The iconic image of the White Knight with his sword and shield has always been a part of the realm of fantasy. Charging head long into battle, the clang of weapons and the sounds of war follow the way of the Paladin. You will be on the front line of the fight, the tip of the spear, but your job won't be killing. If you are looking to post huge damage numbers and gloat over enemies slain then this would not be the job you are searching for. The Final Fantasy Paladin is based around defense with a mission to shield other fighters during battle. Looking back to the days of the Final Fantasy III Knight class, little has changed as the Paladin is still a group of white magic wielding guardians. Your job is to take the hits meant for others and if need be, die for your party. It's not a glamorous job but one that is quickly missed if removed from play. The Paladin can be little else and is wholly consumed with becoming a wall of protection to his comrades, the target of hate for his foe. As a defender, you will stand on the precipice of life and death, to hold back the tide of power that seeks to destroy your party of adventurers. You will spend your waking moments staring at monsters eye to eye. You are charged with funnelling their hate toward you and taking hit after hit until it can finally be brought down. Unlike the Dark Knight, whose job is to unleash fury, your job is to harness the fury of your enemies and use it against them. While they dump their rage squarely on your head, the rest of the party will be working to bring the beast down and healers can mend without fear of reprisal. Unlike other tanking classes, yours has no other role to fill and considered a "pure" tanking class in the world of Vana'diel.
Paladins do enjoy wearing the heaviest armor in the game and you will look for pieces that increase defense, vitality and agility to a much lesser degree to increase your chance to block with a shield. For an armor collector like myself, Paladin is a dream come true and you get a nice selection to choose from. One nice thing is if you choose to level Warrior to 30 to unlock, you will be able to reuse your armor sets for both classes. When you hit level 29 as a Warrior and are able to equip Eisenplatte or Kampfplatte armor sets, you will begin to feel the class at your finger tips. These are great low level sets that make you look and feel the part of being the tank. The second part to your armor mix is equipping a shield. Many of the ones available to you can't be equipped by a Warrior and can't be put to good use by the only other job that can use them Dark Knight. The Paladin class makes use of this piece of equipment like no other in the game. A Paladin gets the Shield Mastery job trait that allows you to build TP when you block an attack with a shield. You will also get the job ability Shield Bash that deals a small amount of damage, creates a lot of hate and has a chance to stun the mob. In the early days and solo you can use it to stop a mob's TP attack but later on in parties it is a nice backup ability for keeping hate.
The weapon selection for a Paladin are limited. Your choices are Sword, Club, Staff, Great Sword, Dagger and Polearm. Dagger and Polearm have little to no use for a Paladin. The single handed Sword and shield combo will be your mainstay in parties. Certain clubs have their usefulness like Kraken but limited in scope. Elemental Staves have limited use as well but it all pails in comparison to the sword and shield. Great Sword has its place in solo (subbing SAM) and small party situations. All in all you have a great choice of armor but limited choice of weapons.
Paladin falls into my favorite job category of being both a magic and melee class. I like to hack and I like to cast. The class has a limited range of White Mage spells like Cure, Raise, Protect and Shield. Many of these spells you get at a much later level than a White Mage with your spells topping out at levels 3 - 4. Paladins have a very limited MP pool, so you won't be called upon to main or backup heal but don't be surprised if ls members seek you out for power levelling them. The fact that you can heal while wearing heavy duty armor is a plus. Your healing is actually tied back into your ability to produce hate. We've all seen mobs go after a White Mage after a heavy healing spell and it is no different with a Paladin. You can use your heals not only to keep yourself on your feet or emergency heal a stray crit, but it becomes yet another tool in building enmity.
Seeing how the Paladin fills such a role specific place in a party, this also limits the class on subjob choice. Your subjob of choice for parties and throughout the majority of your career will be Warrior. Warrior grants great stat boosts, job abilities and adds to the hate management utilities. It gives you the ability to Provoke which is a staple enmity grabbing tool and Warcry that buffs the attack of the party while generating a decent amount of hate. Warrior also allows the Paladin to buff up his/her defenses with Defender or bump up your damage with Beserk and Double Attack. If you took Warrior to 30 to unlock the job then a few levels more and it will last you your entire career. Ninja can be used solo, merit and end game though used mainly in the 70's. White Mage and Red Mage are used for soloing and small party scenarios where players are filling multiple roles. These classes will increase your mana pool and allow you to do more casting and expand your limited spell list significantly. Choosing Samurai while using a Great Sword can be a decent alternative for solo and party play that gives the Paladin a nice damage dealing boost after 50. Beastmaster works very well with Paladin for soloing especially considering that you wear heavy armor and can heal. This allows you greater flexibility and survivability when swapping pets or if you lose Charm. This combo is great for kiting mobs while your pet eats away health. Finally with the last expansion Dancer is an interesting alternative. This subjob generates a decent amount of hate, can make good use of your TP, and adds to HP/MP recovery. Probably won't take the place of Warrior but can be used Merit, solo and small party.
In FFXI forums across the net, there is always the debate of "best" tank but in actuality it comes down to what type of tank is best for the job at hand...Paladin, Ninja or Warrior? They each have their own advantages and disadvantages and all have their place as the guardian over a party. A blink tank like a Ninja, offers lower downtime for more XP but if hit with an AOE or fast attacking mob can go down quickly. A Paladin has longer downtime but very high survivability and reliability with lots of enmity abilities to choose from. A Warrior falls somewhere in between with good armor, blink tanking (subbing Ninja) and higher damage output but less hate tools. Each of them has their place and each fills a role in game that the others cannot. Take note of the mobs you are facing and make your choice accordingly. A "one size fits" all mentality only limits your parties potential.
If you yearn going head to head with a mob and love the challenge of keeping him tied to you then Paladin is your job. It combines melee and magic to build a fun class that with keep you on the edge of your seat throughout your career. Becoming an effective wall is no easy task but the success of being a great tank is rewarding. The chance of dying is high but so are the spoils. Good Hunting!