Editorial: Seventh Son of a Seventh Submariner

Variety is the spice of life, as it were, in JRPGs.

I am a big fan of defined character classes over jack-of-all-trade character growth systems. I feel that defined classes add immeasurably to a character’s personality, and contribute substantially to a game’s strategy. That said, defined character classes are not without their own conundrums.

Two classes that I’ve found to be somewhat problematic (especially early on) are the ever iconic White and Black Mage types. In most cases it verges on obligatory to include one of each in your party for use in boss battles, yet for most regular battles they come off as somewhat superfluous. Regular monsters are invariably capable of so little damage during battles that the White Mage is often uncalled for, and their role can be capably filled by a handful of potions anyway. Meanwhile, I find that Black Mages are all but useless for general application early on, owing to the limited resource of MP, which I would sooner save for a boss.

What this often amounts to for me is having two party slots permanently filled by characters that I have defend themselves most rounds. Obviously in many cases it would be preferable to run with a party composed entirely of physical classes, yet woe betide he who neglects to level his Mages, for they are dead useful in boss fights.

This is why I am such a huge fan of Final Fantasy X’s interchangeable party battle system, and also why I consider it a wasted opportunity that more JRPGs did not learn from or copy FFX’s battle system.

It allows characters to be used when needed, and then just as easily to be put back, so as not to uselessly clog the battle order. Add to this the fact that the game’s planners took care to provide a suitable mix of both magical and physical foes, and you have a system where characters only need be used when they’re useful, yet are still used often enough to level up sufficiently.

I dun cast some spells

I speak of FFX because that is what I know, but what of you Lusireaders? Have you randomly encountered a battle system which handles character classes particularly well?

0 comments

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better battle system than FFX. I feel like 13 tried to copy parts of it, and failed miserably – the battle system needs to be used in its entirety.

  2. Horrible story aside, Final Fantasy X-2, with its interchangeable jobs mid-battle, really handled battles well. The early Dragon Quest games actually make magic users useful for random battles, since the random battles. Also Final Fantasy V did a good job of it, since you can equip an ability from another job onto each character.

  3. Er, that was supposed to be “since the random battles are actually pretty tough”, when referring to early DQ games.

  4. X-2 is a pretty flexible battle system, yet I found that I rarely changed classes mid-battle, since the battles themselves were so brisk.

  5. I also love using black mages in any game which provides early and affordable access to mana potions.

  6. I remember tearing shit up as a mage in Sword of Mana, but the downside of that is that you have to play Sword of Mana. It’s not a bad game…but it’s not particularly good either.

    I still old up Final Fantasy V as another example of character classes done completely right.

  7. “I also love using black mages in any game which provides early and affordable access to mana potions.”

    Which is…the horrible Dawn of Souls remake? In the original NES and PSX remake I found Physical fighter x3 (Fighter/Warrior usually)+White Mage works pretty well. In Dawn of Souls, I’d go with White Mage+Black Mage x3. You can buy Ethers in Elfton 30 minutes into the game and you can basically spam the strongest nukes every battle as you get more gold than you need to do so.

    A lot of the SMT games have rigid classes (or demons that only do specific things). The last two Personas the other party members develop along set paths with set elemental stregths/weaknesses. They kind of didn’t really make much use of that though. You could pick party members based around which elemental attacks the main character doesn’t have Personas capable of, but it for the most part was unnecessary.

    Final Fantasy IV: The After Years makes the character classes exceptionally rigid, although I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Mages are utterly incapable of doing physical damage. Like we’re talking 50 attack rounds to down a random encounter enemy.

  8. The SMT system is so uniquely its own that it never even occurred to me, Persona skills aren’t really like the rigid classes of classical JRPGs though (though their somewhat interchangeable skills do tend to adhere to an elemental class).