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Crutch Character

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"Sir Jagen is a paladin: the champion of Altea! I’ve never met him, but I hear he’s strong as an ox despite his age. Still, you can't have a champion like him do everything; that’s not fair to all your would-be future champions! Let our other units fight and gain experience, or you may find yourself in a real fix down the line."
A villager, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, on Jagen

Crutch characters are video game party members (including teammates, summons, Mons, etc.) available early in the game, who start off stronger than their peers, but cannot be relied on indefinitely. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

Thus, they are like a crutch — you can lean on them to overcome a weakness at first, but eventually, the game will kick the crutch out from under you. If you haven't been developing your other characters, expect a rude awakening. Even if you keep the crutch around, they will become a liability simply by taking away a party slot from a character with higher potential.

Often, Crutch Characters are bodyguards or protectors of some sort. They are also frequently older than the average age of the party, perhaps also being a mentor to the main hero or the party in general. They often have some sort of minor healing ability that is quickly outpaced by a dedicated healer, but is useful in the early going, and/or come with a few Healing Potions in hand for the same effect.

A Crutch Character serves two major purposes — First, their initial strength helps to avert Early Game Hell by keeping the player from being overwhelmed when they are new and inexperienced. Secondly, most novices, given a powerful unit, will come to overly rely on him, and won't develop their other units enough. By quickly obsoleting or otherwise removing the Crutch Character, the designers deter this strategy; in other words, it's a way of attacking the Unstable Equilibrium.

All of that said, sometimes this trope doesn't quite work out — for example, the character might have poor stat growth, but their starting stats could be sufficient enough to handle most of the game's challenges. Additionally, there may be a means (such as a Minmaxer's Delight or Elite Tweak) to MinMax them and keep them relevant. If the designers do not deter this strategy, you have a full-blown One-Man Party.

A specific form of The Ace. See also Disc-One Nuke, Overrated and Underleveled, Skill Gate Character, Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, and Changing Gameplay Priorities. Contrast with Magikarp Power and One-Man Party. This character often acts as the EXP version of So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear.

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    Action Adventure 
  • Lon Lon Milk in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You get it very early in the game, it can be bought for only 10 rupees, it can be gotten for free by playing a song for cows (not that the game tells you that one, though), and you get two helpings per bottle. Its biggest draw, however, is it only replenishes 5 hearts per swig. In the early game when bottle space is limited, money is tight, and you only have a half-dozen or so hearts, it is instrumental for getting through dungeons in one piece. Once you get a bigger full wallet and nothing else to spend money on, more bottles, and more hearts, however, its 5 heart recovery just doesn't cut it any longer and you'd be better off bringing along a fairynote  or a blue potionnote .
  • The Phantom Armour is like this in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In the early game, it's amazing since it boosts Link's attack by three stages and acts like a second tier armour set without requiring any upgrades. This makes Master Mode much more manageable early on. However, it also cannot be upgraded at any point, so once you've started upgrading armour to level 3 or above, it ends up outclassed by almost every other armour set in the game. This is especially true compared to the Barbarian set and Fierce Deity set, which have the same effects yet are able to be upgraded like normal.

    Beat Em Up 
  • Advance Guardian Heroes has an interesting version of this. Throughout the game, you're pitted against the main characters from the first game, and upon beating them they lend you their soul, offering a massive stat boost. However, said stat boosts get taken away frequently (whenever you fight one of the heroes, first you have to beat them, and then the souls you've collected so far are taken away and turned back into the characters they belong to, and then you have to fight them all over again all at once) and in the final boss fight they're permanently taken away one by one, so if you aren't still leveling up these boosted stats you'll be in for a world of hurt.
  • In Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, Uni is a victim of this. Early game has players use Uni, find a spot on the map and start shooting at whatever comes at her way just by holding the Square button. Very useful early game and quite a bit in the mid game, but when pitting her against bosses, she barely can damage them. The Final Boss makes her even worse at that as the preferred range of attacking the boss is actually near her.

    Card Games 
  • Slay the Spire has a few game pieces that help you at low levels and fall off later:
    • Orichalcum is a relic that gives you 6 block if you end a turn without any blocks. This is pretty good in Act 1, where it's sufficient and helps free up energy for attacking. However, in the late game, 6 block is nothing.
    • When it comes to the game's Ascension system, Sozu is a crutch relic. It gives you an extra energy at the cost of not letting you obtain potions. At low Ascensions, it's close to free energy, as you can generally get away with minimal potion use. However, on high Ascensions, potions are vital and the drawback is a lot worse.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Borderlands:
    • Mordecai characters who focus on Bloodwing with leveling up. Early on during the game, Bloodwing can One-Hit Kill enemies left and right and turn boss battles into a joke. Once you get to the higher levels, though, Bloodwing barely scratches the majority of the enemies you face. Luckily, Borderlands allows you to respec your abilities on a whim, so Bloodwing-spec hunters aren't screwed once they get to the late-game.
    • Likewise, Bricks who go into maxing out Brawler/Tank trees with the right cooldowns & class mods (Having a five second cooldown on your minute default skill? Sure, why not). Extremely potent in the first playthrough, arguably to the point of being a Game-Breaker, but because of how the game scales Berserk damage, it skill becomes decreasingly useful throughout the second playthrough, prompting a lot of Bricks to respect into the Blaster/Tank trees and use Berserk for healing.
  • In Borderlands 2, a few characters have trees that fall into this.
    • Salvador's Brawn tree. His action skill makes him dual-wield, regenerate ammo, reduce damage, and heal 50% of his total health. Brawn increases his survivability. However, most of these skills are based on either health regeneration (which doesn't grow nearly as fast as enemy damage) or only work while Gunzerking (which has a time limit). By the time you get to True Vault Hunter Mode, most enemies will be able to kill in 2-5 hits, while every regen ability at once will take well over ten seconds to restore full health. In contrast, many high-level offensive builds will have their skills all working together to boost damage exponentially, letting you kill almost everything before it gets a hit in.
      • Borderlands 2 also has a mechanic known as "health gating" where, as long as you are above 50% health, enemies cannot deplete your entire health bar in one hit. This means that taking skills that increase your max health isn't just useless on higher difficulties, it's actively detrimental. Keeping your health as low as possible while using one of Moxxi's unique weapons (which all have a Life Drain effect that is based on the damage you do) can potentially make you unkillable, Salvador especially.
    • Gaige's "Best Friends Forever" skill tree focuses on powering up her Deathtrap similar to Mordecai's Bloodwing in the first game. The tree also contains skills like "Close enough" which gives missed bullets a chance to ricochet back to the enemy, making aiming easier for beginners, but also for people who enjoy using Anarchy, which increases power at the expense of accuracy.
    • Axton's Gunpowder tree. Nuke is insanely powerful in normal mode, does decent damage in true vault hunter mode, and barely tickles the enemies in ultimate vault hunter mode. Similarly, Double Upnote  becomes 100% useless once you can Slag regularly from other sources.
      • The turret itself qualifies, scaling down in damage much like the Nuke does. Also, it does not target bosses. You can use the turret to kill nearly everything, get to the boss, toss out the turret... and stare at it while it just sits there doing absolutely nothing. This is shown the most in the Gunpowder skill tree, where the Sabre Turret is only used to keep the heat off Axton as he uses his own weapons, eg. Torgue or Dahl assault rifles/rocket launchers, and his grenades to deal damage at medium range.
    • Zer0's Sniping tree features amazingly versatile skills early on (Accuracy Bonus? Check. Critical hit bonus? Check. Penetrating Critical hits with stupidly increasing damage PER enemy penetrated that can be performed with near enough any weapon AND highlights prime critical hit locations? Check. Check and Check.), however you go any deeper and you would be better off going into close combat rather than snipe the enemy.
    • Zer0's Bloodshed (melee) tree is amazingly useful when you gain its final ability, allowing you to clear rooms of mooks with contemptible ease. Once you enter the endgame and start looking at taking on the end- and Optional Bosses, however, you find that bloodshed is amazingly not-useful against anything you cannot One-Hit Kill, and in Optional Boss land and in ultimate vault hunter mode it's all about being able to stack that rapid-fire damage.
  • Claptrap in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is a crutch character. You need a steady supply of oxygen to survive outside world areas, which are widespread in early game, and you start out fighting enemies that inflict Fire damage that shreds unarmored flesh; but since Claptrap is a robot, he does not need any oxygen, and takes reduced damage from non-elemental and Fire attacks like most in-universe robots. However, his action skill relies entirely on randomness: you never know what specific effect you're going to get, and this makes planning your fights much more difficult than the rest of the cast that has predictable action skills.
  • The Tutorial Mission of Far Cry 3 involves escaping Vaas' compound... with Jason's ex-Army brother leading the way. He talks you through it, tells you exactly where to go and what to do to avoid being spotted, and even kills the few enemies who the two of you stumble across. Then he's fatally shot, Vaas gives you a head start just for the hell of it, and you're left to your own devices for the rest of the game.
  • Team Fortress 2 doesn't have any examples in its standard game modes, but does have a few in Mann vs. Machine.
    • The Heavy. Because Mann vs. Machine focuses on wave defense, Heavy's insane DPS and Bottomless Magazines makes him by far the best attacking class without upgrades except when attacking tanks (because Tanks have 75% damage resistance against minigunsnote ). However, he cannot improve his direct damage nearly as much as other classes: most can increase base damage, fire rate, and reload speed, while Heavy can only increase fire rate (and it's at a greater cost per upgrade than anyone else). Because of this, it's common on the harder missions for a few players to play Heavy for a few rounds without spending any money, then spend the money on a class that benefits from it more, like Demoman.
    • The Pyro is normally an example of the opposite trope, but a specific weapon for it that works this way is the Flare Gun. Its fire rate and ammo count upgrades are cheap to unlock, so you can quickly get a fast-firing weapon that deals a consistent 90 damage to most robots from any range. That's all it can offer, though; the Flare Gun can't have its direct damage upgraded and only hits one target at a time, which leaves it hanging against bulkier giant robots and bigger hordes in the later waves.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Darktide has a Crutch Move with the Psyker's Brain Burst, pre-class overhaul. This move deals 1000 base damage to an enemy (825 against Carapace-Armored foes), often popping the heads of anything it hit. However, the attack comes with flaws, one being a rather long cast time during which another player could kill the Psyker's intended target, and it did not have any upgrades that increased its base damage. Brain Burst's fixed base damage became a liability in higher difficulties, where enemies had much more health and could survive a single cast, while weapons could be upgraded to surpass 1000 damage in the same time it took for Brain Burst to cast.

    Hack and Slash 
  • Unicorn Gundam from Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3. Available as soon as Banagher Links become playable, this Mobile Suit isn't anything special while on his standard mode. However, once it uses a SP attack, it changes into Destroy Mode, that makes it extremely fast, with a much longer range and a small attack bonus. Once it gets into Destroy Mode, his speed and range makes it possible to destroy several enemies at once, which will raise its SP gauge very quickly and allows the player to enter in Destroy Mode again and again, in a infinite cycle. However, by abusing it the player will neglect developing other suits that are mandatory in other missions. Long story short, the player will have to stop and grind for a while every time he stumbles with a harder mission in which he isn't allowed to use the Unicorn Gundam.
  • The Amazon in the Capcom arcade game Magic Sword: Heroic Fantasy. She can hit max level (8) before the first main boss, and her crossbow can clean up virtually anything. But it's weak compared to other allies on similar levels. In fact, she ends up unavailable through the last third of the game (unless another player joins in). The Knight, on the other hand, is the other way around.

  • Prince Rurik of Guild Wars escorts the party of PCs and, if so desired, NPC henchmen on a number of missions. Given that he's level 10 and never changes that, he's quite useful when your character is level three and, well, peters off after that. Then, quite naturally, he bites the dust. Who didn't see that one coming?
    • Heroes, introduced in Nightfall and further in Eye of the North, act as customisable henchmen and veritable Crutch Characters. Each hero fills out a single party slot, but have access to any skills that your account, rather than character, has unlocked. For Elonan characters (characters that start in the Nightfall campaign), Nightfall heroes are generally introduced at comparative levels to yours, but Eye of the North heroes are all max level, and you can get them at a level as low as 10 (half the level cap). Heroes are useful throughout the Prophecies campaign, as the henchmen available to you only hit the level cap near enough three-fourths of the way through the game.
  • A minor example in Mabinogi. New players are given the Elegant armor, which has very good Defense (linearly lowers damage) and Protection (lowered damage by a percentage) compared to the armor in shops, all of which cost hundreds of thousands of pieces of gold for half the protection. However, the Elegant set cannot be upgraded or enchanted, meaning that all the time the player spends wearing it and gaining Proficiency for it goes down the drain as that Proficiency cannot be used.
  • The Knights of Cygnus in Maplestory used to be like this. They are basically the five normal classes, except you could not choose the second job and they have slightly different skills. They gained more points for their stats when leveling up, but their level capped at 120 instead of 200 like the other classes. Later Subverted when you reached level 120 and could restart as an Ultimate Adventurer, a stronger version of the regular Adventurer classes (Although they have a few disadvantages compared to them). More recently, Cygnus characters were changed to have a normal progression and the same level cap as everyone else.
  • Shin Megami Tensei Imagine Online gives the player a Wounded Cerberus at the end of the tutorial. It is a strong demon with good stats and a respectable array of magic, including Recarm, Media and Fire Breath. However, it cannot be fused, gains experience 10 times slower than normal, and is removed from the player's party not after long.
    • Cerberus is well-known throughout the series for joining the player (usually temporarily for an upcoming boss fight, but can rejoin later) in flagrant disregard of the level restrictions.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, each class gets five companions, each of a different spec (Ranged tank, Melee tank, ranged DPS, melee DPS, healer). Additional companions are HK-51 (DPS) and Treek (who can tank or heal depending on how she's specced). They are nigh-essential when leveling to get you through tight spots in the PvE environment, but you can't take them on Operations, and while they can be used in Flashpoints, they are limited (their AI doesn't instruct them to avoid AOE attacks, for example). Still, a player who knows how to make good use of their companion characters will find the game much easier than one who doesn't.

  • Heroes of the Storm
    • Li-Ming starts the game able to kill almost any squishy hero with one sequence of abilities, thanks to her insane base damage. Additionally, her Critical Mass trait refreshes all of her cooldowns when she scores a takedown, potentially rolling over an entire backline with perfect aim. This is balanced by her damage scaling, which increases by 3% per level instead of the standard 4%. Where in the early game Li-Ming can blow people up, in the late her damage can't keep up with the enemy's increased health, so she needs her team to soften targets first.
    • Kel'Thuzad is a weird mix between this and Magikarp Power. His abilities aren't that powerful and only scale at 2%, but his trait is a built-in quest that grants him 75% bonus spell power permanently once he's finished it. If KT finishes his quest early, he can unleash a combo that will one-shot even the tankiest heroes. By level 16 however, his damage starts to mellow out, eventually falling in line with other mages. If he doesn't finish his quest in a timely manner, KT suffers from Can't Catch Up harder than any hero.
  • League of Legends has "bully" characters whose main attribute is an ability kit with great base power but poor item-based scaling, or an ability kit designed to be excellent for early game laning but fall off in power as the game goes on. Competent bully players will capitalize on their early game strength to prevent the enemy laner from becoming strong and outscaling them while increasing their advantage(minion kills, champion kill, tower kills, objectives, etc) in order to set up their team with a favorable game that can be more easily won.
    • Darius stands out for his monstrous power in the laning phase. The base damage of his abilities is enough to chunk through his opponent's life bar, and his Hemorrhage passive, which inflicts a bleed effect, can even ensure kills should the latter be on their last legs after an extended fight. This power becomes a lot harder to use late in the game though, as while he's still incredibly threatening one-on-one, a coordinated team, with all of their crowd control, range, and defensive options, can stall the slow, close-ranged Darius, preventing him from getting any real damage in. He'll often have to rely on his teammates to create openings, either by locking down or pelting at the enemy from afar, so he can go in and score executions on the weakened foes.
    • Pantheon is the epitome of early game power. His greatest weakness in the early game is the mana costs of his abilities, which is mitigated by a starting item. In the early game he comes in with high burst and can easily punish his opponents for getting close to kill minions, and trades well. His passive empowers one of his abilities, allowing him to easily execute, lockdown, or block non-tower damage from in front of him. At level six, he can use his 'Grand Skyfall' ability to flank his opponents from anywhere, allowing him to secure advantages for himself and his team. As the game progresses, he has moderate scaling into the late game, but falls off heavily due to most of his power being flanking and dueling opponents rather than the team-centric grouping that happens in the later parts of the game. Oh, and the laner he was supposed to make useless and crush by now has scaled and brings more to their team than Pantheon does for his.

  • Commander Video in Super Meat Boy has a floatjump that allows horizontal precision and will make the first two worlds much easier. However, he doesn't have much speed or jumping height, so in later worlds, beating levels with him can sometimes be impossible.
  • Zero in Mega Man X3. At the start of the game, X has a small health bar and no weapons or upgrades, while Zero is a beast with a large health bar and the ability to fire two charged shots at once, along with a Laser Blade that's a One-Hit Kill on most non-boss enemies. However, Zero only has one life, and he cannot be called on more than once per stage (and he can't play any more than one-third of any given level since he cannot be taken through boss or mini-boss doors). He's mostly intended to get through trouble spots until X acquires more upgrades; fully powered-up, X outshines Zero in every way (though it's still possible to get Zero's sword as well, even though the method for doing so is a bit of a hassle).
  • Since the introduction of upgrading weapons and health in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, the starting weapons almost always fall into this, with the first two weapons typically being a semi-automatic laser pistol and a bomb lobber. As they are early weapons they upgrade fairly quickly, but by the middle of the game the enemies have so much health that they become impractical to use (in fact the Bouncer was a deliberate attempt by the developers to replace the Mini-Nuke in terms of function).

    Puzzle Games 
  • Kwincy the spider from Best Fiends. He starts out as the first yellow converter character you get in the game, playing a heavy role for yellow-clearing levels. However, further unlocking introduces Woody the woodlouse, another yellow team member, whose converter is a double one, meaning he gets twice the power and abilities in the same span that Kwincy can, rendering the spider useless later on.
  • In Meteos, Globin and Darthvega are very good at pressuring opponents with large amounts of garbage blocks, and these civilizations' relatively slow fall speeds allow players using these planets to easily defend themselves. However, the longer a Meteos match takes, the shorter the leniency period is between when a column fills up with blocks and when the game declares a loss, and Globin and Darthvega have by far the shortest periods once enough time has passed. Thus, it is absolutely critical that anyone using either of these planets finish off their opponents as quickly as possible, preferably within the first 90 seconds. Otherwise they'll be done in by the slightest error, or the player will be too focused on mere survival and allow the opponents to surpass them in score or pressure.
    • Hevendor is a crutch civilization in a different way: Whereas all other planets rely on multiple ignitions to launch their blocks off the playfield, Hevendor will instantly zap them away in single ignitions. This means a skilled Hevendor player can put enormous amounts of pressure on opponents in the form of garbage blocks through sheer speed. However, if an opponent can hold up under Hevendor, particularly in Meteos Wars which introduced a 3-minute time limit with the winner determined by score if time runs out, Hevendor will almost certainly lose because it cannot benefit from the score multipliers obtained through multi-stage ignitions.

    Racing Games 
  • The Turning Class of racers in the Crash Team Racing series of games. Their excellent turning can make a huge difference through the entire story mode (especially the final track, which is filled with tight turns) and in battle mode, which often requires to turn around, but their pitiful top speed and subpar acceleration make them unusable, especially when the concept of utilizing speed pad boosts continuously, or "Sacred Fire", is introduced.
    • This becomes even more noticeable in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, where (potentially unintended) mechanics are introduced that allow for every racing class to make tight turns that even turning characters couldn't otherwise, and the max top speed through blue-fire turbo pads becomes different between classes.
  • In Diddy Kong Racing, Tiptup and especially Pipsy are the go-to characters for easy handling, and a lot of people stick to them to steamroll early races in favor of learning to use other characters properly. However, they have terrible top speed, and sooner or later they end up having to work just as hard, if not even more so for their victories by virtue of everyone else just being faster. This is the source of many a complaint about the game's sudden difficulty.
  • Before being patched, the Buick Special was the go-to car for Gran Turismo 5 players. The car could be won very early on, it was spades quicker than other cars at that stage of the game and was also an older car, this meant it fit into almost every category needed for certain special events in A-Spec mode. However, reliance on the car became a problem later on, whilst fitting criteria, certain modes had cars more adapted to pure racing, whilst money spent on upgrading the Buick could have gone to getting a more stable and race-worthy car, leaving players stuck for choice.
  • In most of the later Mario Kart games, most people will usually use karts and combinations with higher acceleration and handling with low top speed similar to the Diddy Kong Racing example. While this works well in earlier races, it becomes completely hopeless at higher difficulties, where having a high top speed is outright mandatory in order to stand a chance at victory, especially in later races. Mario Kart 8 flips this on its head, making acceleration-based setups viable at 200cc because speed-based setups would go too fast to handle.

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • Tribal characters in Crusader Kings II and Crusader Kings III are intended as this. In contrast to feudal characters, tribals have a lot of restricted rules on what they can and cannot do, and can generally expand through war extremely quickly and cheaply. Their buildings and retinues of men-at-arms are extremely cheap and are paid for partially using prestige (much easier to obtain than gold) and they all have access to raiding and concubines for large families and a lot of income. However, by the mid-to-lategame the technological superiory and quality of feudal rulers' men-at-arms means they are capable of defeating tribal levies several times their numbers, and tribal leaders must use succession methods that automatically split up the ruler's realm amongst his heirs upon death. The intended mechanic for tribals appear to be to defeat your neighbours and then tech up to going feudal, or to simply conquer a feudal realm and settle it.
    • The Nomads from Crusader Kings II's "Horse Lords" DLC were intended to put a different spin on this, having almost all-horse armies that were incredibly powerful but almost no income, technology or control over their territory (which was open steppes with no development potential) at all, and would also need to conquer and settle to become feudal. However, their incredibly overpowered mechanics meant that in practice no feudal ruler could ever compete with their all-horse armies and canny players could easily conquer the world while remaining on horseback.
    • Realm-wise, Crusader Kings II introduced characters who start out with so-called event armies, essentially free men that they could use to engage in early conquests before nearby realms could catch up, but these armies were non-replacable and would never replenish. William of Normandy and Haesteinn of Nantes are two examples of these from the game's 1066 and 867 start, respectively, with Haesteinn in particular beloved for his ability to use those event armies to conquer in practically any direction he so desires.
  • Captain Antilles (not Wedge, the other Antilles) in Empire at War shows up during the first mission in the Alliance campaign and is quite powerful (although all hero units capable of combat are) but both leave once the player has gotten a good start and controls nearly half the galaxy. Antilles also leaves just before the player can build Capital Ships.
  • Empire Earth: Zigzagged with unique units, of which every civilization gets three for the first/middle/last five epochs. They do have higher stats than the equivalent unit type at first, and in games locked at the first epoch, may well be the only unit of that type (e.g. the French Mangonel is the only Heavy Artillery buildable before the Copper Age, Korean Hwarangs and Egyptian War Elephants need to be built at a barracks because stables can't be built yet), but they can't be upgraded beyond Veteran status until the third epoch, and by the fifth epoch they'll likely be outclassed by the equivalent unit with the main reason to build them being that they cost different resources to build. Some units also have unique abilities, such as the Zulu's Inyanga being a Combat Medic long before Medics are buildable.
  • The PC (aka Opinion Leader) himself in the original Ogre Battle. Depending on Alignment, he can start with a powerful elemental attack that hits the entire enemy party (Ice Cloud, Thunder or Phantom), and above average stats. So when your forces are only basic fighters and amazons, he great. But later in the game, when Warlocks, Devils, Angels and Princesses start popping up with the ability to use the same spells multiple times per battle, the Opinion Leader starts to fall behind. Add that his stats influence his ability to recruit characters and learning when to use the Opinion Leader becomes an art.
    • Add to that the fact that any enemies killed by Tarot Cards give their xp to the Opinion Leader (just him, not his entire unit) instead of the unit actually engaged, and it becomes very easy later in the game for the OL to greatly outlevel the campaign enemies. The problem? Fighting lower level enemies will destroy his alignment rating, making it impossible to recruit key characters or get good endings. For this reason a lot of players probably just keep him parked on the player capital in later campaigns and let the other units do the dirty work.
  • Timur for the Timurids in Europa Universalis III. A fantastic ruler and general... who, at the earliest start, is going to die of old age anytime now.
    • The Ottomans have a massive land and manpower base at the earliest start date, with technology to match the medieval western nations, making expansion a cake-walk. However their Anatolian technology group gives them statistically inferior units to their Polish, Austrian and Hungarian rivals past the early game. Throw in good leaders and military ideas and Ottoman events like the Janissary Decadence, and by mid-game the Ottomans will start to fall behind. By the late game (when the Napoleonic wars roll about), the Ottomans will have undergone pretty crippling Badass Decay and will find taking on the Europeans really rough going.
      • In the sequel, Europa Universalis IV, the new institution system gives non-European nations a greater ability to keep up in technology, especially in the hands of a player, making a powerful non-western country less of a crutch character than in the previous installment. However certain nations still require some major reforms to not fall behind, particularly Steppe Hordes, who start out very strong with large powerful cavalry armies and the ability to raze provinces for quick short-term gains. But unless they reform their government they'll quickly fall behind in technology and by continuously razing everything they conquer they'll naturally be sacrificing long-term development.
    • For the Timurids in Europa Universalis IV, Shah Rukh, Timur's grandson, is another example. He is a good general and ruler and gives his empire very strong modifiers, for a very good reason. Again he's an old man, and as soon as he dies those modifiers go away, beginning the collapse of the Timurid Empire.
  • This happens on at least two annoying occasions in Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich: in the last third of the game, Alchemiss (who became a much more useful character in this game than in the original) turns into Dark Phoenix Entropy and becomes the new Big Bad, making all the time spent leveling her up suddenly useless. More unforgivable is the fact that Entropy starts erasing other members of your party from existence almost without warning.. Though the game can still be completed fairly easily even if you spent time on these characters, it's still a bit annoying.
  • James's second mission in Sacrifice can (and probably will) net you the support of Sirocco in the next few missions. She leaves if you do too many evil missions or if you get her killed, which becomes more likely in later missions when more powerful opponents appear. Let's hope you didn't get lazy and neglect to learn any other tactics besides having your heroic version of a level 9 creature wipe out the level 3 army before you.
  • In Stellaris, you can give your starting alien species the Extremely Adaptive trait which will let them colonise planets of any climate right off the bat (except for Tomb Worlds) and hence give them a huge advantage in the early-game scramble for the biggest and most resource rich planets. The trait however costs a hefty 4 trait points, forcing you to take two negative traits to afford it, and late-game technologies like planetary terraforming, genetic modification and Habitability techs will render it obsolete. Taking the Biological Ascension Path will allow you to remove this trait later on and refund the four points to spend on more useful traits.
    • Similarly, the Talented trait lets your leaders start at level 2, but this one costs 2 points, and with enough time your opponents will catch up.
    • Spaceports early on have enough firepower and defence to make mincemeat of any fleet and make early rushes impossible, though it takes 350 Minerals to build one — several months worth of income at a time when everything will be demanding that precious resource. Later on, Spaceports won't make much of a ent in your empire's pockets, but neither will they make much of a dent in any fleet big enough to invade a planet with.
    • One of the easiest star nations to play is the Rogue Servitors introduced in Synthetic Dawn. As a robot empire, they can colonise any planet right off the bat, don't need to worry about factional strife, and never get unhappy Pops. They also suffer no diplomatic penalties (unlike the other two machine empires). To top it all off, they get a massive influence and resource production bonus when the ratio of servitor machines to organic "bio-trophies" in your empire is 60-40 - and did we mention that bio-trophy pops generate a nice amount of Unity points, allowing your machine empire to rapidly climb the tradition tree?
  • The Total War series will often combine this with A Taste of Power at the start of the game by giving a faction a unit far stronger than what they'd be able to recruit themselves at that point in the game. For example, in Rome: Total War, The Julii Romans will start with a unit of Triarii spearmen and the Greek Cities a unit of Spartan hoplites. Both units are at least two full tiers above what those factions would actually be able to recruit themselves for many in-game years. These units could almost single-handedly cut a swath through the low tier rabble the various "Rebel" faction neighbors have at that point, but any attrition suffered by the elite unit will hurt as the player will not be able to replenish the unit or recruit more for quite some time.
    • In Medieval II: Total War, the Byzantines/Eastern Roman Empire. While they start with one of the most formidable rosters of any faction in the early game, including the powerful Varangian Guard and the Cataphracts. However, they have a huge lack of late-game technologies and units (no cannons or muskets!), and only their cavalry really still stay competitive.
    • In Total War: Warhammer, the Dwarfs have the easiest start thanks to their selection of well-armoured melee and effective ranged units, special faction trait which gives the Dwarfs Undying Loyalty (which means pesky civil wars aren't a problem), easily defended territory, and strong relations with the minor Dwarfholds makes alliances and confederations a snap. However their Stone Wall durability comes at a price: they field no cavalry at all, and their infantry are universally slower than those of other races. No magic spells, either (though plenty of magical items).
  • The Warcraft III Expansion Pack The Frozen Throne's Undead campaign featured King Arthas growing weaker due to a rift in his master's lair, the frozen throne. This downgrading manifests in a reduction of Arthas's level by 1 per mission, but adding a second hero halfway through the campaign. The last mission finally allows Arthas to regain his lost levels to allow you to have two max-level heroes for the final assault. (You needed them, as your opponent, naturally, had three. Yes, three.)

  • The Binding of Isaac:
    • Azazel starts with flight, three black hearts (and can still gain red heart containers), and a short-ranged high damage Brimstone laser instead of tears. He absolutely destroys early floors, but the key word is short-ranged. He struggles against some of the Bullet Hell bosses and enemies later in the game since he has to practically hug enemies to deal any damage, and it is very telling that he is the only character in the game who unlocks a new character (Lilith) simply by managing to survive Greed Mode.
    • Tainted Isaac passively causes all items to switch between two different choices, one of which he gets to take. This gives him incredible control over the items he gets on the first few floors. However, he can only carry eight passive items at a time, and is forced to drop one every time he wants to pick something else up. Very quickly he goes from getting exponentially stronger to having to make hard choices.
    • Tainted Magdalene has utterly pathetic starting stats, but has a few very strong traits to make up for it. If she's ever above two hearts, they slowly bleed away over time - which is bad, but losing bleeding hearts won't lower her chance at a Deal with the Devil. That's extra important, because if she rams into enemies, she'll perform a "lethal hug" that deals tonnes of damage and causes them to drop red heart pickups on death. She can pretty much face roll enemies on the early floors and heal up with the hearts they drop. However, on the Womb and beyond, enemies start dealing double damage, meaning she may not get as many hearts back as she took to hug them. She also has the same problem with big bosses as Azazel, turning her into a weaker-than-average character with a ticking clock.
  • Burnout in Brutal Orchestra boasts some of the highest base-level damage output and can easily win early fights as soon as they begin. However, as his name suggests, he also burns out easily and those attacks have a high chance to slowly decrease with each use, meaning he isn't built for sustained fights.
  • Willow in the original Don't Starve. Her lighter and fire resistance/sanity gain give her a constant light source and an easy way to survive Winter (by burning things near her), but become outclassed later on by superior light sources and warmth items, while her sporadic fire-starting at low sanity remains a problem. Together mitigates this by giving her Bernie and a few other nifty traits, while replacing her low-sanity pyromania with getting colder.
  • Dungeon Crawl: Ignis, a god of flames that's dying from lack of worship, will give you all the power it has left should you follow it. Its invokable abilities are immensely powerful in the early game, but they can only be used a handful of times, and taper off rapidly in the midgame. Once you run out of invocations, you'll have to switch or be stuck with a vestigial god, and switching gods means Ignis will spend the last of its strength trying to kill you.
  • Pets in NetHack. Your starting puppy or kitten is more powerful than all but a few roles in the very early game, and unlike you, it doesn't attract more powerful monsters when it levels up. As you proceed through the game, you can create or acquire better pets, but for most characters, there comes a point where pets in general cease to be much use; they're either too slow to keep up with you, too weak to attack the few monsters that still pose a credible threat, or too vulnerable to incoming rays and dungeon hazards. It doesn't help that NetHack's pet AI isn't nearly as well-designed as most other aspects of the game.
  • The Hokage and the Dragon from Rogue Legacy. The Hokage is extremely strong early on due to his base damage, but because he cannot critically strike, it makes him fall off, as only 1/2 of the stats you can buy to increase your damage. This becomes especially noticeable on New Game Plus, as the assassin's critical hit rate continues to creep upwards, eventually allowing him to deal more damage while maintaining a more broadly useful special ability. The dragon gets an insane mobility, but using runes you can make any character fly, and the other two spellcasters in the game are just so much better than he is. The dragon remains useful as a boss hunter, though — because you don't have to spend runes on other things, the dragon can focus on enhancing its already insane mobility, making it easy to avoid the bosses' attacks and use hit-and-run tactics that never allow the boss to hit back.
  • The secret character Sgt. Gunny in Sword of the Stars: The Pit: Gold Edition. He has higher base stats than the Marine but lower stat growth and can't use advanced armour without penalties.

    Sports Games 
  • In Arc Style: Baseball!! 3D, Macho pitchers usually deal you good results in the early stages of Tournament mode... But their fastballs are soon hit out of the park by later teams. And then you're trailing by a lot of runs.
  • Genzoh Wakabayashi in the Game Boy's Captain Tsubasa VS. The boy has about twice goalkeeping skills Morisaki, your default GK, has, and can probably catch anything thrown at time. Problem: If you use him, he injures his leg and can't be used again for sometimes. This can be painful if you don't reserve him until you play Meiwa.
    • Same applied with Sega CD's version. This time, his injury is scripted, so he's out even if you don't use him. Misaki also counts thanks to his Golden Comibination with Tsubasa, which allowing you to zip through opponent's defense within a minute. Both of them are gone for good after the half of the game.
  • Endou Mamoru, the protagonist of Inazuma Eleven and its sequels, is very prone to this. Being the starting Goal Keeper of your team, he is capable of stopping almost every special shot early on, and will usually block or push normal shots throughout the game almost effortlessly (especially noticeable in the random battles occurring between matches). It's pretty much possible to win almost all of the games keeping him as the main goalie, but the big problems begin during the end-game bosses as well as the subsequent "Challenge Mode" competitions: not only he levels up immensely slowlier than his fellow team mates due to his initial strength, thus crippling his stats, his final special catches consume so much TP that you're forced to put him out of HIS VERY OWN TEAM.
    • This is also a cause of him being one of the least used goalies in multiplayer matches, as skilled players know how to easily counter him using his elemental weakness (fire beats mountain), thus choosing either an end-game keeper or Tachimukai (the secondary keeper).
    • To some extent, almost all of the starting members have to be interchanged with more powerful scouted players (or even opponents). The only exception probably lies in the Forwards.
    • There are a lot of "fool's gold" players on the Connection Map in any of the games — players with good stats for the levels they can be recruited at, but poor stat growths. This means that they become less and less useful the higher in level your team gets, unless you're willing to spend lots of FP training or equipping them. In regards to the above point about starting members, many players on the CM who seem like no-brainers for recruitment have significantly lower max stats than the guys on the default team.
  • In Madden NFL, there will usually be a few players who, for whatever reason (age, injury concerns, off-the-field concerns) were not signed by a team in Real Life but are available in Madden as free agents in franchise mode. Usually these players still have relatively high overalls (80+) compared to those you can typically find as free agents in-season in franchise mode, so signing them will give your team an extra boost. However, if the player is older he may retire after only one season or, if not, will see his physical stats deteriorate as he ages. If he is oft-injured, he may not play many games for you before getting hurt. This was much more common in the late-90s/early 2000s Madden games as they lacked the ability to receive roster updates via the internet. More recent games (from the late 2000s on) will receive roster updates throughout the year to clear out players like this, but it still happens.
  • In Mutant Football League's Dynasty mode, you're tasked with turning a team of undeveloped rookies into title contenders in three seasons or less. It's tempting to make big trades and free agent signings right out the gate to give the team an immediate boost, but signing a stud receiver (for instance) means all the XP and accomplishments your other receivers need to level up will go to a star player that doesn't need them. Unless you take the time to develop your entire roster, you'll be left high and dry if your stars are killed or injured during a must-win game. Lack of depth hits the QB and Safety positions the hardest, as the size of your playbook is based on their Intelligence stat. You're better off making moves to build your special teams and offensive line, and/or signing players who are good but not light-years ahead of your rookies and can develop alongside them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sidhe characters in first edition 7th Sea are a particularly hideous example, in both directions. They get a lot of powerful, practical benefits, including higher starting Traits (and free Legendary Trait in all five traits), 10 Reputation, a pile of free Advantages, and a free Sorcery, with the only major limitation being their racial weakness to iron and a few minor restrictions on the skillsets and Schools they could start the game with. However, Sidhe characters are also incapable of ever earning XP, meaning they never see any kind of progression. The end result is a character who utterly overshadows the rest of the party early on, but eventually falls behind as they never learn, grow, or improve.
  • Another example of this type of character is found in Anima: Beyond Fantasy; a fantasy anime-style game based off JRPGs. As a Game Master you can run a summoner, archer, sorcerer, or healer type as a temporary NPC who only lasts for the first six levels of new players or even adapted to over come a big nasty boss battle for one story arc.
  • The tabletop sports/wargame Blood Bowl have the Amazon and Norse teams. Both teams start with all their players having one of the best starter skills (Block for Norse and Dodge for Amazons), which gives them a huge advantage out the box (though not when fighting dwarves). Once the team value start increasing and the other teams are able to buy their players Block/Wrestle and Tackle, they lose that edge against teams with higher innate stats and a clearer game plan. Norse and Amazons are both playable at high-TV play (if not as good at it like certain other teams), but odds are they'll never see high-TV play because savvy Norse and Amazon coaches usually intentionally keep their teams' value at a range where they're still competitive.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the original ruleset, non-human races get various extra powers, but are limited in the maximum level they can reach, and in what classes. For example, halflings are Resistant to Magic and can throw stones as powerfully as an archer shoots, but they can only pick the Fighter class and only get to level 4. Therefore, if your campaign progresses to level 5+, you will find your halfling's relative power sharply dropping.
    • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. Warriors at early levels can do more damage and won't go down in a single hit like wizards. However, wizards will eventually overtake warriors as they level up, ultimately making warriors good for little more than being meatshields.
    • 'Advanced NPC' in 2nd Edition rules or in more modern terms 'The Over Powered NPC' — a DM can run a pre-generated character who starts 3 levels or more higher then the party of players, has high level spells, equipment, abilities, skills, psychic powers, etc, and often leaves either early on, dies off quickly, or only helps to a certain degree.
    • The Mystic Ranger variant, found in Dragon Magazine, is one of these. For its first ten levels (and with the Sword of the Arcane Order feat), it's essentially a Ranger with casting on par with a Wizard (and no Animal Companion). Once it's gotten fifth-level spells, it basically stops advancing altogether. Magic is so powerful that the Mystic Ranger will still be a cut above most classes, but it remains one of the only characters to outright end its casting progression so early.
    • The Sleep spell is one of the first Status Effects spells obtained, and it can end an encounter in a single turn. The problem? Sleep has a hard limit (four) on the number of Hit Dice it can affect. So it goes from taking down four 1 HD enemies to taking down two 2 HD enemies to taking down one 3-4 HD enemy... and once you start fighting 5 HD enemies, it almost entirely stops being useful.
    • Enchantments and illusions are some of the strongest spells at low levels — enchantments for the possibility to win encounters with a single failed save, illusions for their massive versatility and potential Your Mind Makes It Real effects. At higher levels, enemies immune to enchantments (undead, constructs, characters with good Will saves, the Mind Blank spell) or illusions (True Seeing, blindsight, blindsense, good Will saves again) become a lot more common, and the two schools sharply drop off in use.
      • The beguiler, who specializes in both enchantments and illusions, tends to go through the same pattern. At low levels, it's strictly better than a wizard or sorcerer in most cases, being able to spontaneously cast off many spells in two good schools and also possessing a host of benefits (six skill points, casting in armor, better HD, trapfinding, cloaked casting). Around 10th level, the spell lists of the sorcerer and wizard begin to truly blossom, and most of the beguiler's advantages fall behind — it remains a competent class, but its inability to go beyond its standard list outside of the Advanced Learning feature (which grants, at most, five new spells) severely hampers it against even a specialist in its "good" schools. Notably, it completely lacks the Shadow spells, considered to be the best high-level choices for an illusionist.
    • The truenamer takes this particularly far — due to the way Truespeak difficulty scales (your bonus goes up by about 1 per level, the difficulty increases by 2 per level), a truenamer at low levels succeeds far more often than a truenamer at high levels, with your success rate declining by about 5% every level. The only way to get around this is to use items, esoteric bonuses, or DM leniency to push Truespeak to the point where you never fail.
    • A special kind of magic from a third-party 3rd edition supplement, chaos magic, allows a caster to create spells on the fly, what allows some really devastating effects, and associated classes have no daily limit except for self-inflicted damage for every spell cast. However, failing a cast (always possible on a natural 1) progressively harms the user in a random way, until their eventual demise if they fail one too many times, and no wish or miracle spell can do anything about it. A chaos mage is then ridiculously powerful but has a high risk of dying permanently from their repeated tampering into the forces of chaos.
    • 3.x's Master of Shrouds is an odd case of this. It was clearly designed to be entered at around 7th level, but due to poorly done requirements, it can easily be reached as early as 4th by multiclassing. This allows you to obtain the features of the class around three levels before you're supposed to, including summoning undead that amount to a Disc-One Nuke due to being incorporeal at a level where most enemies can't handle this. However, as you level up, your summons start to fall off in effectiveness despite the three-level advantage, and eventually, you get to the point where a pure-classed cleric would be able to simply create and control such undead permanently. Add in the caster levels you had to lose (both to qualify and to advance), and you begin to realize that the Master of Shrouds actually kinda sucks — once you're at high levels, it begins to work as designed, i.e. not particularly well.
    • Several classes in 3.x were considered "front-loaded", with the majority of their benefits coming within their first five levels. For those early levels, the class would be dominant, and afterward, it tended to peter off; the traditional player response was to only take those useful levels and then jump out by any means necessary. The fighter was the most famous example: fighter level 1 gives full weapon and armor proficiency and a free combat feat, fighter level 2 gives another free combat feat, and fighter level 3 gives... absolutely nothing. Time to find a Prestige Class. But the ranger really beat the fighter at this in 3.0 edition. At first level, you got nearly everything from the ranger class that was actually useful. From then on, you got nothing at all until you hit fourth level, at which point you got access to the ranger's incredibly weak spellcasting ability. It was far better to simply take one level of ranger, then switch to fighter or barbarian. An extreme example of this is the Horizon Tripper build, which, to avoid Empty Levels, ends up with one level in barbarian, one in fighter, and three in ranger (with the 3.5 ranger having the kindness to spread its bonuses out a bit) by the time it adopts a Prestige Class.
  • While a video game, Hearthstone had the Acolyte of C'thun in the Battlegrounds mode. It is a 2/3 card with reborn, meaning you essentially have a 4/4 taunt card (Due to Reborn bringing the creature back to life with one health.) In the first few rounds? This is a very tempting card (And a frequent first pick), since it will be able to stand up to just about everything available. However, but apart from a few very specific outcomes dependent almost entirely off of luck, within a few rounds the Acolyte of C'thun is best sold to make room for better creatures. Not belonging to any particular "Tribe" means you cannot build any themes around the acolyte of C'thun, so it's best ditched. What's worse, even if you get lucky and manage to buff the acolyte up so that it can stand up to late-game monsters, it will usually be a Glass Cannon, and its Reborn effect will bring it back to life as a 2/1 monster against enemies that will easily have double digits in terms of health. While there were card(s) and build(s) that did empower unaspected monsters like the Acolyte of C'thun, they were rotated out.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • All but the most gimmicky decks tend to have (at least) a few weaker, low-mana cost creatures that can be played in the early game as a first line of defense and to chip away at the opponent's life if they do not have such creatures. "Bears" are extremely popular, an archetype named after the ever-popular original Green Grizzly Bears, they are two-mana 2/2 creatures with no abilities which offer a great mana/power balance for this purpose. Creatures in this mold now exist for every color except Blue. As the game progresses, they fall well behind the power curve, but still have their uses as chump blockers and sacrifices.
    • Weenie and Token decks are built almost entirely around these "crutch" creatures. The goal is to get as many of them into play as quickly as you can and Zerg Rush your opponent. If you fail to do so before they can get more powerful creatures or spells into play, you can expect a decisive defeat.
  • The pen and paper RPG Mekton Zeta has options for Rookie and Veteran characters. Veteran characters start with higher skills, but gain experience half as fast as Rookies. The Game Master's section even includes helpful advice on how Veterans tend to die or retire halfway through a series to let the younger protagonists take the lead...
  • In Mordheim, some warbands have warriors with good starting stats and useful skills but they cannot gain experience. For example, Zombies don't get stunned and are immune to psychology checks and poison while also causing fear; Rat Ogres have very high stats and cause fear; Trolls do the same but also can't get permanent injuries and can vomit corrosive bile over targets for a powerful armour-bypassing attack. These warriors are great for one-off games but in running campaigns their inability to gain experience will soon see them eclipsed.
  • In Terraforming Mars, a Board Game about What It Says On The Tin, each player runs a corporation involved in the terraforming program. Most corporations have their specific abilities and advantages, but the "Beginner Corporations" recommended for new players simply let you keep all 10 research cards that you draw at the start of the game without paying their costs. This is very useful for simplifying the early portion of the game while not forcing you to choose options that you don't yet understand, but the lack of a special ability beyond that, and of any "tags" that can speed up research, make a Beginner Corporation less useful for a player who understands how to manage their resources.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has a version of this thanks to its variable point sizes to govern armies and games. At starter levels (roughly 500 points, which in some armies is barely enough to field the required Leader and two squads of troops with maybe a special weapon or two) the inclusion of special weapons or a properly equipped Lightning Bruiser (like the Death Company for Blood Angels) can basically guarantee victory. By the time you get to "tournament" sizes (1500-1750 points) there are enough vehicles, special weapons, and elite special forces units that many of the strategies that may have turned a game into a Curb-Stomp Battle in your favor will now see your entire force wiped off the table. In fact, some of the game's more terrifying Deathstar units are easily countered in larger point games as squad sizes reach their maximum and players can field a literal green tide of Orcs in response.
  • Turnip 28 has Strangling Harry's Recruits, which is explicitly intended as a faction for rookies to get used to the game's flow. Harry's training allows units to remove panic tokens when they do things the game was already built around doing, such as claiming objectives or mugging units while they're unable to defend themselves due to Powder Smoke, meaning that you get further incentivisation to do the things you're supposed to do. However, the lack of other advantages mean that you might run into problems against other cults that have access to Elite Mooks, extra units, or unique abilities, in the hands of more experienced players who know how to leverage those strengths.
  • Necropolis28 has the Miserly trait, which starts you with an extra 50 obols, allowing you to kick off the campaign at the deployment limit with more minions or better equipment. However, this takes a trait slot that could be spent on better stats, persistent healing or useful abilities, making a Miserly leader less powerful than one who took a different trait. With the deployment limit setting a hard cap on the obol value of your chosen force in any given battle, once the other gatherings start reaching that limit naturally, that early advantage will be whittled down to slightly increased flexibility - not nothing, but certainly not the entire extra model that Miserly provides in the first round or two.

    Survival Horror 
  • The intro of Organ Trail has you meet Clements, a former priest who saves you from a zombie hoard, teaches you what to do, provides a vehicle, and protects you until you get to Washington. During the trip he breaks his arm, gets dysentery, and gets bitten by a zombie while you manage to go unscathed. At Washington you Mercy Kill him and leave with your friends. If you fall to the zombie octopus later, he shows up to save you somehow having powered through the bite and the bullet to his head on sheer will power.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Splatoon has one in the form of a weapon. The Aerospray family of shooter weapons tends to get labeled this by the competitive scene. In Turf Wars, their insane fire rate and spread makes them great for inking turf. But if you plan to take one of these glorified airbrushes into ranked play, don't even attempt to act as anything other than a support weapon, staying towards the back of the pack and sticking to your turfing niche. With its short range and random spread shots, getting anywhere near the action means you'd be asking to become little more than target practice for everyone on the opposing team.
  • Warframe has this with any characters that specialise in direct damage abilities at the cost of utility effects, since enemy health and weapon damage scale better than ability damage. Some outstanding examples:
    • The game's poster-boy Excalibur is the foremost example regarding Warframe, and is even specifically described for the purpose of initiating new players in his summary card. He has a very intuitive playstyle that encourages players to focus more on understanding the game's mechanics without spending too much time worrying about how to use the warframe. Unfortunately, this correlates with a number of his abilities quickly dropping off in their effectiveness once the game's difficulty level gradually scales past the orientation phase (which is generally regarded to be Fortuna for the sandbox nodes, or Jupiter/ Saturn for the objective maptiles). Slash-Dash is usually made *nearly* obsolete once the player learns how to bullet-jump (it can theoretically still be used to some effect for building combo counters by running through enemy groups funnelled along narrow corridors), and his Radial Javelin scales abysmally and since it has no utility value, it becomes almost completely irrelevant by the time enemies reach level 50. His Radial Blind is the only survival tool he has (apart from his innate mobility) without dealing direct damage.
    • Ash. Shuriken and Bladestorm are pure damage abilities that lose luster at higher levels, but his only supporting debuff is the very short-lived stun from Smoke Screen, the invisibility from that is also short-lived meaning it's not very useful for escaping or evading enemies, and Teleport requiring a target means it's also not good for mobility.
    • Frost is this for the 'Magic Tank' caste. Snow Globe is his mainstay whilst his other abilities are meant to provide additional crowd control options, though unfortunately owing to the status type they inflict on their enemies (cold will slow them or freeze them outright, with the caveat that they will be shielded from other status afflictions because they're encased in ice), and the fact that the damage potential of Ice Wave and Avalanche don't possess an impressive damage scaling to escalating difficulty, means that apart from his niche for guarding defence objectives, his lack of versatility beyond that means that he is eventually sidelined for options like Gara, Limbo or Khora, who all have a great amount of utility and variety packed intowhat they can do.
    • Oberon is a downplayed example of this trope. As a as a support-oriented generalist 'caster' warframe, his abilities in almost each department he caters for will be overshadowed by specialists to each role, such as crowd control (Status Effect procs has the likes of Ember, Octavia, and Nyx. Area Denial has Frost, Gara, Mag, and Vauban, among others), healing and armour buffs (Harrow, Trinity, Equinox); even other generalists fare better than he does (Wisp, Nezha, Titania, to name a few). However, that he's outclassed doesn't necessarily mean he's a *bad* frame, so much as the fact that in Oberon's case a player has to be selective about what one or two aspects of his build they wish to optimise in order to make him more end-game viable as the difficulty escalates, and as the Eidolon-hunting meta and multiple Steel Path builds have proven, this is far from impossible to do.
    • Volt suffers from a similar issue as Oberon above; he has a great toolkit particularly suited for gunplay and crowd control with a party-buff element (Speed grants an Ao E movement and attacking speed buff onto teammates; Electric Shield creates a transparent double-door sized barrier that enhances projectile damage by firing through it). Both great abilities, but which are also soon outpaced by options later acquired in the game. Many Volt endgame players usually opt for one of two general builds between one that focuses on enhancing the potency and duration of 'Speed', or by turning him into a CC and nuking annihilator by simply min-maxing the strength and range of his fourth ability, Discharge.

    Tower Defence 
  • The Battle Cats has quite a lot of units like this.
    • Axe Cat is the first cat obtained who's able to do some damage, and is useful in Empire of Cats for taking out weaker enemies cheaply, especially due to being strong against red enemies. Once you get later in the game, though — specifically, once you reach Teacher Bun Bun — Axe Cat completely falls out of use, as longer-ranged cats become preferable for attacking and cheaper cats fill the meatshield role better.
    • Titan Cat is a textbook melee Mighty Glacier, with high endurance for holding onto the front line and a reasonable cost and cooldown. Titan is meant to teach players how tankers work, and make them stock up on powerful, expensive units — once you have better, more specialized tanks, there are few stages where Titan is preferable, and tanks in general are not very useful on most late-game stages.
    • Ninja Cat is essentially a stronger Axe Cat, having higher stats and faster speed for the same price, making it highly effective for rushing through Empire of Cats and quickly farming treasures. Just like Axe Cat, though, it has no niche to fill past the very early stages of the game, and its true form is highly disappointing, giving it no stat boosts and only a slightly cheaper cost. Even with its talents unlocked, letting it get big stat boosts, dodge attacks from both red and black enemies, and move faster, it's only marginally usable on a few later stages.
    • Cats in a Box are fast, powerful, and have an area attack, letting them quickly take out early stages and greatly speed up treasure farming. Like Ninja, though, their stats are far too low to compete on later stages, and their true form doesn't help much at all... until their talents are unlocked, giving them a new niche as a highly effective anti-black rusher.
  • Bloons Tower Defense:
    • Dart Monkeys in BTD5 upgraded to Triple Darts are very effective early on, but become far less powerful later in the game.
    • Monkey Engineers with the Sentry Gun upgrades are so cost-effective early game that one of the most common early-game builds in BTD5 is just to rely on that for the entire early game in order to farm money. Without Cleansing Foam, however, they can't do anything about Camo or Lead bloons. Engineers can remain useful throughout the game just for the sheer area they can cover, though they start to fall off in usefulness against MOAB-class bloons (unless you're positively covering the map with them).
    • Dartling Gunners are one of the more useful towers as-is and can cheaply mow down all but the most thick clusters of bloons with some upgrades, especially with some good placement. However, once the first MOAB-class bloon shows up, they notoriously struggle to deal enough damage to the blimp layer fast enough to make a difference. The top path in particular suffers from this in BTD6; the Plasma Accelerator is very effective against bloons for the first 80 rounds, but past that, it falls off hard against the strengthened Ceramic Bloons, and its final upgrade is far too expensive to be useful. This doesn't apply to the other two paths, however, with them being solid late-game choices.
    • Quincy is this when compared to the other heroes. He's cheap enough to be purchased the first round in any game mode, and can hold off the early rounds single-handedly. However, he starts getting overwhelmed by around round 20 without support. His effectiveness suffers past the early game, but late game he does improve a bit due to his surprisingly good anti-MOAB damage.
    • Sauda is a mixture of this trope and Skill Gate Character. She functions like a Tack Shooter on steroids, with a very fast and powerful melee attack. She can be purchased on the first round, can solo the first 30 or so rounds, longer if she's surrouned by tracks, has camo detection and her abilities can destroy lead bloons. Most Easy and some Intermediate maps have great placement locations for her, but in harder maps her lack of range becomes an issue, with split tracks and less looping tracks crippling her damage output.
  • In RWBY: Amity Arena, you have Ice Weiss. She's the first Epic-level character you pick up from your Forced Tutorial and she's quite powerful for your first, with a skill that lets her fire off an AOE attack that can destroy weak mobs or or temporarily freeze stronger opponents. However, as you go up in the ranks, you'll find that Ice Weiss loses out on a lot, especially as you gain Epic-level characters who either have stronger or more useful AOE attacks, such as Cinder and Penny.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Battle for Wesnoth has this in its flagship campaign. Most characters in Wesnoth start at level 0 or 1, and tend to max out at around level 3. One of the early characters in Heir to the Throne, Delfador, is a level 5 archmage. On the one hand, this means he can fry almost anything he touches in the early levels. On the other hand, he is already at his max level, so he makes poor use of XP that would be better given to your other units, enemies do get stronger as the game goes on, and losing him is an instant game over making it dangerous to keep him on the front lines. The game even finds places for him to vanish to occasionally, probably to keep novices from making the later missions Unwinnable by mistake.
    • The Orcish Assassin unit also falls into this category in that leveling it up is not at all worth the XP. The two abilities that make the Assassin worthwhile, Marksmanship and Poison, are both had at the first level. All leveling an Assassin into a Slayer gives is a bit more HP, a longer attack sequence, and more XP for the enemy who manages to kill it.
  • The first level of Battletech gives you two of these: Raju 'Mastiff' Montgomery has an average 'mech (a 50-ton Centurion) but his piloting stats are insanely high as befitting his status as an Old Soldier, while Kamea Arano is closer to the Player Character's level but her 'mech (a 55-ton Kintaro) is a Lightning Bruiser beyond compare. All characters must survive the first level so there' no reason to keep them in reserve, and both Raju and Kamea leave you after the level is complete (Raju is killed covering your escape and Kamea in an exploding dropship).
    • The more random and open-ended "Career Mode" imagines you as a mercenary with no connection to the story mode, and has you fighting in the random vagaries of Periphery space. You will generally start with very small and very fragile units, such as the Locust or the Commando, and no medium 'Mechs, which can make for a rather rough start early on. If you're lucky, however, your unit can spawn with a Panther, which has the benefit of having a pretty big gun for its size in the form of its arm mounted PPC, giving access to both a decent ranged attack and the option to deal damage as a single considerable hit rather than spreading it around with missiles or lasers. It's also pretty tough for its size, being better armored than some of the smaller medium 'Mechs. However, the Panther suffers from being too well suited to being an early-game crutch to be useful elsewhere, as it lacks the weight or hardpoints for better modification options and is too slow to perform traditional light 'Mech duties such as scouting or capturing/destroying priority targets. The utility of combat builds on light 'Mechs decreases as enemy threat levels rise in the course of the game, so the Panther is stuck as being a Godsend in the early game and being an afterthought by the time that the player can start collecting a lance of larger and more powerful 'Mechs.
  • Berwick Saga has Ward, who averts this. While not flashy, his stats and weapon versatility enable him to last until the end of the game.
  • As of the fifth iteration of the series, Civilization has a few:
    • The Aztec Empire has one of the best early-game units around in the Jaguar Warrior, a powerful unit that heals when it fights, hits hard in forests and jungle, and ignores jungle terrain while moving. Add in the Aztec buff to Culture from killing enemies through Sacrificial Victims, and an Aztec player can spam Jaguars and have them slaughter barbarians or raid other Civs with impunity while also building up social policies. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, the Jaguar is also the replacement for the Warrior — the very first unit in the game, and one that goes obsolete almost immediately. Once things like Longswordmen are on the table, the Aztecs tend to suffer pretty hard in their military focus — to the point that many Aztec players end up going for a Cultural or Scientific victory by the late game instead, and this is where a possible Subversion comes in: Aztec cities built near lake tiles can use Floating Gardens to grow quickly and gear themselves to pumping out lots of Science or Culture, making the Aztecs quite versatile even later in the game.
    • The Huns replace the fairly weak Chariot Archer with the Horse Archer, a deadly unit that doesn't require horses and can speed along through rough terrain, and get Animal Husbandry for free to make getting them even easier. They also have the Battering Ram, a special siege unit that knocks down cities in a handful of hits and comes online at about the same time, and get a production boost for controlling Pastures (which Animal Husbandry lets them build right off the bat). And on top of that, they can Raze cities at double speed, burning them to the ground and leaving nothing for the opponent. All this combined means that Attila can build a horde of cavalry to turn the pitiful starting armies of other civs into pincushions, then follow up with a few rams to reduce their cities to rubble, before selling off every building inside, leaving a burning husk, and continuing on his merry way to capture the capital. Unfortunately for Attila, this advantage is also his weakness — all his abilities and units apply most in the Ancient and Classical Era. Once other civs have reached the Medieval Era, the Horse Archer is completely obsolete, and the Battering Ram will probably be slaughtered before it gets within a mile of a city.
    • Polynesia's unique Wayfinding ability allows all of its units to embark on and cross oceans from turn one, meaning Polynesia can explore the entire world a good three Ages before everyone else. This lets it meet every other civ and city-state, settle faraway lands, and hopefully get a start on the World Congress, giving it some heavy diplomatic chops. It also has the Moai improvement, which gives a pile of free Culture very early on. Finally, like the Aztecs, it has a powerful Warrior replacement in the form of the Maori Warrior... but before long, the Maori will become obsolete, and by the renaissaince era everyone else will pick up Astronomy, making Polynesia's main skill redundant.
    • Persia's Immortals are Spearmen with an improved healing rate, which is useful for keeping your elite forces alive through protracted early-game warfare. The problem is that they become obsolete when you gain Civil Service, which most Persian players will want to get ASAP because the wonder it lets you build (Chichen Itza) works well with Persia's unique ability. Brave New World fixes this somewhat by placing Civil Service further up the Tech Tree, giving Persia significantly more time to build Immortals before they go defunct. Also, Civil Service lets your existing Immortals upgrade into Pikemen while keeping their doubled healing rate, so while you lose the ability to build more of them, the ones you have will remain useful for the rest of the game.
    • The Zulu, uniquely, are nothing special in the early game and then ascend to this in the mid-game. The Impi is a Medieval Era unit that can throw its spear before attacking, giving it what amounts to double power, and it gets stronger when fighting gunpowder units, meaning it actually keeps pace when other people start making muskets. Their special building, the Ikanda, gives unique and powerful promotions to pre-gunpowder units, making the Impi even stronger. Add in the XP boost to earn those promotions faster and reduced maintenance costs, and Shaka can celebrate the dawn of the Medieval Era by taking over half the map. But then, much like in history, once gunpowder units can beat the Impi, the Zulu's military dominance falls apart, since their own gunpowder units won't get the Ikanda's advantages, and the Impi's unique spear-tossing and anti-gunpowder bonuses don't carry over when it upgrades.
    • Sumeria, the literal Ur-Example of a civilisationnote  is all about winning early wars and getting off to a great start. Their unique unit, the War Cart, is not only much stronger than the Heavy Chariot it replaces but also requires no horses to build and no technology to unlock so it can be built at the very start of the game. The Ziggurat, the unique building of Sumeria, also can be built from the word go and it produces a decent amount of Science and Culture when constructed near a river, giving the Sumerians an early edge.
  • Crystal Warriors lets your heroes tame wild monsters after defeating them. Early in the game, they're useful to cover for your characters' weaknesses — have your Wind-element Ranger tame an Aquan, and they'll be able to send it out to turn the tables on any Fire enemies they may encounter. The monsters' stats can't grow, however, and even though stronger monsters start showing up later in the game, they tend to be outclassed by later enemies, reducing them to the status of glorified meatshields. Tellingly, they stop spawning for the final 2 chapters of the game.
  • Disgaea: Hour of Darkness has Laharl himself. If you use him and him alone, he'll remain several levels above any enemies he faces in the game proper, allowing him to steamroller through all opposition with far less grinding than it would take to make any other character useful. Unfortunately, he is less capable than a Divine Majin, and while he can transmigrate, he can't change classes when doing so, so he's at a disadvantage when Level Grinding for the bonus content (which over half of any serious player's playtime will be devoted to). The game also abruptly kicks the crutch out from under the player by featuring an entire chapter where Laharl's stats are severely reduced, and is guaranteed to be a rude surprise for players who have been relying on Laharl's offensive capabilities as a One-Man Party.
    • For the series in general, healers and defensive characters. They can be crucial for much of the game (the entire story mode for starters), but during all the post-game content Disgaea tends to turn into an offense only affair. Basically at some point both your characters and the enemies will be doing so much damage that everyone dies in one hit, meaning defense is meaningless and healing impossible to even use.
    • To some small degree, Prinnies. They are never particularly strong characters (We Have Reserves is putting it lightly; they only cost 1 HL to revive), but have the unique ability to explode when thrown, damaging everyone around them. This can be extremely useful at the beginning of the game, when your characters have little in the way of wide area attacks available. But soon you will get area attacks that don't require sacrificing allies. Also the damage prinnies do when exploding depends on their hit points, and it won't be long before the amount of damage you can do with real weapons far outstrips this number (which is why the game eventually becomes mostly one hit kills, as described above).
  • In Dominions, these are are called thugs. Powerful, easy to recruit single units that can cut a swath through the Independents of the world, but can't hold their own against late-game super combatants.
  • Driscoll shows up to help you protect a mutual ally from terrorists in one mission of the SNES Front Mission, and he brought his Type 11 DS with him.
  • Future Tactics: The Uprising
    • The first level gives you Low's father as a partner, who is basically Low on the highest possible level.
    • Pepper is the only character in the game to have a Line of Sight and a Ballistic attack, both of which have unlimited ammo, which makes her more useful than every other character combined despite being a 12 year old girl. The game takes her away from you very abruptly in a cutscene.
  • Ragnus in Gungnir. While it's not as noticeable on Basic or Advance, you're forced to use him on Nightmare and plan good strategies to win, unless you abuse the Mercy Mode feature.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic 3, an enterprising Castle player can acquire Crossbowmen (a level 2 upgraded unit) as early as Day 1. While their stats are overall unimpressive, their double shot ability combined with fairly high speed of 6 contributes to Castle's early military might and allows your heroes to grab more pickups and unlock things on the map earlier than you'd think possible, provided you keep them well-guarded (which can be done reasonably well with your level 1 unit). By the time you start fighting enemy players and laying siege to cities — which hold potent spells and city defenses respectively — their frailty will quickly catch up to them however and you'll start losing them in droves.
  • Volkoff in Langrisser (renamed Baldarov for its U.S. release, Warsong). In the beginning of the game, his level is maxed out and he deals far more damage than your allies and enemies, but by the fourth or fifth scenario most of your characters have caught up to him. He's simply there to absorb damage from the stronger armies until he gets assassinated at the end of Scenario 5.
  • In Mordheim: City of the Damned, it could be argued that the Sisters of Sigmar are an entire faction of these. They can all equip heavy armour and large heavy-hitting weapons as standard and come with a lot of healing and support spells. On the other hand, their poor mobility, awful climbing and jumping skills and complete lack of shooting mean that advanced tactics like flanking, ambushing and overwatch are difficult if not impossible. The ultimate strategy for Sisters warbands begins and ends with rolling your fancy elite hammer-swinging, magic-slinging wall of pain up the map and killing everything that gets in the way. They're very powerful but overusing them will encourage a simplistic playstyle which would get any of the other three factions killed very quickly.
  • Project × Zone 2: Brave New World has the pair unit Chun-Li and Ling Xiaoyu. Early availability, the first unit that permanently joins the party with a MAP attack that hits all 4 enemy slots, has a high movement, and can easily rack so many kills. Feed them too many kills however and the other party members will be left behind especially when the game will force players to use other characters. Considering some units don't even get their MAP attack till the plot gives it to them, those characters will really start falling behind.
  • In the Super Robot Wars: Original Generation games, you have the Battleships that deploy all of your units-the Hagane/Kurogane and the Hiryu Custom. At first, they're incredibly useful-in the Ryusei route of the first game, the Hagane is essentially capable of soloing most of the early levels. As the game wears on, however, their accuracy drops and their Wave Motion Guns get eclipsed by some of the later mechs. They can still be used as fire support, and they generally have fairly useful support Spirits, but they're too valuable to be risked in combat (getting one destroyed is a Mission Failure), tend to run out of energy too fast for sustained engagements, and in general aren't as useful, combat-wise, as one more Super Robot on the field would be. The fact that they can repair and rearm your units, however, means that you'll still be glad you had them.
    • In the same game on Ryusei's route there's also Ingram. He's one of the better pilots you have early on, his default mech measures up well and comes with a powerful built-in weapon which makes him one of your harder hitters. Then about halfway through the game you get the characters from the other route and, though you have some more characters who outclass him, he is still good enough to warrant deploying him. Then he betrays you and teams up with the bad guys to become many people's That One Boss and you never get him back. You get to keep the Wildschwein though.
    • Kyosuke's route gives us Sanger Zonvolt, THE SWORD THAT SMITES EVIL! with his fantastic stats, Grungust Type 0, useful skill set and always-critical-ing-Colossal Blade. Then he betrays you too and becomes a boss. Then he comes back, although he's still just as good.
    • Original Generation Gaiden seems to be rife with this:
      • Lamia Loveless is quite possibly turned into one. She appears for several missions in the beginning and is quite possibly the most useful characters to use (barring Kai). Then she and several others get captured and she's out of the player's control until the last quarter of the game, and while she still remains useful, you're given other Game-Breaker like Ialdabaoth or the Compatible Kaiser that she might end up collecting the dust instead...
      • Axel Almer and Alfimi. They only appear in several missions, they can't be customized except for the last two levels. Axel is a decent fighter, but as said above, your pool of Game-Breaker at the point he can be customized could render him just mediocre (and unlike his game of origins, you can't put him in the aforementioned Vysaga, which he COULD use in the original game). Alfimi, on the other hand, is a class of her own not due to her kickass ability in battle, but her kickass Seishin set (you'll need them).
      • Shu Shirakawa. He helps you out rather early in the game and also pops in at one time when Axel-Alfimi are featured. When he does join you, his stats look really abysmal that he's often considered a dead weight if taken to the battle against Dark Brain. Then, per what he does in his origin, he betrays you in the final stage.
      • Interestingly enough, by 2nd Original Generation, the majority of them becomes MUCH more viable, as Lamia joins very early once the Masou Kishin section is done, and despite the nerf Vysaga got, she's still an all-rounder with either it or Angelg. Alfimi is pretty much the same (just make sure you collect your Skill Points). On the other hand, Axel and Shu flat out enter Game-Breaker status since Axel joins mid-game (and somehow can pop into Vysaga too this time, since what made him a Game-Breaker are mostly his pilot skills so that's transferrable), and while Shu joins later and instead stuck with Granzon, but more than makes up for his blunder (see the SRW section of that for their details)note .
    • Non-OG example, Daitarn3 in Alpha Gaiden is a wonderful tank and can move very far for a Super Robot due to flight and its alternate modes. However, as you get later on, tanking is very difficult. Not to say he's not a top tier mecha by the end, HE IS. But Banjo can no longer charge in blindly without expecting to have his HP bar go from 11000 to 2500 in a few hits, and his free attacks falls in 3 range, when the preferred range would be 4. Luckly, Banjo has shield defense skill, high SP and damage output keep him a must for the endgame.
    • Another non OG example, and probably one of the best examples in the series to date, Kamina in Z2 Hakai-Hen. He's got the best stats of any of Gurren Lagann's pilots by far, but as per the series, he dies halfway through the game. And breaking away from the SRW tradition (of the possibility for players to avoid the death of characters who die in their original series), his death is completely unavoidable. It's still pretty incentive to use him, though, because it also means raising Simon's stats.
    • Alpha Gaiden has a really interesting example in Tetsuya Tsurugi, which is possibly the most bizzare example in the series. He is simmilar to Kamina (or rather the reverse since Tetsuya is made first), being basicaly the best pilot in his own team stats-wise. Great, his personal mech is an awesome unit. It has high armor, good movement, and powerful weapons such as the one shot Post movement Great Booster, Far range expensive Thunder Break, a MAP weapon Thunder Break, and the post movement 4 range free Rocket Punch that deals high damage, and its EN cheap stronger variants with 3 range all of which is enchanced by Mazinpower making it possibly one of the best unit in the entire game. Not only that, Tetsuya has "Gain" spirit command that basicaly makes him far above the others in term of level advancement, making the entirety of the early to mid game a total joke just by deploying and training him. However, he lacks Alert spirit command, which considering the late game bosses power in Alpha Gaiden, makes it hard for him to handle bosses and he suffers Daitarn 3 tanking problems, but not as severe thanks to his better set of weapons. The story puts him on a conflict with the entire team, and implies that he will leave the team for good. And one of the midgame stages pits you against him Brainwashed and Crazy against Koji, and Getter team UNCOMBINED. So what makes him an interesting example? First, while he is not as powerful in the late game, he is so far above the entire team from the start, especialy in term of firepower that you'll end up using him anyway. Second, his MAP weapon is so useful against late game bosses that abuses the support defend skill. Third, and why he is so interesting as an example is the fact that unlike any other Crutch Character examples, he is so important in the storyline that you just CANT ignore upgrading him unless you want a hard time, and you actually get the most total usage out of him (in fact, he is the first character you control after the Time Skip and barring routes shift, he almost never leaves the party from there on), and despite how the story implies he will leave, he doesn't, in fact, all of the events caused by said implications makes him ends up more developed than any other character in your team. And thanks to his skills, no matter how you ignore him, he will easily catch up in short amount of time without any notable problems. In short, he is a Crutch Character that seems to do everything that a Crutch Character usually does, forces you to fall victim to this trope, and heavily implied to be a crutch, and he is made to be as fit as possible to looks like a crutch, yet by the endgame he ends up subverting this trope despite having done his crutch punishment at some point in the game.
    • Surprisingly and ironically, the true Crutch Character of Alpha Gaiden? Mazinger Z. Not the pilot, its the mech itself. It is basically Great Mazinger redux. It has nice weapons, good upgrade growth amongst Super Robot Genre(1200 extra power, every other Super caps at 800-1000), and nice stats. Thanks to the implications, you might end up focusing on Mazinger Z than Great as a close substitution. Oh and he gets upgraded in the endgame, which since its already so good, it seems that it would be really nice. Then why is it considered this? Mazin Kaiser. Mazinkaiser is so much better than Mazinger Z that unupgraded Kaiser has a comparable raw stats to FULLY upgraded Mazinger Z (which is basically near impossible in normal means) and did not share/inherits upgrade with/from Z. It has HP regeneration as well. Oh, and do you think the power-up will save him? No, its acquired in the same stage as Mazinkaiser making it basically pointless. Put it on Tetsuya? it lacks the MAP attack that makes Tetsuya valuable. Your other choice to put him is Jun who has lousy Melee stats, Sayaka whose spirit commands are more support based, and Boss, who despite having better melee stats than Jun, has rather bad stats overall, lacks a lot of essential Seishin and bombing capability is too good to pass on the remaining stages, thus making Mazinger Z a mecha collecting dust in the base.
    • The Delta Plus in Super Robot Wars BX. It comes with 5 upgrades in all stats when everyone else is barely upgraded, but it leaves unless it is unlocked as a secret.
    • In Super Robot Wars V, the title goes to the Yamato battleship. Anything it looks at, it destroys quite easily. It dodges things that it shouldn't be able to dodge and its weakest attacks can sink even mid-level battleships. You get the Yamato as early as the second stage but as soon as players reach the eighth stage, players are in for a nasty surprise as the Yamato can't move and the SR Point is to not get it hit. Then after this stage, the Yamato disappears for quite some time until it joins you for good, though at that point it's a different story.
    • A downplayed example but Dio Junyou Weinberg and his Bradyon is this for Aoba Watase in his Luxon as Aoba starts Super Robot Wars X at a low level with zero kills on his belt and only has the "Persist"note  spirit command for a large portion of the early game while Dio has both "Focus"note  and "Flash"note  which both can share with the "Coupling"note  mecha ability. However later on, Aoba is able to build up morale on his own with the "Spirit"note  spirit command and can survive in the front lines while Dio will start to rely more on Aoba with Aoba's spirit commands and has a harder time to reach the morale thresholds needed for their Combination Attack plus his combination attacks aren't post movement unlike Aoba's.
  • Sword of the Stars
    • Zuul appear to be this at first. They have several advantages: Their ships start out cheap, faster both tactically and strategically and better-armed than most races'. They can take slaves, depriving an enemy world of population while driving up their own production. Having to overharvest means they can build up early money fast. However! They are a subversion who hew much closer to Difficult, but Awesome. See that page for more details.Short version 
    • Spacecraft built as missile buses can be this. Early on, missiles do more damage than anything else you have available and the early weapons are horrible at point defence, meaning a missile bus setup can easily wipe out brawler-types. As the game goes on, however, useful point defence and stronger direct-fire weapons become available, making a mainly-missile configuration less useful.
  • Tactics Ogre
    • Canopus seems like he would be an example of this. You get him in one of the first missions, he has decent movement, can fly, and does heavy damage. Subverted in that he never stops being useful, ever. He's amazing for the entire game.
    • There's also Low's father, who doubles as A Taste of Power. Since he's basically Low at his max level, he carries you through the first fight. He dies after the first level.
  • TearRing Saga, due to having a large cast, has several examples all in one game:
    • The first example is Garo, a pirate who joins at the very beginning of the game. He has very good bases for the early game and as such proves invaluable in the first few chapters, and is also one of the few axe users you get early on. However, Garo's usefulness wanes and eventually vanishes, as he's held back by his low movement, low growth rates and stat caps, and his inability to promote. As such, Garo's role will eventually be replaced by other axe users as the game progresses.
    • Just before Chapter 2, you are given the chance to recruit one of four new characters. One of them, Lee, is at level 15 (for reference, the rest of your party is around level 2 at this point) and has access to both attack magic and staves, something no one else is capable of, and is your first opportunity to get some attack magic (the next character with attack magic joins in Chapter 5). His base stats, though, are rather low for his level despite being high at this point in the game, and his growths are significantly lower then most of the other magic users, so he'll usually be benched after better mages come around if he was even recruited at all (though he does give you a nice staff that can't be found anywhere else in the game).
    • During Chapter 4, you can recruit Raquel, who's a promoted archer. Raquel's bases and growths are fairly good, she learns a useful anti-monster skill after a few levels, and she comes with a strong weapon, but she has a crippling weakness: she cannot kill human enemies, and instead leaves them at 1HP. This weakness can only be removed very late in the game, and requires you to recruit an otherwise-useless unit back in Chapter 2. Her Elite skill prevents this from cutting into her experience gains too bad, but she'll still level just a bit slower than everyone else. She'll usually only see a lot of use in monster heavy chapters, or when you want to weaken a strong enemy so that a weaker unit can kill it and get the experience for it.
    • In Chapter 5, you can recruit a Dark Knight named Zeek. Zeek has great base stats, is mounted, has decent growths, wields lances and axes, and has a support bonus with another unit named Kate. At the time he joins, your mounted units largely consist of mediocre fighters who only get weaker when they're forced to dismount, so he's useful right off the bat. Late in the game, he betrays your party and leaves permanently, retaining whatever stats and levels he had when you fight him as an enemy.
  • World of Warcraft has Pet Battles which fall into the TBS category, and they can be VERY prone to this. Due to the way the pet battle quests work, some people go from level 1-25 using the same three pets. By the time they reach Pandaria, though, sheer power doesn't cut it, so if your team doesn't have type advantages, (or, god help you, disadvantages against them), then this can label all of your first three pets as Crutch Characters due to not being up to the task as opposed to more type-appropriate pets. Even worse is the fact that some pets, such as ones bought from the Auction House or gained through Trading Card Game loot cards can be level 25 when you first get them, and there is nothing stopping you using them on the first trainers. Well, apart from the fact that when enemies get strong enough to actually kill your single level 25, the game will completely turn around and bite you on the arse.
  • The cyborg recruits in X-COM: Apocalypse start off more resilient, accurate and courageous than any human or mutant recruit at the time of hiring. The catch? They cannot increase their stats by training and so quickly get left behind when the meatbags start getting the hang of things. The only trump card they have by the endgame is complete psionic immunity.
    • The psionic immunity makes them incredibly useful in the early game, too, because a common early game enemy is the "Brainsucker", which, while easy to kill, moves quickly and permanently mind controls a character if they successfully leap on their head — and the most common early game enemy weapon is a launcher that shoots brainsuckers at people. Androids are not only immune to being mind controlled, but the brainsuckers will completely ignore their presence, rendering most early game enemies harmless. Relying on them too much in the "Brainsucker" phase of the game means your human and mutant units won't have the experience they need to take on the later game threats, however.
    • Their predecessors, the HWP units of the first two X-COM games, have a milder version of this. They're faster, better armored, immune to mind-control shenanigans, and tougher than your rookies, but don't get stat increases and are 4 times the size of a person. And rookies only get to become supersoldiers by getting out and mixing it up with those xeno bastards, so one cannot rely on the HWP to do all the major work or you'll never get your troops to those One-Man Army levels of power (Also, losing a rookie is cheaper than losing a HWP). However, HWPs are still the best at a particular role; their lack of an inventory and immunity to psi-powers mean they're perfect fire-support platforms. They can carry more rockets or blaster bombs than any soldier, and you never have to worry about them panicking or being controlled into shooting your own troops with those explosives. And while rookies are easy to replace, late-game highly-trained soldiers are not; the HWP's large size means they can be used as mobile cover.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown:
    • The SHIVs, the HWP-equivalent. Faster, tougher, better-armed, more accurate than rookies with mind control immunity to boot, but lose out to highly-trained meatbags. Nevertheless, their usefulness is such that many strategies for Classic and Impossible difficulties involve rushing to get them out the door ASAP.
    • Of the human classes, the Heavy. their first upgrade is the ability to fire a rocket that can often One-Hit Kill early-game enemies or destroy any cover they were hiding behind, and their second ability can be either Holo-targeting (an ally aiming at the same target as the heavy gets a +10 bonus to aim, useful for low-level units that have a low aim stat) or Burst Fire (the Heavy can fire twice in one turn if they don't take a move action, useful if you need to kill an enemy but miss the first shot). At later levels, the rockets lose some of their value as enemies become tougher and other high-damage weapons become available, and the Heavy's aim stat grows more slowly than other classes, causing them to miss a lot when shooting.

    Non Video-Game Examples 
  • Accel World has Haruyuki's Duel Avatar, Silver Crow. His ability to fly, something that no other Duel Avatar has ever possessed, gives him a great advantage in the territory battles, at least until his team runs into ranged attackers who are able to take down Haruyuki while he's flying. As such, Nega Nebulus is held back until Haruyuki can overcome this problem, as well as the hit to his already fragile self-confidence.
  • Banished from the Hero's Party: The protagonist, Gideon Ragnason, has the "Blessing of the Guide", which was given to him at birth. It gives him a massive boost in levels in comparison to the rest of the Hero's party, the Hero fo which is not him but rather his sister. Unfortunately, that's all it really does and once the rest finally do catch up to him, he's no longer able to keep up with them and is thus kicked out of the party by one of them when the story starts. This does come back to bite the party, however, as while Gideon wasn't exactly specialized in one thing, he was really great at survival skills, an Excellent Judge of Character, and possessed other non-combat skills that others cannot do. Not to mention, he was the party's cook which made the party's lives more comfortable. A side story of the novel even reveals that if he had stayed with the party far longer, he would have died due to being a Master of None.
  • Rhinox, of Beast Wars, started off as a powerful Genius Bruiser, but was also the only one who never got an upgrade. Over the course of the series, as he gets outstripped, his raw strength and firepower gets downplayed until he's almost completely in a mission control role.
  • In Blessed with a Hero's Heart, after being dumped by Kyouya to pay his debt to Izuku, Aela quickly realizes that being in Kyouya's party has stunted her growth, since all she did was cheer while he did the job. This quickly becomes evident when Izuku gets her proper gear and a new weapon that allows her to kill in two shots a Rookie Killer.
  • Mamako of Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? is the pure embodment of this trope. She always kills monsters before Masato can because of her drive to protect him, not noticing how this upsets him. Masato, Wise, and Medhi all get irritated about this because this prevents them from leveling up, but no matter how many times they ask her to let them kill some monsters, she cannot be convinced to stop. She just believes that she's protecting her son.
  • Dragon Ball Z
    • Goku eventually begins to worry that he is a Crutch Character among the cast. He knows that, eventually, he will die permanently, and if the other characters haven't become strong enough to cope in his absence that will be a huge problem, as the series demonstrates in Future Trunks' timeline (where Goku succumbed to a heart disease, leaving the rest of the cast unable to deal with the Androids showing up later). To that end, he starts training others up to his level, but the new villains inevitably are so overbearingly powerful that only Goku has the strength to beat them in the end. That and his successors tend to be lazy about training.
    • Frieza is an extremely rare villain example. Because of how overwhelmingly powerful he is, most of his soldiers tend to rely on his strength to protect them and deter anyone from rebelling against the empire. Vegeta calls out Cui, Zarbon, and Dodoria for relaxing with Frieza and growing complacent and content while he fought on the front lines growing stronger. While those three remained relatively powerful, most within Frieza's army are only as strong as Raditz. Also, Cui and Dodoria did try to run to Frieza for help once Vegeta proved to be stronger than them. When Frieza is killed on Earth, his empire fell apart without him because none of his men had his strength or fear factor. The very premise of Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' is that Frieza's henchmen, unable to sustain the empire without Frieza's menacing presence and overwhelming strength, brings him back to life.
    • In Super, both Gohan and Trunks fall into the trap of relying on their fathers (at this point among the most powerful beings in the multiverse) to solve problems they feel overwhelmed by. Gohan realises that while he may never have the love of fighting his father has, he still has a responsibility to stand as a protector. Trunks realises that he's being short sighted, with Vegeta asking so what if they beat Black if they don't think ahead to the next enemy after him. Both stop relying on their fathers as a crutch and undergo significant power ups.
  • Barbara "Barbie" M. Roberts from Fate/Gag Order was designed to act as one of these for new players as a low-rarity Alter Ego Servant with a passive trait that also gives her the properties of a Ruler, allowing her to deal super effective damage against six classes at once (the Four Cavalry classes, Foreigner, Moon Cancer) while her skills provide defensive buffs for the whole party and dish out stuns and NP gauge drains against enemies. Due to being a Bronze Servant, however, her health and attack are rather low, although she also has another passive ability that fills the NP gauges of her allies if she falls in battle.
  • Shirou Emiya serves as this for the first part of Fate Revelation Online by assisting in the boss battles. Because he's an actual magus and has experience in the Holy Grail War, he can ensure that the battles end quickly through brute force and ensuring that no unnecessary deaths occur.
  • In Girls und Panzer, the main characters, "Anglerfish Team," initially are this for the entire Oarai tankery team. While their tank, the Panzer IV, isn't especially good, Miho, the main character, is the only one who's done tankery before, and her teammates are some of the best in their roles. As such, in the manga, Yukari wonders if they're relying on Miho too much — in the five on five tank match with St. Gloriana, Anglerfish Team defeats three tanks while Hippo defeats one. As time goes on, the other Oarai tank crews improve and become better able to pick up the slack. The Panzer IV itself functions this way, as it's got acceptable speed, armor, and firepower against the medium tanks of Sanders High and Anzio, but it needs a Mid-Season Upgrade from the Panzer IV Ausf D to the Panzer Iv Ausf F2 to have enough firepower to keep competing againt Pravda's heavier armor.
  • I Was Dismissed from the Hero's Party: Aiga James is in a similar position to Gideon Ragnason, and explicitly has the Training Skill to help others get more powerful, though he eventually peaks. However, instead of being unceremoniously being kicked out for being useless like Gideon was, his party is instead grateful and gives him a Fief, which sets up the plot where he opts to train his Fief in the same manner. Overlaps with Obsolete Mentor since he also trained the resident Black Magician Girl as an apprentice.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry winds up being this from the perspective of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Ron has crippling confidence issues interfering with his ability to play keeper, not helped by the Slytherins' bullying strategy of singing a sarcastic idolization song painting him as Slytherin's greatest weapon because he sucks so badly. Harry manages to save the first game of the year from Ron's poor performance by catching the Snitch, but when he's banned from Quidditch due to the events after the match, the team is scrambling to replace him, Fred and George while Ron needs to improve quickly. In the end, Ron does come through, and Gryffindor wins the Cup without Harry, and does so again in Book 6.
  • Kamen Rider Zero-One villainous Rider Kamen Rider Thouser is practically this trope embodied. In a show that puts particular emphasis on the theme of progress and evolution, Thouser stands out with a belt that declares him "perfect" from the get-go, possessing overwhelming physical power and a Power Copying weapon that lets him do everything his opponents can and more. Over the next few months, he's the only character who never does anything to improve his skills as a fighter, instead copying more and more powers without training in how to use any of them, and the result of his laziness is that having all those powers doesn't actually make him any stronger than he was before. By the end of the arc that he leads as the villain, two separate characters have beaten Thouser in their most basic forms simply by having grown more skillful while he was standing still.
  • In Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, Hazumu is this for Yasuna until the end of the series. Yasuna had a weird condition where she was unable to see men, then later it got worse when she also lost the ability to see women as well. But Hazumu, using The Power of Love, manages to clear her selective blindness, and in the following OVA she rejects Hazumu yet again so that she could stand on her own from that point on.
  • Averted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, as it tends to find some way to incapacitate the Alicorn princesses in order to prevent them from becoming this, as their powers could likely solve the issue in a few seconds. Princess Cadance was forced to uphold the force-field to keep Sombra out of the Crystal Empire while the Mane Six saved the day (though she got the killing blow), Princess Luna was forced to hold the dream together while the residents of Ponyville fought the Tantibus (though again she got the last strike), and Princess Celestia was... somewhere... when the Mane Six were battling Nightmare Moon and Discord.
    • Later, the Mane Six start to become this, as their experience dealing with threats to Equestria means that later villains have to factor removing the Mane Six from the equation somehow in order to pose a threat. This is best demonstrated in the Season 7 finale, where the villain is dealt with rather smoothly (in part due to the fact that it was sealed away for a thousand years, and still weakened after it was freed). The main conflict of that episodes ends up being the heroes debating whether or not the villain is redeemable.
  • In One Piece, apparently there's a tendency for Logia Devil Fruit type users to do this. They all have the power of Elemental Shapeshifting, which makes most of them Nigh-Invulnerable and a serious threat early on. However, Haki is eventually introduced, which allowed users to nullify devil fruit powers with their attacks much like sea prism stones do. By the time the Straw Hats get to the New World, everyone and their mother knows how to use Haki, so any Logia users who've become over-reliant on their Nigh-Invulnerability without anything else to fall back on are basically screwed. Caribou exemplifies this for the series — he shows up, extremely proud of his power (ability to turn into a mud bog and capture objects or people inside himself), but once everybody catches up on him sneaking around, he gets taken down by Luffy in one punch. And when he comes to after that, he gets one-shotted by Pekoms in the same way, who even rubs it in about him using his Fruit power as a crutch. Ironically enough, Caribou is actually the first example of a Logia Devil Fruit type user who displays this behavior as all the others are exceptionally capable who requires extensively skilled Haki practice to beat and those that didn't had a large Logical Weakness that could be exploited (Crocodile for example having a Sand Logia means getting soaked renders him pretty immobile and vulnerable as Luffy would exploit, and even blood is enough to use to land hits. Eneru meanwhile could do little directly on insulating materials, such as Rubber Man Luffy.)
  • Belkar Bitterleaf, of The Order of the Stick, is in the category of "great early on, sucks against anything after." In his case, it's because he has great physical stats, including enough Strength to counterbalance being a halfling, lots of attacks due to being a ranger, and he's far more bloodthirsty than his teammates and fairly cunning in battle, making him a One-Man Army when he has the task of slaughtering Mooks. However, his Wisdom is quite bad, meaning his ranger skills (traditionally including tracking, scouting, and spellcasting) besides Dual Wielding are nonexistent, and giving him few options besides slaughtering mooks. He also has a terrible Will save, making him easy prey for any enemy with Mind Control, and his attitude means he often causes more problems in social situations than he solves. Altogether, it means he has the highest kill count of any member, but his record against equally strong opponents is pretty bad.
  • Similarly, The Powerpuff Girls (1998) realize in one episode that the people of Townsville have become so reliant on them that they're even called in to help with mundane tasks. Thus when the Monster of the Week shows up, they sit back and force the townspeople to take care of it themselves while only offering advice.
  • Ed's character arc in Season 8 of Scrubs messes with tropes in a way that illustrates this trope. Ed starts out Brilliant, but Lazy, satisfied with where he is. However, none of the other interns are. So while Ed is off trolling Lost fansites, the other interns are actually getting better to the point where Ed is left in the dust. When he completely fails at bettering himself in Dr. Cox's eyes, Cox doesn't hesitate in firing him and replacing him with a better intern.
  • In Spiral Hiyono Yuizaki, who was hired by Kiyotaka to constantly support his younger brother Ayumu. When Ayumu finally confronts Kiyotaka, Kiyotaka promptly kicks away the crutch by revealing she was his puppet the entire time in a gambit to make Ayumu fall into such a rage, he would murder Kiyotaka.
  • Super Sentai and its adaptation Power Rangers.
    • Doggy Kruger of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger and his American counterpart Anubis "Doggie" Cruger of Power Rangers S.P.D. forces the Rangers to see this trope in their respective series. After noticing that they're just hanging back and letting him defeat the Monster of the Week, he ends up sitting out a fight and telling them to solve it on their own.
    • Mahou Sentai Magiranger has Miyuki Ozu, the mother of the Five-Man Band and a powerful ice magician. She manages to easily defeat a Monster of the Week on her own, can grow to giant size at will, is the one who gave the Five-Man Band their powers and has knowledge that would probably solve all of the series' problems in no time. Because the series is probably aware of her status of Crutch Character, she is seemingly killed off by the Dark Magician Wolzard in the second episode. Udonna from Power Rangers Mystic Force fills the same spot, but only loses her powers instead of being killed off.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • Kirito is not good with people, being a discriminated 'Beater' (a portmanteau of beta tester and cheater created by characters that were salty that Kirito had advanced knowledge of the game due to having been a beta tester) under a disguise which guarantees he's far stronger than any other characters in the field. When he's recruited into the Moonlit Black Cats Guild, he only aims to be the party's Crutch Character and train them up until they're strong enough individually before leaving the team. Unfortunately for him, when he starts to get attached to the team, the members pull a Too Dumb to Live moment and get everybody except the Crutch Character killed. In fact, one could argue that this is a bit of a Deconstructed Trope, since the party's reliance on Kirito seemed to make them overconfident and led to their downfall.
    • He's learned a bit from this, as during his encounter with Silica, he joins her and leaves as soon as she successfully revives her dragon pet. They remain friends, but he doesn't form a permanent party or partnership with her. The light novel points out that Silica, despite having a rare and desirable dragon pet, is simply too low level to be of any use to the "clearers," which is why she's unable to accompany him.
  • TierZoo considers most Neuropterans such as the Antlion and Lacewing to be these. As larvae, both are powerful predators with high stealth in the former and with the capability to wear its dead prey as armor in the latter. As adults, they are weak, flimsy, cannot fly well, and only serve to complete the quest of reproduction. However, not all Neuropterans fall under this trope, as shown by the Mantidfly whose adult form is still a powerful combatant.
  • Your parents. Growing up we are weak, developing, immature, uneducated, and it's parents who we rely on to raise and care for us with emotional support, love, guidance, and caring for our domestic needs. As we grow older and find our own way in life, parents age and retire and we become far less reliant on them, often with them becoming reliant on us for things. It's no small wonder we as a society look down on Abusive or Neglectful Parents, and adults who continue to live at home and mooch off their parents, as much as we do.
  • Zombie Land Saga: Episodes 3 and 4 of Revenge establish Ai as one for Franchouchou. Ai stands out as the only member with history working in idol groups, and thus has a wealth of knowledge for team coordination that is useful to the group. The others are so dependent on her knowledge and experience that Kotaro excludes her from the group's performance as Iron Frill's opening act, under the (false) pretense of not wanting her old bandmates to recognize her, so that the others are forced to act on their own initiative rather than constantly seeking her advice.
  • In the second season of Beyblade Burst: Free de la Hoya serves as this for his team BC Sol. Being the #1 Blader in the world, Free's skills are a sight to behold being able to easily defeat any that get in his way. However, because of his near unmatched skill, Free often has a bored, emotionless look on his face and often views Victory Is Boring due to his skill (although he does admit that winning is the only thing that makes him happy). However, Free himself knows he is a crutch for his team as, despite them trying their hardest, BC Sol as a whole started to just rely on Free to get them through to the championship. It was also how Theodore Glass managed to convince Free to join the Raging Bulls instead promising him that he will find a better challenge there. It was only then where Free was finally defeated by Lui Shirosagi where Free decided to return to BC Sol and have more fun with beyblading for the sport itself.

Alternative Title(s): Jeigan Character, Jagen Archetype, Jeigan Archetype, Jagen Character