The core game only offered six advanced choices: Paladin, Dark Knight, Ranger, Beastmaster, Bard, and Summoner. Today, I'm going to be taking a look at the somewhat more physical side of the group, using criteria established way back when I started talking about class design philosophy. Bear in mind that this isn't meant to discuss strict power levels; that's the sort of thing that gets fiddled with easily enough and frequently enough that a unique mechanical identity matters more than who's on top at any given week. On with the first batch of advanced jobs!
Remember way back when I waxed poetic about classes and lore being intertwined in the online Final Fantasy games? Paladins are the poster children for this. Becoming a Paladin is literally the first step of being a part of a tradition of San d'Orian knighthood that's been handed down for generations -- they're warriors blessed with life-giving magics as well as iron defenses against opponents. Through a combination of devotion, bravery, and simple humility, you prove that you're worthy of the mantle. A Paladin isn't simple some generic holy knight; he or she is a person with a definite place in the game world and a reason to be there.
Mechanical identity: Even if we disregard the whole chunk of lore built into the setting, the Paladin is meant to be a defensive wall, and every single aspect of the class reinforces that. You get healing magic, you get defensive buffs, and you get an iron defense and skills devoted to making your enemy more likely to hate you. It's a solid marriage of form and function, a setup for which the concept matches the execution more or less note-for-note. If anything, the only thing lacking from initial abilities was the equivalent of Provoke, which rather limited a Paladin's subjob choices, but that's another discussion.
Utility to other classes: For a long time, the rule of thumb was to never sub an advanced job. That's changed somewhat over the past several years, but Paladins are still not particularly useful for other classes. Most of what they offer would be most useful to a Paladin first and only. You can get some use out of one for soloing, but that's only a little, and it's arguable that other jobs perform a similar function as a primary to begin with.
Cool factor: Longtime readers will know that I just plain like paladins as a concept, so I'm predisposed to find them cool. That having been said, the cool for Paladins in Final Fantasy XI is all in backstory and concept. In execution, they're kind of boring and don't get a whole lot of stylistic flair. This is eminently understandable, but it still makes it hard to get too enthusiastic about them. They perform one role very well but lack that real flash.
Good implies evil, light implies dark, and holy knights imply their opposite number, the Dark Knight. There's nothing inherently evil about Dark Knights, save for the fact that they weaken themselves and suffer to enhance their attacks, but that's not so much "evil" as it is unhealthy. Where Paladins are meant to be a defensive bulwark above all else, Dark Knights are paragons of harm, ripping apart enemies with black magic and relentless attacks from a scythe or great sword.
Mechanical identity: There are a couple of elements of Dark Knight that don't quite mesh, like the inexplicable traits to help you kill arcana-type enemies, but the class as a whole has a great identity as one that trades safety for damage. There are a plethora of abilities the class learns to that end, but Souleater is probably the most iconic, and it also marvelously captures the flavor of the class in a nutshell -- you lose health and buff your attack correspondingly. Hey, you're not the tank -- you weren't using that HP anyway.
Utility to other classes: Dark Knight actually gets a bit more utility as a subjob than Paladin, but it's mostly for corner cases (Chaincasting Stun with Red Mage long required /DRK, for instance). Offering some weak magic and a handful of attack-buffing skills when subbed doesn't look nearly as attractive as other options, such as Warrior, which offers many of the same benefits and more besides.
Cool factor: You're a black-armored warrior casting status ailments and wielding a scythe as a weapon. On the one hand, yes, Bannable Offenses had a good point when talking about how Dark Knights are the most emo things ever. That doesn't mean it's still not pretty darn cool. The actual class story and the like is a bit spare, but the sheer amount of style inherent to the class makes up for it.
You know that ranged attack spot you have on your inventory? It's the sort of thing you make a brief note of and then ignore pretty much forever, as it's not actually useful to most classes. Rangers, on the other hand, live and die by that ranged attack. A Ranger is the living embodiment of death from afar, but that's not the only thing the class can handle; it's got the ability to weave through clusters of monsters, pick out a single target, and yank it back to a group hiding elsewhere. The idea of a dedicated puller is often lost on more modern game design, but in the case of the Ranger, it finds its purest form.
Mechanical identity: Despite the fact that there are really two roles at work with the Ranger (pulling and dealing damage at range), the class has an identity to support both. Most of the active abilities in the class focus on dealing more damage, while most of the passive traits help you pick out nearby enemies and avoid detection. Not to mention that it gets some extra identity from its equipment list, since it's one of the only classes that can equip useful ranged weapons, most notably guns.
Utility to other classes: Ranger is a class with very limited utility as a sub but arguably a bit more than its companions in this column. Corsairs can benefit from the extra ranged punch, and Samurai can make use of their own ranged abilities more prominently, with COR/RNG in particular being considered viable. (How viable can vary a bit from time to time.) When you consider that's more general use than either of the other two can claim, Ranger is the clear winner.
Cool factor: This is a tough one. On the one hand, I personally don't care for the image that Ranger is going for; I find it kind of bland and lackluster. On the other, it's clearly a popular one, so perhaps I'm not a very good judge of this. Back on the first hand, the whole image that it manages to conjure with guns is pretty cool, even if it's a departure from what the class originally seemed to be aiming for in terms of style. But on yet another hand, most of the gunplay cool has pretty much been stolen by Corsair, who does all of that with still more style. I'm just going to call this one around the same tier as Paladin: competent, but not nearly as iconic or evocative as others.
Each of these jobs really shines and suffers in the same way: They're very cohesive from a mechanical standpoint, but none of them has a lot of use for other classes, and aside from Dark Knight, none of them is among the more flavorful class entries. The other three, however...
Well, that's a topic for another week, isn't it? For now, you can sound off on your feelings in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going to respond to an admittedly older comment by Naoki Yoshida and how that relates to Final Fantasy XIV's current and future direction.
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.