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Late Character Syndrome

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In video games where your characters forms parties, you'll often be able to fill up the party relatively quickly, and then receive characters that are better than the ones you started out with or who fill different niches. The characters are well-developed and receive neat sidequests that allow you to get extra treasure or other bonuses.

Then this character shows up. They may have great abilities, but they've already missed out on most of the game. In practical terms, this means they've missed out on all the grinding you did earlier, assuming the game doesn't have some sort of automatic catch up mechanism — and even if the game does, the character's default stats for that level may be lackluster compared to the carefully hand-leveled other companions. They may have also arrived after their niche is already well taken care by another character.

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But even if the power divide isn't too bad and the character is really quite awesome at what they do, there's another factor. You've already played most of the way through the game with the characters you're currently using, so you're already emotionally attached to that party and comfortable with the current group dynamic. In addition, a character that comes to the party this late is less likely to have as much of an impact on the plot, or any cool sidequests to go on.

What this usually means is that the player has to bring the game's progress to a halt in order to invest time and resources into getting the newbie up there with the rest of the party.

As a final straw, these guys might end up coming in at the same time for any New Game Plus runs you might be allowed to do. Chrono Trigger's Magus might be fun to nuke the enemy with in the late part of the game... but hit New Game Plus, and he's gone until late yet again.

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This is particularly a problem in games with large casts, where "late" can actually be quite early, leading to a lot of Overrated and Underleveled situations. Games with Permadeath may make these characters more useful, if similar characters gained earlier have died. This might also happen with optional party members, especially if their recruitment sidequest takes place late in the game.

Differs from Can't Catch Up in that the characters were possibly never caught up to begin with.


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Examples:

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    Beat 'Em Up 
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl gives you a quickly expanding cast of fighters to work with in the adventure mode and you get lots of share time between each fighter to get used to their play styles. You also have the opportunity to boost the powers of characters through stickers. At the Final Battle, Sonic the Hedgehog appears to weaken the final boss' ultimate attack and becomes playable for that one fight. You have no opportunity to boost his abilities and unless you went through the trouble to unlock him in the main fighting modes through alternative means beforehand (beat Classic Mode with 10 characters or fight in Brawl mode for 10 hours), no time to practice with him, making him practically useless for the final battle.
  • Warriors Orochi suffers from this problem constantly. When you unlock a character, even if said character is said to be a major badass like in the case of Lu Bu, said character starts at level 1 with their basic weapon and none of their abilities. This is a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, of course, but it does seem a bit strange, not to mention frustrating when you can't take the cool new character you just unlocked in Stage 7 of the campaign on to the final battle. However, the games allow you to level up the characters instantly with collected XP so that you're not forced to grind every single character you meet.

    RPG — Eastern 
  • In .hack//G.U., you get Shino at the end of Vol. 3. You get Tabby after getting halfway through the Forest of Pain, a 100-floor dungeon. Finally, you can get Natsume at any time during the game, but you have to find and defeat her and all the other Chaotic PKs in order to get her Member Address, and she's around level 130, which is the average level to end the main storyline at. By the time you've gotten them, you've already cleared the main storyline and most side quests, and Shino and Tabby's roles are already filled by Atoli and Pi. Natsume's role would be filled by Alkaid, but you temporarily lose Alkaid in the middle of the second game (shortly after getting her) and when you get her back, she's half the level of everyone else you have access to, making her pretty much useless. You might could also count Haseo as filling Natsume's role, since he also has access to Twin Blades.
    • This is fixed to some extent in the HD Last Recode version, which includes a smaller scale fourth volume.
  • The original .hack//IMOQ quadrilogy contains a notable case. If you take some of the side-quests on the board, you might get some good characters. Unlike many of the games on this list, it's often good to have multiple characters fill the same niche as frequently story reasons mean a character will be unavailable for good chunks and you may want the replacement. The notable exception is Terajima Ryoko: a Heavy Axeman at level ONE who joins in the middle of Outbreak, thus about 70% through the quadrilogy when your party is in the 60s. Not only is it difficult to grind her up (it will be difficult for her to survive in the majority of dungeons from that point), her sidequest dungeons tend to be ridiculously difficult AND most people are turned off by her personality (she does not mesh well with BlackRose). With Blademasters and Long Arms taking the role of DPS and Heavy Axeman tying with Heavy Blades as tanks (of which you'll have quite a few of all three and former Heavy Axeman Piros must be brought along for some story quests), poor Terajima's late-game status means she's often actively avoided in favor of someone else.
  • In the original Breath of Fire, your last party member is Mogu a mole-like creature you have to save from being trapped within his own nightmare. The only reason you need Mogu is to make use of dig command to find treasure on the world map and once to perform a vital plot function. And Mogu has it from the getgo, so there's almost no reason to level him up, particularly since he's not useful in battle.
  • Magus in Chrono Trigger, especially if you get him for the first time on your second or later playthroughs. At the time you pick him up, your staple party members are likely getting near their endgame skills, while he only has three mid-level spells that you already have access to through other party members. That said, his spells are almost a Disk One Nuke in the next dungeon. His stats are also some of the best in the game, which means he'll do more damage with those mid-level spells than the other party members will.
  • A far bigger problem in Chrono Cross. With 44 playable characters and only three fighters in battle (and one of those slots has to be filled by Serge until New Game Plus), most late-game characters never see use, especially since early-game characters Glenn and Razzly can slaughter anything they see with ease.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • The main character of Dragon Quest V and his wife are kidnapped and turned to stone just after the birth of their twin children. Nearly a decade later, the main character is found and restored by his children, but by the time you get around to rescuing his wife (and level up to survive the boss fight) she's going to have some level grinding up to do.
    • Terry joins the party pretty late in Dragon Quest VI. It's good that he mastered Warrior and Martial Arts jobs and wearing strong equipment. After Terry joins, you can recruit Lizzy, the Dragon Hacksaurus who is very useful in the party.
      • In the original, Terry didn't have anything mastered and he was 5 levels lower to boot. Thankfully, the remake gave him a few buffs as described above.
    • Can crop up in Dragon Quest VII, which features a strict Arbitrary Headcount Limit and rotates a couple of members in and out according to the plot. The player can't actually select who journeys with them until right before the Final Dungeon. This can lead to one of the later characters falling behind, depending on how you developed them during their time in the party. Specifically, Aishe/Aira was the most often ditched — she is the last one to join the party.
  • In some Etrian Odyssey games, you can unlock classes later into the game. Problem is, like with all other characters you make, making a character of those classes starts them off at level 1. Depending on when the class is unlocked, this can mean having to pad out your adventure by 4-5 hours just to get their levels up to speed. In the DS games, the only way around this is to retire an existing character, replacing them with a fresh recruit that has half the retired character's level or level 30 — whichever is lower — and some stat bonuses. Etrian Odyssey IV has some items that let you head-start a new character's levels, and later games just drop the unlockable class mechanic completely.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Most fourth party members in Final Fantasy II (even Leon) get this, due to your main three getting most of the benefits of grinding. Minwu is the only exception, since he both joins very early and has a lot of good magic.
    • Debatably Edge from Final Fantasy IV. Especially in the DS remake, which requires a lot of grinding.
    • The new Jobs introduced in the GBA remake of Final Fantasy V are only available at the end of the story. One of them, the Necromancer, gets new abilities by having the Necromancer personally kill certain enemies, meaning the only way to build them up is to backtrack and grind, and even then they'll only see real use in the final dungeon. Necromancer is probably the ultimate example, because you have to complete the first of the 2 post-game bonus dungeons just to unlock it — a dungeon much harder than the final dungeon of the regular game, obviously — basically all that's left after unlocking it is a boss rush (the OTHER bonus "dungeon").
    • A problem with Strago and Relm in Final Fantasy VI. They show up just before the end of the world, meaning by the time you have them, everyone else has a considerable amount of Magic already built up. They're not given much time to catch up before you lose your party members and have to retrieve them. Strago's also a Blue Mage, meaning all the monsters with useful skills are behind you when you get him. With high natural magic stats and good equipment options, both are potentially very useful party members, but you have to go out of your way to level them before they become worthwhile.
    • Cid in Final Fantasy VII joins the party just before the last major story arc of the first disc. The game's design means he'll be able to use most of your enhanced Materia right away, but his Limit Breaks are likely well behind everyone else's. Cloud will almost certainly have one if not both of his second-level breaks by then, so if you want Cid to catch up you'll need to do some grinding.
    • Amarant in Final Fantasy IX joins your party late into the second disc, and there are party members who fill his niche quite well. It takes quite a bit of grinding to set him up with the utility skills that your staple party members take for granted. Fortunately, by then you can have a large collection of equipment to teach him most of the skills, so it becomes a question of what you want to train him with.
    • The Mascot Job in Final Fantasy X-2 is given to you after you get Episode Complete in every location of the game. This means you have to complete everything barring The Very Definitely Final Dungeon and one super-brutal Bonus Dungeon (for which, on the other hand, this job will be very useful). It is also quite grindastic class as well, as Ribbon ability requires 999 AP to master and it has to be unlocked by learning SOS-Protect on Warrior's Dresphere beforehand. The presence of New Game Plus mitigates the issues a bit. The Updated Re-release and No Export for You versions also provide a second way to get it in Fiend Arena, and while that one pits you against some of toughest enemies in the game (Mega Tonberry comes to mind), at least you don't need to complete most of the game's content to get it.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics:
      • One of the factors that mitigates the potential awesomeness of Cloud Strife appearing is the fact that he joins the party at Level 1 in the fourth and final chapter of the game. On top of this, his unique abilities require him to use a pretty weak sword, and the more powerful ones have insane charge times, meaning the player will have to grind Time Mage (because of its Short Charge ability) to make him viable.
      • Meliadoul would have been an awesome recruit with her own unique abilities if Thunder God Cid wasn't recruited just before her with the same abilities and then some.
  • Golden Sun:
    • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has this for the last quarter of the game with Isaac and his party when they join your party after you complete the Jupiter Lighthouse. By the time you get them, you're already on your way to the Mars Lighthouse. Your new party members aren't very different from your main party ability-wise, so you will have little reason to swap out characters unless they start getting knocked out in battle unless you transferred your clear data from the first game to the sequel to bypass the grinding process for Isaac's team.
    • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn also has the same problem with your last three party members, who join in after three quarters of the game is finished. By the time you get the final party member, you're already on your way to obtaining items you need to tackle The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. This is lampshaded when the Big Bad shows up before the Final Battle and the party reacts angrily to him while the lately acquired party member has no idea who he is since she wasn't with your group from the start.
  • Applies to Komachi, Touma, Seraphina, and Kristofer from Infinite Undiscovery.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC: Poor Josette. While she's a fun character from a story point of view, she only joins as an 11th-Hour Ranger just before The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. It doesn't help that she's a required party member in a dungeon a few hours before said final dungeon, IE. sneaking in the Glorious to get the Capua Sky Bandits back. Not only is it a retread of a previously more exciting mission you've already done before, but at a point where your characters are hitting their final S-Crafts and are upgrading their Orbments to use the strongest Arts in the game, she's a crappy Master of None with average at best Orbment setups, is a shooter which means the more established Olivier and Tita are already stronger than she is by default, has incredibly weak slot upgrades you'll need to spend time grinding Sepith for, and she doesn't even get an S-Break until after the aforementioned mandatory dungeon is over. To a lesser extent, Mueller and Julia also become playable for the final dungeon, but you're very likely to use Keven and or Kloe already to cover for support and healing, and have either Agate or Zin in a third slot to be the strong tank characters, leaving very little either can do uniquely compared with everyone else.
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch includes Marcassin, the Prince of Hamlin and Swaine's brother, as a playable character. He joins during the last portion of the game. Unfortunately, not only does he join at a low level (depending on how extensively the player grinded the others), Marcassin turns out to be an inferior Oliver in gameplay, only surpassing Oliver's physical attack stat, which is useless for a wizard character. His spells aren't much better; they have a shorter cooldown timer compared to Oliver's, but they're also the same as Oliver's, barring the story specific ones that only Oliver can use, meaning Marcassin lacks the most powerful spells in the game. Worse still, since the other three party members already have roles (Esther for taming, Swaine for stealing), and you can't switch out Oliver, Marcassin's usefulness drops almost to nil. His main benefit is that he's about to boost the stats of certain species of the game's mons, ones that the other party members don't have an affinity for.
  • Persona:
    • Ken and Koromaru run the risk of this in Persona 3 due to being (relative) latecomers who are not as deeply integrated into the core storyline as the others, and in Ken's case is a little unfocused when it comes to his spell selection — he tries to cover Lightning and Holy elements, Persona-based physical attacks, improving his regular physical attacks, and healing, all with only 8 skill slots. He can cover some gaps, but the Player Character is far, far better at filling in for the rest of the party's deficiencies than Ken could ever be.
    • Persona 4 has Naoto Shirogane, the last member to join, and one of the more difficult members to integrate into the standard party dynamic. The fact that she comes in more than a month later than you would expect from the previous pattern of new party members is bad enough, but you've likely gotten pretty far into the social links of your friends, if not outright completed them, by the time she joins the party. More important is that she joins right before the biggest Wham Episode of the game, Nanako's kidnapping. And while your other party members have had months to get to know and love the victim, Naoto had only just gotten to know her and so, emotionally, it's almost difficult to justify placing Naoto in the rescue party. To top it off, while her stats are good and she has the widest range of attacks outside the Player Character, all of her attacks are single targeting and rather expensive, so taking out even a single group of enemies can take a serious chunk out of her SP. Almost as if to convince you to use Naoto in the dungeon immediately after she joins the party, an abnormal amount of enemies in that dungeon are weak to Light, Dark, or nothing at all. Naoto is the only party member outside of the Player Character who has access to Light, Dark, and Almighty spells, making her much more useful in that dungeon than in any other.
    • Haru Okumura of Persona 5 suffers from this trope similarly. Although she joins towards the end of the midgame and isn't too far behind, her Confidant opens up incredibly late — almost an in-game month after she becomes playable and two weeks after her introductory Palace's deadline — and has a steep Proficiency requirement to advance past rank 1. In comparison, most other party member Confidants are available shortly after the preceding Palace is completed. On top of that, Akechi joins the party a few days before her Confidant opens up, and he gets a whole suite of Confidant-related tactical bonuses at once, making him a more useful party member before Haru can even begin catching up.
    • To some people, Akechi falls into this. While the character's status as a Bless/Curse user is a step up from Naoto in the previous game, since Akechi has direct damage skills instead of having to rely on instant kill skills, his Persona does not get Boost or Amp skills for those. There's also the fact that he betrays you at the end of the Palace in which he joins, and never returns to your party in the original game. Royal fixes this by having the character rejoin the party for the third semester, granting him more screentime and usage than in the original game.
    • Royal has newcomer Kasumi Yoshizawa, or better said, Sumire. She gets her Persona in early October, but doesn't join until early January, during the Royal-exclusive third semester. By the time she joins, her Confidant is only Rank 5 at most (the last 5 levels open up after she joins) and she only has a first-tier Persona, while the other Phantom Thieves should have second or third-tier Personas (and Morgana will have his third-tier Persona by the time you start exploring the last Palace). Cendrillon won't evolve into Vanadis until you complete the Faith Confidant, and won't change into Ella until just before the Final Battle.
    • Persona 5 Strikers averts this problem by having all of the Phantom Thieves from Persona 5 (sans Akechi and Kasumi/Sumire who are entirely absent) available from the very start and has Sophia join in the first Jail. While Zenkichi doesn’t join until the 5th Jail, he makes up for it by having access to Almighty moves among other powerful skills, making him very useful. Both characters (including Sophia’s ultimate Persona which doesn’t become available until the endgame) are also available from the start on New Game Plus.
  • Pokémon: While the franchise's competitive battling scene means that you always have some use for any creature you catch, when it comes to the single-player experience, Pokémon has its fair share of Mons that will miss out on helping you on your journey to become Champion.
    • Broadly speaking, all wild Pokémon you catch during the back half of the game can count as this, as they do not have the EVs that your Mons havenote . Meaning that they're technically lagging behind the rest of your team even if they're around the same level as them, and thus may not be worth bring on-board. Especially if you already have a full squad of six, as most players aren't prone to swapping members in and out of their team during a casual playthrough.
    • Many of the "pseudo-legendaries" tend to be available quite late, often only encountered in the final area of the main game and, in rare cases, only during the post-game (Larvitar and Beldum are prime examples of the latter, with Larvitar in particular only being found in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon at the end of the post-game). Even if you get them mid-game, they also reach their powerful final evolutions pretty late into your journey, often evolving in the mid-50s, if not later (looking at you, Hydreigon). Maybe you'll have them in time to fight the Elite Four and Champion if you grind a bit, but in most cases they're only be useful for post-game activities and competitive PvP. Later games play with this, as earlier games' pseudo-legendaries might be made available much earlier than the newest addition to the group; for example, Jangmo'o, the pseudo-legendary of Generation VII, isn't available until shortly before the final trial, but several other pseudos can be found on earlier islands.
    • Moltres in Pokémon Red and Blue is a fairly extreme example, as it can only be found on Victory Road—meaning the only trainers left to fight are the Elite Four and whatever Ace Trainers you haven't already beaten. At this point in the game, there are all of two Pokémon left that are weak to its Fire-type attacks: Lorelei's Jynx, and Blue's Venusaur or Exeggutor. What really hurts Moltres is comparison to its counterparts, Articuno and Zapdos, who can both be captured abnormally early for Legendaries if you know what you're doing, and are also just better than it in general, with better movepools, typing, and matchups. The remakes somewhat alleviated this by moving Moltres to the Sevii Islands, though it's still the latecomer of the group.
    • This problem is at its most severe in Pokémon Gold and Silver, where you're only able to access most of Kanto once you've beaten the Elite Four and Champion. The wild Pokémon that can be found in Kanto are about the same level as they were back in Pokémon Red and Blue (e.g., Pallet Town is still surrounded by Level 3 Pidgey), making them insanely weak compared to your party. Made even worse when you realize that Mt. Silver (that aforementioned very final dungeon where you can find Larvitar) is home to a lot of other new Pokémon that would have been great to have along on your journey, but are only becoming available when the sole thing left to do is defeating Red.note  None of this is helped by the fact that grinding in Gold and Silver (and even its remakes) is a terrible slog.
      • Most Dark-types except Umbreon tend to suffer from this pretty badly in the Johto games, despite this being the generation they were introduced in. The majority of them aren't available until after the Elite Four, with the exception of Sneasel in Crystal and a couple in the new Safari Zone in HeartGold and SoulSilver.
    • In the games where it's available, Eevee tends to be found fairly early on. By the same token, its evolution methods mean you can get one of those fairly quickly as well. With the exception of its Ice-type evolution Glaceon, which until Gen VIII was never available until 3/4ths of the way through the game at the earliest. This is because it only had one evolution method prior to Pokémon Sword and Shield; evolving it near an Ice Rock, which is a physical location in the overworld, and ice/snow areas are usually only reached during the latter half of the game. Its Grass-type counterpart Leafeon evolves similarly using a Moss Rock, and though some games give you access to it during the early-to-mid game (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire has its Moss Rock in the first forest area), it just as often shared the same late-game fate; Pokémon X and Y only made the grass-and-ice duo available just before the eighth Gym, while Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 before it restricted them to the post-game.
      • Building off of that, Ice-type Pokémon in general. In every game, Ice-type Pokémon are first available at earliest 3/4 of the way through the game, meaning they have almost no time to be used other than on a handful of bosses and the Elite Four. Sword and Shield would subvert this by giving you access to Ice-types before the first Gym via the Wild Area, and an Ice-type fossil Pokémon can be obtained before the fourth Gym (but requires about 20 levels of grinding before it becomes usable).
    • Pokémon White introduces multiple Pokémon from previous games in the post-game by way of White Forest. They're all fairly good if you train them up... but they're also in their lowest possible evolutions. And at Level 5.
    • Sun & Moon had a number of location-based evolutions of this nature. Outside of Glaceon, there is Magnezone, Probopass, Vikavolt, and Crabominable. The first three need to be evolved by a magnetic field, and for whatever reason, the power plant you can visit halfway through the game doesn't count. No, they only evolve in Vast Poni Canyon, towards the end of the final island. Meanwhile, Mount Crabominable was even worse, as it can only evolve from Crabrawler when on Mount Lanakila, which is on the third island but nevertheless can't be accessed until the final hour of the main story. All of these were remedied in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, where the Power Plant now counts as a magnetic field, and you're allowed to access the base of Mount Lanakila once you reach the third island.
    • Porygon got this bad in both Gen VII games. The artificial duck creature already tends to be a late-game Pokémon whenever it isn't being sold in Kanto and Johto arcades, but despite being in the middle of the Ula'ula Pokédex, the player can't get one until after becoming the Champion. Meanwhile, in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, you have to wait until defeating Team Rainbow Rocket to get it, so it misses out on the entire post-game campaign as well. Its evolution method — both of its evolutions require it to be traded with a held item — also make it this, as the Dubious Disc required to get its final form of Porygon-Z usually can't be received until the post-game.
    • Though not as extreme as some of the other examples, Sword and Shield marked the debut of Eiscue, Stonjourner, and DuraludonHowever... , none of which are available in the base game until the very last patches of tall grass before the end credits. Stonjourner in particular is a bizarre case, as rock formations that look like it are found around the early-game town of Turffield, which is also home to a cardboard cutout of this Pokémon. Downplayed after the release of the DLC areas, as all three are available in the Crown Tundra area, which can be visited earlier in the game.
  • Radiant Arc:
    • After the player gains access to passive stat skills, newer party members like Tamotsu, Gabe, and Nuria can be hard to use immediately because the player will need to wait for them to accumulate enough AP to learn their passive stat skills and better active skills. Otherwise, they'll likely fall behind the older party members.
    • Derek is a downplayed example despite joining last. He already has all of his active skills and only needs to learn his passive skills, meaning he can be made useful faster than other late game party members.
  • The better you score in The Reconstruction, the worse your problems with this trope will be, since getting your score high enough will provide significant stat bonuses to all characters you've so far recruited. Play on maximum difficulty (with the highest score multiplier), and there's a decent chance you'll get all possible bonuses before you've even recruited the last three characters.
  • Several characters in the Suikoden series.
    • Sonya Shulen in the original. You recruit her, and then go to war over The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Could also apply to Gremio, as he only comes back if you recruit everyone (even Sonya) before starting the battle for The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
    • Suikoden V:
      • Eresh is outclassed by the mages you already have when you finally get her.
      • Shoon and Hazuki are great fighters, but arrive so late in the game that you'll probably already have others in their roles that fight as well as they do.
  • Regal in Tales of Symphonia joins earlier than most final recruits, but it's likely that you already have a party setup you like. It doesn't help that unlike every other party member besides Zelos, you are never required to use him.
  • Suzu Fujibayashi in Tales of Phantasia (except in the SNES version) is a very good example of this for optional party members. She cannot be recruited until very late in the game via a sidequest. By that point, she'll likely be underleveled.
    • In every version of the game, meanwhile, Chester after regaining him is an inversion. He's a Guest-Star Party Member for the very earliest few dungeons of the game, getting left behind when you travel back to the past, and only rejoining after you've finished the past section of the game that makes up over half the game's length. You've had your main party of Cress, Mint, Claus, and Arche, meanwhile, since relatively early into the past section, and all four of them are more obviously useful than this guy who averts Leaked Experience... But when you actually bother to use him, his damage with just a bow alone very quickly proves itself to be positively insane, Magikarp Power setting in extremely quickly. He'll give Claus and his highly damaging summons a run for their money with less Artificial Stupidity and no TP cost as a quickly viable ally.
  • Valkyrie Profile:
    • To some extent in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. Although the characters who join in the last chapter are all more plot-important and have better stats and equipment, they all start knowing very few skills, if any. And because they're at a fairly high level, it's harder to teach them skills (skills get learned faster when fighting monsters at a higher level than you).
    • Reversed in the first game's Hard Mode. Every character you pick up starts at Level 1, but if you have the right items, you can level them up carefully to be ridiculously strong. Even better, some of the most advantageous Skills are only available in late game, meaning you can get started on those right away with the new characters and only give them the best skills, rather than use up skill points on lesser abilities that your other characters have. That said, the first game plays it straight with Lyseria, Gandar, and Suo. While all three are excellent at their roles (the latter as a melee specialist, the others as mages), Lyseria and Suo are only available in the penultimate chapter, and Gandar only in the final chapter. While it's easy to grind out their stats with the right items, the limited number of chances you have to grind them up compared to Mystina (only slightly weaker than the other two mages, but available at around the halfway point of the game right after the Peninsula of Power Leveling opens up), Arngrim, Lawfer, or Aelia (melee specialists with access to Crimson Edge weaponry that appear much earlier, the former being your first recruit) mean that by default they will lag compared to pretty much every other character.
    • In Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, the "Chapter 4" characters (Fauxnel, Valmur&Phiona, Auguste&Reinhilde) play this role. Depending on how many characters you plumed (which, if you have Fauxnel, is none for the record.) you'll probably have your endgame team ready to go. Sure, you can power-level them up with experience, but you might not need them. They do pay off admittedly (Especially Auguste, one of the most powerful characters in the game) but you have little chance to use them.
      • Fauxnel especially suffers - since you cannot get him on any route except A. By this point you haven't sacrificed any characters, so building Fauxnel up will only just cause both of him and Lockswell (The other sorcerer you got) to suffer.
  • Two examples in Wild ARMs:
    • The remake of Wild ARMs has secret character Zed, who to unlock you have to go halfway into the final dungeon, grab an item and head back out. Subverted in that while he is gotten so late, and his skills all have Necessary Drawback, his stats are astronomical and he's very useful for fighting all the Bonus Bosses that unlock the same time he does.
    • Played straight with Chuck in Wild ARMs 5, he joins well after all the others, doesn't really stand out stat-wise and the skills he comes equipped with are very situational. He doesn't even factor into the story all that much, his subplot finishing before he joins.
  • In SaGa Frontier, most characters can be recruited very early, and it's always to your advantage to do so as quickly as possible. Characters that join late are usually very weak in comparison to characters you've fought with from the start of the game.
  • Emeralda in Xenogears suffers from being a very late joiner and is only really there as a replacement for Elly. The fact that she joins in the penultimate dungeon in the first disc (and can't be used after that) doesn't help either. That said, she can still be very usable. It helps that after going through an optional dungeon and unlocking her adult form, Emeralda gets by far the best stat gains per level-up of any character.
  • Mechon Fiora in Xenoblade Chronicles, can be this. Despite that you do have her around for quite awhile (This is a very long game), by the time you get her your party is probably already in their 50s and has likely filled up one or two of their skill trees, whereas Fiora will only be into her first. That said, you are rewarded for taking the time to build her up.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2:
    • Zeke joins roughly halfway through the plot. In this case its somewhat downplayed though, as he has more than enough Leaked Experience to let him play catch up. The main downside is that the rest of your team will probably already have their own sets of blades filled out already, while Zeke only has Pandoria to start out with. He also suffers from some unfortunate role overlap; while the party will only ever have one specialist healer and the two tanks do so in different ways (with the less popular HP-tank having plot enforced utility in a few areas), Zeke shares the Damager role with Rex, whose permanent partner is Purposely Overpowered. Even when that blade is taken away, Rex has so many excellent plot-required partners it can be hard to justify benching him.
    • The rare blades themselves fall into this depending on when you awaken them. By Chapter 6 or 7, you've almost certainly got a set of rare blades on each party member that you've been building up for most of the game, while any blade awakens with bare minimum Trust and skills, so they'd need extra grinding to be as viable as the ones you already have — particularly those whose affinity charts are based on killing specific monsters or completing specific quests.
  • The Legend of Dragoon has Sacred Sister Miranda, who doesn't join the party until Disc 3. Gameplay-wise, she's no different from Shana, so a bulked up Shana transfers to Miranda just fine, but Miranda doesn't have much character development, and the party has already been with Shana since the beginning of the game.
  • Averted and then later played straight with the same character in Conception 2: Children Of The Seven Stars. Feene is the last character you get and is the only character who has the shadow element, which is strong against everything but non-elemental and light, making her good for earlier dungeons. However, later in the game, every enemy is either non-elemental or light, leaving her weak to everything, as opposed to the fire/water/earth/wind elements the other six have. Since non-elemental is weak to the basic four elements, Feene is the only one that's weak to everything you encounter.
  • Combat gameplay in Legend of the Ghost Lion relies on you finding objects that hold summon spirits. There's ten of them, but the later one is obtained, the likelier they'll only ever serve as Human Shield in combat. See, for summon spirits to become competent combatists, they need to level up. And they only level up when Maria, the summoner, levels up. And she can only reach level 26 at most because leveling is done not by fighting or questing, but by finding fragments of hope, of which there are 25. Any fragment found before a given summon spirit means that summon spirit permanently misses out on a level. And no, delaying picking up fragments is not an option because the second half of the game in particular is tough. The amount of fragments as is already is barely sufficient to survive.

    RPG — MMO 
  • Several classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic have to deal with this. While many classes, such as the Jedi Knight, Smuggler and Sith Warrior, get their fifth and final companion at the end of Hoth, the last planet in Act II (out of three total acts), some classes only get them partway through Act III. The Imperial Agent, for example, only gets SCORPIO after Belsavis. Easily the worst example is the Sith Inquisitor, who only gets Xalek, their official apprentice, after completing Voss, which means there's only one planet left before the end of the main storyline (plus he never talks to the other companions or participates in team meetings). The expansions released after launch have at least given the player more time with these late companions, but since after the completion of the class quest they become all but irrelevant story-wise, one feels as though Bioware shouldn't have even bothered giving you some of the late arrivals. Until that is SCORPIO becomes The Dragon and new Big Bad.
  • Final Fantasy XIV runs into this with the Heavensward expansion: It introduces three new Jobs, which all start at Level 30. But to actually reach the area you gain the Jobs in requires you to have gone through the entire base game and started the Expansion content, at which point you will be on the far side of Level 50. This means the player has to bring the entire Main Quest to a halt, or at least take frequent breaks in progression, to catch up if they wish to continue the story with the new Jobs.

    RPG — Western 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura had dozens of NPCs who can join the party- but their static levels mean that if you happen to miss them or didn't have room for them the first time around, they'll never have the chance to catch up with the rest of the crew. There's also a few NPCs who make themselves available near end-game, but by the time you get them they are not nearly as beefed up as your current roster, and sport lackluster weapons and badly allocated skills.
  • Baldur's Gate:
    • Sarevok in Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. You get him at the beginning of the expansion pack, true, but if you're importing a saved game you probably already have a developed party that you'll prefer over him.
    • Possibly Imoen in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn if you've gotten used to using a character with a similar party function by the time you get her back. This is also one reason why the game pushes Yoshimo into your party so heavily, because he'll automatically leave you at the point she joins you.
  • Dragon Age: Origins
    • Oghren suffers from this because Orzammar, the area where you recruit him from, is one of the toughest areas in the game and thus most players don't complete it until late in the game. It doesn't help that as a two-handed melee damage dealer he occupies exactly the same role as Sten. The developers have admitted that the reason why he's the only companion who returns as a playable character in the Awakening expansion pack is to make up for this.
    • Loghain can only be recruited after you've completed most of the game. That said, he's specifically meant to replace Alistair (who gets so angry at the guy's recruitment that he leaves the party) and gameplay-wise serves the same purpose as the Stone Wall.
    • Depending on the route one takes in Awakening, this will happen to the last character you recruit. Despite having a moment where they are put into your party, the character who you recruit last will easily be ditched since their niche may already have been filled either by the earlier joiners or the Warden themselves. You don't get to take them on sidequests to get to know them either, since going to the keep after recruiting them triggers the endgame.
  • Sebastian Vael in Dragon Age II only joins the party in Act II, by which time you have probably settled for Varric as the ranged rogue of the party (if you need one at all). For the reference, every other party member joins in Act I. This may have something to do with Sebastian being DLC-only.
  • In response to the previous two games, this was intentionally averted in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where all party members are recruited by the end of the first act.
  • Though the open world nature of Fallout 4 means any character can be this depending on your proclivities, X6-88 is this in terms of availability because you can only recruit him at the beginning of the third act. He has the highest stats of any of your party members, but companion stats are negligible. Even then, any weaknesses are easily compensated by giving them great armor and weapons. Compounding that, X6-88 stands out as being a bland automaton compared to your crew of weirdos and provides zero emotional hook.
  • Party members in Neverwinter Nights 2 level up automatically to match you when they join your party. There's still a problem; their automatic leveling doesn't allow you to select skills, feats, and spells known for them. They'll always take the same bad feats or useless spells known. Ammon Jerro suffers the worst, as he joins very late in the game and automatically chooses some truly terrible invocations. He's a Required Party Member for much of the final act, but you get almost no chances to customize him and fix his invocation choices. Fortunately, this can all be corrected with a player-made mod.
  • Legion in Mass Effect 2. Whereas all of the other characters are recruited in the first half of the game, Legion is a surprise recruitment made almost immediately before the final mission for most players. The only power he has which Tali doesn't is Geth Shield Boost (temporarily boosts his shields), and she has a more useful equivalent (Energy Drain, which drains enemies' shields and boosts her own). He's a talented sniper... but so are Garrus and Thane (however, he does get unique access to the Widow, the most powerful non-heavy weapon in the game that only Infiltrator and Soldier Shepards can wield otherwise). He's a good choice for the tech specialist...but so are Tali and Kasumi. He's good at taking down synthetic enemies... but there aren't any synthetic enemies in the final mission. (None of this stopped him from becoming one of the more popular party members.) It helps that you are still able to allocate all of his skill points and that most players still have DLC set after the end of the game. If you hack the game to get the character into your party early, you find out that they have spoken lines for pretty much all of the earlier missions before they were recruited - hinting to a last minute change in the way the game's missions were structured.
  • Nyoka in The Outer Worlds joins your crew significantly later than everyone else, and while it doesn't hurt her mechanically due to your crewmates leveling alongside you, by that point you've probably already gotten attached to your other companions and figured out a loadout that you like.
  • In Planescape: Torment, Nordom, Ignus and Fall-From-Grace are only available from about halfway through the game, with significant sub-questing required to add Nordom or, to a lesser extent, Ignus to your party. They mostly make up for it by being highly memorable and entertaining characters. However, Vhailor is only discovered even later in the game, when you've probably got your party line-up well finalized, and can actually be missed entirely. As a result, he often doesn't make the cut.
  • Wasteland features a few great characters in the late game, from Darwin Village and even in the Final Dungeon. By then your base rangers are engines of near anything-killing and you've got either decently-leveled NPCs or clones to pad out the ranks.
  • Wasteland 2 has a number of characters, but many of them start with non-ideal skills that are already redundant for your party and/or have a bad allocation of stats. Brother Thomas is probably the lone exception because he's trained in submachine guns and blunt weapons (the first has a good chance of not duplicating your party and the second is useful against heavy armor wearers) along with medical and surgical skills, which makes him an excellent choice to replace the early-acquired Rose if you know what's going to happen to her in the final fight.
  • The first Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a bad offender, because of its auto level-up option that was turned on by default, for all of characters. There's no global function to turn it off. The AI does such a horrible job picking up skills for you that you'll end up with ruined characters. The later a character joins your party, the more skill points they'll waste.
  • Psylocke is a playable character in the first X-Men Legends, but she doesn't appear in the game until you're about 2/3's of the way towards completion. She has several powerful moves and abilities, but by the time she is acquired, the vast majority of bosses and mooks are resistant to mental attacks. As a result, there's little point in using her when most of the other characters lack said disadvantage. On top of that, the other psychic party members are Jean Grey and Emma Frost.
  • Played both ways in Dungeon Siege II. In a first play-through, you have a maximum party size of four, and most of the later characters you find will fill the same roles as existing ones, especially if you want to have one of each class. After completing the game on normal difficulty, you can play on higher difficulties which increase your party size to five and then six. Not only are you able to add any of the characters, you'll also have more flexibility in which roles you want them to take so any of them can potentially be useful.
  • In Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous "The Dire One", Sosiel's lost brother Trever can join you partway through act 4 of 6 (and act 6 is a single dungeon crawl) as a durable melee combatant, a role you've likely had covered since the very beginning of the prologue. Not helping is that his build accurately reflects his backstory and alignment changes, giving him 5 levels in classes whose abilities no longer function properly and rendering him subpar at that task.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, late in the game you unlock the ability to test soldiers for psi potential. Unless the Random Number God smiles on you by revealing that your existing veterans are psychic, you're likely to be babysitting at least one psychic newbie while a more-experienced but non-psychic vet sits on the sidelines. But once you spend the time to do so, they will become more powerful and far more versatile than any of your non-psi troops.
  • A lot of these appear in the Fire Emblem series. In general, characters that join in the last five or so chapters will suffer from this unless they're a Game-Breaker or something.
    • It is worth mentioning that several games invoke this with a bit of Magikarp Power - the player gets some units who apparently have little to no purpose being on the battlefield this late in the game and seem to be set up to invoke Late Character Syndrome... but there are quite the rewards for babying them along.
    • For the "can fight a little, but lacks time to level up", Ena in Path of Radiance and Stefan, Oliver (although he's more of a Lethal Joke Character), Bastian, Renning, and all of the dragon laguz in Radiant Dawn apply, as do Vaida and Karla in The Blazing Blade.
    • Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem:
      • The likely embodiment of this is the four Damsel in Distress girls: Lena, Maria, Nyna, and Elice. They're all major characters in the game's setting, and some were even playable in the prior one, but not only do they only join you in the final map, they join you as part of the process of fighting the final boss. All of them are healers, which means they can at least contribute a little during that final battle, but their stats are so bad that they'll probably die if something coughs at them—and again, they spend their entire period of availability in the same room as the final boss. Good luck grinding them up.
      • Fans of the remake, New Mystery, have a term for units like this: "Free Silvers." This is because on the highest difficulty, enemies are incredibly strong, so the late-game units meant to bolster your ranks end up having high growths and a silver weapon... which they can't put to use because they die to most enemies on their joining chapter. As a result, they tend to just hand off their weapon to someone more competent and then warm the bench forever.
    • Karel in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a particularly oddball case. On paper, he should be really good: he has pretty high stats even for a 19th-level Swordmaster, and despite being only one level away from the cap, he has absurdly high growths, so his one level usually yields a ton of plusses. He's also in a game where Swordmasters are actually seen as a good class, because their crit bonus is ridiculous and they excel at killing evasive bosses. Unfortunately, he joins too late to pick up a set of movement-boosting boots unless you saved a pair just for him, meaning he's stuck slogging around on foot while everyone else is zipping across whole maps. Also, unlike most 11th-Hour Ranger characters, he is a combat unit rather than a magic unit, meaning he can't use staves to provide extra versatility. And while his combat skills are great, the final chapters of Binding Blade don't actually need great combat units because you're probably breaking out those Too Awesome to Use legendary weapons that all one-shot dragons, meaning you mostly just want anybody with an S-rank in some weapon. Luckily, Karel does have an S-rank, but by that point in the game, so do tons of other sword-users whom Karel has to compete with. It leads to the poor Sword Saint often being sidelined.
    • In The Blazing Blade one can recruit Renault in the 3rd to last chapter. He has a very interesting backstory and comes with the very useful Fortify Staff, but it's so late at this point, and his magic stat so weak, that he's only worth using if all of the other healers have died.
    • Gareth from Radiant Dawn is a particularly hilarious example. He has some of the best physical defence in the entire series, and he's probably the best physical meatshield in the game. He joins two chapters before the end, and every single enemy from that point on uses magic attacks. There is exactly one physical attacker fought after he joins, and said foe greatly prefers using magic attacks. His enormous Defence is thus practically useless.
    • Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates allows the player to invoke this with the second generation characters. They will wait for the player, ergo it is fully possible for said player to wait until the final chapter to recruit them - by which they will be underleveled (fortunately Fates allows second generation characters to be instantly usable with the "offspring seal") and there'll only be a couple story battles one can use them on.
    • Unique in Fire Emblem: Awakening is the Spotpass Six bunch (Gangrel, Aversa, Emmeryn, Walhart, Yen'fay, Priam). Regardless of when the players downloaded them, they cannot be officially recruited until the final chapter is open, and they cannot support with anyone but the Avatar. Ergo there is very little to use them on... unless a very, VERY patient player wants to unlock some DLC talks with them and other characters or wants one of them to marry the Avatar and have Morgan with them.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses:
      • While any late recruit can potentially fall under this, it's particularly notable with Ferdinand, if recruited out of the Black Eagles. Due to his B support being locked behind the timeskip note  and his required skill being Heavy Armor, note  unless the player guns for him from the start, Ferdinand will likely be recruited near the end of the academy phase, will effectively be locked into lance and/or axe-using classes, and will struggle to use the stronger battalions. That being said, his stats are high on recruitment and avert his usual Glass Cannon tendencies, coming with 43 HP, Dexterity/Speed/Defense in the high teens, and Strength in the low twenties; and if the player focuses on flying skill, he can become a powerful Wyvern Rider/Lord.
      • Lysithea can be recruited through Defeat Means Playable in Part II on the Crimson Flower route if you didn't get her in Part I. Despite coming with respectable bases, she joins as a Mage, without the benefit of any class mastery or faire skill, which hampers her damage output, and her E+ in Faith, combined with CF being the shortest route in the game, means it'll be a while before she can unlock her game-breaking Warp spell.
      • Poor Alois can only be recruited right before the Wham Episode, at a point where the player's team will have long since been finalized, which means he frequently gets overlooked. He actually hits harder than Caspar and faster than Raphael, and comes with a C in Authority to equip decent batalions, making him a surprisingly good addition to any team held back only by his late availability. He'd be a Disc-One Nuke on par with fellow knight Catherine if he could be recruited earlier.
  • Shining Force has multiple Magikarp Power characters that start very unleveled, but some of them are gotten far too late and compete with other characters so they don't tend to be viable in most playthroughs. Alef, Torasu, and Adam join you within the last seven battles of the game underleveled and unpromoted, with Adam suffering the worst from this. While they can be good if trained properly, doing so could take hours, and you already have characters that fit their niches.
  • Super Robot Wars V: The VangRay II and the sub-protagonist. Sure, VangRay II is more powerful than its predecessor, but that's not saying much by the time you get it, at which point there really isn't any reason to use it anymore. Averted however with Full Frontal with the Neo Zeong as he has some of the best spirit commands in the game coupled with one of the larger MAP attacks. All he really needs is "Hit and Run" and he's good to go.
  • This happens in the remake of Tactics Ogre due to the fact that a character's level is dependent on their class, rather than their individual level. Sure, you do indeed get rewarded by recruiting some late-game characters like Caitua, Ozma, Azelstan, or reclassing Denam onto a Lord... but their levels are set to one.
  • Yoshi in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is not bad by any metric, boasting good range with a weapon that can pack a punch, and the ability to guarantee critical hits for himself and his teammates. It's just that he doesn't join the party until after 4-4, halfway through the final area of the game, by which point you've probably already gotten comfortable with any combination of the other seven characters you have.
  • World's End has Princess Vera, who joins in the third game. She does make for an excellent secondary healer, and her attack spells can safely lock enemies in place, especially since few enemies are immune to it. However, bulking her requires skill points the player has probably already invested in other characters.

    Wide Open Sandbox Examples 
  • In State of Decay you recruit a Sheriff's Deputy and a Woman in Pink towards the end of the game. They have decent traits, but start out at a low level, and since the end of the game is just 30 minutes to an hour away by the time you get them, there's no real point to leveling them up unless you've had a bad run and are running low on survivors.
  • In State of Decay 2's "Heartland" DLC, you recruit the young hacker IzzBee late in the game just before the final missions. As in the previous example, her skills start out at a low level and since the end of the game is so close anyway there's not much point in leveling her up unless most of the rest of your party is dead at that point. She mostly serves to call in supply drops back at home base, which is her unique ability.

    Non-Video Game Examples 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Mister Satan and his daughter Videl were introduced in the late Cell Saga/early Majin Buu Saga, and they would have been pretty decent to good fighters if they had showed up in early Dragon Ball, especially Mister Satan whose age would have fit right into that era. The two of them were pretty much the best non-Ki-based Earthling fighters, but by the time of their introduction, the main cast had already gone past the power level of ordinary Earthlings, with even the weakest warriors of Dragon Team (or Z-Warrior in the anime) being capable of destroying Earth with a single attack. Even in early Dragon Ball, the Muten Roshi was able to destroy the moon with his MAX Power Kamehameha, which is something neither Mister Satan nor Videl can do.
    • The re-introduction of Chichi also counts. While strong enough to qualify for the finals with ease, she was not nearly as strong as any of the Dragon Team's fighters. Even then, Chaozu and Yajirobe, who both failed to enter the finals, were actually stronger than her, but were taken out by even stronger fighters. Her sole purpose was to resume her role as Goku's Love Interest and become the mother of his son in the next saga.

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