The casters, on the other hand, are a different story. Sure, Warriors wind up later being an ur-type that gets distilled into several other roles, but most of the casters retain their uniqueness far later in the game. So let's take a look at your other three options when starting a new character in Final Fantasy XI, all of which have the same last name.
You cast the spells that make the people fall down. Or make the people explode in the center of a fireball, whichever. Black Mages can also pick up a few other tricks in the form of some crowd control and a handful of debuffs, but their core role is the same as it's been ever since the first game in the series: dealing enormous amounts of damage with elemental spells and hopefully not casting an AoE spell inside a crowded room. Of course, the downside is that you give up pretty much every other possible benefit, but that's a small price to pay for the ability to unwrite someone from the universe.
Mechanical identity: Aside from the plethora of spells that other classes don't get access to, Black Mages have abilities that relate to blowing things up with spells and casting more spells to blow things up -- increasing damage and conserving mana, in other words. Certainly consistent with the stated role.
Utility to other classes: There are a handful of spells that Black Mages get that can be useful to other classes, but by and large they're mostly useful as a subjob for the extra MP. Usually they work in support of another caster class that has other spells which are a bit more useful -- low-level attack magic on a White Mage doesn't really stack up against the White Mage's innate spell list. So they're not all that toolbox-ish.
Cool factor: The image of a Final Fantasy Black Mage is screamingly iconic, and while the various bits of game fiction can never seem to decide whether they are inherently evil or just look like it, they certainly drip with coolness. Wreaking havoc from the back of the party is always done with aplomb.
Well, someone has to make sure the front line remains in one piece. Healing magic, enhancing magic, and some general utility are all under the aegis of the White Mage, along with a handful of attack spells that aren't terribly useful against anything that isn't undead. It's not the most glamorous job in the world, but you get to be a cornerstone of healing for much of the game and an introduction to thinking like a support class in a party.
Mechanical identity: Scholars sort of did a number on the uniqueness of the White Mage, but honestly, the damage had been done long before then. At low levels, of course, the White Mage is the giver of life in abundance. It's only at higher levels that other classes start becoming more viable as healers, and there were times back when the level cap was still 75 that parties wouldn't even bother getting a dedicated White Mage healer. There are a lot of classes that do party support quite well, albeit without the direct healing punch. But the lack of punch can be overcome.
Utility to other classes: Subbing White Mage has long been a quick and dirty way to solo when necessary, albeit somewhat slowly. While that has diminished with time, most support classes still benefit from the sub, since it helps offer a few more healing and support options for the party. You might not always be happy leveling as a White Mage, but you'll always be happy to have leveled a White Mage.
Cool factor: As the name would imply, they're kind of the opposites of the Black Mage, but they don't carry the same visceral cool as their pointy-hatted cousins. The red and white robes are very iconic, but they don't seem to carry quite as much individual charm... although some of their more unique armors do help give them a certain style.
A Red Mage is an interesting case study. It's a class that has one identity for the early levels, then turns around and does something completely different past a certain point. At low levels, Red Mages are really jacks of all trades, with decent melee skills, spell selection, and available armor. Then, past a certain point, they start turning into a debuffer to beat all debuffers, crippling an enemy and dispelling monster-specific buffs. Then they do another twist and start turning into debuffers with strong party support elements. It's a role switch helped by some unique Red Mage spells that keep the class shifting in its use.
Mechanical identity: The big trick that Red Mages have is flexibility, and all of their abilities play that up. Fast Cast ensures that your spells are easier to fire off in quick succession, Convert allows you to run down your MP and then run it back up without regret, Composure pops you into momentary melee mode... the unique tricks you have are all there to let you change what you're doing based on the situation and are certainly in keeping with the theme.
Utility to other classes: Red Mage generally isn't a great sub -- its strength, oddly, is the number of subjobs that it can use. Sub Ninja and you become a soloing beast with elemental weapons and Phalanx. Sub White Mage and you're a support character with Dispel. Sub Black Mage and now you're hitting hard with attack spells and elemental debuffs. Sub Blue Mage and the world implodes. You can honestly sub most classes for a Red Mage, and it can make some use of most of them.
Cool factor: With their rapiers and striking pimp hats, Red Mages are dripping with almost as much style as Black Mages. Between their versatility and their pseudo-melee nature, they're an easy draw for a lot of players.
White Mages sort of get short shrift, but both Black Mages and Red Mages are really strong classes. It helps, of course, that they're among the more iconic classes from the franchise as a whole. But they're both well-designed and really show off the individuality that can be found within the class system, even though every player can (and often does) level every class.
Feedback, as always, can be left in the comments below or mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going to talk about some of the changes outlined for Final Fantasy XIV's patch 1.20, which may very well have been released by then. We can hope, anyway.
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.