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A form of Power-Up in Role Playing Games with a Class and Level System, whereupon a character can choose to advance from a basic starting class to a more powerful, but more specialized class. What distinguishes a Prestige Class from a regular one is that you must have experience in another class before you can gain access to the Prestige Class, thus creating a natural progression of power.

The trope namer is 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons[1], where Prestige Classes would become available after fulfilling certain class-specific prerequisites. The degree of specialisation required would vary from class to class; one Prestige Class -- the Fochlucan Lyrist -- requires taking levels in three separate base classes. The Fochlucan Lyrist class itself is an updated version of the original way you became a Bard in 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons, which involved a maddening process so convoluted and subject to chance that it handily explains why most Bards these days are Chaotic.

A more recent progression (in games with single-class characters) has been to unlock Prestige Classes when the player raises at least one character to the prerequisite level. The player can then create a new character with the Prestige Class.

Examples of Prestige Class include:


Adventure Game

  • In any of the Quest for Glory sequels, one can upgrade to the Paladin class after importing a character from a previous game, if they've gained enough honor points. All classes can do this, but you can't have done any of the thieving side quests. And really, they're the most fun.
    • You can earn Paladinhood during gameplay in games 2 or 3. Changing your class while importing to the next game was a backup plan by Sierra in case the previous game's character save wasn't being read correctly.

First-Person Shooter

  • Call of Duty 4, an FPS with RPG elements in online multiplayer, allows you to enter Prestige Mode when you level up one level past the cap (level 55). While it doesn't necessarily enable your character to get more advanced weapons or perks (in fact, it brings you back to level 1), it gives you a special rank badge meant to tell other players, "this guy is awesome". You can do this each time you pass level 55, getting a new badge each time to indicate how many times you've "prestiged". Though, this also there to give players additional challenges once they reach maximum level.
    • Same in World At War, except this time using prestige will give you an extra weapon slot, up to five of them, making it not a total waste of time.
    • As of Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, more bonuses are provided. The former offers hidden emblems and titles for your callsign[2] and extra challenges, the latter also gives the same thing (but in less quantity), access to prestige-only servers, extra custom class slots, bonus face camo, and lets you buy golden gun camouflage after a certain prestige level. Though, in addition to going back to level 1, the player also loses the unlocked pro perks and has to redo the challenges to unlock them again. Thankfully, various challenges are reset each time you prestiged, so you can get XP bonuses for doing them again.
  • The hot-swappable class mod kits in Borderlands count. Each of the playable classes can use six different kinds of mods that each specialize the character in a different direction. To mention a few of Roland's classes, he has the option of turning into a Heavy Gunner with skill bonuses and notable increases in magazine sizes, firerates and damage outputs with all weapons. Support Gunners grant slow ammo regeneration with skill bonuses focused on improving Roland's turret into a health/ammunition dispenser. Leaders grant extra experience for the entire party along with better Combat Medic skills, Tacticians improve the party's survivability, Commandos are resilient shotgun specialists and so on.

MMORPGs

  • Many, many Korean RPGs, particularly of the free-to-play kind, have the characters start out as classless, go through a lengthy and boring tutorial phase with few skills, before allowing them to progress to a generalized specialty (like Warrior, Wizard etc.) before letting them progress further into specialized classes (such as Fire Wizard, or Spear Warrior). Examples include:
    • Dream of Mirror
    • Ragnarok Online gives you the option of advancing into second and third stage classes, depending on what your first stage class was.
    • Flyff
    • Rohan Online
    • Lineage 2
  • World of Warcraft has 3 talent trees for each class that basically acts like this, although it's not as restrictive. Still, most of the popular "specs" focuses on one tree and the respective aspect of the class it represents. For example, a Warlock can spec into Affliction for powerful curses, Demonology for stronger pets, or Destruction for stronger direct damage. Each type still has all basic skills available, but they aren't used to the same degree. Those that are tend to be boosted by different means for each.
    • Starting in the third expansion, Cataclysm, talents will follow this trope more explicitly. Previously, talent points could be spent in any amount in any tree. While in practice, specs usually favored one tree, it wasn't required. In Cataclysm, players will have to explicitly choose one tree to specialize in before they are allowed to spend talent points. A specialization grants extra abilities from the start, but restricts the player from spending points in other trees until high levels.
    • The second expansion also introduced the Death Knight Prestige Hero Class, which doesn't in fact fit these tropes - you have to have reached a certain level to create one, but it's a new character that doesn't override any of your existing ones.
  • City of Villains uses this for its Epic Archetypes - a player begins as a Wolf Spider or Blood Widow, then promotes into Crab Spider/Bane Spider or Fortunata/Night Widow respectively. They get access to new powers from their chosen path as well as having access to all of the basic powers.
    • In fact, you are expected to pick a path at level 24, as you will soon run out of basic powers to choose. Not that it hasn't stopped some players from making high-level Wolf Spiders by taking every Wolf Spider power, taking the Bane Spider path and just a few of its powers, and then filling in the remaining power slots with generic pool powers available to all archetypes. This is often called the Huntsman build (non-derogatory), as Huntsman NPCs are basically super Wolf Spiders.
    • By using a character respec, a player can drop all of the powers from one path and move to the other if they decided that they wanted to, say, be a Bane Spider instead of a Crab or a Night Widow instead of a Fortunata.
      • The game now includes the ability to select between multiple builds, allowing a player to have one build as their primary but the option to switch at will (well, at a trainer every fifteen minutes) to the other as their secondary.
    • For that matter, those Epic Archetypes and their earlier City of Heroes counterparts, Kheldians, are unlocked by getting a villain or hero (respectively) to level 20. Both differ from the standard Archetypes by having full in-story concepts (most of the time) and a more focused power selection, but with more variety (if that makes any sense).
      • A Kheldian can be built to either be a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades, but going the jack route can leave you mediocre in everything if you spread your enhancement slots too thinly.
    • Issue 19 introduced the Incarnate System, which gives level 50 characters of any class new ways to expand their capabilities.
  • Tabula Rasa uses this - players begin as the Recruit, giving them lightning bolts and basic firearms and armor training, and promote at level 5 into either Specialist (support) or Soldier (front line combat), and promote twice more from those two classes.
  • Atlantica Online, an MMO, has a similar concept: When a player brings a character of a base class to Level 100, they may roll a second character as the Chainsaw Maniac class, a very powerful class with no obvious weaknesses.
    • Also, When mercenaries reach a certain level, you can upgrade them with crystals at lower levels and jewels at higher levels. This gives them higher stats and a new appearance.
  • Nexus War uses something like this for its class system. Every character starts out in the Mortal class and has access to the basic skills. At level 10 one can take a 2nd-tier class depending on where you are on the Karma Meter (good, neutral, evil), and at level 20 can take one of three 3rd-tier classes depending on which 2nd-tier class was chosen.
  • Final Fantasy XI has "Advanced Jobs", which require you to reach Lv.30 in any of the six basic jobs before you can undertake the Side Quests to unlock them. Although the Advanced Jobs offer more variability in terms of play-style, it's worth noting that the original Advanced Jobs were much more specialized than the basic jobs (Paladin was a strongly defense-focused version of the warrior, while Dark Knight was a strongly-offensive version of the warrior, for example). Expansions added Jobs that were just plain different (Bards and Dancer, while primarily buffing or debuffing focused, didn't really offshoot from the Red Mage, the primary buff/debuff class, for example).
  • Final Fantasy XIV allows players the option of unlocking "jobs" once they level base classes high enough (for example, leveling Thaumaturge allows you to unlock Black Mage), which grant new skills, different stats, and different equipment compatibility at the cost of restricting how many skills you can use from other classes. These can be toggled on and off at will, with base classes being designed for solo play while jobs are specialized for party play.
  • Every class in Star Wars: The Old Republic has two advanced classes, acquired at level 10, that open up new abilities and equipment options.
    • The Sith Warrior/Jedi Knight can become a Marauder/Sentinel to gain the ability to dual-wield lightsabers and specialize more in dishing out damage, or they can become a Juggernaut/Guardian to gain access to personal shield generators and become really, really tough.
    • The Sith Inquisitor/Jedi Consular can become an Assassin/Shadow to gain double-bladed lightsabers and powers of stealth, or they can become a Sorcerer/Sage to get more healing and direct-attack Force powers.
    • The Bounty Hunter can become a Powertech and focus on shields and flamethrowers, or he can become a Mercenary and gain the ability to dual-wield blaster pistols and more healing powers.
    • The Trooper can become a Vanguard to focus on defensive tactics and shields, or a Commando to focus on heavy weapons and healing.
    • The Imperial Agent can become a Sniper for better range and ranged attacks, or an Operative for stealth, backstabs, and healing.
    • The Smuggler can become a Gunslinger to dual-wield blaster pistols and become more effective at using them, or a Scoundrel to focus more on shotguns and healing.

Role Playing Game

  • Final Fantasy is a frequent user of this:
    • Final Fantasy I had each class advance to a more powerful version after a "class change".
      • However, rather than becoming more specialized, the class upgrades offered many characters a wider array of options than they had originally.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics had all of its classes unlocked by gaining levels in weaker classes, so every mighty Summoner, Lancer or Calculator had to start as a humble Squire or Chemist. Its various spinoffs had classes that could only be accessed by acquiring "A-skills" in other classes. The most powerful Viera class in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Assasin, could only be unlocked with a significant amount of training in two other prestige classes, which collectively required skills from all three basic classes.
  • Beyond the Beyond works the same was as Final Fantasy 1 above.
  • Wizardry had four: Bishop, Samurai, Lord and Ninja. At least, until the final games, when they became base classes.
    • Even in the first game, it was technically possible to start a character off as any of those but Ninja, though it required very good rolls.
  • Dragon Warrior Quest III offered the Sage class, which requires a special quest to unlock; or a leveled up Fool.
    • In Dragon Quest VI and Dragon Quest VII, the player could choose to train in classes at Dharma Temple/Alltrades Abbey after a certain plot point. Sufficient training in a sufficient number of classes unlocks better classes, and in VII sufficient training in a sufficient number of those classes unlocks even better classes. And in both games sufficient training in all of the best classes unlocks the super class, Hero (except for the protagonist, who only needs one of the best classes).
    • Dragon Quest IX featured six classes that could be unlocked by completing certain sidequests. Unusually, the unlockable classes are merely different from the default ones, not necessarily better: for example, the Paladin has awesome defense and can take hits for other party members, but the default Martial Artist has excellent Speed and can build Tension to boost their attacks; and the Sage has both the Mage's attack spells and the Priest's healing, but the latter two specialize in each and can get better spells than the Sage can. The exception to this is the Luminary class, which is explicitly known as Minstrel+.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3 featured a class upgrade system in which each of the six playable characters could eventually upgrade to a "light" or "dark" version of their starting class, and then near the end of the game could upgrade to a "light" or "dark" version of that.
  • Mass Effect offers the player a mission on Luna when they reach level 20. Completing the mission lets you specialize in advanced versions of your current class.
    • This is present, but handled differently in Mass Effect 2. Characters can level up every skill in the game as high as four, at which point they select one of two options for the "evolved" version of that skill. This means that the advanced classes from the first game (such as Shock Trooper, Commando, etc.) are still available, as are several other options.
  • Dungeon Siege II has two in the expansion, Fist of Stone and Blood Assassin, which requires certain amount of skills in 2 classes to be able to unlock the skills in these classes.
  • In the Bard's Tale trilogy, spellcasters start as a Conjurer or Magician. About halfway through gaining the class's spells, they can choose to switch to the other class or become a Sorcerer (or continue and switch classes later on, which is better as they can't switch back). With enough experience in two classes, they can switch to Wizard. With enough experience in all four, they can become an Archmage (an official class starting with the second game). Under the right circumstances, an Archmage can become a Destiny Knight (should be "the", but you can make multiples). In the third game, an Archmage can become a Chronomancer (and one will have to, as you need their planar transport spells). Also, the various non-spellcasters gain a way to become Geomancers. These last two specialties are the only ones which require giving up any attributes from the previous class.
  • Golden Sun's classes upgraded according to the number and type of Djinn attributed to any character. Thus, you would go Squire->Knight->Gallant->Lord->Slayer with all Venus Djinn on a Venus character, or Brute->Ruffian->Savage->Barbarian->Berserker->Chaos Lord, with Mars and Venus djinn on the same character. And then there are the Ninja, Samurai, and equipped-item classes...
  • Dragon Age: Origins has a choice of four (six with the expansion) specializations available for each basic class (Warrior, Rogue, Mage) which only have to be unlocked once to be available on all subsequent playthroughs. Specializations offer a minor stat bonus and makes a few extra talents available. The Grey Warden is free to pick two of his/her choice at levels 7 and 14 but most of your other party members already have one set and can only pick one more at level 14. Sten kinda gets screwed since he can only pick one specialization.
    • Dragon Age II handles it differently: all three class-specific specializations are unlocked from the start... for Hawke. Who can only learn two, at levels 7 and 14. None of the companions gets them, although each one (except Bethany and Carver Hawke originally) gets an additional skill tree unique to them (such as Anders' healing-based powers, Aveline's bodyguard talents, and Merrill's blood/nature magic-oriented spells).
      • The latest patch gives Bethany and Carver the Force Mage and Templar specializations that are available to Hawke in the corresponding base class if they survive the first act and return in the third.
  • The spin-off Ragnarok DS has Shaman and Dark Knight prestige classes. Shaman focuses on heal and summon, while Dark Knight has a lot of Cast From Hit Points abilities.
  • Pokémon takes this to the extreme with evolution, and the myriad ways to do so, such as reaching a certain level, achieving a bond with the player and leveling up, leveling up near a certain place, exposure to a certain stone, trading, etc. Some of them evolve once (Growlithe-Arcanine), some evolve twice (Squirtle-Wartortle-Blastoise), and some, like Eevee, can branch off into several seven different Pokemon.
  • Valkyria Chronicles' five character classes (excluding tanks) each advance to "Elite" rank after hitting a certain level of combat training. All Elites realize new battle potentials; a few classes earn extra bonuses. For example, the Elite Scout can now hurl grenades with a special launcher instead of by hand, sending them much farther.
    • VCII took this to further extremes with four prestige classes for each base class. As an example, the base Scout can upgrade to either a Scout Veteran (better stats than Scout) or Sniper (worse stats, but gets a sniper rifle). From there, a Scout Veteran can upgrade to a Scout Elite (even better stats) or a Heavy Scout (stronger weapon, grenade launcher, but less movement), while a Sniper can upgrade to either a Sniper Elite (multi-shot sniper rifle, slightly better stats than Sniper) or an Anti-Tank sniper (gets anti-tank sniper rifle). Every class level has a unique ability that the character can learn and use while in a different class level (you can only equip one learned ability however), and typically the best learned abilities come from the top-tier specializations.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the Player Character can enter a prestige class upon reaching 15th level. Depending on whether they have been playing as a Light Side character or a Dark Side character up to that point, they will be offered a choice of three Jedi classes or three Sith classes. The Jedi Weaponmaster and Sith Marauder can deal extra damage in combat and enjoy damage reduction, the Jedi Watchman and Sith Assassin can turn invisible and use a sneak attack, and the Jedi Master and Sith Lord have enhanced Force powers and can either buff their allies or penalize their opponents, respectively.
  • Being based on 3rd and 3.5 edition D&D respectively, Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 included a number of prestige classes, some drawn from the Dungeon Master's Guide or other supplements, some from Forgotten Realms sourcebooks, and at least one (Neverwinter Nine) completely homemade. With the two expansion packs installed, NWN2 has 23 in all. Due to code limitations, the NWN prestige classes sometimes differ slightly from their pen-and-paper counterparts: for instance the Blackguard has two spell-like abilities rather than an entire spell list.
  • Might and Magic IX modified the class promotion system of the previous three games so that one had to make a choice of becoming one thing or the other, and then made the base classes into a choice between Might and Magic, with the old classes (and therefore the old specializations on specific parts of Might or Magic) brought in at the first or second promotion.
  • Etrian Odyssey : Ronin and Hexer in I, Shogun and Yggdroid in III.

Third-Person Shooter

  • Gears of War 3 now includes the ability to prestige in the Fenix Rising DLC (and only if you bought the DLC). The rewards you get are purely cosmetic though; you get a new rank icon color and some new gun skins.

Turn-Based Strategy

  • Ogre Battle has nearly EVERY human class be a prestige class. Ogre Battle 64 has every human class EXCEPT Soldier as a prestige class.
    • Although this changes in the Tactics Ogre series. Wherein you have base classes and advanced classes that are prestige classes. They were segregated by gender, but less so in the Gaiden Game Knight of lodis, in which you could have male and female archers (Limited to females in Let us Cling together), male and female soldiers (Replacing the "Amazon" class), male and female knights (Which were limited to males in let us Cling Together). While Knight of Lodis still does have gender-only classes (Valkyries, Witches, and Sirens are female only, whereas Dragoon, Swordmaster, and Warlock are male only)
      • Tactics Ogre was actually a little more tiered than that. There was also the transmigrated classes, such as Angel Knight and Lich, which were a one-way path. And some, like Knights, were actually more accessible early game, making some like Dragoons and Sirens more prestige classes.
  • Wild Arms XF also opened up new classes in a similar manner to Final Fantasy III.
  • Every humanoid class in Disgaea has several improved versions that are unlocked when a previous version of the class hits a certain level. There are also about a dozen "hidden" classes that become available when several other classes reach the appropriate threshold.
  • "Promotion classes" in Fire Emblem can be reached after a character levels up enough, though some require a character to have a special item.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic IV has basic hero classes which have one specialised skill each (Scouting, Tactics, Nobility, Combat, and five schools of magic), and advanced hero classes which have 2 (or more) specialised skills and get a bonus ability on top. For example, if your hero masters both Scouting and Tactics, they'll become a Field Commander and give a damage bonus to any creature that fights alongside them, or if they master Death and Nature magic, they become a Demonologist and gain unique demon-summoning spells.
  • Shining Force, as well as all the other games in the series, allowed you to promote your characters upon attaining a certain level (10 in the first game, 20 in Shining Force 2). In the case of the first Shining Force, the characters stats actually dropped when you promoted your character, but this was quickly overshadowed by the fact that stat growth for promoted characters is much faster.

Non-video game examples:

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons had several variations on this right from the start:
    • The Rules Cyclopedia, the final version of "basic" D&D, had a few of these. Neutral Clerics could become Druids at level 9, Lawful Fighters could become Paladins, Chaotic Fighters could become Avengers, and Neutral Fighters, for lack of any better ideas, could become Knights.
    • 1st Edition AD&D had the Bard class, which required levels as a fighter, thief, and druid before even beginning your bardic career. Note that switching classes like this was otherwise not allowed (or at least far more limited). The Bard would become a standard class in later editions.
    • 3rd Edition introduced Prestige Classes proper, which were accessible to any character with the proper qualifications (attack bonus, casting levels, class features, specific experiences, etc.) and whose benefits ranged from combining classes to extreme specialization to sheer quirkiness. Thanks to 3rd's relatively loose (and often ignored) restrictions on multiclassing and the sheer number of Prestige Classes published (782 according to the official website), game breaking often ensued.
    • 4th Edition streamlined things by allowing 11th level characters to take a single Paragon Path, meant to complement existing class or race abilities. 21st level characters can take an Epic Destiny, which are usually less class-specific, much broader in scope, and detail how the character attains Immortality: literal, Legacy, Shrouded in Myth, fame...
  • D20 Modern's core rules have basic classes and Advanced classes, which are synonymous with D&D classes and Prestige classes. Then, in the expansions (such as Urban Arcana), there are Prestige classes, which require levels in Advanced classes. Each tier of classes is more tightly focused than the one below, granting extraordinary specialization at the cost of general utility.
  • Star Wars D20 had a number of prestige classes as well. Knights of the Old Republic II, being based on the same rule-set, also incorporated these. Saga Edition has continued the trend.
  • Most of White Wolf's New World of Darkness RPGs offer a similar option for characters, usually restricted either by their innate type or by their sociopolitical group.
    • Vampire characters, for example, can join (or create, if they're more powerful) a Bloodline -- an offshoot of their original Clan with an extra weakness, but with access to another Discipline.
    • Werewolf characters can join Lodges with various requirements and benefits.
    • Mage characters can attune their souls to different Legacies (usually based on the innate Path of the wizard in question, although many will also allow members of a specific Order to join).
    • Promethean characters can develop an Athanor based on their Lineage.
    • Changelings can join an Entitlement.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Characters start with basic "careers" which are essentially classes. Once they meet certain prerequisites, they can then take advanced careers, which usually unlock fairly good abilities/powers. While there is some validity to the idea that the advanced careers are more like basic classes in other games, WFRP does something different than Dungeons and Dragons. D&D allows player characters to become Big Goddamn Heroes wielding an Infinity+1 Sword in each hand in a story of High Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy. In WFRP, the PC's face similar threats, but they're the protagonists of a Low Fantasy way towards the Cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
    • As a side note, it might be interesting to note that the mechanic of advanced careers was there in WFRP 1st edition, published in 1986. If considered a member of this trope, WFRP predates the trope namer by fourteen years.
    • Dark Heresy features a similar mechanic, up to and including having the player characters become an Inquisitor with virtually unlimited authority in that game. The characters who reach the ranks of Ascended characters have new rules applied to them, then pick up an extremely illustrious (for the setting) career. Sadly, this change happens "offscreen" and involves the player just adjusting their character sheet.

Web Comics

  • In Order of the Stick, Spoony Bard Elan takes a level in the Dashing Swordsman prestige class (which happens to synergise extremely well with his stats), after saying he thought prestige classes were just for munchkins and clerics.
    • Dashing Swordsman is now frequently homebrewed as a consequence, to different results.
  • In 8-bit Theater, the Light Warriors undergo a class change/upgrade as per Final Fantasy I. However, rather than becoming more generalized as in the game, they gain specific powers (Red Mage can mimic allies, Fighter further specializes in defense plus sword fights faster, Thief can throw virtually anything as an attack plus gains all sorts of ninjutsu, and Black Mage can learn any enemy attack he survives).
    • Which makes Black Mage a Black & Blue Mage heh heh
    • However, Sarda depowers them near the end, with Thief's Ninja class ended up stolen by his past self.

Notes

  1. where they were initially introduced as a tool for the DM for customizing NPCs
  2. Basically your gamer tag with some stuff
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