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In games lacking Dynamic Difficulty, particularly RPGs without level scaling, the designers will usually design encounters with enemies to balance them against the power level the player is expected to have when first encountered. This can lead to odd discrepancies where enemies are much weaker or more powerful than circumstances or common sense would suggest.
The archetypal example would be facing elite troops or giant monsters right at the beginning of the game, yet slaughtering them with ease while the player is still at level one. Conversely, at higher levels one might encounter rabbits or palette-swapped imps with grossly inflated abilities that have been placed there simply to provide a challenge, regardless of how unlikely it is that such an enemy would be that powerful.
- World of Warcraft is all over this. Many of the starting zones feature creatures that you won't encounter again for about 50 levels. Furthermore, every single newb zone for every single race is literally right next to a 50+ zone (although some of these zones are pretty isolated by mountains). Even more disturbing is the fact that incredibly powerful people, such as kings or generals (who are max-level elite bosses) send *you* and your friends out to kill so-called dreaded enemies even though they are surrounded by guards and soldiers who could one-shot them in their sleep.
- A funnier example consists of 'important' NPCs (town guard captains, generals and the like) being level 10-20 depending on the zone, while regular town guards and merchants can be level 70.
- City of Villains has a case of this, especially in the villains' bank-robbing Mayhem Missions. By the time you're level 40, you've fought insane cyborgs, giant monsters, powerful sorcerers....and yet these allegedly normal rent-a-cops on the way to the bank vault are still a hindrance.
- Of course one could imagine that in a world of frequent bank robberies and that fairly often sees cataclysmic events such as alien invasions, rent a cops are much less of a joke. Even by the time you're level 20 they're already using miniguns and massive grenade launchers.
- If you're fighting a hobo in Kingdom of Loathing, you're either in the lowest level area, or the highest.
- Many similar-looking enemies like skeletons in Runescape have different strength based on the dungeon they are in. In Daemonheim, the enemies get stronger based on number of players raiding the dungeon and the floor number.
- Warhammer Online has the right enemy types as champions and heroes that you'd expect, but even a level 3 hero is nothing to a level 40 mob. This leads to Elven Princes, Chaos Giants, enormous summoned Daemons and veteran Captains being many times weaker than... a militia member's dog.
- "No matter how strong you are, somewhere on Vana'diel there is a rabbit who can kick your ass."
- There are fleas in Anarchy Online which could curbstomp many of the dungeon bosses.
- Guild Wars 2 has a weird version of this problem. Due to heavy use of "dynamic level adjustment" scaling higher-level characters down to a power level appropriate to the zone, pretty much no enemy is ever entirely trivial, no matter how much you should outclass them.
- Another example stems from the inconsistent manner in which animals are designated as normal enemies or non-combat critters; one deer might be a reasonable fight with a knockdown ability while another standing mere feet from it might be a one-shot kill.
- In the Total War series, rebel stacks with absurdly high experience levels will occasionally spawn for no other reason that to keep the player on their toes.
- Carp in prior editions of Dwarf Fortress. To quote the game's creator: "I think I made the fish too hardcore."
Dwarf Fortress actually used to have a specific fandom term for these: "King Of Beasts". First it was elephants, then carp, then Giant Cave Spiders and Unicorns. They are usually nerfed in later versions. Currently, the crown is held by the mighty Badger.
"For ages, the crown of the King of Beasts has rested upon no head, the title long being vacant. Elephants became docile long ago, Carp have shrunk even smaller than they once were and dwarves made less fearful of their terrifying stare, and Giant Cave Spiders had the razor-tips of their fangs filed off.
But now, a new beast, freshly wrought from the blood-forges of Armok himself, has begun its reign of terror over the land. He made it ubiquitous, such that all would know its name. He filled it with fury, such that none would think it harmless. And He granted several of them tremendous size and insatiable anger far beyond that of their normal kin, such that even those who had thought they had mastered them had still more treacherous foes to be slain by.
There is a new King of Beasts, and its name is Badger. Tremble before it."
This may seem to contradict earlier claims of the badger being harmless. This is true, for a single badger or for small groups. Unfortunately, they tend to enter the map in huge "badger storms", swirling masses of highly irritable, lightning quick, sharp-clawed monsters. Any dwarf unlucky enough to be caught alone in a badger storm will soon find themselves being torn to shreds, reduced to a mangled pile of flesh.
..Hands and feet will be severed.
- 34.01 seems to have handed it off temporarily to the dreaded giant mosquito... or rather, the swarms of ~200 giant mosquitos that show up when they spawn.
- Which in turn have handed it off to the Giant Sponge. That's right, a sessile creature with no nervous system (yet somehow capable of becoming enraged and killing dwarves) has become a menace to Dwarven society on par with the dreaded carp. Only in Dwarf Fortress.
- In the opening level of Knights of the Old Republic, the player faces elite Sith troopers that have boarded the ship the player character is travelling on. These are considerably weaker than general Sith troops faced later in the game, and were made so solely in order for the then-weak player character to overcome them without difficulty. This is explained later when Bastila tells you that she used her Battle Meditation to help your escape.
- KotOR's story almost entirely ignores your characters' levels as well as those of your enemies. It actually uses Dynamic Difficulty to do this, too. The experienced war hero Carth starts with only a few levels, and after a while when neither of you are likely to have many more than that, he's willing to say you have "the skills of an elite commando". The story seems to constantly assume that all the player characters are very tough already, while enemies are always about the right level for you. Towards the end, the game will start to highlight this even more with the player character, who supposedly becomes more powerful than anyone else (like, ever, practically), while only gaining levels just like the rest of them. Of course, the Player Character is always remarkably powerful... It all actually makes sense if you ignore the numbers.
- The second installment lampshades the point. The main character can note this fact to the mentor. The subsequent explanation is that the Sith are drawing power off of you, so as you increase in power, they do as well. It doesn't explain every other enemy in the game, but hey, the Sith are covered.
- The most frustrating example in the first game is the Final Boss Preview around two-thirds of the way through the game. With the sort of stats you'll have at this point in the game, you flatten him, and if you don't, it's Game Over. Then Cutscene Power to the Max kicks in and he irresistibly stuns you, forcing a party member to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to save you. When you meet him for the final battle, his power is magnified by the Star Forge, a Force-imbued, star-powered factory.
- In Awakening, the expansion to Dragon Age Origins, the hero has already fulfilled his/her destiny and defeated a godlike being, so a bunch of highwaymen on the roads between smallish cities should be easy to dispatch, right? In fact, these bandits could have completed the original campaign for you, and subsequently taken over the capital city.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Explorers has missions revolving around catching criminals. But due to the mission generator, the criminal you'll find is completely random but with statistics based on the mission rank. So, you can fight very weak versions of final evolution mons around half game and unbelievably strong versions of first-stage Com Mons on late game.
- In Valkyrie Profile, one of the most horrifyingly tough enemies in the game is... a hamster.
- Definitely underscored when that enemy spawns from an encounter in the bonus dungeon that would normally be against a recolor of one of the final bosses. You look forward to fighting a survivable battle with a giant.
- Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansion feature both extremes. The Duergar and Bladelings that attack the Doomed Hometown at the beginning of the game are exceedingly weak for an assault force attempting to retrieve something very dear to the Githyanki. In the expansion, the player reaches Epic levels up to 30, and most of the enemies tailored to that power level are ones that you would expect to be very powerful, like fiends. At the same time, however, enemies that should be mundane and much lower in power than the player have inflated strength to present a challenge to the player. For example, there is a "berserker lodge" containing a small number of Rashemani warriors that you can spar with to earn bonuses. If they really were so powerful as they are depicted to be, they could probably travel to the Sword Coast (where the original campaign took place), dispatch the much weaker armed forces of that region with ease and carve out their own kingdom. Or, as a poster on the official forums put it: "A Gnoll warlord who leads many tribes in combat should be Epic level. Gnoll guard #24 should not."
- A clever Neverwinter Nights 1 Walkthrough listed the initial destruction of the academy as "Attack of the 1 HP Kobolds", who proceed to decimate a school full of several level 1 adventurers and all their teachers. Heck, most of the fellow student NPC's at the graduation ceremony die in the first battle! (though to be fair, those Squishy Wizards were toughies.
- The rating given to enemies is not very accurate when you take your class and powers into consideration. A foe marked as "Impossible" who is a strong meleer but has no magical resistance may give a Fighter trouble but get stomped by a Wizard/Sorcerer. On the other hand, that same Wizard/Sorcerer may get their ass handed to them by a "Easy" foe who has massive magical resistances.
- The level designer makes the inaccuracy of the rating system particularly easy to see - it's easy to make a creature that will be listed as "Impossible" to a level 20 character, with no magic resistance, about 100 hit points, and the inability to do more than 5 damage a blow.
- Final Fantasy games suffer from this one at times, especially when the Bonus Dungeon features Palette Swap versions of regular enemies who are stronger than the last boss. A recent offender is Crisis Core, where the SOLDIER missions feature a fairly limited palette of generic monsters who sometimes appear with boss-level stats as the missions get harder. Most egregious was a Mission tier in which a hard battle with a hologram of Sephiroth was followed by a much, much, MUCH harder battle with...a chicken.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind features two Expansion Packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. As they were designed for higher level characters than Morrowind's main quest, a number of enemies are as hard or harder than the final boss of that quest. The final boss of Morrowind is a millennia old god that three other deities were unable to defeat, and very few of the enemies in the expansions are anything nearly so spectacular.
- In Tales of Symphonia, one Bonus Boss turns out to be Celes, Zelos' sickly younger sister. Despite having spent her entire life in a cloister and having done none of the adventuring, fighting or anything that the party has, she's still tougher than most of the regular bosses in the game, which includes dragons, robotic guardians, and 4000-year old combat veterans with Magitek implants.
- And in the way of regular enemies, we have gems like starved convicts that turn out to be more powerful than Desian elite troopers.
- Surprisingly averted in Fallout 3, especially considering it was made by the makers of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a game infamous for leveling enemies with the player, so that at high levels you'd be traveling the countryside running into level 50 Goblins and "poor bandits" equipped with Daedric equipment worth several times their weight in gold. Almost all characters in Fallout 3 are of a fixed level, and your level merely determines what type of character you fight in an area (i.e. at high levels, you'd fight military-grade Sentry Bots instead of rent-a-cop grade Protectrons).
- Played straight in the Point Lookout DLC, where a level 30 player character capable of almost effortlessly slaughtering the Powered Armor wearing, plasma rifle-wielding Elite Mooks of the Enclave can get massacred by nearly naked Tribals and Swampfolk armed with 19th century repeating rifles and woodcutting axes who are capable of taking several shots in the face from a .44 Magnum before going down. And this is because they have an unblockable 35 damage on top of all their attacks for no reason at all. Fake Difficulty at it's finest.
- In The Witcher Kikimore are portrayed as pests throughout chapter 3, but can be difficult to take out at the start of the chapter, even though you have at this point killed supposedly much more powerful creatures.
- Not exactly fighting them at first, but in Dungeon Siege II, the Mordens in the first chapter are much weaker than ones that appear later.
- In Kingdom Hearts, Captain Hook, who is merely a pirate captain without any special powers and is often depicted as a Harmless Villain, has higher stats and HP than Jafar's genie form or giant Ursula.
- Lingering Sentiment (a Bonus Boss in the Final Mix of Kingdom Hearts II) has more HP, damage negation, and abilities then Terra could ever possibly gather. The bonus boss fight version of Roxas also has 12 more HP bars then Roxas could ever have when you played him.
- In Chain of Memories, Riku fights his way through Castle Oblivion backwards, so Level 1 Riku is dumped right into Hollow Bastion, traditionally one of the last worlds, if not the last world, in a typical Kingdom Hearts game. Suddenly, fearsome-looking Defenders, Wizards and Darkballs are reduced to being as defenseless as kitty cats.
- An obvious example would be all the Pokémon games. The farther you get through the game, the stronger the wild Pokémon become, in spite of there not being any logical reason for the strongest Pokémon to be the farthest from your home town. Particularly bad offenders are the gym leaders; supposedly eight of the strongest Pokémon trainers, and yet the first gym leader has two Pokémon, of level 12 and 14, while wild Pokémon of level 30 and over are common-place later in the game.
- The gym leader issue makes a bit more sense when you consider that the purpose of a gym leader is to gauge a trainer's strength and test them, as it's stated to be the case in the anime. If you're a beginning trainer, then they'll use a team befitting a beginner. If you're more experienced, then they'll start using their stronger pokemon. In later games, you can fight the gym leaders after facing the Elite 4, and the teams they use are strong enough to deserve their titles.
- Interestingly, Pokémon in places that can only be reached with Surf of other HMs that can only be received later in the games also generally have levels comparable to the level the trainer would be when they get said HM. So, you can have a bunch of level 5 Pokémon in grass on one route, and surf over one square to an island where there are level 20 Pokemon.
- In Skies of Arcadia, one of the Bonus Bosses are a trio of con-artist actors who are trying to capitalize on the party's fearsome reputation to scam people for money, and will fight you when you try to bring them in. Despite this definite civilian background, every single one of them have more HP than your entire party combined and possess variants of your own moves that are many times more powerful -- which raises the question of why they didn't simply become Air Pirates on their own instead.
- Another Bonus Boss is a young boy who is, by his own admission, a coward who abhors violence and would like to become a basket weaver instead of succeeding his late father into the air pirate business. Again, he is many times more endurable than the party combined and knows many of the highest-level spells for no adequately explained reason.
- City guards and soldiers in the Baldur's Gate series grow consistently more powerful as you go through the games and expansions, to the point that by the end, even basic infantry in the Tethyrian army are magically armed and armored supermen to keep up with the fact that your player character is more or less the biggest Badass on the planet by that point. Humorously, this means that the Amnish guards from Shadows of Amn could effortlessly dominate the Flaming Fist from Baldur's Gate... and the main plot of that game involved preventing a war between those two powers. Guess it's a good thing for the Gate that you succeeded, eh?
- Not really. With exception of named troops who are generally pretty exceptional, all the guards are actually around the same approximate level. Wealthier nations can out fit their troops better, but they also tend to send only what is required. The Flaming fist are a tough fight if they send a posse after you (their basic posse I might add), which are actually stronger then the initial troops Amn sends after you (not counting the Knights, as they're clearly high class elite forces). Oasis is the most blatant, as it's an army sent specifically to kill you, and with exception to the Leader, none are any stronger then normal troops, they just have SLIGHTLY better gear (that the main character is still most likely completely immune to, unless you started a fresh To B character).
- Chrono Cross has this on display too. Early in the game, you face what are billed as at worst Elite Mooks. Naturally, the teenage protagonist and the kind girl next door carve a bloody swath through them. These guys are about on par with mutant plant creatures nearby...and certainly no match for the actual generic enemies later on.
- And let's not forget that the most powerful of the dragoons is not the battle-ax wielding warrior or the muscled mountain of a gladiator, but a nine-year-old girl in a pretty dress, who has more Hit Points than the two others combined and deals more physical damage just by kicking you in the shin with her shoes.
- Even tabletop games are not immune to this. In 4e Dungeons and Dragons, there are some particularly eyebrow-raising enemies. One example, the Human Gladiator, is a level 14 Elite Soldier. This means this mere pit fighter is twice as powerful as an Angel of Protection, War Troll, or Stone Giant (all level 14 Standard Soldiers), and level more powerful than Skalmad the Troll King (13 Elite Soldier).
- To be fair, he is not a "mere" pit fighter - he is a badass gladiator who is a challenge for a party of level 14 characters, and therefore is reasonable as a powerful foe - thinking of him as basically being an NPC PC is about right.
- The Human Insane Noble - literally just a crazy upper class twit who runs around hitting people with a scepter - is level 23. In a game where player characters top out at 30. They're more powerful than most dragons.
- One of the most famous in 3rd ed. was a common house cat. Not a challenge to a PC, but one could easily maim a human peasant in the first round of combat.
- Exalted came within a hair's breadth of publishing stats for a rat that could kill farmers singlehandedly in one hit. Not a giant rat. A regular rat.
- In People's General, depicting a hypothetical war between China and most of the rest of the world starting in 2005, the designers compensated for weak AI by having Chinese units actually be stronger in terms of baseline stats compared to the more technologically advanced units fielded by the US, Russia, and other countries more highly developed than China. In the Western campaign, this was compounded by making most of the Chinese units the player faces ridiculously elite, fully overstrength and have an abundance of special leaders that conferred additional advantages.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, the Lucavi are stated to be powerful enough to battle armies single-handedly. So logically, they'd be ridiculously hard, right? Wrong; almost all Lucavi, save Belias and Elidibs, are very easy to defeat. Hell, more often than not their human forms are far harder as bosses.
- Belias is only even hard because of the demons he spawns with.
- A more specific example of the trope is that enemies in plot-based missions have fixed levels, while random encounters level with the player. At high levels you might be able to easily dispatch the multiple consecutive main villains in the final dungeon, but get slaughtered by random Level 99 monks and samurais while exploring the overworld.
- Happens on Super Robot Wars ocassionally. Who would've thought than the ZGMF-X13A Providence, a standard, if powerful Real Robot, had the same HP than Cosmic Horror Z-Master.