Originally Posted: January 29, 2021
“The new year had just begun, and our cute(?) Oracle is faced yet again with a great dilemma. Such a decision will have far-reaching consequences for herself and those around her. All she needs to do is stamp one for approval, but a sleep-deprived trance is stopping her from thinking straight.
I just need one more sip, she thought to herself, bringing the ceramic mug to her lips. The warm, muddy liquid poured straight to her stomach. A wave of heat enveloped her body, and a rush of energy filled her head. One had to wonder how this simple burnt-bean infusion unlocked latent energy, just like a modern-day elixir. Well, there’s no time for that – it’s back to work!” – Haruka Naruji, on the power granted by coffee.
Hey, all! It’s your favourite Oracle-turned-writer here, and welcome to my second featured post! I recently read what can be described as a ‘power-fantasy’, and it does a lot wrong. So, I decided to channel that disappointment into something productive. In this post, we’ll talk about the risks of overpowered characters and how to make them better. If you’re looking for a series with one, please consider this a spotlight as well.
Now, before we start, we should clarify what overpowered (OP) means in this discussion. In light novels, overpowered characters are frequently present in a variety of forms and degrees. Some are simply powerful among their peers, and others are world-ending catastrophes waiting to happen.
For our purposes, we’ll classify OP characters generally as “characters significantly more powerful than the average cast member”. ‘Significantly more’ meaning the typical problem-level poses no challenge to them. Of course, this means there’s a lot of wiggle room to discuss – literature has always had a way of doing that.
To note, this particular tag commonly carries the connotation of being detrimental to the story. Today, I’d like to dispel that notion. We’ll find that overpowered is just another story element that has its own merits and tangles. And with that, let’s get to it!
For this post, I’ll spotlight five series I’ve reviewed and discuss their implementation of (arguably) overpowered characters. We’ll keep introductions short as the information can be found on other pages (which will be linked!). Instead, the meat of this post will be about specific characters: abilities, role in their respective stories, and effect on their surrounding worlds. And, of course, there’ll be no spoilers here! So, without further ado, let’s start!
To begin, let’s talk about one of my favourites, Wein Salema Arbalest – from The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?) (reviews for Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, and Vol. 5). While this prince has shown feats of strength, his real power comes from his intelligence. In their world of politics, armies, and religion, words are the weapon of choice. And Wein will do whatever it takes to secure a lazier lifestyle – even if that means selling his nation!
Sadly for Wein, abandoning Natra isn’t in the cards. Instead, this prince faces conflicts from both sides of the continent and deals with all types of scenarios. These include untangling international politics, overcoming multi-front wars, and halting deadly conspiracies. All this proves to be no simple feat, and Wein is going to come out on top, playing one level above them all.
Wein is what I’d consider a “generally overpowered character,” where flaws are hard to find. Whether it’s in physical ability or pure intellect, this prince seems to be a cut above the rest of the cast. This allows him to devise and follow-through on schemes of all kinds. And, of course, if he wasn’t a genius, the premise would be moot! So, what does The Genius Prince do to ensure an exciting story?
Firstly, the antagonists’ perspectives are a staple of the series. As Wein’s rivals (and enemies) are busy concocting their own plots, we’re always provided time to understand the details. In a way, this sets up Wein to be a boss-type character to overcome. And given the complexity or apparent certainty of these schemes, they successfully create a feeling of “How will Wein wiggle out of it this time…?!”.
Secondly, The Genius Prince prides itself in the thought processes of its characters. Even if we’re sure Wein will win, the path to get there is usually fraught with layers of lies, logic, and complicated relationships. And how they all interact is interesting and exciting. As Wein’s plans are explained and unfold, it’s always a sight to behold. This part of every volume is how Wein earns his title of “The Genius Prince”.
Lastly, we see many of Wein’s schemes take a turn to the absurd – i.e. it doesn’t always follow his plans perfectly. Unintended consequences or previously undiscovered plots always crop up. This adds another layer of twists that keeps the story fun, and it gives Wein more chances to react and showcase his genius. If everything went according to an overpowered character’s wishes at first, that story would surely be boring to follow.
In summary, Wein is a decently implemented overpowered character. By temporarily making him play the role of antagonist, thoroughly detailing his thought processes, and seeing his quick-thinking after a wrench in his plans, we find value in him being a genius. And with the stakes rising with each subsequent entry, will we soon finally test the limits of this prince’s potential…? (I don’t think so.)
The second character we’ll talk about is the titular Dark Lord himself, Leonis Death Magnus, from The Demon Sword Master of Excalibur Academy (reviews for Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 here!). This very powerful being awakes from a 1000-year-long spell-induced sleep. But rather than his original body, Leonis finds himself trapped as a 10-year-old boy! However, he won’t let that get in the way of his goals of fulfilling a promise and taking revenge. And during his journey full of girls, swords, spells, and Voids, we’ll certainly have our fill of his spectacular powers.
Leonis Death Magnus, a.k.a. Leo, has a drive and a plethora of abilities at his disposal. In combination with his experience, Leo is an overwhelming force for anyone below the level of ‘Hero’ or ‘Dark Lord’. As it is with Wein, Leo is a “generally overpowered character”. When unleashing his full power, few can withstand the might of a Dark Lord. So, what’s stopping him from going off the rails? Well, it’s nothing!
Leo is somewhat limited by his mortal, 10-year-old body and his desire to remain hidden. However, those are irrelevant when he gets serious. What The Demon Sword Master does well is relishing in the absolute destruction caused when he gets involved. In other words, have fun with your overpowered character!
In the two volumes I’ve reviewed, Leo has summoned a multitude of creatures, obliterated city-sized Voids, and put arrogant scumbags in their place. This is all due to his incredible control of magic. And that’s not to mention the incredible amount of debris he leaves in his wake. The Demon Sword Master loves its action and spectacle, and it will surely share its joy with you.
This methodology of fun extends beyond even Leo to include his allies and even some of his enemies! With the creative powers and characters, there’s something for everyone. And it just goes to show the versatility of employing some childish joy through playful destruction.
In summary, Leo is not the most complicated overpowered character on this list, but his presence doesn’t create a boring story. Through the scale of damage and variety of powers, a sense of simple fun is clearly communicated. If the character dismisses every conflict like another itch, then how could the reader relish in their strength? As it is with everything in life, try to have fun with it!
The third character in our spotlight is Fate Graphite from Berserk of Gluttony (Vol. 1 review here!). This downtrodden young man has been on the losing end of life for a long time. However, this all comes to an end as Fate learns that his Skill, ‘Gluttony’, does a lot more than keep him hungry. With the ability to absorb Stats, Fate begins his life-changing journey of extrajudicial justice and insatiable desire. This near-unlimited potential for growth quickly makes him an overwhelming force.
Fate Graphite’s Skill is strong and, if left unchecked, essentially allows him to overcome any physical confrontation – so long as he prepares adequately. For most of Berserk of Gluttony, Vol. 1, I was worried that he’d steam-roll his way to the end. In that case, Fate would be a “limitless growth” character who’s quickly outgrown the conflicts in his story. However, this never happens. Instead, Isshiki Ichika adds some interesting twists to cap the overall speed and increase enjoyment.
Firstly, Fate starts off at the bottom of the power ladder. Due to his ‘useless’ Skill, growing was an impossibility until the beginning of Vol. 1. And so, watching him surpass those who initially looked down on him is extremely satisfying. Rather than a character starting as overpowered, taking the the time to have the reader appreciate their climb is always welcome.
Secondly, without going into the spoiler-laden details, Fate must occasionally sink his Stats to continue his journey. This effectively stops him from growing completely out-of-control. And the fact Fate willingly decides to is even better! Of course, this isn’t entirely to Fate’s detriment, but you’ll have to read to find out why. ;)
Lastly, like The Demon Sword Master, Berserk of Gluttony also has fun with Fate’s powers. Crushing boulders, blocking earth-shattering strikes, and ripping through swathes of monsters are all present in Vol. 1. One can’t help but create collateral damage, you know? This unbridled destruction always brings out a childish grin from me.
In short, I believe Fate is another well-done, generally overpowered character of the list. In adding the aforementioned twists, Isshiki Ichika creates continuous growth without losing its satisfaction. They reward Fate’s rise with revenge, cut him down with difficult decisions, and have fun with it along the way. Fate is such a memorable character to me because of these design choices, and I’m excited to see where the series will go from here (Vol. 2 comes out Feb. 11)!
Our fourth character is somewhat of an unconventional choice – Mariela of The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life (reviews of Vols. 1-3, Vol. 4, and Vol. 5). While this alchemist has little in terms of smarts or battle-prowess, she makes up for it with her ability to create potions. This (unfortunately) unique power of hers changes the fate of Labyrinth City and its inhabitants forever; the series’ focus on this aspect is what we’ll discuss.
Admittedly, Mariela is only debatably ‘overpowered’, but I’ll take any chance to talk about one of my favourite series. In The Alchemist Who Survived, Mariela goes into a spell-induced stasis for 200 years as an average alchemist. And when she wakes up, Mariela soon finds out she’s the only one left in the entire region! The absence of potions over this time has put Labyrinth City’s inhabitants in a losing battle against the dungeon beneath their feet. As the only one capable of brewing new potions, Mariela is put into a position of great power without even knowing it. It’s too bad she wants a quiet life!
Now, I know what you’re thinking… if Mariela doesn’t directly solve the conflicts with her own strength, how could she be overpowered? I’d say Mariela’s strength comes from her ability to resolve overarching conflicts rather than the smaller encounters. Or, in other words, her power is to unlock the potential of others. Her potions make monster attacks, Labyrinth bosses, and general living significantly easier. And for some tasks, she makes even the impossible possible – i.e. Mariela is a “game-breaker”.
Mariela affects the world and people around her to an incredible degree, and The Alchemist Who Survived will ensure you learn all about it. Monster-warding potions go to the farmers. Healing potions help the Labyrinth-delvers. And cookies get eaten by her café(?) regulars. Every relatively inconsequential thing she makes has resounding effects on her community. That is her true power.
As someone who loves immersive worlds and character agency, the way this series makes Mariela’s potion-making shine amazes me. In a way, the focus is not on the overpowered character but rather the people who are undergoing the life-changing effects – a perfect base for story-time. Overlord gets an honourable mention here for implementing a similar technique.
In summary, one way to have an overpowered character and exciting conflicts is to put them in the background of a larger world. Mariela’s power is certainly “game-breaking”, but the particulars of her life aren’t the most interesting. However, she catalyses greatness from those around her: Sieg, Lynx, Caroline, and more! Their struggles create the bulk of what I enjoy about The Alchemist Who Survived.
As our final character(s), let’s talk about the objectively(?) cutest cat-girl + sword pair, Fran and Teacher (respectively) from Reincarnated as a Sword (Vol. 1 review here!). In their adventures, the two battle a variety of creatures, acquire spectacular abilities, and enjoy otherworldly cuisine! However, when every battle makes them stronger and they frequently mop the floor with their enemies… how will they maintain a sense of danger for the audience?
Technically speaking, Fran and Teacher are two separate characters, but their true strength comes when they’re fighting together. And since they’re near inseparable, let’s treat them as one for this discussion. The most overpowered half of the pair has to be Teacher. Like Fate from Berserk of Gluttony, this telepathic sword has the ability to absorb Skills from enemies. Additionally, they’re able to share their Skills with Fran. And, speaking of the other half, Fran acts as Teacher’s wielder and is decently strong on her own. So, how does this all play out in Reincarnated as a Sword?
Unfortunately, it’s not the most exciting read. After four well-implemented overpowered characters, let’s talk about how it can go wrong. Fran and Teacher are both “generally overpowered” and have “limitless growth”. They overwhelm basic mobs with little effort, quickly climbing through the ranks. And the gargantuan collection of Skills Teacher gathers means they’ll inevitably have a solution to every problem. Both of these effectively destroy any stakes or creativity in their encounters. This improves in Vol. 2 where a combination of abilities allowed for them to soar through the air. Sadly, it was too little and too late, and I haven’t continued onto Vol. 3.
Unlike the previous four series, the overpowered nature of Fran and Teacher isn’t used to solve complicated plots, greatly change the world, or even have fun with it. It’s a story of dungeon-crawling, silly dialogue, and wandering adventures. As a result, it’s as if the pair is only overpowered for the sake of it. By not tying their abilities to a greater purpose, it all ends up falling flat.
Another thing to note is understanding the expectations of your story. Going into Reincarnated as a Sword, I wished for a story that described the troubles (and benefits?) of being a sharp paddle – something like Reborn as a Vending Machine. However, such hopes were extinguished after its first chapter. The minimal description of sensations and loss of any restrictions diminished the uniqueness of Teacher’s situation. And this results in a book with a lack of selling points – Fran being one of the few that remain.
To conclude, Fran and Teacher are an overpowered pair that unfortunately help the trope’s bad reputation. There are other things the series does well (sweet slice-of-life, cute cat-girls, etc.), but the overall enjoyment is significantly hindered by this ill-implemented aspect. Great power should be used as a tool to try fun and creative things, don’t you think? And Reincarnated as a Sword certainly fails to succeed in this regard.
Hey! So, we’ve finally reached the end of our overpowered character spotlights and discussion. I hope you enjoyed learning about the talents behind the faces as well as writing techniques to look out for. Overpowered characters have taken the light novel industry by storm, and one should be well-equipped to discern the interesting from the mundane.
And, of course, there are many more characters I’ve yet to meet and even more powers to discover! What do you think about the ones I’ve discussed? How about you – do you have a favourite overpowered character? And, if so, what’s unique about them that keeps the story exciting? I want to hear from you! Please let me know down in the comments below, on Twitter, or on the Discord!
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my post (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down. And if you’re new, let’s get along and talk about light novels until the sun burns out~!
Oh! You want the extra blurb…? How about another fun fact about me? I enjoy many outdoorsy activities, but hiking and archery are two of my favourites. And few things beat camping with friends and reading by the lakeside…! <3
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve been exploring light novels for half-a-year now, so please bear with my hopefully-diminishing naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!