How To Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck--Part 3: Job Systems

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Welcome again to Somnambulant Gamer's feature on Final Fantasy XIV--and how to make sure it doesn't suck. In Part One and Part Two, we outlined Combat and Story; what we liked about them in FF XI, what we hated, and how we think Final Fantasy XIV could revolutionize the concepts therein.

This time, we're tackling one of the most unique and most enjoyable concepts in Final Fantasy XI:


Job classes were introduced in the very first Final Fantasy, way back in 1987. After choosing a class (or Job) from the six available, ('Fighter', 'Black Belt', 'Thief', 'White Mage', 'Black Mage', and 'Red Mage'), you gave your characters each a name and your quest began. Later in the game, each class evolved into a more powerful version.

Final Fantasy III and V each improved upon the job system, adding more jobs and abilities, directly resulting in more choices for the player as to how to go about completing the game. In this way, every player's experience was a little different. Unlike other games of the same era, where there was a 'trick' to success--jumping at the exact time in Mario, taking the precise path in Zelda, or throwing down flawless fisticuffs in Punch-Out!, Final Fantasy presented a new way to deliver a story and a unique, player-driven mechanic for experiencing it.

Final Fantasy XI tried--and in many ways, succeeded--to recapture that initial burst of ingenuity.

FFXI's job system gave players the ability to customize in a way that MMO's had yet to be seen: A player chose a job at the beginning of the game, but at any time thereafter could change it by returning to his or her own city. As they progressed in this job, they gained abilities and traits, specific to their class. In addition, a 'sub-job' could be taken advantage of; a sub-job was a second job that could be equipped simultaneously, and add to the player's arsenal half of the abilities and traits of a second job. It is complex to discuss, but its in-game execution is intuitive and rewarding.

Thanks to the Job System, players, were able to fulfill any role they wished--healer, defender, attacker, caster--a myriad of possibilities were opened to the player. New jobs were unlocked via story-driven quests, so any time a player tired of their job, they could switch to another--this kept the game fresh and interesting. Final Fantasy XI started with six available jobs. Today, it has twenty.

Sadly, FFXI's job system, like the rest of the game, is beginning to show its age. This is where Final Fantasy XIV comes in. FFXI's job system is one thing about FFXI that absolutely needs to stay, but also needs to be reinvented and revolutionized to appeal to modern MMO players.

What to Toss:

This is going to sound bad, but it has to be said: Square Enix needs to toss motherfucking everything.

Well, almost everything. The job system, at its core, is much like the crystal around which Final Fantasy lore is based--pristine and beautiful. But there's a lot of scuff marks on this crystal, and we need to clean it up a little bit. Square-Enix needs to toss everything they think they know about Job progression and look at it as if they'd never looked at it before, asking themselves all the while, "Does this make sense?". For the entirety of this feature, "logical progression and interaction" has been a theme. The Job System should be no different.

At the beginning of Final Fantasy XI, you choose your job by clicking its name from a list. Toss it.

Adding a subjob involves leveling a second job in the exact same fucking place a player just leveled their first job, requiring them to spend twice the time in that beginner's hellhole, (named Valkurm Dunes), than about any other locale in the game. When you change your subjob, you select it from a list in a menu. Toss that shit!

We hate the dunes.

Changing jobs involves, again, selecting said job from a list. You see where this is going.

The point is that changing jobs needs to be as game-inclusive as possible. Today, many successful games have immersed players by hiding mechanics within gameplay. The new Silent Hill: Origins does this by adding menu functions into the main character's mobile phone screen. In this way, even when gamers are taken out of the game, gamers aren't taken out of the game. Savvy?

Final Fantasy XI needs to do the same thing. In Part Two, we hinted at how your job selection and growth should happen around a narrative. Selecting character traits at the beginning could guide you toward a specific job.

And subjobs? Scrap 'em. We can do better than that.

What to Keep

The job system. It's fun, it's interesting, it keeps things fresh. One player I know wants to get all jobs to level 60--a lofty goal. Thanks to the job system, he can do this without having to create a new character, forcing him to repeat storyline quests or cutscenes. The job system needs to be kept--it wouldn't be Final Fantasy Online without it. However, the system needs to be character driven, giving more identity to your character, rather than your job. This can (and should) be accomplished through advanced character customization. (Incidentally, character growth is part four in this series).

How to Revolutionize It

The nice thing about the job system is that it doesn't need to be revolutionized--Square Enix just needs to remember its roots.

In Final Fantasy I, jobs from the beginning of the game evolved into more powerful jobs later in the game. Final Fantasy XIV needs to follow this example.

For example, if you start the game as a warrior, once you reach a (story-driven) point, extra jobs will become available--just like in Final Fantasy XI. The difference is this: Warrior should lead in
to the next logical choice in jobs--defenders and damage-dealers. In World of Warcraft, this is done through ability trees. FFXI could do much of the same with "Job Trees", a la Final Fantasy Tactics. In Final Fantasy Tactics, in order to achieve some of the more advanced jobs, prerequisites for multiple other, more basic jobs, need to be present. So to become a Paladin, maybe you need to be a level 20 Warrior and a level 15 White Mage. This will open to you the Paladin story arc. Different job quests, as well as getting the first 10 levels of that job, could be story-driven and take place in different areas, against different enemies, involving a short but self-contained storyline that spurs the character on a job-centric adventure--eliminating the repetition and drudgery found in beginner's areas like Valkurm Dunes.

Borrowing from Final Fantasy V would eliminate the need for subjobs. In FFV, once certain abilities were learned, they could be attached to a player's Ability List. So, even if I'm a Thief, if I previously learned "Sentinel" as a Paladin, I could add it to my arsenal of abilities. Each ability would have a point value, and depending on the player's level, only a certain amount of points could be 'spent' at a time.

Example: A player has leveled Thief, Monk, and White Mage to different levels. His stats dictate he has 18 ability points to assign to his character. Currently, he is Thief, so his Thief abilities don't cost anything. Abilities from other jobs, however, cost--but they can be added or removed at will.

Available points: 18
Attack- 0 pts
Steal - 0 pts
"Counter Attack" - 8 points
"White Magic" - 10 points

Total: 18/18 points.

This enables every player to be a little different, and each job to be played via the will of the player. The effect is the same that the 'subjob' system was attempting in 2002, but the execution has more finesse, giving the player greater choice, the playerbase more diversity, and adding a meaningful connection between player and character.

In sum, jobs could be leveled via "career paths", and not simply choice from a list. They should be character-centric--the job is defined by the character, instead of the character being defined by the job--and players should never have to repeat the same area over and over when they want to try a new job out.

The next step, I still maintain, is narrative-driven gameplay. I think the job system could be integral to character progression, giving the game a deeper experience and enriching the connection between player and character.

As always, these are just a few ideas of how Final Fantasy's classic job system could be implemented in Final Fantasy XIV. Any further ideas? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

Coming in Part Four, on Sunday, June 14 : Customizing your character and leveling up; "Character Progression" in Final Fantasy XIV. Don't forget to bookmark us. Thanks for reading!