Final Fantasy III Revisited: Employment Issues
Final Fantasy III’s most notable feature is almost certainly its job system, which expands on the first game’s simple class selection with over twenty jobs and the ability to switch between them throughout the game. While FF1’s less flexible system contributes to its timelessness, FF3’s additions bring plenty of depth in their own way, as you need to evaluate and adjust your party throughout the game to take on new challenges.
Compared to the job systems of later games, though, FF3’s is a little weird. The biggest oddity—I’m hesitant to call it a flaw—is that although you can change jobs whenever you want, the game doesn’t exactly encourage this. This is primarily due to the concept of job levels: In addition to regular experience levels that persist across job changes, each character can gain levels in each job individually, which plays a fairly major role in determining how powerful that job will be. The more you use a particular job, the stronger it will become, which is nice… but if you switch to a new job, it starts at level 1, and the levels you gained in that previous job will no longer help you. You can’t just master a bunch of jobs and swap them at will, either—while you gain job levels faster than experience levels, it still takes most of a normal playthrough to max out any particular job. This means that if you want a job to reach its full potential, you’re going to have to stick with it, and the later you switch to your final jobs, the less time you have to improve them. At any given moment, the most powerful job is usually whichever you’ve been using the longest—which means that changing jobs is often not really a good idea.
If that weren’t enough, the job transition system in the DS version actively punishes you for switching by lowering the character’s stats for a certain number of battles, depending on the similarity and level of the two jobs. The Famicom version instead requires you to spend special points earned from battles, which is less punitive but places a hard limit on how often you can change. Either way, it’s clear that this design is intentional—the game really doesn’t want you switching jobs very often.
This can be annoying at times, but the result is not terrible—instead of actively switching jobs for each dungeon or boss, like you might in Final Fantasy V, FF3 seems to ask you to maintain a well-rounded party throughout the game. You might think of it like a few copies of FF1 strung together—you’ll want to reorganize your party a few times through the game as you gain new jobs, but each time you need to create a party that you’re willing to take through whatever the game might throw at you. It’s a more measured take on the job system, certainly, but not necessarily a worse one.
Unfortunately, there’s still a problem. Although the mechanics of the game discourage switching jobs too often, the scenario seems to do the opposite. You’ll often come across areas or battles that clearly favor certain jobs, sometimes with NPCs outright telling you which class you need to use. Some of these are fairly clever, like a mini-size dungeon that you have to shrink yourself to enter, making physical attacks useless. Others are less so, like the boss that’s cake to a party of dragoons and incredibly difficult otherwise, conveniently located near a tower that’s full of dragoon equipment. These can be heavy-handed, and sometimes practically force you to switch to a job you might not otherwise use. Not only will this job be underleveled, but you won’t be able to gain levels in your preferred job while you’re using it. Additionally, some jobs simply become obsolete later in the game, essentially requiring you to switch and start over in something new. This is much less of a problem in the DS version than in the original release, but there’s still little reason to use, say, a Monk once the Black Belt class becomes available.
Taken on their own, these parts of the game don’t seem terrible either—by providing specific reasons try different jobs, they encourage you to explore the full range of options rather than just settling into something comfortable. It’s just too bad that this is in direct conflict with the part of the game that very much wants you to stick with your choices for as long as possible. Overall, it’s a bit of a rough start to the job system, but fortunately the fundamental concept is solid enough to keep the game fun. The system doesn’t truly shine until FF5, but this isn’t a bad way to get things started.