Before you fret over this choice too much, it should be made clear that in most cases the difference between the best and worst character for any specific job is relatively minor. While some choices may be somewhat pronounced (Penelo as a front-line, non-magick-using combatant or Basch as a pure mage come to mind) you're better off worrying what job combos work better and what Espers to assign than you are worrying about what characters will work best in each role. By the time you get to the point of fretting about animation speeds for each character and weapon-type, you've probably started to over-think things.
While a few choices made based on lore or preference aren't going to affect things much, there's no point in planning everything else out if you're not going to care at all about what characters perform best in each role, even if the differences are mostly marginal. To that end, each character will be discussed, their strengths and weaknesses pointed out, and several "suggested classes" based on their attributes (and the attributes - and hence, likely jobs - of their comrades) will be provided further below. Immediately below, however, are some tables providing the maximum stats of each character. It's important to note that this is the maximum value for the stats at level 99, as they can vary when leveling up, and are without any equipment or passive licenses purchased.
|Character||Max HP||Max MP||STR||MAG||VIT||SPD|
There's more to characters than just their stats, however... although their attributes are by far the most important differences between them. Still, it'd be remiss not to mention that each character also starts out with a few licenses, which helps to define their "lore" roles. You'll find those listed below.
|Heavy Armor 1||X||X|
|Light Armor 1||X|
|Light Armor 2||X||X|
|Mystic Armor 1||X|
|Black Magicks 1||X|
|White Magicks 1||X||X||X|
Ashe has respectable HP, the second highest MP score in the game, passable Strength and the highest Magick Power in the game. While all this together would make her a fine Bushi (or even a Knight/Bushi, as the Knight gains access to a fair arsenal of White Magic if the right Espers are invested), her real gift lies with being a mage. Aside from Ardor, her top-tier talents seem wasted with the generalized Red Battlemage, making the White Mage or Black Mage especially tempting. In those two roles, she'll excel, especially as a Monk/Black Mage, where her already fair HP are further augmented, and her melee prowess doesn't entirely go to waste. Mostly, however, she'll be a sturdy Black Mage capable of doing obscene amounts of damage throughout the game. It takes a while to get Ashe, as she's the last character to fully join your party, but since Black Magick isn't decisive until after you get her, there's no rush.
Suggested Classes: Monk/Black Mage, White Mage/Machinist, White Mage/Time Battlemage, Knight/Time Battlemage, Knight/Bushi
|4,420 - 5,512||529 - 871||73||78||57||36|
Balthier excels at little, having the highest Speed score (a dubious honor, at best) and being mediocre or downright bad at everything else. His combined Strength/Magick Power score is the lowest in the game, making him a poor choice for a Bushi, and his poor MP and Magick Power stats should rule him out as most any sort of mage (save perhaps Time Battlemage, which is mostly buffs and utility, hence less affected by those deficiencies). Most other characters have things they're clearly good at, so Balthier should end up filling whatever roles are left over at the end of the day.
Suggested Classes: Shikari/Foebreaker, Uhlan/Time Battlemage, Uhlan/Machinist
|4,661 - 5,495||453 - 752||75||63||58||38|
Basch is, at a glance, the obvious choice for the warrior/tank role. He has the most HP in the party and is tied for the highest Strength score. Unfortunately, this comes with an awful lot of liabilities, which all conspired to make sure he's never the best choice for any of the better two-class combos out there. His MP, Magick Power, Vitality and Speed are all bottom-of-the-barrel, making him a dubious pick for any magick-using job. Furthermore, since Katanas determine damage with both Strength and Magick he's far from the best choice for Bushi, and since he's got the lowest Vitality in the game, the Foebreaker's weapons will not be at their best in his hands.
All that said, the difference between an optimal character and a sub-optimal one usually isn't great, so just keep his weaknesses in mind and don't fret if his Magick Power or MP will make him a less than ideal katana-wielder or support mage. As long as you're not burdening him with too much responsibility as a magick-user, you probably won't notice the difference.
Suggested Classes: Knight/Bushi, Uhlan/Time Battlemage, Knight/Time Battlemage, Knight/Time Battlemage
|4,841 - 5,703||410 - 684||78||63||47||35|
Fran, like Balthier, is a character whose lackluster stats make her hard to place. She's more the "jack of all trades" than he is, however, boasting a list of mediocre attributes, only one of which is outstanding - Vitality. She's got the highest Vitality in the game, and while in the International Zodiac Job System this might have made her an appealing pick for Foebreaker, in The Zodiac Age, with two jobs available to all, this is less of an issue, as nobody should feel compelled to put up with the unpredictable damage output of axes & hammers.
While Ashe and Penelo are natural magick-users thanks to their chart-topping Magick Power and MP scores, Fran's more balance stats make her a good secondary mage... at least a better alternative than Basch or Balthier. This also frees up Vaan to tackle more Strength-based jobs. Simply put, like Balthier, Fran's job should be decided in large part based on what you assign your more competent characters to, and what needs you have left over.
Suggested Classes: Red Battlemage/Archer, Knight/Time Battlemage, Uhlan/Time Battlemage, White Mage/Machinist, White Mage/Time Battlemage, Red Battlemage/Black Mage
|4,453||489 - 807||71||68||62||36|
Penelo is the best pure mage in the game, a decision made easier by the fact that her physical stats are generally poor, compared to Ashe, Vaan, and even Fran. Her role as top-tier mage is cemented by her Magick Power (2nd) and MP (1st) scores. She does have one glaring weakness you should keep in mind, however - her HP score is the lowest in the group, and special care might be necessary to select jobs that have at least a decent number of HP licenses to counter this. Black Mage/Monk, White Mage/Machinist, White Mage/Shikari and Red Battlemage/Archer are all combos that make good use of her stats while providing enough HP to cover her liabilities.
Suggested Classes: Black Mage/Monk, White Mage/Machinist, White Mage/Shikari, Red Battlemage/Archer
|4,288 - 5,058||539 - 895||70||76||60||36|
Whereas many characters (most of those not named Ashe or Penelo) had enough lack-luster stats to make picking their class somewhat tricky, Vaan suffers the opposite problem. Most of his stats are ranked in the top three, save only his MP, which trails Fran by twenty-one points. That being the case, he'll excel at any jobs you give him, arguably being the best choice for many. By process of elimination, it's not too hard to assign him a job, however. Ashe and Penelo are both better mages than he is, so whatever jobs they have will invariably influence his vocation. In fact, Vaan and Ashe are in many ways comparable, both having passable Strength and Magick Power scores. After Black Mage and White Mage are assigned (assuming you didn't plug Vaan into one of those roles), you'll likely find yourself wanting to make use of Vaan's stats by assigning him jobs that make use of both Strength and Magick Power. This makes him a natural Bushi and/or a Knight, the latter of which gets plenty of White Magick with a few Espers invested.
Suggested Classes: Black Mage/Monk, Knight/Bushi, Knight/Time Battlemage, Shikari/Foebreaker, Uhlan/Time Battlemage, Uhlan/White Mage
|4,786 - 5,643||473 - 786||78||63||58||38|