Typically, one of the most important aspects of playing role-playing games is the contentious class system. Often times, this is an integral part of deciding what you want your character to be. And many games in the Final Fantasy series are no exception to this, often referring to these classes as 'jobs.'
Despite their prevalence since the very first Final Fantasy, much of the time the job system isn't all too balanced. Some jobs just outclass others by leaps and bounds. Other times, the balance is maintained by making some of the flashier jobs more heavily reliant on luck, items, or skill to utilize properly. However, most of the time the dependable jobs are better for solid and steady gameplay.
The problem is, there is no perfect job. With wide ranges in use and utility, it isn't fair to rank classes solely by damage output. And maybe a class is fairly useless in most Final Fantasy games, yet extremely useful in only one appearance. In the case of Final Fantasy XI and XIV, some jobs shine brightest when the player is alone, and others are only amazing in large parties. With so many caveats in mind, read on with care for my best and worst job classes throughout the series.
15 Best: Black Mage
The Black Mage has been around since the very first Final Fantasy. The concept behind it is often quite simple: burst down enemies with pure damage. In most of its appearances, there is no job that can outdo the Black Mage in pure damage output, especially if the player is targeting the enemy's elemental weaknesses. Some iterations of the Black Mage even allow multiple casts within the same turn, like Lulu's Fury (FFX) or Vivi's Double Black (FFIX).
One of the main limitations of the Black Mage is that it's weak in just about every other facet of gameplay. Black Mages are typically slow and fragile. If a Black Mage runs out of MP (or whatever determines its ability uses), then there is little that it can do. Despite this, they're a core part of the job class system.
14 Worst: Berserker
Berserkers are identifiable by the player's inability to control them. Umaro (FFVI) is an example of a Berserker. Every turn he will attack without the player's command; even against opponents that resist or counter physical attacks. Though, there are some iterations of the Berserker that allow for more choice in the range of attacks that are used; like Vincent's Limit Breaks (FFVII) or Gau's Rage (FFVI).
The trade-off for the lack of control in a Berserker is super strength, though this is often accompanied by a lower defense. So, when I'm feeling particularly lazy, I'll admit to using a Berserker from time to time in games like FFV and FFX-2. It's not terrible having a dedicated attacker that need not be given orders, especially if the Berserker is given buffs like Haste.
13 Best: Holy Knight
Starting with Cecil (FFIV), the Paladin job became the premier tank class. Though Cecil is lauded as the first in the series, I often consider the Knight class in Final Fantasy I as a Paladin as well. This is because what typically sets the Paladin apart from other swordsman jobs is its use of holy magic.
Regardless, warriors of this type are very durable, and can equip the biggest heavy armor and holy swords that greatly damage the undead. Some, like Cecil, have the amazing 'Cover' ability, which makes the user automatically take damage for a teammate. Paladins can often heal or buff teammates with their small set of holy magic. Though, some popular holy knights focus this power more offensively, like Beatrix (FFIX) and Agrias (FFT).
12 Worst: Beastmaster
The Beastmaster has taken a few different forms over the years; some names its held have been Mediator or Trainer and have used whips, axes, or guns at times. But the idea is always the same: control something to fight for the player. Though, in FFX-2, the Trainer dressphere already gives each of the girls their own pet to command, not requiring anything to be caught, similar to Rinoa using Angelo (FFVIII).
Oftentimes, capturing a monster requires weakening it; and Trainers in FFV seem to use something like a Poké Ball, while in FFVI, Relm sketches the enemy to use them in battle. In FFXI, the Beastmaster is typically most useful for solo players as the captured monster becomes another target for the enemy. But overall, the Beastmaster's appearances seem to be mainly for novelty's sake, without offering a lot of use to a team.
11 Best: Chemist
While I'm not personally a fan, the Chemist is one of the most underrated jobs in the series. Usually, the Chemist is capable of drastically increasing the effectiveness of items. Admittedly, this job is best when the player properly plans and collects the right items. In FFT, the Chemist is most useful for its ability to use items on team members despite not standing directly next to them.
In FFX-2, Alchemists can learn the Stash command; this allows the player to use an item infinite times without consuming it. The best thing about Chemists by far is the Mix command. In FFX, some of Rikku's mixes are insane, and the proper ingredients can make even the toughest bosses a piece of cake. Though, mixing isn't as overpowered in FFV and FFX-2, there are still a litany of unique buffs that make these item masters true experts in battle.
10 Worst: Onion Knight
The Onion Knight would be on this list because of its failure to use any abilities; it was originally the default job of FF3 characters. But, as the class was rebalanced in remakes, it's notably better, able to be given any spell in the game. Though, it still needs you to find its coveted Onion equipment to reach its full potential. Yet, the Onion Knight is still overrated.
Its stat growth is pathetic until level 90, making it a miserable class for progressing. Afterward, each level increases its stats by leaps and bounds, making it eventually the strongest class in the game (though, it doesn't make it any less boring or ugly). It's even worse as a secret job in FFT, where its stats (potentially the highest) are determined by the number of other jobs the unit has mastered (and once again cannot use abilities).
9 Best: White Mage
There is nothing more essential to any Final Fantasy party than the White Mage. The White Mage uses holy magic to heal party members, remove status ailments, and apply buffs for status improvements. And in many Final Fantasy games, there isn't a dedicated Time Mage job, so the White Mage picks up the slack there too. Though, in FFXIII, the paradigm system splits the job between Medic for healing and the Synergist for buffs.
It's tempting to forego bringing a White Mage for something more versatile like a Red Mage or a Paladin. And perhaps there are times when you can just ignore poison, silence, blind, or slow. Against weaker enemies, this is often acceptable. But the toughest bosses in Final Fantasy are rarely beatable without a dedicated healer. This is especially true when the boss buffs itself, where a much needed Dispel can be the difference between a quick battle and a real drag.
8 Worst: Dragoon
Don't get me wrong, I love using Dragoons. Thematically, a lancer with mastery over dragons is awesome. But as a job class, it's often not very fleshed out. Its iconic Jump command was first available in FFIII. A Dragoon would jump up and leave the battle area, becoming untargetable, and then deal damage upon landing. With this simple mechanic in mind, the Dragoon became cemented as a damage dealer.
Sometimes jump damage was increased against aerial units, dragons, or enemies that were weak to wind. Sometimes the bonus damage merely required equipping a spear. Regardless, it's odd that one of the most iconic classes is an off-tank that ditches the rest of the party, and has no other uses than its jump damage. In FFXI in particular, the class was the laughingstock of the game for a long time as it was near useless compared to the other jobs before it was patched.
7 Best: Spellblade
The magic warrior is sometimes called a Mystic Knight or Rune Fencer, depending on the game. The job is in a difficult position as its role is regularly reconfigured throughout the series. But typically it's based around utilizing magical attributes into its swordplay. This was great for taking advantage of elemental weaknesses.
In FFV, Mystic Knights cast magic onto themselves to imbue their swords with elements or status effects. And Steiner was able to use Sword Magic while Vivi was on the field (FFIX). In FFVI, Celes uses the Runic command, which absorbs incoming magic and converts it into MP rather than taking damage. Rune Fencer's appearance in FFXI combines these facets to both defend against incoming magic and also attack with elemental strikes, making it an amazing job.
6 Worst: Thief
The Thief is another class that has been around since the beginning. It is typically weak and offers little in the way of useful abilities for killing enemies. That said, the Thief is often notoriously useful otherwise. In its first appearance, the Thief was useful for successfully running away from battles.
In later appearances, it was mostly quintessential for stealing rare items that are otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain. Sometimes, Thieves provided use outside of battle, like picking locks or seeing hidden passageways. The Thief really shined most in FFXI, with the high evasion, and dealing satisfying damage with its Sneak Attack and Trick Attack. And for Maat's Limit Break challenge, like many others, I chose to steal from the old man rather than fight him.
5 Best: Ninja
This one's a bit tricky. The Ninja class often requires items like ninja tools or scrolls to use to its full potential. This means you're either throwing weapons with high attack power at the enemy, or you're constantly spending money to refill your reserves of shuriken or the like. As the Ninja usually provides the coveted Dual-Wield passive ability, this also means needing two powerful weapons equipped on your character.
Regardless, when used correctly, the Ninja is typically one of the strongest, fastest, and most consistent damage dealers in the series. Some iterations are even capable of using elemental magic, though not very powerful unless it's the enemy's weakness. The original FFIII treated the Ninja as the ultimate physical attacking job, but this was rebalanced in remakes. FFXI Ninjas differ from the norm by making the job mainly a dodge-tank.
4 Worst: Geomancer
Geomancers are casters that handle nature magic. In FFIII and FFV, the Geomancer job was criticized for its gameplay, as the user would summon random effects based on the terrain around them. And Mog's nature-based dances (FFVI) followed suit. With unreliable outcomes (like a wide fire attack in magma dungeons), this meant sometimes the abilities could benefit the enemy's side.
In fairness, the Geomancer is actually better than it seems at first glance. At higher levels, it's fairly powerful without costing any MP. In Final Fantasy XI, the job was heavily revamped. Though it's still a flimsy mage, it provides unique buffs and debuffs. In this iteration, it has high MP costs and long cast times, as well as having a limited range from the pylons they place.
3 Best: Mime
The Mime is actually the ultimate job in FFV. A Mime can use Mimic, allowing the user to repeat the last action. And, it has three slots to put in abilities they've already learned. In addition to this, the job gains innate abilities and stat bonuses from jobs they've mastered. In FFVI, Gogo the Mime is recruitable as an optional character, has Mimic, and has three ability slots to equip any of the other characters' skills.
With all this in mind, Mimes are extremely versatile. A mime can become a heavy physical damage-dealer and still mimic the supportive ability used last turn. A mime can also become a healer and buffer, yet mimic powerful offensive magic. Though, its appearance in FFT is its most complicated. It's aggravating to unlock, and it literally mirrors all of the human actions around it. This means the Mime can have as many attacks as there are people on the map, but often hits teammates if the player doesn't plan properly.
2 Worst: Blue Mage
It's a shame, but my favorite job class is actually one of the worst in most of its appearances. Close to no one is pleased with using any of the Blue Mages of the series: Strago (FFVI), Quistis (FFVIII), Quina (FFIX), or Kimahri (FFX). While occasionally useful, blue magic is often annoying to obtain and limited in effectiveness by luck (like Roulette) or factors in the enemy's level (Level 4 Holy). Blue Magic sometimes even has low success rates.
Sometimes there are specific times when Blue Mages come in handy. They can obtain unique and rare abilities, and properly used (and lucky), they can also be quite powerful. But usually, Mighty Guard is their only useful skill. At least FFXI differs from this by giving the Blue Mage such a wide array of obtainable abilities that it can be built into either a formidable physical attacker or spellcaster with proper planning and building.
1 Best: Summoner
And here it is; my least favorite job is actually canonically the most powerful in the series. As the name implies, Summoners call upon magical spirits and evoke them to assist in battle. Typically, the summons (aeons, eidolons, espers, GFs) have the most powerful attacks in the game, but are limited in use, perhaps by high MP cost or sometimes even their own health pool.
Summoners sometimes have traits like Beastmasters, in that the player might be able to control the summons alongside the caster, or use them for one powerful attack. The attacks aren't limited to wide, damaging abilities, but sometimes valuable buffs as well, like Carbuncle or Golem. Oftentimes, however, it's as though summoners are bringing forth gods and goddesses into the world of man, having no place being so powerful against their pitiful foes.