This extra this week entirely comes from me doing the intellectual equivalent of pouring a mixture of lemon juice and salt directly into an open wound. You see, after enjoying the wildly positive reception for things at Final Fantasy XIV’s Fan Festival in Las Vegas and having a grand time, for reasons which are still unknown to me, I decided to read the FFXIV subreddit, which is… let’s just say not great at the best of times. And a contingent of its participants were busy having an epic meltdown comparable to Chernobyl over Blue Mage.
Let’s start with the first an obvious point: “This is a temporary thing! All of these limits are just in place until the level cap gets raised, then it’ll be just like any other job.”
And you’re probably right about part of that! Blue Mage will almost certainly be up to 80 during the run of Shadowbringers. But that won’t make it not a limited job, because the announcement specifically hit two points: Limited job, and initial level cap of 50. These were not presented as linked clauses.
If they were part of the same whole, the announcement would not have stated an initial cap of 50 and the “limited” job as two separate items. Furthermore, several of the “limited” restrictions have nothing to do with whether or not the job has a restricted level cap. Even if the cap was at 70, the lack of leveling roulette would still be there. No, the level cap being less than the current cap is entirely about the distribution for the various skills and making sure that everything is balanced correctly, it’s always going to be a limited job.
“But it would be so easy to balance! If they’re worried about Level 5 Death, just don’t give that to Blue Mage!”
They, uh, haven’t. Level 5 Death is not actually a spell in the game right now. (Level 150 Death is, but no one is really concerned with learning that.) Yoshida was using a specific example of a skill that we know is classic to the job but has some pretty definite issues, but we can use a different skill with lesser problems: Bad Breath.
For those of you who have somehow never been hit by it, Bad Breath hits you with a lot of status ailments, including lots of ones that players normally don’t get to inflict (Paralyze, HP Down) and other ones that are pretty insanely powerful (Vulnerability Up). It is a pretty nasty skill, and for a lot of players getting tagged with it can seal their doom. We know that this is an iconic skill for Blue Mage, and we know Blue Mages get access to the skill.
“Why not just make all bosses immune to Bad Breath?”
Boy, that’s terrible design, isn’t it? Seriously, that’s giving you a really fun skill and then making sure that it’s not actually useful in any of the situations wherein you’d want it. Sure, it might work on trash, but that’s rarely if ever threatening anyhow and would be better served with an AoE damage spell.
“All right, but that doesn’t mean that the job can’t enter duty roulettes by itself, does it? Just make a minimum list of skills that Blue Mages have to learn to queue up!”
It sort of does, though. See, let’s examine two versions of that “minimum viable skill list.” In one version, Blue Mages have to know Bad Breath to queue up for a duty roulette. Which means we have to deal with that power problem again; the whole game absolutely has to be balanced around people using Bad Breath in roulettes. This is fine in the case of games like Final Fantasy XI, wherein all of those debuffs are available to players normally and the game is already tuned around the idea that players can and probably will try to interrupt every action a boss will take, but it’s a pretty top-down redesign of the game.
But what if Bad Breath isn’t on that minimum list? Then you get Blue Mages being kicked out of parties because they don’t have Bad Breath. Or Bad Breath is useless for the stuff you actually want to use it on, which is also really unpleasant; it’s bad practice to balance skills by working totally different in two different environments.
“Look, I don’t care about what is or isn’t good balance. Just make all of my powerful blue magic unavailable in roulettes so I can queue normally.”
So what you want then is a caster that hangs back and just casts spells as ranged DPS, with all of the “weird” Blue Magic spells excised?
That’s Black Mage. You already have that job. It’s been in the game since launch, even. Casting Aqua, Aqua Breath, and Void Thunder (those are speculative skills, mind) is not functionally different from casting Fire, Fire III, and Blizzard III. It’s just different flavor.
More to the point, it’s probably a lot more boring because all of the jobs currently in the game have a highly synergistic design. Black Mage doesn’t just have a collection of spells, it has numerous spells which interact in unique ways by applying Astral Fire or Umbral Ice, being castable only when under those states, and so forth. Monster skills, on the other hand, are not synergistic; they’re meant to provide individual unique tricks for enemies, not to work together in order to produce an overall mechanical identity.
It’s possible or even probable that some of these spells will get synergy from traits, as Blue Mage doesn’t learn abilities through leveling but may very well learn traits. But the point here is that this image of Blue Mage just using the most bare-bones implementation would most likely be underpowered and would definitely be boring to actually play.
“But all of this worked in FFXI!“
First and foremost, it’s important to note that it sort of didn’t. Blue Mage is brokenly powerful at this point, although much of that is due to the way skills interact for new traits. So that may not be the argument to use in this particular case.
But more important than this is the fact that FFXI has a very different structure than FFXIV, including an utter dearth of anything resembling leveling roulettes and a skill setup that made things like Bad Breath work better. A Red Mage in that game already had access to most of the status effects inflicted by Bad Breath, along with several other spells for wider utility. Blue Mage had lots of versatility, but it could never access most of it at the same time; sure, you can just cast Bad Breath once, but that’s a spell slot you can’t use for anything else.
“I still think you could find some way to set up a default set of skills every Blue Mage has to use in duty roulettes. Maybe you could find the right balance of synergy if you tried, right?”
If we suppose that’s true, for some reason, let’s take a next step forward. Let’s say there’s a 24-skill layout that’s totally balanced and works well enough for these purposes, ignoring everything else, and let’s even suppose for the sake of argument that it doesn’t just feel like Black Mage But Mildly Different. What are you going to use those other 25 skills for in this situation?
Even if you somehow change all of these other mechanics and make things work, which seems overly optimistic already, you still have the problem where this means most of your skills just aren’t useful. And as soon as you stop making it a very fixed set, all of those same problems rear their ugly heads all over again.
“But… look. Why is this the implementation of Blue Mage? Why couldn’t you just, like… have a fixed set of monster skills, and pretend to learn some of them in job quests?”
You’re just describing Black Mage again.
“The point is that maybe Blue Mage doesn’t need to have this much of a mechanical identity. They changed Red Mage a lot!”
Mechanical identity is all that Blue Mage has that makes it distinct. Red Mage is actually pretty true to the identity it’s always had, with two different versions of magic and physical capability merged in. Even its differences aren’t all that significant, seeing as you still have a cure and raise that often allows for Red Mage to be the most effective spot-healing DPS.
If you look at the history of Blue Mages, almost every single incarnation of the job has involved the same basic mechanics. Every time Blue Magic shows up, you’re in some way experiencing a skill and then learning it. The handful of exceptions involve draining the skill before the enemy died (FFX), killing the enemy with a special skill to learn it (FFIX), and learning the skill from an item the enemy drops (FFVIII). In two of those cases the Blue Magic was specifically a limit break and meant to be more powerful than normal spellcasting.
The actual look of Blue Mages has been different in every game wherein they’ve been present. The mechanical efficacy of Blue Mage has wildly changed between games, and when Blue Magic has been good it’s always because it offers spells that somehow break the curve of “normal” magic. The one unifying aspect, the one thing that gives Blue Mage its definition and identity? Learn your spells from monsters.
“I mean… maybe all of this is right. But I wanted this to be added to the game and to be my main.”
It can be! In the same way that Botanist or Armorer or Fisher can be your main. You just don’t have access to roulettes on it. In fact, that may not even be as huge of an impediment as you think; it wouldn’t surprise me if you can buy Blue Mage weapons with straight tomestones, since Blue Mage can’t actually enter the raids that would drop tokens for getting endgame weapons. And you can get tomestones from beast tribes, which seems pretty relevant.
More to the point, I feel like it bears highlighting that this is the same expansion introducing the important new Trust mechanic, so it would not surprise me in the least if Blue Mages would be able to use Trusts to take care of MSQ dungeons. We don’t even know how far the limits will stretch; it’s possible that BLU can’t enter normal raids with a pre-formed party, and Savage/Extreme probably is right out, but we don’t know just yet.
And let’s go back to that Expert roulette, where you can most certainly use your full range of skills. You can’t rush through a roulette using Bad Breath, Eruption, and other overpowered skills to make short work of enemies… but perhaps you can form a party for that, and maybe the speed you can use to clear through dungeons will actually outweigh the lack of a roulette bonus?
Blue Mage is something new and something different, and it’s not being shoehorned into a setup where it simply doesn’t fit. The developers have doubtlessly been spending a lot of time seeing if it could, in fact, be made to work. And they found a solution wherein you get to play Blue Mage in a way that feels like Blue Mage and is designed as Blue Mage. It’s a clever workaround for a lot of issues, and instead of assuming the designers just didn’t think of things, maybe it’s time to start enjoying that it’s happening at all.