RPGs in general have this as a game mechanic. Your party is too weak to take down the dungeon boss? Grind enough levels in Badass to become powerful enough.
Majority of the Player Characters in Pokémon start off as just simply starting their journey to become the Champion, until they encounter a crime organization that gives them trouble, then takes a huge level in badass by defeating the organization's boss and their second-in-command. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl are notable in which the main character SAVES the world from annihilation (Emerald in Generation 3 averted this with a plot Legendary resolve the conflict in the game). Pokémon Black and White took this Up to Eleven by having the main character defeat the true Big BadBoss near the end of the game just after acquiring the plot-relevant Legendary Pokémon. Eventually, all main characters become Champion at the end of the game.
In his first appearance, Wally in Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald is quite sickly and needs help in catching his first Pokémon (Ralts), and moved to a cleaner town to recover. He later shows up partly recovered but still only has that one mon and is easily beaten. Much later he shows up right at the end of Victory Road and has an almost full team of mons leveled in their forties.
A lot of Pokémon fit this trope, evolving from cutesy but weak creatures to powerful menacing badass monsters. In the anime, this happens to May's Torchic while fending off a herd of Breloom.
A Pokémon with rather bad-to-moderate moves can learn a super-powered move by just gaining a level.
Quite a few Pokémon get this treatment between generations, whether by receiving evolutions, receiving new moves, or just fitting in very well with the changes in gameplay mechanics.
One of the most notable early examples of this was with Wobbuffet, who was first introduced as a completely useless Joke Character that no one would be caught dead with in the second generation. Then came Ruby and Sapphire, which introduced the concept of abilities. Wobbuffet ended up with Shadow Tag, which prevents the opponent from switching out. With such an incredible Game Breaker as this ability, along with the move Encore it gained in this Gen thanks to its pre-evolution Wynaut, which forces the opponent's Pokémon to repeat a move for several turns, allowing the Wobbuffet player to use the according counter move to destroy its opponent, Wobbuffet competed at the same level as Mewtwo and Arceus for quite some time!
Up until Diamond and Pearl (even though it gained the useful moves U-Turn and X-Scissor in those games, and the Technician Ability), Scizor was a forgettable Borderline-Overused at best. Then came Platinum, which gave it the moves Bullet Punch, Superpower, and Bug Bite. Bullet Punch is a Steel-type 40 power priority move (thus able to hit Ghost unlike Mach Punch and Quick Attack) which get boosted thanks to Technician and STAB to 90 (equivalent of Psychic and just 5 points inferior to Thunderbolt, Flamethrower and Surf, the standard competitive Elemental moves); Superpower is a 120 power Fighting-type move, giving it the coverage for Steel types it needed; Bug Bite is a 60 power Bug-type move that gets boosted by Technician and STAB just like Bullet Punch (and thus is superior to X-Scissor). With those, BAM, instant top Overused Pokémon, where it remains even in Gen VI.
Venomoth is a great case of this, especially since it has effectively gained a level in every generation this way. Gen II gave it an actual STAB move in Sludge Bomb, Gen III gave it the ability Shield Dust, which prevents the secondary effects of attacks from landing(Paralysis from Thunderbolt, for example). Gen IV gave it the Physical/Special split(which was very good to it, since Venomoth was always better with Special attacks, yet Bug and Poison were both physical types previously), and the fantastic ability Tinted Lens, which negates one resistance when it attacks. Gen V gave it the Quiver Dance Status Buff move, which boosts Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed all at once. Finally, Gen VI introduced Fairy types, which finally made its Poison STAB useful.
Arbok was always undermined by its underwhelming stats, but come Gen V, it can abuse its terrific movepool by boosting its Attack, Defense and Accuracy at once with the move Coil. The accuracy boost also fixes the iffy accuracy of its most powerful move, Gunk Shot.
As of Generation IV, nearly every Fire type Pokemon can be taught Solarbeam. Which means that most Fire-types that were powerless against water-types now have something to fight back.
Up until Gen VI, Farfetch'd basically amounted to crap - it couldn't evolve, its stats were weak, and the Stick item only affected its critical hit rate, which was a crapshoot at best. However, tweaks to the critical hit formula in Gen VI changed it in turn, and now using both its Stick item in conjunction with its many high crit rate moves (Slash, Air Cutter, Night Slash, and Leaf Blade, the first two of which have STAB and all four combined have surprisingly good coverage) causes it to critically hit on every attack; in addition to the boost in power, this causes any defence boosts on the target and any attack drops on Farfetch'd to be ignored. While still underwhelming due to its low stats and lack of evolution, it no longer feels like one of the worst Pokemon in the world.
One of the major instances of the abovementioned example is the introduction of Hidden Abilities in Gen V, which gave most Pokemon an additional ability from their usual ones if said Pokemon was obtained in a certain way(usually from Dream World at first), or bred from one who was. A fair amount of average, if not terrible, Pokemon gained abilities that were either simply much better or meshed very well with their existing traits, boosting their usability considerably.
Two notable examples are Politoad and Ninetails, who gained the ability to change the weather permanently unless something came along to change it to something else(until Gen VI put a limit on it). Politoad could induce rain via its Drizzle, which empowered water attacks considerably and gave massive boosts to Pokemon with certain abilities; Ninetails used Drought to strengthen the sunlight, which boosted Fire attacks and allows Solarbeam to be used without the charge-up turn(see above for more on that).
Ditto of all Pokémon gained one with its new Imposter Ability, which lets it copy the opponent's Pokémon and all of its stat changes as soon as it enters the battlefield, instead of having to wait a turn (and get hit) using Transform. This is a good way of setting up a massively powerful Pokémon, especially if your opponent has Baton Pass in its move list, which a lot of competitive Pokémon do. In addition, give Ditto a Choice Scarf, and it will always outspeed the Pokémon it turns into, unless it also has a Scarf.
Serperior is really just an okay supporting grass-type normally, but give it its Dream World ability Contrary (which reverses stat changes) and it turns into a rampaging monster serpent that doubles its own Special Attack every time it uses the 140-base power Leaf Storm. However, this may arguably be a bit too powerful, which may explain why it is not yet possible to obtain a Serperior with Contrary legitimately.
During Gen IV, poor Blaziken was overshadowed by Infernape. But with Blaziken's dream world ability, Speed Boost, and a HUGE power boost to Hi Jump Kick, It now has the honor of being the first starter to be banned from competitive play.
Gen VI introduced two major factors that caused some Pokemon to undergo this: Mega Evolutions and the new Fairy type.
Since many past species get retconned to be Fairy types, which are flat out immune to Dragon attacks, Pokemon that were previously only mildly useful, like Gardevoir and Mawile, can now be used to take down pseudolegendary powerhouses without a scratch (or at least shut down their attempts at a Total Party Kill using Draco Meteor or Outrage).
In summary, Mega Evolution has caused some Pokemon like Mawile and Kangaskhan go from being fairly useless to extremely powerful (Well, in the latter case, more like fairly useless to ridiculously broken). Some like Lucario, Blaziken and the starters go from 'fairly good' to 'extremely good'. And Mewtwo goes from nearly God level powerful to even more powerful than before with two new forms that have either even higher special attack stats or turn it into a Psychic/Fighting physical attacker with martial arts moves!
Mawile in particular benefits from both the fairy type and the mega evolutions. Upon its introduction, it was a fairly unremarkable pure-steel type with middling stats. It had fans thanks to its design, but didn't really shine in gameplay. Then it got the secondary fairy type, which resulted in it having nine resistances, two immunities, and only two weaknesses. Then it got a mega evolution which gives it a stat boost... and the ability Huge Power, which doubles it's attack stat. This results in it having a functional base attack power of 210, when the highest natural attack stat in the series (Attack Forme Deoxys) is only 180. Combined with a fairly diverse movepool and you have a mon that can do a lot of damage.
The Bug-type in general. In Pokémon Red and Blue, bugs were seen as a joke, with no good attacks and mediocre stats. By Pokémon Black and White, they've become much more useful in combat, thanks to better moves note including Megahorn, X-Scissor, Signal Beam, U-Turn, Steamroller, Bug Buzz and Quiver Dance and bugs with much better stats note including Pinsir, Heracross, Scizor, Armaldo, Yanmega, Scolipede, Galvantula, Durant, Volcarona and Genesect.
Sunkern. You wouldn't expect the weakest Pokémon in existence to potentially have five stars in all Pokéathlon stats, would you? With several servings of Aprijuice, you'll be farming Heart Scales, Nuggets, and evolutionary stones like you wouldn't believe.
When the new Black and White starters were revealed, nobody liked poor little Oshawott. Then, it was discovered that they evolve into samurai bladed otters with beards.
One swing of the sword incorporated into its armor can fell an opponent. A simple glare from one of them quiets everybody.
Before her, Wallace accomplished the same feat in Pokémon Emerald.
As a rule that has been in place ever since Generation III, the Elite Four and Champion will take one of these after you beat them the first time round. In your rematch, their teams will have gone up by about ten or so levels (or twenty in some cases). This can take some players by surprise when their Level 50-something team that won them their victory handily is on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle.
In Mass Effect 2, Liara has gone from being an awkward archaeologist to an information dealer. When you first walk into her office, you hear her threaten to flay someone alive. With her mind. At the beginning of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, she smacks elite soldiers around with her mind while shooting them to pieces with an automatic gun. At the end she kills the arguably most powerful person in the galaxy, and assumes his identity. Just as he did with his predecessor.
Also, in Mass Effect, Garrus starts out as a pretty badass but fairly unremarkable Cowboy Cop. Over the course of the game, like your other party members, he becomes an army-crushing terror, and, in Mass Effect 2, he, as Archangel, takes an additional level in badass where he holds off entire waves of mercenaries all out to kill him, while all he has is his sniper rifle. The only reason he isn't taking more levels is apparently because he's serving under Shepard, according to the Shadow Broker's data.
In between the first and third game, Kaidan goes from a Jack of All Stats with no real offensive powers, to having a Rank Up to Major, becomes the second human Spectre and gains the ability to "Reave". Suffice to say, this time around Kaidan's decided toget dangerous.
Shepard to an extent, as if s/he weren't Badass enough. The different classes change and evolve through the trilogy so a soldier can go from being proficient with any firearms to wielding rifles bigger than s/he is to Improbable Aiming Skills using Bullet Time, a vanguard can go from a Magic Knight to using biotics to physically clear a room, an adept can go from Squishy Wizard to nigh unstoppable, etc. And Shepard can take skills from other characters were s/he so inclined.
The whole squad, including Shepard, are at their most badass in Mass Effect 3, from both a gameplay and story perspective, with their enemies being appropriately tough to compensate. What's particularly notable is that, if you import a save, Shepard will start out with the exact same skills and experience that he had at the end of Mass Effect 2, right at the beginning of Mass Effect 3... yet s/he's still not even halfway to the fully leveled point, leaving him/her several levels to take (literally and figuratively). By the end of the game, every squadmate, even the more squishy ones like Tali, can easily slaughter entire squads of soldiers far superior than Alliance marines, and take on N7-tier enemies like Phantoms in one on one combat and come out on top. Others, like Garrus, become genuine One Man Armies when leveled and equipped correctly.
For a villainous example, Cerberus went from being less than 200 guys with a bad habit of being eaten by their own experiments, to being a major threat to Alliance operations, between 2 and 3, to the point where Shepard personally kills more Cerberus troops than they originally had members, to say nothing of any casualties they take in multiplayer. The game goes to some lengths to justify their numbers, and the results aren't pretty.
Feynriel of Dragon Age II starts off as a young, angry, terrified half-elven runaway who's being pursued by demons, Templars, and kidnappers. Save him from the Circle in Act 1 and spare his life in the Fade in Act 2, and he upgrades to taking out people with his mind from half a continent away.
In Xenosaga, MOMO proved quite useless, serving as little more than a plot device; in battle she had a high MP count but was pathetically weak and virtually any other character was better. In the sequel she had aged up slightly and become more competent, but most notably had suddenly become an absolute god in combat: High speed, high evasion, high attack power, excellent heals, excellent buffs, and the largest mana pool in the game had her far outstripping any other playable character. Her low HP was her only remaining flaw, but considering her ridiculous evasion meant she didn't really get hit anymore anyway...
There's also Allen, a Non-Action Guy who Cannot Spit It Out, and a lovably pathetic Butt Monkey. He has a crush on his boss, Shion, who he calls "Chief," but even the biggest supplier of wangst in Xenosaga is still laughably out of his league. He's not even a regular party member. Then comes Episode III, and Allen stands up to Kevin, Shion's ex-boyfriend and the beating he takes negates Shion's Face-Heel Turn and sparks her interest in him. In the ending, a Gnosis threatens Shion, and Allen pounces on it, beating it to death with an assault rifle. The end shows Shion finally returning his affections.
Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty started life as a naive dork, albeit one with a nasty secret and a bit too much talent at chopping people up. In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, he's turned into a homicidal, husky-voiced, immortal cyborg ninja capable of killing things with antigravity kung-fu and his feet. It was a backlash against him being The Scrappy, probably. He also appears to have taken a few levels in "Lightning Deity", since he was capable of killing soldiers with bolts of lighting from inside a properly grounded ship. The more important development is in how he reacts to the world outside of combat; in his debut game he was not a player but a piece, being used by every actual player in the game, but never being allowed to make a move of his own. By the end, even refusing to act would have advanced someone else's agenda. In his next playable appearance, he's become a major player in his own right, one that the other factions must treat with respect and hide from.
Surprisingly enough, Johnny Sasaki, the recurring joke character takes a level in badass in Metal Gear Solid 4 by removing his mask, but only gets to show it in the cutscene where he admits his love to Meryl and makes a Combat Proposal. The rest of the cutscene is then nothing but pure badassery.
Leon Kennedy, the idealistic Naďve Newcomer who just began his first day of duty at the Raccoon Police Department in RE 2 had somehow became almost as badass as Albert Wesker by the time of RE4! He gets yet another upgrade in the movie Degeneration, although it seems to come at the expense of his personality and sense of humor, since he ends up pulling double duty as the film's Mr. Exposition.
At least Leon was a trained cop in RE2, and was hired on by the U.S. Government before RE4. Claire Redfield's level-up has no similar justification. She goes from being a college student in RE2 to a certified ass-kicker in RE: Code Veronica.
Notable in that Albert Wesker HIMSELF takes a level in between Resident Evil and Code: Veronica— notable in that said level was taken AFTER he was STABBED THROUGH THE CHEST, and was shown off in a brilliant Crowning Moment Of Awesome as he exposed his powers in Code: Veronica. And Leon's RE4 incarnation is almost as badass as this new Wesker. And in RE5... suffice it to say that if he'd had that kind of power back in Code: Veronica, Alexia wouldn't have lasted ten seconds.
Before Leon was Jill, who got more and more badass throughout the series, from RE to RE 3 to RE5. Chris fits the trope as well.
Rebecca counts, big time. In the original game she was a Damsel in Distress and The Scrappy with a couple of playable sections. The remake has her fair better. Her own game has her the weaker of the two characters, but more skilled, a lot more guns to play with, and the chance to kill a Tyrant.Umbrella Chronicles makes it canon that she faced more crap in three days than perhaps even Jill. And Mercenaries Reunion? She gets a machine gun, a shotgun and stacks of ammo for both, making her a very strong character indeed.
Then we have Sherry Birkin. In Resident Evil 2, she's an twelve year old girl trying to survive an zombie outbreak and her parents wind up dead. Then Claire leaves her to find Chris while Leon submits to the government to protect Sherry (although she's later abducted anyway according to Wesker). But in Resident Evil 6, she's become an full out government agent charged with protecting Jake Muller, who happens to be the son of her father's best friend.
That said, word was that was partly thanks to Captain Bright's infamous bright slaps, which has been scientifically proven to turn wimps into men of awesome (MEN OF DESTINY are another thing). Also, Shinji freaked out during the last 2 missions in the End of Eva Route of Super Robot Wars Alpha 3.
In the Compact series of Super Robot Wars, Leina Ashta of ZZ Gundam fame. Considering that, in the series, she got kidnapped by Gremmi Toto a few episodes in, and spent her time either waiting for Judau to rescue her or being thought dead after almost getting crushed by a MS you'd think her to be a useless character... WRONG! She's, in fact, pretty powerful if used correctly, reaching a Newtype Level of 6 (Amuro, Camille and her brother reach Level 8, just to give a comparison) and becoming quite destructive if placed in a Mobile Armor. From personal experience, I managed to take down Bask Ohms' flagship just using her.
The original Super Robot Wars 3 on the SNES does this with Kou Uraki, hero of Stardust Memory. Starting with less than half the levels of most of the worthwhile characters and piloting a unit meant only for skirmishes, the GP-01. However, as soon as you head off to space and it's upgraded to the Full Vernian model, he proves to be a nimble character if you put effort into training him. Near the end of the game, upon gaining the GP-03, Kou ends up being a proverbial tank in a top-notch Mobile Suit.
Well, anytime Kou gets his GP-03, he turns into a viable Game Breaker.
They couldn't go for too long without doing this to one of their original characters. Super Robot Wars Original Generation features a character named Ryoto who first appeared as a scared enemy mook. He remains a very minor character until the end of the game, piloting only his original mook mecha or a hand-me-down from more important characters. By the time he rejoins the crew in the sequel, however, he's spent the last six months testing Super Prototypes, and pilots one that can combine with either his girlfriend's tank-thing or a suit of Powered Armor that can detach and turn into a weaponized flying surfboard. Oh, and he almost single-handedly holds off a giant robot dragon that routinely crushes more important characters long enough for said girlfriend and his co-workers to escape. Appropriately enough, this is the point where his theme song upgrades to one called "Ace Pilot" ("Ace Attacker" in the original Japanese).
Let's put this in a better perspective here, folks. Ryoto was one of four male protagonists that a player could choose in Super Robot Wars Alpha (the other three being Yuuki, Tasuku and Bullet). Ryoto, Yuuki and Tasuku were dropped in favor of Bullet and female protag Kusuha and never returned until the first Original Generation game. That Super Prototype in the second game? The Huckebein Mk-III, a unit said to be a small scale SRX. This kid went from piloting a wimpy grunt mecha to piloting a high-powered machine in under one game. That's taking a level!
Does this also apply to Setsuko Ohara of Super Robot Wars Z? She starts out as the lowest of her team, is quite timid and unsure of herself. Her debut actually starts with being shot down by Kamille Vidan. But then, she is subjected with lots and lots oftraumatic event. And when she eventually gets pissed, not only her emotions evolve her BFG into a much more dangerous version, she discards her timid and unsure persona into a badass, yet still gentle, soldier, then proceeds to one shot the guy who breaks her with her new BFG.
Also in addition, the Pirate Black, who regains his youth if you bring him to the fight with Forneus, you don't even need to place him in the active battle party which is good since his stats are quite sucky as an old man.
Kairi who in Kingdom Hearts II gets a level from Riku, in the form of her own keyblade (while granted, all she fought were Shadows, that's the ideal Heartless for ANY beginner to take on, in this case, there were a lot of them and they gave even the more experienced Riku trouble.)
Riku himself, after a frustrating period of Badass Decay, is finally granted a new level of badass once he gets his original body back, after being stuck in the form of Ansem for most of the aforementioned period.
Roxas takes several levels in badass after absorbing Xion. Kind of explains Sora's upgrade as well.
He now dual-wields Oblivion and Oathkeeper, can kill Neoshadows (who were a bossfight in the first game and very pesky and durable enemies in the second) with one hit, goes on a Roaring Rampageof Revenge against the Organization and manages to defeat Riku (who was up to this point portrayed as unbeatable) pretty easily with only Oathkeeper. Riku had to use his full power (which caused him to transform into Xehanort's Heartless in the first place) and use the element of surprise against Roxas to win. Damn.
In-universe, Sora gets another one after fully merging with Roxas. This is what unlocks Final Form
Remember Sora's Heartless, the lowly Shadow that Sora became after sacrificing himself to save Kairi in the first game? The Shadow that could do nothing but run around and get konked on the head by Donald? Well, in Coded, it's back, and has taken the form of an even bigger than normal Darkside, is sentient, and is the Big Bad.
Mulan in Kingdom Hearts II may actually be the most visible display of this trope. When you first meet her, she's pretending to be Ping and is a pretty terrible party member. So bad she even sometimes stumbles and misses a target. But once she stops pretending to be Ping, she gains a lot of abilities and becomes much, much stronger. To the point she's flying around the battlefield setting things on fire faster than you can kill them.
Phoenix Wright in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Seven years of fighting to take down Kristoph and clear his name have turned him from a downtrodden lawyer whose main skills are luck and bluffing to a complete Magnificent Bastard who played puppetmaster to Apollo and was the architect behind completely reforming the justice system just to make sure Kristoph goes down and goes down hard.
And then Apollo himself gets a similar badassery boost in Dual Destinies, even going as far as to take on his own boss and mentor so he can assure he finds the truth about his recently-murdered best friend.
When you first meet Missile in Ghost Trick he's full of enthusiasm and vigor but essentially useless. After he dies next to the Temsik meteorite he gains ghost tricks too and becomes in some ways more powerful than Sissel himself. His reach is much longer, and while he can't manipulate inanimate objects he can swap them with similarly shaped objects.
And then we have the double badass level taken by Ray—aka, the Missile from the first timeline. After ten years of waiting for the night of Sissel's death to come around again, he's gone from The Ditz to The Chessmaster.
Leo Stenbuck from Zone of the Enders, who started out in that game as a (justifiably) depressed street kid, apparently spent the four years between the plotlines of ZoE 1 and ZoE 2 frantically leveling up in Badass until he emerged in the second game almost as a wolf among lambs, capable of piloting his non-Unobtainium LEV against full-on Orbital Frames and more than holding his own.
In Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria, Alicia starts off the game with such fight quotes as "Do we have to fight?" and "My hands are stinging." Three-fourths of the way through the game ironically, after Silmeria, the titular warrior maiden, is stripped from her she takes a real role as leader, gets an upgrade to her special attack, and is practically thirsting for blood in her fight quotes.
Alyx Vance practically has to be babied by the player during the sequences where she tags along. Valve paid attention to these complaints and from Episode One on, she's a capable shooter who takes out wave after wave of zombies and soldiers, both during the gameplay and in the scripted events. In one level with a shortage of ammunition (which doesn't affect Alyx's gun), the player spends a lot of time using the flashlight to illuminate targets for Alyx to shoot, turning the first half of the stage into a sort of reverse Escort Mission.
The Vortigaunts started off as low-level mooks in Half-Life, but keep leveling up until they are full-fledged Warrior Poets in Episode 2.
Gordon Freeman himself could qualify. He went from a simple scientist to a man whose name alone sparks hope in the people and fear in his enemies and is usually associated with his famous crowbar.
Then there's Elincia, who starts out as a quiet princess sitting at the sidelines and cheering for her bodyguard and his mini-army to win. By the end of the story, she hops on a pegasus, picks up a sword, and decides that Ashnard bitch is going down. Three years later, after being pushed around by her fellow nobles, she too jumps on the top-tier boat to show the country who's queen.
Naturally enough, the hero of those two games, Ike, starts out as a complete noob who you really have to be careful with for fear he'll die to being a world renowned hero by the end of the first game. It's more impressive when you realize that this happens in the space of a year. He's taken awesome to new heights after the 3 year Time Skip to Radiant Dawn, and only gets better. Ike also benefits from a hero-specific recurring Level in Badass, the Aether skill, which makes him even deadlier and almost unkillable. The only good reason not to use in it Path of Radiance is to completely break the game by giving him Wrath and Resolve instead.
Pelleas got a bit of this too near the end of Radiant Dawn. For most of the game, he was pampered and coddled by Almedha, and he seemed content with that. After nearly killing himself and then witnessing The End of the World as We Know It (and learning that his mother has a brother who happens to be a dragon laguz, and possibly coming to the conclusion that she might not be his mother), though, he decided that he had had enough of her coddling and joined Tibarn and Elincia on the battlefield to get away from her. As mages go, he never gets quite as badass as, say, Soren... but Soren was a badass from the beginning.
Zelda again in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the DS. Her spirit gets separated from her body, forcing the princess to tag along with Link. Her ghostly form allows her to possess Phantoms, among other things. (This is Zelda in 1986◊; This is her in 2010◊.)
Link himself is an incarnation of this trope; he starts every game as an unarmed kid in a backwater and ends up Bad Ass enough to believably take down the Big Bad, all the way up to the King of Evil himself. Differs from the standard RPG hero listed above by being more of an Action Adventure character.
Even an item gets this treatment. When the Fire Rod was introduced in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it let you shoot a long-distance fireball at enemies and objects such as torches. Not too shabby there, but in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, that flame from the Fire Rod, while slower moving, is now a fiery whirlwind that can hit enemies on two separate levels. You can then let Mother Maiamai upgrade it into an even bigger whirlwind. Then in Hyrule Warriors, the Fire Rod can be used to produce an enormous burst of flame that envelops enemies in a wide radius around Link, essentially making it a sped-up version of Din's Fire from Ocarina of Time.
Baldur's Gate saw several characters take levels in badass at various points-Sarevok, Nalia, Aerie, and Imoen in Throne of Bhaal come immediately to mind. (the protagonist) seems to take his/her biggest round of badass in Spellhold in BG2.
The change is especially notable in Aerie, who is initially the most timid and insecure character in the entire game. And then, suddenly, she blurts out the battle cry, "This will hurt youa lot more than me!". Even Minsc's battle cries can't beat that one...
For a quite literal example, Dual-classing Imoen to a Mage in BG1. It's such a big boost the sequel just assumes you did it.
Anomen from Baldur's Gate 2 after his character development get a healthy, permanent +4 wisdom boost and becomes Lawful Good with a tolerable personality on top of it.
In the Neverwinter Nights expansion Hordes of the Underdark, Deekin undergoes this as well. Formerly he was a kobold (weakling level one type creature) musician with the barest hints of magical power. In this expansion he becomes a half-dragon and helps your hero take on a greater devil, Mephistopheles — ruler of Cania, the 8th hell (making him the second most powerful devil in existence!) — eventually defeating him. Also, Deekin is the only character that will not turn away from the hero as Mephistopheles attempts to persuade them to join him, showing his true colors as a very good and loyal creature, which is almost opposite of most Kobolds.
Zack, the titular character in Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, is one of the more feeble game protagonists. He can flip switches, set off cannons, and use enemies' strength against them, but if he were to encounter a common goon who isn't asleep or distracted, and he's done for. In the penultimate mission, however, Zack finds a sword and is actually able to duel and destroy roaming guards the old-fashioned way.
Metal Sonic in Sonic Heroes. He manages to augment himself with "data" samples from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Shadow, and Chaos. The result is an obscenely powerful, fast, intelligent machine made out of liquid metal and possessing the power of Chaos Control. Now compare that to his first appearance.
Even then, he was badass. And the whole point of his creation was to be a robot that could fight Sonic on equal terms (including matching the hedgehog's number one claim to fame to boot!) — with the addition of built-in weapons.
In Sonic Adventure Amy herself Took a Level in Badass, constantly risking capture by one of Eggman's robots to return a little bird Eggman wants to it's family. And when said robot that constantly chases throughout their tale catches up to them and strikes said bird (even when Eggman already got what he wanted from the bird), she turns it into scrap metal with her Piko-Piko Hammer.
Amy in general has taken the most levels in badass in the series, going from damsel in distress to a competent close combat brute around Sonic Heroes.
Speaking of Sonic Generations, the GUN Truck. Oh, wow, the GUN Truck. In the original City Escape it simply tried to run Sonic over, getting stopped by a single building. The truck outright chases classic Sonic throughout Act 1 once it appears (by the way, said first appearance is it emerging through a building!), being turned aside by a support at the end of the level, but not crashed. It gets destroyed (by the same way it originally did) in Act 2, but not after showing it's been upgraded with 3 circular saws, the ability to fly, and, oh yeah, the ability to keep up with a boosting ( or even Super) Sonic. It outright EXPLODES upon crashing in Act 2, to boot.
Silver also got one as well in that game. In 06 (where he originally debuted), he was The Scrappy in a unfinished mess of a game, thanks to his ridiculous character design and his gameplay (his totally-broken boss battle when you play as Sonic doesn't help matters). Come Generations in his Rival Boss Battle, saying that he was Rescued from the Scrappy Heap is an understatement-he is out-and-out ready to crush Sonic-literally, he uses his telekinesis to not only fly fast enough to keep up with Sonic the entire time, he is also able to use it to hurl all kinds of debris in the level at him-he even uses said debris to form an Advancing Ball Of Doom as a last resort to defeat him!
Dr. Eggman in recent titles is just as clownish and bumbling as ever, but simultaneously reminding Sonic he is a Not-So-Harmless Villain, in Sonic Unleashed he makes himself the only villain to neutralise Sonic in his super form no less (a feat only Knuckles has otherwise accomplished). He has also stopped being the go-to-patsy for any Bigger Bad of the story and attempted using his own devices to try to take over the planet (and then some). As shown in Sonic Adventure 2, he's also not afraid to put a gun to his captured friends to show he means business.
And then in Generations, he finally unleashed an Eldritch Abomination against Sonic that didn't betray him in the end.
While already a Badass, Boss from Saints Row 2 does what he did so well in the first installation and adds a more brutal touch to it in the sequels. Feats include putting radioactive liquid in Maero's tattoo ink just to show he won't accept 20 percent of the town, saving his hideout from gangsters while high on drugs as well savagely beating up most of his enemies if possible. Events in the finale of the first game inspired him to stop being a Silent Bob, stop being "A bitch who keeps his mouth shut and does what he's told".
Anything EarthBound-related in Super Smash Bros.. Brawl's Subspace Emissary mode. Rundown: Lucas is characterized as a scared little kid, despite his psychic powers. He spends half a level running away from a giant hopping statue that Ness offs with one PK Flash. Then, after Wario attacks the two of them, Ness makes a Heroic Sacrifice for Lucas, who then runs away from Wario and the trophy-ified Ness without trying to save him. He makes some progress since then; several stages later when Wario shows up to attack him and the Pokémon Trainer, instead of running away, he steps up and takes Wario out.
This mirrors his growth in Mother 3. His twin brother Claus is much braver... though this leads to Mecha-Drago nearly killing him when he goes to avenge his mom's death, and Porky reformatting him as his army's general.
The Sly Cooper series of games has Murray and Bentley:
Murray goes from just being big to actually being somewhere near as strong as he thinks he is from the first game to the second.
Bentley is an even more obvious example. He acts strictly as Mission Control in the first game, actually starts going out and doing stuff in the second and by the third has tricked himself out so that Sly is really only the leader of the gang in name. Many fans actually consider Bentley, not Sly, to be the true hero of the franchise thanks to this and his overall characters development.
Happens twice to Jak. There is a little incident involving two years of Dark Eco experimentation at the beginning of Jak II: Renegade, and then during Jak 3: Wastelander he gains Light Eco powers.
Tess goes from simple Fanservice to being a scarily competent weapon developer between 2 and 3
Everyone (except Tess and Samos) becomes an expert driver in Jak X.
Even though Daxter stays mostly the same in terms of personality, he gets more screen time as the series progresses: from completely unplayable in TPL to being invaluable in the later games. A few in-game comments on Daxter's badassery include:
Jak's "I'm proud of ya, Dax," after Daxter wins the Class Two Race. Ironically, one of the only times Daxter shares credit.
Samos admits that Jak could never have succeeded without Daxter in the prologue to Daxter, since Daxter is responsible for saving Jak.
In Jak 3, Daxter has to ride a missile with Torn occasionally chiming in comments and encouragement over the radio: one line you can hear while playing is "You're braver than I thought, Daxter."
In Siren, Kyoya Suda and Yoriko Anno take serious levels in badass.
In Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Zack takes several levels throughout the story majorly when he is forced to kill his mentor, Angeal, gaining the Buster Sword and a new hairdo. Cloud also takes some serious levels within the literal last two or three minutes of the game, going from a simple SOLDIER grunt to the asskicker you know and love from Final Fantasy VII.
Well the level taking may have occurred earlier when he picks up the Buster Sword after Zack was defeated and thrusts it into Sephiroth's midriff and when Sephiroth returns the favor grabs the Musamune's blade, lifts Sephiroth up and tosses him across the room.
Cloud himself took a few levels in badass in Advent Children. ''First he was no match for the Silver Haired Men, then he defeated Bahamut Sin, and then the aforementioned Silver Haired Men, and then Sephiroth himself.Plot Armor does help.
It seems suggested that Cloud simply gained back levels he had lost. At first, he was angsty and ill, but before the dragon fight, he gained his self-confidence back, and by the end he had been physically healed as well. Tifa also spoke of the strength the lot of them had felt near the end of the game and how they had already lost it, except that, near the end of the movie, Cloud had regained it.
In Final Fantasy IV, Edward is the quintessential Spoony Bard. He's lovesick, he's an admitted and self-pitying coward, and worst of all, he's just plain weak. Lower damage output than the white mage, and utterly worthless abilitiesnote Hide, which was his best, made him... run away from battle, being invulnerable but unusable for several turns. Salve took one Potion (not a Hi-potion, not an X-Potion, not a status-healing item, but always a Potion) and split it 5 ways. Bardsong used random status-inflicting songs which failed often made him the weakest and least-liked party member. Fast-forward 17 years in the game's world, and we come to Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, where Edward has suddenly grown some balls of steel. His first act in the story, during the base chapters, is to refuse to stand down when faced with Kainnote the series' Memetic Badass. Not just this game, the whole series., and he responds to a small army invading his throne room by opening a box with a Carnelian Signet, AKA a Bomb Ring, and wiping out the entire entourage in one swift motion. Sadly, you are controlling the bad guy in that scenario, so he and Rosa go down, but after he shows us how much he's grown.
And we're not done there. In his own tale, which takes place before that, we see Edward cross the desert twice and brave the Antlion Cave, by himself, in order to save his assistant, who has taken ill with Desert Fever. And then he goes to Baron, has a conversation with brainwashed!Cecil, gives him a pot of flowers as a gift, and leaves with a present of his own from the guy he was speaking with. As he sails away, he explains two things. One: the flower was actually a cutting of Whisperweed, the voice-throwing plant he saved Cecil with once before, and two: the present he left with is, he suspects, the aforementioned Carnelian Signet. The upshot of this is that Edward planted a bug in Cecil's throne room right in front of him, simply in order to find out if Cecil really had gone evil (if it really was Cecil, he'd know what Whisperweed is), and that, in the aforementioned encounter with Dark Kain, he went on a hunch. He went into that encounter almost blind. Add that to some seriously improved abilitiesnote Bardsong includes healing effects, haste effects, and is much more accurate, Salve now takes one item (of your choice) for each party member and uses them at full strength, and Hide is much more useful when he can be the only one to survive a massive attack, only to come back with 5 Phoenix Downs at once. Plus, he's the fastest character and has some really powerful harps., and we've got one seriously Badass bard.
While Edward is the most notable example in The After Years, he isn't the only one. Palom is another great example. While a Bratty Half-Pint in the original game and subject to being hit on the head by his more mature sister, The After Years gives him a chance to shine. Without Porom's nagging, he has shown that he's surprisingly good with the ladies, with both Leonora and Luca interested in him. However, his real moment comes at the end of his tale: He and Leonora have made it to the bottom of the Magnetic Cave in order to hide the Earth Crystal from the Mysterious Girl. When she comes to reclaim it, Palom has Leonora leave and then gives the Girl what amounts to the finger; he petrifies himself so that she can't have the Crystal. While it doesn't work in the end - Leonora comes back and cures him - they then still refuse to give over the Crystal and fight her, the first group to do so.They lose, but man was it badass.
Of course, one of the most well known level ups in the Final Fantasy series takes place in Final Fantasy X-2 with Yuna. While the first game rarely gave her lines that showed that she had some guts, X-2 gave her not only a gun and some rather interesting one liners (some made no real sense, though those were by design), but also allows her to deliver what could be one of the best lines in the entire game. Near the end of the game, where Nooj tells of his plans to defeat Vengagun to the three protagonists (which involves him sacrificing his life in order to stop Vengagun and the man controlling it), Yuna objects with, "I don't like your plan. It sucks!" The line makes everyone in that current scene suddenly whip around to her (due to her never using such harsh language prior to that point) as she then delivers a moving speech of why she highly disapproves of the proposed plan.
His opposite number Garland also ascends from being the first (and weakest) Final Fantasy boss in the series history to a true Badass. Hewillknock you all down.
Isaac Clarke from Dead Space takes quite a number levels in Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Considering that the man took down more Necromorphs that any army could, making him the best fighter against them by a considerable margin, killed several creatures bigger than buildings on his own, defeated his own insanity and crash lands on a freezing planet with no protection and survives, among others. All of this with mostly standard mining tools. Did I mention that Isaac is a middle-aged engineer with no combat experience?
Knights of the Old Republic: T3 M4 in the second game. Flying a ship to safety, Locking the navigational controls so only her can guide the ship, and deactivating an assassin droid? He took a few levels considering the droid had almost no personality in the first game and only one required instance. At one point, he takes on three HK-50's by himself. T3's a beast.
In the first game, the point at which your character is allowed to start leveling up as a Jedi, and in the second game at the point at which you can level up as a Jedi/Sith prestige class
Mira, Atton, the Handmaiden/the Disciple, and Bao-dur can all take levels in badass (i.e. Jedi, Sentinel for most, Guardian for the Handmaiden, Consular for the Disciple) in the second game.
In the NES game you have to fight Don Flamenco twice. The first time, on the major circuit, he's almost as easy as Glass Joe despite having highly damaging punches since he's so easy to lock into extensively long combos and his blows are so easy to dodge. Then he comes back with a vengeance on the world circuit and is much, much harder to beat.
Every single one of your opponents in the Wii version Title Defense Mode. They all spend the time after Little Mac kicks their asses to learn new and more devastating tricks. Yes, even Glass Joe.
You the pilot in the Ace Combat games. The first plane is almost always a dinky, outdated model, and the relatively modest starter F-16 in 6 is not top tier. By the time endgame arrives, you're using a faster, more agile and survivable Cool Plane, to say nothing of the Game Breaker superfighters turning on a dime with Frickin' Laser Beams or Macross Missile Massacre on tap. Beyond that, however, is going back to the dinky planes and Cherry Tapping people to death. In fact, the same could be said for many combat flight-action games in the similar vein.
Best illustrated in Ace Combat 4, where you start as the unknown 'Moebius 1', become the only person EVER to down a 'Yellow', and eventually cause panic in the enemy ranks when they know you're against them. This culminates in the final mission where you're given your own 'Moebius Squadron', which causes untold fear in the enemy when they realize not one, but ALL of the incoming aircraft have 'ribbon insignias' - Moebius 1's personal iconography.
In Smash Up, the Utroms, a naturally peace loving race, suddenly get an Utrom with a mecha and guns, making this something interesting for some, or just not desired.
The development team says Utrominator is "An upgrade to the Krang character", meaning that, the developers may be hinting that the Utrominator is Krang, therefore, Krang has taken a level in badass.
Oh, and the Fugitoid seems to have taken a level in badass too, yes, his weapon is a hammer, but now, he can actually fight, how is that not taking a level in badass?
Broly in Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, actually: his Rush Attacks happened to become more brutal, he smashes his opponent into the ground, grabs them, kicks them into the air, grabs them in the air again, smashes the opponent in the ground again, but he punches them away for good measure.
And Broly is getting a Super Saiyan 3 form in the latest game. And Vegeta.
Also the Hunters; in Halo they were Fake Ultimate Mooks who were almost pathetic once you knew their weak point. They get tougher and tougher the more the series goes on; becoming Demonic Spiders in the later games.
The UNSC has always been a "Badass Army", but in "Halo4", humanity goes from nearly being exterminated to being able to fight toe-to-toe with the Covenant remnants.
World of Warcraft: Gryan Stoutmantle. One first encounters him as a lowbie quest-giver in Westfall. Next time you see him, he's a level 75 elite in Northrend. Commanding the Westfall Brigade. On some servers he's amassed quite a fan following.
Another 'legendary' character is the Ork, Mankrik, who has been moping in The Crossroads with a missing wife. Come Cataclysm, he has buried his wife, and is an elite mob hunting the quillboars that killed her.
Gamon. Previously an incredibly weak NPC who had the terrible luck to be a neutral NPC in the middle of a Horde capital due to game mechanics (he's part of a rogue class quest and needs to be pickpocketed, and allied NPCs are impossible to pickpocket). In Cataclysm, he got upgraded to Level 85 Elite and hits squishy characters for hundreds of 'thousands' of damage. So the character people once killed for s*** and giggles now needs a raid group to stand a remote chance against.
Just boosting him up to an 85 Elite wasn't enough, since people started to kite him around. They beefed him up again by making him immune to Crowd Control, gave him weapons (a Blade on a Stick and a bow), made him run faster than your character, and made him hit like a friggin' tank. I don't mean the class type, I mean the actual military vehicle. They turned weak little Gamon into an absolute juggernaut. So much so in fact, that if Orgrimmar ever gets attacked by the Alliance, players will actually aggro Gamon to help attack the Alliance too! One of those AoE spells hits Gamon, and he'll soon forget about the Horde guys who aggroed him...
Taken even further in Mists of Pandaria. Besides (of course) being made a level 90 elite, Gamon will be fighting in the Siege of Orgrimmar. There's even an achievement for beating a boss while Gamon is still alive called, "Gamon Will Save Us!" Not such a Joke Character anymore.
There is also Corporal Keeshan. You encounter him in the original game as a prisoner of the Blackrock orcs who you have to rescue in an Escort Mission. In Cataclysm, he's been upgraded to JOHN J. KEESHAN, who ends up getting swallowed by a black dragon, proceeds to impale him from the inside, sending him crashing into Lake Everstill, and survives to become a major part of another questline over 30 levels later.
Stormwind's Prince Anduin Wrynn. When the game started, he was just a kid who was watched over by Bolvar Fordragon until his father could be found and resume the throne. Just before Cataclysm, he got some character development in the Expanded Universe in which he began to find his calling as a priest, rather than a warrior like his father. In the lead-up quests to the Twilight Highlands, he's helping you investigate incidents in Stormwind, backing you up with Power Words: Shield and healing. Finally, in Mists of Pandaria, shipwrecked and alone in Pandaria, rather than sit and wait for rescue, he begins hunting down information on the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, avoids rescue by Mind Controlling one of his would-be rescuers into letting him go, helps you save the Temple of the Red Crane, convinces the August Celestias to open the Vale, and it all culminates in his going toe-to-toe with no less than Garrosh Hellscream. A battle which, while he loses, does stop Garrosh's plans and shows how tough he his by surviving having just about every bone in his body broken.
Though he starts off pretty badass in Prototype, Alex Mercer eventually is infected by a parasite that saps his powers and severely weakens him. Once he gets over it, though, he takes many new levels in badass, complete with the Armor and Blade powers. He sums it up best with two simple words: "I'm back."
Tatara Kogasa of Touhou Project: Undefined Fantastic Object. Starts off as a weak umbrella Youkai, ends up being the Extra Stage miniboss.
Fueled by popular demand, Cirno and Meiling have both gone from joke bosses to powerhouses. Cirno even stars in her own spinoff game, Great Fairy War.
The extra stage of which pits her againse Marisa. And she almost wins, too! And fairies are the weakest species in Gensokyo...
Marisa was playing, first she didn't used her most powerful attacks, and also that is suggested in the aftermath of the battle, when Marisa says she is leaving because she is tired, and Cirno portrait is the one with battered clothes, this supposition is confirmed in a Symposium of Post Mysticism article about the fight.
For a story line version, consider Fujiwara no Mokou. Once a little, human girl. One elixir of immortality and a lot (read: over 1000 years) of training later she's a powerful force to be reckoned with with complete mastery over fire.
The final bosses of the fighting games always get defeated by everyone else, until you unlock their own stories, which is when they start kicking ass and taking names. However, all the non-Suika paths of 7.5 are non-canon, in 10.5 Tenshi intentionally held back as part of her role as a Self-Designated Villain, and 12.3 doesn't have a definite final boss, except maybe for the giant catfish which isn't playable, so only Kokoro from 13.5 counts . She ends up fighting Reimu, Byakuren, and Miko at the same time, which is an incredible feat indeed.
Reimu herself. Before the Windows canon, she wasn't really anything special. Then she got so strong that she needed to follow rules made by HERSELF in order to make possible to BEAT her.
The Death Jr. series does this to Pandora. The first game she served as a Damsel in Distress while in the sequel she's a fully-playable character.
Warcraft III custom map Footman Frenzy has the Death Sheep. Its maximum attack speed is 1 attack per 6 second with laughable damage, crappy HP to the point that a wind walking Blademaster can 1-hit KO it, have the movement speed of a snail that you need a zephyr to really go anywhere. On top of that, it only has TWO inventory slots as opposed to normal hero's six which it desperately need for HP item. The catch? It has the listed skill: Star Fall, Tranquility, Big Bad Voodoo and Stampede, all ultimate skills. Starfall at the very beginning of the match against a throng of footman battling out in a 4 way match can result in the Death Sheep User a lot of gold.
In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, your player character, "Soap" MacTavish, is an Ageless, Faceless, Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person, whom Captain Price continually ribs for being the FNG (Fuckin' New Guy). Despite this, you still manage to pull off some badass moments during the game, most notably during the final level when you manage to shoot the Big Bad while he's distracted. This is ratcheted Up to Eleven for the sequel, Modern Warfare 2, where you find out that MacTavish not only survived the ordeal, but shaved his head, got some tattoos, got a promotion, and became a badass captain in his own right and plays essentially the exact same role to the new player character that Captain Price did for him. The student learned his lesson well.
Jann Lee from Dead or Alive, believe it or not, used to be a weak kid who gets bullied all the time, and to ease his pain, he watched Bruce Lee movies. He ends up as an Ascended Fanboy, masters the Jeet Kune Do and is now a very formidable, if arrogant, fighter.
Like Luigi himself. He's basically promoted to god in the Dream World, and manages to mess around with physics and beat up gigantic foes as an enormous version of himself with Rule of Cool in play constantly. Some stand out moments include his fight with the Zeekeeper (where he manages to defeat the equivalent of god with just jumps and his hammer, and chase it through things like dimensional rifts in zero gravity) and his fight with Giant Bowser, where he beats up Bowser's giant form from the last game in an epic battle in a torn apart fiery wasteland. Or how he then beats up an even BIGGER version of Bowser than the normal giant one. It's enough that Bowser actually remembers his name for once in the ending and treats him as an equal threat to Mario.
Bowser, who not only retains all his genre savvy and skills from the last game, but also Manages to double cross Antasma and take the power of the Dream Stone for himself.
Private Goomp, Corporal Paraplonk and Sergeant Guy. In Bowser's Inside Story, they were just comic relief. Here? They're part of the Elite Trio, and fight in a boss battle against Mario directly. Where they command a whole army.
Mario as well, who along with Luigi can now beat up a super powered Bowser with Dream Stone reality warper abilities without any kind of help or magic items. So in other words, they take on Bowser when he's got the equivalent of the Star Rod with no help and WIN!
Kamek, who is now entirely competent, a difficult foe to defeat in battle and even manages to trick the Mario bros mid way through the game and completely screw them over in the process. Like the Elite Trio, it's enough that Bowser himself compliments the guy in the ending.
In Super Mario Sunshine, Bowser's primary goals are simply to kidnap Peach again and make Mario's vacation unpleasant. In Super Mario Galaxy, Bowser's primary goals are to kidnap Peach and take over the entire universe.
And then, after the cosmic Reset Button got hit, Bowser got another upgrade, provided by the Grand Stars. In the sequel, he appears to have several new powers, including flight, teleportation, summoning meteors and darkness-powered megaton punches. This time, he also makes sure that Mario wouldn't be able to stop him again by kidnapping the resident God figure and her starship.
Stryker from Mortal Kombat. In MK 3 he was a simple fat policemannote Maybe created for laughs, maybe created for people to relate to. Nevertheless, in the more recent games he appears to be more of a kickass special forces member, with a cool futuristic combat suit. A comparative image can be seen herenote ◊. Mortal Kombat 9 took it up to eleven, too bad Sindel took one as well, and before she died, she killed almost every hero she fought against.
In fact, a lot of lesser characters on both sides are taken a lot more seriously in Mortal Kombat 9's retelling of the original trilogy. Unfortunately, this also means that some of the more imposing villains suffer from The Worf Effect on occasion.
Sindel took a level in mass murder.
Stryker, Kabal, Smoke, and Cyber Sub-Zero (once his free will is restored) are more traditional examples.
Nightwolf went from a sort of goofy-looking side character who didn't had much to do with anything to one of the bigger badasses on the Earthrealm team's side. He even becomes Raiden's deputy when he's not around to directly lead them.
Freddy Krueger a guy who had trouble facing teenagers and was killed by them in every movie, has become so badass that he can take on cyborgs, monsters, ninjas, and a guy who completely obliterated almost every Greek god, demi-god, and goddess EVER!!!
From the two Badman games, the young Hero Antagonist Shota is like this. He starts out as a wimpy warrior who can be beaten in just seconds with your low-level monsters. Over the course of the game, he gains confidence, companions, and the strength to take out even your best dragons in just a few hits. The Badman 2 DLC story "My Name is Shota" details his rise to fame and glory, and is told from his point of view instead of the Overlord's.
In the game proper, we have Shadow Man. His first few fights are nothing special, but his appearance in Cossack Stage 1 is easily beaten in a few shots. Getting to his final fight, however, requires a No Damage Run through the entire game up through the first two bosses of Wily Stage 4, whereupon he replaces the third one with a Diagonal Cut. The fight itself is extremely hard, thanks to his large amount of health, lack of weakness, fast movements, multitude of attacks, ability to One-Hit Kill you... oh, and dying to him invalidates the No Damage Run required to beat him, so good luck with that.
Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell, already a badass operative in earlier games, becomes even more awesome in Conviction, with such new abilities as the Mark and Execute that allows him to gun down up to four enemies in the blink of an eye. Officially, this is because Sam, having left Third Echelon, doesn't have much reason to be subtle anymore, which means he was always that hardcore and was just restraining himself.
April O'Neil too (Genesis version only), being a playable character and a full-fledged Action Girl in this game, as opposed to the Designated Victim she usually is. (Probably due to the need to include a female hero character.)
Eleanor from BioShock 2. Once you get her some big sister armor she goes from a sick girl in a bed to a full-fledged and quite badass Action Girl.
Kiith Somtaaw spend a vast majority of Homeworld: Cataclysm grinding their way through multiple levels from a minor mining operation to a dedicated combat fleet in order to destroy The Beast.
Heavy Rain has Ethan Mars for his trails and Madison Paige in the "Sexy Girl" chapter.
Over the course of the first game, Isaac goes from apparently being a meek momma's boy to a badass warrior who takes out the Fire Clan's top two even after they turn into a giant dragon to stop him from stopping them. Along the way, Alex comments on his unexpected progress at Mercury Lighthouse, and Felix is flat-out frightened by his power at Venus Lighthouse, especially once Saturos and Menardi bite the dust. If anything, Dark Dawn just gave Isaac the looks to match the badass within (and by "looks", we mean "beard").
This is the entire point of Zettai Hero Project. You start off as the weakest main character, a bystander who was forced to take on the mantle of the Unlosing Ranger and face the Final Boss. Through your repeated and many losses, you start amassing the necessary skills and determination required to save the world. It's not called Total Hero Project for nothing.
After visiting his final sanctuary and defeating his Enemy Within, Ness's inner power is awoken. In a single level up, he gains nearly two-hundred HP and his PP pretty much doubles. He is also much more likely to land a Critical Hit, survive with 1 HP after a mortal blow, dodge attacks and hit with his own attacks. Finally, he drops his Mighty Glacier status and becomes your party's Lightning Bruiser, Jack of All Stats.
Lucas in Mother 3. At the start, he oversleeps, gets called a crybaby by the villagers, and compared to his braver brother Claus. After Hinawa dies, Lucas weeps at her grave while Claus goes out to avenge Hinawa with a butter knife. However, at the end of Chapter 3, when Kumatora, Wess, and Salsa are facing Fassad's tank, Lucas shows up with a Drago at his side and proceeds to knock Fassad halfway back to Thunder Tower. He only gets better from then on out.
In Assassins Creed, Malik is just the guys who gives you your feather so you can kill your targets, at least until the end, where he helps you take back Masyaf. Did I mention that he only has one arm?
Meet Lucy Stillman (voiced byKristen Bell). Come AC1, she was the blonde chick in a pencil skirt who stood there while you gallivanted about Masyaf in the 12th century. No action girl, no action anything. Meet the same Lucy Stillman (still voice by Kristen Bell) via AC2. She wears high heels, blood-stained vests, and kicks the shit out of anyone who looks at her funny. Fan reactions thus: "whoah, Lucy's a badass!"
Left 4 Dead has Louis, an everyday Joe caught up in the zombie outbreak that can still kick ass with the rest of the survivors, but is still super optimistic and assures everyone that things will return to normal, making him look pretty dorky. Fast forward to the sequel where he and the others meet the survivors in the next game and Louis assists them by using a mounted machine gun and kills any Tanks that appear for Bill, who was killed by three Tanks. "That… was for Bill!"
Yuri Sakazaki from Art of Fighting and The King of Fighters. In her first appearance in the first Art of Fighting she was a Damsel in Distress. Her second appearance? Playable fighter and practitioner of Kyokugenryuu karate, complete with her own ki attacks! She would go on to be a mainstay in The King of Fighters series.
Luigi gets a level in badass in between Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, albeit a small one. In the first game, he was the Butt Monkey, he gets into space against his will, is treated as a joke by everyone, and all times he tries to help end up with him getting in a pinch and having Mario save him. The unlockable Luigi mode, the only situation where Luigi is actually helpful a character, doesn't count since that Luigi is in fact a Doppelganger from space Handwaved as "I suppose if the universe is truly infinite someone that looks just like me must exists". In Mario Galaxy 2, however, Luigi gets mad for being left behind by Mario and the Toad Brigade, chases the spaceship down by himself (nevermind how), offers help himself instead of being dragged along, and throws a few Take Thats at Mario with claims such as "This time I'm the hero, bro.". Instead of walk around doing nothing in your ship, like in the first game, it's also implied Luigi is adventuring around on his own trying to find powerstars.
Roland in Luminous Arc 2 when he becomes a Master. The story treats it as another stepping stone in his Character Development, but it really shines in his battlefield quotes, which go from bog-standard team quips like "let's do it!" to leading-man shouts of "Everyone, follow me!"
Shiva's first appearance in Streets of Rage 3 shows an element of Badass Decay compared to his role in Streets of Rage 2 as Mr. X's bodyguard, but when you fail to save the General/Chief of Police, you face him again as the final boss where he is a supremely significant threat.
In Final Fantasy XIII, Serah was Lightning's not quite dead little sister and Snow's Damsel in Distress who spent the entire game stuck in a crystal. But the sequel's been announced, and Serah's taking up arms to find her missing sister, wielding a sword that is also a bow that is also a Moogle.
Hope. He spends the first half of the game wangsting, dragging his feet and generally being a pain in the ass with extremely weak attacks. After chapter three or so, the player will likely want to punch him in the face. Then comes the opening to Chapter 12, where he comes nose-to-nose with a speeding warmech before calmly ordering Alexander to blast it out of existence. By this point, he is also probably the most powerful character in terms of magic.
By the time the sequel rolls around, Hope has gone from The Scrappy to the de facto leader of humanity, no matter what time period he's in.
Arguably Sazh and Vanille via Chapter 9 of the first game; when two soldiers and a vespid enter their cell to move them, Sazh pins the two of them to the wall, while Vanille steals one of their rifles - proceeding to riddle the vespid with bullets. Later, Vanille decides they'll turn things around;
Sazh:Time to go get rescued.
Vanille: No, not this time. For once in my life, I am going to save her.
In MS Saga: A New Dawn, Fritz, Tristian's best friend, feels inadequate as his pals surpass him and he bails in despair. When he returns, he has greater confidence and a much stronger Mobile Suit (the FA-78-1 Full Armor Gundam, compared to the strongest unit you'd have at that point, the original RX-78-2 Gundam).
In RosenkreuzStilette Freudenstachel, Zorne's been improving her skills ever since her easy defeat in the first game. Her new move as well as the partner she gets when she Turns Red obviously make up for the defeat Tia (and Grolla) gave her.
Whispy Woods has been the first boss of almost every game in the series, and never gets any tougher. Then comes Kirby's Epic Yarn, where he's able to take a good stand against Kirby's Tankbot form compared to all his fights with Kirby in the other games. He was pretty powerful in the anime as well, able to bury Kirby and his friends in an avalanche of apples because he thought they were intruders coming to destroy his entire forest. When he learns from his mistake of having trusted King Dedede, who secretly planned to cut down his forest and build a golf course, he punishes the King and Escargoon by putting them into the bunker after being revived by one of the apples that Kirby ate, and then putts all the apples around to restore his forest, and afterwards he and Kirby-tachi become friends. Also in any of the Extra Modes or True Arena(s).
The Updated Re-release of Kirby Super Star has King Dedede go through this in Revenge of the King in an attempt to beat Kirby, donning a mask and a mechanized hammer. His newfound badass level shows even gameplay-wise. The wimpy, easily stunned Warmup Boss at the end of Spring Breeze has become what many players believe to be the hardest boss in the game with his faster and much less easily stunned moves, including a spin attack with long range that leaves him invincible for its duration and hits through shielding.
Kirbys Return To Dreamland has every boss do this in Extra Mode. The Metal General in Egg Engines is the most notable. You remember that Dedede robot from the Kirby GCN trailer and Mass Attack's Kirby Quest subgame? The Metal General EX finds it, takes it over, and redesigns it in his image. After you beat the Metal General EX, he proceeds to pilot the robot, now given the official name HR-D3, and give Kirby (and maybe his friends, if you're playing co-op) a massive beating. Oh, and did we mention HR-D3 has two forms?
Drakath takes a level in badass when he becomes The Starscream to Sepulchure in Dragon Fable. He stabs him in the back with his own Necrotic Blade of Doom and then starts absorbing power from the Ultimate Orb. Drakath is happy about the magnificence of growing more powerful thanks to the orb, and calls Fluffy to him, and they fuse together to become Drakath the Darkness Dragon, a.k.a. Drakath the Undead Dragon, who also appeared in the original AdventureQuest, where he was incredibly powerful compared to his initial level of power in Dragon Fable. In AdventureQuest Worlds, he becomes the Champion of Chaos, showing off his incredibly powerful Chaos magic, which he plans to use to take over Lore and destroy and remake everything King Alteon loves. And he also plans to do so through his 13 Lords of Chaos. That's saying something.
Fear Effect. Rain starts out as a Damsel in Distress, but this trope starts to kick in later on. A trailer of Fear Effect Inferno shows Rain looking like an Expy of Zero Suit Samus. She is trying to open a locked door. She finally gets it open with one powerful jump kick. She also knocks some guy over with one powerful punch, while wearing a red Chinese dress and high heels. If only she could have done these moves in gameplay.
In the first game, neither Jack nor P Jack can fly. In the second, P Jack can. Come Tekken 3, all Jacks can fly. The ability to fly turns him from a merely tough character into an unstoppable killing machine.
Lee is a Law clone in the first two games (albeit a bishonen one with a few exclusive moves.) From Tekken Tag onwards he has gradually developed his own style. He's gotten better with each game to the point where he is one of the top player characters, instead of just a fan favorite boss character like he was before.
King's growing arsenal of real life wrestling throws has made him the top choice for tournament players in later years.
Numberman in Mega Man Battle Network. In the first game, he's nothing but a slave to the WWW who gets some sense knocked into him by Mega Man, and also a very easy boss. In the fourth and fifth games, his power is increased exponentially, with an attack that hits at a very unconventional range as well as a trap attack that can be very effective. In the 5th game, he grows a pair and deletes impostors of himself and Mega Man unassisted.
Geo Stelar, the protagonist of Mega Man Star Force, starts out as a reclusive, traumatised kid who has to be forced to leave his house or interact with others, and who cordially detests fighting. By the end of the second game, he's cheerfully throwing himself into combat with an electromagnetic god.
Baten Kaitos: Sagi. He's not bad in a fight at the start, but he routinely gets knocked on his ass by anything bigger than a normal human, with his constant losses eventually driving him into a Heroic BSOD about how ineffective a hero he is. Then comes the Heart-to-Heart, where he finds out what he is, and what he's truly capable of. After that, nothing can stand in his way.
Persona 4 has Teddie, who joins your party after previously being useless in a fight.
Persona 4 The Golden lets Rise do this. Her previously meh-diocre abilities evolve into some seriously useful benefits. As you level her social link, she gains the ability to automatically scan for weaknesses, buff characters, heal HP, SP, and status effects, and once a battle, she can completely block an attack that would otherwise end the game. She's ridiculously amazing.
In Persona 4 The Ultimax, Rise also joins in as a fighter.
As of Disgaea 4, Vyers has returned to his old identity as Krichevskoy, with all the power that entails.
Also from BlazBlue, we have Bang Shishigami. In Calamity Trigger, we have an annoying Dan HikibiExpy and general in-universe Butt Monkey who only wins his battles because other, more powerful characters let him win. In Continuum Shift, he fights off a nuclear-powered cyborg and survives an encounter with Big Bad Hazama, while pulling Carl and Taokaka out of the fire as well, and then immediately goes on to stall Relius Clover for Platinum's sake long enough for Hakumen to show up. Oh, and did we mention he does this despite being the only person in the game who fights entirely without magical or supernatural powers to back them up?
Noel seems to have taken a few, if the trailers for Chrono Phantasma are any indication. Not only is she sporting some new abilities with her Bolverk ars magus, she can make controlled transformations into Mu-12. To reflect this, both her theme song and outfit have had major overhauls. Example: here is Noel's original design and theme song, and here is her new theme song and design.
Shandra Jerro in Neverwinter Nights 2 starts out as a serial Damsel in Distress: first her barn is burned by lizardfolk, then her house is torched by Githyanki, then she is kidnapped by the Githyanki. At the very beginning of Act II, she decides she's tired of having to be rescued and turns into a shortsword-wielding Badass Normal with a pretty respectable damage output.
Racial militaries in X3: Albion Prelude. In previous games, they'd sort of ignore the player unless he got very close to them. In X3:AP, they'll jump around the universe to respond to threats to their space. If you jump into a system and start blasting civilian ships and the stations, they'll send ships to kill you. The more damage you cause, the more likely they'll send something big to kill you, like a destroyer, or in the Terrans' case, the ATF Valhalla or USC Kyoto.
The Penguin is one of the biggest with many Batman fans feeling that this was the first time they could really take him seriously as a truly dangerous villain, with his crude mannerisms and gleeful torture of captured cops.
The Riddler is another one, with his Saw-like horrific deathtraps.
Calendar Man. Dear GOD, Calendar Man. Despite this only being the second Batman story to feature as a credible villain instead of a harmless joke (the first being The Long Halloween), most of the crimes he committed involve straight murder, many of them described in horrifying detail. Not to mention what happens after you listen to every single one of his stories.......
In WWF No Mercy, Steven Richards took a level as compared to his real life counterpart. No Mercy's career mode followed several of the then-current plot arcs. However, The Big Show was legitimately punished and removed from the game entirely, and so Richards, who was an ineffective wrestler and primarily a manager in the real WWF, took Big Show's place in the game and became a main event level wrestler.
In The Tower of Druaga, the priestess Ki serves as the game's girl to be rescued, but in the sequel The Return of Ishtar, Ki is portrayed as a capable magician, serving as a magic-based counterpart to Gil.
Wolves fall under this once you tame them. A wild wolf has 4 hearts of health and low attack power. When you tame one to your side, its health is boosted to 10 hearts and gains a boost in attack power. It will also attack anyone you attack or attack anyone that strikes you first.
Zombies and Skeletons received several upgrades that make them more dangerous to fight directly. Originally, zombies and skeletons had simple AI where they would walk straight at you no matter what pitfalls that stood in their way. A patch upgraded their AI to walk around pitfalls when chasing the player and skeletons will flank the player should the player try to hide behind a wall. Zombies and skeletons also had their AI upgraded where they will seek shade under a tree or jump in a pool of water should they catch fire from sunlight. On top of this, there's also a rare chance that skeletons and zombies will wear armor (from leather to even diamond material and also a chance those will be enchanted) and zombies may spawn in with iron shovels or iron swords to cause extra damage to you. Skeletons may also spawn with their bows enchanted for even more lethal power. These mobs have come a long way from being simple monsters to ones that can cause serious trouble on par with a creeper.
Marche in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance starts off as a kid who isn't quite sure why he is fighting for what he believes in or if he should even keep going to a much more mature person who is not only a lot more confidence in himself and his abilities, but is also determined to the point where he doesn't let anyone stand in his way; this includes going against his friends but also showing them why he is fighting for what he believes in.
In Duel Savior Destiny character sometimes get powerups. These powerups are often reflected in more powerful alternate forms. For example, the Big Bad gets a special sword that allows him to move in a trickier pattern and gain much better attacks. Super Taiga on the other hand gets an even bigger boost in the form of greater range, some better damage, the ability usually reserved for bosses to autoblock and some speed boosts to both movement and attack.
Almost everyone featured in the Prologue chapter of Tales of Graces goes through this after the seven-year timeskip. The exception is Sophie, of course, because as a space robot, she doesn't change all that much and is still just as badass as before. As to the others:
Asbel Used to Be a Sweet Kid, but after seven years at the knight academy he becomes a competent fighter and acts much more seriously. Takes another level when he goes Warrior Therapist on Lambda and absorbs him out of Richard.
In the PC game series Dark Parables, Princess Briar Rose gets to take one over the course of the player character's career. She's a classic Damsel in Distress when the player first meets her (which is understandable since she's Sleeping Beauty - the Sleeping Beauty). The next time she encounters the detective, she has become a Badass Princess who fights evil with magic plants.
Castile does this in between Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom - going from a bedridden and wheelchair-bound Ill Girl to a secret boss/recruitable character who is not only healthy, able to walk and working as a Chroma, but is able to perform the Psycho Burgundy, a rare and incredibly dangerous technique that involves setting your soul on fire, just like her big brother. And yes, she's using his own theme music too.
Toad Man and Dust Man, compared to the original game, are much more of a threat.
Also, Shadow Man. The "final" fight against him is pathetically easy, but his Bonus Boss appearance is much tougher.
Rayman's best friend Globox needs to be rescued by Rayman in earlier games. In Origins and Legends he becomes playable and can kick ass alongside Rayman.
Breath of Fire IV has Ershin, who is rather useless for the first half or so of the game due to having only two skills (a random damage attack, and an attack that guarantees a critical hit but only has 40% accuracy). After an event halfway through the game which involves unsealing the goddess Deis, who lives inside Ershin and some Level Grinding, however, Ershin will learn all four of the level 3 elemental spells, making her excellent for setting up combo attacks.
After 5 years since saving Fiona in Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, she is able to wield firearms and joins Alpha and Bravo in her quest to get revenge on the Big Bad Esteban Batistuta.
In Disney Princess, the more passive Disney Princesses are playable, and all of them save Snow White directly defeat their movie's villain.
In Castlevania64, the child of the now vampire couple Henry goes from a young Distressed Dude rescued by Cornell, and grows up into a tough as nails Knight armed with a flintlock gun who goes back to the titular castle to save a group of children kidnapped by Dracula's followers.
Coco Bandicoot of the Crash Bandicoot series gradually progresses into this throughout her playable appearances. In her first playable role in Warped she is a vehicle centric character and unable to progress through levels on her own. In The Wrath of Cortex she is fully playable, but still with a noticeably weaker move set than her brother, making her levels something of a hard mode. In Mind Over Mutant she is as functional as Crash and can emulate all his abilities.
Central Officer Bradford in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In Enemy Unknown, he serves as Mission Control and gets most of your soldiers killed off in the tutorial. In the expansion, Enemy Within, a mind-controlled operator attacks him when the aliens attack XCOM HQ and he beats the crap out of him and threatens him at gun-point. To wit, if you fail the mission, you get a game over cutscene showing his dead body propped up against the wall, with a pistol at his side and a dead Sectoid lying at his feet. The implications of this are profound.
Mount & Blade: The player character, naturally, but special mention needs to go to the Peasant Woman unit. Initially not very imposing with their little daggers and their frilly dresses, but if they survive long enough, they can become the deadly SwordSisters; armed with swords and heavy crossbows and clad in full plate armour, they can give Mercenary Captains and Nord Huscarls a run for their money. Girl power, indeed.