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 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?