Final Fantasy V: Jobs

Although I’ve been trying to play the Final Fantasy series in order, I skipped FF3. It’s never been released on any platform I own — heck, until recently, it hadn’t even been released in English. 1There was an American release of a game called Final Fantasy III, but it was actually what we today call Final Fantasy VI. Some of the games were originally released only in Japan, but after FF7 they decided to sync up the numbers and do official English-language remakes of the skipped episodes. I tried playing a fan-made translation of FF3 on a NES emulator years ago, but found it unwieldy and confusing, and gave it up, hoping that the future would bring a better way to play it. In particular, it had this “Job” concept that was inadequately explained. Perhaps it was covered better in the docs, which I didn’t have.

FF4 didn’t have anything like the Job system — instead, it accomplished the same purpose, providing variability in gameplay, by swapping different player characters in and out a lot. But FF5 brought Jobs back.

This time I have documentation and an in-game tutorial to help me, but it was still confusing at first, because the whole idea is so contrary to both RPG convention and common sense. In essense: you can change a character’s class at any time (except during combat). I’m not talking about D&D-style multiclassing, I mean you can just turn your level 10 Thief into a level 10 White Mage, cast healing spells on your party, then turn him back to a Thief. It’s a little misleading to even talk about a “level 10 Thief” at all: it’s just a level 10 character who’s currently doing the Thief job.

“Surely there must be some kind of penalty for switching jobs willy-nilly!” one cries. No, there is not. Why should there be? Does D&D reward spellcasters for memorizing the same set of spells every day, or fighters for remaining loyal to a single suit of armor? Jobs in this game are like garments that you slip on to suit your current activities. Indeed, each job comes with its own outfit — or rather, four outfits, one for each player character. They get sillier as the game goes on. One job involves dressing up in an animal costume with big ears.

Each character also gets to use one feature they’ve earned from a different job. This is where it gets complicated. See, there are two parallel kinds of XP. You’ve got your conventional experience level system, which governs the character’s base stats (which are modified by the current job), and you’ve also got “ability points”, which are job-specific. Suppose, for example, you want a character who can both use a sword and cast healing spells. One way to go about this is to give someone the job of White Mage and go kill stuff for a while. A White Mage with enough Ability Points gets the privilege of keeping the ability to cast first-level White spells when switched to a different job. Get some more Ability Points and you can keep the ability to cast second-level White spells, and so on. Likewise, you can do it the other way around: if you gain enough Ability Points as a Knight, you can switch to White Mage and keep the ability to use a sword. (There are other jobs that use swords, but only the Knight lets you keep it.) Each playable character can only have one skill of this sort active at a time, but like the jobs themselves, you can switch the active skill at will.

The whole scheme seems tailor-made for people who like experimenting with different character classes. There are only four playable characters, but there are 22 jobs, including exotic things like Geomancer and Chemist. Naturally I want to try them all. The game doesn’t make all of the jobs available at the beginning, but releases them in batches after certain major plot events, with the more experimental ones appearing later.

Later installments in the series kept the idea of on-the-fly character customization, but the two that I’ve played used different mechanisms for it. In FF7, it was part of the Materia system, which broke things down into more elementary units — instead of a Thief job with such features as enhanced speed and the ability to steal, “Speed Plus” and “Steal” are separate materia that can be used together or independently. In FF8, there’s a system of “Guardian Forces” that enhance their bearers in various ways, including providing the ability to enhance certain stats by attaching spells to them. The FF7 system is a lot simpler than the Job system, the FF8 system a lot more complicated. But all three of them have one thing in common: “action points”, the parallel XP. When I played FF7, it seemed odd that materia — magic stones slotted into weapons or armor — gained experience levels along with their users. But now I see where that comes from.

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1. There was an American release of a game called Final Fantasy III, but it was actually what we today call Final Fantasy VI. Some of the games were originally released only in Japan, but after FF7 they decided to sync up the numbers and do official English-language remakes of the skipped episodes.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 26 Nov 2007

    I really think the job system is the best idea to come out of the Final Fantasy franchise. It just makes combat and character building so much more interesting than the traditional JRPG model. Best implementation so far is of course in Final Fantasy Tactics, but it sounds like FFV has all the most crucial elements.

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