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Video game heroes face a variety of threats, from Goddamn Bats through human enemies to an Eldritch Abomination or ten. In order to survive these encounters, the hero is going to need something that makes him different, a special ability that justifies why he is the one saving the day. If the game boasts a radical gameplay innovation, the hero's power is likely to be closely related to it, explored and upgraded throughout the entire game.
Some games give this defining power to the player from the moment they take control. This trope is about the games that don't. In these games, the first level is completely devoid of the game-defining power, instead drilling you in its more basic mechanics. It's only after you've learned the fundamentals, that you receive the shiny fun gameplay mechanic you've seen in all the trailers.
In terms of The Hero's Journey, this corresponds to the (belated) Supernatural Aid. Recent games (especially from the Science Fiction corner) like to infect their heroes with The Virus or The Corruption in the end of stage one, which power their supernatural abilities for the rest of the game. Others don't use "powers" per se, but give their heroes unique weapons, usually Forged by the Gods, which give them an edge over the enemies that normal weapons can't and double as a Sword of Plot Advancement. The superpower variety is especially popular in RPGs, while unique and/or Gimmick weaponry is commonly found in Action Adventure games and shooters.
Compare/contrast Eleventh-Hour Superpower, which involves a sudden power-up right before the climax, and A Taste of Power, which lets you have a (nearly) full set of powers for a while before taking them away.
- HAWX: Off Mode, which represents disabling failsafes in your plane to let you push its limits. It changes your view and subtly alters (increases) your abilities. Not really a direct increase in power, but qualifies as it's a game-defining ability given to you a while in, after the basic tutorials.
- In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, you shortly gain the power to control time after you retrieve the dagger.
- The monster detecting radios from the Silent Hill series.
- In Second Sight, Vattic gains his basic powers as he needs them in the early levels (e.g. psyblast when he's caught by an armed guard, charm when he's about to be found, etc).
- In the tutorial level, he doesn't have any powers. He doesn't gain his healing power until he wakes up in a hospital in the first proper level.
- In In Famous, the game starts out right after the explosion, and Cole has to limp his way to safety without any powers. By the second level, he can shoot lightning out of his hands.
- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. You start the game with the general Samus gear, but after the assault on Norion and Samus successfully saving the planet from destruction (for once), she gains Hypermode.
- In the first Blood Omen game, you play for about two minutes as a human (literally as soon as you walk out of the first room, you're in a Hopeless Boss Fight), then spend the rest of the game as a super-powerful vampire.
Hack and Slash
- In Onimusha, your attacks do hurt the demons, but won't kill them. You shortly later gain the Oni Gauntlet.
- In Dantes Inferno, you kill Death as a tutorial boss and steal his scythe.
- The Devil May Cry games have the Devil Arms, which are acquired either through flashy cutscenes or defeating bosses. The main characters are superpowered already, but this makes them even more powerful.
- There's also Devil Trigger, which usually isn't acquired until you're a few missions into the game.
- In Viewtiful Joe, you don't get the V-Watch until shortly into the first level. Barely an example, but you do have to fight your first few enemies without it.
- Sonic Colors DS doesn't give you the well known boost (it's basically a third Sonic Rush with some alterations) until Tropical Resort Act 2. The first "real" wisp power after that is at the start of the second zone, where once you've got used to the boost, the wisp powers really come into play. Additionally, the Wii version doesn't give you your first "real" wisp power until Tropical Resort Act 2, but you get the boost from the start of the game.
- In Mega Man ZX Advent, you don't get Biometal Model A until the beginning of the second stage. That means you are in your basic human form for the intro stage.
- In Mega Man Zero, you don't get his signature Z-Saber until partway through the boss battle for the first stage (instead relying on the buster).
- Jak II takes a while to give you your first gun, and, unlike in the Grand Theft Auto games it's mimicking, you don't have the option of finding some yourself before that point.
- Super Mario World doesn't give the feather power-up, which grants flight, until the first level of Donut Plains (the second world of 7 in the main quest).
Real Time Strategy
- In Achron, you don't get access to the time window until the second mission of the campaign.
RPG — Eastern
- In Kingdom Hearts, you can't actually fight the Heartless until you gain a Keyblade.
- In Chrono Trigger, Crono and the gang (besides Robo and Ayla) gain magic during their first trip to end of time, just in time to fight enemies that are nearly immune to regular attacks, but are vulnerable to magic.
- The Shadows in Blue Dragon. You're pretty much powerless in fights before you get them and after you lose them at the end of Disc 2.
- In Legend of Dragoon, you don't get the Dragoon abilities until a few hours in.
- Final Fantasy does this a lot. III and V both give you the Jobs after the first major dungeon, and you don't get the Espers until pretty well into the story of VI, though you have the advantage of each character's unique skill. The other games do similar things to varying degrees, but these are the most obvious.
- In Final Fantasy XII, you don't get to even use the Gambit system until quite a bit into the prologue, and even then it's still a lot later before you actually get to customize them.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, all characters start at about the Iron Weight and don't receive any superpowers (including the much-advertised Paradigm Shift system or, indeed, the ability to Level Up) until they get to say "hello" to Anima two prologue chapters later. He says "hello" back by making them l'Cie, whose power grows almost exponentially with time. This is lampshaded right from the start, when the heroes discover that formerly-tough Elite Mooks are little more than Cannon Fodder for them now.
- In Legend of Legaia, each of the three main characters adventures with the party for a period of time before getting access to their Ra-Seru, which greatly increases their ATK stat and gives them access to magic. Particularly pronounced in Gala's case, where he will be very much The Load for the first two dungeons you explore with him.
- This is relatively common in the Paper Mario series. In The Thousand Year Door, the Star Meter abilities are only available after visiting the eponymous door for the first time, and in Super Paper Mario you get the 3D-flip ability halfway through the first level.
- Dates back to the first game as well. You start the game using basic attacks, and after visiting Shooting Star Summit for the first time, you get the Lucky Star, which gives you access to Action Commands, a very important aspect of the games' battle system.
- In .hack, Kite starts off as an average player, with nothing particularly special about him. After playing through a level or two like this, he gets the Twilight Bracelet, which allows him to fight hacked enemies, and thus makes him the only one able to take on Morganna.
- White Knight Chronicles: It takes about half an hour of gameplay that set off the chain of events that lead or Leonard obtaining the titular White Knight. Said chain of events includes the wine cart your party is delivering to the princess's ball being attacked by a troll, a palace guard leaving the palace's front doors open, an attack on the palace, the king getting assassinated, and The Hero taking it upon himself to get the princess to safety, respectively.
- Wild Arms 2 had the protagonist Ashley being able to transform into Knight Blazer, a Super-Powered Evil Side armored guy and Ashley gains new attacks and a really awesome theme music.
- The Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force games typically don't give Mega Man access to his Swiss Army Hero abilities until he's beaten the first, second, or third major boss.
RPG — Western
- In the first Knights of the Old Republic, you start off as just a Republic soldier on Taris, but become a Jedi shortly after that.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption, you play through the first dungeon as a human, then spend the rest of the game as a super-powerful vampire.
- In Fable III you get your magic gauntlets and hero power during your escape from the castle.
- In Deus Ex Human Revolution, Adam only gets augmented after the first level, a case of We Can Rebuild Him. Similarly, J.C. is already augmented at the beginning of the first game, but it doesn't do you much good until you get your first upgrade canister at the end of the first level.
- Subverted in Dragon Age Origins: after all the build-up to your Player Character's super-secret Initiation Ceremony into the ranks of the Gray Wardens, legendary undefeatable warriors who single-handedly held back The Horde for centuries, the actual ceremony doesn't give you any gameplay powers (not even the fabled ability to sense nearby Darkspawn), only plot-moving ones. It is later explained that the Wardens are the best warriors/mages/rogues of Thedas not because of some Secret Art but because they recruit only the best warriors/mages/rogues in Thedas.
- In The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, the main character gains the ability to use the reality warping Thu'um after completing at least one dungeon and defeating their first dragon in the storyline.
Shooter — First-Person
- The HEV suit and later the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2. Not so much with the original Half-Life, though, where you get the HEV Suit around ten minutes in (after learning how to walk, push buttons, and chew gum), and it is upgraded for the third act.
- In F.E.A.R. 2, after you fight through the first level as an ordinary soldier, you gain the power of Slo Mo after a surgery.
- In the new Wolfenstein, it's B.J.'s otherworldly medallion.
- In The Darkness, Jackie gains the power of the Darkness only after he "dies".
- In Bioshock 1 and 2, you first start out with a basic weapon, but by the end of the first level, you gain a plasmid. It knocks you out, but you then have the ability to shoot everything from lightning to bees at your enemies.
- In Doom 3, the Soul Cube and the Artifact are second level superpowers, but never really get powerful or useful until a little bit later.
- In Project Snowblind, the game seems to start out as a fairly generic shooter, but by the second level, you're rebuilt with as a supersoldier who can use Infrared Vision, has bullet time, Ballistic Shielding, Cloaking, and the power to shoot lightning out of his hands.
- In TimeShift, you only receive your time controlling suit when you reach the second level.
- In Singularity, you receive the Time Manipulation Device early on, which lets you control time to a certain extent.
- In Timesplitters Future Perfect, you get the Uplink after you get to the rebel base.
- Resistance only gives you your health regeneration after you've beaten the first level. There aren't any health packs, so any bullets you take can't be healed for the rest of the level, making this section irritatingly difficult.
- Matthew Kane doesn't become Stroggified until the end of the first Act of Quake IV. This process is the reason that he's able to penetrate so much deeper into Stroggos than anyone else, as well as providing him with a higher HP limit and the ability to read Strogg.
Shooter — Third-Person
- In Dark Sector Hayden gains the power of the Glaive shortly after he gets infected.
- In Psi Ops the Mindgate Conspiracy, you start out the game with no powers, and it seems like a fairly generic shooter. By the end, you're a psychic god.
- In Jedi Outcast, you play two levels with Kyle Katarn as The Gunslinger of a garden variety, then he says "Let's Get Dangerous" and pays a visit to Luke Skywalker for his lightsaber. After that, he's a Jedi.
- Pretty much the same in Dark Forces II. Kyle has no Force powers until after he visits his father's workshop.
- In Dead Space 1 and 2, the plasma cutter, stasis module, and kinesis module aren't given immediately.
- Advent Rising doesn't give Gideon any of his birthright superpowers until after his Doomed Homeplanet is destroyed.
Shoot 'Em Ups
- In E-Swat, your character gets promoted after the first two level, giving you an heavily armed Power Armor.
- In Batman: Arkham City, the player starts out as Bruce Wayne, and needs to obtain the Batman gear.
- Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Riddick's eyeshine treatment could be considered this.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, Snake starts out with more or less nothing. After several sneaking levels, Snake meets the Mk2 Metal Gear and is given a proper weapon and any New Game+ weapons.
- Making the first part of the game somewhat more difficult than sections near the end where you can just tranquilise your enemies.
- Unlike Assassin's Creed that used A Taste of Power, you start 2 as an Italian youth with just his fists. Ezio does not gain the Hidden Blade until some time later.
- In the Portal games, the first few test chambers have no portal gun, and the next several use a gun that only shoots blue portals, with the orange portals being generated automatically.
Non-video game examples
- The Stormbringer could be considered this for Elric of Melnibone in The Elric Saga.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Zachary Foxx was an ordinary human, but the injuries he sustained in the pilot required an Emergency Transformation to replace half his body with cyberware and add the Series 5 implant. Unlike the other three Rangers whose already-existing abilities are merely amplified by the implant, early episodes show Zachary as not quite at ease with his bionics.