I'm going to go ahead and say that this job is half of the reason I still don't like pet classes to this day. (We'll get to the other half eventually.) Beastmaster was one of the first pet classes in Final Fantasy XI, and it was the class best-suited to soloing for a long while. It was also subject to a number of different complicated systems for maximizing one's XP gain, most of which have been systematically killed by Square-Enix through repeated patches. Basically, players of Beastmasters seem to be of the mind that Square-Enix completely hates them, and Square responds by giving Beastmasters no alternative routes of play and labeling each exploit that they use in order to remain relevant.
It's kind of an ugly game, sometimes.
With all that being said, Beastmasters are still capable of holding their own, either alone with a pet or working with a party. Usually it's the former, especially since there's a misconception that the Beastmaster's entire party will lose experience by having a Beastmaster there (which is kind of true, but only if the player is charming overleveled monsters... it's complicated).
Mechanical identity: You get a bunch of traits to help you fight beasts and a bunch of commands to handle your pet. Beastmaster doesn't get much of anything that isn't tied to a pet, but those pets work, and in a party your jug pets can serve as a toolbox of different abilities. It hangs together quite nicely.
Utility to other classes: Beastmaster isn't a great support job, but it does actually work decently as a hack for soloing with certain classes once you understand how it works. In essence, Charm is always slaved to your Beastmaster level, so a level 75/37 WAR/BST who has raised BST to 50 will be Charming like a level 50. It's also based upon Charisma, which is stackable for most classes, especially for Bards. The long and short of it is that it actually manages to do OK if you've already leveled it a fair bit and need something to support your soloing efforts, especially if you're trying to solo level a support class.
Cool factor: This was the part that always killed the class for me. As with the Ranger, I think I'm just not the target audience for the pet class. That having been said, there are a lot of other pet classes in the game that have a much greater cool factor, including the one next on this list.
Even without the unique headgear, Summoners are one of the most iconic classes in the entirety of the franchise. There's a reason why six games in the main series have made a special point about summon magic, up to and including marking Summoners off as uniquely magical individuals in half of them. Summoners are also a pet class, but more often than not, their use of said pet is confined to summoning, using an ability quickly, and then dismissing said pet. But there are other uses of the class, other ways to make use of your summoned companions, and high-end summon spells such as Odin and Alexander break the rules about how summons even work. It's a unique, visually distinct, and powerful class in the right hands. And yes, your artifact set lets you wear the horn hat.
Mechanical identity: Here's a strange case where the mechanical identity that the job actually has wound up being subsumed by what the community wanted. Essentially, Summoners long wound up being White Mages with weaker cures, more MP, and some great buffs via selectively summoning, using area buffs unique to the avatars, and then dismissing. This was partly due to the simple fact that the costs for summon spells and the time required to level the skill was simply unnecessarily prohibitive. As a result, Summoners have a lot of abilities that don't really sync up with their long-held role, which makes them pretty coherent for a broadly focused caster class and pretty incoherent for what actually happened. It'd be a half-point if we were scoring by points.
Utility to other classes: Nil in terms of abilities; massively useful in terms of providing a huge pool of MP for every caster class to eat through. Boring functionality is still functional, though.
Cool factor: Come on. You are summoning the very essence of the world's elements, veritable demigods among mortals. And then you summon the big brothers of those guys when you start unlocking stuff like Diabolos. Yeah, that's pretty cool.
Spoony or otherwise, Bards are there to support the group, and they do so in a fashion that's both subtle and yet noteworthy. In a good party with a good Bard, you only notice after 20 minutes that your main healer is actually a Red Mage who keeps heading up to melee, or your tank is a Dark Knight, or you've pulled like 20 things in a row and no one's even taken a break. Until you play a Bard, it seems like some sort of bizarre magic, and once you do play one, you realize that it is a sort of bizarre magic played through various instruments and maintained painstakingly to keep everyone in shipshape.
Mechanical identity: Bards are meant to stay on the back lines, buff party members in a variety of ways, and provide limited debuffs as necessary. Guess what all of their abilities center around? Yes, it's really just that simple.
Utility to other classes: Pretty much nil, since other classes don't get any instruments and thus can't make full use of their underleveled Bard skills. This isn't even a case of "not so great" as a support job; it's just not doable. Nothing to see here.
Cool factor: Loads... if you've played with one. If you're just reading about the class, then it's going to sound like a bunch of strange men and women in hats strumming lutes while other people slice monsters to bits with enormous swords. When you actually see one in action, though, and realize that it turns a party into a well-oiled machine... well, then playing a Bard seems pretty darn cool.
The first batch
So, after four columns, we've finally covered all of the options available in the game at launch, and we're just about halfway through. We still have the expansions, though, so we'll be here for a while.
As always, comments are welcome in the field below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, since I've been inspired by this week's talking of Summoners, I'm going to take a look at how much cooler it is to play a game in which you don't get to summon Bahamut.
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.