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In video games where your characters forms parties, you'll often be able to fill up the party relatively quickly, and then receive characters that are better than the ones you started out with or who fill different niches. The characters are well-developed and receive neat sidequests that allow you to get extra treasure or other bonuses.

Then this character shows up. He may have great abilities, but he's already missed out on most of the game. In practical terms, this means he's missed out on all the grinding you did earlier, assuming the game doesn't have some sort of automatic catch up mechanism -- and even if he does, his default stats for that level may be lackluster compared to the carefully hand-leveled other companions. He may have also arrived after a character who already fills his niche pretty well.

But even if the power divide isn't too bad and the character is really quite awesome at what he does, there's another factor. You've already played most of the way through the game with the characters you're currently using, so you're already emotionally attached to that party and comfortable with the current group dynamic. In addition, a character that comes to the party this late is less likely to have as much of an impact on the plot, or any cool sidequests to go on.

And, as a final straw, these guys might end up coming in at the same time for any New Game+ runs you might be allowed to do. Chrono Trigger's Magus might be fun to nuke the enemy with in the late part of the game... but hit New Game Plus, and he's gone until late yet again.

This is particularly a problem in games with Loads and Loads of Characters, where "late" can actually be quite early, leading to a lot of Overrated and Underleveled situations.

Differs from Can't Catch Up in that the characters were possibly never caught up to begin with.

Examples of Late Character Syndrome include:

  • Sarevok in Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. You get him at the beginning of the expansion pack, true, but if you're importing a saved game you probably already have a developed party that you'll prefer over him.
    • Possibly Imoen in Shadows Of Amn if you've gotten used to using a character with a similar party function by the time you get her back. This is also one reason why the game pushes Yoshimo into your party so heavily, because he'll automatically leave you at the point she joins you.
  • Several characters in the Suikoden series.
    • Eresh in Suikoden V is outclassed by the mages you already have when you finally get her.
    • Shoon and Hazuki, also from Suikoden V are great fighters, but arrive so late in the game that you'll probably already have others in their roles that fight as well as they do.
    • Sonya Shulen in the original. You recruit her, and then go to war over The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Could also apply to Gremio, as he only comes back if you recruit everyone (even Sonya) before starting the battle for The Very Definitely Final Dungeon
  • Magus in Chrono Trigger, especially if you get him for the first time on your second or later playthroughs.
  • Most fourth party members in Final Fantasy II even Leon get this, due to your main three getting most of the benefits of grinding.
  • Amarant in Final Fantasy IX, arguably. He joins your party late into the second disc, and there are party members who fill his niche quite well.
    • He's the only healer who can restore MP. Then again, most fights don't last long enough for MP to be an issue.
  • A problem with Strago in Final Fantasy VI. He shows up late before the end of the world, meaning by the time you have him, everyone else has a considerable amount of Magic already built up, and he's a Blue Mage, meaning all the monsters with useful skills are behind you. Same goes for Relm.
  • Similarly, the new Jobs introduced in the GBA remake of Final Fantasy V are only available at the end of the story. One of them, the Necromancer, gets new abilities by having the Necromancer personally kill certain enemies, meaning the only way to build them up is to backtrack and grind, and even then they'll only see real use in the final dungeon.
    • Necromancer is probably the ultimate example, because you have to complete the first of the 2 post-game bonus dungeons just to unlock it - a dungeon much harder than the final dungeon of the regular game, obviously - basically all that's left after unlocking it is a boss rush (the OTHER bonus "dungeon")
  • This applies to Pokémon, because although they may have a similar level in the last cave or whatever, the Pokemon you catch up there do not have the Effort Value points that your other Pokemon have, meaning you have to train them from the start to boost their stats.
    • Wild Pokemon tend to be underleveled compared to your squad.
    • Every legendary pokemon as well, unless you put great effort into catching them as soon as possible, a difficult task.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Oghren suffers from this because Orzammar, the area where you recruit him from, is one of the toughest areas in the game and thus most players don't complete it until late in the game. It doesn't help that as a two-handed melee damage dealer he occupies exactly the same role as Sten. The developers have admitted that the reason why he's the only companion who returns as a playable character in the Awakening expansion pack is to make up for this. However in Awakening this ends up being inverted, where most players tending to replace Oghren with the Spirit of Justice, the final party member.
    • Not to mention Loghain, whom you get to recruit only after you've completed most of the game. Of course, he's specifically meant to replace Alistair and gameplay-wise serves the same purpose as the party tank.
  • In the original Breath of Fire, your last party member is Mogu a mole-like creature you have to save from being trapped within his own nightmare. The only reason you need Mogu is to make use of dig command to find treasure and transformations (for Karn) on the world map and once to perform a vital plot function. Dig doesn't need to be leveled in battle.
  • Party members in Neverwinter Nights 2 level up automatically to match you when they join your party. There's still a problem; their automatic leveling doesn't allow you to select skills, feats, and spells known for them. They'll always take the same bad feats or useless spells known. Ammon Jerro suffers the worst, as he joins very late in the game and automatically chooses some truly terrible invocations. He's a Required Party Member for much of the final act, but you get almost no chances to customize him and fix his invocation choices. Fortunately, this can all be corrected with a player-made mod.
  • To some extent in Valkyrie Profile Silmeria. Although the characters who join in the last chapter are all more plot-important and have better stats and equipment, they all start knowing very few skills, if any. And because they're at a fairly high level, it's harder to teach them skills (skills get learned faster when fighting monsters at a higher level than you).
    • Reversed in the first game's hard mode. Every character you pick up starts at level 1, but if you have the right items, you can level them up carefully to be ridiculously strong. Even better, some of the most advantageous Skills are only available in late game, meaning you can get started on those right away with the new characters and only give them the best skills, rather than use up skill points on lesser abilities that your other characters have.
  • Legion in Mass Effect 2. Whereas all of the other characters are recruited in the first half of the game, Legion is a surprise recruitment made almost immediately before the final mission for most players. The only power he has which Tali doesn't is Geth Shield Boost (temporarily boosts his shields), and she has a more useful equivalent (Energy Drain, which drains enemies' shields and boosts her own). He's a talented sniper... but so are Garrus and Thane. He's a good choice for the tech specialist...but so are Tali and Kasumi. He's good at taking down synthetic enemies... but there aren't any synthetic enemies in the final mission. You can recruit him earlier in the game if you choose... but that locks you out of the Golden Ending. (None of this stopped him from becoming one of the more popular party members.)
    • It helps that you are still able to allocate all of his skill points and that most players still have DLC set after the end of the game.
  • Psylocke is a playable character in the first X Men Legends, but she doesn't appear in the game until you're about 2/3's of the way towards completion. She has several powerful moves and abilities, but by the time she is acquired, the vast majority of bosses and mooks are resistant to mental attacks. As a result, There's little point in using her when most of the other characters lack said disadvantage. On top of that, the other psychic party members are Jean Grey and Emma Frost.
  • In Planescape: Torment, Nordom, Ignus and Fall-From-Grace are only available from about halfway through the game, with significant sub-questing required to add Nordom or, to a lesser extent, Ignus to your party. They mostly make up for it by being highly memorable and entertaining characters. However, Vhailor is only discovered even later in the game, when you've probably got your party line-up well finalised, and can actually be missed entirely. As a result, he often doesn't make the cut.
  • In .hack//G.U., you get Shino at the end of Vol. 3. You get Tabby after getting halfway through the Forest of Pain, a 100-floor dungeon. Finally, you can get Natsume at any time during the game, but you have to find and defeat her and all the other Chaotic PKs in order to get her Member Adress, and she's around level 130, which is the average level to end the main storyline at. By the time you've gotten them, you've already cleared the main storyline and most side quests, and Shino and Tabby's roles are already filled by Atoli and Pi. Natsume's role would be filled by Alkaid, but you temporarily lose Alkaid in the middle of the second game (shortly after getting her) and when you get her back, she's half the level of everyone else you have access to, making her pretty much useless. You might could also count Haseo as filling Natsume's role, since he also has access to Twin Blades.
  • One of the factors that mitigated the potential awesomeness of Cloud Strife appearing in Final Fantasy Tactics was the fact that he joins the party at Level 1 in the fourth and final chapter of the game. On top of this, his unique abilities require him to use a pretty weak sword, and the more powerful ones have insane charge times, meaning the player will have to grind Time Mage (because of its Short Charge ability) to make him viable.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has this for the last quarter of the game with Isaac and his party when they join your party after you complete the Jupiter Lighthouse. By the time you get them, you're already on your way to the Mars Lighthouse. Your new party members aren't very different from your main party anility-wise, so you will have little reason to swap out characters unless they start getting knocked out in battle or you grinded the hell out of Isaac's team in the original.
    • Golden Sun Dark Dawn Also has the same problem with your last three party members, who join in after three quarters of the game is finished. By the time you get the final party member, you're already on your way to obtaining items you need to tackle the Final Dungeon. This is lampshaded when the Big Bad shows up before the Final Battle and the party reacts angrily to him while lately acquired party member has no idea who he is since she wasn't with your group from the start.
  • Terry joins the party pretty late in Dragon Quest VI. It's good that he mastered Warrior and Martial Arts jobs and wearing strong equipment. After Terry joins, you can recruit Lizzy, the Dragon Hacksaurus who is very useful in the party.
    • In the original, Terry didn't have anything mastered and he was 5 levels lower to boot. Thankfully, the remake gave him a few buffs as described above.
  • Warriors Orochi suffers from this problem constantly. When you unlock a character, even if said character is said to be a major Badass like in the case of Lu Bu, said character starts at level 1 with their basic weapon and none of their abilities. This is a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, of course, but it does seem a bit strange, not to mention frustrating when you can't take the cool new character you just unlocked in Stage 7 of the campaign on to the final battle without some major grinding.
  • Wasteland features a few great characters in the late game, from Darwin Village and even in the Final Dungeon. By then your base rangers are engines of near anything-killing and you've got either decently-leveled NPCs or clones to pad out the ranks.
  • A lot of these appear in the Fire Emblem series:
    • One example is what the fandom calls the "Est" archetype. The most notable examples are the archetype-namer from the first game, Corpul from the fourth, Nino from the seventh, and Pelleas (and to a lesser extent, Tormod and his friends) from the tenth.
    • For the "pretty good already, but lacks time to level up", Ena in the ninth game and Stefan, Oliver (although he's more of a Lethal Joke Character), Bastian, Renning, and all of the dragon laguz in the tenth game apply, as do Karla in the seventh game and her brother, Karel, in the sixth. The latter is an especially interesting case--he serves the effective role of the Gotoh, but unlike most examples of that archetype (except for the laguz royals in the Tellius games), he's a weapon-user, not a magic-user, and he's also not at the maximum level. He shows up one level after the final level of a non-perfect run and can only be recruited by Fir or Bartre, who are his niece and his brother-in-law, respectively, his stats are very good (in some stats, likely better than the characters of his class that were raised from a low level, especially in normal mode), and he averts the usual "pre-promoted units have horrible growth rates" by having the best growths of any character in any of the games. Oh, but he's already Level 19 in a promoted class, so those insane growth rates will only trigger once.
    • In the Fire Emblem Elibe seventh game you can recruit Renault in the 3rd to last chapter. He has a very interesting backstory and comes with a Fortify Staff, but it's so late at this point you will throw him in the back of the party after recruiting him.
    • In general, characters that join on the last five or so chapters of a Fire Emblem game will suffer from this unless they're a Game Breaker or something.
  • The better you score in The Reconstruction, the worse your problems with this trope will be, since getting your score high enough will provide significant stat bonuses to all characters you've so far recruited. Play on maximum difficulty (with the highest score multiplier), and there's a decent chance you'll get all possible bonuses before you've even recruited the last three characters.
  • Regal in Tales of Symphonia joins earlier than most final recruits, but it's likely that you already have a party setup you like. It doesn't help that unlike every other party member besides Zelos, you are never required to use him.
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