The Classless Class System

Just this week, Famitsu revealed some more information regarding the Armoury System in Final Fantasy XIV. Specifically, they elaborated on a few of the classes that will be available to players. Following the pattern set by Square Enix so far, the names are somewhat different than what players have come to expect from the Final Fantasy series. While classes such as Lancer and Archer have made appearances, Pugilist and Thaumaturge are newcomers that are causing some debate.

Why is Square Enix opting for these strange class names? What ever happened to Warriors, Mages and Monks? Is this a Final Fantasy game, or what?

To get a better idea of what is going on here, I thought it may be interesting to take a look at the Japanese side of development, where the pattern is a little more clear. Perhaps we can get some better insight into the developers' reasoning behind these changes, and some hints at what Final Fantasy XIV is aiming to become.

Let's start big with the Armoury system. The premise of the Armoury system is that players can equip a weapon anywhere to change their current class. The first thing we notice is the name - Final Fantasy fans might be used to their games having a "job system," but this time the name refers to the equipment, not the class. In this way, it's not about the label placed on the player, but rather the instrument they choose.

In Japanese interviews, one can hear the developers say 武器 (bu-ki) quite often. 武器 is a term used in Final Fantasy XI as well, and basically means "weapon." However, for XIV, there is an awful lot of emphasis being put on the term, and it is also being expanded to cover different tools used by crafters. In fact, 武器 does not necessarily have to be an instrument of war, but can refer to any vessel through which one channels their will and effort. It seems like every character in FFXIV will literally be equal, the difference being what instrument they choose to accomplish what they want for their life in Eorzea and what abilities said choice will give them.

It's an interesting concept, but in the end you are still labeling people whether you call it a "job" or "class" or anything else. This is where the unconventional naming scheme comes in. If they used typical job titles, people would undoubtedly stick to using those when referring to their characters. To avoid this, the developers opted to simply label the classes for the weapons or magic they use. This pattern is less obvious in the English version, however, since the names have been localized to have more appeal.

First, we have the four disciplines: ファイター (Fighters) , ソーサラー (Sorcerers) , ギャザラー (Gatherers) and クラフター (Crafters). We know them as Disciples of War, Disciples of Magic, Disciples of the Land and Disciples of the Hand. If these names had been directly translated, as they are just phonetically spelled English words, they would carry a little too much baggage with them. For example, we may be used to it in Final Fantasy XI, but a Culinarian technically is not a "Crafter" in the sense that a Blacksmith is, but both fit much better under the umbrella of Disciples of the Hand. Conversely, the Japanese use English loanwords to avoid attaching similar unwanted meanings to their disciplines in Japanese.

Getting into individual class titles, we can see their is a clear pattern differentiating battle-type classes and crafter-type classes. This could change, but so far almost all battle-type jobs are named with first their weapon proficiency and then end with 士 (shi). For example, a Gladiator is 剣術士 (ken-jutsu-shi).  Crafter-types are named with their occupation and then 師 (shi), such as 鍛冶師 (ka-ji-shi) for Blacksmith. So what's the difference?

Throughout the Final Fantasy series, 士 and 師 have been used in a variety of job names. In NES titles, the naming scheme for magic-users changed between using 士 and 師 in some instances. For example, the original Final Fantasy had 黒魔道士 (kuro-ma-dou-shi) while FFIII had 黒魔道師 (kuro-ma-dou-shi). It seems that some localizations in that era settled upon 士 being "mages" and 師 being "wizards" - almost like a high-quality version of magic-user. 

In FFXIV, the different kanji are used to separate the intended purpose of two categories of adventurers. 士 means a fully matured male or capable warrior. It is a 象形 (shou-kei) type of kanji, which means it is a visual representation of its meaning. The shape developed from its original form, ⊥ , which depicts the erect male penis. As this character represents a strong male having reached adulthood, it also came to be used in compounds related to proud, warlike activites. For example, 武士道 (bu-shi-dou) or the way of the warrior and 戦士 (sen-shi) warrior both use this character. In this way, it is perfect for classes that are meant to hold their own in battle.

Classes with more peaceful occupations, however, use the character 師. This kanji means "master" or "teacher." While it can be translated in similar ways, as we saw in NES-era Final Fantasy titles, the bigger difference is found by dissecting the kanji itself. 師 is an 会意 (kai-i) ideograph that combines the meaning of other characters to create a new one. The left side of the character means a group of people while the right side implies that large amount of people is surrounding the "teacher" in the middle. The developers have stated that crafting-based jobs will have an important role in repairing the equipment of adventurers who return to town after hard-fought battles. As masters of their respective crafts, they will indeed be centers for people looking to come and benefit from their unique skills.

While crafting-based jobs are a more recent addition to the Final Fantasy series, battle-ready Warriors and resourceful Red Mages are just two of the many jobs players have come to anticipate with each new title. However, we are finding that FFXIV is not following the naming scheme to which we are all accustomed.  What's a Marauder? Why is that guy in the Black Mage hat called a Thaumaturge? Do our beloved jobs really have no place in Eorzea? The answer that seems the most probable is that the localization is trying to maintain that same ambiguity that the Japanese developers are using when designing the Armoury system. Many jobs in Final Fantasy games and so ingrained into our brains that we could never hope to avoid labeling each other, which is exactly what the developers want to avoid.

The North American names may seem a little random, but the Japanese follow a set pattern as discussed before: weapon proficiency+士.  To illustrate this next example, let's keep things simple and just say "weapon user." So, looking at Disciples of War, so far we know of 剣術士 (sword user), 格闘士 (hand-to-hand user), 斧術士 (axe user), 弓術士 (bow user) and 槍術士 (spear user). Obviously, these would be pretty boring names no matter how much you want to avoid labels. However, the localization team has done something clever here - they kept the Japanese naming pattern in a more subtle way. While the Japanese clearly state the weapon for the class using kanji, the English names are carefully selected to include reference to the weapon as well.

剣術士 → 剣 = sword | Gladiator → gladius = sword (Latin)

格闘士 → 格闘 = hand-to-hand | Puglisit → pugnus = fist (Latin)

弓術士 → 弓 = bow | Archer → arcus = bow (Latin)

槍術士 → 槍 = lance | Lancer → lance

One notable exception is 斧術士 (axe user), which is Marauder. The English name instead comes from the French maraud, which means vagabond. A marauder is someone who raids and pillages, which if we were to try and fit it into the pattern we see, could hint at the role this class will play.

Disciples of Magic follow a similar naming pattern, but their initial kanji instead refer to the type of magic they wield. It is a little early to examine them fully, as only two 呪術士 (curse user) and 幻術士 (illusion user) have been revealed so far to us as Thaumaturge and Illusionist. However, if these two classes are any indication, they will maintain the naming scheme we have seen within the Disciples of War.

So, it appears that without resorting to bland class titles, the developers are trying to literally label the players by only the type of weapon they are carrying or magic they are wielding at any given time. Also, the fact that players can swap classes so quickly is another way to avoid players falling into these labels. FFXI has been plagued by a job system in constant flux. Monks are garbage, then they're great. Dragoons are amazing damage machines, then one nerf leaves them the endless butt of jokes. Rangers and Beastmasters have also suffered similar injustice at the hands of the developers' game adjustments. While changes to the system can be necessary, the lasting effects in an MMO as demanding as FFXI would always leave a chunk of players angry and frustrated. Has Square Enix finally heard these complaints and designed a system free of these pitfalls?

And what trends might emerge from a "classless class system." I imagine players might start labeling themselves. For example, a Gladiator who prefers a sword and shield and who has attached a number of healing skills might call their character a Paladin. A Disciple of Magic who gathers a myriad of spells from several different classes might call their character a Red Mage. Perhaps even new player-created jobs could take shape. A Pugilist that attaches the ability to infuse their attacks with magical properties like FFXI's En-spells might invent the title 魔拳士 (ma-ken-shi) Magifist to describe their character's play style. With all the freedom and customization Square Enix is promising, it almost feels like FFXIV is shaping up to be a Final Fantasy sandbox.

Even Disciples of the Hand or Land can have fully developed careers without ever setting foot into battle. Their role in the game will be essential to adventurers looking to repair damaged goods, while in turn, adventurers can provide them with vital protection. Developers have stated there will be some Guildleves tailored to specific jobs, including crafters, such as retrieving important materials. Several Final Fantasy titles have had some hidden master blacksmith who requests the hero retrieve some "Adamantite" in order to create the ultimate sword. In FFXIV, a player could very well work their way up and be that blacksmith.

I'm getting off on a bit of a tangent here, but the possibilities for FFXIV are exciting, to say the least. Getting to examine the process of Square Enix's new MMO from the ground floor up is a great opportunity as well. I hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to post your comments and questions and discuss this in the ZAM forums.


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