FFXII Diary: License System Usability Issue

Remember how I complained about the lack of shop during a rather early phase in the game? Ironically, around the corner of where I stopped last time, there was a merchant.

Anyway. Yesterday I managed to play a bit more. Slowly the usual RPG addiction kicks in, but the whole Licence system is not knocking me off. I like how you can see the adjacent tiles and get an idea of both the immediate choices and which direction might bring what.

What I don’t like though, is how the actual upgrade process goes. Since you can activate way more licences than upgrades are available, it is recommended (by the game itself) to wait and check for the available items first, instead of buying the licenses first.

The problem is, you can’t see your possible next steps while shopping.

You have to check the shop, remember which items you might be interested in, cancel the shopping menu, go into the License Board the check if those items can be activated. Since the short-term memory only holds about 7 arbitrary entries, and you have multiple members with many possible upgrades each, it means constantly jumping back and forth between the shopping menu and the License Board.

To make matters worse, different type of shops (weapon, armor, magic, techniques, gambit) are located in different places, usually on a shopping street. You have to run around in the game world to check all the offers in the current city.

Assuming you’re not overflowing with money, you probably want to balance your upgrades with your limited budget. That would take even longer because you might end up checking every shop multiple times.

I think this issue could be addressed by sacrificing the “immersion” (you go into “phyical” shops and talk to the merchant for the listing) and being more License Board-centered. If you could open up the board and see for each tile if the contained upgrade is available in this shop (or even: in this area!), along with the pricing info, that would help greatly. It’d be easy, too. Something like this would suffice:

I couldn’t figure out how to do an image rollover in Blogger, so this is a Flash-file. Sorry for any inconvenience. You might need to click on the image first to activate the rollover effect.

The board already shows you if the corresponding items of a tile is in your inventory (white text, in this case “Bronze Helm” and “Bronze Armor”). Let’s just go one step further and color-code those which are available in the current shop/area. Additional cues, e.g. blue dots, could indicate the availability on the board itself, for better overview. And when you go to that tile, you see the price of that item. Simple as that.

Note this is something I came up with spontaneously and I don’t claim this to be the best solution. It is supposed to be constructive criticism.

I have one nice thing to say about money. You no longer get money from monsters or find lots of Gils in treasure containers, but you have to sell stuff dropped/stolen from monsters.

I find this far more logical than getting money from wolves. Suddenly stealing make a lot more sense, and you actually pay attention to what the enemies carry. It was satisfying when I managed to steal dozens of bone splinter (”Knochensplitter”, I’m playing the German version) and earned thousands this way.

I haven’t played an RPG for a while so I don’t know if this is the norm by now, but it’s definitely overdue for the FF series.

Yu-Chung Chen

Yu-Chung Chen is a designer working primarily on video games. He studied at Köln International School of Design and has contributed to a number of published games. Currently he works as a freelance UI designer at Keen Games.

5 responses to “FFXII Diary: License System Usability Issue”

  1. Krystian Majewski

    Very nice re-design. Tufte style! ;-)
    I had somewhat similar problems when playing Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy Tactics – In both games you learns skills from items and because of lousy information design it is very difficult to keep track of which items you need and which items are of no use anymore. You don’t want to take chances so you end up stacking up useless weaponry just to make sure you don’t miss out any skills.
    Still, a solution without giving up the immersive aspect would be preferable. Especially in a game like Final Fantasy. How about making it the other way around? Highlight equipment IN SHOPS which you cannot use because you have no license but you could use? When the user decides to buy that equipment, the game could automatically switch to the place on the license board.

  2. Yu-Chung Chen

    The shops do highlight whether you can use a given item, the problem I’m having concerns stuff I don’t have yet, but might consider getting, so that display helps little.

    The idea to jump from the shop listing to the corresponding board tile, however, is very nice.

    I’m very interested in Daniel’s opinion on this as he has played it more already.

  3. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    Isn’t that a problem of the whole FF series? i always had the feeling (whatever FF part i played), that equiping / shoping stuff in this game is more complicated than necessary. i had always the feeling that pc games like diablo have a lot easier, quicker and yet still complex inventory / equiping / shoping.

    for me, final fantasy is a decission between unnecessary complicated and relatively dull gameplay with great visuals and cinematic story presentation. and this was why i like FF XII so much more, because now at least the fights are more tactical/strategical for me (and the fighters nicely automated).

    as krystian allready mentioned (somewhere else than our blog?): it is pretty bad that FF XII still has this unsatisfying fighting system and now it only gets better because you don’t have to do it yourself.

  4. Yu-Chung Chen

    FFXII tactical? I don’t see that. Maybe I’m not getting the system because everybody including Famitsu loves it, so it must be good :p

    So far I find the combats to be dull hitpoint trading. I recently defeated a Judge and didn’t feel any accomplishment. Because the Judge was such a threat (two of my members went down in no time), I was busy with healing and couldn’t pay attention to what he was actually doing and which tactics I ought be better using. After a while, my physical attacker (Basch) suddenly took him while I was still concerned with healing.

    Well I admit maybe I’m too lazy for get into such a mammoth game. But the game is still guilty of not making me getting the system better.

  5. Yu-Chung Chen

    Daniel, maybe you can explain me how the game is supposed to work? Maybe in a scrapbook entry?


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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