#1 green mage over black mage. i love cloudkill. blackmage's conjure elemental only helps against the lich, who can be disposed of easily with corner melee traps and a couple of ice storms. furthermore, meteor storm is bugged when used with staff of wizardry, because it goes over 255 damage and so restarts from 1.... lame imo. the mage's melee abilities are pretty underrated - his dash attack rules (double-hit , can be cancelled), his dagger does ridiculous damage against bosses (like a full lifebar against Synn). with infinite-charged lightning wands he can take down Rafael, telarin, elementals, darkwarrior2 without letting them move. EASIEST time against nagpa. 3 cloudkills/conjures and he's dead. easiest time against darkwarrior2 , 3 lightning bolts (using glitches , hit skeletons first) and he's dead. eh, seriously, it's not debatable, the mage is simply the easiest and best character in the game. in japan and korea they do non-magic runs because the mage is so good... staff of wizardry, why'd capcom even put this ridiculously overpowered crap in the game........
okay, now from here i won't mind if you disagree with me.
#2 fighter . great moveset, super endurance (takes like 3x less damage than elf/mage). simply no weaknesses whatsoever, except for the fact that his Forward+atk sucks, which isn't that much of a big deal (i like to do atk, f+atk, qcf+atk, repeat juggles w/ the elf and cleric but it can'[t be done with the fighter). anyway, dash+atk, qcf+atk, du+atk, repeat is all he needs against regular enemies. dual-wielding imo is underrated nad is very fun. 2handed sword is NIIICE as long as you stick with the combo i listed a few lines above. kills harpy like she's his *****. great megacrash move.
#3 cleric . crapload of heals + buying 7-9 rings from gnome village...and pretty good endurance.. okay, wtf capcom. you'd think his offense would suck, but nooo he has the best qcf+atk in the game and some really good jump attacks . plus he has create light/ hold person to set up combos. only weakness is elementals, but you can just cheese them with a morningstar (repeated du+atk) or a warhammer.
#4 elf. she has all the important spells (ice storm and lightning). and invisiblity to help her ass out against nagpa and darkwarrior2. haste is oh so nice with autofire, but sucks without it. her megacfrash is good against certain bosses to cheese them when they're lying down, but they're easy bosses anyway (displacer, ogre) i don't use autofire so haste sucks for me. absolute crap for hp and defense, but if you do everything right, there's nothing she can't do.doesn't leave a lot of room for errors though
#5 thief . her qcf+atk rules, can be done over and over to juggle. but that doesn't make her the best melee character no way. (for instance, cleric/elf can do atk,f+atk,qcf+atk for the same result, and fighter can abuse his qcf+atk to du+atk just as well for an even better effect). picking locks is nice, but.... she gets the worst loot in the game imo. fighter and mage get the best (so many heal/lightning rings)
#6 dwarf.. he's the one character i can't one-coin the game with.. i just can't get used to his attacks. he's amazing against regular characters (but who isn't) but he requires completely different tactics against bosses. i do acknowledge that a skilled dwarf can be a scary sight though.