As the first Final Fantasy game featuring a dynamic job system, the NES version has some snags and details that have not quite been thought out. Most of these problems have been addressed in the DS version, with the job selection undergoing some serious stat rebalancing, trying to increase the usefulness of some jobs and make others less overpowered. There are 22 jobs in the NES version and 23 in the DS version. The characters obtain them in batches from each elemental crystal they restore, although the order is slightly different between the two versions (the DS version has a more uniform distribution, the jobs mostly coming in batches of five).
While all the characters look the same in the NES version (except as Onion Kids), each one gets a slightly different costume in the DS version, often incorporating a distinctive element of their default outfits. Namely, Luneth keeps his turtleneck and/or pouch belt, Arc his scarf and/or belt buckle, Refia her brooch and/or earrings and Ingus his necklace and/or gauntlets. Some of the outfits also incorporate each character’s associated colour (e.g. the Dragoon’s armour trimmings).
Onion Kid/Onion Knight: The NES version has all four characters start out as Onion Kids, of all things. The name probably refers to their puffy trousers and bulbous helmets. As you might expect, the Onion Kid is nothing to write home about. It can’t equip much of anything, and its stat growth is laughable up until level 90 (job level). Before that, it’s useless. If you do, however, somehow manage to level it up that far, it then takes a huge leap to obtain maximum stats in all categories by level 99. On top of that, there are several enemies in the final dungeon that can drop Onion equipment (Onion armour, Onion sword, etc.). Putting a full set of those on an Onion Kid will transform it into a killing machine. But considering the rarity of this gear and the sheer effort required to level the job up, it’s likely that once you ditch the Onion Kid at the beginning of the game, you’ll never go back to it.
The Onion Knight in the DS version is a bit different, although it still powers up at level 90. It can cast all Black and White Magic spells, for all the good it does before level 90. It can also equip all weapons and armour in the game, and still gets an advantage from equipping the rare Onion gear. The main difference with the NES version is the method to obtain the job. It requires using the pointless Mognet system until the party receives a letter from Topapa about missing children. Is it worth it? NO.
Freelancer: Since the DS version decided to make the Onion Knight an exercise in tedium, the four characters start out as Freelancers instead, dressed in their default costumes. As a starting job, it’s marginally more useful than the Onion Kid, as it allows them to use tier 1 and 2 White Magic, but it’s still just as advisable to ditch it as soon as the team obtains new jobs. And, unlike the Onion Kid, there’s no reason to ever revert to it.
The Wind Crystal grants the party five jobs in the NES version and six in the DS version.
Fighter/Warrior: The Fighter looks almost identical to its FFI counterpart and hits things with swords or daggers (or hey, even bows), no questions asked. It’ll most likely be one of your melee staples for a while due to its offensive prowess. At least until you obtain the Knight. It can also equip the heaviest armour available at that point in the game, giving it high survivability.
The DS version renames the job as Warrior. On top of its existing weapon options, it now also gains access to axes and obtains a special ability called Advance. This delivers a more powerful attack, but decreases the Warrior’s defence. It adds to the job’s bag of tricks and makes it somewhat more interesting to use, but there are much better damage-dealing options out there.
Monk: Like its FFI predecessor, the Monk hits things hard, and that’s it. It’s a specialist of barehanded combat, but you can use nunchucks as well. If you pick the latter option, however, make sure to equip one in each of its hands, otherwise, it’ll lower its attack power. It has high strength and very high HP, and is one of the cheapest jobs to maintain, due to its very limited selection of armour. Of course, this means its defence is less than stellar, but there’s a reason it gets all those HP. Its sprite looks a lot like Guy from FFII.
In the DS version, the Monk gets a special ability called Retaliate, which allows it to counterattack any physical attacks aimed at it for one turn. The counterattack also deals twice as much damage as a normal attack. This is a significantly better upgrade than the Warrior’s Advance, since it has no drawbacks, and makes the Monk a genuinely viable early-game damage dealer.
White Wizard/White Mage: Your resident medic for the initial stages of the game. Donning the exact same white-and-red robe as in FFI, the White Wizard is there to keep the party healthy and protected from the safety of the back row. It can use White Magic up to tier 7, and equips robes and staves. Unlike in FFI, it no longer has specific spells to target undead, but Cure now hurts them, so it serves the same purpose. However, for some reason, Aero is considered as a White Magic spell in this game.
The DS version renames the job as White Mage. Instead of additional abilities, it gains a bit more variety in the equipment sector, as it can now use rods as well as staves. Refia is the only member of the team who wears her hoodie, and her red hair makes her look pretty much like a carbon copy of the original FFI White Mage.
Black Wizard/Black Mage: Shameless FFI sprite recycling strikes again. The Black Wizard’s job is to either rain elemental destruction on enemies or cast negative status spells, and it can prove to be a lifesaver in many difficult battles. It can cast Black spells up to tier 7, and can equip robes, rods and daggers. It also needs to stay in the back row to protect its low HP.
The DS version renames the job to Black Mage, but, just like the White Mage, it doesn’t get any new abilities, only equipment additions. It can now also equip staves and bows on top of the usual rods. However, unlike the White Mage, the Black Mage now also faces serious competition for a spot in the active party from the Geomancer, due to a drastic improvement of the latter’s abilities.
Red Wizard/Red Mage: Yet another instance of FFI sprite recycling. However, by comparison with its predecessor, the Red Wizard loses a lot of its usefulness. It can still cast both Black and White spells, but only up to tier 4, which becomes a problem fairly quickly. Still, it does get better armour and a much better weapon selection (swords, daggers, staves, rods and bows) than either of the pure mage classes. You could even use a Red Wizard instead of a White one until you hit tier 4, but there’s no point in keeping it beyond that.
The DS version renames the job to Red Mage and raises its spell-learning cap to tier 5, but that’s all it does. No new abilities, no significant stat improvements, no equipment upgrades. So, unfortunately, this is basically the equivalent of putting a bandaid on a bullet hole. Such a waste of sexy outfits…
Thief: This is one of the jobs that got reshuffled between the two versions of the game: it’s granted by the Fire Crystal in the NES version, but the DS version bumps it up to the Wind Crystal. The NES version is dressed in its now trademark green (unlike the brown mess from FFI), but also has a moustache, for some reason. The Thief is now able to steal, the quality of the loot depending on its job level. It also retains Escape as a special ability, which not only guarantees escape from any non-boss battle, but also nullifies the defence penalty the party would normally incur for fleeing. It can equip light armour, daggers or boomerangs. The latter also allow it to move to the back row. And last but not least, a Thief can pick locked doors if placed as party leader, which can save you cash on Magic Keys. All in all, however, it’s not worth the trouble: there’s nothing worth stealing, and there are much better damage-dealing jobs available.
The DS version makes the Thief available earlier and for good reason. Not only do some enemies carry worthwhile loot (in particular, Odin’s Gungnir, which requires a high-level Thief to pilfer), but Escape has been changed to Flee, which now raises the party’s defence when running from combat. So training a Thief is now a good idea.
The next set of five jobs is obtained from the Fire Crystal, with the difference that the fifth job is Thief in the NES version and Geomancer in the DS version.
Ranger/Hunter: Looking somewhat like an 8-bit Robin Hood, the Ranger is geared towards ranged damage, its weapon of choice being the bow. Consequently, it can stay in the back row for added protection, even though it can equip some pretty good armour. As an added perk, it can also cast White spells up to tier 3 (except Aero, for some reason). Most of its arrows are also elemental, which makes them comparable to low-level Black spells. While this may be good for the very beginning of the game, it quickly becomes obsolete. There’s also the added annoyance that you need to keep its ammo supplies up, which can put a dent in the party’s funds.
The DS version renames the job to Hunter. It can no longer cast spells, but can now use bows and boomerangs, as well as the Barrage ability, which fires four arrows at random at the enemy party. Each hit will do less damage than a regular attack (the difference diminishes as the job levels up), but it does target multiple foes. However, ammo upkeep is still a big problem.
Knight: Unlike its FFI counterpart, the Knight can no longer use White Magic. However, it has the Cover ability, which allows it to step in and take hits instead of wounded party members. If the Defend command has been used before the hit lands, this will reduce the damage to 1, thus transforming the Knight into an effective bulwark, should the situation get hairy. It can still equip the heaviest armour, as well as the best swords (also daggers, but who wants those?), while dishing out good damage. All in all, an excellent melee job which Fighters should upgrade to ASAP.
In the DS version, the Knight regains its ability to cast White Magic, albeit only tier 1 spells, which are all but useless by the time you obtain this job. Cover is renamed as Defend and now grants a defence bonus relative to the Knight’s level when used. The problem is that the job is now also significantly slower, thus impairing its usefulness. I’ll bet it’s those huge bucket helmets weighing them down.
Scholar: This is the ‘nerd’ job: it fights using books, and its special abilities consist of checking enemy HP (Peep) and elemental weaknesses (Scan). Peep is redundant with the Libra spell, with the difference that it’s free to use. Scan is useful exactly ONCE in the game, during a boss fight where the opponent changes elemental weaknesses. Other than that, the Scholar can’t equip anything good and deals underwhelming damage, especially since you’ll want to keep it in the back row. Eminently forgettable.
The DS version tries very hard to make the Scholar more useful, to the point where it almost succeeds. Peep and Scan are merged into a single ability called Study, which also removes any beneficial effects on the enemy. On top of that, the Scholar can cast White and Black spells up to tier 3, and doubles the potency of all items it uses. It can thus serve as a poor man’s mage.
Geomancer: Another reshuffled job, the Geomancer is obtained from the Water Crystal in the NES version, but the DS version bumps it up to the Fire Crystal. It’s an oddball job, and it looks the part too, with its puffy blue jammies and nightcap. It uses light armour and bells (…). Its special ability is called Terrain and allows it to control the environment to damage the enemies, which essentially equates to free Black Magic. There’s a pretty hefty downside, however: the attacks can sometimes backfire at the party.
The DS version keeps the silly blue outfits, but makes the job a lot more useful. Terrain attacks are more varied, and each now has a chance of appearing in different environments. Most importantly, they can no longer backfire. This makes the Geomancer a serious contender for a spot in the party instead of the Black Mage.
The Water Crystal grants a whopping seven jobs in the NES version (this includes the Geomancer) and five in the DS version.
Viking: What is it with oldschool jobs and facial hair? First the Thief, now the Viking. Anyway, if you’re looking for a job to soak up damage, look no further. The Viking has very good defence and HP growth, and can equip heavy armour, as well as hammers and axes. Of course, there are downsides: its poor agility means that it’s slow, and its attacks deal fewer hits. It also develops more slowly than other jobs. On top of that, it pales in comparison with the jobs it comes bundled with.
The DS version firmly establishes the job as a tank, in direct competition with the Knight. The Viking gets the Provoke ability, which goads enemies into attacking it and lowers their defence. Perfect if you need to take the heat off your squishies. For added effectiveness, place the Viking in the back row with two shields; this strategy is notably useful against the Iron Giant. But if it’s damage you’re looking for, look elsewhere.
Dragoon: An excellent melee job, the Dragoon looks very much like its ancestor from FFII, Ric(h)ard. It can use spears and equip a wide selection of heavy armour. It can also perform its trademark Jump attack, which removes it out of harm’s way for one turn and doubles its damage upon coming back down on an unsuspecting enemy’s head. This move also deals more damage to dragons.
The DS version of the Dragoon remains much the same as its predecessor: it doesn’t gain any new abilities or equipment, but there is an added perk. Jump becomes more effective as the job levels up, starting at 1.5 times the damage of a normal attack and up to 2.4 times at its most powerful.
Magic Knight/Dark Knight: I guess the Water Crystal is partial to heavy duty melee jobs, because here’s another one. The common ancestor to both the Dark Knights and Paladins of later games, the Magic Knight is a decidedly odd mix. It can equip heavy armour, but its weapon of choice is a katana, and it can cast White Magic up to tier 3 (except Aero). It’s another great damage dealer, with the added perk that it’s obtained at a point in the game where the party encounters enemies that duplicate during combat. Katana will prevent that from happening.
The DS version fixes the muddle by renaming the job as Dark Knight and removing its ability to cast White Magic. It’s now also able to use swords and daggers, and gains its trademark Souleater ability, which damages all enemies at the cost of some of its HP. This attack is now also what impedes replicating enemies, rather than katana.
Conjurer/Evoker: Think of it as a Summoner in training. It uses robes and rods, and, as any mage, it needs to stay in the back row. Its speciality is Call Magic, which allows it to summon powerful creatures. Each summon has three abilities, but Conjurers only have access to the two weaker ones, one offensive and one defensive, which have a 50-50 chance of triggering with each casting. In other words, there’s no way to know or control what you get, making the job pointless, especially since the Summoner is obtained relatively soon afterwards.
The DS version renames the job to Evoker, but that’s all it does. As opposed to the Scholar or the Bard, the Evoker was apparently too hopeless to attempt to salvage. It has no new abilities, equipment or perks of any kind and is thus just as much a waste of space as it was before, if not more, considering the aforementioned upgrade to other formerly bad jobs.
Bard: The Bard and the Conjurer were probably introduced to counterbalance the wonderful melee jobs obtained from the same Crystal. Just like the Conjurer and the Scholar, the Bard is a contender for the title of “Worst Job in the Game”. It can equip light armour and harps, and also needs to stick to the back row. Its special abilities are Scare and Cheer. The former can either lower the enemies’ accuracy or make them flee, although that only works on very weak, easily killable specimens. Cheer improves the party’s hit rate, allowing other characters to deal more damage. A poor man’s version of the Haste spell, if you will. And that’s it. I guess if the rest of your party consists of heavy hitters, you could pop a Bard in to Cheer them on, but…why waste a party slot?
Just as with the Scholar, the DS version makes a genuine effort to spruce up the job. To the extent that it’s now one of the best jobs for taking on the Iron Giant. Shocking, I know. The Bard’s special ability is now called Sing and allows it to either apply a beneficial effect on the party for several turns or damage all enemies. The effect depends on the harp the Bard equips, and there are now more harps available. The real perk, however, is that the Bard will always act first in a combat turn, meaning that it can anticipate an enemy’s attack if needed. Which is exactly what the Iron Giant strategy relies on. So if you’re planning to take it on, go ahead and train a Bard or two.
Karateka/Black Belt: Yet another reshuffled job, the Karateka was also obtained from the Water Crystal in the NES version, but the DS version postpones it until the Earth Crystal, probably because so many good melee jobs in one go was overkill. The Karateka is to a Monk what a Knight is to a Fighter, retaining the massive STR and HP growth of its predecessor. It has the BuildUp ability, which doubles its damage output for its next turn, but drops its defence to 0. So if it gets hit in between charging BuildUp and using it, it may incur a slight case of death. If you’re feeling adventurous, BuildUp can be used twice in a row for an even more powerful attack on the third turn. Just don’t use it a third time, as it will then damage the character. The Karateka can use light armour and claws, but fights better barehanded. This also increases the damage from BuildUp even more, making the job a cheap source of massive damage. If you don’t mind the risks, that is.
The DS version renames the job to Black Belt. BuildUp becomes Boost and can be stacked twice to double, then triple the damage of the user’s next attack without incurring a defence penalty. However, using Boost a third time will nullify the bonuses and halve the character’s HP. All in all, though, this is an excellent endgame option.
The Earth Crystal is significantly less generous than its peers in the NES version, only granting three jobs. This is compensated by the fact that all three are much-needed upgrades. In the DS version, things are more balanced, as it offers six jobs instead (including Black Belt, Ninja and Sage).
Shaman/Devout: This is the upgrade the White Wizard has been waiting for, although probably not because of its outfit, which includes an incongruous hood with cat ears. The Shaman can still equip robes and staves, but it can also cast White spells up to tier 8 and has a balanced spell charge growth. Which would make it the team’s definitive medic…if you didn’t get the Sage almost immediately afterwards.
The DS version renames the job to Devout. Just like the White Mage, it can now use rods as well as staves, and, due to the significant speed downgrade the Sage takes, it resumes its rightful place as the team’s go-to healer for the remainder of the game, with no other competition in sight. Both Arc and Refia now don their hoodies, pointedly unafraid of ridicule.
Warlock/Magus: The Warlock is to the Black Wizard what the Shaman is to the White. It still uses robes and rods, but can cast Black spells up to tier 8 and gets a better spell charge growth. The problem, however, is that, unlike the Shaman, it has the Summoner to contend with, and the odds are not in its favour. Until you get the Sage, that is, which renders both obsolete.
The DS version renames the job to Magus and doesn’t give it any new tricks. However, due to the downgrades the Sage takes, it now takes precedence over it, with both better speed and spell charge growth. But even taking this into account, the Magus still faces some stiff competition from the Summoner for a place in the spotlight.
Summoner: This is the much-needed upgrade for the Conjurer. Sporting its now trademark horn, the Summoner has perfect control over Call Magic. It can equip robes and rods and, most importantly, will unleash each summoned creature’s third and best attack with each casting. While this turns it into a pure damage-dealer, rather than a mix of healing and damage like the Conjurer, it also makes it a lot more useful. All summon spells are multi-target, which makes a serious case for using a Summoner instead of a Warlock. Its only problem is that it has a worse spell charge growth, for some reason.
The DS version keeps the Summoner’s already much welcome abilities unchanged and doesn’t give it any new equipment. However, its spell charge growth benefits from a much needed boost, which strengthens its case against the Magus for a spot in the active party. Refia is the only one to keep a robe, while the guys get some rather unsightly puffy trousers instead.
In the NES version, the two final–and best–jobs in the game were obtained from the Forbidden Land Eureka, but the DS version decided to simplify it all and give them to the Earth Crystal instead. They’re also no longer the absolute best in their respective categories.
Ninja: Designed to be the ultimate melee job, it retains its red-clad sprite from FFI, albeit with noticeably less steroids. It has amazing stats, can equip any weapon and armour in the game, and can throw two Shuriken per turn for obscene damage. Unfortunately, due to the exorbitant price of said Shuriken, they’re best saved for the final boss. The other drawback is that they are equippable as normal weapons, and must thus be reequipped every turn if thrown. Still, even without them, the Ninja kicks some major butt.
In the interest of not rendering every other melee job obsolete, the DS version did some serious downgrading on the Ninja. It’s still a speed demon and a very capable melee fighter, especially against the final boss, but its stats have taken a hit, and it has been restricted to katana, daggers and boomerangs, as well as lighter armour, which makes it more vulnerable.
Sage: This is the magic equivalent of the Ninja. It can equip anything any other mage can, including the Scholar’s books. It also has the best spell charge growth and outstanding magic defence. And, of course, it can cast any spell, including the best incarnations of summons. With all this variety, it’s a little difficult to decide what to equip, but it’s well worth the hassle.
Much as with the Ninja, the DS version takes a paring knife to the Sage, greatly handicapping it. The main downgrades concern its spell charge growth, which impairs its casting ability, and its speed (must be the huge hats), which now makes it a serious liability in terms of healing. And considering how nasty the final boss is, speedy healing is not something you can easily forgo. You might consider using a Sage as an offensive caster…but it can now only use the Evoker versions of summons. In short, you’re better off disregarding this job altogether.