Spell Levels

An attribute of Functional Magic, where each known spell is assigned to a category roughly reflecting its power. Particularly popular in RPGs, where it is used in conjunction with a Character Level system to restrict the usage of powerful spells (as in, a level N mage can only use spells up to level M, etc.).

Compare Whatevermancy and Elemental Tiers. A common component of Vancian Magic. May be subject to Rank Inflation.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Lyrical Nanoha, spells are ranked by power output: D is pretty much a parlor trick, S is a tactical nuke.
  • The Jutsu techniques in Naruto are ranked E (basic illusions and such) all the way to to S (often a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, in that some jutsu of this caliber require a literal sacrifice, either from yourself or a hapless somebody else.
  • Kido in Bleach is ranked from 1-99, and the higher the level, the more difficult (and powerful) a kido is to perform.
  • Spells in Zatch Bell! often contain prefixes outlining their power, with the most consistent prefixes from weakest to strongest being Gigano, Dioga, and Shin. Other strengthening prefixes like Teo, Go, and Ma also exist, but it's more ambiguous where their power levels align in the hierarchy when compared to the main three. There's also the Baou prefix, used only by the eponymous hero, which is in a league of its own, even above Shin.

    Literature 
  • In Labyrinths of Echo, the Plain Magic spells are categorized into 234 levels (the highest tiers mostly include just one well-known spell). All levels above the 4th are considered a breach of the Ban on Magic and punishable by law—but then again, most people cannot go above the 20th. The world's greatest mage has once almost pulled off a 235 level spell.
  • The Hedge Witches in The Magicians use a system of 250 levels to create a hierarchy within their network of safehouses. Levels are marked by sequential tattoos known as 'stars', and entrance to a safehouse is contingent on level. A magician with no stars must perform the level 1 spell to gain admission.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Trope Codifier is probably Dungeons & Dragons, where both arcane (wizard) and divine (cleric) spells were split into nine and seven tiers, respectively, with characters of certain level getting only so many spells of certain levels to memorize.
    • In 3rd Edition clerics, druids, sorcerers, and wizards had ten spell levels (0-9); bards had six, and paladins and rangers had four.
    • 4th Edition did away with the concept, instead simply listing the minimum class level to gain a "power" in the description. There are still instances of 'Lesser' and 'Greater' which were lesser and greater powered version of the spell, respectively.
    • The 5th Edition is similar to the 3rd; while spells have ten levels (0-9), most classes have no access to spells beyond a certain level.
  • In Rolemaster spells were arranged by level within spell lists. In order to cast a spell, a character's skill rank for that spell's spell list had to be greater than or equal to the spell's level.
  • Exalted has sorcery and necromancy spells divided into three levels each. Generally, the higher the spell's level (or circle), the more time it takes to cast it and the more motes and willpower it requires, as well as the more powerful the spell is. The main exceptions are the countermagic and banishment spells, which are quick and relatively inexpensive for their circle.
  • In Ponies & Parasprites, Arcane skills are split into 'Magic' and 'Rituals'. Magic is inherent to Unicorns and doesn't follow a leveling system, growing as the Unicorn does. Rituals are divided based on their power: Common > Uncommon > Protected > Arcane > Lost.

    Video Games 
  • In the Mother series, the tiers for PSI powers are given by the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma, and omega.
  • All skills in Onmyōji are like this. You can level-up a shikigami's skill by melting another one of the same specie, while doing so for an onmyōji's skill requires completing side quests.
  • Some Final Fantasy games have tiers of spells that even have their own set of spell uses. It's a staple to have some more advanced spells under the naming format "[spell]", "[spell](a)ra", "[spell](a)ga", and "[spell](a)ja", though the English translations only began to use it since Final Fantasy VIII (before, spells were simply named "[spell] 1", "[spell] 2", etc. due to limited characters). For example, the fire spells in FFX are Fire, Fira, and Firaga. Interestingly enough, some games replace Curaja with Curaga and rename Curaga as Curada as per their original names: exactly why this specific spell is different from the others is anyone's guess.
    • Besides the "Fire/Fira/Firaga" distinction, Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Dimensions have spells sorted into tiers in a very Dungeons & Dragons-esque fashion. This is understandable, since the former borrows heavily from D&D, the middle two expand on the first's formula, and the latter is a throwback. Naturally, the more recent Spiritual Successor Bravely Default follows suit.
    • Final Fantasy XII decided to have both "[spell]aga" and "[spell]aja," at least for the Cure line. The order was Cure/Cura/Curaga/Curaja/Renew, with Cure/Curaga being single-target, Cura/Curaja being multi-target, and Renew being a Full-Restore for the entire team. No "[spell]ada", however, and the Fire/Fira/Firaga stayed the same, with "[spell]aja" only used as super powered attacks for Espers when the party fights them.
    • Final Fantasy XIII introduced the spell Curasa into the Cure line.
    • Kingdom Hearts borrows the naming system, although whatever they name 4th tier magic seems to fly all over the place in the English dub (while the Japanese version consistently uses the suffix "-gun" to identify 4th tier spells). Kingdom Hearts I and II has "-gun" as the suffix for accessories, armor, and two Reaction Commands in a certain boss fight; Dream Drop Distance and III use "-za", and 0.2 has "-ja".
    • Uniquely, Final Fantasy II subjected spells to the same Stat Grinding system as the stats: instead of finding/learning more powerful spells, using the same spells over and over again made them more powerful but also more MP intensive.
    • Final Fantasy XIV has a bit of an odd take on this: Black Mages, White Mages and Summoners all learn II, III and IV levels of their base spells. Unlike many other examples however the upper tier spells aren't necessarily better. For example Fire III does a lot more damage then Fire, but cost about three times the mana and takes about three times as long to cast. Cure III meanwhile heals for about 1.5x what the basic Cure does, but for over three times the cost. Cure III does heal everyone in a smallish area, so its better for when your party is grouped together.
  • Grandia games have three tiers of magic, each with their own sets of magic points.
  • In the Disgaea series, elemental spells and the heal spell have the more advanced levels given prefixes: "mega", "giga", "omega", "tera", and so on.
  • The World Ends with You makes no distinction between physical and magical attacks with its "Pin" system, but each pin has an assigned "rank" which places some limits on how many can be equipped simultaneously. Namely, you can't equip more than one of the same A-rank pin (or more than one of any star-rank pin) at the same time.
  • The Elements system Chrono Cross assigns each element a level from 1 to 8 indicating what area of a character's element grid they can occupy. Most elements also have a 'margin' that allows them to be equipped higher or lower than the intended level (with matching effect on its actual power).
  • The Fire Emblem series does this with both spells and weapons, by dividing them up into Weapon Levels dictating when a character is skilled to use stronger weapons. Ranks E-S or in some games E-SS. The typical progression for weapons is Iron, Steel, Silver. Magic was further standardized in Radiant Dawn giving basic magic, 'El' magic, 'Arc' magic, a named long range attack, named high level, and then 'Rex' for the ultimate (e.g. Wind, Elwind, Arcwind, Blizzard, Tornado, Rexcalibur).
  • Glory of Heracles has three levels of spells in each set. For instance, the single heal spell is Pow, Powra and Powtes. For offensive spells, the effects changes the higher the level: the level I spell (the base) targets a single enemy, the level II spell targets a row of enemy, and the level III spell targets all enemies. Each spell also has three upgradable levels based on a minigame event in the touch screen, but that is extra and not really relevant to this trope.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has all spells divided into five difficulty levels (Novice, Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert, and Master), and you can only learn higher-level spells after raising your skill in the corresponding magical school to a certain level.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim keeps the tiers (although Journeyman is renamed to Adept), but the magic system is slightly different. Since skills are no longer tiered, theoretically, any character can cast any spell at any time. In practice, your spells are still limited by several factors:
    • If you're low-level and/or haven't bothered to level up your magicka, you simply won't have enough magicka to cast the spell. Yeah, that 298 MP Expert-level fire spell may be cool, but it's not going to do you any good if your max magicka is 100.
    • You may find spell tomes in random loot, but they're level-locked; for example, Apprentice-level spell tomes only begin to show up at level 11, and Adept-level tomes show up at level 23. This applies to your character level, not your skill levels; you can play a warrior who has a skill level of 15 (the minimum) in every school of magic and you'll still find high-level spell tomes as you advance in overall level.
    • Merchants who sell spell tomes will only sell Adept- and Expert-level tomes when the PC's skill level in the relevant school of magic is above a certain level (40 and 65, respectively).
    • In order to use Master-level magic, you first have to level up your skill in the relevant school of magic to 100 (the cap) and then complete a sidequest for that school's trainer at the College of Winterhold. You'll get one Master-level spell tome free for completing the quest, and then you'll be able to buy the other Master-level tomes at the College. No other merchants sell them, and they don't appear in loot.
  • Breath of Fire IV in a couple of the dragon forms had the Korean versions of these spells which added more syllables to denote how much more powerful the spell was. Usually these were just restricted with the elemental attack magics.
  • In the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban games, most spells have a "Duos" or "Trio" variant that is stronger than the base version, which doesn't appear to be the case in the source material.
  • Similar to the Final Fantasy example (and actually predating its translated use in America by a large margin), Phantasy Star introduced technique tiers in the second game. They were grouped as "[technique]", "Gi[technique]", and "Na[technique]", with the additional "Sa[technique]" if you wanted multiple targets. For the former, examples would be Foi, Gifoi and Nafoi; for the latter, there is Ner and Saner.note 
  • World of Warcraft used to have ranks for most spells and abilities, with higher ranks becoming available for training for players as they leveled up. For the most part, there was no real reason to go back to a lower rank after that, and this was eventually replaced with abilities simply becoming stronger with each Character Level. In addition, most healing spells initially came in three strenghts: Lesser, (Normal) and Greater. The latter were the most efficient, but also took the longest to cast and were rarely used because of that. The general concept still exists for healers, if with different spells. For example, Priests use Flash Heal as the quick but costly healing spell, Greater Heal (with a much shorter casting time) for the slow but effective healing and while the normal version Heal still exists, no one really uses it and its slated for removal in the next expansion.
  • Dungeon Crawl has spells with numeric levels from 1 (least) to 9 (greatest). A spell's level determines how much MP and hunger it costs to cast, as well as the odds of successful casting. A character can only have a total number of spell levels memorized based on their Character Level and Spellcasting skill.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • The four elemental damage spells follow this format: root (weak tier) < root followed by an extra consonant-vowel formation (medium tier) < root followed by -dyne (strong tier) < completely different name (severe tier, if it exists in a given game). The "Ma-" prefix indicates that the spell targets all enemies.
    • Almighty spells: Megido (weak) < Megidola (medium) < Megidolaon (strong). Devil Survivor has Megidoladyne used by the ultimate Bonus Boss, but how it works is significantly different from — and far more devastating (as in, it gets stronger the more it's cast, to the point where it can inflict a map-wide One-Hit Kill) than — the first three spells.
    • Healing spells: Dia (weak) < Diarama (medium) < Diarahan (full heal). "Me-" indicates that the spell heals the entire party.

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