Among the many changes that Square-Enix has made to the Final Fantasy formula in FFXII, the biggest may be the License Board. Gone are the classes and jobs of FFs past, and in their place is a purely skill-based ability system. The skills-vs.-classes debate applies to MMOGs more than to single-player console RPGs, since that particular permathread usually revolves around arguments over which approach is easier to balance over a world’s population. In a single-player RPG, the only balance to be achieved is between the player and the game itself, which you’d think would be a lot easier to get right.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the License Board is a big checkerboard that represents all the skills you can learn in the game. (Strictly speaking, it’s two checkerboards; one for spells and stat boosts, one for weapons and armor.) All the playable characters start out with a few of the squares activated; adjacent squares can be activated by spending points that are earned by killing mobs. In addition to unlocking the skill on the License Board, you have to own the spell or piece of gear (either bought or dropped) before you can actually use it.

At first glance, requiring both the skill and the object in order to use an ability works well as a brake on power levelers: You can grind on mobs for points to fill out as many spots on the board as you want, but it won’t do you much good until you can actually acquire the high-level gear that you need, which of course won’t be available until later in the story. (This is Final Fantasy, after all, and the story is, as always, the primary pacing element.) In theory, you should be able to spend your first few levels mucking around with the low-level sections of the board before settling on your characters’ specializations (or grinding them all up to supertankmage status, if that’s how you like it). This is a good thing, because an unconstrained field of skills is pretty daunting for a new player, and it can take a while to figure out what kind of things you’re really interested in having your characters learn.

A twist in the License Board is the presence of Quickenings, which are super-duper limit break spells that can be chained together to beat the living bejeezus out of a mob — with fancy animations, to boot. These powerful spells lie at the edges of the board, which suggests that they’re endgame abilities that might be useful for the final boss, or for some exceptionally hard sidequests.

The problem is that no one seems to have told the designers responsible for tuning the game’s difficulty about this. It doesn’t take that long to start running into minor bosses and even regular mobs that are nigh-impossible to beat without having Quickenings at your disposal, and before you know it, your progress along the game’s main quest line has been brought to a crashing halt while you grind on wolves for license points so that you can fill out a path on the board — through a bunch of skills that you can’t yet use, and might not ever want — to learn these powerful moves.

It’s one thing to allow players to build overpowered characters. To require it, though? Ow.