A little originality goes a long way
Most RPG classes boil down to one of four timeless archetypes: the tanky warrior, supporting healer, ranged damage-dealer, or melee specialist. That's just at the most basic level, mind you - modern RPGs know to make their roles a bit more nuanced. But even outliers like pet-summoning necromancers, tinkering engineers, and party-buffing bards feel pretty darn familiar these days. Rare are the games that offer up classes/jobs/professions/whatever that make you think "Woah, that's a new one!"
But those unique, oddball RPG roles are definitely out there - you just need to know where to look for them. I'm fascinated by role-playing concepts and playstyles that stray far, far away from the same old norm, and since you've read this far, I'm guessing you are too. So what do you say? Let's get a refresher on some of the most complex, peculiar, or just plain different classes this side of the RPG genre.
Tempest (Dragon Age: Inquisition)
Let's start with a recent (that is, still impending) standout: the Tempest subclass in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Of the three paths available to the Rogue, two are typical - Assassins are the classic shadow-stepping killers, while Artificers specialize in explosive traps. But the Tempest opts for a much wackier method of attack: chugging down homemade alchemical mixtures to imbue their bodies with elemental effects.
Your typical Tempest is like a guy who shows up to a knife fight, douses one arm in liquid nitrogen and the other in lit kerosene, and crazily charges into battle. That's amazing, and much more interesting than another variation of the dual-wielding dagger expert.
Coin flips, dice rolls, and Tarot cards: these are the tools of the Ecaflip's trade. Elements of chance and gambling spring up all the time in RPGs, like the slot machine Limit Breaks of Final Fantasy VII or the entirety of Unlimited Saga which should never be spoken of again. But these furry cat-people are by far the most interesting gambling warriors in RPG land.
Will your attack hurt your enemy, or heal them? Do you dare press your luck on a dice-rolling Winning Streak? The Ecaflip's iconic abilities all involve uncertainty, and the fact that they wield a deck of cards instead of a sword or crossbow is ace.
Onion Knight (Final Fantasy 3)
When I first discovered the purpose of the Onion Knight during a round of the Final Fantasy Warcraft 3 custom map (long story), I was floored. Here's a class that's seemingly worthless, with no special abilities to call its own. After abandoning it for cooler jobs like Red Mage or Ninja, you'll probably never think about the Onion Knight class again - and that's the beauty of it.
Yes, the Onion Knight is pretty useless - until you hit level 90, at which point it becomes godlike. You start gaining stats like crazy and become eligible to don the all-powerful Onion Equipment armor set, turning this job from the worst to the best just like that. Sometimes, it pays to get back to your roots.
Insect Glaive (Monster Hunter 4)
If you're not yet a disciple in the Cult of Hunting Action, then you should know that classes are defined by their choice of weapon. And while most of Monster Hunter's armaments are pretty typical fare, like the Dual Blades, Long Sword, or Hammer, the Insect Glaive is anything but. Imagine a giant polearm with a carapace-like cannon on one end that shoots out a huge bug to do your bidding.
Your little Kinsect buddy will lock onto your monstrous targets when you shoot them with a pheromone bullet, pestering them while you lunge around like a murderous Olympic polevaulter. That's positively insane (and insanely awesome).
TaeKwon Master (Ragnarok Online)
Ragnarok Online is full of incredibly niche classes, but this one is just nuts. You'd think that TaeKwon Masters would simply be martial arts experts in spiffy gis, but playing one demands intimate knowledge of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. Your abilities may or may not be usable depending on the current day, your location in the game world, and a monster's given alignment to a celestial body.
Let me reiterate: the real-world calendar date affects the way you play this class. Knowing the right balance between your Solar, Lunar, and Stellar abilities actually requires you to be in tune with the universe itself - or at least be cognizant of what day it is during your week-long grinding sprees.
Arithmetician (Final Fantasy Tactics)
If you want to utilize the Arithmeticians to their full potential, you better step up your mathematical game. Each spell cast requires some premeditated calculations on your part, because hitting the correct targets requires that you crunch numbers like a champ. If you want your almighty Holy magic to hit only enemies and not your allies (or yourself), you'll need to factor in things like character level, XP, or the current elevation of every character on the map and whether that number is a multiple of three, four, or five.
I can think of no other RPG class that rewards you for possessing intimate knowledge of prime numbers. Truly, you are killing people with the power of math.
Entertainer (Star Wars Galaxies)
Some folks want to become one with the Force; others want to smuggle precious goods across dangerous territory. But you just want to dance. Star Wars Galaxies - Yoda rest its dead servers - had one of the most mind-boggling class outliers ever in its Entertainer profession, asking that you put yourself out there in front of virtual crowds of players and dazzle them with your rhythmic talents. That's literally how you level up.
It's not enough to just AFK in one spot with a dance animation, either - you have to know how to impress onlookers for extended periods of time. As a class that rewards you for decrypting the social psychology of other people in an MMO world, it may very well be the most complex role-playing experience in any game, ever. I mean that.
Puppetmaster (Final Fantasy 11)
Necromancers raise the undead to fight on their behalf, and Hunters have trusty animal companions. But those pet types are so played out - why not attack enemies with a marionette-like Automaton instead? Pulling on unseen strings in the thick of battle, Puppetmasters get up close and personal with monsters using clawed weapons while their hollow-faced wooden companions support them from afar. It's like the creepiest, most dangerous puppet show on the planet, and that's saying something.
It's not easy walking the path of the so-called PUP, since it requires deep knowledge of FF11's systems and a hefty chunk of in-game change. But persevering means having the satisfaction that you and your loyal puppet pal terrorize monsters like battle-hardened versions of Gepetto and Pinocchio.
Maniac (Atlantica Online)
Like Monster Hunter, your choice of class in Atlantica Online depends on your weapon. Sword, Spear, Gun, Bow, etc. I get - but what the heck is a Maniac? That, dear reader, is what you call someone who wields a chainsaw sword in a medieval fantasy world. You can only access this class once you've leveled a character to 100, but the reward is the ability to slice through swathes of enemies with a power saw. I'd say that's a fair trade.
The mere sight of a Maniac in-game justifies its existence as a class. Here's a warrior who looks like he's clad in ornate armor made during an ancient Chinese dynasty, wielding a fantastical, viciously toothed chainsaw like some kind of insane, time-displaced horror movie slasher. I... I think I'm in love.
Herald of Xotli (Age of Conan)
Battle mages are inherently awesome - hybrid spellcasters that would rather get down and dirty in a close-up brawl than shoot fireballs from afar. And of this somewhat niche archetype, the Herald of Xotli might be the coolest of them all. This religious zealot is so devoted to the demon god Xotli that they're willing to forfeit their bodies to be temporarily possessed during combat. At which point, you transform into a sword-wielding demon and start absolutely beating ass.
Think about it: by rolling a Herald of Xotli, you're basically signing up to roleplay as a crazed devil worshipper who's just as skilled with hand-to-hand combat as ancient curses. I reckon that's pretty atypical for most RPGs.
Mesmer (Guild Wars 2)
If Mysterio from Spider-Man's Sinister Six played MMOs, Guild Wars 2's Mesmer would be his go-to class. This purple-hued wizard is all about trickery, deception, and misdirection, able to conjure illusionary clones of him or herself at will. And though many of the Mesmer's abilities classify as familiar mind-control-type magic, its blinding abilities are truly special.
Take the Mesmer ability The Prestige, which makes you disappear in a puff of smoke, blinding nearby enemies, before you reappear and burn them with your torch. In Guild Wars, getting blinded isn't just a boring attack-missing status effect - your screen actually dims and your field-of-view becomes almost entirely obscured. That's ingenious design, making you actually feel like you're getting your mind melted when squaring off against Mesmers in PvP.
Animist (Dark Age of Camelot)
A lot of RPGs give you access to some variety of the druid class - sorcerers who draw all their power from the forces of nature. But few let you become a fungus-obsessed weirdo that summons giant mushrooms to do your bidding. That's the Animist in a nutshell, a spell-caster that focuses almost entirely on the creation and propagation of spores and overgrown shiitakes.
I don't even know if you could classify large, animate, carnivorous mushrooms as "pets," but my gut feeling is that doing so would be considered profoundly creepy. Which I suppose is fitting, since one of the Animist's talent trees is literally called "The Creeping Path."
Mime (Final Fantasy Tactics)
It was Bruce Lee who famously advised fighters to be "shapeless, formless, like water." And funnily enough, that pretty much summarizes the Mime class. Though being a mime is usually thought of a clownish profession, meant only for performers who wish to be hated on sight, the Final Fantasy Tactics variation is actually pretty freaking cool. The general idea is that they have zero abilities of their own, but can perfectly mimic the actions and spells performed by allies around them.
Becoming a Mime is no easy feat, since it requires extensive training across a wide range of other jobs. But the reward is a fighter who can do almost anything, provided you're adept at planning ahead to account for all their mirrored movements and attacks.
Festivalist (Final Fantasy 10-2)
Many of the dresspheres in Yuna's starring adventure are pretty out there, yet none can compare to the delightful quirkiness of the Festivalist look. It's easy to see why this class was a Japanese exclusive until the recent HD Remaster of FFX-2: it's almost entirely based on nostalgic traditions of par-taying in Japan, what with Yuna donning a kimono and swinging around ornamental temari thread balls.
That said, you don't have to know Japanese culture to appreciate the sight of Rikku bashing skulls like a weaponized piece of cotton candy. And the Moogle-shaped fireworks celebrating Yuna, Rikku, and Paine's festive spherechanges are an excellent touch. To make it all that much more precious, the Festivalist designs were actually based on a contest fan submission that I'm convinced was the work of an adorable, imaginative little girl.
Orator (Final Fantasy Tactics)
This feature is on the verge of becoming a full-blown Final Fantasy Tactics love letter - but dammit, its myriad classes are just too good. Arithmetician and Mime are both excellent RPG outliers, but my personal favorite has to be the Orator, a scholar who literally talks the opposition into submission. With ability names like Persuade, Enlighten, Condemn, and Negotiate, the Orator is every debate team member's and self-important egotist's dream class.
How great is it that the Insult ability actually sends the target into a Berserk rage? And I love that the in-game description of the class says that the Orator "manipulates enemies through skilled rhetoric." Plus, if words fail you, the Orator can just whip out a gun and end conversations the easy way.
Postman (Free Realms)
There is a sacred oath, known only to those that deliver parcels for a living: "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." By taking the mantle of the (kinda sexist?) Postman class, the now-defunct Free Realms let you join the hallowed ranks of those brave souls that stuff pieces of marked paper into countless mailboxes.
The class boiled down to a sort of exploratory footrace, where you had to deliver mail by chucking it to its intended recipient. There was also a block minigame to sort the many letters, packages, and scrolls that needed postage. It might not be the most exciting RPG class in the world (or even in Free Realms, which had other oddities like Kart Driver or Soccer Star), but something about the mundanity of spending your virtual life as a Postman is absolutely charming to me.
Those are my picks for some of the most out-there RPG classes - but with so many RPGs in the world, there have to be more awesomely unique ones (like the bizarre roles from Kingdom of Loathing, pictured above). Do you know of any more excellent oddities? Enlighten me and your fellow readers in the comments below!