At the beginning of the game, you choose a class selected from the same six classes that have made up the "default" arrangement for the series since, well, 1987. Today, I'm going to take a look at the three physical classes from that initial assortment: the Warrior, the Thief, and the Monk. We're going to be using the same initial criteria that kicked off this series, so take a moment to look at that if you're unfamiliar. Without further ado, let's get to classes!
The Warrior, as put forth by the game, is able to become proficient with nearly every weapon but masters none of them. Outside of Katanas and Great Katanas, every weapon can be wielded by a Warrior, and the armor she can wear is easily the heaviest among the initial class selection. As you progress in levels, however, the Warrior becomes more distinctly her own class, with a preference for axes and heavy physical damage.
Mechanical identity: Sadly, Warriors suffer in the extreme from their need to be an early jack-of-all-trades. While other classes do manage to eventually find their own niches, the Warrior never quite gels in terms of role until much later, when the development team seems to have finally decided that the class should be another two-handed damage dealer. The bright side is that you can usually pull off a variety of physical roles up through the mid-levels, but the downside is that whatever you do with the class, you're not using all of its abilities.
Utility to other classes: If you're playing a physical class and you sub Warrior, you'll do decent no matter what. While the class itself might suffer from its toolbox mentality, other classes gain a lot from the fact that she has a little bit of everything. Provoke, Berserk, and Defender have all found homes on other classes as a matter of course, not to mention Double Attack when you hit 50 with the subjob. It makes any given physical job a bit better, which is great.
Cool factor: It's not that swinging a huge axe isn't cool; it's that Warriors are surrounded by other classes positively dripping with cool. When you've got ancient knights with wyvern pets, followers of old and obscure sword techniques, a reaper of death complete with scythe, and a fluid and graceful dancer with an array of daggers... well, being the gal with an axe isn't quite cutting it. Points for effort.
It's pretty easy to understand what a Thief does. Unlike Thieves in pre-3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, a Thief in Final Fantasy XI is very much tilted toward being exactly what it says on the tin, with abilities centered around acquiring shiny things and avoiding the subsequent beating. Of course, the class also learns quite a bit about subtly poking something to death with a dagger, with the acronym "SATA" being almost universally understood in the playerbase as a way for Thieves to help cement aggro on the tank.
Mechanical identity: In the first game in the series, Thieves were essentially Warriors with less damage and worse armor. So it's a bit ironic that FFXI's Thieves have such a strong mechanical identity of their own compared to a Warrior. It's not just about the time-honored combination of Sneak Attack and Trick Attack -- it's also about acquiring treasure, avoiding aggro, and generally making for a good scout, puller, and damage dealer all in one package. Plus, you want one along with you when you're trying to get a rare drop if at all possible.
Utility to other classes: SATA is sadly less useful to other non-Thief classes, but anyone hunting for a rare drop will happily toss on /THF for Treasure Hunter if nothing else. If Triple Attack were lower, it would probably make the job a bit more attractive as support. As it stands, though, while it falls short of a Warrior's heroic example, it has something to offer in specific situations.
Cool factor: OK, I admit it, I'm the sort of person who finds heavy armor and stabbing something from the front much cooler. But the Thief definitely does sell the image, and with the addition of a native Dual Wield trait in the higher levels, the class manages to hold its own in terms of style. It does fall down a bit with some of the higher-level advanced jobs, however.
Rather than being a class that attacks enemies through Gregorian chant and illuminated manuscripts, Monks are the punch-happy pools of HP that round out the game's initial physical offerings. But don't let that pool of HP fool you because a Monk only has one real goal: beating everything into a puddle of goo. He's got no tanking, no healing, no anything but relentless punching until every target you see has been reduced to dust from your knuckles.
Mechanical identity: Monks are the archetypical picture of a class whose abilities and party roles are determined by two different people. Looking at the abilities alone -- HP Boost, Chakra, Dodge -- you'd think that Monks would occupy the same role as Warriors, either tanks or damage dealers as the situation warranted. You would be totally wrong in thinking that, however, as the paper-thin armor of a Monk ensures that all that HP just helps soak up area attacks or the few times when he manages to nab aggro. It's hard to call your mechanical identity a win when your setup is so schizophrenic.
Utility to other classes: In the low-to-mid-level band, Monk can provide some use for a number of different classes. At higher levels, he fall aparts compared to other options. Put simply, Monks don't have all of the great toolbox abilities that Warriors develop, and as we just mentioned, their abilities are largely suited toward tanking rather than damage dealing. (Why don't you want to sub one as a tank? Provoke.) Still, they do provide some good use early on.
Cool factor: You are punching a monster to death.
You are punching a monster to death.
See a lich? Punch it in the face.
Behemoth? Punch it in the face.
It is hard to argue that your class does not have cool factor oozing out of every pore when your primary mode of attack is punching out everything, up to and including Shinryu. And that actually works.
Class in session
So we've got one class that wins as a toolbox, one that wins for mechanical identity, and one that wins purely on the basis of cool. Not a bad set of starting classes, but there's better stuff out there. Starting in a couple of weeks, we're going to move on to the other half of FFXI's starting classes. (I'm waiting for the action revisions for Final Fantasy XIV before I start talking too much about those classes.) Until then, you can leave me feedback in the comments below, or send it along to email@example.com. Next week, let's talk about a big war-shaped elephant in the room, yes? You know what I'm talking about -- it's the other game that loves storytelling.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.