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"It's crazy, huh? Every year the gap just gets wider. Back in the day, when we were kids training under Master Roshi, I could at least sorta keep up. But you kept pulling further and further ahead. And look at you now! Going toe-to-toe with Beerus! The guy's an actual god!"
Krillin, Dragon Ball Super

Due to the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, many series have a habit of making it Time to Unlock More True Potential for their characters. However, this doesn't happen uniformly; the main characters gain their new powers near-instantly, followed by whichever secondary characters are the most popular with the audience, and then, sometimes, the rest of them — see also Protagonist Power-Up Privileges and Unique Protagonist Asset. This can result in a situation where a character who was introduced as the hero's equal can slip further and further behind in the power rankings, to the point where they can't even help out against the Monster of the Week, because their level of power is no longer enough to even be useful anymore.

Something similar often happens in video games with Character Levels and more usable characters than the Arbitrary Headcount Limit will allow, but no Leaked Experience. Even if the designers go out of their way to make each character relevant in some meaningful way, some will still fall into a lower Character Tier, meaning they will spend less time in the active party and, as a consequence, be much weaker than the party's main heavy hitters. This can become a vicious circle — because the weaker characters are often left out of the party, they fall further behind, and as a result are even less likely to be included.

Designers occasionally like to punish players for this sort of behavior by throwing in a Plot Tailored to the Party, but in those cases will often structure experience gain so that a weak character can be brought up to a level comparable to the main party fairly quickly.

Can result in We Are "Team Cannon Fodder", and is the flip side of Villain Decay. Compare to Redemption Demotion, where ex-villains immediately start to suck rather than slowly going through a process; and Villain Forgot to Level Grind, where this phenomenon happens to a recurring villain rather than supporting characters.

Note that while this trope is usually combat-related, it can be applied towards non-combat purposes as well, such as sports example in the Real Life section below. Another non-combat related use may be where Bob struggles and trains hard to be a good athlete, but Alice, due to her talent, is able to perform much better than him without having had to put in the same amount of effort. And no matter what Bob does, he's never as good as Alice is.

See also Spotlight-Stealing Squad.

For the video game version of this, wherein a character gets vastly stronger than other playable characters, see One-Man Party.


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  • In Angel Beats!, Naoi feels this way towards his father after his twin brother gets killed. While his brother was able to make remarkable works of pottery, Naoi, despite lots of practice, never really lives up to his brother's level in the eyes of their father.
  • Happens from time to time in Beyblade:
    • In the third season/G-Revolution, Lee has this problem and never gets over it until the team match between White Tigerz X and the All Stars.
    • Metal Fight Beyblade: Out of all the main character, Benkei has the least amount of development and growth compared to the rest, and hardly ever wins a battle after Masters unless he's with Kyoya. Even Kenta outgrows this by Fury.
    • In Beyblade Burst: Daina fears this will happen to him, hence why in Episode 23 he cheats to win the match against Yugo, which he regrets in the next 3 episodes.
  • Colonel Dasten in The Big O has himself and the entire Military Police as this. He's actually expressed frustration several times that they can't do anything without Roger's help.
  • Bleach: At the beginning of the manga, Ichigo's classmates begin developing spiritual power. However, as the storyline becomes focused on the spiritual worlds and spiritual threats, the plot quickly whittles Ichigo's group down to only three friends who continue to have core involvement: Ishida, Sado, and Inoue. Even they struggle at times to keep up with the ever-increasing threat levels. Ichigo's other close friends, Tatsuki, Keigo, and Mizuho, only develop enough power to interact with, and become vulnerable to, the spirit world. They have to be left behind or protected because they cannot fight at the power level required.
  • By the end of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Kallen and Suzaku are not only the most skilled Knightmare pilots in the series, but each of them has access to a Knightmare Frame more technologically advanced than anything else out there. Opponents who could previously give Kallen or Suzaku a good one-on-one fight can now last only slightly longer against them than the hordes of unnamed Knightmare pilots those two slaughter by the dozens.
  • In the Infinite Castle arc of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, during the later moments of the final fight against Muzan when Zenitsu, Inosuke and Kanao finally take part in the fight, Inosuke is briefly dissatisfied for his attacks and blade aren't strong enough to inflict serious damage on Muzan, so Kanao warns him that only those who have attained the most powerful abilities a slayer can achieve -Mark, Crimson Blade and Transparent World- can be a real threat against Muzan by then. Only after Muzan is weakened even further is that Zenitsu and Inosuke start to successfully hurt him as well.
  • Digimon has a history of introducing a member of the main cast who would obviously be stronger than the rest if they could keep up with the Evolutionary Levels.
    • The first was Bun in C'mon Digimon who did defeat the antagonist's monster but lost all his other matches.
    • Taichi and Zero are taunted along these lines several times in Digimon V-Tamer 01, Zero even (mistakenly) believes they don't need to catch up.
    • Then Patamon in Digimon Adventure who had the most powerful digivolutions, and was always the last to reach them. Patamon had the same problem in Digimon Adventure 02 — his Fusion Dance with Armidillomon was possibly the best of them all before it fell behind by Davis and Ken getting two Mega forms for their digimon.
    • Digimon Adventure Tri averts this trope, however, as everyone else does get to unlock their Mega Forms to catch up with Matt's Gabumon and Tai's Agumon.
    • The Warriors of Darkness in Digimon Frontier could outperform everyone else even outside of their element but became fuel for the leads.
    • Digimon Frontier was ESPECIALLY bad about this. At least in the other seasons, the remaining characters outside the The Hero and The Lancer could still fight and defend themselves, and were at most usually only one evolutionary level beneath them, rather than reducing them to useless bystanders. Conversely, The Warriors of Darkness could outperform everyone else even outside of their element, but became fuel for the leads.
      • A little clarification: When the two main characters evolve to their mega levels it uses not only their Spirits, but the Spirits of their allies each as well. Meaning their allies are no longer able to use their Spirits to become digimon as long as the respective mega they are associated with is active. This is then averted slightly in the final evolution to Susanoomon, which combines the Spirits from all five children, the Spirits of the five villains, and all five children into one super powerful Combined-Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors Big Bad destroyer.
    • The way Digimon works is that even the LEVELS can never catch up to higher ones. If you're the same level, chances look even, but if you're lower or higher, the stronger level always wins, even if facing vast quantities. One particular example is the introduction of the Dark Masters effortlessly curbstomping the heroes in succession: Metalseadramon blasted through EIGHT CHAMPIONS (two levels below his own Mega) while their attacks did nothing, and Machinedramon and Puppetmon easily crushed down SEVEN ULTIMATES (which is only ONE LEVEL BELOW MEGA). To add insult to injury, Piedmon took down both Megas (and he was one too).
      • This was averted in a few situations with the right Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, or by simply being a particularly 'legendary' digimon. Notably: Ultimate level MagnaAngemon putting the hurt on Mega level Piedmon, Ultimate level Zudomon's hammer putting a gaping hole in Mega level MetalEtemon's Chrome Digizoid chest, and most dramatically Agumon Burst Mode taking down Yggdrasil at the end of Savers who had previously put the total beat down on all four Burst Mode digimon.
      • This does specifically disclude the Joke Character Digimon, which are usually weaker than the previous stage; Numemon in particular is notable for this.
  • Agumon X in Digimon D-Cyber fell behind in the evolution race despite having the most skilled tamer.
  • Dragon Ball: Anyone not a Saiyan or a half-Saiyan ended up like this.
    • There was even a subplot in Dragon Ball Z where the reformed Vegeta was aware this had happened to him, and was willing to make a Face–Heel Turn so he could catch up to his eternal rival. And this was before Goku revealed the third stage of Super Saiyan — Vegeta was too late, and he knows it by the end of Z. In general, Vegeta lasts slightly longer than Piccolo, as he, along with Future Trunks, were the only ones who could actually hold their own against a Cell Junior at the Cell Games, but becomes completely worthless by the Buu Saga, where Goku and Gohan both become several times stronger than him. His only use at that point is as an ingredient in a fusion. This becomes especially blatant when he tries to attack Cell and Buu respectively — the latter easily beats him down and the former one-shots him with but a casual slap. In a literal example, Vegeta had a nightmare where he tried to chase Goku and Trunks, but couldn't keep up with them. Eventually, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' would have him start catching up again when his and Goku's training allows both of them to become Super Saiyan Blue, and in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero he would finally beat him in a fight.
    • Yajirobe suffered from the worst case of this ever. When he's introduced in Dragon Ball he appears to be on par with Goku, and quickly defeated Cymbal, one of the spawn of Demon King Piccolo, by slicing him in half, and then ate him. After that he's mostly worthless, and the only significant thing he did was cut off Oozaru Vegeta's tail to weaken him, nine years later in-universe. He appears even more interested in food than Goku, but without the training ethic.
    • Yamcha and Chiaotzu become this to almost ridiculous levels. Yamcha, the first really tough opponent Goku faced from the original Dragon Ball, didn't even get a shot at Nappa because a Saibaman latched onto him and blew him up (which The Abridged Series made fun of and the Japanese turned into a Memetic Mutation), while Chiaotzu and Tenshinhan's Heroic Sacrifices didn't even so much as put a scratch on Nappa. After that point... they couldn't do a thing, spending the next hundred or so episodes on King Kai's planet. After Porunga brings back Chiaotzu, he's little more than Tenshinhan's training partner, and Tenshinhan realizes how unmatched Chiaotzu is and doesn't even bring him along to fight the androids.
    • Tenshinhan suffers from this as well. Tenshinhan also had another moment of usefulness, stalling Cell's second form for quite some time. While Tenshinhan does prove useful in most of his fights he quickly falls behind after the Saiyan Saga and only keeps his usefulness by using his "hax" techniques. After the King Piccolo saga, he becomes mostly worthless and gets one cool moment per arc (his Single-Stroke Battle with the Saibaman in the Saiyan arc, taking down Burter and Jeice on King Kai's planet in the Frieza arc, holding back Cell in the Cell arc, and saving Dende from being killed by Buu in the Buu arc) to remind you that he still exists.
    • Piccolo (Junior) managed to somewhat evade this trope by staying relevant all the way up to the Cell Saga despite not being a Saiyan. He still contributed to battles by defeating Dr. Gero and later on, combining with Kami to trade blows with both Android 17 and Cell in his first form. It's only afterwards that he became a jaded babysitter for Trunks and Goten during the Buu Saga. In Super, he actually does get to catch up somewhat, but he still fulfills the role of being Weak, but Skilled and still doesn't compare to Goku and Vegeta in their Super Modes. At least until Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero comes around where he receives a new form (Orange Piccolo) that explicitly puts him on par with Goku and Vegeta's super modes.
    • Krillin "suffered" from this, but it actually helped make him one of the more endearing characters in the series — when push came to shove, he would show surprising heart and bravery by jumping into fights he knew he had essentially no chance of winning. Krillin in the Non-Serial Movie The World's Strongest does not even hit the Big Bad once.
      Krillin: Can't I at least land one good punch???
    • Android 18, one of the few legitimately dangerous women in the series, gets hit with this immediately after her Heel–Face Turn. When she's first introduced in the Android Saga, she was strong enough to effortlessly defeat SSJ Vegeta, and along with her brother 17, ended the world in Future Trunks' timeline after killing every Z-fighter. After marrying Krillin though, the only other super-powered opponent were a disguised Goten and Trunks. She doesn't even participate in the battle against Frieza's forces in Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' despite pointing out to Krillin that she is still stronger than him. Although there is some justification in that; after the Cell arc, she stopped participating in major battles, everybody not named Goku got their asses beat ten shades of blue by Beerus, and during Resurrection F Krillin asked her to protect their daughter Marron in case things went south with Frieza. The Universal Survival Arc in Dragon Ball Super finally gives her a chance to shine, but that also highlights how underused she'd be.
    • Also, there's Master Roshi. He was initially stated as being the most powerful person in the world at the start of Dragon Ball, but by the end of the Demon King Piccolo saga, he is completely worthless and never does anything again until Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' when he helps the rest of the Z-Fighters take on Frieza's mooks. Although this is justified in Roshi's case, as his prime was over a hundred years ago and by the time Dragon Ball starts he's an elderly man who can't hang in there anymore due to his age and toll on his body. Roshi at the very least had some grace about it and acknowledged his place as soon as it was clear that Goku had become something he can't even comprehend anymore; Goku taking apart the Red Ribbon army singlehandedly started to clue him in, the end of the King Piccolo Saga is where he accepts it completely. He does try to get some good strikes in his fight against Frost in Dragon Ball Super with the Evil Containment Wave, and would have succeeded with it had he not missed, but all it really does is lead to Vegeta reaching Super Saiyan Blue after Frost reflects it.
    • Even Oolong, of all characters, was beset by this. Given his general uselessness, it is easy to forget that he was the first character in the series who managed to save the world by intercepting Pilaf's wish to rule the planet, also making him the first character to use the eponymous Dragon Balls. Even in the original series, he was quickly relegated to a joke.
    • In Dragon Ball GT, where the worthlessness even spreads to most of the Saiyans as well, or more precisely, anyone and everyone who isn't fortunate enough to be named Goku.
    • Poor Uub/Majuub really got screwed over... Goku trained him as a successor originally, as the reincarnation of Kid Buu. So obviously he's way more powerful... only to be absent for the first saga. Then comes the Baby Saga... where all he really does is hold off Baby Vegeta, even after gaining the powers of the good Majin Buu, which ought to make him on par with Super Buu and thus stronger than any non-fused character. In the Shadow Dragon Saga, all he does is scream loudly for a few seconds before going down in one shot.
    • Dragon Ball Super acknowledges it, starting with the adaptation of Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' — because everyone's default reaction now is essentially "Let's wait until Goku and/or Vegeta shows up", a lot of them have essentially slacked off (save for Piccolo, Roshi, and Tenshinhan).
    • Gohan is the worst off as he focused more on his studies and his family than his training and, when he goes to fight, he can only sustain basic Super Saiyan form for only a few moments — he can't even reach Super Saiyan 2 or his "Mystic Gohan" level anymore. This costs him dearly as, here, Piccolo dies Taking the Bullet from a sadistic Frieza. When Piccolo is revived by the Namekian Dragon Balls, the first thing Gohan does is ask him to retrain him.
    • Later on in the series, it's shown that Krillin has actually developed a serious inferiority complex over his weakness relative to Goku. After admitting this to his wife (an Action Girl of the highest order), both he and Goku head to their old mentor Master Roshi for training. It turns out that the Old Master still has a trick or two up his sleeve to teach them (and is proud of both of them for acknowledging that despite their strength relative to his own, they still have techniques to master).
    • At the same time, this is subverted on several occasions by having Goku and Vegeta face opponents with more esoteric powers that actually have to be puzzled out, as brute strength alone won't cut it. The Universe Survival arc brings much of the original cast back into the fray by either subtly boosting their power or emphasizing that skill and strategy (which most of the old cast do possess) will be more important than raw power in the Tournament of Power (an 80 man Battle Royale). The gamble pays off in spades, as Zen'o designed the arena to negate ki-based flight and the advantage a Heavy Worlder (or those who train like them) might have. Master Roshi of all people eliminates a good portion of U4's fighters through trickery rather than brute strength.
    • Tien, despite training for a decade straight, still couldn't match Gohan, who only started training again the last year or so, and wound up having to stop the fight because he was getting beaten so badly. He also has the worst performance among all the Universe 7 fighters as he gets ringed out by a random mook in a way that could have been easily prevented and has among the least eliminations out of all the U7 members. The manga makes it even worse as neither him nor Krillin even score a single elimination and were unceremoniously wiped out by Frost in the first few minutes of the tournament.
    • Played with in the Dragon Ball: That Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha! parody. A Genre Savvy superfan reincarnated as Yamcha starts averting this by going to train with Roshi at the same time Goku does then getting the Grand Elder Guru to unlock his hidden power, making him strong enough to beat the Saiyans. By the time of the Cell Games, he admits training is now pointless and decides to focus on enjoying his life and wooing Bulma.
  • Downplayed in Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai. While it's true that Dai's friends can't catch up with him in terms of battle prowess, if it weren't for them he would have died every single time he battled powerful foes. Also, Dai's friends rarely get to sit back and watch as there are enemies that they have to fight while Dai is busy duking it out with the most powerful one, and Dai's friends regularly go through harsh trainings which pay off significantly.
  • Nana in Elfen Lied. Each time she has a major fight, she actually has a strategy and makes a good showing — and each time she gets her little ass kicked in a major way, usually because she severely underestimates the viciousness of her opponents. Lucy cuts her to pieces, despite being overwhelmed by Nana's vectors on more than one occasion; Mariko plays with her unmercifully, till she makes the ironic mistake of taunting Nana about killing Kurama; She shocks the dandy-ish Nousou with her speed when Maple House is invaded, but the Mariko clones are like a steel wall to her; Even when facing only one of them, and after repeatedly getting the drop on her, Nana finds that her opponent has taken the time to take her 'Papa' Kurama hostage, leading to another severe, if truncated, beatdown.
  • Yukimitsu from Eyeshield 21 went through this, and for good reason. He had never played American football (or any sport) before, had never been involved in a single play, and despite going through the Death March, was still declined as a starting player. In the end, though, while he was far from the most athletic Devil Bat, he turned out to be the smartest and easily one of the most dedicated members.
    • Sakaraba was a mediocre player and suffered an understandable inferiority complex over how he was the advertised ace of the Oujou Knights when Shin and everyone else was a far better player than him. After Takami reassured him how much the team needed him, he trained and practiced hard enough until he had the skills and stamina.
  • Fairy Tail: Gajeel starts out as Natsu's superior until he's first beaten in the Phantom Lord arc. From there, it mostly goes downhill for him, as he tends to come in last when it comes to hitting the goalposts his fellow Dragon Slayers reach: he's the last in his guild to get his own talking cat friend; he only comes second-to-last next to Wendy out of all the named Dragon Slayers in developing motion sickness, which is marked as a sign of growth; and he's the only dragon-raised wizard by the final arc to not have his own Dragon Force, which he only attains in his fight with Bloodman during said arc. The Grand Magic Games hung a huge lampshade over this when fellow Dragon Slayer Rogue fought against Gajeel on the final day and noted, despite being beaten down, that Natsu was the stronger one (calling back to the two-on-two fight when Natsu pushed Gajeel out of the arena and took down Rogue and Sting on his own), which pisses Gajeel off. Ironically, that fight also saw one of Gajeel's true goalpost victories by being the first after Natsu to obtain a Dual-Element Mode and using it to beat Rogue's Superpowered Evil Side. However, Gajeel learns to stop caring about how far he falls behind, so long as he's strong enough to protect the girl he loves.
  • This is Played for Drama with Jagi's background in Fist of the North Star. Of the three Hokuto brothers, Jagi was by far the weakest and not even close to Toki and Raoh, but he could deal with this because he was the youngest of the three and started training long after his brothers did, meaning his inability to catch up could be simply credited to age and inexperience. However, when Kenshiro showed up and became the fourth Brother, he proved far better than Jagi realized, and quickly showed signs of outright surpassing him—despite being both even younger than Jagi and far less experienced. When Kenshiro was chosen to be the successor to the art, Jagi positively snapped and tried to murder him, but was soundly beaten and disfigured for it. For the rest of his days, Jagi would repeat variants of "a younger brother can't beat an older brother." By the time him and Kenshiro meet again in the series, the gap has only widened, and despite Jagi having learned a mess of other skills in the meantime, the fight between the two isn't even close.
  • Acknowledged and played for drama in Fresh Pretty Cure!.
    • Long after Love and Inori have gotten their Cure Sticks, Miki (Cure Berry) is still stuck using her decreasingly effective starting attack, which nearly costs the girls a battle. She spends the following episode desperately trying to invoke the Mid-Season Upgrade trope.
    • Ellen of Suite Pretty Cure ♪ accidentally wanders into this trope when a series of events causes the Fairy Tones to suffer from Heroic RRoD, rendering her weaponless while Hibiki and Kanade still have their initial tag team attack to fall back on.
  • A lot of racers in Future GPX Cyber Formula became less and less powerful racers as the series progresses, especially Randoll and Shinjyo, while Kaga became the only racer powerful enough to challenge Hayato. Ironically, this is balanced by the fact that Asurada can't catch up him(it?)self, because Hayato's team couldn't afford constant development of racing technology. Hayato suffers repeated losses onscreen and offscreen.
  • Often springs up in Gundam.
    • Sayla Mass in Mobile Suit Gundam. Doesn't get to be a pilot until the G-Flyer/Core Booster is introduced and never surpasses that. Gundam: The Origin tries to fix this by giving her a GM, but she loses that early on.
    • Quattro Bajeena in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam spends the entire time getting his ass kicked within the Hyakku Shiki and just doesn't return to form until Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
    • Anyone who isn't Judau, Roux or the Purus in Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ.
    • The Leos in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. By the end of the series, there are still factions who are using them, despite their terrible combat records.
    • Although she's an excellent pilot, Ennil El is relegated to defending the Freeden in the Final Battle of After War Gundam X because her Jenice Kai isn't up to combat with multiple Gundams.
    • Katharon, the AEUG-like organization of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is this. They use old fashioned Mobile Suits compared to Celestial Being's and the A-LAWS' GN Drive-powered suits, thus are technologically inferior to both.
    • Poor Largan of Mobile Suit Gundam AGE is stuck in a Genoace, which is in no way up to the UE suits, while Flit has the Gundam and Woolf commissions his own Ace Custom rather than stick with the Genoace. Largan spends most of his time getting beaten up until Woolf and Flit show up, and he doesn't like it. (He finally gets some kills near the end of the first generation.)
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: Most regular pilots are this to Mikazuki and McGillis. Mikazuki has three AV implants and plenty of experience fighting, allowing him to steamroll through most enemies, while McGillis starts off a Badass Normal who can go one-to-one with Mikazuki before getting his own AV implant in the second season. Vidar has to get an Alaya Vijnana Type-E implanted inside of him to be able to come close to either of their levels of piloting skill, and even then he's only able to fight McGillis to a draw after Rustal throws the rest of the Arianrhod Fleet at him to wear him down.
  • Aoki and Kimura of Hajime no Ippo are veteran boxers at the Kamogawa gym who struggle with the sense that they've hit the ceiling of their potential; they're experienced and not to be underestimated, but they've never gotten a big break and it seems increasingly out of reach for them. They never really had any illusions that they would catch up to their senpai Takamura who is a prodigy of boxing and goes on to challenge the world. However, they really start to doubt themselves after the main character Ippo, who started after them as an unassuming beginner, rises to become the featherweight champion of Japan and defend his title multiple times, while they still have yet to win a single title. The situation is described through the analogy of a sieve, in which the mesh filters out rocks that are below a certain size: The all-around champion Takamura is like a big, spherical rock that won't fall through the mesh regardless of the angle. Ippo has some major weaknesses, but he compensates with major strengths; he's like a smaller, elongated rock with pointy ends that would fall through the gaps if you stood him on one end, but as long as he's horizontal and the pointy bits are spanning the mesh, he can avoid falling through. As for Aoki and Kimura, they're like small round pebbles that have no projecting bits that would enable them hang on, so they fall through the gaps every time no matter how hard they try.
  • Hoshin Engi: While there was a power gap between the more powerful members of the team and the others from the begining, it just keep getting larger over time, to the point that members of The Team like Raishinshi can't even give Yozen a good training match. Before the final arc, Nentou even flat-out states that only those who have the level to use a super paope note , or in Nataku's case became a super paope should come as the others would just be useless.
  • Imori, Amori, and Umori are a team of relatively weak minor characters from Hunter × Hunter who are defeated by Killua. Later in the series, they immediately quit the Hunter Exam after the entire room is knocked out within minutes by said Killua, who advanced insanely in power over the course of a few arcs.
  • Used for drama in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls. Ridiculously Average Girl Uzuki eventually breaks down upon thinking Rin and Mio pursuing interests outside their unit in the second half of the series has caused this to happen to her.
  • Most of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple's allies felt this way after Ragnarok's defeat and redoubled their efforts to catch up and, later, participate in the Desperate Fight Of Disciples tournament. Of them all, however, Kouzou Ukita takes the prize because he neglected to consider the benefits of Training from Hell and went into the tournament nowhere near the level of everyone else.
  • Kill la Kill:
    • Tsumugu Kinagase. When he first appeared he seemed a hyper-competent fighter and strategist, being able to subdue the protagonist Ryuko without any fancy powers. He was also shown to be a master of traps and some sort of Combat Medic, as he fought with needles that rendered targets paralyzed but fully healed after that. When the real Big Bad appeared and the heroes began fighting an Alien Invasion, his abilities suddenly became useless and he was repeatedly curbstomped without ever being useful again — probably because everyone else was either getting their Goku Uniforms upgraded or mastering the true potential of their Kamui, while he had already reached the peak a non-enhanced human could reach. On top of that, his storyline was never fully resolved and just sort of abandoned.
    • The same unfortunately applies to Satsuki Kiryuin post Episode 18. For most of the series she's by far and away the strongest and most skilled fighter in the entire cast, winning fights easily and often without taking a single hit. Then Raygo enters the plot and... yeah. It does not go well for her after this. While she's still one of the strongest characters, the only opponents left are Life-Fiber hybrids with superhuman abilities, whereas Satsuki is just an ordinary human despite her prowess and determination, and her skill in combat just can't make up the huge difference in power between them. What's more, it's revealed that she cant even use her Kamui to its full potential as she lacks compatibility with Life-Fibers. Nearly every fight she is in after this point is a Curb-Stomp Battle with her on the receiving end. Most times she ends up using herself as a human punching bag in order to distract her opponent, and when Junketsu is restitched with Life-Fibers from Senketsu to increase her compatibility with it she still gets crushed by Ragyo. The worst part is probably when it's revealed that because her Bakuzan has been reforged into two blades it now has the same ability to prevent Life-Fibers from regenerating as Ryuko's Rending Scissors, giving her a potential way to kill Ragyo permanently... which then goes out the window less than two minutes into the final episode when Ragyo effortlessly shatters both blades again, relegating her to a support role for Ryuko. However despite this she fares better than Tsumugu, remaining relevant to the plot and getting a lot of focus on her in the OVA... which sees her tied up and useless for most of its airtime.
  • Medaka Box:
    • Many of the other protagonists start out behind Medaka, including Zenkichi. Akune and Kikaijima get their moments, but aren't able to catch up for most of the Minus arc. Former enemies get their asses handed them by newer villains.
    • Subverted when Zenkichi beats Medaka to become student council president.
    • Najimi Ajimu forces this on everyone else in the series( except Ihiko who is immune to skills), from the sheer number and variation of her abilities if nothing else, which span everything from controlling her breast size to becoming God. As for the how many she has...
      Ajimu: 7,932,135,441,523,222 Abnormalities. And 4,925,916,526,110,643 Minuses. For a total of 12,858,051,967,633,865 skills. That's all I have.
  • In Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, during Pure season, most of the new characters are kicked out of the series before we get to learn more about their origins and where they come from. In episode 74 also, Noel, Coco and Karen leave the series and they don't come back until the final battle with Michel. And Noel is without an episode focused on her.
  • Naruto:
    • Sakura is quickly eclipsed by her teammates, both of whom have natural talent and get dedicated teachers, even though, ironically, Sakura is the one with all the talent at the start of Part I. She does get a dedicated teacher in Tsunade by the end of Part I, but aside from a brief cameo showing off the Super-Strength that she learned from Tsunade in Chapter 246, she's not given as much time to show it off compared to Naruto. By the Fourth Shinobi World War Arc, it seems like she has finally caught up to a degree, in terms of raw power, in comparison to Naruto and Sasuke. She remains on equal footing with them until near the end of the war, where an intervention through The Sage of the Six Paths granted Naruto and Sasuke another power-up, eclipsing her in power again.
    • Ino is a notable case of this trope in that she can't catch up to Sakura, who is already an example of this trope. She quickly falls behind when the flaws in her Mind Transfer Jutsu are exposed and she doesn't develop any other offensive techniques. She realizes this is a problem and tries to remedy this by learning medical ninjutsu at the end of the Part I fillers, but it's clear that she's nowhere near Sakura's ability. One filler arc has her feeling like The Load as a result of having the weakest chakra control on a sealing team. However, in the Fourth Shinobi World War Arc, she improved her Mind Transfer Jutsu to the point where it's useful in significant battles without leaving her super-vulnerable.
    • Many characters are eclipsed by Team 7 in Part II, to such an extent where even Kakashi, the Badass Teacher of Team 7, starts to be included in this throughout the latter parts. Kakashi himself admits that Naruto may have surpassed him, though this is downplayed, as he and Guy were shown to hold there own when they backed up Naruto and Killer Bee against Tobi.
    • The reason behind Sasuke's initial defection was because he felt Naruto could catch up, and indeed may have surpassed him already. This was fueled by Sasuke losing several battles in which Naruto's brute strength was far better suited to dealing with. Specifically, Sasuke felt/feared that if Naruto could catch up with him, then he himself had no chance of catching up with Itachi, something that in his mind was only reinforced by Itachi showing up to kidnap Naruto and bluntly ignoring Sasuke's attempts to kill him, even saying that Sasuke was weak and he wasn't interested in him. When Naruto reveals his Biju Mode in the Fourth Shinobi World War, effortlessly uses all the chakra it gives to save the entire Alliance, and then he combines it with Sage Mode, Sasuke clenches his hand into a tight fist angrily when he realizes how far ahead Naruto's come. Sasuke is at least able to fight comparably with help, and his manifestation of Perfect Susano'o means he's trying to close the gap. But it's clear he needs more than even Perfect Susano'o to truly catch up.
      • Sasuke and Naruto mirror Madara and Hashirama respectfully, with at times Sasuke/Madara being slightly ahead before Naruto/Hashirama shows more of their full power. Perfect Susano'o doesn't close the gap since it didn't close the gap between Madara and Hashirama. Madara needed Kurama's help just to equal the power of Hashirama's Sage Mode power, after all.
      • Sasuke does finally catch up in the last few chapters of the manga. Hagoromo makes his Perfect Susano'o, Rinnegan, and Rinnegan Teleportation much more powerful during his and Naruto's showdown with Kaguya, and additional powers, including Preta Path and Deva Path, are unlocked after the battle. Naturally, they come just in time for Sasuke to become the final Big Bad of series. Post-manga canon material, such as Naruto Gaiden and Boruto: Naruto the Movie, which feature an adult Naruto and Sasuke, demonstrate that while Sasuke may not match Naruto in sheer power, he comes close and is skilled enough to keep up with Naruto even in his Six Paths Sage Mode.
    • Zig Zagged with Hiruzen Sarutobi in Part II after he is resurrected. Despite being one of the strongest characters in Part I, he starts having trouble once Obito becomes the Ten-Tails Jinchuriki who disintegrates him with one shot. That being said he was still helpful during the final fight, saving Naruto from being absorbed by the Ten-Tails tree form and, for a while, was the only thing stopping the United Shinobi Alliance from being killed by a giant wood statue being controlled by the last of Madara's Zetsu clones.
    • Anybody who doesn't have a visual jutsu, a kekkei genkai or a tailed beast suffer from this trope, to the point where it's even lampshaded by some members of the Shinobi Alliance.
    • Taken to ridiculous levels in the Final Arc of the manga, where anybody who isn't Naruto or Sasuke are leagues behind them in battle.
  • Of most the Wacky Homeroom in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, many of them had some form of Charles Atlas Superpower, till the members of the Ala Alba went through Training from Hell, leaving the rest as a liability when several of them enter the Magic World.
    • Ayaka in particular, who was more or less evenly matched with Asuna at the start of the series, attempted to fight her again much later on, and Asuna utterly kicked her butt without much trouble.
    • Even Ala Alba's fighting elite, including Kotaro, Kaede and Ku Fei, fall hard into this by the series' end compared to Negi and Fate.
    • Anya also suffers horribly from this. When she arrives in Japan she intends to show Negi how far she's progressed, only to find out that he's waaaayyy ahead of her.
  • The initially powerful character of Pop in Ojamajo Doremi takes four seasons to reach what for the rest of the cast was a second season power level. Her problem is that all the magical training in the series is done at night, and she can't stay awake long past dark. Justified in that she's five years old in the first season.
  • Lampshaded in One Piece, where later story arcs have the more human characters (Usopp in particular) worried that they might become useless compared to the monstrous, inhuman strength of the other crew members.
    • Usopp is practically the poster boy; the writer himself admits that Usopp will always be the least powerful member of the crew no matter what, because he tries to keep him at a level where the reader would be able to relate to him. He does behave pretty realistically for someone under the employment of Monkey D Luffy, one of the strongest pirates in the world, and who, as far as traditional pirate vessels work, should outrank Sanji, another one of the strongest pirates in the world.
    • Nami's worry that she can't catch up to the rest of the crew leads her to ask Usopp to develop the Clima Tact for her. She's not quite as strong as her crewmates, but she's got a respectable record, taking out Miss Doublefinger from Baroque Works and Kalifa from CP9.
      • When Nami and Sanji get body-swapped in Punk Hazard, Sanji worries about using her body to perform his Black Leg techniques because her body isn't toned for physical combat. Subverted when it turns out that she
    • This is one reason (among other more important ones) why Vivi ultimately decided not to travel with her crew full-time, as well. Post time-skip, it looks like she's become much stronger.
    • The crew falls to this near the end of the first half. While Luffy only just managed to break in and out of Impel Down, with the help of some of the most notorious criminals in the world, and was The Load at Marineford. Justified in that Impel Down was seen as impenetrable by everyone, and Marineford was a battle between the most dangerous pirate crew around and the entirety of the Marines. They really were biting off far more than they could chew. In fact, part of the reason for the Time Skip was to give the crew two years to catch up to a point where they could survive in the New World. As evidenced previously by the massacre at Sabaody, they really, really needed it.
    • Despite all of the above, this trope in general is completely averted in this series. While there is a huge disparity of power between, say, Usopp and Luffy, each member of the crew has skills, both in-combat and otherwise, that are invaluable to the crew, and most arcs give everyone at least something important to do, keeping everyone relevant regardless of individual strength. A good example with Usopp is a moment in the Dressrosa arc in which Sugar is about to sneak-attack Luffy, with Sugar having an absolutely overpowered One-Hit Kill ability. No other Straw Hat Pirates are nearby, so Usopp uses his sniping skills to attack Sugar from one mountaintop to another, and through a window between its bars, to knock out Sugar before she can put an end to Luffy for good. Among the Straw Hat Pirates, Usopp may be the weakest, but only he could've pulled that off.
      • The trope also gets averted outside the Straw Hat crew. For example, Bellamy was a joke even his debut, so surely he would never be New World material, right? Nope, he really has increased that much in strength, and lost his old Smug Snake attitude to boot.
    • Tashigi is also a good example. Considering she managed to become a high-ranking officer in the Marine Division stationed in the New World and has shown a fair few demonstrations of genuine skill and strength, she comes across as an effective Marine in most situations. Unfortunately for her, she often chases the Straw Hats around, who tend to leap into the most absurdly dangerous situations possible, leaving her in over her head most of the time. Her tendency to routinely challenge opponents that are clearly out of her league doesn't help.
    • It's actually really bad for Tashigi. She was initially presented as something of a rival for Zoro, because they both want to be the world's greatest swordsman. After the Time Skip however, Tashigi loses nearly every major confrontation that she gets into and needs to be saved by Smoker, Sanji, and Zoro himself. To add insult to injury, Zoro was trained by the current best swordsman and it's made abundantly clear that Zoro has longed surpassed Tashigi.
    • When CP9's bus finally comes back in the Egghead arc, as CP0 this time, Rob Lucci and Kaku have their rematches with Luffy and Zoro respectively, and they certainly did not forget to level grind, with both of them having (among other things) awakened their Devil Fruits, and even point out that the Straw Hats are not the only ones who have gotten stronger since last time. Mind you, when CP9 first fought the Straw Hats, the Monster Trio all had to unlock a new Super Mode to be able to keep up with their opponents, and Luffy himself nearly lost to Lucci, were it not for the moral support of Usopp. This time, however, after Luffy underwent Training from Hell during Wano and awakened his own Devil Fruit, gaining an entirely new and ridiculously powerful Super Mode, he finds the fight with Lucci so boring that he falls asleep while casually dodging his attacks. Similarly, while Kaku can now casually throw out what used to be his ultimate attack, Zoro can quite literally block it in his sleep, and it's strongly implied he would have won his battle as well if it weren't for the intervention of Stussy, who knocks both Kaku and Lucci out before the fights can go anywhere.
  • In Oreimo, Kirino trains hard to become a track star, but despite the amount of work she puts into it, she never stands out enough against other girls who put in just as much work as her, but also have some athletic talent, which she lacks. It causes her to suffer a rather brutal Heroic BSoD where she tells her brother to throw out all of her anime and games, which she was a huge fan of. This a bit different from most cases, as Kirino is shown to be good at almost everything else she decides to do. It's hard to sympathize with a character who is a professional model and author before she even enters high school when she discovers one aspect of her life she's not good at.
  • In The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Rita feels this way because despite trying really hard to be a good artist, her grandfather told her she should give up because she would never be as good as Mashiro, who is able to create masterpieces without much effort. Even after she tricked Mashiro into drawing manga as a means to humiliate herself, she becomes disgusted with the fact that Mashiro's manga work is accepted for serialization, and as a result, begins to hate art, as well as Mashiro herself.
    • In fact Mashiro inspires this in everyone who knows her for extended periods with Sorata and Jin feeling the same way Rita does. Mashiro is not just an Idiot Savant: she has absolutely no idea about personal hygine, can barely dress herself, and has hardly any social skills, let alone anything that could let her live on her own. But when it comes to anything, especially drawing and painting, she can easily beat anyone at it. She barely even tries and she still does better than all of her classmates. There's Always Someone Better and she's that, therefore everyone starts developing inferiority complexes and begin to give up on things, such as art, because they will never beat her. Sorata himself gets a bad case where his game pitch is rejected while Mashiro is given an opportunity by the same people.
  • In The Prince of Tennis, the Fudomine and Rokkaku teams are good, but are doomed to be in the shadow of Seigaku, Rikkai and Hyoutei.
  • Ranma ˝:
    • Almost nobody other than Ranma and Ryoga ever appears to improve their skills over the seven seasons and thirty-eight volumes of the manga, which leads rather well into Overshadowed by Awesome.
    • One anime OAV has Nabiki heavily implying that the reason Akane can't catch up is because she's given up on upgrading her training regime due to Ranma always taking her battles on for her. Ranma and Ryoga are the only ones who train near-constantly and who get involved in battles the most (everyone else in the series tends to have other things to do that get in the way of training).
    • Because Ryoga is officially The Rival to Ranma, some actually view him as this, though the series itself makes it quite clear that Ranma and Ryoga are always spurring each other on to greater heights and so the one of them who is "better" keeps seesawing. Ranma beats Ryoga who comes back and beats Ranma who then comes back and beats Ryoga again, on and on throughout the entirety of the series. This belief most likely stems from the fact that Ranma is usually the one shown as having "the last laugh" in their battles in any particular story, and the fact that the flashbacks from Ryoga's introductory story all depict young!Ranma implicitly curbstomping young!Ryoga.
  • Rebuild World: Discussed. In Sheryl's gang, the increasing wealth and influence of the gang from people like Sheryl, Akira, Carol, and Viola makes several members anxious that they may be replaced by conventional employees. They react to the stress differently: Some shrug it off, some form even more of a Cult of Personality around Sheryl, and some just work harder, which includes Erio, who takes dangerous experimental stimulants for a Virtual Training Simulation and falls comatose from Phlebotinum Overdose. Erio eventually gets hand-me-down equipment from Akira that lets him serve as a One-Man Army, but is exhausted and has to tell Mission Control not to expect the same of him as Akira in battle.
  • Re:Monster: Discussed. Rou and his fellow goblins typically evolve into another Evolution Power-Up upon reaching level 100 before starting the cycle over again in their new form, and multiple times it's discussed how Rou's allies feel frustrated that they aren't evolving as fast, which helps prompt various training regimes and expeditions. However, it's mentioned multiple un-named members of Rou's tribe get stuck at level 100 unable to evolve, and so they get put into their own niche societal roles.
  • Everybody in Rurouni Kenshin who isn't the titular hero start the series behind (excepting The Rival Saitou), and never, ever catch up despite gaining level(s) in badass. At the beginning of the series, Kenshin is already a legendary swordsman while his friends have various levels of inexperience. Kenshin makes relatively modest improvements over the course of the series, while his friends make massive improvements. Rurouni Kenshin is a relatively rare amongst Shonen fighting series in that while his friends don't catch up, the gap between Kenshin and his friends grows smaller as the series progresses instead of bigger.
    • However, when Kenshin's mentor Seijuro Hiko shows up, even Saitou and Kenshin are outclassed. It's stated that Kenshin will never catch up, because his body just doesn't possess the raw physical strength to use the Hiten Mitsurugi style to its fullest.
    • Yahiko does catch up to Kenshin in the epilogue, but this is a retired Kenshin who stopped practicing swordsmanship due to years of self-abuse and combat wounds catching up with him, not Kenshin as he was in his prime.
  • Sailor Moon gets a power-up every season; the other Senshi get 2 new power ups in the 5 seasons. This only happens in the anime version; manga has the rest of the senshi receive power-ups around the same time Sailor Moon does.
    • Mamoru as Tuxedo Mask never receives any power upgrades at all, being stuck with his trademark throwing roses for four full seasons of the anime up until he was Put on a Bus in the fifth one. This, unfortunately, meant that, in order to keep him around, the writers had to keep the senshi from getting too competent at fighting, even though they do grow in power over time. Again, this doesn't apply to the manga, which outright deconstructs the trope: despite having a fairly strong offensive move in addition to some passive Psychic Powers, by the fourth arc Mamoru realizes that both Usagi and Chibiusa have grown out of needing his support, which leads to him gradually discovering his true potential when the arc villains directly target his planet.
  • In Saki Achiga-hen, Ako is friends with Hatsuse, and they're about the same level of skill. While Hatsuse goes to Bansei, a school with a very strong mahjong team, only to be unable to qualify for the team, Ako goes to Achiga, and intends to revive its mahjong team with her friends. When Ako tells Hatsuse this, Hatsuse thinks she can't possibly succeed, reasoning that if she cannot even qualify for the team (and by extension, neither can Ako), Bansei's team members are too skilled for Ako or her teammates to defeat. When Ako and her teammates go on to defeat Bansei easily, it can be seen as proof that Ako has surpassed Hatsuse.
  • In Samurai Deeper Kyo This is lampshaded and partially averted by Akira. Near the end of the manga Akira was told he wouldn't be able to go any further in power because he didn't have samurai blood (a questionable excuse as all samurai have peasant ancestors as some point) and so was stuck. His solution? Use his ice powers on himself to get a necessary power boost to fight through the rest of the series.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, the Holy Knights (sans the titular sins) fall victim to this after the Holy Knights Saga is resolved. As the Sins go on to fight the Demon King and his servants, the Holy Knights which were a solid match for them just a few In-Universe months prior are relegated to fighting regular Mooks and the ocasional Elite Mook, being far too weak to actually contribute anything against any named villain. For example, Gilthunder was introduced as being able to give Meliodas a decent fight and seriously wound him by forcing him to take the full brunt of an attack. Then during the Ten Commandments Saga, Gilthunder undergoes Training from Hell, and his Power Level is noted to increase from 1971 to 2331, earning praise from his teammates and Meliodas. Then moments later, Meliodas passes a trail of personality and gets to regain the power he had lost before the series started, increasing his power from 3000 to 30000 . Meliodas doesn't stop there, either. By the time the Holy War arc starts, any human not named Escanor, Ban or Arthur is useless in a one-on-one scenario, and it is only through great numbers that the Holy Knights are of any use in the war.
  • In Shakugan no Shana, Satou and Tanaka train their hardest, but as ordinary humans, can only contribute by being Mission Control. Case in point, the two can barely budge Blutsauger, but everyone else can lift it like it was as light as a feather. Satou really wishes he could join the others in battle, but eventually mellows out.
  • Slayers:
    • The amount of magical power that a person can both naturally hold and expand in is usually pre-determined. Because she was born with an obscenely high Bucket Capacity (the natural amount of magic one possesses), Lina outranks a majority of humans in magic, including the more balanced Amelia and the Magic Knight Zelgadis (who, when he was human, was implied to have minimal magic power to begin with; courtesy of a part of his chimeric makeup, his magical power expanded). Naga the Serpent is implied to have both a Bucket Capacity that can rival Lina's and a bigger Pool Capacity (how much power can be exerted before exhaustion), but she's so self-centered and flaky that she can't perform the same feats Lina can — calling upon the power of the Lord of Nightmares, for one.
    • This applies to other races as well; Mazoku (demons), Shinzoku (servants of the Gods), and some elves all have more magical power than the other races. Fish men, surprisingly, are strong with water Shamanistic Magic, and they are the only ones who can cast the most powerful water Shamanistic spell.
  • A subtle version colors the relationship between Kubota Junichiro and Aizawa Tomo in Tomo-chan Is a Girl!. As a child Jun pledged to one day become as good a fighter as the scrappy roughneck across the street who aggressively befriended him when he moved into the neighborhood and fought a couple of larger boys at once for his sake. After puberty and years of training at the Aizawa Dojo he can beat Tomo at least as often as not when they both go all out, but he is fully aware she remains his superior in actual skill and finds any fight won solely by virtue of his man's reach and strength to be fundamentally hollow.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: Played for Drama with Olivia. An Alpha Bitch tells Olivia that she's nothing but Leon and Angelica's pet commoner, and useless to them. This prompts a Don't You Dare Pity Me! breakdown from Oliva at Leon's expense. This causes soul-searching within Leon about how he has been seeing Olivia as a fictional character (due to Media Transmigration), as well as harming her personal growth by soaking up all the challenges and experience Olivia was meant to overcome, by protecting her so much. Leon takes it hard and starts to distance himself from Olivia despite her My God, What Have I Done? attempt to reconcile that gets her into trouble, but they eventually work things out.
  • In Umi Monogatari, Kanon feels very inadequate about herself and her powers. Urin does likewise to a much greater extent, as she can't fight at all, but wants to very badly.
  • In Vagabond, Hon'iden Matahachi chases Miyamoto Musashi's shadow, since they were childhood friends separated soon after the Battle of Sekigahara.
  • Kawachi in Yakitate!! Japan was never as innately talented as Azuma, but in the first half of the series he made up for it with hard work and still managed to hold his own. Then, ironically after undergoing a bout of special training, he descended into the realm of joke character, and in the final story arc was deemed so worthless that he was stuck in the audience watching his supposed teammates do all the work.
  • YuYu Hakusho, after the Dark Tournament, got to the point where even the main character couldn't catch up. It took a rather Deus ex Machina plot twist to power Yuusuke up enough to beat Sensui, and after that, even with a solid year of training, he still had very little chance against the antagonists of the last story arc. Even though he gained the power to win, he was still only exchanging blows with Sensui. Raizen, his very powerful demon ancestor who hadn't been mentioned at that point in the story, actually had to take control of his body and finish off Sensui because of Yusuke's inexperience with his own power. That's right, it took two Deus ex Machina's in a row to ensure that the The Hero himself could stayed relevant in his own series.

    Comic Books 
  • Invincible: As the series progresses and the scope escalates, up-and-coming supervillain Titan finds himself having to contend with the fact that his powers — turning into solid, super-strong rock — are actually relatively weak in superhuman terms and can't be made stronger, meaning that even though he's a perfectly skilled and dangerous fighter by normal human standards, he just can't keep up physically with the increasingly powerful and well-trained Guardians of the Globe, Invincible himself especially. To compensate, he gradually has to rely more and more on his intelligence to stay in the game, slowly transitioning to being a Non-Action Big Bad who only goes into battle personally when left with no other choice.
  • Spider-Man: When the character was originally created he was considered one of the strongest physical heroes, second only in physical strength to a small number of heroes. But among the characters they achieved more exaggerated feats such as lifting thousands of tons or even mountains, Spider-man stopped being so special in terms of physical strength, being demoted to being a Mid Tier

    Fan Works 
  • In A Saiyan Warrior, it takes Videl several months after she learns how strong the Z Fighters are to understand she'll never catch up to them even with her new training. The older generation were all several times stronger than she is when they were her age and the younger generation is even worse. Bardock (named after his grandfather) is her age but was stronger than her when he was a toddler.
    • Chi-chi had this problem as well, though later than canon. While training for the Saiyans, she quit about halfway through when she realized she couldn't keep up with the others and was at that point less than half as strong as them.
  • In The Butcher Bird, Bertram Lauren is initially subject to this trope - while her advances in gunnery are impressive, the sheer brute force other officers in the Nightmares command outclasses her. She works to sidestep this with Bio-Augmentation and eventually stops being subject to this.
  • Dragon Ball Z Elsewhere: This is part of why Yamcha has developed a strong inferiority complex, as no matter what he couldn't catch up to Goku-and making him unwilling to involve the other Z Fighters when a rogue Kaiohshin starts presenting a danger, as he realizes he has to catch up before a threat too strong for Goku, Vegeta or Gohan shows up. It also makes his victory against post-Cell Goku even sweeter, as he finally did catch up to him, at least in base form.
  • Rivals Series: Viktor and Yuuri's legendary rivalry has propelled their respective skating abilities to new heights — and subsequently left everyone else in the senior division in the dust, because they lack the talent and extra motivation that those two have. Throughout the story the only skater that is said to give them any sort of a challenge besides each other is Chris, and he has never managed to beat either of them.
  • In The Flash Sentry Chronicles (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls): Trixie feels this way towards Twilight. Despite becoming Princess Luna's student, not only does Twilight have years more experience than her, she became an alicorn, something Trixie feels she can never compete against.
  • Several characters in The Infinite Loops feel this way, especially if they Awoke later then others in their loop or from a Glitch.
  • Princess Azula feels this way in The Saga Of Tanya The Firebender (Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Saga of Tanya the Evil), where she is constantly getting upstaged and matched pace-for-pace by Tanya: from intentionally letting their bout end in a tie, to getting high marks at the Royal Academy, earning a name for herself as Zhaos' personal "The Devil Of The South Sea", To delivering the defeat of the Northern Water Tribe and earning herself an Admiralty because of it. Azula had tried countless times to make Tanya bend the knee and submit to her personal authority like she had with Mai and Ty Lee; but every attempt at Blackmail or sabotage is immediately undermined by Tanya and catapults her into more higher positions of power and prestige within The Fire Nation as one of its' National Heroes. By the time Azula first encounters Avatar Aang within Omashu and introduces herself as the Fire Nations' Crown Princess, Aang asks if she's also working for Tanya.
  • There Was Once an Avenger From Krypton: After seeing Thor deep fry Vilgax in their battle, Iron Man briefly laments that no matter how much he upgrades his armor, he'll never be able to achieve the same feats that Avengers like the Hulk, Thor, and Supergirl are capable of.
  • Through Her Eyes: Weiss is the physically weakest member of Team RWBY without Aura, due in part to her lack of practical experience compared to the others, and is a bit annoyed by that fact. She even engages in sessions with Ruby, practicing on her summoned Grimm, in order to train and improve, though she's still got a long way to go.
  • Triptych Continuum: In the Continuum, a pony's magical strength is fixed from birth and cannot be improved in any way by practice or exercise.
    • The Continuum iteration of Trixie Lulamoon is in large part defined by this trope. Her talent is for magical innovation, giving her a constant and unstoppable stream of ideas for new spells. What it doesn't give her is enough power to actually cast all of those spells. The sequences from her point of view highlight how utterly soul-destroying it is to constantly be confronted with problems for which you know the perfect solution, but due to accident of birth you will never ever be able to actually use those solutions. This only got worse once she met Twilight Sparkle, who was born with the magical strength Trixie so desperately craves.
    • Similarly, Rarity (whose magical strength is just about exactly average), has commented on how occasionally humiliating it is to be close friends with a pony whose magical strength is so far beyond her own, and know that nothing she does will ever let her close that gap.

  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): Anthony's bodyguards firmly believe that their role should be to remain hidden until the moment they need to spring into action to save him, but he repeatedly insists that they need to be more proactive about levelling up, or they won't be effective when that time comes.
    Anthony: Yeah, I'm sure you're meant to live the most sacrificial lives in the history of the Colony. Always on duty, never resting, never a moment of peace. It's all super noble and everything, but let me ask you this question. If I evolve and I'm tier six, whilst you’re all still tier four, what exactly are you going to protect me from that I can't handle myself?
  • The Divine Comedy: While Dante purges himself of weakness throughout Purgatory and gains supernatural abilities in Paradise, his master Virgil lacks any capability to grow, making him wholly useless as a teacher by the time they reach the top of Purgatory. Virgil happily confesses his inferiority and leaves Dante to finish the journey with his well-forged will.
  • Part of Pumpkin's jealousy of Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha had to do with the fact that Sayuri, despite starting later than her, became a far more successful and popular geisha than her and earned more money than any of her peers.
  • In Vampire Academy, having missed two years of training, Rose can't catch up to the rest of her classmates. That is why she needs extra training from Dimitri. Averted by Frostbite when she mostly catches up. She ends up graduating at the top of her class.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, Mark suffered this in his youth: his creators needed him to impersonate Miles, but Miles was already older and being given the best education money could buy. In addition Mark was having to learn by rote things (like the layout of Vorkosigan House) that Miles just knew.
  • In the backstory of The Wheel of Time, this was Barid Bel Medar's whole life. He was widely considered handsome, intelligent, tremendously strong in the One Power and all around an impressive guy- but Lews Therin Telamon was just a bit better at everything that Barid Bel could donote , with the end result that when under any other circumstances he would have been considered the greatest man of his age, Barid Bel ended up more or less as "that guy who's not quite as good as Lews Therin". The end result? Barid Bel went mad, changed his name to Demandred, and joined up with the Dark One, in the process going from a second-string hero to one of the Shadow's most powerful assets. His one goal in life? Find Lews Therin note  and destroy him so utterly that no one will ever think that Demandred was inferior to him again.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: An evil Wizarding School has a system where the best students get the best gear, crafting supplies, medical treatment, etc., and the worst students only get the junk nobody else wants. The system is ostensibly to encourage students to excel by making it very important that they do well (since some of the tests are lethal and students need good equipment to have a chance of passing them), but as the protagonist notes, it has the effect of making it impossible for low-ranked students to improve. They can't get the equipment they need to win duels or pass tests, so they stay at the bottom forever and can never catch up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshade Hanging by Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who lamented that, while everyone around him became increasingly powerful, he was becoming useless unless the problem required fixing a broken wall. Admittedly, he became something of a Badass Normal as his fighting skills improved throughout the series, though never to the extent of Giles. In fact, as his magically-granted "Army Guy" abilities faded out, he became for a time less competent with weapons. It didn't really help either that by the time he had become Badass Normal the Big Bads were entities far more powerful than any mere vampire or bush league minor demon which were the cap on what even an exceptionally strong and well trained human could ever kill.
  • Kamen Rider: While this trope is essentially non-existent in the franchise's Showa era, the introduction of casts of multiple Riders and power-up forms in the Heisei era makes it inevitable. The straightest examples are in early Heisei (2000-2009), where any non-protagonist Rider is lucky to get an upgrade while the main Rider always gets at least a Final Form if not multiple Mid-Season Upgrades, and while in the later Heisei era (2009-2018) and Reiwa era (2018-present) more side Riders get more power-ups, the increased average amount of Riders means some still get left in the dust.
    • Reversed in Kamen Rider Ryuki, where Ren is the first to gain his Survive Form, Shinji doesn't get his until several episodes later, and the two are equally matched. Played straight for everyone else, though, especially Zolda who is part of the main cast throughout the series.
    • In Kamen Rider Blade, Kenzaki/Blade and Hajime/Chalice seal all the Undead in their respective suits of spade and hearts first, and get the ultra-powerful King and Wild forms capable of vaporizing the occasional Undead-based robot that comes along. Tachibana/Garren manages to get by with his Jack Form, but poor old Mutsuki/Leangle, who was the strongest Rider in his introduction, capable of smacking all the others around, gets beat up whenever a multi-episode Undead comes along. It's ridiculous enough that, the first time Chalice achieves Wild Form, Leangle is knocked down just from him posing.
    • Kamen Rider Kabuto has the most hyperbolic example, as Hyper Kabuto's sword can hijack the Zecters of four of the seven other Riders to use them as additional power mushrooms, and Tendou doesn't exactly care whether they're being used or not. Any time a reasonably strong Worm showed up, if they were present they got to spend the rest of the fight sitting around doing nothing while Tendou killed it with a super-powered version of one of their finishers.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim, due to having a large cast of Riders, really shows this. Almost every Rider starts off on equal footing in terms of raw power, with the difference being determined by their skills. During the course of the series, however, only Gaim and Baron consitently gain meaningful power ups. By the time Gaim receives his final Super Mode, only he and Baron get to fight any meaningful enemies, with the other Riders only being powerful enough to fight mooks. By the end of the series, only Ryugen's Deadly Upgrade and Lord Baron can stand toe-to-toe with Gaim.
    • Kamen Rider Drive leans into this with Mach, the second Rider of the show. Seeing Drive, Chaser, and every major villain leave him in the dust with a slew of new power-ups while he never seems to improve from his debut helps rip off his veneer of being a clown and reveal just how bitter and jaded he really is.
    • Kamen Rider Ghost specifically averts this with Necrom, who begins to fall behind but catches up with the help of the Sanzou Eyecon, eventually unlocking his personal weapon, the Gan Gun Catcher.
    • Notably averted by Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. While no one can really top Ex-Aid Muteki Gamer, the six other heroic Riders in play by the end of the show are still not ones to be messed with.
    • Kamen Rider Build, in a rarity for the franchise, allows Cross-Z to fully keep pace with Build all throughout the show. Where Build is constantly developing new gadgets for his suit, Cross-Z has incredible natural talent at increasing his Hazard Level, and only needs two upgrades that let him use more of his natural gifts to fight every bit as well as Build. Grease and Rogue, who both start stronger than the pair, are soon left in the dust. The two quickly become aware of this and take drastic measures to power themselves up enough to at least contribute in battle. Even when they do receive power-ups of their own, they're still firmly beneath the higher forms of Cross-Z, Build, and especially Evolt.
    • Especially egregious in Kamen Rider Saber where out of ten heroic Riders participating in the final battle, only four have power-up forms newer than episode 10, and one doesn't use theirs. Needless to say, most of the Riders have a desperate final fight. Meanwhile, Saber gains his fifth tier of power-up in the finale.
    • In Kamen Rider Revice, Hikaru Ushijima/Kamen Rider Over Demons falls victim to this. In a desperate bid to slow down The Dragon, he uses the maximum amount of Vistamp powerups his Rider System can handle and is hospitalized for the rest of the show.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers:
    • This happened to Tommy for a while in Season 2. With a damaged, failing Dragon Coin, no Thunderzord upgrade was possible for the Dragonzord, and he had to go through the "my powers are weakening" bit every other fight. The others had to wait several more episodes before their friend could catch up, with a tease of him being gone forever. Then Popularity Power kicked in and he came back as the White Ranger — which, if anything, put him too far *ahead* of the others most of the time.
    • Due to the available footage, Tommy was often absent from Zord battles so he'd often be "busy" fighting Goldar, a character who previously had been able to take on a team of rangers. White Ranger, Tommy, usually came out on top.
    • This is the fate of a lot of add-on rangers, who are introduced as dominating fighters, but aren't privy to a Midseason Upgrade like the main team is. This leads to them falling behind since they're usually stuck with the powers and mecha they entered the show with.
  • In Robot Wars, this was the source of a lot of Badass Decay. The contestant robots became more and more advanced with each passing series, and if you couldn't afford (or couldn't be bothered) to keep upgrading your robot to keep up, you'd be left behind very quickly. The most prominent example was Chaos 2, which turned the warzone on its head when it stormed to the Series 3 title. It won again in Series 4, but by a less comfortable margin, yet when the weight limit was increased for Series 5, George Francis neglected to take advantage. The result was Chaos 2 being knocked out in the semi-finals after running out of CO2, and by Series 6, the once-mighty machine was so far behind the times that it was dispatched in the heats by newcomer Dantomkia, in the very manner that Chaos 2 had once been so fond of: by flipping it out of the arena.
  • Inverted in Supernatural Season 6, which saw the main two characters Dean and Sam doing increasingly less and becoming increasingly dependent on co-tritagonists Bobby and Castiel.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • This was how Su Yung felt about her West Coast Connection partner, Tracy Taylor. At times she turned on Taylor out of envy, such as when Tracy won the PGWA Championship belt, at others Yung has called Taylor for help, such as when Valkyrie sent Yung running from The Orpheum and she apologized profusely whenever the team wasn't doing well. One of the benefit's to Yung's later decayed psyche is at least she seemed to have gotten over this by SHINE 19...
  • When Portia Perez heard that SHINE was making an effort to promote newer wrestlers who haven't had their chance to...shine yet, she said it was time wasted, as no upstart would ever catch up to her.
  • What happens to every WWF/WWE wrestler in comparison to any current or former "Face of the Franchise". Currently, Roman Reigns will win the majority of his matches and nearly every one of his feuds. Since everyone else is by definition below him in the pecking order, this leads to his opponents falling down the card.
  • No matter how hard she tried, Jade Chung was never able to match Candice LeRae as a wrestler. Every time they faced off, it generally ended with Chung being definitively pinned by Candice, with a particularly embarrassing loss in under 5 minutes on NWA TV. Candice essentially used Chung as a stepping stone to becoming a serious wrestler, while Chung (a former race/bikini model) settled into her role as a Ms. Fanservice/eye candy manager.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Alpharius of Warhammer 40,000 had to deal with the being the last Primarch discovered, and discovered as the Great Crusade was winding down. Knowing he could never match the countless glorious victories of his brothers, he tried making up for it by making his victories ludicrously complex and showy.
  • In Star Wars d6, the later depictions of canon characters included hundreds of skill points. The average PC started with seven. Adventures tended to be less blow up the Death Star and more blow up the Star Destroyer.

    Video Games 
  • Agarest Senki tries to prevent this with "player points" that can be spent to improve characters in much the same way as the points gained in levelling do. Which is a good thing since you carry characters from successive generations into combat. A character unused since generation one would be twenty levels behind by the time generation two rolls around. And then thirty odd, forty odd and so forth until generation 5. A character so levelled might be given stellar stats but still has the durability of wet tissue paper.
  • Baldur's Gate II:
    • One random party conversation involves your sister Imoen taunting lawful evil mage Edwin about the fact that "— everyone else is finding destinies and prophesies and generally surpassing you in every way." This eventually leads to a subversion — Edwin is by far the most powerful playable mage, with the possible exception of the protagonist himself.
    • Interestingly, the trope applies much more directly to Imoen herself, because she gets captured very early on. If the player does not rush immediately to her aid, the rest of the party will have surpassed her by the time she rejoins.
    • Guards are clamorously this. While they do get upgraded equipment and more levels after each campaign, to the point that in Throne of Bhaal they field +3 swords and other magical items (and you wonder how could a backwater city in the desert afford a militia like this and why it doesn't conquer the whole Amn and the city of Baldur's Gate too), your party by that time will be so powerful that you will even ignore the loot from the corpses spread everywhere on the ground because you will have better weapons/armor and tons of gold.
  • After the first ranger mission in Breath of Fire II, your best buddy Bow gets falsely accused of burglary, and has to go into hiding while you search the world for the real perp. Once you finally get his name cleared and he can rejoin, he'll be far behind. He does require lower experience to level than other characters at this point to make up for it, but whether it is enough is debatable.
  • Downplayed in games (like Chrono Trigger) that award Leaked Experience to characters who don't participate in fights. Unfortunately, it can still be played straight if the game awards less experience this way than if they did partipate in battles (again, Chrono Trigger). However, while the leaked experience to members not in your front team isn't the full amount, it's enough that they'll still be strong enough to fight close to your main party's level. The real problem is that skill points DON'T get leaked, so while your back team might be near the same level, if you never use them they won't have any of the powerful attacks your front team does.
  • Defied in Clicker Heroes. The earlier heroes like Treebeast, Ivan and Brittany will get overshadowed by the later ones very very quickly. However, once you level them above 200, their damage multiplies by 4 every 25 levels, and 10 every 1000 levels. If you can get them to level 1000, Ivan, Treebeast and Brittany can outdamage Frostleaf, the strongest hero.
  • This VERY easily happens in the PlayStation 2 game Dark Cloud for numerous reasons. One is the fact that it uses a "No battle no experience" rule and the fact that the number of weapons available to some characters clearly indicates that the developers favour Toan and Ruby. Ungaga and Osmond are also obviously middle-tier characters in those games. They can actually be pretty good if a player invests time into building up to their ultimate weapons and uses their playstyles effectively. Xiao and poor Goro wind up the weakest characters because they can only attack once and they are so vulnerable to retaliation or attack when trying to line it up it's just not worth using them as a primary attacker.
  • Expert level Devil May Cry 5 players almost universally struggle at high levels with V moreso than the other playable characters. While his fighting style takes some time getting used to at first, at mid-level, he does well against mooks and he can keep his Stylish rating high rather easily since he can avoid taking damage and losing ranks while still using his minions to combo, and Nightmare lasts long enough for his minions to not get knocked out easily. At higher difficulties, V's weaknesses start to show, namely his slow attacks and relatively weak combos. In Dante Must Die difficulty and Bloody Palace, enemies have more health and can gain Devil Trigger to become Immune to Flinching, so his minions are more likely to get knocked out, even moreso against bosses. He's not quite a Skill Gate Character and while it is possible to optimize V further, the amount of effort required to get a small improvement is much higher compared to the rest.
  • Mostly averted in Dragon Age due to Leaked Experience, but:
    • During the Fade sequence the Warden finds a whole host of stat-boost items that make him/her significantly more powerful. You get a bunch more in the expansion Awakening too.
    • Dog never really catches up to the humanoid party members after the first few hours of the game, since he can't equip proper armours or take any specialisations.
    • Sten is a subtler example. While his stats and talents are the same as any other warrior could have, he doesn't have a Specialization to start out with. Every other humanoid companion starts with one Specialization and learns another; Sten can only access the 'second' one. He falls behind Alistair and Oghren quite quickly.
    • Generally speaking, Warriors quickly become useless compared to Rogues and Mages. Rogues have hate control and massive evasion even without dexterity focused builds. Mages are even better tanks than Warriors and the best damage dealers.
  • In Dragon Quest VI, Ashlynn joins at a very low level and gains levels very slowly. Coupled with her being a very Squishy Wizard in a game where her high Wisdom has no effect on magic damage, she'll likely end up stuck in the wagon for most of the game (since she can't be dropped from the party at any point).
    • Terry may also qualify, given how late into the game he joins the party. While he starts off as the advanced Battlemaster/Gladiator class, by the time he joins, it's likely your other party members will be deep into their own advanced vocations.
  • In Dragon Quest IX, unless you've invested in a vocation's unique skill tree, changing to a new vocation brings you down to Level 1 with that class's base stats. While skills and gear can make up somewhat for the stat drops, Dragon Quest IX awards less experience to lower-level party members, making it especially difficult to bring characters who swap vocations back to usefulness.
  • In EarthBound (1994), Ness gains 200,000 EXP at once after completing Magicant, along with the most powerful attack in the game and massive stat boosts, putting him miles ahead of everyone else. Since he's the only party member you have for the first two or three hours of the game, he probably already was to begin with. Even moreso, the place where he gains 200,000 EXP is his own "personal dungeon," where he's been fighting end-game monsters solo for about an hour. He's overpowered entering that world, but the combined experience from all of it makes him unbalanced. (Hilariously enough, it's Paula and the player, not Ness, who are instrumental to defeating the final boss, despite Ness's ridiculously high stats).
    • Poor Poo gets hit with this especially hard, since he joins rather late and slightly underlevelled, and he proceeds to leave for not one, but two dungeons to learn PSI Starstorm.
  • Played with in Dynasty Warriors thanks to Guan Yinping. The youngest child and only daughter of Guan Yu, she nonetheless wants to live up to his legacy and so trains relentlessly, particularly to strengthen herself. The way she sees it, she needs to do everything she can to keep up with her three brothers. The way everyone else sees it, she's the waifish version of a Pint-Sized Powerhouse who Does Not Know Her Own Strength. She's keeping up just fine, Yinping's frame of reference is just a bit off thanks to her Badass Family, plus she's a bit ditzy and doesn't realize that nobody else tears bricks out of castle masonry by accident, or trains and fights with a weapon so heavy it can pin ancient China's biggest badasses to the ground if she throws it at them unexpectedly.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, Edwinna Elbert, Stewardess of the Ald-Ruhn Mages Guild Hall, considers herself one of the foremost experts on Dwemer technology. However, as dedicated as she is in her efforts as a Dwemer scholar, the Telvanni seem to have beat her to the punch, and at least two Telvanni mage lords own their own custom-built Dwemer centurion guards. One of these mages, Baladas, is also more knowledgeable about the Dwemer than Edwinna could ever hope to be, having a head start in the subject of several millennia. The only thing saving her research from being completely pointless is that the Telvanni don't care about sharing their findings outside their private circles, so Edwinna's "discoveries" seem more current than they actually are.
    • Skyrim:
      • Due to how Level Scaling works in Skyrim, the first few people you meet at the start of your journey are going to be around your level if they're not story-characters. As you get stronger all your foes get stronger too to a point. The problem comes in with dragon attacks, who can roast and decimate entire towns at higher levels , and vampires in Dawnguard as they just love to show up at night and kill everyone in town and they'll be too weak to fight back. Ulfric Stormcloak used to be this as at your fight with him became a short skrimish and his right hand man Galmar Stone-Fist will be an actual challenge.
      • Not just characters, but magic is hit by this too. Destruction spells have a hard-set damage and can only get 25-50% stronger with a 2-part perk for each type and being dual-cast for a heavier magicka cost (10% more damage for 40% more magicka and a better chance to stagger). The only way to make them stronger is for enemies to be weaker to that type of magic, meaning Frost spells are hurt first as nearly everyone and their mothers are Nords in Skyrim, you know the native people who are resistant to frost.
      • Conjuring is not as hard hit as you gain stronger and stronger summonings but they cost more and more and weaker summons become more and more useless.
      • Bound weapons that the Dragonborn can summon also fall into this; when you first get them they're the first Daedric weapons you get in a while and at that time everyone else has iron weapons, having the Mystic Binding perk lets the Bound Bow grant the most XP of any bow in game, and the Soul Stealer perk lets you soul trap. Their greatness falls off when you realize you're only holding a magical shade of the weapon and therefore you can't improve or enchant them (something you would want to do), they only last for a set time limit, and you can't use them on horseback or with other weapons.
  • This is implied to be the fate of the Brotherhood of Steel in Fallout: New Vegas. Decades ago, they were one of the strongest factions around, due to having a massive supply of pre-war technology and the engineers to maintain them and produce prewar-quality weapons and armor, in an era where everyone else is trying to struggle back to Iron Age levels After the End. But when other sides started to get their hands on the stuff, and started rebuilding and advancing, the Brotherhood's reclusiveness and Machine Worship meant that they stayed stagnant, while their rivals got more and more powerful. This culminated in the Battle of HELIOS One, where the Mojave Brotherhood chapter faced off against a New California Republic force that outnumbered them fifteen-to-one and possessed plenty of weapons competitive with what the Brotherhood could offer due to them having industrial-scale production of weaponry thanks to companies like the Gun Runners.note  By the start of the game, the remains of the Mojave chapter is huddled in a bunker and hoping that they can count on their ever-narrowing tech advantage if anyone finds them, while the main branch back in California is implicitly extinct after their disastrous war with the New California Republic. It also doesn't help that their general xenophobia prevents them from being able to replenishing their numbers quickly, unlike their enemies.
    • This also happened to the Khans, who were quite the terror as a raider clan in the days of Fallout, effortlessly harassing the community of Shady Sands and kidnapping the daughter of the town's founder. By the time of Fallout 2, that daughter is now the President of the New California Republic, and the New Khans, having rebranded after being almost wiped out, rely on squatters in their old home to continue their same-old raider schtick. Between 2 and New Vegas, the remains of the Khans migrated to Nevada where they recruited and became a powerful local raider tribe... only to be massacred down to near-nothing when the NCR arrived in the region and proved far more powerful than they ever could. By New Vegas, the Great Khans (rebranded once more) have taken refuge in a Nevada canyon, and are mostly fueled by their drug trade — there is only one ending where the Khans aren't completely wiped out, assimilated, or reduced to living on a reservation, and that ending involves them fleeing as far as possible from the NCR and getting trained by the Followers of the Apocalypse to learn some actual nation-building.
    • In general, raider tribes in New Vegas are conspicuously less prolific or feared. The Khans are lucky compared to the Jackals, Scorpions, and Vipers, who are now little more than highway robbers and avoid the more disciplined and militarized troopers of the more powerful factions — their old raider schtick just doesn't cut it in an actual burgeoning society, they can only be found in the anarchic sections of the map with few towns and no central governance (even then, they're not a huge threat). The only exception is the Fiends, who remain a threat due to having stumbled upon a massive cache of energy weapons (implied to be buttressed by Legion shipments purchased from the Van Graffs). Even then, the Fiends are only a minor threat due to the NCR being overstretched fighting the Legion, another actual nation-state: in every ending except Wild Card, the Fiends end up getting effortlessly wiped out either the NCR, House, or the Legion.
    • In Fallout, this happened to all the companions due to their inability to equip new armor. Though some of them can use new weapons, this turns them into Glass Cannons due to the best one around wearing nothing more than leather, and they lack proficiency in Energy Weapons and Big Guns. By the last third of the game, their only purpose is carrying your gear, as even one good shot from a Super Mutant will reduce them to red mist. Dogmeat suffers from this the most — he can't wear armor, can't carry your stuff, can't equip new weapons, can't be dismissed, and fights in melee — all of which are not good traits for a companion that will follow you to the end. In Fallout 2, this was averted, as all your companions could now wear armor... except Marcus, the Super Mutant. He has a lot of hit points and his skin is equivalent to combat armor, so he's a beast in the early to mid game, but his inability to equip armor means he'll get disintegrated in a single turn whenever the player's party has to fight end-game Enclave troopers.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Remakes of Final Fantasy II add the Soul of Rebirth scenario, a Brutal Bonus Level starring four characters who died in the main game, three of whom were Guest Star Party Members. Of the four members, poor Josef typically ends up like this. His stats will likely be poor, his attack power with his weapon of choice won't catch up to what Ricard or even Scott can do with their Infinity+1 Weapons, and unlike Minwu he lacks powerful magic to make up for it.
    • This is actually inverted in Final Fantasy VI. At several points in the game, unused characters have their level bumped up to the party average plus a static modifier. This means that unused characters often end up at a higher level than the characters you were actually using. They do have the minor drawback of missing out on esper bonuses, however.
    • Final Fantasy IX:
      • Steiner, whose underwhelming abilities didn't help the fact that once you get him back after a long absence, he's something like ten levels behind (particularly annoying, as he has one of the better Story Arcs, though he does get the experience-boosting 'Level Up' ability early on which makes leveling him up less painful).
      • Final Fantasy IX has a similar problem with Freya. While her action abilities are better than Steiner's, (albeit some of her best ones are based upon a variable) she is placed outside of the party along with Steiner. Once you finally have the option of putting her back in the party, she may be very far behind and some would prefer to stick with Amarant, who also has far more story events regarding him in the second half of the game than Freya does. Until you are forced to use her either Oelivert (Which is actually a good place to level a character like her or Steiner up) or Desert Palace.
    • This was also the central problem with Kimahri in Final Fantasy X. Because he essentially has no Sphere Grid of his own he has to hijack the grids of the other characters. The problem is that the other characters are so well suited to their grids that most players will find very little need for Kimahri beyond Kilika, usually causing his progression around the Sphere Grid to grind to a halt. Even his Overdrives are unremarkable compared to the other characters; fully maxed out Kimahri can cast Nova for a few thousand points... whilst Wakka will one shot nearly every enemy in the game. Kimahri also suffers because the majority of random encounters revolve around one character being able to usually be able to One-Hit Kill a specific type of enemy, while every other character is going to be far less effective against it. Yuna doesn't suffer from this because her role as a healer and summoner does give her a substantial use in combat other than one-hit killing an enemy type. There is no real point to swapping Kimahri into battle, since any enemy that isn't part of the one-hit kill puzzle battle dynamic can just as easily be handled by anyone else. On the upside the way the experience system works, there's no reason NOT to switch him in either.
    • In Final Fantasy Tactics, you tend to pick your core party of 5 characters to level up in Chapter One, and while it's not impossible for everybody else to play catch-up, most people don't bother. Except for Cidolfus Orlandeau. Better known as Thunder God Cid. Better known as the guy who can (and will) replace your best special melee classes with his own class which combines the three best close combat classes into one giant stabbing machine. Coming free in the storyline, along with Excalibur helps. He doesn't need to catch up because he gets gains levels along with your party and joins at the same level used to determine random encounters; he can solo the final boss from the moment you get him (if you are smart with abilities and equipment).
  • Particularly bad in Fire Emblem. Often you won't even be able to easily train your low-level units late into the game because by then most enemies will be able to permanently kill them in one hit. Low-level units do at least get a form of Leaked Experience in that they gain more XP from a given enemy than a high-level unit would. You'll end up with either a small group of highly-experienced war gods or a Redshirt Army, and since you can only field so many units at a time, too often a lot of perfectly good units become permanent bench-warmers not long after you get them.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is probably the worst offender, due to the game constantly jumping around between different armies. Unit availability is all over the place, and a lot of characters who have the potential to be good are simply not around often enough to train them up. There is also the large level disparity between the Dawn Brigade (most of whom start in early tier 1) and the Greil Mercenaries (most of whom start halfway through tier 2) leading to little reason to use the former group once everyone joins together.
    • Nino from Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade counts as well. While she's one of the best mages in the game due to her stat growths, she doesn't join the party until late in the game. When she joins, she is a level 5 Mage, the first tier of her class progression. By this point in the game, any characters that you have that you actually plan on using are most likely to be promoted by that point, and they easily outclass her. While it's certainly possible to level her up enough to catch up to the rest of the army, it requires funneling the vast majority of the enemy's arm toward her so she can pick them off, which means your other characters are losing out on experience.
    • Gwendolyn from Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a particularly notable example. By the time she joins your army, she's level 1 when most units will be near or at double digits. She joins your army at the same time as a much more capable unit of the same class, Armor Knight. She's also an Armor Knight in a game that isn't particularly kind to Armor Knights to begin with, given that their stat growths are mediocre and units with 4 Movement are not great for the timed objectives required for the True Ending. Immediately after Gwendolyn joins your army, you travel to an island full of pirates wielding axes. It becomes extremely difficult to train Gwendolyn (outside of taking her to an Arena and abusing save states), and it's widely agreed to be not worth the effort at all.
    • Her Lord, Roy, is also fairly notorious for this, as his promotion comes very late in the game (counting bonus chapters, he promotes at the end of the 27th chapter out of 31; otherwise, he promotes at 21 out of 22). If he's seeing combat with any regularity, he'll hit the Level Cap long before then. Add in that his growths and bases are somewhat lackluster to begin with, and Roy will spend a good portion of the game being unable to even damage a lot of enemies. Thankfully, once he's picked up the Binding Blade and promoted, he starts catching up to the rest of the army real fast.
    • In a literal case of this, Armor Knights are a bit notorious for being hard to level because they often physically cannot keep up with the rest of the army, especially on larger maps. This leads to them being outdone in their focus by fast units that grow more quickly.
    • Arden in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War seems practically designed for the above problem to hit him. His stats and growths are actually pretty good, but he has the worst movement speed of any unit in the whole first generation, and he's in a game where maps are absolutely colossal and he can't be transported easily. By the time Arden's trundled his way to the frontlines, chances are the many strong cavaliers, nobles, or Leg Ring users have already killed everything and are currently moving on to the next castle. Arden struggles just to get in kills, much less stay even with everyone else in levels, and by the third chapter, enemies can rip him open like a tin can unless you go out of your way to keep the rest of your army at his speed (and don't do that, unless you like watching villages get ransacked before you can reach them). A lot of his dialogue is him grumbling about how he could definitely kick some ass if he wasn't so horribly slow (but don't call him that).
    • Downplayed in later games in the series starting with Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, which introduce a "Casual Mode" that removes Permadeath. Future games also introduce semi-repeatable side-missions that allow units to grind for more experience. Even then, Lord units such as Marth, Chrom, and the Player Character of Fire Emblem Fates still tend to quickly outpace and exceed other units throughout the game. If the player chooses "Classic Mode" to instate permadeath, however, the trope is played straight.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has an unconventional example in the protagonist, Byleth. As the main character of the game, leveling isn't a problem at all — in fact, since their personal ability increases their experience gain (and that of adjacent allies) by 20%, they're likely to stay ahead of the curve, like other Lords. No, the issue is with skill proficiency: every other character can improve their skills through weekly lessons and one-on-one tutoring, but Byleth is the one teaching them. Their chance to learn is limited to training sessions with the other faculty on exploration days, during which you have a limited amount of time and a number of other activities that also demand your attention. As a result, their skill levels are ironically likely to trail behind their students'. Fortunately, they can start to catch up in Part 2, when Faculty Training is replaced by Advanced Drills, wherein they can learn from any character whose proficiency in a skill exceeds theirs; by that point your Professor Level should also have grown significantly, giving you more time to spend each day.
  • This ends up being the fate of poor Orca in the original .hack quadrilogy. At the very beginning of .hack//Infection, Orca is a level 50 character (which is roughly where you'll be expected to hit around the final boss of .hack//Mutation, Magus) while you're level 1. However, the plot gets kickstarted when Orca is Data Drained by Skeith and his player is knocked into a coma, with Kite's motivation being to find a way to help Orca and the other players rendered comatose. Appropriately enough, after defeating Corbenik and by extension, Morgana in .hack//Quarantine, Orca can be added to the party... but since he was in a coma all this time, he's still only level 50 when Kite and allies are all around the level cap of 100.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn have eight total party members, but only allow four in battle at a time. Characters who don't participate in battle only receive half of the experience points. While the intention of this mechanic was to encourage the player to switch their party around frequently to keep everyone close in power, it ended up having the opposite effect, as most players view it as more efficient just to funnel as much experience as possible into their four favorite characters and only bring out the rest when they absolutely have to. Not helping matters is that the combat of Golden Sun actually low-key encourages this; a common strategy for tough bosses is the "Suicide bomber" -The weakest party members are sent out first with all their Djinn ready to summon, the expectation being they will do a bunch of damage before quickly dying, at which point the main team can be sent in at full strength against a greatly weakened enemy.
  • In Legend of Mana, your NPCs and Mons aren't always bright enough to pick up EXP gems, making them lag unless you have an accessory equipped that allows Leaked Experience; still, leveling NPCs isn't very useful since their levels reset on New Game Plus.
  • There's a part in Lost Odyssey that can leave a player stuck if they fall into this. Oh, you were only leveling up your main power group this entire time? Too bad! Now you have to use your underleveled characters for the rest of this disc.
  • Ramus in Lunar: The Silver Star is more Can't Keep Ahead than Can't Catch Up. At the very beginning of the game, he's the strongest member of the party. But Alex and Luna upgrade all of their stats when they level up, and Ramus only upgrades his total HP (And he even stops doing that after a while). As a result of this, by the time he leaves the party (About 2-3 hours later if you're not in a rush) he's dropped to being the weakest member.
  • Manafinder: While Scar can get some upgrades from Dama's quests, he'll never gain the power and versality that Lambda can obtain. In the final chapter, Lambda leaves him in the Settlement while she goes to the final dungeon alone, since her next task is too difficult for Scar to significantly contribute.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, there's a very brief section where Mario and Luigi get separated, and Luigi has to go find his brother. You can get into a couple of Luigi-only fights at this point, and be annoyingly stuck with the Bros' XP levels being out-of-sync for the rest of the game.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, there's one point in Joke's End where you can split the bros up every time you visit. Since there are several segments where you play as just one brother (Guffawhaw Ruins, the repaired Koopa Cruiser, the following underground-Tee-hee Valley run, etc) it really helped even things out, since Luigi's stages tend to lack enemies, but Mario's don't... you can take advantage of this.
  • Similarly to Super Robot Wars, the MechCommander video games start commanders with a core cadre of pilots. As only those pilots who go into battles gain experience, some players spread around the experience so that pilots can level up more or less equally. However, the more experience a pilot gains, the higher their rank becomes. In the first game, this means that they are more proficient at using heavier chassis, meaning that they can use its weapons, equipment, and defenses to a greater extent. In the second game, this manifests as new skills you can teach a pilot who levels up. Therefore it is usually in a commander's best interest to pick a few pilots (mostly any regulars and a few promising rookies) and stick with them for the bulk of the game. As it's possible to lose pilots through sheer bad luck or poor strategic choices, new pilots are made available later on in both games through various fashions, but these pilots are usually have lower skill ratings even if they have similar ranks to the player's current pilots. The first game at least made all pilots more or less similar aside from their skill levels, but in the second game, where pilots are more specialized, later-game recruits and many, many green pilots generally won't see use and will fall behind. This is especially painful if more experienced pilots are lost and the player has to go into the endgame with underleveled green pilots with few or no skills.
  • Might and Magic VIII combines an arbitrary headcount limit with no Leaked Experience and permanent stat boni mainly something one can get in dungeons. Most of the end-game recruits are powerful enough in their own right to be valid choices, but that fellow you've left in the inn since you got to the second city?
  • This also becomes problematic in Nippon Ichi games. The main game can be brute-forced through with a core party of about a dozen or so characters (which is, coincidentally, about where the Arbitrary Headcount Limit is), usually with your protagonist(s) having the lion's share of attack power, but if you want to make any headway into the post game you'll have to juggle a much larger stable of classes and monsters, resulting in quite a bit of Level Grinding.
  • In the PlayStation version of Persona, experience is awarded based on the game's arbitrary and seemingly random perception of the character's usefulness in that battle. In other words, the strong get more experience and become stronger, while the weak get less experience and continue to lag behind.
    • One that's story related comes from Persona 5 Royal, which presents us with the case of Sumire Yoshizawa, whom despite working herself to the bone wasn't able to match the gymnastic talents of her older twin, Kasumi, despite being very good in her own right. This, among many other factors, formed a nasty inferiority complex that left Sumire with a nigh-suicidal outlook that almost claimed her life, if not for her sister's Heroic Sacrifice to prevent her from being struck by traffic. Sadly, this ended up making Sumire's mental state even worse, and it's all but stated that Dr. Maruki's cognitive-rewriting power (to make Sumire believe she was Kasumi at her own request) was the only thing keeping her from actively taking her own life. Sumire's coach, Hiraguchi, even notes that one large part of her declining performance was that Sumire was trying to emulate her late sister's bolder style whilst neglecting her own strengths. Once she manages to see this and begins working on polishing her own talents, Sumire has a significant improvement in ability, Hiraguchi even noting that she's finally matched her sister.
  • Pokémon has a few in-universe versions:
    • In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, where Brendan/May (the character you didn't choose) stops being your rival halfway through the game to focus on completing their Pokédex, while briefly acknowledging that you're way out of their league. They're replaced by Wally, who Took a Level in Badass in the intervening time.
    • In Pokémon Black and White, this is the entire point of Bianca's character arc: the unfortunate truth that not everyone can become stronger than they already are. Partway through the game she admits that she is nowhere near the level of the player or Cheren, and never will be, and so starts thinking about a new direction for her life. At the end of the game, she's become a lab assistant for Professor Juniper, a role she retains in the sequels.
    • Hop's character arc in Pokémon Sword and Shield ends similarly. While he is a skilled battler, he's still nowhere in the same league as his main rival (the player character), which causes him to reevaluate what he wants in life. Come the post-game, and he's decided to one day become a Pokémon Professor, now working as an assistant under Sonia (who had just succeeded her now-retired grandmother in the role).
    • Speaking of, Sonia herself was a case of this; a skilled trainer who nevertheless dropped out of the Gym Challenge due to feeling inadequate next to her rival (Hop's older brother and the region's Champion, Leon), after which she eventually settled on becoming a researcher after years of aimlessly hanging around her grandmother's lab.
  • This can be a major problem in Radiant Historia. While characters who are traveling with you but not in your active party get Leaked Experience, characters who aren't available at the time don't. The biggest offender is Rosch, who is in the rather unfortunate position of a) only really being available in one timeline, b) joining the party at a relatively low level, so he doesn't have much of a head start. c) he spends a significant chunk of that timeline incapacitated by injuries, further reducing the time he spends leveling in non-grinding gameplay.
  • In Radia Senki Reimeihen, Midea is all but guaranteed to join at a level lower than the rest of your party, leaving her already Squishy Wizard stats quite low. And then a glitch when re-encountering Saria causes her experience total to revert to Saria's starting experience. It doesn't lower Midea's level or stats, but levelling up at that point becomes nigh-impossible.
  • Inevitable in Radiata Stories. There are 177 playable characters and they will only receive experience if they're in your party. Because of Character Tiers, it's likely that players will only use maybe a dozen or so characters throughout the main storyline.
  • This issue has occurred in every Ratchet & Clank title since the advent of upgrading weapons and health via XP gained from killed enemies; the fans like to call this problem "Lancer Syndrome", since it happened to the Lancer, your starting pistol, in Going Commando. While the health increases throughout almost the entire game, the weapons do not, and so weapons bought early in the game aren't able to deal enough damage to enemies by the end. The only games that have come close to avoiding this issue are Ratchet: Deadlocked, as its weapons upgrade to V10 rather than V5 in a game that is shorter overall than other titles, and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, but only because it doesn't use the XP system to keep things fair between players. Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus averts this issue for the most part, as while your Dual Omniblasters won't do as much damage as the RYNO VII (obviously), they're still a perfectly viable choice for combat, even in Challenge Mode. It's noticeable that the weapons are trying to stay even, since once you start leveling your Omega weapons, you'll see that the damage increases by much bigger margins than they did previously, like the Terrorizer getting a 700% damage increase at a certain level.
  • In ShadowCaster, the player has access to a variety of forms—and experience points are awarded to the player's current form, and not to other forms. As a result, forms that the player uses more often will tend to become more powerful than forms that the player uses less often—which in turn may encourage the player to use the former even more often and the latter even less often...
  • In Shining Force III, you spend the game picking up around 30 main characters but only 20 can be active in your army at any one time. So you pick your favourites and train them leaving everybody behind. Then right at the end of the game you're forced to split your team into going into two fights against strong opponents, and guess who the second team consists of? Yeah all the guys sitting on the bench. Thankfully you can take part in training levels to help them level up (although Pen starting at tier 1 level 1 is a real challenge) and you can hire a couple of mid-level mooks to bluff out your team and give them a bit of a fighting chance.
  • Shining Force II had a similar problem regarding the way you could exploit the leveling system. Characters in the game could be promoted to a more powerful class at level 20. However, you could wait until level 40 before promoting your characters, making them far more powerful as a Level 1 promoted class than they would be if you'd promoted them at Level 20 (While still getting EXP as a Level 1 character). Unfortunately, in the second half of the game, you start picking up units who are already promoted, with stats reflecting a Level 20 promotion. This puts the new characters at such a disadvantage that it's not even worth trying to level them up.
  • In Silent Storm, this can actually happen to the player party as the game progresses- for some reason, members of the party gain skills and experience at much slower rate than those not on the field, effectively making the benchwarmers a solid option for switching party member before the last few confrontations in the secret war.
  • At least the first two Star Ocean games have this, as you can't take the main character out of the party, so if you're looking to have everyone else stay at an even level, he'll end up a dozen or more levels higher than everyone else.
  • This is what Cryptic wanted to avoid by modifying the Reputation System in Star Trek Online's Season 9 as they felt that players that were steamrolling through events weren't giving newer players a fair shake of the stick.
  • Occasionally an issue in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Companions usually join the player at the end of a particular planet's story arc. After the first couple, the game begins offering two planets to do in the story arc with no particular order required (though usually one is slightly lower-level then the other). Since the player could theoretically get either companion first they each tend to be at about the same gear level meaning that the second one obtained of the two will seem underpowered. While gear is resonably easy to come by, it can be a more pressing issue for droids like M1-4X and SCORPIO, who use less-common droid parts instead. This was changed with Fallen Empire, where companion gear became aesthetic (and the droids used nothing).
  • Super Robot Wars games are a bit more forgiving on this front than Fire Emblem, but this trope is still there: pilots that leave your party always catch up to your average level when they return. However, someone who never leaves the party may languish twenty levels behind your main guys until he or she is suddenly a Required Party Member who must be protected or, worse, a Required Party Member who sorties solo for several turns.
  • Sword of the Stars:
    • Humans and Tarka are a downplayed version. Humans have only average research rate and chances for high-end techs, meaning that other races are likely to race ahead if given time. Tarka have strong cruisers but inferior dreadnoughts or leviathans and not much better chances than humans. Both need to seize the early game and win by mid or be outteched fast.
    • Hivers are a slightly better example. They have below-average research rate and move slowly strategically, meaning they capture territory slower than the rest. They rely on a strategy with their highly durable spacecraft — best in the game until the Loa were introduced — and their Portal Network giving incredible defensive potential.
    • The Zuul are the strongest example. They have the worst research rate and poor chances for most high-end techs, meaning that they will lose out if forced into a long slog where their early advantages have been lost and they fail to salvage those techs through combat.
  • In Tales of Phantasia, the main male (Cless) and female (Mint) characters are sent to the past, leaving behind Cless's playable buddy Chester. After recruiting new characters and acquiring many levels, the party is sent back to the present, where one of the new characters laments that Chester is now too weak (being something like 30 levels behind) to go along with the party. However, the trope is averted, because as soon as he rejoins the party, Chester gains levels quickly. Also, the PSX, GBA, and PSP adaptations all added in cutscenes to kick Chester up thirty or forty levels after you get him back. Oh, and he gets actual techniques in those versions, including the ultimate arrow Toryuu (Dragon Slayer) — in the original, he's nothing but brute support.
  • Similarly to in Tales of Phantasia, in Tales of Destiny Garr and Mary both leave and return to the party later, and in both cases will be at the level you left them at when they rejoin, leaving both perilously underleveled when the game becomes more difficult in the second half. Both characters do not learn many artes, making them closer to The Load than useful party members.
  • In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, members of the previous game can join your party, but they don't gain experience, leaving them at whatever level the plot says they should be at. In normal play this isn't too bad, as the level they'll be forced into is enough to make them relevant in what ever plot fight you'll have... until New Game Plus, as the old cast will be woefully behind the new characters with no way to advance. It gets to the point that you're better off ignoring the old party members and just using Mons, as they still gain levels.
  • In both the computer and tabletop version of Avalon Hill's Third Reich, the French army never improves, ever. Normally this isn't a problem, because France usually falls to the Germans no later than Spring 1941. But sometimes, especially if the Axis player decides to go east and attack the Soviet Union first, France may hold out more or less indefinitely, in which case this trope becomes very noticeable. Every other country gets new units in 1942 or '43; even the Italians get a paratrooper and another 9-factor fleet. The French are stuck with mostly 2-3 infantry and a few 3-5 armor units, plus two 5-factor air fleets, and they never get a paratrooper. There's just not a lot they can do at that point. Although this may be more a case of "Can't Avoid Falling Behind".
  • Valkyrie Profile:
    • In Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (the PSP port of the original game), the titular Valkyrie must always be in your party. Since you have a couple dozen other characters to recruit and train, this means by the end of the game, she may be up to 10 levels higher than the next closest warrior. More so because you're expected to, every so often (more often than you'd like if you want the best ending) kill off one of your characters. You're rewarded with an item that boosts the stats of a second character based on how high a level the one you killed off was, and the best ending and bonus dungeon requires a fairly high total minimum level of all your sacrifices.
    • It's true to a much smaller extent in Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, where the player can choose to keep the "A team" throughout the game and not sacrifice them, but eased somewhat in that if you don't sacrifice anyone, the plot path gives you fewer characters to begin with.
  • This is very noticeable in Warhammer 40000: Rites of War.
    • As the game progresses, new units become available, but as units see action, they gain experience, which means that the units you've had since early in the game will have become very powerful by the time many of the more advanced units become available. This would not be a problem if there weren't a pretty tight cap on the number of units you can have in your army, which only increases very slowly. As a result, you are unlikely to ever use many of the units that become available later in the game. Sure, all else being equal, Warp Spiders might make a better tactical unit than Dire Avengers, but all else is not equal: level zero Warp Spiders are nowhere near as powerful as Dire Avenger Exarchs. To make matters worse, because highly experienced units are so effective in combat, you are likely to rely on them very heavily in combat, and guess what units earn experience from: combat. So even if you do bring in novice units into your army, they are likely to advance slowly if at all. This is an especially acute problem with support units, especially psykers. For most of the campaign, the only psykers available to you are Warlocks, who have one, purely defensive psyker ability, and very little in the way of combat ability otherwise, meaning that it is very hard for them to gain the experience to advance to a level where they gain actually useful psyker abilities. Eventually you get a Farseer, who is already at a high experience level and has all four Eldar psyker abilities; also, you eventually gain the ability to recruit Space Marine Librarians, who have access to all four of their psyker abilities at level zero. There is some good news in all this: reinforcements you gain on the battlefield, which mostly means friendly units you rescue from Tyranid encirclement, come in at high levels of experience. Also, in one of the later scenarios in the campaign, one can acquire an artifact called the Chalice of Khaine, which enables, among other abilities, the unit that possesses it to advance in experience very quickly. At that point it starts looking profitable to recruit a green unit per scenario, since that unit can end up at level ten in one scenario with the right usage. Lastly, the Avatar of Khaine is automatically at level ten when he becomes available, averting this trope.
    • There's also a literal example of this with the Imperial units you can recruit, especially Space Marines: they are generally noticeably slower than Eldar units, meaning that as your army advances on the battlefield, they tend to fall behind. Which means that Eldar units, at the front line, tend to see a lot of combat, and gain experience quickly, while the slower Imperial units, in the rear, see comparatively little combat, and gain little if any experience. If you do have highly experienced Imperial units, they still tend to fall to the rear and see less actual combat, so you get little if any use out of what are, on paper, highly experienced, powerful units. Again, this is a more serious problem with the Space Marines and Imperial Guard; the Adepta Sororitas tend to be quicker, and can generally keep up with the Eldar. Also, all aerial units tend to be very fast.
  • A similar problem occurs in another Warhammer 40,000 computer game, Dawn of War 2: you can control up to six squads of Blood Ravens space marines, but can only ever deploy four squads per mission. Since squads tend to gain most of their experience from going on missions, the squads you get early tend to have more experience, and be more powerful, than the other squads you get later. Because they are more powerful, you tend to rely on them more, using them in more missions, so their experience advantage continues to grow, making them even more powerful, thus inducing you to rely on them even more. The first expansion pack, Chaos Rising, helped ameliorate this problem by allowing more Leaked Experience and by requiring the use of certain squads in certain missions to avoid corruption.
  • And in Warhammer 40,000: Gladius, this is why the Space Marines are bottom-tier in multiplayer play. Early on, their Tactical Marine squads dominate the starting units of other factions and perform well against most of the local wildlife of Gladius. Their infantry squads scale quite well in the mid-game too, provided you conserve them and get them plenty of experience, but by now they will be falling behind other factions in economy and production (Space Marines only have one city, their Fortress-Monastery). You can also unlock new abilities and upgrades for units to allow them to stay competitive, like Land Speeders getting Multi-Meltas can become decent tank hunters. By late-game however, the Astra Militarum will have their factories up and running, the Necrons will have all woken up, and the Ork WAAAGH! will be at a fever pitch. If you didn't do enough to cripple these factions earlier then your veteran forces will be crushed under a tidal wave. Not helping is their late-game units are surprisingly weak: their ultimate unit, the Land Raider, is an armoured transport that is only slightly mightier than the Militarum's mid-tier Leman Russ tank, and the Baneblade far outstrips it with its tonka-tough HP pool (more than double that of the Land Raider's) and eleven barrels of Hell.
  • World of Warcraft examples:
    • Once played straight with Hunter pets; if you were wandering around as a level 60 Hunter and spotted a level 5 Beast you wanted, you had to raise it all the way from level 5. An update changed that though — now, if you happen to tame one that's substantially lower level than yourself, the tamed pet will automatically be raised to your level minus 5.
    • Early WoW (particularly Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King era, which still featured attunement quests for dungeons and raids) had a major problem for characters who began late in an expansion; players would often focus exclusively on the current tier of content, which had a often had a higher item level requirement than what was available through questing. As they lacked the power and experience to compete in current content, the only way to catch up was to be a member of a leveling group, or to get 'carried' through a dungeon for gear, as few other players would tolerate the power gap. This problem was exacerbated for new players, who had to level a character all the way to the maximum without the catch-up mechanics available for alts, and often lacked connections. Later expansions have worked to alleviate this through various catch up mechanics; every expansion now comes with character boost, allowing newcomers to make a character of that expansion's minimum level. As the expansion progresses, various catch-up mechanics are instituted; the 'basic' ilevel available to max level-characters is raised by introducing new questing zones and buffing dungeon drops, reputation is made much easier to grind, and expansion-specific mechanics (such as Artifact Power) are made much more accessible. Content with attunement requirements will often have those requirements lifted as they pass out of the current content tier, and older content is kept more relevant through level scaling or the Mythic Plus system.
    • Warlords of Draenor has this problem with garrison followers. If you do a lot of follower missions to level them up, chances are that followers recruited later will be behind your current ones. Especially egregious with random followers recruited in the garrison inn, who always start at level 90, even if you have twenty level 100 followers by that point. Luckily, to mitigate this trope, the game tries to provide missions spread over your follower levels, so that the lower-level ones can catch up, or even be paired with higher-level followers to increase mission success chance. This problem was alleviated by the garrison's successor in Legion; champions gained later on begin at a higher level (possibly even 110), and disposable troops have no levels or equipment to begin with.

    Visual Novels 
  • This tends to happen in Double Homework whenever the protagonist doesn't get sexual with one of the girls as early as he can. He won't be able to meet the relationship point threshold required for the next sexual act in most cases. This can easily lead to getting permanently locked out of a relationship with one or more of the girls.

  • In Dubious Company, Lieutenant Paladin Leeroy Perkins, who wants to prove himself as the best at something, anything, is cursed to be Number Two at everything. He's a good fighter, but not as good as Tiren. He's smart, but not as smart as Sal. He's skilled, but not as skilled as Walter. He's second-grade Bishounen compared to Elly. And unbeknownst to him was runner-up to Sal as The Chosen One. God flipped a coin.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is how Sarah felt in relation to the magic-capable rest of the main cast or her very successful sister. This changes slightly once she gets Tedd to give her magic transformation watches and then more so once she gets a spell of her own.
  • In the later parts of Homestuck, most of the trolls slip further and further behind everyone else, since every single human character reaches the God Tiers and gains world-altering cosmic powers, while most of the trolls don't. Karkat stands out in particular, to the point where he openly complains about it.
  • In Tower of God, the Tower's tests are effectively designed to cull off those Regulars (people trying to climb the Tower for great status and power) who can't keep up. While everyone gets more powerful as they advance, those who already were powerful tend to retain their edge, and at every stage, the number of people who can pass decreases, until only one out of thousands makes it to the top. Since the Regulars largely compete against each other, the difficulty level of keeping up increases automatically as their numbers dwindle. People who have superpower-granting royal blood or are just insanely talented have the edge over everyone else, usually including hard workers.
    • A more pronounced example (and more closely matching the trope definition) is with the protagonist Baam, who is an Irregular and keeps unlocking more and more of his seemingly unlimited power potential all the time. Essentially, if a normal Regular's advancement is linear, Baam's is exponential, so the gap to everyone else keeps growing. Evan Edrok even says Baam can't go on climbing the Tower with his friends because of the power gap — though that raises the question of just what he's supposed to do, since his friends are still powerful Regulars, and no Regulars are going to be able to keep up with Baam. It's not like having no companions is going to be an improvement.

    Web Original 
  • Gavin Free in Achievement Hunter's Let's Play Minecraft series is this trope. The series is over 100 episodes long and Gavin's only won the Tower of Pimps six times. This is due to three reasons: he's a troll, he tends to be quite incompetent at times and, if he's close to winning, everyone else will drop what they're doing and kill Gavin's character just so he doesn't win. His first and third victories, in "Hunger Games" and "Mad King Ryan", was because he was able to get to the person he needed to kill and kill them one-on-one. The second one, "Shopping List", could be described as Karmic Victory as Gavin ended up winning after Ryan drowned him and nearly irrevocably set him back.
  • Coldly discussed by Perfect Cell in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. After Vegeta allows Cell to go Perfect and the bio-android proves to be much stronger, Cell wipes the floor with Vegeta, giving him one last piece of advice before taking him out:
    Next time, why don't you remember your place like the rest of them...and wait for Goku.
    • Discussed as well in... any scene involving Krillin, but especially one where Guru unlocks his full hidden potential — only for Krillin to discover, to his dismay, that it wasn't that much. (True to form, in the original series, Krillin's powerup amounted to very little.)
      Krillin: ...I don't feel that different.
      Guru: It wasn't that much.
      Krillin: Huh. So, this is my full potential?
      Guru: Yes.
      Krillin: So it's...
      Guru: All downhill from here.
      Krillin: (disheartened) ...Like Yamcha.
    • This also becomes a point of irritation with Tien, whose bulkier Heroic Build is pointed out by Krillin early in the third season. It’s later revealed by Chiaozu that a doctor said Tien’s shoulders getting any bigger would be a detriment to his health. Tien’s response was that being the reason he doesn’t see that doctor anymore. And he later grows more snarky about the gulf widening, saying that being healed during the final confrontation with Perfect Cell only means he gets to watch vertically instead of horizontally.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, there's Sokka. The plot of an episode is based on him realizing this and leaving the group temporarily to learn swordplay. He does have a lot of non-combat skills, being The Smart Guy behind many of the group's strategies, but even after learning swordplay, there remains little he can do in direct fights against people with elemental powers (which is the vast majority of their opponents), though he is shown to be able to fight said opponents, like Azula, at close range and does get one fatal move in against Combustion Man later in the series. But in general, he works best in group vs. group scenarios.
  • In Dragon Booster, Artha became so powerful towards the end that the regular antagonist, Moordryd, got an upgrade early in the third season. Even so, he was left in the dust in terms of power. Artha's teammates didn't even get upgrades, instead sitting around watching Artha and Moordryd shoot magical beams at each other for much of the third season.
  • Poor Scootaloo from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is this in regards to flying, as every other pegasus her age has already figured it out. It would take a while for the series to make it clear that she wasn't just a late bloomer, but is actually handicapped.
  • In the backstory of The Owl House, teenaged Wizarding School student Lilith Clawthorne found herself hopelessly outstripped in terms of magical prowess by her delinquent hellion of a younger sister Edalyn. Nigh on thirty years later Lilith is the leader of the Emperor's Coven while 'Eda the Owl Lady' is a junk dealing petty criminal who must devote a good portion of her personal power to fending off a degenerative curse... and when push comes to shove still outclasses her.
  • An inverted case in SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, where the titular duo are the best-of-the-best, leaving the other Enforcers in the dust whenever they have to confront the Villain of the Week. Well, technically; they're former Enforcers who were discharged from the organization after disobeying orders.
  • Transformers: Beast Wars:
    • On the Maximal side this is avoided: Despite not going TransMetal or getting a shiny new upgrade like the better half of his teammates, Rhinox still managed to hold his own in most fights. Really, everyone else caught up to Rhinox. Dinobot also manages to be extremely badass despite no upgrades, going so far as to take on the entire Predacon team by himself. And Optimal Optimus? Not only does he miss Chew Toy Waspinator, he gets shot down by him.
    • The Predacons, on the other hand, play it straight. Inferno was dominant when he was introduced in Season 1, and Quickstrike, while never as much of a threat as Inferno, was reasonably well powered when he came in at the start of Season 2. Neither were given upgrades while the Predacon team got fairly significant upgrades all around. And then we have Waspinator — started as the weakest Predacon and *never* got an upgrade. But you gotta give him points for sheer endurance.
    • In the fandom, this is part of the "to sell toys" effect. A character who just had a new toy released will be fairly dominant, powerful, and competent, but if they aren't getting new toys (which often get translated into upgraded forms), then they can't keep up with the characters who are. Sky-Byte, like Waspinator, is another case of a character who started out as reasonably tough if a bit bumbling and quickly dropped to the Butt-Monkey as better villains showed up or got upgrades.
  • Miraculous Ladybug starts off with every superpowered character having one power as something of a rule. But then season 4 reveals said rule doesn’t apply, it’s just that the people who wrote down the book detailing the powers just never thought of trying anything other than those one abilities. Subsequently, Marinette and Gabriel figure out how to expand upon their power of Creation and Transmission… while Adrien never discovers this fact and is stuck with just one power. (Granted, there aren’t many ways to vary with Destruction, and the Guest-Star Party Member heroes are similarly behind, but still)
  • Literal example in Young Justice (2010). During the Invasion season, Wally decides to retire as Kid Flash, feeling that he can't be as fast as Barry Allen (the current Flash) and that he'd just slow him down.note  This feeling is made even worse when Barry's grandson, Bart Allen, comes from the future and proves to be faster than Wally despite being much younger. This leads to Wally's death in the series finale.

    Real Life 
  • Every so often, sports produce a case of Can't Catch Up. Sometimes one of a pair of rivals will steadily fall behind another. Other times, a team (or even family!) will produce a slew of talented competitors and one competent one who can never seem to live up to his comrades. This is usually very disheartening for athletes and fans alike. Very common in sports that don't use some sort of controlled draft. Successful teams have more money and/or prestige which allows them to attract better players which brings them more success.
    • A notable recent example was in Formula One. In 2014, along with the new 1.6L turbocharged engines, the FIA introduced a set of restrictions that limited the amount of development that manufacturers could do to these engines during the season. When Mercedes turned out to have the best engine by some margin, the restrictions meant that there was nothing Ferrari and Renault could do about it, and Mercedes proceeded to curb-stomp the rest of their field two seasons running. The final straw came when Honda entered in 2015 with a sub-par engine and were left unable to get it up to scratch, turning McLaren's next three seasons into one long Humiliation Conga. Fearing that the Honda debacle would put other potential engine suppliers off, and that Mercedes' dominance would put the existing suppliers off, the FIA scrapped the restrictions for 2016 onwards.
    • Another notable example was from 1984 through 1996 in the National Football League; during that span, not a single team from the American Football Conference won a Super Bowl. Not ever. Only two of the championships were even close, and they also qualified as utter heartbreakers for the hapless teams involved (the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIIInote  and the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVnote ). It wasn't until the 1997 season that the Denver Broncos (who themselves had suffered three fandom-scarring blowouts during the streak) finally caught up and won a championship.
  • Also common in music. For example, One Direction and The Wanted were equal rivals when the two groups were only popular in the UK. Then, One Direction had a meteoric rise to international popularity whereas The Wanted got rejected by other countries in less than half a year and were starting to fade away in the UK itself.
  • The Matthew Effect. Named for a line in The Bible which says that those that have will be given more, but those that don't won't even be given any. The sports example? Many people noticed that if you're born past June, you're screwed since they won't let you on the team for one more year. And one year, unfortunately, makes a LOT of difference, as those accepted keep getting better training, while those that didn't aren't even allowed the next year.
  • Due to the extreme competitiveness of the automobile market, cars can quickly become completely irrelevant after only a year or two of being left behind.
    • The American Motors Corporation was originally the top dog in small cars due to their efficiency and simplicity, lacked the money to design new engines, so they were stuck with torque-y but inefficient six-cylinder engines while the other domestic and foreign manufacturers were pumping out efficient (if horribly slow) four-cylinders in The '70s. When the Oil Crisis hit, AMC went belly up due to their economy cars getting the mileage of competitor's mid-sized cars, and then got bought out by Renault, then Chrysler (who only wanted AMC's Jeep brand).
    • Chrysler is the most infamous American example, because they ignored their small economy car segment in the The '70s in favor of enormous land yachts, they got shafted by the Oil Crisis and became stuck playing catch up for thirty years while frequently teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Almost every small car they produced was either outdated, unreliable, or just a rebadged Mitsubishi. When Mercedes Benz bought them, Chrysler became The Load and got shuffled around by multiple owners until FIAT bought them; and only after FIAT took over did they start producing competent small cars.
  • This can also happen with nations; many a former superpower has failed to catch up with their peers and promptly gotten steamrolled. A good modern example is North Korea, which put up a rather strong front in the Korean War against the US Army, particularly with Chinese backing. Sixty-five years later, their arsenal and international support has decayed so badly that most find the concept of them repeating their near conquest of South Korea laughable (particularly since the South has become a major player on the world stage in the meantime), despite them spending more by percentage on their military than any other nation. (For comparison, the North spends about a full third of its GDP on the army, or around 3.6 trillion won; the South spends "only" 1.8% — which translates to 35.3 trillion won. That's right: the entire economy of North Korea is only about a third of the military budget of the South, and that is only a tiny fraction of the total South Korean economy.) If not for their nukes and the tacit backing of China, they wouldn't still be a danger nowadays.
  • Due to trends like stagnant wages and high home prices in The New '10s, there are worries that the Millennial Generation may never have the same social stability/mobility as their predecessors. Those from Generation Z (the next generation after Millennials) are also expected to face similar troubles.
  • Gottlieb was THE pinball manufacturer, and the first choice for operators and collectors, up until The '80s, when solid state technology became small enough, advanced enough, and inexpensive enough to be put into pinball machines. Gottlieb's competitors, Williams Electronics and Bally, both adopted solid state components into their machines as early as 1978, which allowed for pre-recorded audio, digital score displays instead of scoring reels (which also allowed the machines to display letters as well as numbers), more complex rules, save data, and more complex playfield designs. Gottlieb, meanwhile, continued to make machines the same way as before. Though they eventually adopted solid state systems and other advancements in arcade gaming, Gottlieb remained a few years behind Williams and Bally — as Gottlieb adopted the new technology the competitors used, said competitors already had new and more advanced components inside their machines. Eventually, with no reason for operators to buy Gottlieb's machines over the other companies, Gottlieb folded in 1995.
  • Williams and Bally would experience their own case of this trope a few years later. Having merged into one company, they were unable to remain financially viable in the dwindling arcade scene as video games moved almost completely into the home and as they became increasingly advanced and varied in their gameplay. Unlike Gottlieb, however, they Took a Third Option: Williams moved into gambling machines, whereas Bally would focus on making yachts and fitness centers, which has allowed them to survive into the present day.


Video Example(s):


Squidward Tentacles

Squidward gets beaten up trying to reclaim the Secret Formula after Bubble Bass stole it.

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / CantCatchUp

Media sources: