Even though most RPG stories are centered around one main character with a chosen destiny, a magical McGuffin, and a hometown that has been burned to ashes (parents included), they typically don’t fight alone: a big part of the appeal for fans of the genre is the chance to team up alongside several diverse (and often weird) characters that are eager to help save the world. Naturally, this has resulted in lots of debates in social media over which party makeup is the best, which character is coolest, and should the game allow it, which romance option is the best and if you disagree then here is a translated quote from an interview that states without question that Cloud loves Aerith and only Aerith…sorry, got some RPG PTSD for a second there.
This also leads to heated discussions over which party members are the most useful and which are wasted space. Theoretically, every party member should be potentially useful as long as players are putting in the extra hours to grind them to max levels, but sometimes there are some characters that just can’t cut mustard no matter how much you raise their stats or equip them with the rarest gear. Inversely, there are also those characters who are just too cool and/or too powerful on the outset that players naturally gravitate towards them.
As usual, stat-obsessed nerds shouldn’t take this list too seriously, which includes a subjective list of which party members defy expectations (whether by plot reasons or gameplay specialties) and which fall short either by poor conceptualization or an intentional gag by the developers.
30 Strong: Relm (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI was the first game in the series to shake up the established clichés surrounding female party members; the game featured the first main heroine in the series, who also possessed an incredible innate power, as well as a female knight who fought with swords and magic.
Relm, meanwhile, is barely ten years old but outclasses both ladies by having the highest magical stats in the game as well as the ability to literally create life through her paintings. This even includes a popular glitch in which she can paint enemies out of existence when they are turned invisible.
29 Weak: Rafa And Malak (Final Fantasy Tactics)
By comparison, this brother and sister duo are both so useless they share a single listing. That is because they both possess the same abilities, which involve targeting specific areas of the map that any enemy standing on them will receive damage.
The problem is that it takes a long while for the spells to be cast, meaning most foes will simply move a square or so away from the targeted spot, rendering the attack useless. The PSP remaster of Tactics fixed this blunder somewhat, but even then the two twins fail to measure up to the likes of TG Cid.
28 Strong: Emeralda (Xenogears)
A character with such a cool concept, it’s criminal that she never got her own game: essentially a cuter version of the T-1000, Emeralda’s entire nanomachine body can morph into all sorts of insane weapons, including blade arms and hair whips, and can even break down into a swarm of particles that phase through enemies like a million angry bees.
Her magic attacks are also far beyond any other character’s, at least visually. While fellow party member Elly calls up a few water bubbles for her magic, Emeralda brings the entire waterfall, mountain included.
27 Weak: Buzz-Buzz (Earthbound)
Before Ness could master his latent abilities, he is guided towards the start of his journey with the help of Buzz-Buzz, a bee with devastating psychic abilities.
Buzz-Buzz starts off the game with the strongest abilities, able to take out late-game enemies effortlessly.
Unfortunately, his biggest weakness is that despite his overwhelming power, he is still a bee. After frightening Pokey’s mother, he is tragically swatted down, a cruel-yet-hilarious joke that clues players in that Earthbound is far from a traditional RPG story.
26 Strong: Tifa (Final Fantasy VII)
For the few people out there who know nothing about Final Fantasy VII, looking at Tifa at first glance probably doesn’t register her as a powerful martial artist.
As one of the most prominent RPG heroines to shake up the formula, Tifa is not only a skilled fighter, she possesses Wonder Woman-esque levels of super strength, able to lift Godzilla-sized enemies and slam them into the ground, while even the most armored machines crumble into pieces from her fists. Another character in desperate need of her own game.
25 Weak: Cait Sith (Final Fantasy VII)
On the other hand, what you see is what you get with Cait Sith, which is a mix of peculiarity and dismissiveness. While the two-in-one cat combo does bring a few interesting twists to the story, his role as an actual party member leaves much to be desired.
His main ability revolves around games of chance, which typically translates to RNG.
For those not versed in RPG terms, it means that his attacks are entirely random, which makes his inclusion far inferior to characters with more controllable abilities.
24 Strong: Selphie (Final Fantasy VIII)
On the other hand, Selphie is another character whose abilities are based around luck, which would potentially make her as useless as Cait Sith.
But a single ability puts her far above most RNG-based characters: “The End” is an aptly named and hilarious-to-watch move that spells instant doom for any enemy in the game, including bosses. The odds may be astronomical, but they are worth it just for the bragging rights of being one of the lucky few who managed to roll this instant attack on the final boss.
23 Weak: Kimahri (Final Fantasy X)
The silent, spear-wielding feline warrior might just be one of the worst party members in the history of Final Fantasy. Unlike gimmicky characters like Selphie or Umaro, Kimahri’s biggest shortcoming is that he’s just…average.
While FFX’s Sphere Grid allows for customizing characters (the healer-based Yuna could learn Black Magic, for example), they are defaulted to the characters’ strengths. Kimahri’s Grid is placed right in the middle, meaning that he doesn’t excel in any particular areas. By attempting to make him a versatile character, Square instead made Kimahri an unappealing party member that doesn’t stand out stats-wise.
22 Strong: Citan (Xenogears)
Fei’s mild-mannered doctor friend lays out a big bombshell halfway through Xenogears, revealing that he was once a revered general of the Solarian army, which makes up the main villainous force for most of the game. Shedding aside his pacifist nature, Citan once again picks up the katana he left behind, making him a more powerful party member.
Except he was already a powerhouse at the start of the game.
Even bare-handed, Citan could perform intense combos, boost the party’s abilities through spells, and would even occasionally take two turns in a row.
21 Weak: Gau (Final Fantasy VI)
Another example of a well-intentioned yet short-sighted concept, Gau’s ability to copy the attacks and behaviors of FFVI's enemies is really neat in theory. Unfortunately, the execution ends up sloppy and overall more trouble than it’s worth.
For one, Gau can only copy abilities from enemies in a specific area, which means lots of wandering in order to trigger the desired foe. Secondly, like Umaro, Gau’s attacks are entirely random when unleashing his animal abilities. The amount of grinding plus RNG results in little payoff, serving more as an early prototype of monster capturing that was perfected in later games.
20 Strong: Ness (Earthbound)
Known as Mother in Japan, the Earthbound series was credited as the first RPG to feature a modern-day setting (albeit with talking animals, ghosts, and hippies), which includes putting a young boy as the protagonist. In Mother 2 (aka Earthbound), Ness is a Charlie Brown-ish looking kid who possesses an amazing psychic ability, not to mention a mean baseball swing.
Ness’ powers are even feared by Giygas, the Lovecraftian-like alien that is described as “the source of all darkness,” resulting in one of the most memorable (and spooky) showdowns ever seen in a video game.
19 Weak: Rico (Xenogears)
Another bruiser with an imposing figure, the Blanka-lookalike Rico is built up in the story as being an unbeatable champion that main character Fei is unable to beat in a one-on-one fight, but his actual role as a party member falls short of the established hype.
While having a strong defense in addition to his offensive strength, Rico is simply too weak by comparison to the rest of the established cast and is outclassed even further by the upgrades previous characters receive. On the other hand, his Gear is an absolute beast, keeping him from being entirely useless.
18 Strong: Aya Brea (Parasite Eve)
One of Square’s biggest cult classic RPGs (and one in desperate need of a reboot…let’s pretend The PSP sequel never happened), Parasite Eve is still an innovative concept even today: take a familiar Resident Evil-inspired setting and turn it into a turn-based RPG starring a cool female protagonist to boot.
Aya, the aforementioned protagonist, is not only a capable police officer with an assortment of firearms, but can also unleash more Final Fantasy-style attacks after unlocking her inner powers, which are actually an exaggerated form of mitochondria. There’s no terror she can’t take out, even while wearing a black evening gown.
17 Weak: Cloud (Final Fantasy Tactics)
Hang on, fanboys. Before you storm the comments page with angry replies, this entry isn’t about Cloud in Final Fantasy VII, but of his guest appearance in Final Fantasy Tactics.
While Tactics was the first of many games in which Square’s favorite spiky-haired son would make a guest appearance in, the hoops players had to leap to make him a useful party member were hardly worth the effort. Not only does Cloud join late in the game with below average stats, it takes further questing in order to unlock his signature weapon. By then, there’s little point to using him.
16 Strong: TG Cid
The TG stands for “Thunder God”, which should give an indication that this Cid is a cut well above the rest. A late-game addition to the party, Cid starts right off the bat with ludicrously powerful stats and spells, having much faster turn speed and a bevy of intense attacks.
TG Cid is so over-powered that by the end of the game, he can handle the final boss all on his own, and without the extended level-grinding normally required to pull off such a feat.
15 Weak: Umaro (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI also had the largest party count in the history of the series. At 14 playable characters, odds were good that not everyone would be as useful as the female trio or the Figaro brothers.
Umaro, despite possessing incredible strength and being the only playable yeti in RPG history, has one major flaw: he can’t be controlled by the player.
Instead, the berserk bigfoot will act on his own and is focused entirely on offense. As devastating as his attacks can be, his usefulness quickly runs out when calmer characters can deliver the same damage output.
14 Strong: Ciri (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt)
Geralt’s adopted daughter quickly picked up most of the seasoned Witcher’s signature spells and swordplay, but her blood lineage holds a secret to a far greater power.
Not only can Ciri teleport great distances with her power, she can even travel across other dimensions. This resulted in one of the most recently clever Easter eggs, in which Ciri describes a futuristic city with flying vehicles and machines, which later turned out to be the world of the upcoming RPG Cyberpunk 2077.
13 Weak: Barret (Final Fantasy VII)
Noticing a pattern here? It seems characters with impressive physiques don’t automatically qualify as powerful party members, a fact that the hulking AVALANCHE leader proves when compared to thinner-armed characters like Cloud and Tifa.
While Barret isn’t as much of a slouch as Cait Sith, his gun arm abilities don’t particularly stand out during battle, especially when the more impressive Vincent joins the group with his own style of gunplay as well as monstrous transformations. Vincent even later got his own game, after being quickly picked as the lead for a shooter-styled RPG while Barret was passed over from the opportunity.
12 Strong: Prompto (Final Fantasy XV)
Speaking of firearm experts in RPGs, Prompto is a recent addition to the Final Fantasy franchise that defies expectations. Despite a goofy personality and overall inexperience, the selfie-obsessed teen carries his own in battle, and brings further firepower during his own DLC episode, where he also wields assault rifles and RPGs (the uh, gun kind, not the video game kind).
Spoiler Alert: it is also revealed that Prompto is a clone soldier created by the Empire for their army, meaning all of the mindless soldiers Noctis and friends mowed down are technically Prompto’s siblings.
11 Weak: Pokey (Earthbound)
The selfish, manipulative, portly pain in the rear (who is also known as Porky, a more appropriate name) starts off Earthbound begging Ness to help him find his missing brother Picky. This results in Pokey being a temporary party member.
Except Pokey literally does nothing to assist Ness during his brief alliance.
Pokey will frequently cower behind Ness, pretend to be asleep, and do everything in his power to not attack any enemy. Even his little brother Picky proves more useful in addition to Ness’ capable (but lazy) dog.
Your drying pan won't protect you from the wrath of societal cancellation, Brock.