Final Fantasy XII: Realtime Fight + Automated Party

Final Fantasy XII finally became available to us Europeans, too. And because I like the series I want to write about 4 things I find most interesting. Interesting for me, is the fact that the real-time battles of FF12 are more fun to me than the old turn-based, which is strange, because I like turn-based games more than real-time.


It is very interesting for me, that the all-time hero of Japanese RPG makes this easy mistake: Level-Ups are highly underrepresented. You fight, you kill an enemy, you get enough Experience Points to advance a level and together with a recognizable sound effect the “Level Up” rises in yellow letters above your head. Vanishing a second later in real-time. And that’s it already. You get no message box, no information yelling at you “you got better, you learned this, learned that, grew stronger here and there”.

Final Fantasy XII has put much weight on the FFX-derived skill tree (well it is more a board in FFX, and in FF12 it is named license board), which is available always for you to use License Points (different kind of Experience Points) to give your party members new skills. And so because you can do this always, it is completely independent from the Level-Up. Which somewhat makes the Level-Up not only less necessary but left without any celebration by the player. The game even fails to celebrate it audio-visually. I think this point is the easiest and most basic chance to motivate a player of an RPG – and the FF12 team decided to leave it out. A mistake? I presume it was intentional – but I don’t understand why.

License Board

The license board I was talking already about, is the best concept for skilling RPG characters if you want to lead the player softly on the one hand (from a game designers point of view) and to give most freedom of choice on the other (unlike those WOW-like Skill Trees). It is a 2D chess-like board. Every tile holds one skill that can be “bought” with license points. There are direct and secondary licenses (”skills”), the direct ones are something like “Magic Spells get 10% more effective” and secondary are something like “Accessories-License-3: you can now cast Healing or Detoxification Spells” (if you “own” them! which means have found or bought them from a shop). Each character starts with some skills learned. And you can only “buy” skills on the license board that are next to to already learned ones (horizontally or vertically, not diagonal). And you can only see the basic category (option, weapon, armor) of in-buy-able-ones further away. Thus, you need to expand your skills carefully to learn and see what is available else where. This works nearly without any frustration because the skills are topically arranged.

What i find so highly strange about FF12 is the fact, that you can easily play the game for 10 hours straight, gaining a full party of 6 characters (the full storyline cast) and yet do not “need” to buy any more than some basic armor or weapon licenses. Which leaves with you in the middle of nowhere with a lot of license points and no idea where to go. It is so strange that the FF12 game designers did no put any clues into the game when and how the player could or should best start to work on his characters. So if you are not the über-experimental type of a player, you will give all players an additional gambit slot (I will talk about that later) and most useful the healing spell Vita. And that’s probably the cause why so many (US-) reviews of FF12 claimed that the game is very boring on the role playing side because you simply play with 6 characters all alike. Everyone can heal and kill.


Before I tell when and how I started to use the license board in a more intensive way, let me explain the new gambit system of FF12 which I like very much, too. Basically you create a very little Program for every party member, which defines what actions to do in a battle. It is pretty easy, as you create commands that are tasks done when a condition becomes true, e.g. “when friend HP < 70%" then "cast Vita" (on him). One such command (a "line" of code with a condition and a task) goes by the name Gambit. You have only very few gambit lines for each character but can get some more on the license board.

And with these Gambits the whole real-time gameplay truly makes sense. as you can’t control basics in a real-time fight and certainly don’t want to do it turn-based as once in older Final Fantasy games. So you give basic attacking gambits to the characters and with higher priorities you place healing spells, drinking potions and more. So that after you have learned the balance of attack, heal, special spells you can use your knowledge to automate them and advance to use your playing time to understand new learned stuff: first you use “attack any enemy”, then you learn to use “attack the enemy party leaders” to stay focused and hope that you soon will find a gambit condition that allows you to “attack weak enemies”.


And now back to the License Board: I talked about how I felt unguided by the game on how to use the licenses and how other reviews claimed it to be bad that you have way to similar characters. I disagree. Yes of course, all my party members can use the vita spell to heal others – but that doesn’t make them healers in the classic sense of an RPG. Because if you have many characters, but only few good armors, only few stronger weapons and only few with more magic points – you can use the license board to divert them and create different “classes”. Let me explain what I mean on the example of healer: OK, everybody can cast the healing spell, but if someone has a big sword and good armor, you want him to bash enemies and not use his time to cast a healing spell. So a good healer is typically a weaker person, that doesn’t help that much with killing enemies but has plenty of magic points to use for healing spells. But you do not want it to stand directly in front of the enemies so the char gets hurt, but you want the healer to stay away from the crowd. Either by removing any attack orders or even better by giving them a distance weapon. Additionally you spend 300+ license points on magic effectiveness boosting licenses and licenses reducing magic point use. And voilà, you get a pretty good battle healer, standing in the back, using ranged attacks until someone needs some healing. By giving the strong swords and armors to the strongest characters of yours, also giving them protection spells and anti spell accessories you make them perfect tanks.

Now it is only a matter of time until I find out how to use the last third of my party members ;)

Daniel Renkel

Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel is a true indie game developer (at heart ;) and a part time simulation engineer (space- & aircrafts). He's studied computer science at the university of Darmstadt, Germany and has a background of 8 years as game developer (assistant projectmanager, game designer, associate producer and technical artist). He worked on a whole number of PC and console games including the Aquanox series. Visit for more information about this current android mobile phone games.

6 responses to “Final Fantasy XII: Realtime Fight + Automated Party”

  1. Krystian Majewski

    It seems to me like you have rediscovered an old Final Fantasy virtue. The Idea to start with a party of identical characters which can be then customized into self-made classes is as old as Final Fantasy II. In fact, it is the other way around: pre-defined characters with permanent classes appeared for the first time in Final Fantasy IV. Unfortunatly, all the Sequels with pre-defined characters were for some reasons very popular (FFIV, FFVI, FFVII). So most people do not realize that Final Fantasy has very different roots.

    Also, I would like to add that the License Board is not really a different game play concept but just a different kind of visualisation and user interface. It is just clever information design which explains relationships between skills visually. I would also argue if it is really “the best concept for skilling RPG characters”. For example, I enjoyed the character creation of “Fallout” more…

    I find the idea of the gambit system unsetteling. It seem to me like Square used the Gambit system to make the dull fights go quicker. That’s just covering crappy design with more features.
    If the real strengt of the Gambit system is autmatization, I would rather use it in a strategy game, with a mind-blowing ammount of fights.
    But then again, I haven’t played FFXII yet ;-)

    To sum it up I have a question. You said a lot about how the system works and how you made healers with it. What I still do not understand is why you like this system but dislike the old one?

  2. Yu-Chung Chen

    Sorry for the lack of response or updates. I was busy with my intermediate examination.

    Stupidly, I still can’t comment on your new article now because I want to play FFXII myself first. It’s not even the spoiler phobia I usually have, but I do want to see all the “innovations” with fresh eyes (as far as that’s possible from reading the usual previews and from listening to my brother’s enthusiasm).

    I just think it’d be more interesting if I wouldn’t have your analysis as my “first impression”, and later I’d toss in my own view.

    But – that will happen only after I finish Twilight Princess ;) I’m about 18 hours into the game – so, another 50 to go (supposedly).

  3. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    *grin* of course!
    … take your time.

  4. Daniel Somerville

    Hey, are you guys still reviewing games these days!? ;)

    I just found this website (you were linked in an article by Mary Goodden in this month’s issue of, if you want to know), and I really like it. I particularly enjoy the fact that you guys review games from the point of view of game design, something that is surprisingly hard to find elsewhere. It provides a fresh perspective that people like me, who have some experience in trying to design games, really get a lot out of. Please do more!

    Anyway, I feel compelled to comment on this really old article, because I also was pleasantly surprised by the different battle mechanics in Final Fantasy XII. While I have really enjoyed some of the Final Fantasy games in my life (4, 6, 7, 8), I’ve always felt that the combat system was just a little too stilted, especially once we made the move from 2-D to 3-D. The first FF games were refreshing because they basically automated the old pen-and-paper roleplaying games and gave pictures to everything; the characters and backgrounds and enemies were all there, all the time. The turn-based combat began to stand out more and more as animations were introduced and then increased dramatically in quality. They made even less sense when we moved from pre-rendered backgrounds to a real-time, persistent world environment. For me, the combat in FF12 is great; it allows you as much strategic control as you want, if you’re fast and accurate with the game’s interface. And visually it makes MUCH more sense to have a constant interplay of people attacking and being attacked than the old one-at-a-time style.

    As far as the License Board goes, there was one thing about it that appealed to me in particular. I have been sick of the locked-in roles that Final Fantasy games (and other rpgs) give to their characters for a long time. As was noted in the comments, the older FF games let you choose your characters skills and jobs, just as you can do in the pen and paper games. Maybe I don’t want the main character to be a swordsman. (In fact, maybe I don’t necessarily LIKE the main character that much, and would prefer to play as one of the other characters in the party for most of the game.) And maybe I don’t think all women need to be physically weak and relegated to “the back row”. Final Fantasy XII allowed me to make the petite blonde girl my sledgehammer-weilding, heavy armor-wearing tank, while “main character” Vaan basically played the role of my white mage and archer. I had a lot of fun with messing up the stereotypes that are usually foisted on you in a game like this.

  5. dooldaudimi

    Znajomosc aktualnosci na rynku przedsiebiorstw realizujacych i sytuacji w handlu materialów budowlanych, podnosi nam szanse na bardzo zdecydowana reakcje na propozycje przedsiebiorstw niesolidnych, czy propozycje nabycia materialów niskiej jakosci. Panstwo przystapilo wiec w pierwszym rzedzie do popierania rozwoju silnych w handlowych by przeciwstawic sie dominacji w tej dziedzinie w zagranicznych. Stosunkowo niedawno jednostka ta pojawila sie na krajowym rynku i zdobyla mase zwolenników, dlatego, ze tworzy wolne wakaty, gwarantujac jednoczesnie pracownikom sympatyczny klimat. Wlasciwym organem podatkowym jest naczelnik urzedu celnego wlasciwy ze wzgledu na miejsce zamieszkania dotyczy fizycznych. Apartament jest wyposazony wniez w swieza posciel, reczniki oraz sprzet plazowy. Sa to kluby nadal prowadzace dzialalnosc, jak i te juz nieistniejace. W lipcu roku ukazal sie dlugo zapowiadany solowy . Naszym priorytetem jest ekspresowa i calkowicie odpowiadajaca Twoim potrzebom i aspiracjom organizacja imprez Wroclaw kulturalnie i rozrywkowo. Jezeli chcecie przezyc niezapomniane chwile, poczuc bliski kontakt z przyroda oraz odpoczac od miejskich halasów serdecznie zapraszamy do naszego gospodarstwa agroturystycznego. Nastepnym rozwiazaniem na meble kielce dla swojego lokum jest ich stworzenie na indywidualne zlecenie. W tej chwili odszukaj odpowiadajacy Twoim kryteriom obiekt noclegowy na naszym serwisie internetowym. Pierwszym zakontraktowanym sportowcem zostal kierowca rajdowy , na którego samochodzie i kombinezonie znalazlo sie miejskie logo. Kierowcy quadów w nocy km tras narciarskich w osrodku Solisko w Szczyrku w Beskidach. Nie marnuj czasu w domu, zapomnij poniedzialku i przelam niedzielna nude w Cieniu. Krótki rys historyczny wprowadzi w teoretyczne podloze scrumowych standardów zarzadzania, a opis procesu pozwoli dostrzec zalety i wady tej metodyki w praktyce minut prezentacja, minut Warto skorzystac z pomocy takich firm, gdyz oni zajma sie zaprojektowaniem Twojego ogrodu profesjonalnie. Kluczowe dostep do wawozu znajduje sie w centrum Chlapowa, tam tez jest opcja pozostawienia wozu na wyznaczonym miejscu do parkowania.

  6. sirleto

    kryst, is this polish?
    i can’t even tell if its spam or not :-)


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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