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Stormblood, Bravely, and the Job System in Respect to Expression and Rigidity

June 14th, 2017 by Andy

RDM

Swapping out a character’s attire prompts an alternation in strengths, talents, and abilities. Beyond representing a character’s role as an abstraction, the job system informs strategy and composition. As a player, it dictates the rules and framework they operate within, and methods through which they succeed. As a developer, the job system need not be simple or recycled. There are numerous approaches to it and they can make modifications that represent a design philosophy and propagate a balanced, flowing battle system. On both ends, the job system is a means of expression. The details from Final Fantasy XIV’s newest expansion’s outline a shift in how the game plays and is a result of the design team’s change in attitude. In Stormblood the open-ended aspects of the system will be altered to become more rigid. However, this shift, while ominous sounding to an outsider, is beneficial and does not limit player expression, or does it suggest an impairment of future design potential.

The Job system is not unique to Final Fantasy—the notion of classes long predates it—but the series utilized it in its very first title and never forgot it. The first entry boasted twelve jobs. Each of the four party members can be one of six jobs, although, once the game starts they cannot switch. Upon completing a side quest, they may advance to a subsequent and improved equivalent. Final Fantasy III opened new jobs over time after story events. This title added individuality to each character beyond their class choice as the characters themselves and their jobs level independent of each other. By a mid-point in the game each of the four party members will have the flexibility to switch jobs between battles that suit their strengths and improve the composition.

The fifth mainline entry is the first that included cross-class abilities; by leveling jobs up, as with III but with a significantly smaller level cap, active or passive abilities from one job can apply to another. Starting stats, job based stat-growth, and the list of cross-class abilities made each member unique and flexible for facing different challenges. As a result, players can leverage abilities they like while experimenting with different configurations, thus creating an experience that is slightly different for everyone.

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Final Fantasy Tactics was similar in its approach; a wide array of jobs with the innate ability to draw from a few jobs and allocate their abilities into several slots; secondary ability, support ability, reaction ability, and movement ability. These titles represent a change from deterministic roles into component mechanics.

If there are indeed as many ways to play these games as there are players, then the job system is an invaluable aspect of such variability. The idea is by introducing pre-existing limitations through preset jobs, a network opens that allows for interpretation and strategy through which the player finds fulfillment. The balance of physical and magical based characters is to the player’s discretion, and with the introduction of cross-class abilities, the line is blurry and one can use one character with the flexibility to switch as needed. These initial titles are hugely influential on the job system as it would evolve over time. For example, Tactics Advance introduced race-specific jobs. Therefore, forming a team and acquiring new recruits requires another whole dimension of thought to consider.  X-2 and the XIII trilogy utilized an on-the-fly job swapping system through the Spherechange and Paradigm Shift mechanics that focus on a rotating composition rather than highly customized characters.

I would be remiss to suggest that any of the aforementioned games are without flaws, or allow for limitless experimentation and strategy. There is a good deal of it, but as with anything with a sufficient fan base and enough time, optimal strategies emerge in a meta game and the seemingly infinite possibilities narrow. An artificial degree of rigidity is thereby added; you can equip your team with all sorts of unique set ups, but a far smaller set of compositions are practical. The balance of individualized strategy and limited choice in the Final Fantasy series ultimately manifested in two titles that are likely the most open to player customization: Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, and the Bravely series.

The latter examples (Bravely Default and Bravely Second, and its distant progenitor, The 4 Heroes of Light) are, in my opinion, the logical continuation of the job system as it existed in V and, as applied to a turn-based battle system, Tactics. The job leveling is more defined; the level cap is lower than in III, higher than it is in V but still unlocks a new ability at every level. There are more choices in terms of passive abilities (each character has 5 slots, with each ability taking 1-3). The player regularly unlocks new jobs and is heartened to mix-and-match throughout the adventure.

No officer, you need to understand: its my JOB to be a thief.

No officer, you need to understand: its my JOB to be a thief.

This is further emphasized through the games’ optional online features, allowing the player to summon an online compatriot to perform an attack, and in so doing, observes how other people devised their characters. With this open-ended job system, there are numerous viable yet individualized strategies. These games have a level of depth  that utilizes the ideas from the previous games I outlined, and vigorously challenged and developed them to among the best turn-based battle systems there is, albeit with some pacing and balancing issues. However, these are single-player games, and that level of expression extends between four permanent party members. How did this approximate level of customization work within an MMO setting?

Final Fantasy XIV, when it originally released in 2010 in its 1.0 state wanted to separate itself from its fellow MMO, XI. Story wise, it did so (and continued to develop tonally and visually to become distinct from its older brother), but the similarities were noticeable. There were three main city-states, the same basic races, and the gameplay was remarkably similar. To become independent, it turned the job system on its head. Classes and jobs were separate. Classes could become jobs—lancer into dragoon, for example. The classes could use a wider array of abilities from other classes. Therefore, someone who plays multiple jobs has more tools to develop with (not unlike V, Tactics, and Bravely). However, the Jobs have their own abilities and are generally more powerful. In the vein of games like Dark Souls, at level-up the player could allocate their stats. Finally, simply changing their character’s main-hand was all that it took to switch classes, making party alternations a swift prospect.

Between stat allotment, class and job differentiation, and cross-class abilities, there was a lot of room for player expression. However, this system didn’t last, and 2.0 was released in 2013. Most of those elements remained. In fact, they were expanded with the addition of arcanist, who had dual job evolutions; summoner and scholar. This system didn’t last, however. Stat allotment is generally a stat dump into the most important stat for that class. One seldom sees anyone playing a class, as opposed to a job, post level thirty. Finally, cross-class abilities for each class are often requirements, so instead of being a means of individuality, leveling up another job is a base requirement.

The legacy of class and job differences remain, as does stat allotment. They will continue to be minor nuances with little impact of player strategy or end-game composition. It is clear that the developers did not wish to expand the class system, as the Heavensward and Stormblood jobs lack classes, and arcanist is still the only class that has more than one associated job. The biggest flaw that 2.0 added to the old system is the duty finder, which automatically finds a raid for the player, searches by role—tank, healer, or DPS—and pays no heed to individual distinctions within those categories. So it is no surprise that the forthcoming expansion is replacing cross-class abilities with a defined set that all jobs within a role possess, irrespective of the level of their other jobs.

Few fans of the series mourn this change. This system is more rigid, but as opposed to before, within its rigidity the system is cleaner and more balanced. While in its single-player counterparts’ open-endedness, despite some issues, is a strength, the landscape of an MMO, which develops its meta game and discovers viable strategies quickly, is much better off if each job is premade island that the player explores. Making numerous functional systems, however predefined, is superior to allowing unchecked openness that will invariably filter into a handful of viable combinations. Of course, this isn’t an unexpected or change, as this variation was de facto unacceptable due to pressure from the player base, and these changes represent roles the players already exhibited.

Sometimes simpler is better. These are the changes that are not changes. The Job System has a long nuanced legacy, whose mechanics not only evolved, but mutated. The potential has yet to be tapped, and it is easy to think that it should be more and more complicated. Yet, XIV 1.0 wanted to be many things at once to facilitate individuality, and 7 years later, it discovered that it can do so through rigidity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Andy

Andy23 | male | writer| admirer of storytelling through video games and other media, indefatigable fan (and apologist) of RPGs.