Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV and the ever-shifting landscape of class imagery
The answer, somewhat ironically, is six of them. Sabin, Setzer, Strago, Umaro, Gogo, and Cyan all have listed jobs you can expect to see on a regular basis. Of course, the imagery of several other party members lends itself to other jobs; Shadow is obviously a Ninja, Locke is obviously a Thief, and so forth. Heck, a solid case could be made that Terra is clearly meant to be a Red Mage. But the majority of the game’s playable cast is not listed with traditional jobs, and even those who have jobs that you can find elsewhere often play nothing like you’d expect.
Yes, this is relevant as we head into the second expansion for Final Fantasy XIV; understanding how the various games in the franchise use job imagery is pretty important when we’re speculating about the next job to be added and future jobs in the pipeline, and it’s important to understand the way that this franchise has used its imagery more or less from the start. Sometimes it’s straightforward, yes, but sometimes it’s anything but.
It’s fair to say that most jobs have iconic aspects that define them. There’s usually a piece or two of iconic gear that define the jobs; Monks have bare chests and short hair, Dragoons have spears and armor that looks like a pile of knives, and Red Mages have a sword and look dapper as heck with a pimp hat. Also, they’re red. Over the years, most of them have also managed to pick up a few iconic abilities, as well, ranging from the job-defining (Jump, Steal/Mug, Black Magic) to the versions that come in many forms but have similar core concepts (Red Mage casting swiftly, Bards singing to bolster the party, Paladins covering weakened allies).
However, the thing that’s also important to remember is that the franchise has, at many points, chosen to drive home the idea that these iconic abilities and skills are not inherently part of a job; they’re iconic on their own. And sometimes, that means imagery gets mixed up.
Final Fantasy IX loved to mess around with this, with each of the main characters clearly representing a single classic job (Thief, Knight, White Mage, Black Mage, Dragoon, Monk, Blue Mage, Summoner) while also drawing inspiration and mechanics from several other jobs along the way. The party’s Monk also has Ninja-like throwing abilities. The Dragoon has several attacks cribbed from unusual sources. The White Mage can also Summon; the Summoner also casts White Magic. No one has access to just a singular job ability.
It’s hardly the only example of this, either; Final Fantasy XIII didn’t have traditional jobs, but it still hammered home job identity with unique ability choices and role selection. Final Fantasy X made a character a clear reference to Dragoon despite the fact that said character mostly just gets the Jump command as a limit break effect. Final Fantasy VI had items that made Dragoons out of characters despite no one technically being labeled as such. You get the idea.
In Final Fantasy XIV, we will not get Thief. Or more accurately, we already have Thief; it’s Rogue, and it’s a gateway drug for Ninja. That’s it. Ninja has Mug, access to the game’s take on iconic Thief gear, and all of the attributes that Thief might get. There’s no more to be said on the matter.
This sort of aesthetic imagery is hardly unique to jobs, either; in FFXIV alone we’ve also got the Crystal Tower, the Warring Triad, Costa del Sol, Moogle postmasters, the Gold Saucer… the list goes on. All of these elements originate elsewhere, creating explicit thematic ties back to the past of the series without being the exact same thing. The Warring Triad is not the source of all magic, the Gold Saucer is not built over a depressed mining town, the Crystal Tower is not a lair for the singular big evil that sealed the entire world.
For a franchise with no unifying lore, this is kind of what has to happen. There are always chocobos, there are always moogles, there are bits and pieces tying the games together with style and reference rather than by continuity. These stylistic references provide the connecting tissue between games.
The reason I’m focusing on jobs in this particular instance is because it’s important to consider all of this whilst speculating about the next batch of jobs or what’s coming around the bend. The game doesn’t feature mammets as a preview of a future Puppetmaster; it features mammets because those provide a strong visual connection between Aht Urhgan and Ul’dah as well as the previous MMO in the franchise. The Thavnairian Bolero does not preview Dancer; more the opposite, that it lets you have a very Dancer-adjacent look on whatever job you prefer playing.
Thus far, the development team has put a lot of effort into making sure that each job is notably mechanically distinct from each other job, that each one plays differently. If we get Geomancer, you can bet that it’ll play differently than Black Mage, Summoner, or Red Mage as a ranged caster DPS (assuming that’s the role it eases into). Any new tank needs to carve a niche not already staked out by Paladin, Warrior, or Dark Knight, while retaining the core elements of tank identity established thus far by the game (namely, heavy armor).
It’s also worth noting that most games in the franchise don’t actually concern themselves with roles in the same way an MMO does; tanking is more of a passive exercise in most of the games, after all, and healing can often be spotted through with judicious use of potions. Dark Knight alone sinks the idea that just because a job did something in one game it’ll do the same thing in every game.
This is particularly relevant with each new expansion, as we always have oodles of speculation that’s hung on, well, basically nothing. After Las Vegas, I saw people speculating that Red Mage would turn out to be a new tank, and while I’d acknowledge that it’s not outside of the realm of possibility, it requires a lot of massaging for that to make sense, including giving Red Mage heavy armor (which is pretty atypical). Now that it’s been revealed, people are happily jumping on the same train with Yoshida’s Spider-Man shirt, concluding that it “confirms” anything beyond “someone owns a Spider-Man shirt.”
My personal bet is that the new job won’t be something familiar. I think there’s lots of room for it to inherit the imagery of something familiar without being that, and I think Samurai’s a pretty likely candidate for that borrowed imagery (and weaponry). But the vagueness that currently exists makes it impossible to know.
Still, don’t hang on the spire of “ah, that trailer looks a bit like Dancer, it must be Dancer!” or “the new villain looks a bit like a Samurai, it must be Samurai!” or “Peter Parker was a chemistry student, it must be Chemist!” That borrowed imagery is part of the game’s tapestry. Evoking images of Dancer and Samurai and Blue Mage and so forth is entirely appropriate, even in a game that includes none of the above. It’s how the franchise keeps that job imagery even as many of the main series titles move away from jobs, and it’s one of those little reminders that you’re playing a Final Fantasy title.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week… are we really this close to patch 3.5? Well, I’d better start talking about that a little more, huh?