"Oh that looks painful. Dear brother, you're becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me, round and round in circles we go. See, Loki, life is about growth, it's about change, but you just seem to want to stay the same! I guess what I'm trying to say is you'll always be the God of Mischief... but you could be more."Surprise! It's an enemy ambush! In fact, it's that nasty minion from before. Apparently, he's decided that he wants to fight the heroes again. And he's just as strong as before! Oh, This Is Gonna Suck! Oh, wait. He's literally just as strong as before. Not any stronger at all. It seems that there was an intelligence failure on the villain's part and he's failed to consult the Sorting Algorithm of Evil before attacking. As a result, the heroes have increased in power while the villain has stayed still. He was extremely dangerous the last time, but the heroes have been Level Grinding and improving their skills so much that they now have him outclassed. Which asks the question, why didn't the villain use the time to improve and keep his lead over the good guys? As a video game trope, an example would be a Final Boss Preview kicking your party's ass when you're level 10, but when you come back at level 50 he's a pushover. It can even occur in some games where enemies level up as you do, as long as there is a ceiling on how powerful they can get. This trope just means that after a certain point in time, you eventually outlevel the villains and curb-stomp them as a result. Outside of gaming this be justified if there is a known limit on someones abilities. If the bad guys max out at 50 and the good guys have the potential for 100 or more, then its only a matter of time before it's Time to Unlock More True Potential. If the bad guy is a Threshold Guardian the whole point could be that they're offering a set challenge to allow people who meet it to pass. Otherwise if enough years pass between battles, you could say that the heroes are young and untested while the villain is in their prime in the first encounter, and by the second encounter the heroes are in their prime and the villains, despite having the same bravado, starting to slow down in their old age. Compare Can't Catch Up, of which this is a villainous version. It can also be a subtrope of Villain Decay as a means of justifying why a once threatening foe is no longer dangerous. This could eventually lead to an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. See Also: Sorting Algorithm Of Villain Threat. Compare Strong as They Need to Be for an aversion, when the heroes are artificially weakened below the villain. Also compare The Worf Effect. Contrast Villain Decay, where a villain becomes less threatening for potentially less well-defined reasons, and Lowered Monster Difficulty. Might overlap with Degraded Boss, whether on purpose or not.
— Thor to a tasered Loki, Thor: Ragnarok
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- The Castlevania series gives us a few examples of this. Notably, some early bosses in Symphony of the Night, such as Slogra, Gaibon, Werewolf, and Minotaur, are encountered later in the game, but with the same stats as before, and are considered normal, respawning enemies. Of course, with your stronger weapons and abilities, they are not nearly as difficult. Even when you're fighting as many as four of them in the same room.
- Devil May Cry 3 has a more plot-oriented example. Vergil goes from handing Dante his ass during their first encounter, to fighting him to a stand-still in their second, and finally losing to him in their third. However, it's not so much that Vergil forgot to level grind, since he actually gets progressively stronger just like Dante, gaining new weapons (Beowulf, Force Edge) and attacks, but Dante's just gaining much faster than he is. History repeats itself, chronologically speaking, in the original game: Nelo Angelo proves himself Dante's superior in their first battle, but Dante wins their second before slaying him in their third. Thematically appropriate, as Nelo is Vergil's reanimated corpse.
- The Legend of Zelda has this for Recurring Bosses:
- In The Legend of Zelda, a completely unaltered version of the Level 1 boss (Aquamentus) returns guarding Level 7. With the best sword in the game — which is obtainable by that point — it can be killed in one hit.
- Moldarach in Skyward Sword, which reappears later... after your sword has been upgraded to do double damage, making the boss much easier to kill.
- The SA-X in Metroid: Fusion. Justified by the fact that it possesses the thing that can completely screw you (the Ice Beam) if you ever cross paths. Only after you get the Varia Suit (to block the freezing) and the Plasma Beam (to pierce the armor and hit the softer X core) does it lose its edge against you and Samus become able to beat it.
- The first round of bosses in Terraria are a real challenge, particularly the Wall of Flesh. Once you reach hard mode and acquire its dramatically more powerful gear, they'll come off like pushovers. For comparison, the final normal boss has 8000 hit points. The most fragile hard mode boss has 28000 as of 22.214.171.124note
- In Mega Man X6, the first battle you have with High Max is an automatic loss. No matter what you do, he cannot be damaged. Of course, as you go along the game and subsequently encounter him again, he will be damageable by a few weapons you acquire from the boss Mavericks.
- Mega Man ZX: Aeolus and Siarnaq intercept Biomatch Model A at the Tower of Verdure with the intent to claim Model W; even though both of them are together, Aeolus decides to let you off the hook, confident that he can "end you at any time". How wrong he is when you fight him proper. The last time you see them before the Final Boss, however, all four Guardian Biomatches show up in the same room with singular intent to shut you down. It would have gotten messy had Biomatch Model X not shown up to provide a diversion for you.
- Siarnaq: Tactical advantage four to one. Commence complete destruction of target.
Beat 'Em Up
- This hits Benny and Clyde in the original River City Ransom and its remake in their second appearance. In their first appearance close to the first shopping center, as a duo they're fairly strong, about on par with Moose, the first required boss (who lies in wait a few screens further ahead). Beat them at their original hangout, though, and they'll reappear later in the game next to the sauna, one screen away from River City High, with the exact same stats as their first appearance. A player that has grinded out one of their attack stats to the max as well as picking up the associated Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs move (both rather easy to do by this point) will take them out in one or two hits each, effectively turning the duo into a Pińata Enemy.
- In Magic: The Gathering's Weatherlight Saga there's the Predator, Evil Counterpart to the Weatherlight airship used by the heroes. It's bigger than the Weatherlight, better-armed than the Weatherlight, and has a more experienced crew than the Weatherlight. Fast-forward to the Invasion Cycle and several Upgrade Artifacts later, and the Predator is no longer even a speed bump.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour, the Marik-controlled Tea's deck is exactly the same as her regular deck, making it almost impossible to lose to her.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game
- In City of Heroes, Frostfire, the first Elite Boss most heroes will encounter, later appears in several tip missions, although by that point he's become a regular boss (which means depending on your difficulty settings, he may even spawn another tier lower, as a lieutenant). A hero morality mission also features Nocturne, an archvillain from the Faultline arcs, as a regular boss.
- Final Fantasy XI: Averted in many fights. Instead of having the fights based off of your level, your level is restricted in several missions as well as optional "BCNM" fights. Recently, most of the mission fights had this restriction removed, due to the lack of players willing to help as well as the difficulty level.
- In "Legends' Quest", the player must fight the same demon three times. Since the player is not required to progress in a started quest, the player could choose to level grind between the various encounters with the demon in the quest. The result could be a final boss that is much easier to defeat than the first two bosses.
- Subverted in "While Guthix Sleeps" and "Ritual of the Mahjarrat" quests. Despite being only Level 14 in the Temple of Ikov quest, Lucien becomes immensely powerful and obtains two god-weapons.
- World of Warcraft:
- Bosses tend to this, such that players will occasionally revisit particularly frustrating dungeons 20 or 30 levels later for the pleasure of curb stomping the boss that gave them so much trouble the time before, sometimes even single-handedly. Aversions to this are Heroic dungeons, where two versions exist, one for top level characters. Also the sorcerer Arugal, who appears as the boss of a 20th level dungeon, then is resurrected as a 70th level elite. Arugal's former residence Shadowfang Keep, while he's no longer present, also gets a heroic mode. This leads to a 65 level difference between the normal and Heroic mode. The similarly-leveled Dead Mines also get an 85th level version. Seeing as it's supposed to be a direct threat to Stormwind itself, this is appropriate.
- Averted by bosses that appear again in a higher level dungeon, especially if they're moving from 5-man dungeon to raid. Anu'barak, Thorim, and all three Blood Princes multiply their hit points several times over by the time they show up as bosses.
- The Naxxramas bosses go from Level 60 to Level 80 in Wrath of the Lich King (an expansion pack that focuses on the battle against the Scourge, which includes the residents of the dungeon), but in the 10-man versions, some of them have fewer hit points than their original 40-man counterparts. Ragnaros has recently returned at Level 85.
- Kael'thas actually devolved a few levels, between his appearance in the endgame raid Tempest Keep and his coda as the end boss of five-man Magister's Terrance. Given that he was severely injured in Tempest Keep, and still has a giant chunk of crystal embedded in his chest, it's understandable.
- Tetris Attack and Pokemon Puzzle League have a single-player campaign which consists of a series of levels with gradually-increasing speed. Halfway through both games, there's a special level where you essentially fight the final boss with a speed of about 45 (from the previous level's 20.) The thing is, if you keep playing through the game, the final level/boss has the same speed of 45, while the previous level's speed this time is 40. (Incidentally, you can beat the boss at the halfway point just as easily as at the end of the game - doing so just gives you a cutscene and puts you at the second half instead of ending the game.)
- Mamono in Puyo Puyo. In his first appearance in Madou Monogatari I, he's the Final Boss for a kindergarden-age Arle. In Puyo Puyo Tsu, he's just a possible opponent for a teenaged Arle in Floor 5 alongside Witch, Suketoudara and Pakista. Mamono even starts crying after Arle realizes he's indeed not the Final Boss.
Role Playing Game
- Played for Laughs in Finnel Cosmosphere Level 4 (the real one) in Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, where SHOGUN TATSUMI runs due to a Deus ex Machina after almost winning the first time you fight him, but he's pitifully weak when you face him the next time.
- Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden has this with Michael Jordan and Vinceborg; they both seem to be a little more powerful the second time you fight them, but your strength and numbers make both rematches fairly anti-climactic (especially Jordan). Plus, you fought both at the same time the first time, and separately the second.
- In Baten Kaitos Origins, you fight Giacomo three times. The first time he's an infuriating Early-Bird Boss who can easily one-shot a party member with Thrashinggale and his second match he becomes a Flunky Boss with a new attack but is otherwise apropriately difficult. In his third however he's no stronger than the second match (only gaining buffing abilities) while you've probably gotten at least two or three levels and new magnus, turning the fight into an extremely satisfying ass-kicking with him on the ass-end. It was done intentionally, as his inability to keep up with Sagi's growing power is what drives him to become what he is in the sequel.
- Barubary in Breath of Fire II inverts this, but then again, the Final Boss Preview (or rather The Dragon preview) IS him just picking on a little kid in the prologue. Grown up and come back with a real sword, you stand a much better chance, though it's still possible to die.
- Chrono Trigger:
- The final boss's first form is a Boss Rush in which he mimics every boss fight from the entire game up to that point... without upgrading their stats. The first few go down in one hit, and most of the rest aren't much harder.
- This also occurs in New Game+, where after running through the game a couple of times, Lavos can be defeated at the very beginning of the game with just Crono and Marle - or even Crono himself.
- Magus is fought at the grand finale of the 600 AD subplot, and it's a grueling, drawn-out slugfest that takes three party members punching through an elaborate magic barrier. Later on, one of your party members can choose to duel him one-on-one, and his stats are pretty much exactly the same, and he lost his magic barrier and the powerful attacks that made him so hard due to being weakened by Lavos.
- Zig-Zagged by Spekkio, who "levels up" with your strongest character, but once you reach level 50, he won't level up again until level 99, which most players only reach for the sole purpose of fighting this boss in his ultimate form. At level 65, you have him completely outclassed. And before level 50, he only actually transforms at every 10th level. If you take advantage of this and fight him one level before he upgrades, he poses little threat.
- With the minor twist that they are heroes that just refuses to listen to your (Cthulhu's) explanation, a would-have-been Goldfish Poop Gang (the developers forgot about them) is one of your first major fights in Cthulhu Saves the World and in the enhanced PC release is also one of the last non-random fights — only that time it's not major at all, since they are exactly as strong as the first time.
- The Avatar of Khaine in Dawn of War 2 is a nightmarishly difficult enemy, with abilities that will one-shot most of your squads, three hundred thousand health, and a crazy amount of support requiring Terminator armor, plasma cannons, and thirty to forty minutes of alternately beating on it and running away to defeat, combined with several orbital bombardments. When you run up against another Avatar in the Chaos Rising expansion, however, it's still got three hundred thousand health and the same abilities, despite the fact that your squads are six or eight levels higher, and can be defeated with conventional weapons. In fact, the only reason the Avatar in Chaos Rising isn't a Curb-Stomp Battle is that you don't have Terminator armor or Orbital Bombardment at that point in the game.
- Happens a few ways in Dragon Age: Origins. While enemies level up in scale with you, many of them don't gain any new abilities, while the party does. Those new abilities are often able to even out or overcome the advantages that some of the tougher early-game enemies have.
- The first ogre you meet is a Wake-Up Call Boss that will kill you if you aren't prepared for it. By the endgame, three or four of them together don't pose nearly the threat that the first one did.
- Also, the Revenant. The first one is, most likely, going to be the toughest one of all. The thing is powerful, tough to kill, and likes to pull ranged attackers to it. Each subsequent one is slightly weaker due to your Level Grind. While none of them are truly weak, the last one you're likely to encounter will hardly give you any trouble.
- As far as individual characters go, Ser Cauthrien was an incredibly difficult encounter that you were meant to lose so that you could ultimately be captured. Fighting her before the Landsmeet, she's a medium difficulty boss that goes down with a minimum of fuss. Note that these can happen pretty close to each other, and in fact she's made physically weaker (and backed up by fewer mooks) in the second encounter.
- this trope is inverted ''Lost Odyssey', where a hero is the one that forgets to level. The first time the player controls Tolten he is about the same level as the main cast, and holds his own well enough when forced to fight. However, he does not become a regular party member for another disk, by which point the other's have leveled so much that Tolten seems to die to a stiff breeze and is no help at all in the first dozen or so battles. Luckily the leveling system allows him to gain levels quickly to catch up. This may actually have been intentional, as he is suppose to be a sheltered prince who has to learn to be strong.
- Dragon Quest IX has a not-so-Quirky Miniboss Squad in the Triumgorate, and each member of the trio gets their own separate boss fight with plenty of hype leading up to it (except Goresby-Purrvis). And then, in the Realm of the Mighty, you have to fight them again...while they've apparently gained exactly zero levels in the meantime. Vaguely justified in that their pre-battle dialogue implies that they were very recently resurrected, but then again, given the power of the Big Bad behind them, you'd think they'd be made a lot stronger.
- Happens as a result of a "feature" that is almost certainly a bug in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unique NPCs don't "level up" with the player, being stuck at the level they were first spawned (unlike ''Oblivion'' or Fallout 3, where key NPCs would automatically level up to match the player). Two key NPCs, Ulfric Stormcloak and General Tullius, are spawned at the very beginning of the game. As a result, when you finally face one or the other of them at the end of Civil War questline, they're stuck at their minimum level and are easily dispatched by a mid-to-high level player. After several months, they finally patched this during the first DLC release. The engine now re-calculates the NPC's level each time they get loaded in a new cell.
- Final Fantasy series
- In the original Final Fantasy, the Light Warriors fight the four Elemental Fiends again. Lich, the weakest of the fiends, is not an example of this - he's learned to cast Nuke. Kary/Marilith, however, is - she was the second of the four Fiends fought, and was first encountered by a party probably in their mid-teens, level wise, whereas in the final dungeon they're likely to the high 20s in level. To a lesser extent this applies to Kraken and Tiamat, but it's unlikely you'll have outlevelled them to the point that they're pushovers - only somewhat and slightly easier, respectively.
- Final Fantasy VI: Kefka is an inversion of this trope. At the start of the game, he's a joke who bails from even the most basic blows Sabin can dish out. He does scale up in power very quickly due to his manipulation of the Espers the Empire controls to the point where he not only kills off the Anti-Villain and fubars the peace conference in Thamasa, but also overthrows his own boss, fubars the whole world, and rules over it like an Evil Overlord.
- Final Fantasy VII: The Midgar Zolom is a Total Party Killer when you first run into it, being meant more as a Beef Gate than a boss proper. Fleeing from the battle or avoiding it altogether are the intended strategiesnote . Come back on Disc Two or Three and it's much less of a threat, to the point that if you come back after visiting the North Pole, you'll have a hard time acquiring its "Beta" Enemy Skill because by this point, your Cherry Tapping will One-Hit Kill the Zolom.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, while enemies will level up with you, all the mandatory bosses have a level ceiling, that gradually increases throughout the game to 50. The optional bosses can still go all the way to level 100, though.
- Final Fantasy XIII has Barthandelus' second form, which is fought at the end of Chapter 11 and falls squarely under That One Boss. He returns as the first form of the final boss fight, where all but one of his attacks are laughably weak and he loses the ability to inflict status ailments. (Granted, the 'one' falls squarely under That One Attack, but it's still easy to recover from). Justified though by the fact that he wanted to die.
- Caius in Final Fantasy XIII-2 remembered to grind, but got cocky about how much he needed. A low level party will need up to half an hour to beat his final form, but a high level party will only need three or four minutes.
- Golden Sun:
- Saturos and Menardi run into this pretty hard, since Isaac and company go from kids with magical powers to powerful spellcasters who happen to be kids. They're completely unbeatable in their first appearance, only beatable because of outside factors (and the fact that only one of them is there) in their second and then entirely beatable (although with difficulty) even after fusing into a two-headed dragon in their third. Saturos and Menardi stay at roughly the same level throughout the series (getting weakened or strengthened through outside forces, never their own), Felix and Jenna are just as wimpy (level-wise) at the start of The Lost Age as they are (well, Felix is implied to be a poor fighter, Jenna just has a low level cap when she's playable) at the beginning of Golden Sun even though they've been traveling with Saturos and Menardi, Alex has trouble wrapping his head around the concept that Isaac & co. could beat Saturos and Menardi, and Isaac & co., despite spending months at sea, obviously fighting random battles, don't gain a single Experience Point between the end of Golden Sun and when they join you in The Lost Age. Justified with Felix and Jenna in the first game, as the latter is a hostage for the vast majority of it and the former is directly stated by Saturos and Menardi to be kept out of fights during their travels specifically so he would never be able to become strong enough to be able to oppose them.
- Subverted with Alex. He starts out as the series' most powerful character, then grinds hugely at the end of The Lost Age, and appears to have ground even more with the coming of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, effortlessly OHKOing a main character.
- Strangely played straight in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn by Blados and Chalis. The first time you battle them, at Luna Tower, they're appropriately challenging. The second time, some twenty-odd levels for you later, at Apollo Sanctum, Chalis has a new dagger... that is apparently just for looks, as neither one's stats or abilities have changed at all.
- Inazuma Eleven 2, Aliea Academy's teams don't seem to level up that much while the heroes are all for Training from Hell and aces recruiting to get better, though Epsilon Kai subverts this by turning their eyes red.
- Knights of the Old Republic:
- Darth Bandon from the first game is such a powerful figure in his first appearance, in the tutorial level, that you aren't even given a chance to fight him. He appears later on as a not-particularly-tough boss. Calo Nord as well, especially if you count his first appearance, effortlessly stomping three Rodians. And your party, if you fight him in the cantina.
- The second game has the Twin Suns on Nar Shadda, who you have to fight with just Atton in the cantina first, and then the second time you get your main character and any two party members to turn it into more of a Curb-Stomp Battle.
- In The Legend of Dragoon, a little under halfway through the first disc Dart and Lavitz face an Elite Soldier of Sandora as a somewhat tricky boss fight. Come the end of disc one, you fight another and he's only a bit stronger than the average Mook due to how much more powerful your party is (that you have a full party as well helps).
- The True Final Boss of Live A Live has the main villain pitting the individual characters in rematches against the final bosses from their respective chapters. However, if you have rotated the group throughout the final chapter to level all of them up, as well as getting the ultimate weapon upgrades for each character, this time, the bosses aren't nearly as powerful.
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals combines this with Cutscene Power to the Max for the first and second fights with Gades. Unless you level grind for the first battle, it's a Hopeless Boss Fight. For the second battle, you're actually at a disadvantage: Magic Knight Maxim is your only healer, with the other two party members only about to use one strategy.
- Morag in Magi-Nation is fought in an Unwinnable Boss Battle. By the time you fight him for real, he's...well, he still puts up a fight, but isn't nearly as powerful as the first time he almost kills Tony Jones.
- The Collector ship effortlessly pwns the Normandy in the opening scene of Mass Effect 2. Make the right investments, talk to the right people, and do the right research through the game and that same ship gets pretty effortlessly obliterated by the new Normandy.
- In Mega Man Battle Network 3, the first time you fight Bass, he is an unwinnable boss fight. The second time you fight him right before the final boss, he has low HP, and no really damaging attacks. Then you face him as a Bonus Boss, and get utterly destroyed by him.
- Parodied in MOTHER 3, where the mole cricket you fought in the very first battle challenges you to a rematch... in the second to last chapter of the game. Interestingly enough, according to him, he has trained the whole game for that match; but he's, well, a bug. A normal-sized bug. The only noticeable boost he shows is in speed, so he can show you how much of a pushover he is before going down.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Doopliss has the same health and attack power when you fight him alongside the other Shadow Sirens in Chapter 8 that he does when you face him alone at the end of Chapter 4 (both the fake end and the real end). Meanwhile, Beldam and Marilyn have become stronger since the last time you fought them, as has Bowser.
- Rawk Hawk never grows any stronger no matter when or how many times you fight him. Especially jarring, since he explicitly says he's been training like crazy, and even sends Mario an e-mail asking for a rematch.
- Strega from Persona 3 aren't a huge threat the first time you fight them, but they don't seem to have become stronger at all when you fight them again, months later.
- This is the intrinsic problem with Gym Leaders in Pokémon. The player has the ability to level grind after being beaten once, then come back and stomp the Leaders flat the next time around; the Leader has to stand there and take it.
- Giovanni in Pokémon Red and Blue seems to be an example of this trope. The first time you fight him, his Kangaskhan will be ripping through your party left and right. It's somewhat easier the second time you fight him at Silph Co, as your Pokemon will have started evolving and learning better moves, whereas before Kangaskhan was using moves that were really strong for that point of the game. When you fight Giovanni in Viridian Gym, it is painfully easy. All of Giovanni's Pokemon are of the Ground type, with many being Rock types as well. That is the very first type you learned how to exploit back in Brock's Gym, and to make matters worse, you just got done facing a Fire Gym, so you're almost certain to have a decent Water type on you who can rip through Giovanni's team.
- This becomes especially problematic in Pokémon Platinum; after the Elite Four, the player can explore the island where Battle Tower is — north of the tower is a hangout for Gym Leaders and other elite trainers. At first, a player who doesn't level grind will find the rematches challenging, but once their team starts growing past the Gym Leaders, said leaders will no longer be a challenge — they're stuck in the Level 60's.
- The Rival stands outside this building, where you can fight him on the weekends. His levels are also a little tough at first, but you quickly surpass him. There is a way to make him increase his levels, but you have to beat the Elite Four twenty times.
- Averted in Generation 5, as the Elite 4 grow more powerful the more times you complete it.
- However, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 has the Pokemon Breeders who challenge you every time you enter their area. Not so bad the first time, but after you finish the game, they still challenge you, even though they're at level 20 or whatever and you're nearing level 100. Cue Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Skies of Arcadia: A problem in the Director's Cut Nintendo GameCube version: The boss villains from the original game don't level with the players. The optional bosses do level, though.
- There's also the hilarious Curb-Stomp Battle when you fight Baltor for the second time. The first time around, his pirate ship is a legitimate challenge. The second time, he's got exactly the same ship. You've got the Delphinus and her Moon Stone Cannon.
- Random ship battles with Black Pirates in the overworld are genuinely hilarious once you get the Delphinus for a reason. They're a threat at first, when you have the Little Jack (a small wooden ship). Later on, they still have the same old wooden pirate ships, while you have a freaking metal destroyer. It's the equivalent of attacking a WWII destroyer with an 18th century sailing ship, and the results are as expected. You basically one-shot them with the weak attacks, no need to use the Moon Stone Cannon. Unless it amuses you, of course.
- Lampshaded in Suikoden Tierkreis. After beating the crap out of Conon (who had been half of a Hopeless Boss Fight several times by this point), the hero wonders why he's so much weaker all of a sudden. Liu tells him he isn't, he just hasn't been getting any stronger, while they have.
- The Four Horsemen in Summoner. You can run across them early in the game in random encounters, but you can't kill them. All you can do is try to survive and get their hitpoints down until they leave for some reason, and that's hella hard. When you reach them in the main storyline, much later, then you can kill them.
- In Tales of Symphonia, you fight the Big Bad Yggdrasill four times. The first time, he obliterates you in seconds. The second time you fight him, he has the same stats and you can hold your own against him until the battle is interrupted. The third time, he's actually weaker and doesn't spam Outburst. Then again, you're not supposed to win against him the first two times... He does get stronger when facing you the last time, as the Final Boss.
- In Tin Star (Choice of Games), this is averted by Caraway, Dan Schmidt and Ben Carson. Though they're not villainous, you can kill each of your three possible companions on your first meeting when their skills aren't all that exceptional. You can also anger them later and have showdowns with them near the end, in which case they will be the deadliest opponents in the game.
- Early in The World Ends with You, Uzuki "can erase you in a second." Once you've reached level 30, she's much less intimidating. The same goes for Kitaniji, who's amazed at how much power you've gained.
- Letho from The Witcher 2. When Geralt first faces him in combat, Letho is a very difficult boss fight that requires you, the player, to throw everything you have at him. Even after defeating him, Letho uses Cutscene Power to the Max to turn the tide, with Geralt only surviving because Letho spares his life. During the second confrontation with Letho at the end of the game, Geralt collected all kinds of fancy new weapons and powers, while Letho largely stayed the same, turning this battle into a cakewalk.
- Ra-Sep-Re-Tep in Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. He's the boss of the starter dungeon and reasonably challenging for a fledgling party. He then turns up again much, much later in the Chamber of Gorrors. The other monsters here are extremely challenging Bonus Bosses but Ra-Sep is totally unchanged and at this point you'll probably kill him in one hit.
- An exaggerated and justified case in Madou Monogatari II. You fight Schezo several times in the game, but he becomes weaker each time as he gets tired from all the fights.
- In the first Megaman Star Force game, when Gemini Spark begins the Boss Rush leading up to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, he is still in his normal form, unlike his fellow FM-ians, who have to be fought in their upgraded "EX" forms.
- Princess Maker has characters who are ostensibly supposed to be 'rivals' to your progeny. However, they remain at exactly the same level while your little princess grows strong enough to defeat the God of War.
Turn Based Strategy
- Often in Sid Meier's Civilization series of games, the human player will find that although the AI civs have advanced technologically at similar (or even greater) pace than the player did, they've failed to upgrade or replace a lot of obsolete units, even defensive ones (sometimes a human player may forget to as well). So once a player polishes off a couple of updated defensive units in an enemy city (or advances past better-defended outer cities), they find themselves fighting... pikemen or spearmen with tanks. Seemed to happen more in earlier editions of the game, by III or IV the AI was a bit better at upgrading. (And if in Civ II they had the Leonardo's Workshop wonder, such upgrades would be automatic.)
- Very, very common in many of Nippon Ichi's games such as the Disgaea series, due to the insanely high levels you can reach - the plotline fights are scaled on the assumption that you'll mostly only gain levels from plotline fights, and not go gallivanting off to the Dark World or Cave of Ordeals or Land of Carnage.
- Even fights where you're supposed to be curbstomped by the overwhelmingly powerful boss (Beauty Queen Etna, anyone?) can be won through higher levels and good equipment, although that sometimes lead to a Non-Standard Game Over due to plot derailment. (Defeated Feinne too early? Here comes Asagi to ruin everything and forcing you to start all over again.)
- Downplayed in Phantom Brave. Your steal resist is based on your level and class title. If the boss begins the battle unarmed and all you've done is powergrind your WEAPON and not your character...he'll just steal it and slap you with it for a One-Hit KO without batting an eye. Due to their high steal rate Fun Guys and Bottlemails eventually become among the worst enemies for high-level characters to face down with weapons. So essentially they didn't need to level because you were nice enough to provide them with an alternative means to kill you.
- The easiest way to grind experience and Mana is to create high-level dungeons and attach a weak title to it so that the enemies inside have reduced stats...but they will still retain their high level and steal rate, meaning you're in for a beating if you can't kill all before they get a turn.
- A handwave as well: when you beat Bonus Boss Laharl for the first time, he rounds up his minions telling them to upgrade his weapons in the Item World.
- Final Fantasy Tactics:
- Some battles have enemies that level. All random battles have the enemies level with you, and some story battles (usually the ones that feature monsters and no real story components) do as well. So if you've overleveled, you'll end up fighting some incredible powerful meteor-summoning chickens, to thrashing the next boss powered by dark magics with a wave of your hand.
- Interestingly, the player can suffer from overleveling, as some monsters are very strong, and while the player may gain some levels, they don't get the better equipment they're expected to get at those levels and facing those enemies. Rarely a significant problem as it's not a significant boost most of the time. However, as the high level gear carried by these scaling opponents can be stolen, this barrier can also be overcome, and provide the player a massive advantage beyond the simply higher stats from leveling up.
- Fire Emblem:
- In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, this trope was invoked on recurring bosses... in the English version. Their stats were slightly higher when refought in the Japanse version. Valter, for example, promptly kicks Seth's ass during the Prologue (it was a cutscene but the stats were there). Come Scorched Sand and he reappears, not having changed a bit since then, and your party has had 'plenty' of opportunity to level grind in the Tower of Valni.
- A subversion in Awakening: the boss of the Premonition appears early on in the actual story weaker than in the first battle, but that's justified since the Premonition is a dream of the future. Come Chapter 23, and the boss appears exactly the same as it did in the Premonition, meaning you should be able to easily curbstomp it...until you do and it turns out to have been hiding its true power, resulting in a rematch where the boss has stats actually befitting a boss this late in the game.
- The Dread Lords of Galactic Civilizations II have incredibly powerful warships from the very beginning of the game that will eat anything an early-to-mid game player can throw at them for breakfast. As the game progresses however not only do their warship designs fail to improve to counter your own, but they also rarely group them into fleets to give them a strength in numbers. Eventually, if you can survive their attacks long enough to research superior weaponry and logistics to field not only powerful warships but also group them in bigger fleets than they do, you can gang up on their mostly solitary vessels and destroy them with only light casualties, causing them to degrade from an Invincible Villain to a Mini-Boss.
- Tactics Ogre as well as Knight of Lodis have this show up. To elaborate, the games use a system in which the enemies will be around your characters' levels (Specifically, the leader's level). However, after a certain point in time, the enemies in story battles stop leveling up, meaning you can go in and slaughter the final enemies at level 50, when they only cap out around the 30s.
- Enemies in XCOM: Enemy Unknown don't improve throughout the campaign, though they do get replaced with progressively tougher enemies... Most of the times.
- The Thin Men are able to put on a decent fight when they first appear (Able to jump atop a building In a Single Bound and having a decent Aim stat as well as decent damage and a poison spit), but when they appear during Council Missions late game, even a team of Rookies with Light Plasma Rifles (or spare laser weapons) and Ghost/Titan Armor, late-game Foundry Upgrades, and possibly One-Hit Kill Psychic Powers will completely steamroll over them. Assuming you didn't purchase the New Guy upgrade from the Officer Training School which starts every new soldier with a promotion (and thus a special ability).
- Exalt in Enemy Within are even worse. They are basically squaddies, only with worse stats and starting gear (they do are more numerous though). The Elites who appear later are just crappier version of corporals with Laser tier weapons... And stay there. Do the math.
Non-video game examples:
Anime and Manga
- Bleach has an aversion with Grand Fisher, who is barely defeated by Ichigo early in the series. He comes back, explicitly points out how he did remember to level grind, only to be Killed Off for Real by Isshin Kurosaki, a former Captain in a Single-Stroke Battle.
- Every monster from Claymore suffer from this. Justified by the fact that while the heroic Half-Human Hybrid ability increase with time and training, the full monster are at the top of their power and thus unable to improve. One notable example is when monster of the same power level are meet before and after a long Level Grind sequence: the first was narrowly defeated after a long battle which require sacrifice, technique, and luck, while the second one was defeated very easily.
- Most of the Big Bads in Digimon Adventure require someone getting a new form that can beat them. The Dark Masters, however, didn't. In their first appearence, they take turns beating the stuffing out of the Digidestineds' Digimon, Piedmon defeating both their Megas with no effort at all. Well the Digidestineds' Digimon don't get new forms, so they get more experienced and stronger with the ones that do have. They beat MetalSeadramon and Machinedramon of them by wisely using WarGreymon's Dramon Destroyers, which are super effective on Dramon type Digimon. Puppetmon is downed in one hit from MetalGarurumon but Piedmon gets it the worst. Even though MagnaAngemon played a big role in his defeat, the same two Mega Digimon he effortlessly beat down before back him into a corner and force him to pull out his most underhanded trick. Even without them, the Ultimates in the Digidestineds' arsanal still manage to put up a good fight against him and once his trick is no longer of use, he gets his butt kicked. He saved himself for last but didn't bother getting stronger, so the Digidestined were able to catch up.
- In Digimon Frontier, the Royal Knights got hit by this hard. When they first fight EmperorGreymon and MagnaGarurumon, they beat them in a Curb-Stomp Battle. Subsequent battles can best be described as the kids losing less and less badly. In "To Make the World Go Away", they are evenly matched against the Royal Knights and Lucemon needs to intervene to defeat them. In the very next episode, they curb-stomp the Royal Knights. Each fight made EmperorGreymon and MagnaGarurumon more skilled, but the Royal Knights didn't learn anything new.
- In Episode 2 of Digimon Adventure, Shellmon is defeated when Agumon digivolves to Greymon for the first time as the rookies aren't able to land a scratch on him. Come Episode 41, and all seven Rookies (except Gatomon, who's a naturally-digivolved Champion) manage to curbstomp Shellmon in seconds flat. This trope is even lampshaded by the Digi-destined to the Digimon.
- Subverted in Episodes 40-49. In the former episode, "Meet the Dark Masters", Angemon takes two blasts from Machinedramon who comes out of nowhere and the impact is damaging enough to revert him back to rookie form Patamon. In Episode 49, he still gets outmatched by Machinedramon like the other Digimon before Wargreymon finally destroys him, but he is able to take two blasts at a faster firing rate without being de-digivolved. Being a champion, two whole ranks below Machinedramon, maybe this example isn't so mild.
- Dragon Ball:
- The Otherworld Tournament Saga in Dragon Ball Z. Almost every foe Goku had faced caused a riot in Hell. Goku and Picco...er, Pikkon go and beat their asses (Freeza and Cell are actually a threat at this point, but much less than they were when they were Big Bads).
- In Dragon Ball, Tao Pai Pai, who went from possibly the strongest human fighter on Earth and the first opponent to hand Goku a solid defeat early in the original Dragon Ball to a below-average enemy only able to defeat the weakest of the supporting cast before being beaten senseless by a mid-level supporting cast member in the Tournament Arc at the end of the series. When he appears again in Dragon Ball Z (albeit only in the anime), Goku is so out of Tao's league that he's basically a joke villain who spends the episode engaged in whacky hijinks trying (hilariously unsuccessfully) to outsmart Goku. When Tao realises Gohan is Goku's son (after using his signature move which didn't harm Gohan), he quickly flees.
- Pilaf. This little guy and his halfwit minions first appeared when the series was more gag-oriented. They would appear again when the series beginning to focus on action more, trying to steal Dragon Balls from Goku, right after he had become strong enough to defeat an army of terrorists single-handedly. To say the battle was one-sided would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, they themselves invoke Cerebus Syndrome by releasing Demon King Piccolo, who was the incarnation of Kami's cast-off evil.
- Cui, Dodoria and Zarbon, all being part of Frieza's army and mostly taking it easy as they conquered planets. All three were known to either have the same battle power as Vegeta or a far higher reading. That is, until Vegeta's battle on Earth. One by one, Vegeta manages to pick off Frieza's men, especially noting that his powers have gotten stronger as he was in more extreme fights than Frieza's men have been, relaxing around him. The prime example being Zarbon, as he defeats Vegeta with ease once he transforms during their first fight and nearly kills him. After their second fight, Vegeta reminds Zarbon that a Saiyan's battle power increases every time they recover from a near-death situation, ultimately resulting in him killing him off with relative ease.
- Taking into account all of Z, GT, and the movies, Frieza returns and gets curbstomped pretty much immediately no less than five times; once with King Cold and four times after his death. After being killed by Trunks (he did get a power boost from his cyborg implants, just not nearly enough), he terrorizes Hell and gets wrecked by Pikkon in a couple hits. He gets back to the living world in the movies Fusion Reborn and Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans, but gets beaten up by the end of each movie. Perhaps his most embarrassing reappearance was in GT, where he gets beaten by an ice machine.
- This is averted in Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ (and Dragon Ball Super's adaptation), where upon revival, Frieza (who in fact never level ground because he was so strong) trains for four months, and gets a Golden Super Mode on par with Super Saiyan Blue Goku. Unfortunately, it turns out that History Repeats: while he did train hard to beat Goku, once he attained his new form, he made a bee-line for Earth to put it to use without first working to throttle its insane energy output. While he's able to go toe-to-toe with Goku for a while, it's not long before use of this new super form leaves him exhausted, just like when he tried to use his full power back on Namek. Come Super's Universe Survival arc, though, and Frieza meditated while in Hell and managed to solve that issue by the time he's revived for the Tournament of Power.
- Inverted with Cell. When he first appears, Cell drains humans of their life force by sucking every last bit of their body through his stinger. This allows him to receive nourishment and to increase his battle power. He starts off being slightly weaker than Piccolo (after he fused with Kami) and Android 17. After absorbing thousands of humans, he becomes more powerful than both Piccolo's and 17's combined attacks and beats them senseless. He later achieves his main goal of absorbing the two androids and makes a massive jump each time in power. He also possesses the Saiyan's power to recover from near-death and come back stronger, though he is permanently defeated shortly after displaying this ability.
- Kagura from InuYasha nearly kills the eponymous character in her first two fights, but in the 3rd he's got a new ability that gets around her keeping him from using his best attacks, so he stomps her. Just about every other recurring villain in the series, however, also gets stronger as the series goes on, depending on whether they survive long enough for Inuyasha to get a new upgrade for the Tessiaga.
- Many of the opponents Kenichi faces off in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple often suffer from this. They are usually really good at their martial arts style, and will probably give Kenichi a beating the first time around. However, due to his intense Training from Hell he receives from various martial arts masters, he becomes a Combat Pragmatist and gets pretty good at defending himself. In one fight, when fighting against Takeda the Puncher, Kenichi focuses on his legs, which is a boxer's weakness, and helps him to get the upper hand in the fight. Since he's not a villain however, Kenichi will usually win them over with a speech or by giving them help (in Takeda's case, taking him to Master Akisame, and having him fix his crippled left arm, which allowed Takeda to take up boxing again), and many of them help him in later fights.
- Fate's minions in Mahou Sensei Negima! fall under this; in their first appearance, they're perfectly capable of taking on the noncombatants of Ala Alba despite being outnumbered. Unfortunately, the next time Ala Alba shows up, most of the girls have either done additional training or pactio'd and obtained powerful artifacts, leading to an ignominious defeat for the minions, who haven't really improved since last time. Fate himself, while still a legit threat, reveals that the concept of training is quite alien to him. It shows, too. Every fight he has with Negi has Negi doing slightly better than beforehand until the final fight where Negi is doing a lot better and obviously has the advantage and WON.
- Most recurring villains in Naruto play this straight, stomping the cast in their first battle, but losing as the heroes become stronger. Spectacularly averted though, by Kabuto, Orochimaru's Bastard Understudy. When he first appears he's a Jonin level threat, who could probably give Kakashi a decent fight. But after incorporating some of Orochimaru's remains into himself, and mastering Edo Tensei, he's become a Kage-level threat with a small army of undead heroes and villains all prepared to Boss Rush the main cast. Between these moves, his ability to genetically engineer monsters like Manda II, and whatever else he's got up his reptilian sleeves, he's gone from Combat Medic to part of a Big Bad Duumvirate alongside Tobi, the series' Big Bad. And his latest revealed ability, Snake Sage Mode, even made Itachi go Oh, Crap!. If it wasn't for Sasuke, Itachi wouldn't have been even able to use Izanami on Kabuto. He had literally defeated Itachi twice there, first by impaling him from all sides with Mushi Tensei, then bisecting him after revealing he had mastered the powers of the Sound Four.
- One Piece:
- The Pacifistas. Nigh-indestructible cyborgs that shoot lasers. The Straw Hats were lucky to take down one of them. Cue the Timeskip. Luffy one-shots one, and Zoro & Sanji double-team another, though one hit from either of them would have been enough. However, Sentomaru does mention that he shouldn't have brought outdated Pacifista models from two years ago, hinting at the fact that the current Pacifistas are actually stronger.
- There's also Buggy the Clown. He's the first opponent Luffy actually had to work against (i.e. fight lasted more than one chapter), and after an attempt at revenge in Logue Town, pretty much disappeared from sight. When he and Luffy meet again in Impel Down, the only thing that's different is the fact that his town-destroying Buggy (Cannon)Balls are now marble-sized.
- The Seven Warlords of the Sea avert this. Just as Luffy grows stronger throughout his adventures, so do they, or at least do enough offscreen grinding to remain at the top of their game. The one exception being Moriah, whose lack of training and overreliance on his zombies made rusty, to the point that he was eventually kicked out.
- Team Rocket regularly fall victim to this in the Pokémon anime. While almost always Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains, usually the start of each series they manage to set up some halfway challenging battles and schemes with their newly captured Pokemon. However, as Ash and the others capture and train their Pokemon teams further, Jessie and James fail to bring out any new tricks, and start getting curb stomped routinely. This is exemplified during the XY series, in many earlier episodes they were actually managing to be a persistent threat and the twerps regularly had a difficult time stopping them, by their final fight in the series however, they lampshade it was bound to end up in Curbstomp Battles by the time Ash had become a league finalist, while they hadn't made a team change up since the eleventh episode.
- When Ryoga finally manages to find his way back to Tokyo in Ranma ˝, he immediately challenges Ranma again. Who has spent the whole time having to fight several extremely strong opponents, most prominently Cologne. So the challenge turns into a Curb-Stomp Battle. Ryoga instead just asks Cologne to help him. And since Ryoga wants to marry Akane and Cologne wants to prevent Ranma from marrying Akane so he can marry Shampoo instead, she's quite willing to help rather literally help him grind.
- Subverted in Rosario + Vampire with Kuyou in his reappearence in the Fairy Tail invasion arc where he is shown to definitly have remembered to Level Grind. Double subverted in that Tsukune had levelgrinded even more.
- Viral from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann demonstrates the tendency of the trope to cross over with Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. As dangerous as he is in his first appearance, he never goes down in personal capability (and improves with each appearance, in fact), but the heroes go up every time faster than he does, thus making poor Viral an increasingly weaker threat. Until his Heel–Face Turn, anyway. It didn't help that all of his improvements went towards his mecha's swordsman abilities (instead of his ranged attacks), which were completely useless in their first battle.
- Averted in Toriko. Since the major villains also have Gourmet Cells, they are able to become more powerful just like the heroes. Tommyrod in particular went from keeping a level 81 insect hybrid inside himself as his ultimate trumpcard to becoming strong enough that one of his arms has a capture level of over two hundred. Starjun was already stronger than Toriko for most of the series, and after Toriko took a few hundred levels in badass Starjun still defeated him. Worse, the fight made Starjun's cells evolve, making him even stronger than before!
- Lampshaded in Yuusha Gojo Kumiai Kouryuugata Keijiban, when Sage of the Forest bemoans the fact that the Demon Lord is still a useless level five, two-hundred years later, making his job harder (because Sage has been forced into the role of Hermit Guru in the setting's RPG-Mechanics Verse, and now has to figure out a way to make the worthless level five Demon Lord a meaningful challenge even though they accidentally have two heroes.)
- Fairy Tail:
- Downplayed in the anime by Erigor "The Reaper", The Ace of the dark guild Eisenwald who was the Arc Villain of the Lullaby arc and the first enemy Natsu fought in the manga he just couldn't blast away with sheer power and determination. While he dropped off the face of the Earth in the manga, despite Lucy mentioning when as the arc ended that he could be back for revenge, in the anime he returns in the Nirvana arc as part of the many dark mages in the guilds under the control of the Oracion Seis eager for a shot at revenge against Natsu and mentioning explicitly that he did grind in preparation for this fight. Unfortunately for him, Natsu's grinded a hell of a lot more by this point and blows him away after a short battle. Averted after the Time Skip, however, as he's expanded his magical expertise and is now a member of the Neo-Oracion Seis and a clear match for the likes of Wendy and Bickslow.
- Bluenote Stinger appears during the S-Class Exam in the Tenrou arc as The Dragon to Master Hades of Grimoire Heart. He's a Gravity Master so powerful that Natsu and most of the other Fairy Tail mages literally can't stand up to him. It's up to Gildarts to stop him. Eight years later, Bluenote returns as the leader of his own dark guild. Natsu, having gone through the Second Origin power-up and a year of training, casually takes out Bluenote with one huge fire blast to show just how much stronger he's become.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Diavolo is arguably the only main villain in the series to progress as far as he has without the need for the sudden last-minute Power-Up, signature of Araki himself. King Crimson was just as powerful and had all the same abilities at the climax of the final battle as when it was first introduced. Not that it matters, since his Rank A Strength and incredible speed, along with his ability to view the future and erase it, make him one of the most powerful villains in the series.
- Played with a few times in Fist of the North Star:
- Shin has very explicitely not become any stronger between the two fights he had with Kenshiro, leading to his defeat in the rematch. It's later implied that he did not want to become stronger, as he knew it wouldn't be nearly enough to take on Raoh when he'd come calling, he was just trying to have Kenshiro become strong enough to protect Julia from any threat.
- Jagi believed that a younger brother could never defeat an older one, so you'd expect this... Except he's still a Hokuto Shinken practitioner and Kenshiro has already defeated him once, so for their rematch he shows up knowing Nanto Seiken techniques to complement the ones he learned with his brothers, allowing him to go from helpless against pre-Shin Kenshiro to capable of scratching Ken after he beat Shin. Quite a massive increase in strength, just not nearly enough to matter.
- Shuu (who's not really a villain, he was just acting like one) not only didn't become stronger in the years between his two battles with Kenshiro, but actually became weaker due exchanging his sight for the right to spare Kenshiro.
- Raoh didn't become stronger between his first and second fight with Kenshiro, as he spent most of that time recuperating from the wounds he suffered in that fight and his first battle with Toki and got busy with his second fight with Toki, restoring his authority over his domain and then dealing with the armies of the Last General of Nanto as soon as he had healed. It's usually Averted, as he himself declared he had grown a lot in the years between Ryuuken's death and meeting his brothers again and Kenshiro and Toki just took his growth for granted.
- An early issue of Fantastic Four has the titular team struggling with the Mad Thinker's Awesome Android, who was so tough they were only able to defeat it by luring it into the Negative Zone portal. 100 issues or so later, the team takes out multiple androids of this type easily, and later on Sue defeats some by herself.
- In Quicksilver's 1998 miniseries his primary villain is Exodus, an immortal psychic mutant who fashions himself as the heir to Magneto. Up to this point Quicksilver has lost every battle he's ever had against Exodus, but in this mini he gains the power of Isotope E, an artificial isotope developed by the High Evolutionary that acts as a MacGuffin form of Super Empowering. While in possession of Isotope E Quicksilver's Super Speed is boosted to Superman levels (he is described as literally being faster than thought now), allowing him to defeat Exodus for the first (and to date only) time.
- Mongul taught Superman his fighting style during the Enemy Mine known as Our Worlds At War. During a later fight, Mongul claims that there's no way Supes can win, because Supes is the student while he is the master. Superman wipes the floor with him, explaining that he knows many other styles, like Rope A Dope.
- Wolverine's most well-known enemy is Sabretooth, a psychopathic Serial Killer mutant who has a nearly identical mutation to Wolverine but is bigger, stronger and just plain meaner than the ol' Canucklehead... at least, that's the way it always starts, before Wolverine gets either an adamantium upgrade from Weapon X or some much-needed motivation to fight Sabretooth on his level. Either way, the end result is Creed getting left in the dust., Sometimes, like in the X-Men cartoon, these events have already played out in the backstory, reducing Sabretooth to mere Starter Villain in the present day.
- Played with in the W.I.T.C.H. comic: At first Cedric is a massive threat due the same reasons as in the cartoon and being extremely cunning, then the Guardians, being more powerful to begin with, achieve the experience to take on him, but by the times of the final battle of the first arc Phobos turned him into a creature capable of taking on all of them and winning, and they barely defeat him due the Crown of Light having been enchanted to absorb the energy of whoever wears it (including Cedric's, when Will puts it on his head). He's later imprisoned in the Tower of Mists, where he can't get better... But when he's broken out in the fourth arc he's an even bigger threat than before, as he knows he's now outmatched in a direct battle and relies exclusively on his wits, and he happens to be one of the smartest characters in the series. To the point that in the fifth arc, when he's released on probation, Orube is terrified when she stumbles into him (and he's now powerless), something that proves Justified when, improvising he casually tricks Matt into being imprisoned in the Book of Elements in spite of Matt having been warned exactly of who he was, with the Guardians unable to make him pay because he's necessary to get Matt out.
- Played with in Stallion of the Line. Smoker can't beat Luffy when they first meet but his powers are unusual enough that Luffy has to work for his victory if he doesn't want to use haki. However, despite Luffy warning him to, Smoker doesn't pick up any new tricks and uses the same tactics in subsequent encounters, causing Luffy to defeat him with ease each time. Contrast Hina who changes her tactics since not only do her normal ones not work, but Luffy's already seen them and would have counters prepared. Luffy at one point asks if he can have Hina chasing him instead since she keeps things interesting.
- To Hell and Back (Arrowverse): Just like in canon, Malcolm Merlyn. Interestingly, this becomes evident in the story's equivalent to Arrow Season One; according to the author, this is a logical deduction of Malcolm's current level. As he only had spent two years with the League of Assassins and had no sparring partners on the same general level as him to push him to be stronger, he is no match for Oliver, who, despite being younger than him, has seven years of training and Barry and Kara as frequent sparring partners. Thus, when he and Oliver first clash, it's a Curb-Stomp Battle in favor of the latter.
- The Bridge: At the start of the Enjin arc, the Sirens and Monster X can't do much to stop Enjin because the sirens' magic is weak and X is suffering Power Incontinence with his abilities. At best when they decide to do an Enemy Mine is X can hold Enjin off with close quarters combat agility and the sirens can get the getaway van ready. Later on thanks to Aria Blaze mastering her new powers and helping X reacquire control over his own, they start to catch back up. It's still an extremely hard fight but ultimately they win because Enjin never got any stronger and they exploited its weakness. However, Enjin's master Bagan then revives Enjin and gives it a powerup, then it captures Aria and uses her as a battery. In the rematch, X manages to unlock new power and Aria partially breaks free, and Enjin is beaten again.
- The Dark Knight Rises: When they first fight, Batman treats Bane like a regular criminal, is out of shape, and suffering from the psychological, emotional, and physical consequences being a city's protector. As such, Bane tears him apart. The second time they fight, Batman is fighting with a renewed sense of purpose, knows how to fight Bane, and might actually be in better shape than he was last time (despite the previous fight ending with Bane breaking his back). So this time around, he tears Bane apart.
- The Matrix: This is a problem for the superhuman Agents after Neo becomes The One. Even the upgraded Agents specifically created to fight The One aren't even able to land a hit on him and are quickly dispatched with minimal effort on Neo's part. Agent Smith also has this to a certain extent; by himself, he is no stronger than he was as a normal Agent, and is thus far outclassed by Neo. Unfortunately for Neo, Smith now has hundreds of identical copies created by copying over programs and people in the Matrix. Even though Neo tosses them around like ragdolls, the Smith army has collectively greater stamina and Neo is forced to run. Then he wises up and copies over the Oracle, granting him power equal to (or even greater than) Neo in a single body. He didn't think the finishing blow through, though.
- In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Victor and Jimmy's first fight is Curb-Stomp Battle in Victor's favor. Then Jimmy gets his adamantium and wipes the floor with Victor.
- Done across movies, for a single move. In The Desolation of Smaug, Bolg caught Legolas's sword by pinning it between his arm and body, and then pulled Legolas in close and pummeled him. He repeated the move against Legolas, this time wielding his knives, in The Battle of the Five Armies, only for Legolas to grab Bolg's arm, leap up onto his shoulders, and stab him through the head.
- By the time of Thor: Ragnarok, the eponymous God of Thunder has long outgrown his original boisterous Thud and Blunder personality and become quite wise to his brother Loki's trickster ways; as such, when Loki makes an attempt to betray him during their escape, Thor sees it coming a mile away and has a trick of his own planned. The page quote is Thor explaining this very trope to a paralyzed Loki as the latter is lying helplessly on the ground after being basically tasered by Thor.
- Averted in the book series 1632. At first, the American weapons from the year 2000 vastly outclass the weapons of the time. After research and development, using espionage and the American library for reference, the weapons disparity is greatly reduced.
- The Solarian League Navy in the Honor Harrington series has spent literally centuries as the biggest, baddest navy out there. Able to push around any "neobarbs" who got uppity with no problem. In their arrogance over that fact, they never developed much in the way of new technology themselves (so as not to change their own balance of power) and disregarded anything Manticore and Haven came up with as inherently inferior, despite the two star nations' recent Lensman Arms Race. In later books, they're learning the hard way just how far behind the curve they are now as every battle they've fought with Manticore has been a Curb-Stomp Battle in Manticore's favor despite being vastly outnumbered every time. What they can't catch up as quickly on is that that members of the Manticore-Haven alliance have spent decades at war and as a result Darwinian selection has largely separated the wheat from the chaff among their senior officers and military, leaving a collection of highly competent, experienced commanders leading efficient, veteran military forces. The SLN, meanwhile, has most of their senior commanders appointed strictly due to their seniority and/or political connections or personal ability at sucking up instead of actual talent while their crews are largely inexperienced in war. The end result is not only a navy that's horrifically outgunned, but one led by people too stupid or ignorant to realize how outgunned they are.
- In Isaac Asimov's story "In A Good Cause...", a large alien empire seems to be on the brink of conquering the squabbling collection of human worlds. It doesn't turn out that way: the squabbling had led the humans to refine their military technology and tactics to the point that the first human world to seriously confront the rather stagnant alien empire easily defeated them, even before other human worlds started putting aside their differences to join up with the winning side.
- At the beginning of The Wheel of Time, Rand is barely capable of killing one Trolloc. Fast forward three years and he's annihilating 100,000 of them by himself.
- Myrddraal, the minor Humanoid Abominations that act as Elite Mooks and field commanders for the Shadow get this too. In the first book, they're terrifying and treated as Run or Die, basically. In the next couple of books, they're still really tough, but the protagonists get better at dealing with them. Later in the series, they're only slightly harder to kill than Trollocs. Of course, this was foreshadowed in the first book- Moiraine explicitly points out that any even somewhat skilled channeler can beat them without much trouble, and by the midpoint of the series all the protagonists are either quite powerful channelers or have some other ability to put them on that level.
- Happens to some of the Forsaken. They find that the heroes have done things they never thought possible from their own time. And others are simply flattened by the heroic mooks, rather than the protagonists. Notably inverted by Demandred, who did level grind while running around in Shara and at one point boasts that he's become more powerful than he ever was in the Age of Legends; his performance during the Last Battle bears this out.
- In Worldwar, a race of lizard-like aliens scouts out Earth during the 12th century and spends the next eight centuries preparing for an invasion. Problem is, their technology progresses very slowly, so they arrive on Earth in 1942 expecting to face knights and archers... and run right into tanks, machine guns, airplanes, and The Bomb.
- This is an invoked trope as a strategy in the Safehold series. The Gbaba win a long war of attrition against humanity due to superior numbers and initial starting technology, but human researchers discover they haven't advanced in possibly millennia and show no inclination (or possibly ability) to do so, even as they face increasing losses due to humanity racing to catch up, and they realize that if humanity had only had a few more years of their normal technological advancement, they'd be on even terms and then shortly thereafter curb-stomping them. They establish a secret colony at Safehold where the last survivors of humanity can hide out, with the plan being to create a place where humanity can regrow a significant population and then continue their technological advancement, so that when they emerge from hiding, humanity can get revenge on the Gbaba from a point of superiority.
- In the Starfire series, the members of the Grand Alliance get curb-stomped on a regular basis by the might of the Bug forces they oppose. After a while, they come to realize that they face overwhelming force because they're facing fleets that have been built up over centuries, but only come from a handful of systems so there's no way that the Bugs could have the infrastructure to replace them as fast as they're being lost, nor make significant changes in the technology they deploy because they're using ships they built a long time ago. Once the allies realize this, they begin fighting battles of attrition because they can afford to replace ships and the Bugs can't. By the end they can routinely beat outnumbered Bug fleets and start becoming more concerned with winning the war quickly to keep their own casualties down.
- Explicitly stated by the analysts of the Rangora who are trying to figure out how to beat the humans in Troy Rising by John Ringo. In 17 years the humans went from being ruled by a single crappy Horvath cruiser, to having multiple battle stations that can defeat entire Rangoran invasion fleets (which wiped the floor with the Horvath and are busy conquering everybody else in sight), since no other race in the galaxy has felt the need to improve their technology in thousands of years. In Chapter 30 of "Citadel", the Rangoran analyst's models show the Rangora could not have matched what Earth has already done in those 17 years, that with the current two battle stations the Rangora will not be able to successfully invade and defeat the Earth system, and that within 20 years the additional three battle stations that are actively being built will enable the humans to invade and defeat the entire Rangoran Empire.
Live Action TV
- Notable in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- In the first season, the first Big Bad, The Master, was shown as this terrifying, ancient vampire whose history of atrocities was enough to plague Buffy's nightmares and was able to easily imprison and torture Angel in an alternate universe. By series eight in the comic series, both had progressed to the point that a possessed Angel was able to shatter his skull when he was temporarily revived.
- The Turok-Han were an ancient and feared breed of vampires who were considered monsters even among ordinary vampires. Buffy's first encounter with one Turok-Han in "Bring on the Night" led to her being bashed around like a ragdoll and nearly getting killed. By the final battle with the First Evil, the Turok Hans' have decreased notably in performance. While the first Turok-Han forced Buffy to use every possible resource to defeat it the second time around, the later Turok-Han seem evenly matched against the newly activated Slayers and even normal humans such as Xander and Dawn. This was Lampshaded by creator Joss Whedon in his audio commentary for the episode, who acknowledged the continuity issue with the Turok Han's powers.
- Weirdly, Joss misses an easy explanation for the power disparity: The first Turokhan had been free for some time and had had plenty of time to feed. This was not true of the others.
- In Doctor Who the Daleks were a serious threat in earlier episodes, but every time the Doctor defeats them, they become less credible; by the end of the original BBC run, Daleks were nearly laughable. See also Depending on the Writer, because sometimes the Daleks really were laughably ineffectual and sometimes the Doctor was just that good. The new series then proceeded to slap this trope in the face by making the Daleks the terrifying unstoppable killing machines they were are the beginning, and a very serious threat everytime they appear.
- Averted in Stargate SG-1. At first, when humans get Ancient technology, they can curb stomp the Go'auld. Fast forward a few years, and their new ships can ignore the human beam weapons and destroy them. This is also shown in Stargate Universe, where the Lucian Alliance is able to engage Earth's most advanced ship, the George Hammond (equipped with those same plasma beams), with 3 upgraded Ha'taks, and the Hammond receives substantial damage in the fight. Word of God is that the Lucian Alliance (largely composed of humans) has every incentive to upgrade their tech, unlike the Goa'uld, who spent millennia sitting on their asses.
- In the Star Trek series:
- When the Borg appear first their Cubes are unstoppable even by an entire fleet of Federation ships, and must be beaten by trickery. By the time Star Trek: First Contact comes around, increased fleet size and new technology mean the Cube is far from unbeatable, although it does still take Captain Picard hearing the voice of the collective to find a weak spot to finally destroy it.
- Then you have the Voyager series finale, where the titular ship uses technology from 20 years in the future to One-Hit Kill Borg Cubes with the Cubes barely able to scratch the paint on the ship. The Borg end up assimilating the new tech, but due to a virus infecting the Borg Queen, only get it implemented on one sphere that conveniently pulls Voyager inside itself so it can be destroyed from within.
- In the case of the Borg, it's not so much that the villain forgot to level grind as that the villain is incapable of level-grinding in the conventional manner. Voyager establishes that the Borg are completely incapable of invention or innovation. The only way they can grow is through assimilation...and most of the technology in the Delta Quadrant that was worth assimilating already had been. The rest was in the hands of those smart and/or powerful enough to avoid assimilation. Essentially, the villain had already hit his level cap, while the heroes haven't and thus can keep on grinding. This is the main reason the Borg have trouble with Species 8472 (STO calls them the Undine), whose extremely aggressive immune system prohibits assimilation, which also applies to their extremely capable Organic Technology.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Grant Ward's brother Christian was built up as a sociopath who tortured Grant and their little brother for years, culminating in Grant's Start of Darkness when he tried to kill Christian by burning their home down. By the time they meet as adults in season 2, Grant has become a badass secret agent trained in infiltration and assassination with expert knowledge of multiple weapons and martial arts. Christian is a rich senator and is implied to hold a lot of political power, but has no more fighting prowess than a normal man would. The result is that Grant manhandles him with ease, forces him to confess to his crimes, and then kills him offscreen without any fanfare.
- In Highlander, Xavier St. Cloud used to be considered one of the deadliest immortals in the world, and trying to fight him was considered a death sentence. However, eventually he stopped fighting and focused on stealing to support his lavish lifestyle. As a result, either his sword skills decayed or his old rivals like Duncan MacLeod improved enough to beat him.
- Arrow: Malcolm Merlyn was able to defeat Oliver quite easily when they fought each other in the first season. When Oliver faces him in season 4 for leadership of the League of Assassins, he defeats Merlyn with hardly any effort at all, the more impressive as Oliver was holding back because he didn't want to kill him.
- Kamen Rider Gaim: A recurring theme in this series:
- When Orenn Pierre Alfonzo makes his first appearance as Kamen Rider Bravo, he really is a force to be reckoned with. In his early days, The Hero and The Rival had to work together to even put a dent on him. As the heroes got stronger and received several new forms, Kamen Rider Bravo turned from a credible threat to a recurring joke.
- Yggdrassil's New Generation Riders are the central threat during the second quarter of the series, but stop being this after The Hero unlocks his Super Mode. Justified with Sigurd, who is noted as relying on his power rather than his own skill, and thus when Gaim gets a power comparable to his, he's no match at all for him. Subverted with Kamen Rider Duke, who is shown constantly upgrading his armor (which was an Ace Custom to begin with) and remains a threat until his death.
- Kamen Rider Build offers a justification: The Transtream System used by early antagonists Night Rogue and Blood Stalk was part of the same government project that created Build, but they were only ever intended to be aggressors who could help Build get stronger through battle. Transteam users are incapable of growth themselves, meaning that as Build develops (and more Riders start showing up) they quickly get outclassed. Gentoku Himuro (Rogue) gets around this by upgrading to a Kamen Rider himself, while Soichi Isurugi (Stalk) is a Smug Snake who generally avoided direct combat even before he started getting outclassed.
- The Flash (2014) provides an interesting variant, where it's not that a villain forgot to level grind as much as that he just hasn't leveled grind yet. In season 1, the Reverse Flash was stronger, faster and a better fighter than Barry, repeatedly defeated him, and required help from multiple allies to be taken down. Season 2 episode The Reverse Flash Returns has him come back... except he turns out to be a time-travelling earlier version of him who is meeting the Flash in person for the first time, going against a more experienced Barry. As a result, when they do fight, Barry takes him down relatively easily. When Barry encounters the Reverse Flash again in Crisis on Earth-X, Thawne once again provides a challenge for Barry, although Barry does defeat him in the end.
- Magic: The Gathering has the skyships Weatherlight (the heroes) and Predator (the villains). When the two battle in Rath, the Weatherlight is outgunned and the heroes only escape through dumb luck. By the time of the Rathi Overlay in the Planeshift storyline, however, the Weatherlight had a more experienced crew and upgraded weaponry, and when the two skyships battled again, the Predator was thoroughly trounced.
- Scion: Ragnarok notes that, given how they statted out Garm in Demigod, most players would probably be able to beat him into a fine paste at the God level of power, and advises Storytellers to avert the trope by giving him an appropriate stat boost when he fights Tyr (the justification being that Garm's had plenty of time to level-grind on Scions and Demigods on his way to Ragnarok).
- Can be invoked by good optimization tactics in any tabletop RPG that gives the players control over character creation. Will be invoked by Monty Haul gameplay. As such, this trope has the potential to be in most any tabletop RPG. It's also likely to happen literally. As the players level up monsters that were challenging will become jokes, and monsters that were once too powerful can be crushed beneath the player's heels. And there's the possibility of evil NPCs either not levelling up as fast as the PCs or not levelling up enough to keep up with the players new powers. Some GMs invoke this trope for dramatic effect.
- In Captain SNES: The Game Masta:
- Everyone in the world of Final Fantasy VI freaks out when Kefka is brought Back from the Dead, up until they find out he's just as powerful as he was the last time they did battle! Unfortunately for him, the heroes had been guided by a player who power-levelled them so badly that Locke killed him so fast (repeatedly, thanks to multiple resurrections) that eventually the biggest complaint was that no one else was getting a turn, and then when Locke proceeds to let everyone else go, they find it unsatisfying to take him down in one hit. Kefka eventually turned the tables by taking the kid who was resurrecting him hostage.
- In the world of Final Fantasy IV, Edwa...erm, Spoony has a plot to take revenge on Cecil and Rosa with his new Antlion, with over twice the HP it had before! But since Cecil is topped off at Level 99 with 9999 HP, he one-shots it. Turns out it was all part of the plan.
- In FreakAngels Mark doesn't exactly forget to level up, but does ignore the possibility that the Freak Angels might have done so too. He's just surprised when Kait disintegrates his sword, but totally unable to cope with Arkady's ability to teleport.
- In Kid Radd, this happens to the final boss Gnarl - both while they're both inside the game, and after they both leave.
- Subverted in The Order of the Stick, where the Genre Savvy Haley realizes that no matter how much stronger she gets, her personal rival will somehow always get more powerful offscreen. Later on, said rival argues against her boss who just wants to kill her, because she'd like to gain a few more levels for free. It still applies outside of game mechanics; Haley needs to be saved in their first battle, but completey curbstomps her in every later encounter (when Crystal doesn't have a small army backing her).
Crystal: [playing poker] Sweet! Starshine gained a level!Jenny: I really need to pick a fight with a PC one of these days...
- Dragon Ball Multiverse:
- The trope is zigzagged, with many of the original series's villains having set up Villain Worlds and not seeing the point in pushing their limits without competition. Freeza's family and troops, Bojack's gang, and Dabura haven't improved at all from their original level of skill, and the Androids are actually breaking down from lack of maintenance. However, Cell's Blood Knight attitude has left him training constantly since the Cell Games (it's implied he could give Mystic Gohan a fight), Buu's been on an all-absorption diet since the end of the series and won the Superpower Lottery to begin with, and Broly's power requires no training to grow.
- Also subverted with U8 King Cold, who if his family's statements and expanded universe material are any indicator, has gotten stronger since Freezia was born, as he once couldn't control his power in his higher forms at all, but now spends most of the tournament in his final form with no problem at all, much to Cooler's shock, and is powerful enough to curbstomp U3 Bardock when he uses 100% power, something he can access in seconds as opposed to the minutes it takes his son. Then he goes One-Winged Angel. Twice.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja:
- Parodied when the Doc easily dispatches a vampire; the Alt Text snarks that he had lived 126 years without ever thinking to take a karate class.
- Another parody example pops up during the Paleontologists, Politicians and Prologue arc, where McNinja takes down Franz Rayner and Mongo the Uberninja with ease.
Doc: See, I've fought you guys enough, you basically aren't level bosses anymore. It's like a video game! Boop boop!
- The Salvation War has a case of this with the demons. Their tactics haven't changed in centuries, believing that humans could never outdo them. The humans proceed to kill entire armies easily. Later, a character points out that the demons' tactics would have been devastating to humans centuries ago, and they never could have won, but now it's demons with tridents versus humans with guns. The creator pointed out that they could probably still have pulled a victory against WW2 era armies. The victory had more to do with modern coordination technology, precision artillery, electronic warfare defenses that make their electric attacks a No-Sell, and advanced enough technical knowledge to reverse-engineer portal creation than just having guns and bombs.
- Played with in Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Dr. Gero actually did bother to improve by using a robotic bug to constantly watch the Z-Warriors, studying all their moves and tactics to prepare himself and Android 19 to fight them. However, he completely missed the part where they went to Namek, and has no idea Goku and Vegeta can become Super Saiyans. Goku is winning handily before his heart disease lays him low, then Vegeta steps in and obliterates Android 19.
- Cedric in W.I.T.C.H. has supernatural powers that put him roughly on level with the heroines, a nasty Scaled Up form, and a lot more experience than his opponents. Unfortunately for him, said heroines start out inexperienced but quickly become much more proficient with their powers, while he never seems to learn any new tricks. By the midpoint of the first season, he's only a threat if he's brought a lot of mooks with him.
- Evident in Teen Titans with the H.I.V.E. Five. In their first appearance, each of the Five are strong enough to nearly defeat a Titan. However, while the heroes continue to train and develop their powers, tactics and teamwork, the Five spend more time bickering among themselves than anything else and never manage to progress any further to the point where they're a minor threat at best.
- Ben 10:
- Doctor Animo. When he was introduced in the Original Series, Animo was considered something of Ben's third biggest nemesis. By the time of the sequels, Ben has become much more powerful and experienced, and plenty of much more dangerous bad guys have shown up, reducing the Mad Scientist to a Laughably Evil recurring rogue.
- An particularly infamous example in Ben 10: Omniverse with the Rooters, whose plan is to eliminate Ben before he becomes a threat to mankind. To this end, they came up with a complex plan involving kidnapping and experimenting on kids to grant them superpowers, then throwing them at Ben. This plan failed the first time it was applied, yet they try to rely on it again five years later with very little change to it, even though by this point Ben had time to grow up as a more experienced hero and unlocked around five times the number of forms he had before. Predictably, Ben easily handles the alien kids, and the only reason they come even close to victory is because his bestfriend Kevin is tricked into a temporary Face–Heel Turn.
- Star Wars Rebels: Darth Maul never really improved his combat skills over the years. Obi-wan Kenobi went through the grinder of the Clone Wars in addition to his normal training, but gained maturity and wisdom in the 30 years since their first encounter while Maul has descended into insanity. Then Maul he spends days wandering in the desert, exhausting himself. Their climactic duel is three moves: Obi-wan blocks him twice and kills him with a single stroke. The last move he tries is also the move he used to kill Qui-Gon, which Obi-wan effortlessly defeats. Also justified, as Obi-wan has sense become one of the most experienced expert of the single most defensive lightsaber style.
- In the Grand Finale of Samurai Jack, Aku himself, or rather the past version of him, is a victim of this, but it's heavily justified. While the time passed is only a few seconds to him, Jack has had fifty years to hone his skills due to being stranded in the future. Aku is crushed quickly.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Prince Zuko defies this magnificently. At the beginning of the first season he was only a mild threat though his fighting ability seems to gradually increase every time he encounters Aang and his friends to the point where he's able to hold his own against Aang.
- Princess Azula and Admiral Zhao play this straight however. By the end of the second season, Azula begins having much more trouble against Aang and Katara than she did early on. Zhao mainly lost to Zuko the first time due to overconfidence and bad luck, but during their last encounter Zuko overpowers him through skill alone.
- Word of God says that Fire Lord Ozai makes it a point to avert this trope by constantly training. Apparently he and Zuko have this in common.
- Possible in the case of exams that can be taken more than once. If you didn't study the first time, you may not get even half the percentage needed for a passing score. Study enough after that, and the knowledge you learned may come as second nature and may definitely lead to a curb stomp, given the questions remain the same. When you're studying, some subjects can look really hard, especially math, when you move to the next grades, those subjects will seem a piece of cake for you, even if you forgot them and are looking back to remember.