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Within the plot, a character is introduced who has a preexisting reputation of being a master fighter and quite renowned. This character is then implied to be a potential rival, obstacle, or ally of the party.

The problem arises after this character joins your party, and a dedicated player notices aside from perhaps being a few levels stronger, this character is inevitably weaker than the main character.

This can sometimes be explained by a simple matter of not leveling the newcomer properly, but usually a heralded "strongest character" simply never is for long, or is certainly not as useful as their strength would suggest. Maybe programmers are underestimating gamers. Sometimes it can also be explained another way, such as they're weakened by something, commonly, age. (You're not as strong at 50 as you were at 20.)

Inevitably, this is almost always for game balance reasons, preventing a Disc One Nuke.

When applied to equipment, it's the Penultimate Weapon. Redemption Demotion can be seen as a variation of this. Also Bag of Spilling, in which a previous playable character doesn't retain their weapons/skills.

Examples of Overrated and Underleveled include:
  • In Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, at the end of the game, you can add Arronax to your party. He equips no weapons nor armour, and most of the time prefers fists to his (quite decent) magic. This may, however, just be a result of a glitch. The dude single-handedly destroyed advanced technological civilization and was bad enough to be generally regarded as his world's Crystal Dragon Satan. It can be Lampshaded in that he had few occasions to practice his powers during the last two thousand years. This also happens to the other Banished villains - for example, a half-man-half-dragon creature whom the collective of most powerful mages of the world defeated after days-long battle.
    • In general, most of the recruitable NPCs avert this. They're all set at static levels, and the locations you find them are often within their realm of ability.
      • Franklin Payne (Gentleman Adventurer!) is hyped continent-wide for his famous and daring expeditions. By the time you qualify to invite him, any gunslingers currently in the party could have been better developed and better equipped, and all other character types are more effective in their specialty and still broadly useful. Franklin is a nice chap for such a Glory Hound, and entertaining to listen to, but he's a little late for the True Companions.
  • Garland in Breath of Fire III. The story presents him as a extremely powerful warrior with skills way above the strongest warriors in the world. He always joins the annual Warior Tournament as a solo entry, while the standard is to register a team of three. Balio and Sunder, the duo of the previous two Hopeless Boss Fight you have, tremble by just being stared hy him. Turns out he eventually joins your party in the third battle against the duo, and after killing them, casually remarks that he was eventually planning of disposing them. Turns out that, in-game wise, he's just the standard Mighty Glacier character who is easily outranked by Ryu. He has a plethora of Fire spells but his magic is so low that even his strongest spells can't match the power of his standard attack.
  • Surprisingly, Char Aznable....sorry, Quattro Bajina, in Super Robot Wars Z is a variation on this, he's one of the best pilots in the game(He usually is. In fact, here he's probably second in Z only to Kei ) but rather than getting his own top of the line mobile suit, he's got the OK Hyaku Shiki, which is not very good compared to the units you get late game. UNLESS you do what many do and put him in the Turn a Gundam.....
    • Quattro in general really, most prominent in Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden, his stats is some of the worst in comparison Gundam main characters including normal pilots like Kou Uraki and even Loran Cehack. And like in Z, he only get the Hyaku Shiki, and Sazabi is Easy Mode only unit that is decent at best.
  • Rather disappointingly enforced by paladin Artix of Dragon Fable In his own movie (Artix VS The Undead), Artix was shown to slay hundreds of Undead with a swipe of his sword. In game however he is a level 3 Paladin who seems weaker than your main character, bar his four-hit Light combo.
    • Subverted when you find out ingame while talking to Artix that after fighting a deadly creature summoned by a Master Necromancer, he sealed the monster inside his battleaxe and as a result of the battle lost 30 levels. Implying that before the battle, he was still very much a badass at level 33.
    • Even at level 3, his four-hit combo is extremely powerful, and turns most fights at lower levels into cakewalks.
  • Dias in ~Star Ocean: The Second Story~ is the classic version, a legendary swordsman who frequently calls party members weak. Once joining the party, he is quickly outclassed by Claude. In Dias' case, this trope was somewhat turned back; in the PSP remake he was vastly improved, and more on the level of badass the game makes him out to be.
    • Also happens to Albel Nox in ~Star Ocean: Till the End of Time~, who is level 29 (according to the guide) when you fight him, and level 24 when you get him.
    • And Ashlay in Star Ocean, who is a grizzled and aged veteran, swordsman known the world over, personal friend of most of the world's royalty... and joins at level 15, only to be very quickly overshadowed by Ratix.
  • Leon in Tales of Destiny is supposed to be an elite military warrior, carefully trained since childhood to be a prodigy general. Yet when he joins the party, he's at the same level as the low-level thieves (+ country bumpkin) he easily wiped the floor with moments before.
  • Kratos in Tales of Symphonia is supposed to be a powerful, experienced mercenary, adept at both blade and magic, but when he joins he's only a level or so higher than the rest of the party (which at that point consists of only random schoolchildren) and knows only a handful of weak techniques. (Of course, there is a spoilerrific reason for this.) Later in the game he is replaced by another character, Zelos. Despite being a pampered noble, Zelos is effectively Kratos in combat: they have the exact same skills, weapon proficiencies and combat role, with only a few minor differences in stats (Zelos' are lower) and attack style (Zelos is better at using certain attacks). Oddly enough, when you have to fight them, even if they just left your party in the previous cutscene, they're suddenly tough enough to match the entire party all over again.
  • Jade from Tales of the Abyss is advertised as one of the most powerful and feared sorcerers in the world, but is hit by a bad guy's special ability early in the game which causes him to lose access to all but his most basic spells. He spends the rest of the game gradually breaking the seals on his magic, which by a crazy coincidence happens at more or less the same rate as the other, less-experienced characters are learning new skills. Crazier still, after he remembers all his old abilities and regains his old stats, he keeps gaining new ones at the same rate.
    • Said special ability (item, actually) was stated to cost a good chunk of an entire nation's budget.
    • It should at least be noted that he joins your party for a short while before this, and he's a good 40 levels higher than your party by that point (assuming the player isn't grinding). He drops to around the same level as you when his artes are sealed.
  • The Fire Emblem series of tactical RPGs has more instances of this than can be conveniently listed. The reason is primarily a result of the games' mechanics — since death is permanent in this series, late recruits exist only to give the careless and the inexperienced a fighting chance in the later levels. As a result, the experienced knights, powerful generals and legendary warriors of the world (who come later in the game) are almost invariably weaker than the rank novices, random mercenaries, and inexperienced students (who join early) raised to the same level. Almost without exception, a character who starts out at level 5 and is raised to level 15 will be far stronger than a character who starts at level 15, even if the character who starts at level 15 is renowned for his peerless strength and skill. (The only exceptions are Game Breaker units who join on the final chapter of most games.) Too many specific examples to list, but a few are Cecilia, Dayan, Juno, and Niime from FE6; Vaida, Karel, Karla, Renault, and Marcus from FE7; Innes and Duessel from FE8; and Elincia's retainers from FE9. There's actually a bit of Fridge Brilliance regarding them, as you'll read.
    • Karel in particular since in Fire Emblem 7, he is referred to as the "Sword Demon" and his supports with Dart and Karla show how skilled he was, yet a well-leveled Lyndis or Guy can outclass him. In Fire Emblem 6 though, he has actually grown far more but can still be outclassed by Rutger or Fir if leveled correctly.
    • Same with Lucia and Bastian, the retainers of Elincia in PoR/RD. While both have excellent growth rates, they also have atrocious base stats for their high levels. The third, Geoffrey, is ironically the lowest leveled despite being the head knight, and his base stats are much better suited to his level.
      • Although, the trope is notably averted with Stefan, who, while a much higher level than the rest of your team at that point, has a stat spread that's more than adequate for his level (except for his paltry Luck score). This trend continues in the sequel, where he's among the last units you recruit in the game, but is no less effective than his fellow swordmasters (still has low Luck, though). It might have to do with his recruiting requirements.
    • Inverted by Pelleas, a character who sits out most of the battles. When he finally does join a battle, he admits that he's never actually fought before, and is so scared his legs are trembling... and yet he starts out as a Level 12 Dark Sage. While he is still underleveled compared to your other characters, that's pretty impressive for someone who's never had a chance to do any Level Grinding.
  • The SNES Tactical RPG Langrisser 2 employed this to hair-pulling extent, where Leon, a Level 6 Knight Master, joins you as a computer-controlled unit for one battle and then offers to join you. If you accept, he loses nearly 30 levels on the spot. (To add insult to injury, several party members leave you and appear at least 10 levels higher as enemies the very next stage.)
  • If a writer wants to put a little effort into explaining this, they often use amnesia as a vehicle:
    • In Vagrant Story, the main character's Backstory involves him being among the baddest of badasses, but he gains amnesia before the game starts and forgets most of his past — and most of his fighting skills. He doesn't actually learn new attacks; he "remembers" ones he already knew from before he lost his memory.
    • Zero, the "Legendary Hero" from Mega Man Zero, was violently awoken from his 100 year rest and has forgotten most of his fighting techniques. True to his series heritage, he recalls most of his techniques after beating a boss and mimicking its attacks.
    • Played extremely straight in Planescape: Torment - The Nameless One doesn't so much learn new skills as he remembers what his previous incarnations knew... and some of those were absurdly powerful.
  • Used in Knights of the Old Republic: Carth is "one of the Republic's best pilots," "a hero of the Mandalorian War and a legendary soldier." He's only a couple clicks higher than your starting character. Bastila? The paragon of Padawans and key to the war effort - at less of a starting level than you will be at that point. The "amnesia" excuse shows up to explain why you, the ex-Dark Lord and galaxy-feared Badass are unpowered and a rather pathetic fighter for a few levels. And in the second game, damage and age are used to explain the low starting levels for Canderous and the droids when Exile finds them.
  • Kingdom Hearts actually zig-zags this trope quite a bit, often starting you at level one with no abilities by putting you in control of a different character, while playing the trope straight and explaining why it's played so.
  • Magus from Chrono Trigger is an infamous case, as he is an incredibly powerful dark wizard who fights your party frequently, but upon joining your party becomes a run-of-the-mill spellcaster who has to learn all of his Dark spells over again. This is justified by having the game's Big Bad drain him of most of his power shortly before he joins the heroes, but we all know it's really because Good Is Dumb...and because the game's easier enough without having a character with six thousand health in a game where the health cap is nine hundred and ninety nine.
  • In Neverwinter Nights, the novice players are tasked by Lady Aribeth to defend the city. Aribeth is a legendary fighter and defender of the realm. In a major plot point she later turns heel and the players must fight her. Fortunately, by this time the players have been adventuring for a few months and any one of them could mop the floor with Aribeth without much difficulty.
    • In Neverwinter Nights 2, we have Ammon Jerro, who is stated by several characters to be "a wizard of some power," others to be "a powerful sorcerer," and still others "an extremely powerful Warlock." In-game, he only has Warlock levels, and is fairly powerful, but all the descriptions of him suggest that he is, in fact, every single frelling spellcaster class available short of Bard, and should technically have more levels than the game suggests is possible. When you actually fight him, his summoned help is ever-so-slightly harder to beat than he is.
      • Although this is justified by his powers being based on various pacts and agreements with certain fiends: When you destroy his Haven you strip him of his power, which he mentions. And all those NPCs calling him sorcerer or wizard are in no way knowledgeable about differences in spellcaster classes - all they know is that he uses spells.
      • By the time you get him, he is level 15+. By Dungeons & Dragons standards, this is actually an extremely high level, especially for anything that is remotely a caster. People forget this because 3.5 started developing an unhealthy obsession with epic levels where you character is functionally a demi-god.
  • Justified in Final Fantasy VII, where Cloud Strife is introduced as SOLDIER First Class, and is clearly much weaker than SOLDIER Third Class, and is only stronger than the regular MP. The reason? Cloud was never in SOLDIER, and is repressing his actual past due to trauma and being experimented on by Shinra.
    • However, by the end of the game, Cloud is, in fact, more powerful than any other SOLDIER, including Sephiroth.
  • Continuing with Final Fantasy IX, we have the character Beatrix. Being the general of an entire army, she can take quite a few hits from the party before she falls, and in fact can't be defeated at all. However, in the short time you fight alongside her, she is just about as strong as just any other party member, and it shouldn't take more than a few hits to K.O. her. Of course; she doesn't have as much health as she appeared to have .
  • Final Fantasy X has this occur very blatantly in a plot-relevant Mini Game: While the original members of your Blitzball team are certainly not the best players out there in the long run, the extremely-hyped, won-the-championship-many-years-in-a-row Luca Goers are a highly competent, tough to beat team... at level 1. They also have pretty much the worst stat growth in the game, rendering them ineffective by the time players' levels are in the teens. The first, story-mandated, match against them needn't be won, which is good because winning largely involves praying they never get the ball, but by the second or third league season, they shouldn't even pose a challenge. The Al Bhed Psyches, on the other hand, start and remain a formidable team, and their starting goalie is a prized recruit for players who seriously pursue Blitzball; however, the story never actually makes much of their abilities, even having them try to win by cheating in a Cutscene-only match. They're also the first team the pathetic Aurochs defeat in ten years in the storyline, making it even more confusing once you play them normally.
    • Another occurrence in Final Fantasy X is Auron. The cutscenes present him as incredibly Badass, and he's already done the whole Pilgrimage thing once, so in all logic would have done the inherent Level Grinding too. But since he's one of the main characters, he's the same level as everyone else. Of course coming back as a revanant might have something to do with that.
  • There are quite a few examples in Final Fantasy XII. They include a sky pirate and his partner, who is described as a "master of weaponry" but is only two levels ahead of your character when you recruit him. Level 5.
    • Fran is the oldest of the main cast, comes from a line of magical huntresses and can single-handedly take down several imperial soldiers during cutscenes. Which makes it all the more surprising that she is the statistically WORST party member, all-around. The game also makes a big deal in one boss battle about how she (and presumably other non-humans) go into feral rages when in areas shrouded in mist. The battle shows this by putting her in permanent Berserk status for the duration; later in the game, you go to similar areas but she gets no bonus whatsoever.
  • Final Fantasy II has this problem with the final Guest Star Party Member Leon. Throughout the game he's hyped up as the Emperor's Dragon, yet when he joins you his HP and MP are rather pathetic compared to your party's at this point, with no magic skills whatsoever, and poor weapon skills as well. Leveling him up is fairly easy, but it's also rather tedious.
  • In Defense of the Ancients, many of the heroes, according to their backstory, ought to be powerful beyond belief already, but for balance everyone starts at level 1.
  • Adell in Disgaea II. Although he starts the game at Level 1, as appropriate for an RPG hero, he's already traveled all over the world of Veldime looking for Overlord Zenon, whom he's sworn to defeat — and Veldime has some pretty dangerous regions to search through. When he couldn't find the Overlord, he instead traveled all over Veldime again to collect the ingredients his mother needed to summon Zenon — which included killing a few mighty beasts. So, he's supposed to be much stronger in the story than his level in the game indicates. This is how he can block one of Etna's attacks in a story segment, even if gameplay wise she has over 100 times his Level.
    • You could explain this through the game's Fourth Wall-lessness, where Adell should be level 1 as it's the start of the game.
    • Disgaea also contains a mechanic that allows a character's level to be reset to 1 in exchange for higher base stats. It's possible he Reincarnated just before the beginning of the storyline.
    • Adell's passive ability is to do more damage to enemies that are a higher level than him. While this wouldn't allow him to match enemies that are of a significantly higher level in actual gameplay battles, it could be used to justify his power in the storyline.
    • The Updated Rerelease of Disgaea 2 Cursed Memories parodies this with one of the DLC unlockable characters, in which Hanako sacrifices a copy of Phantom Brave in which all the characters are leveled up to 9999 (Don't think too hard about the fact that Phantom Brave is disk based...) for a summoning ritual. All that comes out of it is a level 100 Marona.
    • Near the end of the first game you are stopped by some "powerful" demon lords (they're roughly level 80) and your group starts to lose hope when they're inspired by the sudden appearance of... Kurtis! Who joins your group so you can fight the enemies properly. ...Except he's level 50 and has no notable equipment, and you can't take the time to change equipment or level him up until after you've defeated the demon lords. He's also reincarnated as a prinny to atone for his sins, and his old friends have trouble taking him serious at first.
  • Luna, a recurring boss from the first half of the mode and is wielding the titular Soul Calibur, in Soul Calibur 3's Chronicles of the Sword Mode joins 2 chapters before the end, is average level, has a class with unexceptional growth rates AND she has the ONLY moveset in the entire game without a known anti-AI move, near required against Chronicles of the Sword's cheating AI
  • Feena from Grandia fits this as well. She's supposed to be a legendary explorer and adventurer, and everyone is in awe of her, but once she joins you she's not particularly powerful compared to anyone else.
  • Many characters from Growlanser I return in Growlanser II. They seem to have lost all their levels between the two games, which is given no explanation whatsoever.
  • Terry from Dragon Quest VI suffers from this; in his first appearance, he is stated to be an extremely skilled swordsman and defeated several soldiers in Arkbolt that your own party beat as a team, and then proceeds to defeat a Hackasaurus that previously defeated said soldiers before your own party can do anything about it. When he joins you for real, he's likely a few levels lower than your party, with his only abilities of note being that he is already in an advanced job (which you likely have access to anyway) and has good equipment; statistically, he is weaker than the Hero or Carver. Furthermore, prior to having him join, he is fought as a boss battle where he is tougher than when he's in the party, but this at least is justified; Dhuran the Dread Fiend was likely empowering him during the fight.
  • City of Heroes uses different stats and AI for allies compared to enemies. This can be clearly seen in Gaussian's story arc, where the previously incompetent Longbow allies that you've fought with for a few missions now are suddenly much, much tougher when you have to fight them instead.
    • Vanguard also demonstrate this. The player will usually fare better against the Rikti than Vanguard does, but when the player has to fight Vanguard during a civil war they are suddenly so much more deadlier that you wonder why they couldn't do anything without your help before.
  • This occurs in the Baldur's Gate series, most obviously near the beginning of the first one. Several NPCs who join you early on are supposedly experienced adventurers (Khalid, Jaheira, Xzar and Montaron), yet upon joining they will be the same level as you (likely 1 or 2) and only carry basic starter equipment.
    • By the same token there's also Gorion, who's only Level 9 despite being stated to have regularly run with Elminster's crew back in the day.
  • Tezkhra, the last playable character in The Reconstruction, is a god. Yet he moves at approximately the same speed as dirt and most of his abilities are Useless Useful Spells, making him more trouble than he's worth most of the time.
  • Merik in Dungeon Siege is talked up as a magical badass, but when you finally meet and recruit him he turns out to be a plain nature mage... who is lower level then you. Especially bad if your main character is a nature mage himself.
  • In the original Phantasy Star, your ally Odin has a reputation as a "man of great strength." He's weaker than all your other party members, including the Squishy Wizard.
  • Every single character in the Dawn of War II campaigns. Tarkus and Avitus are warriors almost as accomplished as the legendary Davian Thule, the Force Commander and Thaddeus are highly successful despite their relatively young age, and Cyrus is older than all of them, trained most of them, and was even a member of The Inquisition's Death Watch. All of them are level 1. Chaos Rising introduced Jonah (powerful enough to survive direct, solo contact with the Tyranid Hive Mind, yet no stronger than the player), while Retribution has the former right-hand of the Chapter Master and a Space Marine so renowned he is known only as The Ancient (level 1 again).
    • The fact the Ancient turns out to be Tarkus means he's been afflicted by this trope twice.
    • The characters being level 1 holds no actual significance. The first game had no leveling system. Level 1 is only relative, since they are still Space Marines. Also, being in the Death Watch is no significant demonstration of skill. It is not an elite unit, but one put together from multiple units. If you look at the actual Death Watch Kill Team stats from the game, they are basic Space Marines with access to higher grade equipment.
      • Still, the fact that they have to gain experience and "learn" their special abilities/get better equipment fits this trope.
  • In Izuna 2, all characters who join your party begin at level 1, even when your mains could be at level 45 or higher. This includes the first six bosses of the previous game, including the Big Bad.
  • Kanon of Wild Arms 2 harasses you all throughout Disc 1, often being called a Wake Up Call Boss due to how strong she is. When she finally joins you, she's alot weaker. However, it's justified in that the heroes really beat the ever-loving crap out of her so that her bionic implants were destroyed and Marivel had to fix them. This could explain her loss of power. She also happens to notice that she's been weakened. She's still the second most damaging character in the game once you unlock her special moves, however.
  • The playable characters in League of Legends have four usable abilities, but when you start a game with them, they can only use one, and are actually rather weak with less than a thousand health. Especially when you look at some of their backstory. However; this is presumably invoked by having spells around the fields of justice so that the champions powers are kept equal or in check. Even though players will forever argue about champions being overpowered and underpowered.
    • Explained away in-game as having to summon the champions every time a new battle starts, creating a fusion of the summoner and champion who has to learn how to use their powers and abilities again. Killing minions and champions presumably assists this process.
  • Since the party characters in each timeline of Radiant Historia don't overlap 100%, the levels of those characters that don't appear in both timelines tend to lag behind those that do (As all experience gained remains even if you go back and forth in time or change timelines, probably because doing otherwise would have been very difficult to program). This is especially true of Rosch, who isn't playable in a significant fraction of the timeline he is a member of the party in, what causes him to lag even further behind.
  • Ulfric Stormcloak in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, should the player pursue the Imperial questline. The game practically turns Ulfric into a king-slaying, Thu'um throwing, Memetic Badass, if dialogue is to be believed. Yet when an Imperial-Alligned Dragonborn storms his castle, his own Dragon is harder to kill than him. [1]
  • Rodi, one of your three main characters in Shining the Holy Ark was the first boss and managed fairly well against the combined might of three "experienced" mercenaries. However we he joins your party he's back down to the low levels. Handwaved with the fact some rocks falling on his head caused amnesia.
  1. The meta reason takes this trope literally. In the game, all NPCs are leveled based on when the player first encounters them. And Ulfric is the 3rd character you see in the opening sequence. So, you're essentially fighting what would be a challenging enemy, if you were at level 1.