On Blue Mage & FFXIV’s Limited Jobs

In my summary of the Shadowbringers announcement from this year’s North American FFXIV Fan Festival, I only really touched briefly on my own thoughts. If you follow me on Twitter, though, you probably know that I’m rather frustrated by the way Blue Mage will be implemented in the game come Patch 4.5. My thoughts on the matter are pretty detailed, as I’d been theorizing different ways Blue Mage could become a part of FFXIV for a long time—at least ever since a silly red and blue Easter egg from the Rising event following the launch of the first expansion, Heavensward. As such, I wanted to collect those thoughts in a place better suited for long form exposition than Twitter, which means I’m missing the early boat on this one a little bit. I hope you’ll bear with me!

The First Limited Job

So, first, we need some ground work in place. I’m going to be focusing primarily on Blue Mage here, but I’ll have a bit to say about the new concept of Limited Jobs more generally as we go because the two things are so intertwined. What applies to Blue Mage will apply to future Limited Jobs in related ways. Come Patch 4.5, a new job, Blue Mage, will be added to FFXIV, the second time a class and/or job has been added to the game outside of an expansion launch period (with the first time being the addition of Ninja in Patch 2.4 of A Realm Reborn). Blue Mage is going to be implemented in an entirely new way, though, as the game’s first (but probably not last) Limited Job.

As a Limited Job, Blue Mage will start at level 1 (without a base class) with an initial level cap of 50, a cap that will be raised in future patches. Furthermore, Blue Mage (and presumably any other Limited Job that comes in the future) is designed specifically with solo play in mind, with a corresponding distinction: it cannot participate in content involving random matchmaking (such as Duty Roulettes), high-end raids, or any Deep Dungeons. This restriction is lifted for pre-formed parties (allowing a Blue Mage to enter, say, a Light Party dungeon while in a party of four), but Blue Mage is otherwise intended to level up in the open world (receiving an experience point boost to encourage this) and partake in its special, Blue Mage-only endgame activity, the Masked Carnivale (a series of “puzzle” encounters centered on using the right Blue Magic to defeat the enemies within).

All of this naturally invites a question: why does Blue Mage need to be a Limited Job in the first place? Locking an iconic Final Fantasy job out of the majority of FFXIV‘s content could be seen as pretty drastic, so there have to be good reasons for it, after all. Producer Naoki Yoshida has been pretty candid about his concerns for Blue Mage in FFXIV, going as far back as 2014, when he had this to say during a Live Letter Q&A session where Blue Mage came up:

I think that blue mage is an interesting job because you can learn spells from enemies, but honestly I don’t think that it really fits MMORPG party settings. If anything, I think it would work solo and it would be really fun to implement it as a job where you go around and learn abilities from every monster, so I’d definitely like to try and do this, but I’m concerned when it comes to playing in a party players would put up barriers if you haven’t learned certain abilities. Additionally, in the event you are able to use abilities forever once you learn them, the difficulty of learning abilities would be high, and we wouldn’t be able to balance the system so it wouldn’t revolve around procuring your abilities instead of equipment. This wouldn’t be practical enough to fit in an MMORPG party setting and conversely if you are swapping in only certain abilities you’ve learned, the true image of a blue mage would diminish, so this is something that I am concerned with.
—Naoki Yoshida, Letter from the Producer LIVE Part XVII

Much of this was reiterated most recently at this year’s North American Fan Festival, during the deep dive into how Blue Mage works for the Live Letter that took place there. Additionally, another concern came up: Blue Mage might destabilize balance in the game through powerful abilities like Level 5 Death (the example provided by Yoshida). From all of this, we can largely pinpoint these main reasons for the team’s implementation of Blue Mage as a new Limited Job:

  • Players might exclude Blue Mages from parties who haven’t learned specific monster spells.
  • The power of monster actions might upset FFXIV‘s carefully cultivated job and encounter balance.
  • Limiting Blue Mage’s spells might damage the class fantasy of the Blue Mage itself.

From these, Yoshida concluded quite some time ago that Blue Mage doesn’t really work in MMORPG parties, which brings us to today, where FFXIV will soon have its first Limited Job, designed primarily for solo play. If the Limited Job system proves successful, it’s likely that we’ll see more in the future, with Yoshida mentioning jobs from Final Fantasy XI with dedicated fanbases that were primarily played solo—Beastmaster and Puppetmaster—as possible candidates.

And here’s where we get to my (admittedly many) bones of contention. These reasons for confining Blue Mage to a solo experience aren’t without significant counterpoints—counterpoints which are provided with examples both from Square Enix’s previous MMORPG, FFXI, and from its current one, FFXIV. Let’s talk about each of them in turn because I want to make the case here that Blue Mage could, in fact, work in FFXIV, but to do that we need to have these concerns of the game’s Producer (and plenty of the game’s players) alleviated.

Ability Requirements & Player Exclusion

Player exclusion is nothing new to MMOs and can be motivated by a variety of factors, from player gear to their character choices (whether class, race, selected talents, or whatever else might be relevant for a given game). A central goal for Yoshida and the FFXIV development team has always been to minimize avenues for player exclusion, which is why we don’t see any sort of official DPS meters in the game, and part of why most of the game’s content has minimum item level requirements that are generously forgiving. A carelessly implemented Blue Mage would add another potential avenue for exclusion, since its spells don’t typically come from leveling up (although this is usually not true of all of a Blue Mage’s abilities), meaning that a given Blue Mage might not be properly capable of participating in FFXIV‘s party based content.

When considering how this impacts Blue Mage’s existence in the game, it’s important to note, though, that this actually applies to every single class and job in FFXIV. All of the game’s classes and jobs have some of their actions and traits gated behind various job quests, and most of the time they’re things core to a job’s functionality, such as is the case for Ninja’s Mudra actions or Summoner’s Egi pets. Many players can likely remember at least once where a party member in a Duty Roulette hadn’t unlocked a particular ability, and over time, the development team has both added reminders for players to complete these necessary quests and began to tie fewer abilities to quests in Stormblood. But the important thing here is that despite the potential for players to be excluded for not having their abilities, it hasn’t been so huge of a problem to make the existing classes and jobs not work.

Naturally, a job like Blue Mage could quite easily place a much greater burden of preparation on an aspiring slinger of monstrous spells than FFXIV‘s other jobs do. FFXIV‘s base classes (and their associated jobs) tend to have about 20 class/job quests in the Stormblood era, providing around 12 of their full suite of around 28 actions, with the rest awarded automatically when certain levels are gained (the exact numbers vary a little from class to class, by an ability or two). A well realized Blue Mage would likely want a larger number of its actions to come from activities outside of leveling up, presumably through the traditional manner of seeing (or being struck by) the enemy attacks they learn to wield themselves.

It’s actually quite possible work within the game’s existing class and job quest systems to accomplish that. Presently, all such quests have previous ones as prerequisites, and every player of the game’s main jobs has to complete their 20 or so quests (with the overall number of quests for the game’s Advanced Jobs, which start at higher levels, being lower). Only half of those quests actually provide abilities, though, and for a Blue Mage working within this system, it’d be far more appropriate for most or all of them to provide actions, with there being a focus on tracking down and battling the specific monsters necessary to learn their secrets. (Naturally, in terms of narrative and gameplay, there’d need to be some variety here, but I want to show the possibility in general terms). 

So while a Blue Mage would likely have more metaphorical leg work to be ready party play, and it might be excluded from groups if that leg work weren’t done, FFXIV‘s existing framework for class advancement already has room to address this issue in a mechanical sense. The 20 or so quests most of the original classes need to complete could provide, by themselves, anywhere from 20 Blue Mage spells up to 40 or even 60 (if quests provided multiple spells each by involving more than one monster type and action), all without expecting any more of a Blue Mage than FFXIV asks of Paladins, White Mages, or Dragoons. If the team wanted to include some actions determined by levels, they might look to the Blue Mage of FFXI, which had both cooldowns and Weaponskills that came not from monster attacks but by leveling up. Now, this doesn’t necessarily satisfy concerns of flavor and class fantasy by itself—we’ll get to those later—but it should alleviate the concern that it would be impossible to implement Blue Mage without undue burdens on players that would lead to too much player exclusion.

Job & Encounter Balance

But even if FFXIV has an existing framework that could be repurposed to realize Blue Mage’s unique methods of ability acquisition, there’s still the concern of balance. In multiplayer, team-based games like a most MMORPGs, enemy abilities aren’t balanced by the same standards that player capabilities are, and it’s generally seen as important to make sure that all of the player classes and roles are at least somewhat balanced with one another. Individual games will strive for varying degrees of balance. In the case of FFXIV, the classes and encounters are uniquely tuned to an incredibly fine degree compared to other MMOs. As a result, it’s not difficult for new classes or styles of content to upset that balance. We’ve seen this most readily with Ninja’s initial state, which made it a far better melee than either Dragoon or Monk, or in content like Deep Dungeons, where certain classes had much greater solo capabilities than others (with various additions allowing other classes more survivability).

Like any job, Blue Mage has potential to upset the balance, especially when it could theoretically access instant kill spells like Level 5 Death (especially relevant for FFXIV, when all raids involve monsters of levels divisible by 5!) or powerful debuffs like a Morbol’s Bad Breath, which inflicts multiple debilitating status effects. Nobody would bring other classes to raids if Blue Mages could simply kill each boss with a single spell, and that’d ultimately not be very fun (in addition to invalidating all of the hard work the development team puts into the encounter design).

In truth, though, this concern shouldn’t be much of a concern at all. Blue Mages have never had access to every single monster attack in any of their Final Fantasy incarnations. Each game, from FFV (which first introduced Blue Mages) all the way to more recent titles like Bravely Default (which presents Blue Magic in the form of Genome Abilities), has allowed characters to learn monster abilities only from a curated list of all the monster attacks in that game. Level 5 Death (as one example) is available in FFV, but it’s not available with FFX‘s Ronso Rage (that game’s version of Blue Magic). The same can be said for Blue Magic spells: while there are definitely those that appear regularly (like Bad Breath, Thousand Needles, and yes, Level 5 Death), they aren’t always there.

This is most especially true for the Blue Mages of FFXI, who have no access to instant death effects like Level 5 Death, presumably for reasons of game balance, since FFXI, like FFXIV, is an MMORPG. FFXI‘s Blue Mages do have access to powerful spells like Bad Breath, but in service of game balance, their Bad Breath spell has a prohibitively high MP cost and also inflicts status effects that have lower durations than is normal for the game’s other, individually-applied debuffs, like the Blind and Slow spells. FFXI‘s Blue Mage also had a small selection of special “ultimate” spells, learned from high end Notorious Monsters, which they could only use alongside an action with a long cooldown, limiting their ability to break the balance of encounters. I can’t imagine that anyone would argue against the claim that FFXI‘s Blue Mage properly represents the job (and I’d not be surprised to learn that for many players of FFXIV in particular, it’s FFXI‘s version of the job that made them want to see it in Square Enix’s other Final Fantasy MMO).

The Blue Mage of FFXI is especially relevant to part of Yoshida’s initial comments in 2014 quoted above: the idea that Blue Mage would have to be balanced around spell progression rather than gear progression in an MMO. While it’s certainly true that spell progression for a Blue Mage in FFXIV might be somewhat different from the game’s other classes and jobs, there’s no reason that having a different system would preclude having gear progression, which Blue Mage in FFXI demonstrates quite well. That job largely functioned within the same systems as all the other jobs in FFXI did. FFXI had a scroll system that was used to acquire spells, which Blue Mage replaced with the system of learning spells from enemies, which was naturally a more difficult process. But Blue Mage also had gear progression to worry about just like every other job, too. Given that there is room to incorporate Blue Magic learning into FFXIV‘s existing quest systems (as discussed above in more detail), the spell learning wouldn’t necessarily need to be notably more difficult than quested abilities already is for FFXIV‘s existing jobs, and so they wouldn’t need to avoid gear progression for them at all.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that plenty of jobs in FFXIV itself have actions that bosses are regularly immune to. Paladins can inflict the Blind status effect with Flash, many jobs have access to actions that stun enemies, and others have access to spells that Bind or reduce movement speeds. Most of the time, bosses are immune to all of these status effects (though there are some exceptions—Ifrit is vulnerable to Stun, for example, as interrupts are part of the intended fight strategy). In a similar fashion, Blue Mages in FFXIV might, like many other jobs, have some abilities that don’t always apply to bosses for reasons of game balance.

All of this should mean, by and large, that it’s possible for a theoretical Blue Mage to exist in FFXIV that is both balanced alongside the existing jobs and for use in the game’s party content. Ultimately, the designers of the game are responsible for creating the job, and if they deem something too powerful, they don’t have to include it, just as the creators of other Blue Mage implementations throughout the Final Fantasy series have decided to do.

The Fantasy of Blue Mage

In the end, though, I think it all comes down to one thing: class fantasy, how it feels to play a class or job in any game. This is especially important in the Final Fantasy series, which has such a long history both as a series and for its many fans. Most players of FFXIV have a favorite job from the series, whether it be Dark Knight, Red Mage, Samurai, Blue Mage, Puppetmaster, or some other one, and it’s natural to want one’s favorite job to show up in FFXIV. People are often pretty attached to their favorite jobs and classes, and so it’s a big deal that those jobs find their way to FFXIV in ways that feel right in the context of the series as a whole.

For FFXIV, that’s proven challenging for a number of jobs. Unlike its predecessor FFXIFFXIV takes a very streamlined, codified approach both to content and class design, with both highly structured roles and a strict “rotational” approach to gameplay. This naturally limits the scope of what a job can properly be in FFXIV, meaning that a number of the Final Fantasy series’s most iconic jobs have had to be adjusted to fit the streamlined environment of FFXIV.

Of the original jobs from A Realm Reborn, the normally support-heavy Bard was retooled to be a DPS with some supportive abilities (which also absorbed the classic Ranger-styled job), while the Summoner had its traditional ability to call fully realized versions of the game’s Primals scaled down to small personal Egi pets, not unlike the demons called by Warlocks in FFXIV‘s closest competitor, World of Warcraft. Dark Knight, which has often been more of a damage-focused job throughout the series, is instead a defensive one (though it is more offensively focused than Paladin, one of its fellow tanks) in the game. FFXIV‘s own Astrologian is itself a mash-up of Time Mage and gambling characters from the series (such as Setzer from FFVI or FFXI‘s Corsair job). The Final Fantasy series’s jack-of-all-trades, the Red Mage, had its broad toolkit of melee combat alongside damaging, defensive, and healing magic re-focused to primarily be about damage (with little nods to its broader nature with spells like Vercure and Verraise).

In all of these cases (and in some others I haven’t mentioned), the job in question was met with some disappointment from players hoping to see their favorite aspects of the job better represented. Some players to this day want to see a DPS Dark Knight, a Samurai tank, or a Ranger job so that they can practice archery without Bard’s focus on performance. Personally, I’ve always been bummed that the Thief job was folded into the Rogue class that leads into Ninja, meaning that we’ll probably never see it properly represented in FFXIV. For Summoner in particular, the development team took two expansions to design a more impressive “summon” like those from other installments in the series in the form of Demi-Bahamut. But over time, the larger consensus seems to be that FFXIV has managed to preserve the overall feel of the classes. Dark Knight still feels like Dark Knight, Red Mage still feels like Red Mage, and so on. Even the most contentious job, Summoner, has managed to capture more of its original essence with time and adjustments.

Like all of these jobs, Blue Mage would probably need to be pared down somewhat to exist as a full job in FFXIV, but it wouldn’t need to be chopped up so drastically that it would be unrecognizable as a Blue Mage. There’s something of a misconception that Blue Mages have far too varied of a toolkit to really exist in FFXIV, probably due to the fact that the FFXI incarnation has somewhere around 100 individual spells to learn, in addition to a respectable array of Job Abilities and Weaponskills for both Swords and Clubs. There’d be no way to represent all of that in FFXIV, where most jobs have around 30 unique actions and a handful of traits.

It’s not true, however, that Blue Mages throughout Final Fantasy history have always had so many spells by any stretch of the imagination, nor have Blue Mages been exactly the same in each game.

  • Final Fantasy V contains 30 Blue Magic spells, and Blue Mages otherwise aren’t strong combatants, focusing entirely on their magic (though they can equip both swords and canes).
  • The Lore skill of Final Fantasy VI allows the learning of 24 enemy attacks as spells, and Strago, who uses it, is a pretty traditional Final Fantasy mage.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the Enemy Skill Materia, which serves as that game’s form of Blue Magic, also allows the character to learn 24 spells (with the Materia and thus Blue Magic usable by any character).
  • Quistis, the “Blue Mage” of Final Fantasy VIII can use 16 enemy attacks through her special Limit Break. Her personal weapon is a whip, something unique to Blue Mages in Final Fantasy games.
  • Quina from Final Fantasy IX has access to 24 enemy attacks as Blue Magic and uses cooking implements (namely forks) as weapons.
  • In Final Fantasy X, Kimahri can use 12 different enemy attacks with his Ronso Rage Overdrive. He’s something of a cross between a Blue Mage and a Dragoon in the game.
  • As already mentioned, Final Fantasy XI‘s Blue Mages have over 100 spells they can learn as of writing. They focus on swords as their primary weapons and are strong melee combatants (differentiating them somewhat from Blue Mages in other titles of the series). Blue Mages of FFXI are unique in “equipping” a set of spells, with each spell requiring a number of Blue Magic Points to set—a typical spell set probably includes 15 to 20 spells.
  • Final Fantasy X-2 presents Blue Magic in the form of Blue Bullets, offering 16 of them, which are usable by Gun Mages.
  • Both games in the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance series have Blue Mages that can use 20 different Blue Magic spells.

For the most part, then, Blue Mages (or characters who use Blue Magic) normally have 20-24 unique enemy spells for each Final Fantasy title in which they appear. They’re more commonly poor combatants than they are martial characters, but that’s not always the case, with Kimahri or Blue Mages from FFXI being quite proficient in weaponry. And with all of that in mind, I don’t think FFXIV would have to compromise on Blue Mage’s scope much at all.

Like Red Mage, a theoretical full job Blue Mage would probably have its spell kit focused more on DPS (or perhaps Healing, they’ve traditionally had a variety of support spells) than on the wider variety of potential available spells. To differentiate the class from Red Mage, it would have made sense to introduce it as a melee class, too (meaning that it would have room for some abilities to come from leveling up in the form of Weaponskills for whatever weapon it claims as its own). But there’s definitely enough “room” in terms of the total number of actions (with each class having fewer than 30 at present) for Blue Mage to have a fully realized suite of Blue Magic spells, especially with more actions surely being added in Shadowbringers.

Though it’s wouldn’t be entirely necessary by any means, if the developers wanted Blue Mage to have more Blue Magic than the “rotation” would allow, the Role Actions system could even be repurposed for Blue Mages (and maybe for everyone else, too, to be honest, since the system as it exists hasn’t worked entirely as the team originally planned). Instead of pulling their various support actions from the shared Role Actions, Blue Mages could instead learn theirs from enemies, just as they would with their other Blue Magic spells. While Role Actions do sometimes have “required” picks right now, that wouldn’t necessarily have to be the case (and arguably shouldn’t be), and if they were properly set up as situational choices, they’d be a great place to slot in Blue Magic that didn’t jive nicely with FFXIV‘s otherwise rotational gameplay.

But just because Blue Mage can have a full kit of Blue Magic spells to use doesn’t mean the class fantasy is completely fulfilled, does it? Learning spells is perhaps the central piece of the Blue Mage experience, both in the process but also in the sort of adventure it creates. And I think it’s totally reasonable for something like that to exist in FFXIV, too. In fact, that’s why I think it’s so crucially important for the job to start at level 1, which is one of the things I think the new Limited Job system gets right when it comes to Blue Mage. Starting at level 1, with Blue Magic learned over the course of the journey, whether through quests or spell hunting a la FFXI (or what we’ll eventually see in FFXIV), really sells that fantasy, and I don’t think the job could manage that at all starting at a higher level like Dark Knight (at 30) or Red Mage (50) did.

Limited Jobs On the Whole

And that brings me to Limited Jobs as a broader topic. Though it might not seem like it from all I’ve written about Blue Mage so far, I’m not actually fundamentally opposed to them, in concept. I think they—or at least, something like them—can perform a valuable role in FFXIV when the class fantasy of a particular job doesn’t so neatly line up with the more “standard” experience of a typical job in the game. Most Final Fantasy classes can just be dropped into the thick of things, but there are a handful of them, namely jobs like Blue Mage or Beastmaster and Puppetmaster from FFXI, for which something of the flavor is lost without a broader experience. (I’d argue Summoner probably fits into this category as well, which is why its initial implementation in A Realm Reborn was so divisive.)

Blue Mages don’t just learn their spells by getting better: they explore to find them, putting their lives in danger to do so. Beastmasters don’t just conjure their pets out of the aether like Summoners: they find and bond with them in the wilds. Puppetmasters have a similar experience with their automatons, which they craft from various attachments and other parts to create something imminently personal. Similar narrative paths have actually accompanied many jobs throughout the Final Fantasy series, though: think of how the Dark Knight Cecil undergoes a quest to become a Paladin in Final Fantasy IV or how a Fighter (Warrior) from the original Final Fantasy becomes a Knight (Paladin) after the late game class change quest. FFXI similarly had “Advanced Jobs” that often involved special quests even for those jobs that were otherwise “normal” like Dragoon or Ninja.

Even Final Fantasy XIV captures something of that with its original suite of base classes. Gladiators reach a point where they “upgrade” to being Paladins, and Arcanists discover old forms of magic to become Scholars and Summoners. This sort of trope is by no means unique to Final Fantasy, but it’s been a staple part of the series ever since its inception, but it’s a staple that FFXIV has largely been stepping away from with each of the new jobs it adds.

Starting in Heavensward, new jobs (which were originally called Extra Jobs in your character profile, though the game itself has stopped using that nomenclature) didn’t start at level 1, nor did they have base classes like the original jobs from A Realm Reborn. The first round of new jobs (Astrologian, Dark Knight, and Machinist) started at level 30, with the “base class” portion of the experience excised, and the next round in Stormblood (Red Mage and Samurai) went even further, starting all the way at level 50.

And that’s why I think Limited Jobs have a reason to exist. There are, I think, some Final Fantasy jobs that wouldn’t really feel right if they skipped the journey part of the game. Blue Mage doesn’t feel right without collecting spells, Beastmaster wouldn’t feel right without taming pets in the wild, and Puppetmaster wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t grow with your automaton over time and form a bond with it. It makes a lot of sense to introduce jobs like this at level 1—with a level cap to match whatever other new jobs will start at in the next expansion—during periods where end-game isn’t a huge focus (like at the end of an expansion, as we’re seeing with Blue Mage now). “Limiting” a job in this way allows for the experience of leveling it for active players without also forcing them to rush through the experience before the new expansion. A Job being Limited in this way also allows for the team to play around with different experiences for leveling, as they’re doing for Blue Mage, perhaps even enforcing them until the player reaches whatever the original level limit for the class is.

But in general, I don’t think it’s right to, in practice, exclude these Limited Jobs from the majority of FFXIV‘s content, which largely takes place through random matchmaking systems. The game has been focused on random matchmaking since its 2.0 relaunch, and to tell players who might have been waiting since that relaunch that their favorite job of them all isn’t fit for them to enjoy in FFXIV strikes me as a woeful misunderstanding of one of the core draws to Final Fantasy and its job system. I’m not convinced at all by the arguments made against allowing Blue Mage (or future Limited Jobs) in Light and Full Party content. These arguments ignore solutions already found to similar problems both in FFXIV itself, its predecessor FFXI, and even World of Warcraft, and they also ignore Blue Mage’s history in other Final Fantasy titles.

Ultimately, I think the development team are more than capable of providing a Blue Mage that both captures the class’s essence and functions in a completely balanced manner in all of FFXIV‘s content. They’re selling themselves, and the players of their game, incredibly short.

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