Video game heroes
face a variety of threats, from Goddamn Bats
through human enemies to an Eldritch Abomination
. In order to survive these encounters, the hero is going to need something that makes him different
, a special ability that justifies why he
is the one saving the day. If the game boasts a radical gameplay innovation, the hero's power is likely to be closely related to it, explored and upgraded throughout the entire game.
Some games give this defining power to the player from the moment they take control
. This trope is about the games that don't
. In these games, the first level is completely devoid of the game-defining power, instead drilling you in its more basic mechanics
. It's only after you've learned the fundamentals that you receive the shiny fun gameplay mechanic you've seen in all the trailers
In terms of The Hero's Journey
, this corresponds to the (belated) Supernatural Aid
. Recent games (especially from the Science Fiction
corner) like to infect their heroes with The Virus
or The Corruption
in the end of stage one, which power their supernatural abilities for the rest of the game. Others don't use "powers" per se
, but give their heroes unique weapons, usually Forged by the Gods
, which give them an edge over the enemies that normal weapons can't and double as a Sword of Plot Advancement
. The superpower variety is especially popular in RPGs
, while unique and/or gimmick
weaponry is commonly found in Action Adventure
games and shooters.
Compare/contrast Eleventh Hour Superpower
, which involves a sudden power-up right before the climax, and A Taste of Power
, which lets you have a (nearly) full set of powers for a while before taking them away.
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- HAWX: Off Mode, which represents disabling failsafes in your plane to let you push its limits. It changes your view and subtly alters (increases) your abilities. Not really a direct increase in power, but qualifies as it's a game-defining ability given to you a while in, after the basic tutorials.
- In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, you shortly gain the power to control time after you retrieve the dagger.
- In Prince of Persia (2008), you don't get the magic attack, Double Jump, and auto-rescue from Bottomless Pits until you actually team up with Elika by the end of the prologue. Thankfully, there aren't any instances where you would need them (especially the last part) until then.
- The monster detecting radios from the Silent Hill series.
- Second Sight plays with this one a bit thanks to the Anachronic Order the levels are played in. In the first level you actually play, Vattic gains his basic powers as he needs them in the early levels (e.g. psyblast when he's caught by an armed guard, charm when he's about to be found, etc). But in the second level, which is actually a Flash Back, he's got no powers at all.
- In inFAMOUS, the game starts out right after the explosion, and Cole has to limp his way to safety without any powers. By the second level, he can shoot lightning out of his hands.
- In In Famous Second Son, Delsin doesn't get his powers until he's made a run across the shoreline to get to a party at his tribe's longhouse, pulling off potentially lethal parkour stunts in the process.
- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. You start the game with the general Samus gear, but after the assault on Norion and Samus successfully saving the planet from destruction (for once), she gains Hypermode.
- In the first Blood Omen game, you play for about two minutes as a human (literally as soon as you walk out of the first room, you're in a Hopeless Boss Fight), then spend the rest of the game as a super-powerful vampire.
- In Prototype 2, Heller doesn't get infected until after the tutorial level.
- In Saints Row IV, you gain the ability to sprint really fast and jump ridiculous heights not too far into the game. The powers are very useful, and remain so for the entire game.
- The Legend of Zelda games tend to make you go through some portion of the game before you get a unique item or ability that you'll use through the rest of the game.
- Ocarina of Time only gives you the titular ocarina and lets you play as adult!Link after the first three dungeons. Going back to child!Link is only available after the Forest Temple.
- The Wind Waker gives you the titular Wind Waker when you get to Dragon Roost Island, in time to teach you the Wind's Requiem, the song that allows you to control the winds.
- Phantom Hourglass gives you the titular Phantom Hourglass after you visit the Temple of the Ocean King the second time. The first time you visit it, your life is directly drained when you step out of the safe zones.
- Twilight Princess introduces Link's wolf transformation after the player has already gone through the first dungeon.
- Skyward Sword gives you the Skyward Strike after you get the Goddess's Sword, after you've gotten used to fighting with a regular sword.
- In A Link Between Worlds, the "merge" power isn't obtained until the first dungeon has been completed.
- In Duel Savior Destiny Taiga starts off as a normal, athletic human and gets pitted in a fight against a thirty foot golem. While he does surprisingly well, there's no way he can win. Luckily, he gets to become the first ever male Savior Candidate when he summons a magic sword and blows it up.
Hack and Slash
- In Onimusha, your attacks do hurt the demons, but won't kill them. You shortly later gain the Oni Gauntlet.
- In Dantes Inferno, you kill Death as a tutorial boss and steal his scythe.
- The Devil May Cry games have the Devil Arms, which are acquired either through flashy cutscenes or defeating bosses. The main characters are superpowered already, but this makes them even more powerful.
- There's also Devil Trigger, which usually isn't acquired until you're a few missions into the game.
- In Viewtiful Joe, you don't get the V-Watch until shortly into the first level. Barely an example, but you do have to fight your first few enemies without it.
- Sonic Colors DS doesn't give you the well known boost (it's basically a pseudo-third installment in the Sonic Rush series with some alterations) until Tropical Resort Act 2. The first "real" wisp power after that (Red Burst) is at the start of the second zone, where once you've got used to the boost, the wisp powers really come into play. Additionally, the Wii version doesn't give you your first "real" wisp power (Cyan Laser) until Tropical Resort Act 3, but you get the boost from the start of the game.
- In Mega Man ZX Advent, you don't get Biometal Model A until the beginning of the second stage. That means you are in your basic human form for the intro stage.
- In Mega Man Zero, you don't get his signature Z-Saber until partway through the boss battle for the first stage (instead relying on the buster).
- Jak II:
- The game takes a while to give you your first gun, and unlike in the Grand Theft Auto games it's mimicking, you don't have the option of finding some yourself before that point. Shooting hadn't had a major role in Jak's gameplay until then.
- Dark Jak can't be set off in the first mission, and triggers on it's own during the second, before giving you free reign. Indeed, since Jak is the only "dark warrior" by this stage, it is a much straighter example overall.
- Super Mario World doesn't give the feather power-up, which grants flight, until the first level of Donut Plains (the second world of 7 in the main quest).
- In E Swat, your character gets promoted after the first two level (or third, in the arcade version), giving you an heavily armed Power Armor.
- In the first Disney's Magical Quest, Mickey won't get his first costume until the beginning of the second level. In the other two games, you won't get the first costume until partway into the first level.
Real Time Strategy
- In Achron, you don't get access to the time window until the second mission of the campaign.
RPG — Eastern
- In Kingdom Hearts, you can't actually fight the Heartless until you gain a Keyblade.
- In Chrono Trigger, Crono and the gang (besides Robo and Ayla) gain magic during their first trip to end of time, just in time to fight enemies that are nearly immune to regular attacks, but are vulnerable to magic.
- The Shadows in Blue Dragon. You're powerless in fights before you get them and after you lose them at the end of Disc 2.
- In The Legend of Dragoon, you don't get the Dragoon abilities until a few hours in.
- Final Fantasy does this a lot. III and V both give you the Jobs after the first major dungeon, and you don't get the Espers until pretty well into the story of VI, though you have the advantage of each character's unique skill. The other games do similar things to varying degrees, but these are the most obvious.
- In Final Fantasy XII, you don't get to even use the Gambit system until quite a bit into the prologue, and even then it's still a lot later before you actually get to customize them.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, all characters start at about the Iron Weight and don't receive any superpowers (including the much-advertised Paradigm Shift system or, indeed, the ability to Level Up) until they get to say "hello" to Anima two prologue chapters later. He says "hello" back by making them l'Cie, whose power grows almost exponentially with time. This is lampshaded right from the start, when the heroes discover that formerly-tough Elite Mooks are little more than Cannon Fodder for them now.
- Legend of Legaia
- In the first game, each of the three main characters adventures with the party for a period of time before getting access to their Ra-Seru, which greatly increases their ATK stat and gives them access to magic. Particularly pronounced in Gala's case, where he will be very much The Load for the first two dungeons you explore with him.
- In the sequel, Duel Saga, Lang doesn't gain access to his Origin, Galea, until about a fifth of the way through the game.
- This is relatively common in the Paper Mario series. In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Star Meter abilities are only available after visiting the eponymous door for the first time, and in Super Paper Mario you get the 3D-flip ability halfway through the first level.
- Dates back to the first game as well. You start the game using basic attacks, and after visiting Shooting Star Summit for the first time, you get the Lucky Star, which gives you access to Action Commands, a very important aspect of the games' battle system.
- In .hack, Kite starts off as an average player, with nothing particularly special about him. After playing through a level or two like this, he gets the Twilight Bracelet, which allows him to fight hacked enemies, and thus makes him the only one able to take on Morganna.
- White Knight Chronicles: It takes about half an hour of gameplay that set off the chain of events that lead or Leonard obtaining the titular White Knight. Said chain of events includes the wine cart your party is delivering to the princess's ball being attacked by a troll, a palace guard leaving the palace's front doors open, an attack on the palace, the king getting assassinated, and The Hero taking it upon himself to get the princess to safety, respectively.
- Wild ARMs 2 had the protagonist Ashley being able to transform into Knight Blazer, a Superpowered Evil Side armored guy and Ashley gains new attacks and a really awesome theme music.
- The Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force games typically don't give Mega Man access to his Swiss Army Hero abilities until he's beaten the first, second, or third major boss.
- The Neptunia games have a habit with doing this with the girls' HDD transformations.
- During the first chapter of The Last Story, at the moment Zael thinks Syrenne was killed, the spirit of the Outsider gives him the Gathering power, which not only allows him to bring Syrenne back to life, but also attracts enemies to him to protect his friends. As the game progresses, this power becomes more influential for the success of the quest.
RPG — Western
- In the first Knights of the Old Republic, you start off as just a Republic soldier on Taris, but become a Jedi shortly after that.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, you play through the first dungeon as a human, then spend the rest of the game as a super-powerful vampire.
- In Fable III you get your magic gauntlets and hero power during your escape from the castle.
- In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Adam only gets augmented after the first level, a case of We Can Rebuild Him. Similarly, J.C. is already augmented at the beginning of the first game, but it doesn't do you much good until you get your first upgrade canister at the end of the first level.
- Subverted in Dragon Age: Origins: after all the build-up to your Player Character's super-secret Initiation Ceremony into the ranks of the Gray Wardens, legendary undefeatable warriors who single-handedly held back The Horde for centuries, the actual ceremony doesn't give you any gameplay powers (not even the fabled ability to sense nearby Darkspawn), only plot-moving ones and an extra point to use on standard talents. It is later explained that the Wardens are the best warriors/mages/rogues of Thedas not because of some Secret Art but because they recruit only the best warriors/mages/rogues in Thedas.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the main character gains the ability to use the reality warping Thu'um after completing at least one dungeon and defeating their first dragon in the storyline. In fact, depending on what quests you choose to do, you could play half the content before doing the quest that unlocks this ability.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, you only unlock the signature spirit-eater powers in the second act, after facing Okku. Subverted, however, is that players may regard these powers as either Blessed with Suck or Cursed with Awesome depending on mindset, and it has annoying downsides that causes some players to brand it a Scrappy Mechanic and wish it gone entirely. Thankfully, there are console commands to mitigate or outright disable it.
Shooter — First-Person
- The HEV suit and later the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2. Not so much with the original Half-Life, though, where you get the HEV Suit around ten minutes in (after learning how to walk, push buttons, and chew gum), and it is upgraded for the third act.
- In FEAR 2, after you fight through the first level as an ordinary soldier, you gain the power of Slo Mo after a surgery.
- In the new Wolfenstein, it's B.J.'s otherworldly medallion.
- In The Darkness, Jackie gains the power of the Darkness only after he "dies".
- In BioShock and BioShock 2, you first start out with a basic weapon, but by the end of the first level, you gain a plasmid. It knocks you out, but you then have the ability to shoot everything from lightning to bees at your enemies.
- In Doom 3:
- The Soul Cube (only on Nightmare difficulty) and the Artifact are second level superpowers, but never really get powerful or useful until a little bit later.
- The Super Shotgun from Doom 2 is available in a side room on level 2. If you know the secrets, you can have both the Plasma Rifle and the BFG 9000 before you even hit the 10th map.
- In Project Snowblind, the game seems to start out as a fairly generic shooter, but by the second level, you're rebuilt with as a supersoldier who can use Infrared Vision, has bullet time, Ballistic Shielding, Cloaking, and the power to shoot lightning out of his hands.
- In Time Shift, you only receive your time controlling suit when you reach the second level.
- In Singularity, you receive the Time Manipulation Device early on, which lets you control time to a certain extent.
- In TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, you get the Uplink after you get to the rebel base.
- Resistance only gives you your health regeneration after you've beaten the first level. There aren't any health packs, so any bullets you take can't be healed for the rest of the level, making this section irritatingly difficult.
- In Quake IV, Matthew Kane doesn't become Stroggified until the end of the first Act. This process is the reason that he's able to penetrate so much deeper into Stroggos than anyone else, as well as providing him with a higher HP limit and the ability to read Strogg.
- In both Borderlands games, the skill tree isn't available at all until you reach level 5. All character classes play exactly the same until that point.
Shooter — Third-Person
- In darkSector Hayden gains the power of the Glaive shortly after he gets infected.
- In Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, you start out the game with no powers, and it seems like a fairly generic shooter. By the end, you're a psychic god.
- In Jedi Outcast, you play two levels with Kyle Katarn as The Gunslinger of a garden variety, then he says "Let's Get Dangerous" and pays a visit to Luke Skywalker for his lightsaber. After that, he's a Jedi. It's the same in Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. Kyle has no Force powers until after he visits his father's workshop.
- In Dead Space 1 and 2, the plasma cutter, stasis module, and kinesis module aren't given immediately.
- Advent Rising doesn't give Gideon any of his birthright superpowers until after his Doomed Homeplanet is destroyed.
- Kid Icarus: Uprising throws you into action with the most basic weapon you can possible get: a no-stats no-mods aptly-named First Blade. After you clear the first chapter for the first time, say hello to nine different weapon types, with twelve weapon models in each type - including his signature bow
- In Warframe, you don't get to equip your first ability until you gain a level. It's a standard TPS before then.
- In Batman: Arkham City, the player starts out as Bruce Wayne, and needs to obtain the Batman gear.
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Riddick's eyeshine treatment could be considered this.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake starts out with more or less nothing. After several sneaking levels, Snake meets the Mk2 Metal Gear and is given a proper weapon and any New Game+ weapons.
- Making the first part of the game somewhat more difficult than sections near the end where you can just tranquilise your enemies.
- Unlike Assassin's Creed I that used A Taste of Power, you start 2 as an Italian youth with just his fists. Ezio does not gain the Hidden Blade until some time later.
- There's a meta example here as well: At the end of the first game the series protagonist Desmond gains Altair's Eagle Vision, which leads to the first hints that he may have more of a role than as a Living Macguffin. In the next game his acquisition of his ancestors' movement and fighting skills have a similar feel, giving little tastes of "real world" freedom and power.
- In Dishonored, you don't get granted with supernatural powers until after you've escaped from Coldridge Prison.
- Valkyria Chronicles III: While you get Kurt's Joint Assault early, you don't get Imca's Macross Missile Massacre and Riela's Valkyria mode until well into the game. Getting that latest one turns the game very easy, intentionally so.
- Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem and the remake hand Marth the title shield at the end of chapter 2. It's only in-game function is to open treasure chests, admittedly, but its storyline powers are rather more impressive.
- In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Squadsight is a Sniper ability that gives them unlimited shooting range with their rifle as long as another squad member can see the target. It is generally considered the defining skill of the class. It's also not available until Corporal rank.
- In the Portal games, the first few test chambers have no portal gun, and the next several use a gun that only shoots blue portals, with the orange portals being generated automatically.
Non-video game examples
- The Stormbringer could be considered this for Elric of Melnibone in The Elric Saga.
- The Sommersword in Lone Wolf, obtained in the second book where you quest for it. Also an infinity +1 sword.
Table Top Games
- Kamen Rider Wizard has the four Dragon Styles that Haruto unlocks as early as Episode 9, though he spends a few episodes gaining all of them, with the last one obtained by Episode 19. It's to the point where when it came time for him to gain a Mid-Season Upgrade, it isn't a shiny new form like the previous Kamen Riders (unless you count All Dragon as one), but rather a gadget that allows Haruto to split himself into four different copies, each in a different Dragon Style.
- Some World of Darkness games suggested playing a prologue about your day-to-day struggles before the supernatural wreaks havoc on your life, making you a part of it. You're just a normal worker, student, or other person before you are changed forever. Hunter: The Reckoning might provide the best example. Starting as normal humans, the players encounter the supernatural and react - and develop powers there and then to use for exactly the reaction they're attempting.
- Functionally, this occurs in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder for non-magic using characters. By fourth level or so, many can do things or survive wounds that would be virtually impossible for flesh-and-blood humans. Alternatively, a character could begin without any unusual powers and take a magic-using class at second level. Magic users start with supernatural powers.
- If the already superhuman abilities of Pathfinder are treated as "Normal" for the setting, then the Mythic Adventures expansion allows "normal" Pathfinder characters to become mythic heroes who outstrip their vanilla kin. The Wrath Of the Righteous Path starts delivering these Mythic powers by the end of the first sixth of the adventure.
- Rangers in particular during 1-3.5rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder have no obviously special powers, just lots of Bad Ass Normal skills, but after a few levels start gaining spells and mystical bonds.
- In the original Dungeons & Dragons releases (prior to 1st Edition) clerics didn't get a single spell until achieving second level, despite healing and buffing spells being the cleric's primary remit.
- Latent psychic powers could do this in Dark Heresy and spin-offs, much to your later lamentation thanks to Power Incontinence and Blessed with Suck.
- Call of Cthulhu can do this as well for a character who starts learning spells, and their fate will likely be as horrid as the Dark Heresy psychic's.
- Much like the Knights of the Old Republic games above under Western RPG, most Star Wars games allow a character to be a latent Force user and eventual Jedi. In some eras of the game, this is the default assumption for would-be Jedi.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Zachary Foxx was an ordinary human, but the injuries he sustained in the pilot required an Emergency Transformation to replace half his body with cyberware and add the Series 5 implant. Unlike the other three Rangers whose already-existing abilities are merely amplified by the implant, early episodes show Zachary as not quite at ease with his bionics.