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Low-Level Advantage

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This trope represents RPGs where there are particular advantages to keeping Character Level lower. This can exist when there are benefits that are lost when you level up, but also when there are tactical advantages caused by a level gain—usually when the game uses Level Scaling, especially in conjunction with Empty Levels.

Other times, especially in multiplayer games, this trope is used to avoid scaring off new players with particularly harsh penalties for death and similar things, or to give them a chance to get used to the setting before such things are imposed. It's not uncommon for MMORPGs and similar games to waive most of the penalty for death for lower-leveled characters. Low-level characters are also frequently exempt from PVP, which can be a mixed advantage.

Compare Anti-Grinding. Contrast Early Game Hell (where being low-level is murderously hard).



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     Action Adventure  

  • Cave Story has a couple of weapons that are better at lower levels. Fortunately, levelling up your weapons isn't permanent in this game, as you lose experience whenever you get hurt.
    • Many players insist that the level 2 Blade is better than the level 3 Blade: it does much more damage per second, provided you Spam Attack from very close. This is because the Blade can only have one shot on screen at the time, but has no other delay between shots. At level two, the shot disappears once it hits the enemy, but at level three it creates an Area-of-effect damage field, thus lengthening the time between shots.
    • The Nemesis intentionally pushes this trope as far as possible: At level 1 it's one of the most powerful weapons in the game, having extremely high attack power, range, and firing speed. At level 2 it's average, and at level 3 it shoots rubber ducks that have extremely low range and do only 1 point of damage. And it levels up from a single experience pick up. Interestingly, you get this weapon by exchanging the aforementioned Blade.

     Action RPG  

  • Since Demon's Souls and Dark Souls determines invasion and summon matchups by Soul Level, your ability relative to other players you fight is increased by finding better equipment and spending Souls to upgrade it instead of leveling up. Some griefers take this to the extreme, using low-level runs and Good Bad Bugs to twink insanely powerful late-game weapons and armor for curbstomping people only hours into the game. This was even worse in I, as Invaders could get a lot of Humanity to increase their defense without raising their level. Later entries and Bloodborne make various attempts to counter this:
    • Dark Souls II instead bases matchups on the total number of souls you've collected. It's theoretically a better indicator of a player character's power, but a bit broken in the other direction: it's quite possible for someone to amass a lot of souls but lose them from dying, or lose a moderate amount of souls frequently. This would make you have a high value despite being low everywhere else except play time since you never actually used those souls for anything.
    • Bloodborne went back to level-based matching-making but prevented invading the world of anyone below level 30 unless they actively used Sinister Resonant Bell to summon Chime Maiden (it doesn't stop people below Level 30 from invading the others however).
    • Dark Souls III bases invasions on both Soul Level and the level of the most upgraded weapon in your possession (armor is no longer upgraded).
    • Dark Souls Remastered also bases invasion on on both Soul Level and the level of the most upgraded item in your possession. Purchasing any item from Quelana of Izalith note  also affects you summoning range. Spells, however, do not affect the summoning range.
      • If you're 'lucky' enough to get a Black Knight to drop their weapon, of which there are a couple easily stumbled upon in the early game, this will bump you up to weapon level 5 before you're likely to have encountered a blacksmith and enough upgrade materials to get another weapon up to that level. Even worse is the high stat requirements of the Black Knight weapons.
      • The Dragon Form's unarmed attacks, however, bypasses the weapon level summoning range. It also scales with the covenant level. Meaning that if you could make it to the Path of the Dragon covenant and offer 80 Dragon Scales without levelling your character, upgrading any equipment or picking up any of the rare weapons, you can exploit the matchmaking mechanics and effectively curbstomp most of the newcomers by clawing them to death in one hit.

     Card Games 

  • In Shadowverse, you gain slightly more Rank/Score Reward points if you win a duel against a higher-ranked player. Inversely, you are deducted lesser points if you lose against a higher-ranked player.



  • City of Heroes:
    • The game prevented characters below level ten from receiving xp debt for a defeat. On the other hand, xp debt isn't really a massive problem anyway.
    • There was an early period which drove completionists crazy, because the original design for the game involved characters outleveling mission arcs and the chance to even be introduced to many contacts. The idea (to individualize characters and their experiences) proved so unpopular that there were guides developed about how to get through missions with as little experience gain as possible. This eventually led to a "Turn Off XP Gain" checkbox buried deep in the game options, long before replaying missions was possible.
  • An EverQuest server made Player Versus Player combat ineffective against characters under level 6. Fansy the Famous Bard exploited this by "training" monsters. This involved taunting monsters and running away from them toward player characters of the opposite faction so that the monsters would slay the other characters. Because this Fragile Speedster never got any kills himself, he stayed on level 5.
  • In Granblue Fantasy, lower-rarity characters provide a bonus amount of Prestige Pendants that the higher-rarity characters, but the bonuses are only counted for characters who are at the front-lines when the raid ends. For example, 3 R characters will net the player 24 Pendants in an Omega Showdown raid, while SR characters will provide only 12 Pendants in the same condition. SSR characters do not have this perk.
  • World of Warcraft features a heavily reduced difficulty curve for players below level 20, primarily affecting mana and health regeneration but also how certain stat modifiers scale. The curve is pronounced enough that a properly equipped level 1 character could theoretically outdamage a level 10. However, since base stats are fixed at each level, there's no advantage to exploiting this in the long term unless you plan to be a Battlegrounds twink.
    • Also, on PVP servers you are safe from opposing players as long as you stay in your factions lower-level zones (designed for roughly the same level range). Unfortunately, the same can't be said for most NPCs in those zones.
    • The Level Scaling mechanic introduced in Legion can result in mobs becoming harder to kill as you level up. In part it is because of the way gear works: if your item level is lower than what's expected for your level, you're going to do worse against a mob of the same level as you, and it will take some time after you level up to also replace your gear to match, unless you're using heirlooms. At some point they also made mobs at max level scale with item level, which resulted in oddities like mobs being easier to kill with worse gear. Battle for Azeroth exacerbated the situation because it needed to bring level 110 players in powerful endgame gear down to a reasonable power level by the time they reached 120, and combined with level scaling for mobs, this resulted in characters feeling progressively weaker as they leveled from 110 to 120.


  • Ancient Domains of Mystery has numerous optional quests that are unobtainable above a certain level. These include: killing Kranach (vanishes at level 6), the Pyramid (levels 13 to 16 only), the Minotaur Maze (levels 22 to 27 only), and Keethrax (the druid won't assign it after the unicorn quest).
    • Also, the Small Cave gets exponentially harder as you level up; past level 6 or so (which you'll reach VERY fast in there, if you even survive that long), you're toast. Unless you have on-demand Invisibility or Teleportation, that is...
    • Finally, several bosses are keyed to the player's level when you first encounter them, so if you visit their floor early, then go practice elsewhere for a while, you can come back later for an easy kill.
  • In NetHack:
    • Characters can reach level 30, but the merits of doing so are debated, and depend on the character. Higher level characters are much more likely to encounter Archons and Arch Liches, and may not be significantly more powerful.
    • Donating a certain number of gold pieces to a priest will permanently improve the character's protection against physical attacks, with the amount of gold required increasing with every Character Level. Gathering lots of gold while maintaining a low Character Level and then donating all the gold to a priest is known as the Protection Racket.

     Role Playing Game  
  • In The World Ends with You, you can temporarily adjust your level to anything below your "real" level to get better item drop rates.
  • The Final Fantasy series:
    • In Final Fantasy I remakes from 'Dawn of Souls' and up, your stats growth was affected by your current class, so you got the best stats by leveling up as little as possible before the class upgrades.
      • The original NES and Origins versions worked differently: the stats each class gained on level-up were determined by a table, each level having certain 'guaranteed to go' stats. Every time you levelled, you automatically gained a point in each of those stats, as well as having a 25% chance for each of your other stats to go up. The only character who actually suffered from this trope was the Black Belt, who gained 4 magic defense (a hidden stat) per level, while after class change, the Grand Master only gained 1 magic defense per level, presumably as a result of a bug. Having a ribbon (all elemental resistances) equipped made it moot though.
    • In Final Fantasy III, all of your stats except max HP change upon changing classes. You gain HP based on your Vitality stat when you level up, so it's best to wait until you open the Karateka or Ninja classes which have the highest Vitality to do a lot of your Level Grinding if you want to have more HP at the end. Similarly, you might want to unlock and change to the initial job classes as soon as possible to avoid weak HP gains from being Onion Knights.
    • In Final Fantasy VI, most Espers give a special level up stat bonus. Therefore, it's best to save all your level ups for when you have some Espers with stat bonuses.
    • Here's a marginal example in Final Fantasy VII: The final boss - Sephiroth - gets a severe stat-boost if you've hit the level cap at 99. Anything below that, and he'll have his original stats, meaning that the ideal conditions for taking him on is Level 98. He'll also get a massive HP boost if you've been spamming Knights of the Round on the two bosses before him.
    • The leveling in Final Fantasy VIII was a whole element of strategy because the enemies level up with you. The game can be beaten at disgustingly low levels. (There are no-level-up runs.) Despite no-level-up rounds... party members may still have maxed out stats and Ultimecia will be at a ridiculously low level on her first form. Indeed, it is far easier to beat the game at low levels than at high levels because of the way the magic junctioning system works - spells add a fixed amount to your stats, regardless of your level, meaning that you can become hyper-powerful at level 1, and the enemies will still be weak. There is even a convenient item which turns enemies into cards (and prevents you from gaining XP from them) you find fairly early on to make maintaining your low level easier.
      • If you do level up, it's best to wait until you have Bonus abilities, which award an extra point (in the case of HP, an extra 10) to that respective stat upon leveling. In fact without those Bonus abilities, enemy stats generally increase faster than your party's, not to mention that enemies will gain new attacks at higher levels, making the game harder if you level.
    • Dissidia Final Fantasy also does this. If you are leveling up to get that one move that you can spam like crazy, your opponent also levels with you, and probably gained some move that trumps yours.
      • There are also accessory builds that take advantage of the massive multipliers you can get from certain booster accessories if there's a large level gap between you and your enemy: being able to be killed in a single HP attack ceases to be a problem when you can always survive any hit with 1 HP when you have more than that, almost always have an assist available to escape the enemy's attack when you're down to 1 HP, never stay at 1 HP longer than it takes for you to land a HP attack and regardless of your low stats, always break the enemy in a single hit, gain an equal amount of BRV and more often than not can finish them off with a single HP attack afterwards.
  • The masters in Breath of Fire III teach skills, but each master teaches each skill only once (skills can then be transferred among party members). The reason to avoid leveling without masters is that they adjust your stat gains on leveling. In addition, bosses only teach their skills after you level up enough times, and obviously higher levels require more effort to reach.
  • Dragon Quest VI and Dragon Quest VII rely on the player winning battles against decently challenging enemies to gain job levels and consequently skills from advancing. Each area has a maximum level at which job points are awarded; if a character exceeds this maximum level, they will not be awarded job points and not advance. Therefore, grinding early on can lead to some big trouble in class developing.
    • This is downright unfair in VII because, right before you can even take jobs, you're forced into a long, difficult dungeon with multiple That One Boss candidates - and your characters are stripped of their natural skills in the process. If you know it's coming, you'll want to level grind, but as noted, that might be a bad idea. This dungeon, understandably, is where many players abandon the game.
  • EarthBound features an event where Ness can gain two level-ups with unique bonuses. However, his level must be below the cap to get one or both of them.
    • This is frustrating because the player can ending up grinding experience in the Stonehenge base waiting for a Starman Super to drop a Sword of Kings. This dungeon isn't accessible later, so the player needs to get the Sword of Kings before beating the dungeon.
  • You get a title in Tales of Symphonia for remaining below a certain level when you defeat a boss. Also, later titles boost growth rates more, though carrying over titles in New Game+ will lead to even better stats than just not grinding as much.
  • Pokémon:
    • The mons tend to learn moves faster at lower Evolutionary Levels. Therefore, sometimes it's better to keep them from evolving until they learn their final move, which can be five to 10 levels lower than in the evolved form. Also, Pokemon that evolve using stones, with the exception of Eevee, have a very limited movepool in their evolved forms, so it's better to not evolve them until after their previous form has learned all the attacks it needs. Some moves can only be learned if a Pokémon is at a particular stage of development, and if it evolves too early, they won't be able to get it at all.note 
    • In a related case, leveling up traded Pokemon beyond levels supported by your badges will make them disobey you. It isn't nearly enough though: the level they have to be at is so much higher than anything you can meet before acquiring the required badge that they can easily crush anyone even when only making a move every third or fourth turn.
    • In the flip side to the Anti-Grinding in most games from Black and White on, monsters would receive more experience from an enemy the lower the level of said monster. The original equation used in the fifth generation didn't account well for level 1 monsters, which are only obtainable by breeding. With the proper exp modifiers, a level 1 mon could shoot up to somewhere between 50 and 70 by being swapped in during a high level trainer battle with a Blissey or Chansey. Attempt to do this at a higher level (i.e. 30) and you'll only end up gaining about 10 levels or so, if you're lucky. This mechanic is also present in the sixth generation, but it isn't nearly as exploitable.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door:
    • Much of the difficulty in the Pit of 100 Trials your resources being stretched thin. However, if you go in at a low level, the regular level-ups will heal you and reduce the strain.
    • The "Danger Mario" setup stops working at level 72 (out of 99) as the game forces you to upgrade HP (pulling you out of permanent danger) because you maxed out flower and badge points. But to actually get to that point you'll have to grind like crazy. This strategy is also possible in the original Paper Mario, but because of the much lower level cap, you need to be much more careful about maintaining your low level. You can only hit level 18 out of 27, before the game forces you to upgrade HP.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the stats the Bros gain upon level-up are in direct relation to Bowser's level. Keep their levels sufficiently low until Bowser hits level 37, and you're pretty much free to grind away.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: it can be advantageous, depending on your class, not to level up much on Taris (before you get your Jedi powers) since you get better stat bonuses as a Jedi. (This doesn't mean you can't gain XP though; just don't click "level up".) Soldiers definitely should save levels; they have nothing to lose. For scouts and scoundrels, on the other hand, the matter is a bit more complex. Both classes have more skill points per level than even the Sentinel (the so-called skills class; this was fixed in the sequel), as well as special feats that may help the player a great deal down the line. note 
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: Lightsiders can train as many as four of their party members as Jedi (Atton, Bao-Dur, Handmaiden/Disciple, and Mira). As in the first game, Jedi characters outclass their Muggle counterparts, and the Sentinel class (Atton, Mira, Visas, possibly the PC) actually has an appropriate skill progression. However, there are reasons not to save levels. Mira picks up the Precise Shot feats (bonus damage with ranged weapons) for free every 4 levels until 20. Atton is essential on Citadel Station (you only have two party members for the duration) and also has the Scoundrel's Luck and Sneak Attack feats. Bao-Dur has a crafting ability that far outclasses anybody else in the party (including T3 at first). However, the Handmaiden and Disciple are both soldiers, making it a clear choice to save levels for them.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Morrowind generally averts it, though one Imperial Cult quest provides an exception. If your Blunt Weapon skill is below 40, the quest reward will be a ring that improves it by 20 points when worn. If your Blunt Weapon skill is above 40, the ring will only increase it by 5.
    • Oblivion:
      • Due to the game's Level Scaling system, this is referred to as "The Leveling Problem". The enemies of the world only level up when the player levels up. Pretty standard for a game with level scaling so far. However, you can level up after 10 skill increases. Upon leveling up, your are given the option to increase your Attributes (Strength, Intelligence, etc.) and receive multipliers based on which Attributes govern the skills you increased in order to gain that level. If you make poor choices in leveling up, your character will become relatively weaker than the game's scaling enemies as your level progresses.. Naturally, many, many Game Mods exist which balance out this aspect of the game (though they are only available to PC players). Another alternative is to simply never level up. Leveling up only occurs when you sleep, and there is no actual need for your character to sleep. (Though it provides free healing if done at a bed.) Meanwhile, your skills will continue to increase through use. Due to one quest requiring you to sleep, it is possible to beat the game's main quest at level 2. The result is the world being saved from a horde of extremely feeble monsters by a strangely competent insomniac.
      • Avoiding leveling up is also advantageous because entire classes of enemies disappear from the game world if your level surpasses the levels in which they'll spawn. For example, Scamps will stop spawning (or at least become incredibly rare spawns) once your level reaches the teens. Need Scamp skin to brew a specific potion? Tough luck. Better hope some randomly spawns in the inventory of an alchemist or apothecary. This also happens to a number of wild animal enemy types, which obviously makes Twenty Bear Ass-type quests harder to complete.
      • There's also the issue of damage being capped (via both available magicka and a limit on stats), while health is not. Basically, once the player reaches a certain threshold, their damage stops increasing, but the health of enemies around them isn't, leading to long, drown out and incredibly dull fights with not only bosses, but with a simple level-scaled mook. Further, enemy damage is not capped, making those very same mook-like enemies far more dangerous.
      • Another issue with the system is that some of your allies during the main quest don't level up with the player, or have low level equipment even at high levels. If you delay too long, allies are rendered useless and Escort Missions become extremely difficult. On the other hand, if you immediately jump into the main quest, you'll find your allies much stronger than the enemies, rendering things too easy and having said allies basically win by themselves. The same goes for summoned creatures—overpowered if acquired early, little more then cannon fodder when used later.
    • Skyrim takes several lessons from TES's Fallout sister series, greatly improving on Oblivion's system. Level scaling is still present, but used much more sensibly. For instance, instead of enemy classes phasing out entirely, they just become rarer while being replaced by stronger variants. The removal of Attributes also makes it difficult (though not impossible if you focus solely on non-combat skills) to experience Empty Levels. It also introduces Perks, so that as you increase your skills, they not only get stronger, but you actually gain access to more powerful abilities to use as well. It's not a perfect system though, and as you reach the highest levels, you'll get tired of Draugr Deathlords and Revered Dragons spawning all of the time. Further, the issue with ally NPCs not scaling to your level persists, though has also been improved upon.
  • In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, there are some trophies to be earned if the player beats certain bosses with minimal levels.
    • The most obvious example of this being the trophy asking you to beat the final boss with all three of your party members at level one. And he doesn't scale with your levels. Needless to say, just being able to challenge him like this requires quite a commitment throughout the game.
  • In Planescape: Torment, the combat stats of the Big Bad scale with The Nameless One's level (and this is justified by the plot.) Of course, with so many ways of Talking the Monster to Death, fighting remains a sub-par option in any circumstance.
  • Tactics Ogre's Gaiden Game The Knight of Lodis has a rather interesting strategy. You do level the main character, but you purposely keep him out of the sidelines and several levels below the main party. The game uses a level scaling system that will set the boss so that they will be above the main level of the leader and the units will be within 1-2 levels of him. But when your other 7 characters are much stronger than he is...There Is No Kill Like Overkill.
  • AdventureQuest and DragonFable, due to almost all the enemies being level-scaled, often rather harshly.
  • Xenogears has the character Emeralda, who has a certain side-quest in Disc 2 that turns her into an adult form. After that quest, she has insane stat growth with every level up. If you keep her level low at the beginning and do some grinding after the quest, then she can be even more powerful than her own Humongous Mecha.
  • Resource management is a key feature in the mini Roguelike Desktop Dungeons, and levelling up will restore your Hit Points, Mana Points and status. Hence, a widely-used tactic is to start fighting a boss while a few XP short of a level-up, burn through your resources, and then go squish a low-level monster for a mid-fight heal.
  • The enemies of Fallout 3 don't level up with the player, but instead there is a higher chance of tougher enemies spawning. When the DLC Broken Steel is added, this can result in the simplest journey from A to B being plagued by Super Mutant Overlords, Feral Ghoul Reavers, and Albino Radscorpions, all of which have obscenely-high durability and damage.
    • The main game of Fallout: New Vegas tries to do away with the tougher enemies spawning according to level, for the most part (the only notable exception being NCR and Legion troops) and instead relies on using of Beef Gate to corral the player on a certain path. However, this does not apply to the DLCs where enemies do scale with the player both traditionally and like in Fallout 3, meaning a max level player will be frequently coming across enemies that rival the Final Boss and Bonus Bosses of the base game in terms of difficulty.
  • The Brave Clear system of Nocturne: Rebirth rewards players with an extra item if they beat a dungeon boss under a certain level. The Final Boss has to be beaten this way to unlock the Bonus Boss, who also has to be Brave Cleared to unlock New Game+.
  • In the second Icewind Dale game, the Heart of Fury mode. You get less experience as you level further, so it's best to remain a low level until you get enough for leveling the rest of the way up at once. How do you get through the Heart of Fury mode with that? Well, the enemies are much tougher, but so are your summoned monsters. Just keep summoning undead while your party is invisible.
  • In Ultima III: Exodus, all four enemies that appear on the main overworld at level 1 and 2 are one-shotted by the 0-MP spells Repel and Undead. But once someone reaches level 3, new enemies have to be defeated the slow, standard way — and all you get from the levelup is more HP. Leveling is fully optional, so optimal play involves having Ship the Druid reach level 5 to get a boat while the main four characters stay at level 2 for most of the game.

     Simulation Games 
  • This used to be an factor in Cities: Skylines, as buildings would grow taller and more complex as they leveled up so players trying to achieve a specific look would need to either cap leveling up on a building using a mod or avoid providing services to the area, thus avoiding buildings leveling up. Similarly the building policy High Rise ban caps level up to avoid buildings growing too tall. Averted with the Industries DLC, which offers the option of historical, allowing buildings to level up without changing it's appearance.

     Survival Horror  

  • In Dead Island the enemies gain power along with the player so often leveling up only serves to reduce the effectiveness of your current equipment. This is especially obvious in subsequent playthroughs where you can earn huge XP rewards for challenges that were partially completed by your predecessor, giving you multiple simultaneous level ups that tend to leave you rather helpless until you can find some upgrades. At very low levels the enemies can be killed pretty easily and you can make use of the numerous grey quality weapons that are soon rendered useless as the enemies toughen up. Unfortunately XP cannot really be avoided as you receive large amounts for completing story missions.

     Tabletop Games  

  • This is usually not the case in RPG's but in Dungeons & Dragons 4E, if your DM was keeping the game balanced with your level, there was a slight advantage to being a lower level character in that monsters used to scale faster than you could keep up with. However, the developers released the unnamed bonus feats as a patch for the scaling problem before it would have been an issue in most games.
  • In the card game Munchkin, some of the more powerful monsters will allow low-level characters to retreat without having to make a die roll to successfully run away. And because it's Munchkin, it's of course quite legal to play a "gain a level" card on a rival to out them just over the level threshold. The intended use of the "Go up a level" card was only ever to be used on yourself, but people realized that there was no rule against using it on someone else. The devs even said FAQ that this was far too munchkin-y of a behavior for them to forbid.
  • In Zombicide, the number and types of zombies that spawn at the end of each round or whenever you open a door are based on the highest-leveled player. Thus if one player has been grabbing all the objectives and scoring a lot of kills, their teammates may not have the skills or equipment they need to deal with the latest wave of zombies.
  • In Rifts the Rifts Conversion Book allowed Diabolists or Wizards to change their O.C.C. to Techno-Wizard, but only if they were level 1 or 2. Many parasites from Atlantis and Splynn gave huge initial power but came with huge side effects as time/XP go by. Juicers reflect this too. Underseas' Cultists of the Deep reward for a high level is to be eaten by the Lord of the Deep.
  • In Nightbane World Book 3: Through the Glass Darkly, the spell creation rules prevented you from trying to modify a spell until you had gained an experience level. Palladium experience charts require much more XP as levels rise, making it harder for higher level characters to get a subsequent chance, and fewer total since most charts cap at 15/16. The ideal would be to learn all spells while level 1 and try to modify each spell until failure before gaining a level.
  • In PalladiumFantasy predecessor Palladium RPG, you got a d6 of HP for each level of experience. The high cost of high levels made it advantageous to use the multiclass rules to be level 1-4 in a bunch of meaningless OC Cs like Farmer just as an easy way to rack up HP. The second edition introducing SDC and PE bonuses from Physical Skills made this option less attractive.
  • In MysticChina the Ninjas And Superspies supplement by Erick Wujcik, a Reformed Demon began at its most powerful and lost stats as they leveled up and became more human.
  • In any Palladium game, the common See Aura spell or psi gives an indication of level, meaning a high level character can be perceived as more of a threat.


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