Ragar tries to figure out how to MMO-ize a common Final Fantasy class
Hello and welcome to the 23rd edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week’s column, we’re taking a look at another class from the Final Fantasy series. In the previous columns where we played armchair class designer, we were always starting off with a simple base. There was always work to do with differentiating the class from others and choosing resource systems, but at their core the classes always had a solid base. At their core an Engineer or a Thief fits into an MMO just as easily as a White Mage or a Warrior – they fill a Holy Trinity role and their skills are all built around actions taken in combat. Not all Final Fantasy classes are that easy of a fit though. Adding an Engineer is simple enough, but how does one make a Chemist work in an MMO?
Chemists: Masters of Potion-Fu
In case some of you out there haven’t played Final Fantasy Tactics or the other FF games where the Chemist has made an appearance, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. The Chemist class is a character that specializes in the use of items and consumables in combat. They carry a weapon and are able to fight, but they are far from specialized in its use. Instead they focus on healing/supporting allies by throwing potions and other beneficial items around the battlefield or damaging the enemy with offensive consumables like bombs. In some games, the class even had access to consumables that other classes were unable to use or were able to mix other items together to create new unique effects.
For those FF games where the Chemist makes an appearance, they’re quite useful when you have them: they expand your usable range for consumables in the grid-based FFT, they can expand the effects of your expensive consumables in the regular FF games and they give you a way to convert lesser items into more powerful effects with the Mix ability. In a single-player game, this item-based class fits perfectly. With an MMO, however, things get a little trickier.
In general MMOs try to limit the use of consumables in a fight (cooldowns or a maximum per fight) as an encounter balancing tool. If we have a class dedicated to the use of consumables, particularly to making them even more powerful, both of those limits are an issue. An overall item cooldown, or even a cooldown per type of item (potions, ethers, etc), is problematic because you’re limiting how much the class can contribute to the fight. A cap on items per fight is slightly better, but still not great because it means the Chemist needs to use his powers very sparingly or risk sitting on his thumbs soon after the fight’s begun. On the opposite end, if we tune the Chemist down to allow for infinite item usage but they’re of equivalent power to the regular classes, we have a much bigger problem: we have a class that’s just as powerful as the other classes, but every time he runs a dungeon, he has to drop a pile of Gil on components. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of Atelier Escha & Logy and the other Atelier RPGs, no MMO player is going to sign up for a class that’s just as powerful as the others, but perpetually poor. So how do we fix this?
Cure Spell, Potion Toss – Same Difference
The simplest way to convert the Chemist into an FFXIV class is to simply treat it as just another class. The Chemist would be a hybrid ranged DPS/support class where each skill corresponded to the name of a consumable. Attack spells would be named after Bomb Fragment or Antarctic Wind, healing abilities would be Potions and Elixirs, and support abilities could be named after various buff items from the series. These names would be purely thematic though – the skills themselves would not use actual consumables. Instead they would use MP or perhaps TP, depending on the skill being used and the balance needs (e.g. TP for combat skills, MP for restoration items to keep them equivalent to the other MP-based healing classes).
Something like this isn’t unheard of with RPGs – the Artificer from Dungeons and Dragons, particularly the 4th Edition take on the class, takes a similar item-based class and provides it as a fully capable alternative to other healing classes. For the Artificer, the idea is put forward that the character has done prep work for various tinctures and tonics prior to stepping onto the battlefield. Once there he’s simply adding in a pinch of a reactive agent and tossing it at an ally or unsuspecting foe to create the desired effect. Of course now you have to assume the Chemist is either carrying a backpack full of premade items to throw at people that magically doesn’t cost him any Gil, but that wouldn’t be the weirdest thing an RPG ever asked us to ignore for the sake of gameplay (never did figure out how I was supposed to wear eight backpacks in EverQuest back when I was playing it). For the sake of rationale, we’ll say their materials come from the same petty cash fund your Black Mage spends on spellbooks or your Warrior spends on after-battle beer.
So we’ve come up with a way to make Chemist work, but so far all we have is a hybrid of existing classes. We need something to differentiate this class from the others. Something to give the class a niche to fill in parties and raids. This would be the perfect spot to bring in that Mix mechanic we were talking about earlier. When you look at the consumables that FF games have offered players over the years, many of these mimic effects that various spells offer (Cure, Fire, etc) but there are a handful that spellcasters cannot provide. MP regeneration is a good place to start – classes have mechanisms for conserving or restoring some of their own MP pools, but there are few options for restoring the MP pool of others in your group. Bards are able to do so at the expense of their DPS with Mage’s Ballad, but there’s no targetable MP heal available to any classes. This is a niche that the Chemist could fill quite well by throwing an Ether or a Megalixir around. You could also throw in other unique effects like an AoE Stoneskin spray, attack items that reduce enemy spell resistances, etc.
Effects this powerful do need some method of control though, lest we start seeing raids where each White Mage has their personal Chemist pumping them full of Ether all fight. So how do we control these? The simplest method is to give each of them a longer cooldown: 30 seconds or so for the resistance debuff, a minute for Ethers, and three or four minutes for big powers like that AoE Stoneskin. We can certainly do this and a little bit of added cooldown would be best for the big effects, but if we’re trying to provide a limiter on these Chemist powers, let’s play off that consumable angle. So our Chemist has all of these premade items ready for a catalyst to use, right? Well, maybe some things take a little more than just a single item to trigger or perhaps it’s a multi-part activation. Perhaps those big items take something that can only be prepared on the road and have a short window of time to use. In game terms, this would be represented by the Chemist’s unique resource – let’s call them Flasks just to keep it simple. If you want to use one of these bigger powers, you’re going to need one of your Flasks in addition to whatever MP/TP cost is associated with the skill. This means that rather than simply playing whack-a-mole with your cooldowns like most classes, now you have to think things through. Do I use my Flask charges on keeping the resistance debuff on the boss or do I use them to keep the healer’s MP up? Do I pop them as often as needed or do I horde them in case things go horribly wrong? These Flask charges could refill every time the Chemist leaves combat and to support longer raid fights, they could slowly regenerate over time; this kind of regeneration would likely require adding a cooldown to the more powerful special skills, but that’s a small price to pay for maintaining the ability to react to whatever the fight throws at you. Shame the other classes can’t have that kind of variability, huh?
My Major Was Axes, but I Minored In Flasks
There is one other idea I had for adding Chemists to FFXIV and it would give that same degree of per-fight customization to each of the other classes. This idea can be done with either the separate Chemist class like we outlined before, but I primarily picture it with the Chemist serving as an advanced job for the Alchemist class.
Of course some might look at that and go “I thought we were trying to make a combat Chemist. How does giving it to the Disciples of the Hand help us out in a fight?” That is true with the current system – skills from the Disciples of the Hand are really only usable by other DoH classes, Disciple of the Land skills are for other gatherers, and the combat-focused players must pick from whichever classes under the Disciples of War and Magic are available to their current class/job. Just because that’s how the system exists today doesn’t mean we have to restrict ourselves to it in the future and the Chemist is a great place to start with hybrid skill options. This is a class that specializes in the use of items, the forte of the DoH, but in War/Magic’s battlefield conditions. If we took the job approach to Chemist, having the player go 30 Alchemist is a given and for the 15 levels of a subclass, Conjurer would likely be the best fit given its mix of healing, damage and knowledge of the world’s elements.
So where does this idea of adding customization options to the other classes come in? Well, like any other class/job, leveling Chemist would unlock new skills for you to use. Typically this would be combat-related skills for DoW/DoM classes, gathering skills for DoL, and crafting skills for DoH like the Alchemist. For Chemist, let’s mix that up a bit. Let’s say that right at level 30, when you would first be able to unlock a job through its quest chain, you unlock a crafting related skill to support your Alchemist background but there’s also a couple extra new skills. These new skills would be like the Mix special items we were discussing before in the previous section. Of course these skills wouldn’t do the Chemist much good in their form as an Alchemist advanced job – they’re wearing noncombat gear as a crafter, so the battlefield is no place for them.
Here’s where the customization for all of the combat classes comes in: all of these Mix combat skills would be cross-class options for every combat class and job. While the Chemist themselves couldn’t charge into battle in their crafting setup, they could still use their knowledge while running around as a Warrior or some other class. Now in addition to all of your other cooldown options for cross-class slots, you have these Mix options to let you adapt to the fight at hand. A healer could swap in an Ether skill for endurance fights or some TP-using attacks to give them an attack that doesn’t waste precious healing resources. Tanks could add a Potion skill to expand their survival cooldown list. Raid leaders could have utility buttons to help struggling teammates or buttons like the boss resistance debuff to help coordinate burn phases.
Going the class route is to me the more interesting of these two routes – it is an entire class dedicated to combat through consumables, whereas this hybrid job option is mostly giving cooldown choices to people with a combat class main. The job route does have possibilities though, particularly because it would show that you don’t have to restrict skills within a discipline. Someone from a Disciple of War/Magic class may certainly be more of an expert in matters of combat than a crafter or gatherer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stand to pick up a trick or two from those trades.
The Chemist posed an interesting challenge. Other than Final Fantasy Tactics and the Atelier series, it’s not often you see the idea of a class specialized in throwing potions and other items at everyone. Converting that class from JRPG to MMORPG posed a challenge – the balancing requirements of a single-player game are dwarfed by all of the balance and character operating cost requirements in a massively multiplayer environment. We even managed to come up with a way to make both a class and job version of the Chemist with different niches for each iteration of the profession. Do I think we’re likely to see Chemist added to FFXIV? Perhaps but I doubt it’ll be any time soon. There are numerous other iconic classes from the series’ history that have yet to be added to the MMO and the bulk of those are far simpler to add to the game than what would be entailed in making an enjoyable Chemist class. Who knows though? I could be wrong.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What are your thoughts on the Chemist? Interesting profession to add to the game or is there something you’d rather have first? Do you think one of the class/job concepts we’ve come up with here is a viable option? If not, how would you bring the Chemist class to FFXIV? Tell us in the comments below. If you've got any requests for column topics, add those as well. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael “Ragar” Branham