Usually when we talk about a character being unbalanced, we mean that it makes the game less fun. Fox makes Smash Bros. Melee less fun; you either have to play Fox, play one of his counters, or get your ass handed to you by an experienced player. He’s flatly better than the rest of the cast and it makes the one of the big draws the the game, playing as your favorite Nintendo characters, less viable.
RPGs are different. Unlike the fighting game or the RTS, RPGs are and have always been a single player experience. So when a character is unbalanced in an RPG, and leaves the rest of the cast in the dust, all that means is the game just got easier. And while having one character take the challenge out of a game might be frustrating, all of us have days where we say to ourselves “I want to snap something like a twig. Do things so unholy the world itself shall tremble!”
And some great characters for doing just that might be…
10. Cidolfas Orlandu (Final Fantasy Tactics) [Playstation, 1998]
Breaks the Game by: having the skills of three other characters.
Good ol’ Thunder God Cid. So you’ve been struggling through Final Fantasy Tactics. Having enemy summoners blast your whole team at once, ninjas throwing swords from way further than you can hit them, and oh god Weigraf. And then a walking demigod wanders by and casually solos the rest of the game for you.
What makes Orlandu great is a combination of factors. Sure, the fact he brings the best weapon in the game with him plays a part, but even without that he has tools no other cast member can match. Those Holysword skills that Agrias was using until she got too slow and immobile to wield? Yeah, Cid’s got that… with a boatload more strength, better equipment options, and a lot of movement to back him up. Having trouble with healing? Night Sword, baby!
Held back by: being in Final Fantasy Tactics.
Make no mistake, Holyswordsman is probably the best single class in FFT, and unlike his main competition like Ninja and Calculator, the game hands you Cid on a silver platter. But Final Fantasy Tactics isn’t about the strength of a single class, it’s about blending them all into an absurd and broken whole. Ultimately, Orlandu’s usefulness is dependent upon how well you play. If you get FFT, really understand what the game wants from you, and gave Ramza, oh, MP Switch/Move MP UP/97 Brave/Two Swords and stick him with some of those shiny knight swords over in his Squire class, then Cid’s probably gonna be warming the bench because the game’s about 75% over when he joins up. But that first time through the game, learning the ropes? Definitely an unholy gamebreaker. And thus he earns the #10 spot.
9. Kadabra (Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow Version) [Gameboy, 1998]
Breaks the game by: Pyschic types having no counters.
If you’ve ever played Pokémon, you may know that the game is built around the idea of resistances and weaknesses. Water beats Fire beats Grass beats Water, right? But way back in the beginning, they hadn’t really thought the system out. Oh, sure, Electric loses to Ground but beats Flying and Water, all sorts of checks and balances existed, but with 150 characters, many of them designed to be obsolete after certain segments of the game, others designed to be completely absurd but nigh-impossible to get, there was a lot of room for error. And boy howdy, did RBY have some error.
But the biggest one was the Psychic type. See, they were meant to be weak to Bug and Ghost. But nobody remembered to make any Bug or Ghost moves that did actual damage. They just stopped getting better at around 20 power in a game where you got 60 power attacks at level 12. So aside from having no relevant weaknesses, both Fighting and Poison types, by far the most common in the game among enemy trainers, are weak to Psychic. What makes Kadabra stand out among its peers? Well, for starters it’s early. You can get one before fighting Misty in the second gym with a little persistence, and leveling your Abra up to 16 isn’t a big deal since you’re going to be leveling up something to fight Misty no matter what; she’s the first boss likely to take you down. But beyond that, Kadabra is what you call a glass cannon; lots of speed, lots of damage, not a lot of durability. But wait! In RBY, the same stat that runs his deliciously absurd Psychic damage is also his magic defense! Physical attacks? Oh, right, he learns Reflect and cuts that damage in half. Kadabra learns Recover too? That’s just silly!
Held back by: game design.
Now, remember what I said before about built-in obsolescence? Kadabra is actually meant to be hit by that. See, it’s actually the middle stage of a three part evolution, and as such has relatively weak stats among fully evolved mons. While those stats are largely in the right place, eventually the game does start going all out and has a fighting chance to be faster than Kadabra. Once that happens, enemies can actually capitalize on his low defense and perhaps take him out. While a well-trained Kadabra will never be a drag on your team, he won’t have the same dominating prowess as before.
Unless of course you can trade it and upgrade to Alakazam. Yeeeeeeesss.
8. Reyson (Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn) [Wii, 2007]
Breaks the game by: being your best character … and second, third, and fourth best. No matter who it is!
If you’re familiar with Fire Emblem, but didn’t get around to the Gamecube or Wii editions, then understand that Reyson is the bard/dancer of that game. For those not familiar, the FE bard or dancer (it’s the same class, just different genders) are your support unit, and their primary ability is granting a turn to a unit who has already acted. Even if you don’t need the obvious tactical applications, such as allowing one healer to aide multiple units or giving slow characters a chance to catch up by moving twice, a bard/dancer backing up your best attack effectively gives you two copies of them.
That’s not all Reyson does, however. Radiant Dawn has multiple classes of character collectively called Laguz, who alternate between weak human-esque forms and badass animal forms throughout battle. Reyson is one such, a Heron. While in his human form, he acts just like a standard bard. As a Heron, though, things get nuts. In addition to improved stats, and gaining greater mobility in the form of extra range and flight, as a Heron Reyson doesn’t just give another turn to one unit, but to every unit surrounding him. With careful planning you can get four additional actions via Reyson’s abilities, and in a small scale tactical game where you can deploy 10-15 units who each get to act once a turn, that’s what you call a thing. A glorious, evil thing.
Held back by: his nature.
But as devastating as Reyson can be, at the end of the day his value is completely dependent on the rest of the team. If you’re using highly mobile units who leave Reyson in the dust to start with, you only get use out of him a portion of the time. As well, Reyson is uncommonly frail for a Bard, at least in his humanoid form. While towards the end of the game you can easily have him transformed all the time, these resources are scarce and take up turns early on. Granted, the early turns of most Fire Emblem battles aren’t critical, so it’s a small disadvantage at best.
Honorable Mention: Reyson might be the best bard/dancer in the series, but a close runner up is Ninian/Nils in Fire Emblem (aka Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword, among other translations). While they lack the godliness of Reyson’s heron form, they bring a number of supplementary buffs to the party that do an absolute number on that game’s final bosses. Still, since they’re very similar to Reyson, they just get a small nod in his entry.
7. Citan Uzuki (Xenogears) [Playstation, 1998]
Breaks the game by: crushing the rest of the cast in raw stats.
Xenogears as a game is best known for being somehow related to the trainwreck that is Xenosaga these days, and even among those old (and cool) enough to have played it, gameplay is not the reason it stands as one of the great Playstation landmarks. However, it is indeed an RPG with battles and everything! And Citan wins those battles, surprisingly enough by flat out being stronger than the other characters. For starters, he’s the fastest. No other character matches his speed, and only two enemies do so (none are faster). So he’s the fragile speedster, right? All speed, no strength, dies once an enemy notices him? Ahahaha no. Citan instead starts the game with 200 HP… when Fei has about 90. While he doesn’t gain HP any faster than other characters, neither does he gain it slower. He maintains that relative advantage the entire game. And he’s only slightly behind Fei for damage, to boot. Until the end of the game, when he decides to stop messing around and gets serious, by which he means katanas. He also starts with a healing spell (because obviously the fastest and most durable character is the best healer), although really you don’t need that in Xenogears much.
Held back by: the other half of the gameplay.
But Xenogears isn’t just martial arts. There’s an entire other battle system using Gears, ie mechs. And Citan’s mechs, while not sufficiently bad as to punish the player for using them, are also not good at all. And considering most of the truly significant fights in Xenogears, as well as nearly the entirety of the last third of the game, consist of Gear battles, that’s a big kink in how much you get to enjoy Citan’s broken. Though you could at least argue the reason all the significant fights are in giant robots is because Citan make the handful of bosses fought on foot trivially easy!
6. Blue (SaGa Frontier) [Playstation, 1998]
Breaks the game by: getting turns. ALL THE TURNS.
SaGa Frontier is easily the most obscure game on this list, but basically you just need to know that SaGa is… different. In SaGa games, your actions in battle determine what sort of stats you learn, and you learn abilities based on what abilities you use the most. Anyway, in SaGa Frontier specifically, magic is broken up into schools, and if you have the Gift in a school of magic, you can learn all its spells by using spells within that school. You cannot, however, receive the gift in opposed schools of magic. Dark and Light, for an easy example.
Unless you are Blue, that is. See, Blue’s entire quest in SaGa Frontier is simple; learn all the magic possible, then duel your brother Rouge to the death. Except when you do, you instead merge into a singular super-mage and descend to the hell to do battle with the devil for all eternity (no, seriously, that’s how Blue’s quest ends). So, what does knowing nearly every spell in SaGa Frontier let you do? How about attacking roughly 1,000 times in a row without letting the enemy respond in any fashion.
Seriously. How it works is this. The Overdrive spell basically gives the user a turn in which only they can act, and allows them to attack 5-8 times in a row (depending on their stats). During that turn, none of their attacks consume resources, but after Overdrive ends and the next turn starts the user’s resource stats (JP and WP) drop to 0. However… over in another school of magic is the Stasis Rune, which freezes the entire battlefield in place for several turns. This seems pretty useless… unless you toss it at the end of an Overdrive combo, because being in Stasis prevents you from taking any damage, including damage to JP and WP. In other words, you only spend the JP required to cast Overdrive to start with, meaning you can use it multiple times in a row until running out of JP, generally around 30 times for Blue. Now, within that Overdrive combo, you can employ a third school’s spell, Shadow Servant, to basically make all your attacks count double, while also casting the most damaging spell MegaWindBlast from a fourth. Shadow Servant lasts until an enemy attacks you, which never happens during the Overdrive->Stasis Rune loop even if the enemy magically breaks free from stasis because Blue cannot be attacked until HE comes out of stasis, at which point the loop continues. While this is actually quite gratuitous (No enemy can survive more than three or four rounds of the full loop as described here), the sheer longevity of the broken is truly special.
Held back by: only happening in the 11th hour.
As utterly ridiculous as this all is, it only happens very, very late in the game. Even if you know the precise formula and complete quests in order to get the loop before Blue merges with Rouge, the Overdrive spell can only be learned immediately before that battle. And while Blue is by no means a bad character before this, he’s definitely not a contender for this list either.
Honorable Mention: TimeLord, another SaGa Frontier character, is another character who can learn the Overdrive spell, and is capable of 3/4 of Blue’s full overdrive combo (he has to choose between Shadow Servant and MegaWindBlast). However, he has several key disadvantages compared to Blue. It’s entirely possible to become unable to teach TimeLord the second key spell, Stasis Rune, because the method to recruiting him is obscure and doing the quest which leads to Rune magic’s gift is meant to be done relatively early. As well, Blue quite simply will always have better stats than TimeLord. TimeLord is a different race, and the key difference between this race and humans is only humans will gain stats through battle actions. TimeLord has a set maximum his stats will rise to, and it’s fairly average at best. And of course, Blue literally doubles his magic-related stats when he merges with Rouge. Still quite broken, but just not up to Blue’s standards.
5. Geno (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars) [Super NES, 1996]
Breaks the game by: using Geno Boost.
Geno is what we call the dark horse, a character who came from nowhere to become popular. to be sure, people would love Super Mario RPG regardless, but the unique character Geno has a special love. And why not. After all, he’s a pretty good character, with easy to use (read: easy to get timed hits with) attacks, capable in both magic and physical damage, and high base speed.
Also he gets the best skill in the game. Like, the margin is so big it’s not even worth talking about. Geno Boost seems simple enough; it’s a buff spell, providing a character with doubled damage. Or, once you realize the timing, doubled defense and damage spell. In a lot of games this would just be really good, but SMRPG has some peculiarities to its design that really send its value through the roof. Super Mario RPG features a shared pool for the entire party’s special skills, and the main thing keeping your offense in check is managing this pool. With doubled damage, suddenly nothing lives long enough for you to actually run out of resources to start with. Defense, on the other hand, is fairly gratuitous. The game already allows you to halve damage with timed blocking (assuming you are a human and thus cannot perfectly time every single attack), and tried to compensate for this by making blockable attacks tremendously damaging on base. This doesn’t really work when you halve it AGAIN.
Held back by: enemy design.
There’s pretty much just one reason Geno doesn’t rate higher on this list; even without him, Super Mario RPG would not be a terribly hard game. To be sure, he makes it easier still, but at this stage in the competition his one skill which makes a fairly easy game laughable doesn’t have quite the same punch as everyone else’s dominance.
4. Yuri Hyuga (Shadow Hearts) [Playstation 2, 2001]
Breaks the game by: doing everything the supporting cast can do.
Though not to extremes, Shadow Hearts is very much based around elemental variety and being able to hit weaknesses on enemies. Each cast member belongs to a different element, and while their skill do differ in more than just their element, on the whole only Alice is particularly good at anything besides hitting weaknesses. And then there’s Yuri. Sure, Yuri’s your only Dark character, but not all that many enemies are Light typed anyway. Oh, wait, Yuri doesn’t learn Dark spells anyway. Nope, Yuri instead transforms into monsters. What kind of monsters? All the colors of the rainbow!
One of the main gimmicks in Shadow Hearts is the Graveyard, a manifestation of Yuri’s soul you must visit when you’ve killed too many monsters, lest ridiculously overpowered bosses appear to destroy you. However, the actual benefit is that as you slay monsters of specific elements, you can go to the Graveyard and confront those monsters. Once you do, you can turn into them. Turning into a monster changes Yuri’s element, gives him a stat boost, and enable a unique spell list appropriate for that element. The best part, though, is that Yuri doesn’t stop once he can be any element. Nope, each monster has two upgraded forms, with bigger stat boosts and larger spell lists. Sure, you can’t access the third tier forms until near the end of the game, but even the second tier lets him blow the rest of the cast away in terms of power. The third tier just makes every other character obsolete, such that they exist to either toss items on Yuri or heal so Yuri can go on offense instead.
He also has two non-element forms which are so ridiculous the game doesn’t even list damage correctly anymore (Seraphic Radiance? Yeah, it deals more damage than the game can display), but those are really cherries on the top.
Held back by: a ‘slow’ start.
To be sure, Yuri is absolutely the best character in the game from the start. It takes all of five minutes for him to get more variety than the rest of the cast and he always holds that lead. However, he only crosses into the level of breaking the game around the mid-way point. And as we’ll see, things are about to get totally crazy on this list.
Honorable Mention: Yuri Hyuga stars in not one but two Shadow Hearts games, and he works in the same fashion in both. The key difference is in Shadow Hearts: Covenant the rest of the cast isn’t useless once Yuri gets going. They can use Crests to use magic spell that let them match Yuri’s abilities to some extent, though of course they can’t use every attack type and buff spell at once like he can. Further, their native skillsets have more variety, and legitimately do things Yuri never can. But most of all, Shadow Hearts: Covenant has a combo system, and strong as Yuri is on his own it’s even better to have everyone else jump in!
3. Ryu (Breath of Fire III) [Playstation, 1998]
Breaks the game by: DRAGON
People underestimate the value of a good healer. Sure, RPGs like to make the the frail waif-girls, unable to defend themselves in any way beyond having someone meatshield for them, but a proper healer will keep the party fighting, bolster their own defenses to everyone else can keep doing the fighting, and if you’re lucky eventually say to hell with it and nuke everyone. The third Ryu is much like this, except when he says to hell with it, it involves turning into a dragon.
Breath of Fire III builds an entire system around dragons. The gist is that Ryu finds bits of dragon DNA lying around the world, and incorporates them into himself. By mixing the traits of two or three genes, he can access a multitude of dragon forms. So with a little playing and making sure to explore nooks and crannies to get them all, Ryu can do whatever he needs to in terms of filling party roles. And naturally, as you progress you get dragon forms which pretty well equate to Ryu telling the rest of the party to take a nap while he goes and kills the gods.
But that’s not what makes Ryu truly broken. No, here’s the crazy bit. Dragons do not die when killed. In the unlikely event an enemy actually hacks through a dragon form, the dragon merely fades away.
Revealing that Ryu is still there, none the worse for wear.
Breath of Fire III is a fully turn-based game.
So you can see where this is headed. Yup, if an enemy actually kills a dragon form, the next turn Ryu just TRANSFORMS AGAIN. The circle begins anew.
Held back by: well…
As absurd as this is, and it is absurd, Ryu is not a magic I Win button. Ryu is no slouch, but his speed is not his strongest suit, meaning enemies can and are faster than him at times. A sufficiently fast enemy, therefor, actually can kill your party in between being murdered by dragons. Further, Breath of Fire III has some fatal status attacks that, unlike damage, actually do ‘kill’ Ryu in his dragon state. While these statuses can be cured by other living and healthy party members, if you were in fact having Ryu solo an enemy, this is a fairly rude awakening since you’ll instantly lose.
2. Minato Arisato (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3) [Playstation 2, 2007]
Breaks the game by: everyone wears many masks. Only Minato can use them all.
Persona 3 is a distinct change-up from what might be called the ‘classic’ series. Where they focused on interacting with demons to get cards which turned into new Personae for anyone you wanted to give them to, Persona 3 took things back to basics as it were and gave each character just two brain-demons to work with, basically mirror the evolution of their characters. And then there’s Minato, who goes through life wearing whatever face will best help him come out ahead in a particular relationship. And thus, he can use many Persona, ones of every arcana, of all strengths!
Naturally, this means that very shortly into the game, Minato will be able to alter his elemental affinities to whatever suits the occasion. Because this wasn’t broken enough, apparently, Minato has access to an extra special feature, the fusion spells. Essentially, by having two specific Personae equipped, he can access a skill which has effects well outside the normal skill tree. Without getting into most of them, at the end of the game you can get Armageddon, which is, y’know, a magic I Win button.
But that’s not what really makes Minato shine. Sure, he’s always the best character because he has whatever stats and affinities and attacks you need, and sure he gets special skills which instantly win battles, but that’s just on the level of the rest of this list. No, Persona 3 has two aspects of design which really shove him over the top. The first is the game’s big flaw, AI controlled allies. I’m not really going to explain what all can go wrong with P3 AI, but suffice to say being the only controllable character is always a boon. But most importantly? Minato always goes first. At the start of any battle, as long as it’s not a back attack, he immediately acts before enemies and allies get their boots on. When you have every skill at your disposal, in a game where hitting enemy weakness renders them helpless until the next turn, that’s a huge deal.
‘Held back’ by: Memento Mori
With perfect play, Minato instantly wins the game. However, with imperfect play, he can actually be a liability. See, if at any time Minato should die, you instantly lose the game. But like I said, if you’re doing well, don’t let enemies back attack you, make sure to save before stumbling into areas with unknown enemies (and by extension, areas you don’t know what weaknesses to avoid), the only thing likely to actually kill you is sudden enemy criticals, which do happen but are fairly rare.
Honorable Mention: Minato’s counterpart in Persona 4 has most of the same abilities, except he doesn’t automatically get the first turn in every battle, fusion spells no longer exist, and the very start of Persona 4 is a lot more challenging and harder to find really good Persona in. He gets very nearly as good, and some of his high end abilities are better than Minato’s non-Armageddon spells, but he’s just that teensy bit worse overall.
1. Yuna (Final Fantasy X) [Playstation 2, 2001]
Breaks the game by: generating an endless parade of party members with boss-level stats
Let’s ignore that Yuna is the best character in the game without Summons. We’re here to talk about snapping the game like a twig, not Yuna’s ability to contribute to the party. In simplest terms, the summon command replaces the party with one of Yuna’s available aeons. This aeon will possess a smattering of basic skills (ones the party themselves can learn) as well as a unique command. When the summon command is used, the aeon immediately takes an action. While the aeon is present, the party cannot be targeted, and should the aeon be defeated it recalls the party and remains dead until you heal at a save point.
It’s pretty straightforward. Why does it break the game? Well, firstly the aeons are considerably stronger than any of your characters. While each aeon varies in what stats they are good at, all of them are ridiculously good at some stat or another. Fundamentally, each aeon is designed with a strategy in mind which will allow it to fight on its own effectively. Valefor’s special command has a delay effect and quick charge time with make it inordinately effective against singular, sluggish enemies. Shiva’s evasion is off the charts, her speed is immense, and she can quite effectively heal herself with Blizzara. The kicker though is that it doesn’t matter a whole lot if a single aeon can take down a boss, because by the time you fight any you have multiple. By the end of the game you have 8 summons, and one of those is actually a team of three!
Is number 1 because: Yuna has no significant weaknesses.
To be sure, you can kill Yuna… once you get past her evasion and magic defense. If she has not been killed in one hit, the battle is won because the aeon parade starts. Even if an enemy can fight off one aeon, when it dies Yuna returns to the battlefield. Because Yuna is pretty fast to start with, and the enemy just finished an action killling the aeon, Yuna in all likelihood will get a turn again and summon another aeon before she’s even been attacked. And supposing Yuna did die… well gosh, someone uses a phoenix down. The telling thing about Yuna’s unbalanced overachieving is that most of the major bosses in the game has moves specifically designed to kill aeons, and it doesn’t actually work very well. Oh, sure, Seymour can Banish aeons… AFTER they get their free turn and attack him. The only real reason not to just use Summon on the first turn in every battle is so party members besides Yuna get experience, but there’s exactly one boss fight in the game that’s significantly harder if only Yuna has been levelling up… one fought while Yuna isn’t in the party! And that’s how you truly know a character is the most unbalanced, game-smashingly broken thing ever; the rest of the party is barely relevant.