Final Fantasy as a series has introduced many a gamer to several different Magic systems. In the first through five games of the series the games presented a traditional style rpg magic system. That is to say it represented typical dungeons & dragons (and other fantasy) role playing magic classes/archetypes/schools of magic. In the beginning of the series these schools represented are White, Red, and Black Mages.
White Mages are the healer group of magic users that use what is a “holy” grouping of magic to which ultimate purpose is to be helpful/supportive or extend the life of the party. Like most magic users in any game that showcases them the White Mage is a physically weak character taking more damage than a fighter. If the White Mage is the “Holy” supportive class what is the inverse in the (old school) magic system? Well Black Mages are the users of destructive magic whose purpose is damage out put through typically elemental means. Much like White Mages, Black Mages are physically weak and also suffer in their defense.
What about Red Mages? Red Mages are jack of all trades magic users. They fuse both White and Black magic schools and abilities. They are also stronger both physically and in their defense but because of this their magic is not the strongest when compared to White or Black Mages which can be considered Masters of their schools. Red Mages are in the best possible of way an inclusion of semi magic users that exist in D&D and other role playing systems. Classes such as druids…Bards, and etc.
This system in it’s various forms were referred to as Classes/Jobs Magic System. This basic three magic user setup was expanded upon by the fifth installment of Final Fantasy to include several other magic users. In FF5 Blue Mage and Time Mage was added to the list; Blue Mages saw the ability to perform special actions that enemies could do, and Time Mages are masters of time magic.
This transitioned from typical Classes/Jobs Magic System into a non specific magic user system that not only got rid of rigid job based magic but skills in general. Final Fantasy VI allowed players to fluidly adapt characters to how they liked to play instead of giving them characters that could only be a single class. For the first time, everyone could have skills in magic and not be a true traditional magic users. But still the system had rules and not everyone could learn everything, magics had pre requisites which also made it a point to make balanced characters so not every character was a clone. This was done with points that a player would impart into skills to improve them.
While Tirc talked about the system and how it worked in Final Fantasy VII it was a step away from the old school style and in fact completely removed from a Classes/Jobs/skill based system. No longer was one character necessarily the magic user like in the older styles of games of the series. But along with them gone was the jobs and general skills. Everything was replaced with a superior magic system; Materia. The reason this system is so heavily lauded as superior by biased RPG fans a like is because the magnitude of flexibility that was inherent in the system. Now magic itself was leveled by it’s use which could as material un-equipped and given to another character and still have the same abilities. Elements could be paired in the Materia system with non elementals and characters could all be jack of trades. But every system must have a balance and if you over laden a character with certain kinds of materia their stats and growth would be negatively affected.
After going from Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system many people hate the next magic system, the Draw System of Final Fantasy VIII. Essentially the Draw system is what it says you draw the magic. Gone is both the skill based and now natural item based magic. In the Draw system magic just exists and isn’t explained. There are sorceress but you aren’t controlling any of them. The biggest issue with the Draw system is the tedious amounts of unnecessary busy work it added into the game, while the concept was interesting it was ultimately a fail. [I will talk a bit more about this later this week]
After Final Fantasy VIII the experimenting with Magic Systems ceased with Final Fantasy IX. The series went back to the Classes/Job system of previous games. To which it has remained as the main Magic system.
In the Final Fantasy XIII series of games the Magic system is still Classes/Job based but they mix it up by adding in the Paradigm system where each character can be several different classes but can only be one at a time. The team is set to a single class each and when the Paradigm shifts in battle (your call) all the characters classes change. But the basics of the the system are that of the Classes/Job system. While this allows for a bit of modification it is also still limiting as well the system is rigid and not allowing true customization.
*Most of the non-main series of Final Fantasy games also use the Classes/Job Magic System.
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