Ragar looks for more opportunities to add class and job options to FFXIV
Hello and welcome to the 33rd 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 going to try our hands at designing another job for FFXIV. Heavensward, the first expansion for FFXIV, has promised us three new jobs without base classes so far, but there are so many additional options we can bring to Eorzea, both for standalone jobs and for those with base classes.
The Magical School of Hard Knocks
Most of the classes from the classic Final Fantasy games are covered already by existing classes/jobs in FFXIV. Of those that aren’t, many of them have some general design hurdles that need to be overcome to fit in an MMO-style game. Gambler? You’d have to find a way to tone down the randomness inherent with their signature abilities while still keeping the spirit of the class. Time Mage? You’d need to find a way to make the class about more than just haste/slow spells and those spells would need to be toned down in power to keep it from being a required job in raid groups (remember Bloodlust stacking in World of Warcraft?). Samurai? The sword drawing techniques could be fun, but I’m not about to throw my Gil at the enemy.
When I think of these problem classes, one in particular sticks out every time: Blue Mage. For those unfamiliar with the class, Blue Mages are not normal spellcasters. Rather than specializing in destructive Black Magic or curative White Magic, Blue Mages draw their power from the beasts of the world. Many of the iconic powers used by their foes, whether it be from monsters out in the world or boss encounters, were at the Blue Mage’s disposal… but there was a catch. In order to use these stolen powers, the Blue Mage needed to be hit by said power. From the basic Goblin Punch attack to the powerful healing White Wind to the status-inflicting Bad Breath, if the Blue Mage wanted this power for themselves, they’d need to find these monsters and stay alive until they learned the skill.
Living through these monster attacks is no problem for an experienced Blue Mage with a long repertoire of stolen skills at their disposal, but rookie Blue Mages were far more fragile with few skills to defend themselves. In a single-player RPG this isn’t a problem since that Blue Mage is always part of a larger group of characters who can keep the mage alive and deal with the other monsters that don’t possess learnable skills.
So why would it be a problem to add Blue Mages to FFXIV? There are a few reasons. First off the list of skills necessary to keep the feel of Blue Mages would be gigantic. You’d need a couple starting spells just so you could actually level, then there would need to be at least a few in each zone to keep up the feel of the class. This could lead to an unwieldy spellbook as the game continues to add additional zones and monsters. In addition, that’s more skills that you need to not only differentiate from each other, but also from the other class skills in the game.
Second is the matter of spell distribution per level. We’re used to getting a spell or two every other level with every other class while you quest and kill monsters. How do we gate skill gains as a Blue Mage? If we level gate learning abilities, we’ve just made the Blue Mage work that much harder to stay on par with all the other classes. If we don’t level gate them, you have low-level Blue Mages getting dragged through higher level content to deck them out with a bigger spell list than the lower content is designed for.
Last but not least, there’s the matter of skills from bosses, one of the major appeals of the Blue Mage concept. Players love the idea of getting signature powers from bosses in the game, but if we tie in Blue Magic skills to instanced content, we introduce two new problems. Not only would this require players that love the Blue Mage class but aren’t interested in running Duty Finder content into doing something they don’t enjoy, but it breaks the cardinal rule of MMO group gameplay: don’t stand in the fire! Avoiding attacks, particularly the big nasty named ones, is one of the most important rules for any MMO player to learn, but here we’d have a group of folks running at the boss, begging to be set on fire. Sure they only need it the one time (unless it didn’t work if the player died), but that’s enough. The moment pickup group players associate Blue Mages with purposely standing in fire and taking hits, they’ll be pariahs amongst the populace.
So How Do We Make It Work?
The pure Blue Mage idea may have problems moving to an MMO, but that’s not to say there isn’t merit to the idea. After all, Final Fantasy XI has the class. Theirs is a slightly different take on the class though, making it a melee-mage hybrid and limiting the Blue Mage to a loadout of only a handful of skills from their vast collection of borrowed power. Technically speaking we could just take this Blue Mage design, drop it into FFXIV and call it a day, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, we still have that problem of having an unwieldy amount of monster skills to choose from in our spellbook. How do we go about fixing this?
The obvious route would be to tie these monster skills to some sort of controllable flow. These skills would be gated to show up at set intervals, short enough that you felt like you were gaining new skills regularly but not so quickly that the list grows to an overwhelming level. Thankfully there’s already a good method in the game to serve as this skill gate: class and job quests. Each class and job already has these quests as part of their leveling flow which are designed to provide you with additional gear and the occasional skill as they continue your class/job storyline.
It would be a simple matter to tie something like this to a Blue Mage’s skills. Each quest, in addition to the story and gear, would involve the mage being sent off to draw power from one of Eorzea’s beasts to add to their repertoire. By doing this we can control how quickly a Blue Mage gains new powers for both the sake of balance and to simply keep the class manageable for newer MMO players.
Class, Job or Classless Job?
Of course the problem with that system is that if the class is built entirely on stolen magic from monsters, then that’s a whole lot of class quests we’d need to add to keep up with the skill count of another class. Solving this problem is relatively simple, but we have to make a decision: is Blue Mage a base class, a job with no base class like the three new Heavensward jobs, or is it a Job branching off an existing base class?
A Blue Mage that’s a base class or a classless job would operate the same fundamentally; the base class would just give us options to add specialization with jobs down the road if we went that route. Both of these would need a selection of starting monster-themed skills to begin their journey toward Blue Magic mastery. In addition these two would be the most dependent on a large list of class quests with monsters to learn new Blue Magic spells from since that’s the entirety of their spellbook. There’s also the matter of needing a new weapon for the Blue Mage to work with the Armory System. Is our Blue Mage a melee hybrid like his FFXI cousin, wielding a curved blade as he stands in the monster’s breath attack? Is he more of a pure caster, channeling his power through a mage’s ceremonial knife or a mystic rod?
A Blue Mage that’s an extension job off an existing base class would cut down on how many class quests and instances were necessary to provide skills since they’d be mixed with existing base class powers. It would also save us the work of adding in a new weapon type to the game, saving that for another class/job concept down the road. In addition making the Blue Mage a progression job does add a little bit of mystique to the class; players would be seeking out this lone mentor to learn a forgotten art (ignoring the whole MMO “breadcrumb quests and icons on the minimap” parts) to draw power from the beasts of Eorzea.
The progression job route does have its problems though. If a player is really into the idea of playing a Blue Mage and using their enemy’s powers against them, then they’re not going to like waiting until they get to 30 in a base class and 15 in a subclass before they can even start. Even then, they’d be waiting to really feel like a Blue Mage because their skill selection at the start is going to be small since we’d be gating new skills behind the job story quests to control the flow. You’d also be stuck using your Thaumaturge/Gladiator/whatever base class got used abilities for the majority of the work; despite gaining awesome new skills, all of the existing class/job combos are built around you mixing your old powers with the new in your rotation.
As you’ve seen the Blue Mage idea isn’t terribly easy to implement in a modern MMO like FFXIV. We solved some problems like controlling the flow of skills by tying them to class/job quests, but now we’ve lost that iconic “I can learn from nearly all of my opponents” feeling that Blue Mages have. If we make them a progression job from an existing class, we lose that focused feeling of a character built entirely around learned enemy skills. Going the base class and classless job route fixes the focus problem, but now we need to pick weapons, a group role, keep the learnable skill list in check, etc.
There’s a reason not many MMOs other than FFXI have attempted to add in something like the Blue Mage concept: it’s not easy to get right and there’s many, many ways to do it wrong. All of that said, I do think it’s an idea worth looking into. In addition to simply being an iconic FF character class, it’s just a unique idea that people can get behind. Using your enemy’s skills against them is an idea that resonates with some people and having a character focused around that is a great idea. It’s also the closest we’re going to get to a Mime class in-game since that would just be a nightmare to balance in general.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think of bringing Blue Mages to Eorzea? Does the idea of using your enemy’s powers against them sound like fun? Do you think tying skills to class quests and controlling the amount is a better idea than a giant list of spells learned out in the world? How do you feel about locking Blue Mage spells behind instance walls, requiring you to play group content to finish your spell list? 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