Fighter/Knight: He’s your tank. He does a crapload of damage with swords and can wear every piece of armor in the game once he gets the class change to Knight. He won’t dodge many attacks but most things will only scratch him even during the end-game. In addition, as a Knight he gains some white magic spells which gives your party extra cures after battle. He is a must for any party.
Thief/Ninja: A peculiar character with interesting benefits. Unlike most thieves, this one can’t steal from enemies. He uses only daggers and light swords and can wear medium armor. He dodges a lot of attacks but when he gets hit, ouch it hurts. His run ability rarely fails, which is useful since you do a lot of running from battles in FF1. Once he becomes a Ninja, he can wear almost any armor (except for the strongest) and almost any sword (except for the mighty Xcaliber). He stays second-class to the fighter in terms of damage and absorbing damage. However, he does gain some black magic spells after class-change and can cast Fast (best spell ever, more on that later) on your main attacker.
Black Belt/Master: At the end of the game, there is no greater damage dealer than the Master. With a critical hit and Fast casted on him at level 25, it is possible for him to do 1,000 damage in a single round, which to put that into perspective, is HALF the total HP of the final boss. However, at the beginning of the game, he is awful. He has a lot of HP but does mediocre damage until about level 9 or 10, when he starts matching the fighter. He also takes a lot of damage, for pretty much the entire game, so he needs protection. However, the great perk about the Black Belt/Master is that he is best equipped with absolutely no equipment. No weapons and no armor is when he at his strongest. This is especially useful in the original Final Fantasy since each character only has four weapon and four armor slots, and assuming you have everyone tricked out in armor, you have almost zero space for loot if you don’t have a Black Belt.
Red Mage/Red Wizard: The Red Mage seems awesome at first. He can cast both white and black magic spells, and he can use most of the weapons and armor the fighter can use early on. However, after class change he cannot use most level 7 spells and cannot use any level 8 spells which include Nuke, Fade and Lif2. However, his defense is higher than that of a standard mage and still can hit for 100-150 with the Sun sword to most end-game enemies. He is as balanced as they come.
White Mage/White Wizard: Ah, the healer. Crappy defense, crappy weapons, but he/she is a must for any good party as he/she can heal your party members the most effectively. He/she is also the only party member to get the Cur4 spell which heals any party member to the max. He/she is also the only party member to get the useful Harm spells which absolutely destroy undead enemies. And, if you give him/her the Masamune end-game she can deal damage just like anyone else.
Black Mage/Black Wizard: You like setting things on fire? The Black Mage is your man. Rated last in physical defense and weaponry but the Black Wizard can cast all black magic spells including the all-powerful level 8 Nuke spell. However, your Black mage will get hurt, a lot, even if put in the last position in your party. He also can’t do any physical damage worth noting. So he is excellent for bosses with powerful magic spells but having him get through regular enemies is a chore. It’s worth it for Nuke though. It hurts things.
Now that you are familiar with the characters I’ll explain my favorite party. I think this the most effective party both for the beginning of the game and for end-game:
Fighter - Black Belt - Red Mage - White Mage
Most people’s favorite party is this one, with the change of a Red Mage to a Black Mage. The popular way makes sense too. You have two main attackers, A Black mage to cast Fast and Nuke and a White Mage to cover all the healing. However, the Black Mage creates a problem for about the first 10 levels of the game. With that party you will only have one reliable attacker for about ten levels and you will have the three worst defensive party members. Early on you can’t do much damage or take a lot of damage.
This is where the Red Mage comes in. The Black Belt needs time to level to get strong. Once he gets there, the Black Belt is a force to be reckoned with. The Red Mage will cover the Black Belt’s negative early attributes by being second in the marching order. The Red Mage can afford to take damage early on because he is wearing the same equipment as the fighter for the most part. Around level 10, after you finish Astos and are completing the Earth Cave, the Red Mage tails off a bit in physical damage while the Black Belt suddenly gets powerful. They naturally switch roles and now the Red Mage can focus on using attacking magic when necessary or finishing off enemies that the Black Belt or Fighter don’t kill in one-shot. The Black Mage would not be able to so this.
Okay, so that covers the beginning and middle of the game. What about the end of the game when this party suddenly doesn’t have a powerful Nuke spell? Well, you don’t need Nuke when you have the two best attackers in the game. Even when you face Chaos, the Black Wizard’s first responsibility is casting Fast (which in essence doubles the amount of damage a physical attack does) on the Knight and the Master. Honestly, by the time you finish casting those spells, the game will probably be over with your Black Belt doing 700-1000 per hit and your Fighter easily doing 400-500. Nuke may not even get a chance to get off. It rarely does after I cast two Fast spells. The Red Mage also gets Fast, just like the Black Mage. The difference? The Red Mage has better defense and physical attack power and still gets Fir3, Ice3 and Lit3, which aside from Nuke, are the only useful black magic spells past level 5 magic.
In addition, don’t forget that the Red Mage has healing spells also. He can help heal along side the White Mage for the entire game, giving the White Mage more leniency in casting those useful Harm spells against the undead. The Red Mage gives you options in casting a powerful magic attack, healing party members, or by finishing off enemies the Knight and Black Belt don’t kill. The enemies will die faster and the White Mage can just spam the Heal Staff without having to use magical healing since with a Red Mage your party will take less damage overall.
So if you’ve ever played Final Fantasy share your best party with me or tell me why you think this party sucks. If you haven’t played this game and you like RPGs you really should play this NES classic.