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Ranking the characters from worst to best
While all the characters have their moments, some FFIX characters are better than others. Here is my ranking
8) STEINER: He may be the strongest given equal levels, but he's one dimensional and has few chances to level up on the first two discs. He may have the most powerful weapon in the game, but only if you do a speed run foregoing most everything and not leveling Steiner up enough for him to be useful. Pass.
7) VIVI: Most other characters' special abilities are more powerful and more reliable than his magic. His Blizzara is good when climbing up Cleyra's Trunk, but the rst of the time you wish you had someone else.
6) EIKO: White mages are nice, but Dagger has better summons and I find Eiko's Trance to be useless.
5) FREYA: If it wasn't for her Dragon Crest ability, she'd be the worst. But it's cheap, reliable energy and her ability to allow others to regenerate at Oelivert goes a long way. She's otherwise a weak fighter and her Jump is not that great.
4) QUINA: It's all about her Blue Magic abilities of Lvl 5 Death (great for leveling) and Frog Drop, which is reliable damage, albeit slow to earn. Mighty Guard and White Wind are also of use.
3) DAGGER: White mages are always useful, and she has the best summons. She only sucks during a short time on Disc 3.
2) AMARANT: a strong fighter, his white mage like abilities of Revive and Chakra are awesome when you are denied a white mage, and No Mercy is almost as good as Frog Drop, Dragon Crest, or Thievery.
1) ZIDANE: He's the best character because: 1) he steals useful items from bosses, 2) since he is usually your highest leveled characters, he strikes harder, and 3) his Thievery skill wins battles and his Flee helps when you overestimated your abilities.
Intensity, Integrity, Intelligence, Personified.
I recently replayed the game and would have to rank the characters from best to worst in this order:
1) Zidane: He definitely did the most damage for me up until midway through disc 3. He also has the best weapons and the most likeable personality. And he can steal and flee. Best character in my opinion as well.
2) Dagger: Sheís the heroine and summons the cooler eidolons so she would be my second. Always nice to have a white mage on your team, too. Changes a lot throughout the game as well. Makes her more interesting.
3) Amarant: Amarant looks cool and is a bad ass. Fights well too.
4) Eiko: I like summoning things so Iíd place her at 4.
5) Steiner: Does good damage and doesnít die easily. A reliable character.
6) Freya: Jump is fun to use sometimes and can protect her from hits if you get lucky or time it right. She does decent damage as well.
7) Vivi: I didnít really like Vivi much. The MP cost of his magic didnít seem worth it for the damage it caused. Fun to use sometimes. I like the character I just donít like using him.
8) Quina: Iíve heard that blue magic can be useful but I was always to lazy and impatient to stop and collect spells. Also it just looks really dumb and I just couldnít find myself liking it.
"White mages are nice, but... White mages are always useful." That doesn't seem contradictory.
Also, the general consensus is that Eiko is the better white mage by quite a bit. She has Esuna, Holy, Full-Life, Regen, and Dispel; spells that Garnet doesn't have. Garnet also doesn't really have the better summons. Eiko has Phoenix, which is the best summon, and Madeen. Eiko's got the only holy-element spells (other than Beatrix.)
Generally, the best characters depend on how a person plays the game. A lot of people consider Vivi pretty useless, but in an Excalibur II game where you don't have time to build up those fixed damage attacks, Vivi (and Steiner) can be the best. Plus, Vivi's got Doomsday for the endgame. You can heal your whole party and damage all of the enemies with it.
Steiner's got Shock, which is the only way I can think of right now to deal max damage without building the fixed damage attacks.
There's really 7 useful characters and Garnet. Everything Garnet can do, other characters can do better.
Dagger at least is a fantastic character to use for fighting yans. She is a great character, just outclassed by Vivi And Eiko. I can find instances where all of the characters shine, and they especially shine in a low level game. Steiner is incredible in a low level game. He is a POWERHOUSE. Even Freya's jump has saved my life on a rare occasion.
In a game so incredibly easy in a normal run through, it's a useless effort to rank them. If you can't clean house with even your least favorite characters, you're doing it wrong.
1.) Zidane- strong attacks, amazing trance, very fast, simple but very useful skillset.
2.) Amarant- great attack, good speed, great healing abilities, overall lots to offer in battle.
3.) Eiko- a total asset to the party. her support spells are really useful when facing the game's tougher bosses and overall she has far more uses as a healer/summoner than Dagger.
4.) Vivi- straight to the point deep cutting magic, tiny little powerhouse
5.) Steiner- nonstop heavy damage. may lack versatility, but doesn't need it. plus the Vivi combo moves are a real plus.
6.) Freya- diverse skills and jump is a great sanctuary move from heavy hitting bosses, but comes in handy slightly less often that those above
7.) Quina- can be made great, but is a huge bother to do so without a guide
8.) Dagger- pretty much a more one-sided Eiko. her summons deal more damage on average, but they're far too costly to be practical. plus spending a all that time mute really didn't do her any favors.
I'm actually just about to start a replay of this game, but as I've played it many times over the years since it was new I'm vet enough to make my own decision here. Like someone else said it all depends on how you play the game. I play the game very simply and probably rely on black magic far more than others while using unique abilities a little less so mine would probably go like this:
1. Zidane - For his stealing and the fact you're stuck with him anyway so may as well find use in him. He also has the most powerful weapon in the game. I'm not counting the Excalibur II as most normal people will never be able to get it and for me it doesn't exist.
2. Dagger/Eiko - Always a toss-up. Dagger has the more powerful summons (and yes she DOES have the best summons). Anyone who doesn't believe so just doesn't know how they work. You need to collect more gems to power up each summon. With 99 garnets Bahamut will pretty much be dealing max damage every time. Arc is a let-down considering he's SUPPOSED to be the best summon in the game but in reality his damage is fixed as there's no way to gather 99 pumices plus it's shadow elemental. Might as well just use ViVi's Doomsday.
On the other hand Eiko is the strongest white mage and white magic will ALWAYS be useful. She also has access to Holy which is basically Doomsday reversed and is the only one to get spells like Full Life, Haste and the aforementioned holy. Her summons suck compared to Dagger. However, if you get 100 Phoenix Pinions the chance of an auto revival is highly likely. However, as far as I recall, Phoenix doesn't revive with full life like in VII so it isn't quite as useful plus if you take certain measures you can avoid complete wipes anyway.
3. Quina - One purpose. Blue Magic. While not as useful (read broken) as FF VII there are some pretty solid and awesome blue magic abilities. Not to mention Quina's Limit Glove is the key to early power levelling.
4. ViVi - He's just solid. He can also be a damn powerhouse regardless of what some people are saying. Yes, at points in the game physical attacks can easily match the power of black magic but I'd sooner see little ViVi cast an awesome spell than Freya attack with her spear for example.
5. Steiner - The tank who's also quite the physical powerhouse. Plus once he gains Shock it's guaranteed max damage every time. Great when going up against Ozma or Hades.
6. Amarant - Has some pretty kick-ass unique abilities and when taking on Arc in Oeilvert or other flyers his thrown weapons is insanely powerful.
7. Freya - Meh. She's useful as a Steiner replacement while forced in your party but the rest of the time I've never really found a use for her.
8. Dagger/Eiko - As there's only use for one of them whichever one I decide not to play with is never used.
I'd probably find Eiko better if I got her Esuna faster. By the time I do, I can usually just equip the prevention abilities that matter on the characters already.
Intensity, Integrity, Intelligence, Personified.
8.) Quina: Whatever it is, its no use to me....Blue magic was just lack luster and only a few were useful in too scant of situations to justify using it.
7.) Steiner: He's powerful, but at the end of the day I didn't like him much as a character.
6.) Amarant: Again powerful with useful skills, but not in my top.
5.) Dagger: White magic, powerful summons, and decent damage with rackets. She just gets outclassed by eiko slightly.
4.) Vivi: I always liked his magic and found him a mainstay of my paty.
3.) Eiko: Great summons and support magic. Phoenix is very useful
2.) Zidane: Fast, can steal, steady damage. But I didn't steal enough to make theivery top out at 9999.
1.) Freya: Dragon's crest makes her take the top spot with the most consistent damage regardless of enemy or their strengths/weaknesses.
Space for rent........
2)Freya, Dragon's crest is automatic and low MP.
3)Quina, she's great for a low-level game as well as the alternative.
4)Eiko, she has worse summons but way better Wh Magic spells.
5)Amarant, he's got power and his abilities are solid.
6)Vivi, never been huge on Bl Magic.
7)Dagger, don't summon a lot unless I have too.
8)Steiner, comparative to Thievery, Dragon's Crest, or Frog Drop(all of which ignore dmg-reduction ailments like mini) Shock isn't all that great, especially when considering AP. And he clinks when he walks.
*MP not AP sorry.