• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic
"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

Oftentimes, games will try to prevent the notion of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards from seeping into their games. Every character or character class is as valuable as another, or must rely upon one another for game balance purposes.

Crutch characters, however, are player characters (typically available early on) who start out powerful enough to carry your party to victory on their own, but who Can't Catch Up with the increased powers of newer enemies or their fellow characters, or because they simply leave the party at some point (possibly because they are The Mole), or they are killed, forcing the player to somehow come up with a replacement. Worse, without Leaked Experience, the crutch may actually cripple your party if you lean on them too heavily - if they leave, or if their diminishing returns make their levels empty, then you've functionally wasted experience points that could have made other characters powerful.

There are five reasons for this trope occurring:

Thus, they are like a crutch - you can lean on them to overcome a weakness early on, but eventually, the game will kick the crutch out from under you, and your other characters must have learned to stand on your own two feet by that time, or you are doomed to fail.

The Crutch Character serves two purposes—his strength prevents the player from being overwhelmed in the early stages of the game when he's still learning the rules; and he provides a useful object lesson. Most novices, given a powerful unit, will come to overly rely on him, and won't raise their other units enough, leaving those characters weak and unable to defend themselves. By quickly obsoleting or otherwise removing the Crutch Character (or perhaps making the Crutch's later function different), the designers deter this strategy; in other words, it's a way of attacking the Unstable Equilibrium. Of course, if the designers forget to deter this strategy, you have a One Man Party.

Definitely also a Subjective Trope, since what becomes obsolete for some players might be perfectly useful for others all the way through the game.

Usually, a Crutch Character will be a protector or bodyguard of some kind. Of course, there are exceptions.

Characters who are the Jack may often fall into this category, particularly in non MMORPG games.

A specific form of The Ace. See also Overrated and Underleveled and Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. 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.

Examples of Crutch Character include:

First-Person Shooter

  • Mordecai characters in Borderlands who focus on Bloodwing with leveling up. Early on during the game, Bloodwing can one hit kill enemies left and right, 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 lategame.
    • 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 respec into the Blaster/Tank trees and use Berserk for healing.

Hack and Slash

  • The Amazon in the Capcom arcade game Magic Sword. 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.
  • 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.


  • 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.

Sport Games

  • 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.

Racing Games

  • 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.

Real-Time Strategy

  • 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 restored Arthas's power completely, so you had two max-level heroes for the final assault. (You needed them, as your opponent, naturally, had three. Yes, three.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • James' second mission in Sacrifice can (and probably will) net you the support of Siroco in the next few missions. She leaves if you do too many evil missions or if you get her killed though, which becomes more likely in later missions when more powerful opponents appear. Lets hope you didn't get lazy and neglected to learn any other tactics besides having your heroic version of a level 9 creature wipe out the level 3 army before 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.

Role-Playing Games

  • Minwu in Final Fantasy II is the Ur Example for Final Fantasy. He joins with just under 200 HP and several high-level White Magic spells at a point when your characters have only begun to learn magic and have almost 100 HP, if you've been level grinding.
  • Tellah in Final Fantasy IV is an old sage with both black and white magic. He is overleveled for the cave at which he is first available, being able to allow himself and his allies to live off of the enemies with ease using Cura and Osmose. He is available again later on, but at this point you'll have caught up to him in power, until he gets his memories back and remembers all the top-tier magic he forgot before. Granted, his stats suck so those spells aren't as impressive as they could be, but he still gets access to them and can get good usage out of them.
    • Fusoya of the same game is in a similar boat. He might not be a pure Crutch Character in that he isn't obtained until very late in the game and your party is fine without him, but he's very similar to Tellah, ability-wise. And rather than having some stats increase while others decrease when he levels up, Fusoya's stats never change at all.
    • The sequel's protagonist is, well, a particularly weak weakling at the start. The game compensates by giving you Biggs and Wedge then The Hooded Man, who are much better, to assist.
      • Later in the game you get Golbez for the final tale, who much like Tellah and Fusoya gets access to high-level magic long before your other party members do, and gets around 1500-2000 more HP than them to boot.
  • The Guardian Forces (GF's) in Final Fantasy VIII are powerful summon monsters that you can call at any time to attack all the enemies on screen. The best part: calling a GF doesn't cost anything (except a little time) and you can call them as many times as you want. You can easily go though 99% of the game by having your GF's destroy everything in your path. But, this strategy backfires when you have to fight Adel because Adel takes Rinoa hostage and attacking all the enemies on the screen will result in a game over. In addition, trying to use your GF's in the final boss fight will get the GF killed. So, if you haven't taken the time to use the junction system by the end of the game you're screwed.
  • Dragon Quest V has a few. In the first generation, Pankraz, the hero's father, is easily the strongest party members throughout that period of the game, though he cannot be controlled, and he is only with you in certain parts. In the second generation, when you are first able to obtain monsters, the Rotten Apple is easily the strongest available, with higher stats than even the hero, but it caps at level 20 (though it it still fairly strong for a while longer). A less extreme example is the Slime Knight; with solid stats, great equipment options, and decent healing, is like having a second hero... but by the end of the second generation, it has low stats compared to the Mons available in the area, and has learned all of its special skills... not to mentioned a better 'second hero' becomes available soon afterwards...
  • The Pokémon games frequently feature a handful of common Pokemon, usually bugs (as in insects, not programming errors), that evolve into their final forms at relatively early levels (for example, Butterfree and Beedrill, both of which can be acquired at level 10). These Pokemon are useful in the early going, but most of them quickly become obsolete as more and better Pokemon become available (some Bug-types remain powerful at least until 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through the game). The anime episode where Ash releases his Butterfree possibly hangs a lampshade on this trope.
    • Fortunately Pokémon Black and White averts this. The two early bugs, Leavanny and Scolipede, are very good with high Attack and Speed, good move pools and okay typing (Bug/Grass and Bug/Poison). Leavanny especially is good if you chose Tepig, since it is strong against both Oshawatt and Snivy.
    • Pokemon also has a Crutch Move—Dragon Rage, introduced in the first generation, always hits for exactly 40 Hit Points. It takes surprisingly little time for that to become a drop in the bucket. There's also Sonic Boom, which hits for half as much and (in a later revision) starts to adapt to the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors rules of the game. Even worse when you consider that very few Pokémon actually learn it until AFTER the point where it stops being really useful. It has its uses, but for the most part it's just not worth it.
      • The move can be bred onto low-level Dragon-types, such as Dratini. Pokémon Crystal's Battle Tower had battle levels as far down as level 10. How many Pokémon have significantly more than 40 HP at level 10? (The Pokémon Blissey, with the highest potential for HP in the game, can have up to 80 HP at that level.)
      • Another Crutch Move comes in the form of Bullet Seed in Gen III. You could get the TM for it right before the Rock-type Gym. You could put it on Treecko or Shroomish to sweep through said Gym and some of the subsequent hikers on the next route, but its low base power means it will eventually be replaced.
    • Geodude is particularly useful in early stages of the game despite being an infamous ComMon. It has high Attack and Defense and learns Rock and Ground-type moves, both of which are useful offensive types. Rock is especially useful early in the game due to the plentiful amount of Flying and Bug type Pokemon, as well as it's resistance to the Normal-Type Tackles and Quick Attacks thrown around. But not long into the game, it's usefulness begins to wear off. Eventually, its low HP, terrible Special Defense and Speed, and numerous weaknesses become big handicaps. Most glaring being the Water-Types.
      • However, Rock and Ground are still good offensive types, so either you'll win or lose easily.
    • Another good example would be the elemental monkeys in Pokémon Black and White. You get the one that your starter is super effective against, because the first Gym leader uses the monkey super effective against your starter. However, they learn very little in the way of decent moves until level 22, and while you get the stones early enough to evolve them, you'll miss out on the good moves, and by that point you'll find Pokemon of the Fire/Water/Grass types that already have good moves and good stats without evolving.
    • It's completely possible to turn your starter into a crutch character if you don't balance out your team. How many kids went through Pokémon Red or Blue with their awesomely powerful Charizard, got it to Level 65 or higher, and finished most of the game, only to find Victory Road ahead of them?
    • Gen V just may have done this with the Starters themselves. In Generations past it was common practice to keep a starter around, not only because of loyalty, but because usually, wild pokemon of it's same type are uncommon or outclassed by the starter. This all changed with the advent of Gen V. With the sheer rise in power and impressiveness of the wild Pokemon in Unova, it makes the Starters look mediocre by comparison.
      • This is largely the domino effect of T Ms no longer being consumable. To elaborate: In order to compensate for the now infinitely reusable skill machines, many of the Unova Pokémon were designed with a severely limited movepool compared to other generations. Most of them will only learn moves from their own typings, plus Normal. This makes dual type Pokémon much more valuable than single types, even when they have historically common typings such as Grass/Poison. Thus the Grass and Water starters both are outclassed even by Pokémon that can be acquired very early in the game. The Fire starter, who eventually gains Fighting, is somewhat more useful, but still easily replaced by other Pokémon without any particular difficulty.
  • Lunar 2: Eternal Blue has an interesting twist on this—one of the main characters, Lucia, is a temporary Crutch Character. She starts out ridiculously strong, but the villain soon depowers her to the same level as the rest of the characters.
    • Luna from the first game's also this due to her multi-target healing Limit Break, which make everything easier.
  • The questionably playable Beyond the Beyond has super-knight Samson and his weak charge, Prince Edgar. Soon, Samson takes a cursed scarf to the face and becomes de-powered to near-uselessness, due to his inherent unreliability whenever you give him a combat command.
  • Similarly, Tales of the Abyss has Jade Curtiss, who joins the group at nearly seven times the level of the first two characters and is promptly reduced to a level lower than theirs by a Phlebotinum Breakdown. This is even lampshaded when he gets back to level 50 "naturally" with an in-game "skit".
    • There's also Guest Star Party Member Asch, who joins with a large variety of combat artes and magic spells. You can get him in your party a second time during an optional subquest, and although his level is scaled up he is still stuck with the same equipment he had during his first stint. This makes him drastically underpowered to the rest of the party, which (thematically) is the whole point.
    • Also, if playing on a new game +, assuming you kept your capacity cores and artes, all the other characters are actually vastly much better than him, because in spite of his level being scaled, he doesn't have the bonus stats from capacity cores, and his artes aren't anything special, meaning that the parts of the game where he joins the party are much harder than the rest of the game.
  • The PC version (only) of the original The Bard's Tale has an undocumented cheat: pressing Z will summon a free Stone Elemental, taking up the party's NPC spot. The creature is many times the power of low-level characters, and better than those that can be summoned by even mid-level spells, but of course it never advances at all.
  • The Final Fantasy Legend series (or possibly the entire SaGa series) features extra party members that join for only a short time. Unless you have been power-levelling, these characters are always a higher level than you when they join, though they've more-or-less lost their influence by the time they finally leave.
    • In Saga Frontier, Red's immensely powerful Alkaiser form is, well, immensely powerful. There are very few non-boss enemies that can stand up to it, especially as the story progresses and more Alkaiser powers are unlocked. Unfortunately, transforming into Alkaiser voids any stat bonuses that Red would receive, and since those directly influence Alkaiser's stats, the result can easily become a very weak superhero. Not to mention the fact that Red can't transform if there are any humans around...
      • Some people in Final Fantasy Legend 2 pretty much fit the Crutch Character stereotype to the T. Mr. S and Mask pretty much solo the dungeons they're in. (Heck, Mask practically solos the Wake Up Call Boss.) However, others like Hana and Lyn are sorta average and just plain awful respectively. (Lyn is thankfully not around that much.) Only one in Final Fantasy Legend 3 actually counts as a Crutch Character - Myron, who pretty much wrecks everything in his path early in the game. The others, however, are around the same strength as your party.
  • Phantasy Star IV does this twice; first with Alys, who acts as the Jegian until she makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save the main character (incidentally this happens around the same time where the rest of the party catches up with her level), and second with Rune, who initially debuts with spells that can wipe out anything you face with ease, and can hit most enemies for more damage with melee attacks than anyone else in your party. When Rune shows up later to re-join the party, he's still fairly powerful, but... not as much.
  • Orca in .hack starts at level 50, making the first dungeon a snap. Then he gets Data Drained. Eventually, you get him back, but he's still level 50, while your whole party is 90+.
  • The Death Knight in Beyond Divinity wears his own armor and thus is powerful in the beginning, but has to be safeguarded from harm as the game progresses if you want to keep him around because of his hilarious remarks and the fact that he's soul-forged with the protagonist, so if either dies, it's Game Over.
  • Ashlay in Star Ocean: First Departure starts out relatively powerful, but will easily be surpassed by characters like Ratix/Roddick by the end of the game, and so he's considered low-tier. Conversely, Cius/Cyuss might not seem that great at first, but can become a real powerhouse. As it so happens, Ashlay and Cius are mutually-exclusive Optional Party Members; you can't have both.
    • Likewise, if you're playing The Second Story / Second Evolution, Dias Flac is one hell of an invincible demon when he is first seen in battle (as enforced by the ensuing Hopeless Boss Fight). But if you're playing as Rena and he joins, most players agree he will be surpassed by Claude and maybe other characters as well, primarily due to his lack of multi-hit special moves, laggy normal attack, and the fact that the special ability granted by some weapons and accessories that gives normal attacks extra hits doesn't work on him either: this is even worse in the endgame where all special attacks fall under Awesome but Impractical and everyone will be spamming their normal attacks which take no MP to use and hit a stupid amount of times.
      • Dias' regular attacks are lacking, but his Air Slash is so spamable, it can be used all the way until the end of the game, and is extremely useful in Fun City.
      • Speaking of Crutches, Claude himself starts with an energy weapon, which serves the same purpose until it gets a dose of Gameplay and Story Segregation and runs out of power. Since it One-shots everything to there, and uses no MP, it's totally understandable.
  • Tales of Symphonia has a borderline example in Kratos, who, despite being the same level as the protagonists, has excellent stat growth and skill in both damaging magic, healing and close-combat attacks (although not quite to the degree of the party specialists) that makes him invaluable. He leaves the party at the end of the Journey of Salvation and is replaced by Zelos, who has notably lower stats and knows none of the advanced attacks that Kratos did when he left.
    • That actually works on a couple levels. Zelos has better titles for stat growth (Gilgamesh in particular) and both moves and attacks faster than Kratos. At the end, Zelos is going to pass up Kratos in true Jeigan fashion and be the better character... but of course, it's not like you had the option to use Kratos instead for most of the game.
  • In the original Tales of Destiny, Leon Magnus is one. He comes several levels ahead of the main characters, has similar moves to Stahn. But later on, Stahn will gain many variative moves, including some of Leon's. Then he betrays you.
  • Tales of Graces's Richard is a borderline case as a Guest Star Party Member for a good quarter of the game or so until the Future arc that is. He doesn't necessarily have better stats than everyone else, but he is the first member to have a decently powerful Blast Caliber unlocked the minute he is playable. He also has a variety of spells and physical moves, which is helpful because at that point, you only have two fighters. Of course, his usefulness dwindles away the minute you have other mages and unlock your own Blast Calibers, which is quite early in the game.
  • Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World has the Tales of Symphonia cast and Richter, who are unable to change equipment or level up via experience points like Emil, Marta, and the Mons. Their levels and equipment do jump up with the occasional plot point, and when the entire original cast joins you at the end of the game, they are all capped at level 50.
  • Grandia III has a somewhat interesting example in that the Crutch Character is the protagonist's mother.
  • In the Game Gear RPG Defenders of Oasis, the first character to join the prince is the Genie, who is at that point a combat monster and nicely carries you through the early battles. However, unlike the other characters (eventually you're a four-man party), he doesn't get experience and doesn't level up. His stats can be improved by expending special Genie power-up items, but they're extremely expensive in shops and are fairly rare in treasures, and by the end of the game the Genie is running healing potions for the other three characters and hiding in his lamp so that he doesn't get killed.
  • The Crutch Character of the Shin Megami Tensei series has traditionally been Cerberus. You get him in the first game by fusing a demon with your family dog, and in the second game he's a servant of a powerful demon and is "lent" to you for a short period of time at the start. In the online game, he's the partner of your Devil Buster mentor and joins you during the first couple of missions. Even starting at level 1 and under a condition that reduces his XP gain by 90%, he's still far more powerful than anything you can recruit or fuse at that point.
    • Persona 3 gives you the odd case of Shinjiro Aragaki. He has all the traits of a Crutch Character, advanced abilties, hits harder than any other character, only stays for a short while and is pretty damn cool to boot. However he only joins for a short while midgame when the rest of your team is already leveled enough for him to not really be needed. He makes the boss fights a joke if you use him while he's with you, but it's doable without him so the point of having him join at all isn't really clear.
    • Naoto Shirogane could be sort of a skewed example; her skillset allows her access the high level Light and Darkness magic, as well as abilities to boost their effectiveness, and several powerful Almighty spells as well. This combination of powers makes her brutally effective against a surprisingly wide variety of Shadows, including some very annoying ones that most other party members can barely even damage. The letdown aspect of the character, however, comes when you take her into a boss fight... and realize that all those spells listed above are now underwhelming at best, totally useless at worst.
      • The biggest problem with Naoto is that her stats have no correspondence to the skills she learns. One of the major effects of these being that she doesn't even have the MP to be repeatedly casting Almighty spells, and her magic damage is so abysmal that Yukiko can probably hit harder even when the enemy has Fire resistance.
  • Destiny Of An Emperor has Liu Bei, who while having far more Soldiers (Hit Points, with Critical Existence Failure averted in a similar manner to the Nintendo Wars series even) than his allies, gains no Soldiers upon level ups. Luckily, given the way the game is set up, this is a convenience. There's a Guide Dang It Lost Forever involving him, however; he leaves upon an event after defeating all 3 Zhang brothers, after which you won't get to fight anymore enemies before the event. If you haven't leveled up to 12, kiss a certain Tactic goodbye, because he's the only person for long enough with the required Intelligence to learn it.
  • Final Fantasy XII's "Guest" characters generally join at a level higher than yours, but they don't gain levels. By the time they leave they're nowhere near as useful as when they joined. On the other hand, they take up a fourth slot rather than replacing one of your characters, so anything they do is generally useful, unless they start mucking up your Gambits.
    • They also have the basic stats for a character of that level, so if your party members have Augments, there appears to be a large gap in abilities. This is most noticeable with Hit Points - characters around level 20-ish with augments will have quadruple-digit HP, while guests won't.
    • Guest characters have their own inventory, which seems to contain an unlimited supply of potions (Hi-Potions for Larsa's second appearance and for Reddas). Since potions are truly useful in-battle in XII (much less charge time than healing spells, and don't deplete your MP), this can really help you soak up damage. A number of sidequests and Marks are best done while you have Reddas.
  • Kingdom Hearts has this going with most of the Guest Star Party Members. Once you start revisiting all of the worlds, the only really useful ones are Auron and Jack Skellington.
    • Mulan is the exact opposite. When you first visit her land she's disguised as Ping. Ping has poor attacks, fumbles a lot and is generally a detriment (but required to have on your party). However, later she drops the disguise and becomes one of the better fighters.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has Piers, who joins the party at a much higher level, with good stats, several very powerful attacks, and decent healing spells, but has the lowest EXP progression in both games. Additionally, he has the stats of a physical attacker, but is stuck in the more mage-y classes, while you get a better healer near the end of the game, at which point he's basically just there for backup. (unless you really like looking at his skirt-clad hairy legs)
    • Golden Sun Dark Dawn has a straight and intentional version of this; in the very first dungeon, two heroes from the first Golden Sun join your party. They're AI controlled, but practically indestructable and deal massive damage (compared to your own characters at least), though they may not attack at all against lesser enemies. After the first dungeon, they kick you out of the house to fend for yourselves.
  • Eternal Sonata has Viola, who starts out massively stronger than the rest of your group at that point, and can heal all units near fully unlike other characters. This plus the ability to do even larger damage by headshotting enemies from a large distance make her the best unit for quite a while. Once Harmony Chains starts appearing though, she has lost much of her massive damage potential, and her healing spell is near useless. Worse in the PlayStation 3 version, where her speed growth is massively nerfed and she is now only faster than Jazz, who is the tank character. The Encore mode makes her much less useful due to Harmony chains being available Much earlier. Thanks to the Experience Leak system, she doesn't really hurt your other characters that much though.
  • Dragon Age Origins has Dog, who is a potent melee damage dealer / tank in the beginning of the game. He starts off with "Dread Howl" one of the invaluable area of effect stunning talents in the game and later on can learn the very useful "Overwhelm" attack. Later though, his lack of threat management abilities, limited selection of talents, lack of bonus stats, and his somewhat lackluster unique equipment cause him to fall behind the rest of the party somewhat. However, he can be built to have high health to compensate for his lack of equipment, and one of his abilities, Overwhelm, is nearly game breakingly powerful, being able to kill high level mage enemies in one hit. Thanks to Leaked Experience, your other party members won't suffer for it either.
  • There are a few guest characters in Final Fantasy Legend 3, but none fit this trope better than Myron, your first fifth-slotter. Maybe it's because your stats are terrible at level 1, maybe it's because you made the mistake of changing into a monster when the monsters were meant to be destroyed by level 1's with terrible stats, or maybe it's because he's armed with a Battle Axe, but he seems like the only thing keeping you alive at first. Unfortunately, he's perpetually at level 5, and you have no idea where you're going, can go anywhere after dungeon 1 and random encounters every step of the way. Poor guy never knew what hit him.
  • Yoshimo, from Baldur's Gate 2. Encountered in the very first dungeon, he has excellent stats and is the game's only single-classed thief. Apart from Jan Jansen, is also the only NPC who can advance in thief skills. He comes with a plethora of powerful traps and a decent magic weapon. He is also True Neutral and fits into practically every party combination, with the only character who dislikes him being Haer'Dalis. All in all, this makes him almost indispensable. Halfway through the game he's revealed to be The Mole and leaves the party, conveniently leaving open a party slot for Imoen to fill up.
  • In Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, after defeating the B-Ball Monster, Charles Barkley meets Vinceborg, a robotic revival of Vince Carter, whose Eye Beams deal devastating damage to enemies. In fact, whereas Barkley might need two turns to bring a monster down, Vinceborg can defeat that same monster in a few zaps of his eyes. (Vinceborg gets nine zaps per turn.) His services might not ruin your other characters' experience gains, but once he leaves the party and takes his eye lasers with him, your party suddenly feels crippingly empty.
  • Remilia in Labyrinth of Touhou, whose high stats are backed by a barren spell list consisting of one average powered single-target skill and one self-buff. Incredibly useful early on as one of the two only real tanks until about mid-way through the main game; fades to obscurity as stronger characters that actually have more specific uses join up. And of course, the longer you use her, the more skill points you sink in that becomes useless later.
    • Remilia appears to be this, but she's a very powerful character up until the last couple of bosses in the Plus Disk. Early on, she has by far the best damage output out of all of your characters, up through the 6th floor or so, even longer if you choose not to use Iku as your buffer. Her staying power as a first-slot tank wanes somewhat by the 5th floor, but you should definitely have Meiling at that point, who is generally regarded to as the best tank in the game. A better example might be Eirin, who packs the only percentile healing spell in the game, and is one of two characters who is able to support Komachi well, but she severely lacks the attack power of practically everyone except Cirno, and the flexibility of other healers.
  • Bleu/Deis from the first two Breath of Fire games fits this trope well. When you first get her, she boasts superior magic power and high level (and is an outright Game Breaker in the second game), but eventually levels off with the rest of your party by the end of the game. Despite this, she actually somewhat subverts this trope because while she does become less powerful relative to the rest of your party, she never becomes useless. And while she can't fuse with shamans in the second game, she remains decent enough without them.
  • Jacob Taylor of Mass Effect 2 essentially fills this role during the first Half of the game. Jacob automatically starts with Pull and his Ammo power unlocked, leading to him being the fastest character to gain access to Squad Ammo Powers and "Warpslosions." In the second half of the game, he gets overshadowed by Jack, Samara and Grunt.
  • In the Dreamcast (and later Gamecube) adventure Skies of Arcadia, the Ahab caricature with a metal prosthetic arm, Drachma joins the team at a substantially higher level (considering the point in the game) and brings a new elemental affinity. Soon enough, he actually strands party, to rejoin them, and then leave, on multiple occasions. When he finally stays with the party, the other characters have caught up, and perhaps superseded him.
  • Early in Legend of Legaia, when you take control of Noa, you are accompanied by a wolf who is indestructible and heals your wounds indefinitely during battle.
    • An odd case in the sequel. Kazan joins fairly early literally 15 levels ahead of Lang and Maya, with a solid 3 more Art Blocks than Lang. He easily plows through all opponents for the next few dungeons, but levels up so slowly that Lang and Maya will quickly catch up with him. However, he remains a viable fighter for the rest of the game.
  • In Dungeon Maker, after the first dungeon you get a pet Mimic Slime. It's great early on because it copies the stats of enemies, but while you get steadily more powerful, the slime does not, and eventually its stats will stop growing altogether.
  • In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money, Dean Domino, despite not being the strongest of the three companions, is easily the most useful. His companion perk allows you to explore the denser concentrations of poisonous clouds without taking damage (temporarily), which is essential if you want to find everything, and he's the only one with a gun. Since there are only three enemies in the DLC, only one of which can shoot back (and even then only five times), he's basically a killing machine if you're not boxed in. The only reason he isn't a total Game Breaker is because he (and the rest of your companions) disappears about halfway into the main quest.

Tabletop Games

  • 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...
  • Not so rare; Dungeons and Dragons had a similar addition of this type of character. Often called an 'Advanced NPC' by 2nd Edition rules or in more modern terms 'The Over Powered NPC' — a DM can run a pre-generated character who starts at least 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 fast, or only helps to a point.
  • Another example of this type of character is found in 'Anima'; a fantasy anime-style game based off JRP Gs. 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.

Third-Person Shooter

  • Zero in Mega Man X 3 starts out far more powerful than X, and is pretty essential to passing the harder portions of some of the stages, but as X acquires the Maverick weapons and various upgrades, he quickly begins to outshine Zero. Near the end of the game, Zero's only real use is to be killed off so X can take his Z-Saber—and even that requires a guide to figure out.
    • Their names foreshadow this: Zero is a static force in the first three games, like the number zero; X always obtains upgrades of some kind during play (X is the standard symbol for a variable in mathematics). Cyber Peacock lampshades this when measuring X's power, saying it's limitless—x means infinity.

Turn-Based Strategy

  • Jagen (or Jeigan as he's known in Japan) in the first Fire Emblem game, a purple Paladin who is charged with protecting Marth. He had above-average starting stats for a character in the first chapter, but very low stat growths. His name has become a slang term in Fire Emblem fandom for similar characters (he's also the former Trope Namer) — nearly every game in the series has one, although they're usually not quite so useless later on. Oifey, Seth, and Titania are seen in particular as being reasonable choices for taking all the way to the endgame.
    • Other examples of flat out Crutch-Characters are Arran (Fire Emblem book 2/Fire Emblem 12), Eveyl, and Marcus in Fire Emblem 6. In Fire Emblem 7, he's actually a lot more better. And he's actually a lot younger; too, whereas in Fire Emblem 6, he was around Jagen's age
    • Furthermore, most games give you a powerful character early on who's already undergone his class change. These characters qualify as crutches for two reasons. First of all, while they can easily slaughter the entire army on earlier stages, they'll only get one XP for killing them, leaving the rest of your party under-developed. Furthermore, their stats are relatively low for their class and level. A common tactic is to take away their weapons and just use them to take shots.
      • Some characters manage to avert this though - sometimes, a pre-promoted character may have good enough bases or growths that they remain feasible late-game. Some characters like Wolf and Sedgar in the DS games are prepromoted, but actually become Magikarp Power. (Low base stats, best growths in the game.)
  • Suikoden V gives the player character Georg Prime, a powerful bodyguard who must, for plot reasons, abandon the hero soon after the main plot kicks in. And even before that, he's only available sporadically. he then subverts the trope's usual expectations when he rejoins the cast near the end and is still ridiculously overpowered. To the point that he's again rendered unavailable for the final battle (except in New Game+).
    • From the same game, Sialeeds starts out as a useful ranged fighter/mage, but since she has only one rune slot, which is permanently equipped with a relatively weak Wind Rune, she gets less useful later on. (This is probably the game's way of subtly discouraging dependence on her, so that her Face Heel Turn about halfway through the game doesn't cripple your party.)
    • Suikoden in general has a few Crutch Characters. The second game has Jowy, the main character's best friend with which they can perform the single best unite in the game, and who gets the Black Sword Rune until he betrays you and joins Highland, though he does come back for the battle against Gorudo later on and the more recent Suikoden Tierkreis gives you Citro Village's best warrior Dirk for the first dungeon, who is several levels higher than Sieg, Marica, and Jale and does more damage, though once they start gaining levels, and become Starbearers, he is quickly outclassed. He ends up betraying you, too. In an interesting variation, though, he betrays you BECAUSE he's a Crutch Character — his entire complex boils down to 'they're stronger than me, it's all the fault of those books, MUST BURN'.
  • Baldarov in the Genesis strategy game Warsong (or Volkov if you're playing the original Japanese Langrisser). 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 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 arguably 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.
    • Non-OG example, Daitarn3 in Alpha Gaiden is a wonderful tank and can move very far for a Super Robot due to flight and it's 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, 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 Great Effort seishin 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 seishin, which considering the late game bosses power in Alpha Gaiden, makes it hard for him to handle bosses and he suffers Daitarn3 Tanking problem, 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 example, he is so important in the storyline that you just CANT ignore upgrading him unless you want a hard time, and you actualy 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's not, 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 easilly catch up in short amount of time without any notable problem. In short, he is a Crutch Character that seems to does everything that a Crutch Character usualy do, 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 basicaly 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 subsitution. 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 ? Mazinkaiser. Mazinkaiser is so much better than Mazinger Z that unupgraded Kaiser has a comparable raw stats to FULLY upgraded Mazinger Z(which is basicaly 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 have lousy Mellee stats, Sayaka whose Seishin is more support based, and Boss who despite having better melee stats than Jun have a 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.
  • Disgaea 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).
    • 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).
  • 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 cyborg recruits in X-COM 3: 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 can'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.
  • The Zuul of Sword of the Stars 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.

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.

Non Video Game Examples

  • While Scrubs obviously enough is not a video game, Ed's character arc in season 8 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.