defeated several soldiers in Arkbolt that your own party beat as a team, and then proceeds to defeat a Hackasaurus that previously defeated said soldiers before your own party can do anything about it. When he joins you for real, he's likely a few levels lower than your party, with his only abilities of note being that he is already in an advanced job (which you likely have access to anyway) and has good equipment; statistically, he is weaker than the Hero or Carver. Furthermore, prior to having him join, he is fought as a boss battle where he is tougher than when he's in the party, but this at least is justified; Dhuran the Dread Fiend was likely empowering him during the fight.
- City of Heroes uses different stats and AI for allies compared to enemies. This can be clearly seen in Gaussian's story arc, where the previously incompetent Longbow allies that you've fought with for a few missions now are suddenly much, much tougher when you have to fight them instead.
- Vanguard also demonstrate this. The player will usually fare better against the Rikti than Vanguard does, but when the player has to fight Vanguard during a civil war they are suddenly so much more deadlier that you wonder why they couldn't do anything without your help before.
- The trope occurs in the first Baldur's Gate game. Several NPCs who offer to join you early on (Xzar and Montaron, with Khalid and Jaheira following shortly after) are supposedly experienced adventurers, yet upon joining the party they are all revealed to be no more powerful or better equipped than the player character, a novice going out into the world for the first time.
- By the same token there's also Gorion, who's only level 9 despite being stated to have regularly run with Elminster's crew back in the day.
- At Ostagar in Dragon Age: Origins, it takes an ogre and several waves of darkspawn forces to finish Duncan off in a cutscene. In the Fade sequence, it takes you a couple of minutes at most (to kill Duncan). Justified in that it's not really him, but a demon guarding the main boss of the level.
- Wynne is an accomplished mage and Senior Enchanter who is a veteran of fighting darkspawn. When she joins your party, she is at the same level as your main character (who may be a mage several decades her junior).
- Loghain is touted as a veteran of a number of wars, as well as a master swordsman. After dueling him near the climax, the player may potentially recruit him. Unfortunately, his power in the duel comes from bonus HP from being a boss and two amazing NPC-only rings. Bereft of those in the player's party, he will almost certainly be the weakest member by far due to the atrocious allocation of his stat points.
- Tezkhra, the last playable character in The Reconstruction, is a god. Yet he moves at approximately the same speed as dirt and most of his abilities are Useless Useful Spells, making him more trouble than he's worth most of the time.
- Merik in Dungeon Siege is talked up as a magical badass, but when you finally meet and recruit him he turns out to be a plain nature mage... who is lower level then you. Especially bad if your main character is a nature mage himself.
- In Phantasy Star I, your ally Odin has a reputation as a "man of great strength." He's weaker than all your other party members, including the Squishy Wizard, although he can use the Laser Gun.
- Every single character in the Dawn of War II campaigns. Tarkus and Avitus are warriors almost as accomplished as the legendary Davian Thule, the Force Commander and Thaddeus are highly successful despite their relatively young age, and Cyrus is older than all of them, trained most of them, and was even a member of The Inquisition's Death Watch. All of them are level 1. Chaos Rising introduced Jonah (powerful enough to survive direct, solo contact with the Tyranid Hive Mind, yet no stronger than the player), while Retribution has the former right-hand of the Chapter Master and a Space Marine so renowned he is known only as The Ancient (level 1 again). The fact the Ancient turns out to be Tarkus means he's been afflicted by this trope twice.
- The characters being level 1 holds no actual significance. The first game had no leveling system. Level 1 is only relative, since they are still Space Marines. Also, being in the Death Watch is no significant demonstration of skill. It is not an elite unit, but one put together from multiple units. If you look at the actual Death Watch Kill Team stats from the game, they are basic Space Marines with access to higher grade equipment.
- In Izuna 2, all characters who join your party begin at level 1, even when your mains could be at level 45 or higher. This includes the first six bosses of the previous game, including the Big Bad.
- Kanon of Wild ARMS 2 harasses you all throughout Disc 1, often being called a Wake-Up Call Boss due to how strong she is. When she finally joins you, she's alot weaker. However, it's justified in that the heroes really beat the ever-loving crap out of her so that her bionic implants were destroyed and Marivel had to fix them. This could explain her loss of power. She also happens to notice that she's been weakened. She's still the second most damaging character in the game once you unlock her special moves, however.
- The playable characters in League of Legends have four usable abilities, but when you start a game with them, they can only use one, and are actually rather weak with less than a thousand health. Especially when you look at some of their backstory. However; this is presumably invoked by having spells around the fields of justice so that the champions powers are kept equal or in check. Even though players will forever argue about champions being overpowered and underpowered. Explained away in-game as having to summon the champions every time a new battle starts, creating a fusion of the summoner and champion who has to learn how to use their powers and abilities again. Killing minions and champions presumably assists this process.
- Since the party characters in each timeline of Radiant Historia don't overlap 100%, the levels of those characters that don't appear in both timelines tend to lag behind those that do (As all experience gained remains even if you go back and forth in time or change timelines, probably because doing otherwise would have been very difficult to program). This is especially true of Rosch, who isn't playable in a significant fraction of the timeline he is a member of the party in, what causes him to lag even further behind.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- While certainly not in the majority of cases, a handful of "artifact" class weapons and items throughout the series tend to fall into this. Despite being items of legend, often crafted by and associated with divine beings, they often aren't even as powerful as generic items of the same time which have been custom enchanted by the player.
- Ulfric Stormcloak, should the player pursue the Imperial questline. The game practically turns Ulfric into a king-slaying, Thu'um throwing, Memetic Badass, if dialogue is to be believed. Yet when an Imperial-Alligned Dragonborn storms his castle, his own Dragon is harder to kill than him. The meta reason takes this trope literally. Up until patch 1.6, all NPCs were leveled based on when the player first encounters them. And Ulfric is the 3rd character you see in the opening sequence. So, you were essentially fighting what would be a challenging enemy, if you were at level 1. Even with the patch to buff his health, his outfit possesses a whopping 7 armor rating (the weakest item in the weakest armor set in the game gives an 8), so any decently-skilled character will wipe the floor with him. Humorously, if one uses the console to spawn Torygg (the king he murdered) and set them to attack each other, Torygg will win most of the time, even if Ulfric shouts him down.
- Lord Harkon, Big Bad of the Dawnguard DLC, claims that the Vampire Lord transformation will make you "a lion among lambs". Regular city guards can defeat you easily in this form, and you're often better off as your normal self, as the Vampire Lord cannot use equipment (other than certain rings) and doesn't have access to your regular set of spells. It can be useful in areas where you're deprived of your regular equipment, such as Cidhna Mine.
- Several of the Daedric artifacts are talked up as world-shakingly powerful, which they don't live up to. For example, the Rueful Axe is described by its creator as "incredibly powerful" and gaurds will remark on how it could cut through gods. While it's got good base damage, it's far from the most dangerous of its type, and its enchantment adds stamina damage, which is hardly that exciting.
- The prequel novel to Guild Wars 2 is about the Five Man Band (well, it's five by the end of the book) who took down several Champions of the Elder Dragons, and nearly succeeded in taking out one Elder Dragon himself. In the game proper, the tutorial mission and lvl 1-20 story missions of each race feature the player fighting alongside one of the group's members, where they are marginally stronger or equally strong as the low level player.
- Cloud in Final Fantasy Tactics is extremely useless unless you put a ton of effort into raising him properly. Despite being pretty strong in his own game, he joins your party at level 1 and he can only use his special abilities from the Soldier class if he has a certain sword equipped, which is pretty weak compared to other weapons. Most of the time, you are better off raising Cloud with whatever job classes you have available rather than stick to his default class.
- Thunder God Cid, however, is just given to you without any effort at all and very much does live up to his name and legend. He very easily becomes the most powerful PC in the game, to the extreme that the rest of the game can be solo'd by him and him alone.
- Ezel from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is touted as a character who can make any law cards that can easily nullify whatever laws are set in battle and is someone that is quite elusive. However, Ezel is just a reskin of the Alchemist class. He only has two abilities (one which makes you immune to status ailments once and another that puts all enemies to sleep) and can't change classes at all. Despite Ezel having extremely high magic power, he posses no abilities that are based on it. Along with being extremely slow, physically weak, having low HP, and can't even walk into water due to a glitch, Ezel may look like a powerful character but is absolute crap in battle. Even if Ezel joins your clan, he won't give you law cards for free, thus you still have to barter with him to get the cards you want.
- Al-Cid in Final Fantasy Tactics A2. He's a powerful opponent when you fight him, but he loses several levels once he joins your clan. He is the only human in the game that can use a gun in battle, which would have made him extremely awesome, but like with Ezel in the above example, Al-Cid can't change classes and most of his abilities revolve around the gimmick of females present in battle. If you don't have many female units in the clan, Al-Cid will become useless quickly.
- In Bleach: the 3rd Phantom, character levels are determined by when in the storyline they first appear. Since the four senior captains are encountered first (but don't join you until later), these legendary warriors have starting levels lower than captains hundreds of years their junior (though their high statistics make them more powerful, even at low level, than many other characters).
- The game's dialog will also assume that the main character is weaker than pretty much everybody else, when in fact the opposite is true. The lieutenants in particular are bad about this; pretty much all of them talk down to the main character, when in fact they can't hold a candle compared to him/her, even when they first appear.
- XCOM is infamous for this. Your troops, supposedly drawn from the best of Earth's special forces, are pathetic chumps who stormtroopers could give a run for their money. Of course, one could argue that the aliens are just that good at their job... if your soldiers didn't constantly panic and drop their weapons.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its sequel avert this. Your soldiers have a standard 70% Chance to hit, and generally good chances to avoid panicking. The former is amazing by real life standards and the latter is good as well, considering that the game takes place in an alien invasion.
- Your second batch of dossiers in Mass Effect 2 includes the assassin Thane Krios. In a bizarre quirk of Gameplay and Story Segregation, Thane is very useful for taking on Collectors in missions, as his specific powers are formidable against them, but when it comes to the game-ending Suicide Mission, he's a complete Master of None story-wise. He's ill suited for leading any of the available specialty roles (tech expert, fire-team leader, or biotic barricade) and his defense score towards holding the line is nothing special.
- There's also Samara, a thousand-year-old Asari justicar and accomplished biotic. Apart from Cutscene Power to the Max, she is not particularly more powerful in gameplay than other biotics although she is one of two people who can sustain the biotic barrier in the final mission.
- Jack, supposedly the most powerful human biotic ever born, is actually inferior to virtually all the other biotics in your team due to her bad power set.
- Not helped by her Cutscene Power to the Max intro which shows her blowing up the heads of mid boss level enemies with ease, something you can't remotely come close to doing even against the exact same enemies.
- Shadowrun Returns is repeatedly guilty of this:
- The final mission of "The Dead Man's Switch" has a famous character from the Shadowrun setting, Harlequin, a 2000+ year old immortal elf Magic Knight who is single-handedly a match for an entire high-level team in the tabletop, join your party. He's a rather underwhelming physical adept with some buffing spells, and while he'll pull his weight against your foes he is rather fragile and has nothing on a good mage or street samurai damage-wise.
- Similarly, you meet Jake Armitage from the SNES game. You see, the problem is that by the end of the SNES game, Jake was a badass decker-shaman that fought a Great Dragon and won. Here, he's only a bit more powerful than your fresh-out-the-new-game-screen character, and he's just a mage. When you meet him again much later he's still not much better than you'll be then.
- The supposedly famous and super-skilled deckers Dodger and Johnny Clean don't have very good stats or gear either.
- A rare Tabletop Games example is Van Richten, the famous monster hunter of Ravenloft; Van Richten literally wrote the book on hunting monsters, with a career of adventuring and monster killing spanning decades and dozens of monsters, from vampires to mummies to werebeasts to ghosts to golems to ancient dead and worse besides. And what level is he when you meet him in the 2e adventure of "Bleak House"? A whopping level three. Even considering that in the days of AD&D, levels were harder to gain, and that Van Richten lived his career by the creedo of "kill smarter, not fight harder"note , that's still distinctly underwhelming. One of the fan sourcebooks includes an array of differently leveled Van Richten's, aiming to portray him what he would have been "more realistically".
- In Chaos Rings III. Al is introduced as a high ranking explorer. When he's brought into the party he's not much stronger than the rest of the team. One of the other members in the party actually calls him out on this, and he responds that he's high ranking because of his experience, not raw power.
- God Eater 2: Rage Burst introduces Livie, a remarkably experienced God Eater who is used as a one-woman kill squad whenever a God Eater goes missing in the field. She can sync up with ANY God Arc, something exclusive to her and her alone due to her unique biology. But when she is forced onto your party, she has next to no Personal Abilities and the ones she has are inefficient and not that good at keeping herself alive in combat.
- Total War:
- In Rome: Total War, Carthage. Historically, Carthage at their height dominated the western Mediterranean and was an equal of the Roman Republic militarily and economically. The three Punic Wars fought between the two nations were the largest wars that had ever taken place at the time and lasted over a century. Carthaginian forces under Hannibal threatened the heart of Rome in a way no other outside force would for hundreds of years after. In-game, however, Carthage is significantly inferior to the Roman forces in just about every way. Only Carthage's highest-tier units like the Sacred Band heavy infantry beat out their Roman equivalents, and it's rather rare for Carthage to last long enough in the campaign to recruit them in significant numbers. Carthage is also lacking archer units of any sort (though this appears to be due to a bug, as they exist in the game files which can be easily modded to add them into the game). Essentially, if you're hoping to rewrite history by leading Carthage to victory over Rome, be prepared for a much tougher task than you might expect.
- In Third Age Total War, several factions qualify, but perhaps most egregiously, Gondor. Minas Tirith doesn't even have a grain exchange, and there is no place in Gondor that begins the game with the ability to train it's primary troops, or even a standing army of any kind! The closest is a bunch of scattered militias, which are capable but not exactly what you'd expect from one of the greatest kingdoms of Middle Earth, a shadow of it's former glory or not.
- Legend of Legaia 2 Averts this with Kazan, an old, highly trained martial artist who joins the team literally 15 levels higher than the rest of your party (a young man with a few years of combat training and a young woman with none) and stays that way until they catch up with him. He quickly makes work of every enemy they encounter for the next few dungeons.