*laughs some more* What characters? This time the comment is more justified. While nowadays FF characters have their own devout fan followings…there was definitely not much to go on back in the day. Your chosen team of four characters pops up outside of Corneria/Cornelia one day and somehow, everyone knows that they’re meant to save the world. They never speak, they never interact, they don’t have any backstory whatsoever. So…you’ll just have to live with that and rejoice that it didn’t stay that way. The fact that this is a job-based game–meaning that you can assign a certain specific combat role to each character–probably has something to do with this, since the jobs you pick at the beginning determine who exactly you have on your team. The only available female character is the White Mage, for example. So I can understand where they were coming from when they made the four Warriors of Light into cardboard cutouts. They don’t even have official names, which is basically an invitation to go as wild as you want when naming them yourself. For some reason, they all ended up having Swedish names on my first playthrough, and it stuck ever since. Beyond that, it’s difficult to have any pointed preferences, since everyone is so one-dimensional.
However, the fact that you are absolutely free to choose your initial party–within the limits of available jobs, of course–is a surprisingly refreshing detail. This feature ensures that you’re effectively able to control the difficulty level of the game by yourself: a party of White Mages probably being the ultimate challenge. Or better yet: one White Mage. This involves killing off the rest of your team and never reviving them. If you feel like a hero, that’s certainly a way to prove it.
There are six jobs in total, and each can be upgraded to a more powerful version at level 18 by speaking with the King of Dragons. Again, unless you want a challenge, there’s no reason at all to pass this upgrade up.
White Mage > White Wizard: Clad in her trademark white hoodie-robe with red trimmings, she’s the backup unit par excellence. She can equip robes and protective capes, and uses staves and hammers as weapons. Don’t expect her to deal any kind of melee damage, though; her job is to cure, protect and enhance your party’s performance. She does have some spells to inflict negative statuses on enemies and ONE offensive line of spells (the Harm/Dia spell and its derivatives) which can hurt undead monsters. At level 18, she can upgrade to White Wizard, which makes her appear more grown-up. She drops her hoodie, displaying her long red hair and looking like some kind of pixelated priestess. The upgrade gives her access to more equipment, as well as more potent spells. Another important detail: there are no revival items in this game. Phoenix Downs (the usual revival item in FF games nowadays) hadn’t been invented back in the day, so chances are your White Mage will be your only means of bringing your KO’ed characters back to life, barring a trek back to town to find a Clinic/Church, which is how raising works before you acquire the Life spell (and it ain’t free either). So, to be brief, you want to keep her from harm as much as possible.
Black Mage > Black Wizard: This is where his slightly odd, but adorable trademark blue robe, pointy hat, black face and yellow eyes come from. He can equip robes and protective capes, and wields staves or daggers. Once again, though, don’t expect any melee prowess from him, as he is even weaker than the White Mage, both attack and defence-wise, with the lowest HP of all the jobs. However, the little fella packs a wallop when it comes to magic: he lives to nuke things–in the oh-so-eloquent words of 8-bit Theater, “I CASTS THE SPELLS THAT MAKES THE PEOPLES FALL DOWN!”–and has many ways to fry, freeze and electrocute the enemies, as well as blinding or poisoning them, if that should strike your fancy. He can also enhance your melee fighters’ performance, thus complementing the White Mage. Starting from tier 2, most of his spells are multi-targetable, the only exception probably being the infamous XXXX spell (renamed since as Kill)…And no, it does not involve death by porn, it’s simply a question of laziness: no one bothered translating its name. Like the White Mage, his upgrade to Black Wizard grants him more equipment options and more spells. However, his appearance distinctly suffers from it, as he loses his hat, making his face and weird banana hairdo visible to the world.
Red Mage > Red Wizard: He too, gets his trademark pimpin’ look here: long red cape and a sexy plumed hat. He is basically a compromise between a White Mage, a Black Mage and a Fighter/Warrior: he can cast both types of magic, equip more varied armour than a mage, as well as fight with a sword or a dagger. The disadvantage is that he won’t be as proficient as either of the specialised jobs, since he notably can’t use all the same weapons that a Fighter/Warrior can, and can’t learn the most powerful spells of either school. But he will be able to fill in gaps in the party. In particular, if you find that your White Mage is having trouble coping with the healing, a Red Mage backing her up might be a good option. Another problem, however, is going to be money, as you’ll need to buy two copies of many of the spells, which can get pricey very fast, considering how their cost skyrockets as you progress through the game. The Red Mage upgrades to Red Wizard, and doesn’t really change his physical appearance, besides growing up, just like the rest. He can equip a wider selection of weapons and armour, and cast more spells, up to tier 7.
Fighter/Warrior > Knight: The Fighter/Warrior looks like a dude in red armour, and his basic duty is to hurt things and take hits like a man. That’s all he does, but you have to give him credit: he does it better than anybody else. He has the highest defence and HP, high strength, can equip the heaviest armour and almost every available weapon in the game, and, to be brief, is a solid, reliable melee choice. When he upgrades to Knight…he still looks like a dude in red armour, although he probably takes a good dose of steroids somewhere along the way, because he unaccountably sprouts huge shoulders and pecs. He gets access to more equipment, as well as the ability to cast basic White Magic, so he will be able to help your healer out somewhat from that point onward. And, well…that’s pretty much all there is to him.
Black Belt/Monk > Master: You can’t get more straightforward than this. Looking like a dude in blue jammies, all he does is punch things. In the face. Hard. His sole purpose is dealing raw physical damage, and, since he has the highest strength, he should be good at it…if he didn’t miss so damn much! And since jammies don’t really protect from much (he can only wear light armour and bracers), the Black Belt/Monk will probably prove to be a bit of a nuisance at the start, since he won’t be able to connect hits very reliably and will go down fast if he gets hit himself. Still, once he gains a few levels, this will even out. There’s also another peculiarity: he can use nunchuks…but past a certain level (about 10-12), he will be more proficient with his bare fists. He still looks like a dude in blue jammies when he upgrades to Master, and gets…absolutely nothing from it, apart from super-steroid pecs and slightly more equipment options. In fact, his magic defence growth actually suffers from the transition, making it a dubious blessing at best. Still, if you can overlook these issues, the Master can end up with the highest damage output in the game, at high enough levels.
Thief > Ninja: To be fair, I’m not quite sure why he’s called a Thief, because he can’t steal a damned thing. All the Thief does that’s even remotely thievish (or useful) is…run away. He’s good at helping the party escape if they bite off more than they can chew in a random encounter. Sounds pretty lame, and frankly, it is. The Thief was probably meant to wear green, but it looks like a nondescript muddy brown outfit (basically, it’s the Black Belt with reversed colours). He wields daggers and some swords, and although he has a decent hit rate, the available weapons are so bad that his damage output distinctly suffers from it. He can only equip light armour and a small selection of shields. The Thief is a long-term investment, however. His main selling point is that he upgrades to Ninja, drastically changing outfits in the process, unlike the other jobs: he inexplicably swaps camouflage brown for bright red. And here I was, thinking that Ninjas were meant to be sneaky and shadowy…Anyway. He becomes able to equip a wider selection of swords and armour, which gives his damage output and defence a much needed boost. On top of that, he gains the ability to use basic Black Magic, thus serving as the opposite of the Knight.