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- In Clive Barker's Undying, all spells are acquired by taking a magic scroll, except for the Lightning spell. For that one, you must take a lightning rod and put it in an orifice on a roof. A lightning will strike the rod and you will receive the electricity, which will give you the spell.
- The Otakon LARP characters can only learn new skills, and can only earn one rank in that skill.
- Ancient Domains of Mystery is unique in regards to this trope. You only improve your existing skills by levelling up and the usual way to learn new ones is from NPCs and wishes. However, mindcrafters and elementalists learn new Mindcrafting powers and new spells, respectively, upon level up.
RPG — Eastern
- Final Fantasy, very often used together with Guide Dang It!.
- The Blue Mage job is basically this as a whole job. While the rest of the jobs usually learn their skills by by gaining levels, Blue Mages don't. There are certain monster skills that the Blue Mages can learn. To learn these skills, the Blue Mage needs to be hit by the skill and survive (some games do it differently, like eating the monster). The problem is, the game won't bother telling which skills can be learned and which one can't or which monsters carry which skill.
- Summon Magic in general is this trope. They are often learned through defeating the summoned monsters in battle, but there are many other means.
- Also Limit Breaks. Each character usually has their own methods of obtaining their ultimate attacks.
- Final Fantasy IV
- Due to a traumatic event at the start of the game, Rydia cannot use the spell Fire, until Rosa convinces her later in a storyline event. Hilariously enough, she can still learn Firaga given you do enough Level Grinding.
- Several of Rydia's summons can only be obtained from getting an item that Randomly Drops from certain types of enemies. Pray that the Random Number God is in a good mood.
- Final Fantasy VI only had a couple of characters who would learn magic by leveling up, and a fairly limited set at that. In order to learn magic otherwise, Espers had to be equipped to the characters to teach them new spells by earning Ability Points (AP) in battle. Similar concepts were used in later games as well.
- Some of the character-specific abilities also had special conditions, including the resident Blue Magic user Strago.
- Final Fantasy VII averts this at the start, granting characters new Limit Breaks through repeated combat, but to teach a given character their level 4 Limit Break, you'll need a special item. There's also the Enemy Skill materia, which operates similarly to Blue Magic.
- The Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VIII are like this. Squall's Limit Breaks are learned by upgrading his weapon, with the final upgrade teaching him all four finishers. Zell reads magazines to learn some of the stronger attacks and finishing moves. Quistis uses certain items to learn skills. Rinoa takes her dog for a walk, and learns a new skill during the plot. Irvine can use different bullets based on what's in the party's inventory. Selphie (technically) has all of her best Limit Break Magic available from the word go, but once you use the special ones once they show up more frequently in future.
- Technically speaking, you can also use all of Zell's moves right from the start, but you not only need to know the exact input to use them, but also what preceding moves you need to use for some of the finishers to be available, some of which also have the exact same requirements. In other words, unless you memorize a single specific path of moves to each finisher, you're better off just finding and reading the magazines for convenience's sake.
- The Overdrives in Final Fantasy X have this feel, due to the diverse nature of the party. Tidus and Lulu gain new Overdrives by using previous ones repeatedly and levelling up, respectively. Yuna only has one skill that she starts with, but gets new Aeons to summon with it during the plot. Rikku's overdrives are based on the party's inventory. Auron levels up by collecting movie spheres, Kimahri learns Overdrives from enemies, and Wakka gets additional Reels as prizes from winning Blitzball tournaments. One of the most ridiculous examples of Guide Dang It! would be Valefor's Energy Ray attack. How do you obtain it? By talking to a friggin' dog in the very first village.
- Tidus can learn a special blitzball skill (his father's signature move) by kicking blitzballs at hallucinations of his dad mocking and belittling him.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, most skills (including basic Attack) are represented by nodes on the Crystarium. The exception is the characters' Eidolons, which are obtained during the storyline and stored in the inventory.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 mostly uses the same system, but there is a notable new mechanic for the monster pets that serve as the third party member called Infusion, which consumes one monster to pass some of its passive and active skills to another one who might not normally be able to learn them.
- Ramza's skillset gets larger over the course of Final Fantasy Tactics. There's also the Ultima spell (learnable only by Ramza and Alma, and only during two storyline fights) and the Zodiac summon (learnable only by summoners, during one optional fight), which are taught by being hit with (and surviving) the skill in combat, as opposed to most skills which are purchased with JP.
- Most other high-end spells that you can normally learn by spending JP can also be learned the same way, but due to the difficulty in actually finding enemies able to cast them and the need to use the same class that naturally learns said spell, few people find about it on their own. That, plus since the chance to learn the spell this way is the same as getting it from the crystal the enemy might turn into after dying and doing it that way doesn't require you to be the same class as the enemy, it's much more convenient to just kill them and attempt to get the skill from their crystal; the only real advantage of learning the spell by getting hit by it is the ability to possibly teach it to multiple characters, but chances are you won't have multiple mages of the right class available when you manage to find an enemy that can cast a spell that none of them have learned yet.
- Downplayed by Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2, where the main method of learning skills is by earning Ability Points while equipped with a weapon that allows its temporary use, a mix of traditional and non-standard. Played straight by the Thief class skill Steal: Ability in Advance, which allows you to steal the knowledge of how to use a skill directly from an enemy's brainnote . Advance thieves can also steal equipment that teaches new skills from enemies, for you to equip and grind. Thieves were nerfed in A2, losing the ability to steal abilities and equipment. Blue Mages also show up in Advance and A2, and learn skills the usual way; some enemies are only in certain missions, though, and missing them there means that you won't be able to get their teachable skills until another run. Morphers can also use monster souls to transform into monsters, gaining the monster's stats and abilities; to do so, a Hunter has to capture at least one monster of the species to get a soul for the Morpher to equip; the aforementioned Guide Dang It! monsters are morphable, too, so you need to capture them as well as let the BM be hit by them.
- Bravely Default also has Blue Mages, called Vampires. The bestiary clearly indicates which monster skills they can learn... Except for ones from DLC monsters that don't show up in the bestiary.
- This occasionally shows up in the Atelier series:
- There are several examples in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana:
- At one point in the story, Klein will get the option to either learn the skill Living Item or the ability to create Ether Bulb. You can get the other one later, though.
- Norn's Illusion skill is gotten through solving the puzzle in Ka Luda's playground the second time, using the black pieces instead of white.
- Delsus' Spirit Shot skill, gotten from completing an optional sidequest from the old man at Lake Forwell near the end of the game.
- Lita's Pale Wing skill, gotten after a certain storyline event near the end of the game.
- In Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Gray and Fee learn Dragon Slayer and Ein Zecksclaw respectively during the main story.
- In Mana-Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy, Lily is the only one whose upgraded skills, instead of learned through the Grow Book, are obtained through certain cutscenes after creating certain items.
- All of Gino's skills in Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland are obtained through doing his character events.
- There are several examples in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana:
- In Persona 4, several of Rise's skills are obtained through Social Link instead of leveling up.
- In Persona 4 Golden, every party member gets a unique skill that is obtained through talking to them on a certain date after maxing their Social Links.
- All the party members have social link skills. Golden also adds "Bike Ride" skills, which allow the party members to learn new skills late in the game by going on a trip to a spa with the protagonist.
- In Digital Devil Saga, if you answer certain dialogue choices throughout the two games, Argilla and Seraph will automatically obtain the skills Seraph Lore and Reincarnate, respectively, when you reach the final dungeon. Notably, you have to import a Digital Devil Saga 1 save into Digital Devil Saga 2 for those skills to be actually learned by those two, and should you merely import a Digital Devil Saga 1 save into Digital Devil Saga 2, then Gale will always learn Pyriphlegethon, regardless of dialogue choices.
- Some of Ryuudo's most advanced special moves in Grandia II can only be learned after defeating his brother Melfis. Millenia, meanwhile, gains new special attacks from every piece of Valmar the party defeats.
- In Chrono Cross, many of the ultimate or signature attacks are only obtained through doing a sidequest, some of which can be impossible to get if you don't make the right decisions during gameplay. In fact, getting the special ability for one character, Razzly the fairy, requires that you choose the worst option out of a quest in the previous disc and results in many innocent deaths (it's the tragedy that ends up empowering her).
- In EarthBound, spells are acquired by leveling up, except for the two tiers of Teleport for Ness. The first Teleport must be learned from a talking monkey, and the second one is automatically acquired after completing the Magicant level.
- In MOTHER 3, Lucas learns PK Flash by getting struck by lightning. Kumatora also learns PK Starstorm in the same fashion, though it's voluntary in her case.
- Smeargle, from Pokémon, who is the only Pokemon who can permanently learn attacks via Sketch. Everyone else has to level up to learn new moves, use a TM, HM or move tutor, or even be bred from two compatible Pokémon with the moves you want.
- The Tales Series does this frequently, making some skills obtained through story events, sidequests, or by using certain other skills enough times.
- In the SaGa series, you can generally spark learning new skills (randomly, of course) by spamming abilities lower on the skill tree.
- In SaGa Frontier 2, you can also enter one-on-one battle mode and enter your commands manually (i.e. "Slash + Backslash = Cross Slash", rather than selecting the "Cross Slash" skill from your menu), triggering new skills that way.
- While Lunarosse goes with the Powers as Programs route, the four main characters can learn new moves via plot events or by building their Relationship Values.
- Kyuu in Rakenzarn Tales is the only party member who doesn't learn moves by leveling up, so all his attacks have to be gained this way. The methods include training with others, gaining the knowledge from an information source, equipped a certain weapon or learning it from one of his dates.
- The Kingdom Hearts series spreads learning abilities across various methods (level up, progress the plot, defeat a boss, or complete some other challenge), but that comes across as not having one "standard" method in the first place. Though stat boosts come primarily through level-ups, so that might create an expectation that most character growth is from experience points.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: As with most Zelda games, Link needs to clear out dungeons so he can use items that will let him progress further in the environment. New sword skills to deal with unusual enemies, however, are learned by howling along with the wind at certain stones, finding a golden wolf on the overworld, and learning the technique fromOoT's Link, now a gold-armored ghost.
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age:
- Where battle Psynergy is learned by leveling up and utility Psynergy is found by equipping items, the game now features each of your party members gaining an exclusive skill by completing the elemental dungeons: Sheba learns to see invisible objects, Piers learns to evaporate large amounts of water, Felix learns to turn himself into sand to exploit Sand Is Water, and Jenna learns to amplify preexisting flames. The previous game had only one example, Ivan learning Reveal from Hama just before the dungeon that required it.
- In the previous game, Summon Magic was readily available and grew with the amount of Djinn used, doing large amounts of damage in return for lowering characters' stats. In TLA, new multielemental summons can be found in Guide Dang It!-worthy locations.
- Classes change every time a Djinni changes owner, modifying stats and spells, but for the item-based classes it only changes the rank.
- Most Djinn are found in towns and dungeons, but some join the party with other characters (this is more prevalent in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn).
- Dragon Quest IX: In order to access the advanced classes and obtain the best skills, the class/weapon trainers give you increasingly complicated (and luck-based) quests that involve killing a number of enemies a certain way, no two of which are the same.
RPG — MMO
- In addition to spending job level points on skills, Tree of Savior has a second system which provides additional benefits. Each class has a Master associated with it, who can (for a sum of Silver) teach Attributes, which are either passive abilities that augment skills and stats, or toggleable abilities that significantly modify how those skills work. Most Attributes require time in addition to money to learn, but characters will continue to study them even while the player is logged out, similar to EVE Online.
RPG — Western
- Squad members' unique Loyalty Powers in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 can be learned by Shepard, too, but only after completing their personal missions (and only one at a time). In the second game, the Loyalty Power would only be unlocked for the Squad Member themselves after completing said personal mission.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, each party member has a hidden perk tree of "Inspired" abilities, which are automatically unlocked at 25, 50, 75, and 100 Disposition and give increasing bonuses to their primary character stats. If their Disposition to the Warden drops, however, the perks are revoked. Wynne additionally has an active power Vessel of the Spirit, which is unlocked by certain story events.
- In Dragon Age II, reaching either end of the Friendship/Rivalry scale of a party member makes it lock there permanently and unlocks that character's unique permanent bonus.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you normally learn skills by investing skill/feat points into them. However, you can only learn advanced lightsaber combat forms by receiving instruction from or fighting the Jedi Masters you find throughout the game.
- Obsidian did something similar to the Dragon Age: Origins example two years earlier in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, where increasing your Relationship Values with party members unlocked bonus feats (mainly skill and ability boosts applied to both you and the party member). Meanwhile the Storm of Zehir expansion has a list of Teamwork Feats which require two steps to unlock: meet requirements outlined in the game manual, then accept and complete a corresponding sidequest from the Adventurers' Guild at Crossroad Keep. All three games also give history feats for completing story requirements, and in SoZ some of them grant bonuses.
- Kingdom of Loathing has a number of skills that can only be acquired from consumable quest rewards, and a few from special encounters.
- In The Witcher, some perks/upgrades can only be learned by crafting and consuming unique mutagenic potions, e.g. Golem's Pith potion unlocks the Moonrise ability. Also, the Signs have to be unlocked at specific Circles of Elements before you can invest more skill points into them.
- Most Skill Scores in Divinity: Original Sin can be learned by investing skill points into them at character creation or at any point in the game. The hidden Tenebrium skill, however, which allows a character to safely handle Tenebrium items and raw ore, can only be unlocked by completing a specific side quest in Silverglen or stealing a unique skill book in Sacred Heart. Another, downplayed example would be the Death Knight Bane active power, which is nonstandard in that its skill book does not disappear upon being used, like all other powers, but can be read by everyone in the party.
- While most skill scores in Wasteland 2 can be learned by anyone from the start, two are conspicuously grey out: the South-Western Folklore and the Combat Shooting. The former is a Kickstarter backer-exclusive reward, unlocked by giving a secret password to a specific character, while the latter is a Purposely Overpowered ability that can only be learned from a unique hidden book.
- The Blaster skill in both Might and Magic VI and VII is unlocked by story events towards the end of the games, unlike the standard method of finding a related store and paying for basic training.
Turn Based Strategy
- In Disgaea, starting from the second game there is always one party member whose ultimate skill is obtained through the story instead of leveling up.
- In Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories we have Yukimaru's Midare Fubuki.
- In Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice we have Main Character Mao's Vasa Aergun.
- Fuuka's Prinny Kaiser XX in Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten.
- Fire Emblem series:
- A variation. Most characters promote to their Prestige Class by using a Master Seal (or class-appropriate promotion item) at Level 10 or above. Most of the main characters, however, have their promotion tied to a story event and cannot do so beforehand. Examples involve Ike being made a noble in Path of Radiance (because having a commoner lead the country's main army would cause a political scandal) and, most infamously, Roy acquiring the Binding Blade in the game of the same name (infamous because it occurs a mere three chapters before the end of the game, making the protagonist very under-powered for most of it).
- Even then, one particular promotion method stands out: in Thracia 776 Linoan can only promote by visiting the church in Chapter 21. And if anyone else visits it before she does, the chance to promote her is lost for the rest of the game.
- Thracia 776 also has a case of this trope with actual skills. Mareeta can learn Astra by talking to Shanam, the body-double of Prince Shanan of Isaac who's nowhere near as badass as the real thing. Hilariously, Shanam has no idea how to teach sword techniques, so just makes up some random crap and hopes she won't notice. This somehow manages to teach her the technique anyway, implying either Achievement In Ignorance or It Was with You All Along.
- Another skill example in Radiant Dawn. Normally characters learn their ultimate skill on promoting to their 3rd-tier class. Ike, however, learns Nihil in addition to Aether when promoting to Vanguard. This is probably a case of Anti-Frustration Features, as Nihil negates enemy skills and the Black Knight's Eclipse skill is so powerful no-one in the game can survive it. Given that Ike has a forced Duel Boss against the Black Knight later, giving him Nihil avoid the fight being a complete Luck-Based Mission.
- In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the basic psychic ability Mind Flay is not part of the normal class-based Skill Tree but is unlocked randomly for soldiers with particularly high Will score after a prolonged stay in the psychic labs. More advanced psychic powers are tied not to the Character Level but to how often you use Mind Flay and other powers you already unlocked, while the most powerful psychic ability, the Rift, can only be learned by the Volunteer, a single soldier who enters the Gollop Chamber in the endgame.