FFVII: The First Soldier will likely find an audience in the center of a Venn Diagram of Fortnite and FFVII lovers but will not redefine the genre it imitates or add to the franchise that it draws inspiration from.
Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier dropped into the arena of battle royales on November 17th, 2021 from developer and publisher Square Enix with much excitement. Launched on iOS and Android devices, First Soldier stumbled slightly out of the gate with server issues that required immediate maintenance. After the very quick server fixes, First Soldier ran smoothly for me and I was able to pick up the controls relatively quickly despite not being much of a battle royale or mobile player. While playing in a solo standard match, I actually won my second match which is more than I ever won in Warzone or in my very brief stint in Fortnite. The game is accessible to people who are new or casual to the genre with the low price point of “free-to-play.”.
Fans of Fortnite or Call of Duty: Warzone will feel largely at home but First Soldier does not do anything substantive to break the mold that came before it. Fans of Final Fantasy VII will likely be excited and will feel the initial appeal of the game when seeing beautiful opening scenes and the familiar designs of Tetsuya Nomuru. This same opening cutscene identifies the events of the game taking place thirty years prior to the events of the original Final Fantasy VII. The player’s motivation for fighting against other 75 Shinra soldiers in the match is to aim at being the first SOLDIER operative.
Like me, many FFVII fans will play this game only because FFVII is in the title. That audience will be amused but will be let down if they are looking for any kind of depth. When First Soldier was originally announced many FFVII shouted to the sky, “WHY!?!” and I find myself similarly asking in a more somber tone, “what’s the point?” The obvious answer, of course, is that the game has plenty of microtransactions. Cosmetics can be purchased including Aerith’s outfit or Cloud’s Hardedge in the shop on day one. Oh, you can also brief a sigh of relief that there is a season pass that can be purchased as well. I get that companies make games to make money. I respect that it is a way of generating revenue consistently from an audience who needs no initial investment in PCs or consoles. It’s a business and businesses make money. However, it also seems most disrespectful to take such a narratively heavy and mechanically deep game as Final Fantasy and turn it into a battle royale where I can buy the Buster Sword.
The first map, titled simply “Midgar,” seems to reuse many assets present in 2020’s Final Fantasy VII: Remake. Sections of the Sector 7 Slums show up pretty quickly like Tifa’s bar, Seventh Heaven, and Aerith’s church. The set pieces render well and will be immediately recognizable to FFVII fans. The map is expectedly large and the perimeter closes in over time due to “Mako gas” like other battle royale games. The character models are interesting and character customization is fairly standard with all manner of anime-like haircuts available. The map is littered with A.I. controlled monsters that can be killed in order to increase the player’s level and acquire “gil” that is the currency in all Final Fantasy games. This currency can be used during matches for upgrades, items, and equipment at various vending machines.
The combat is nothing revolutionary but I did find the use of Materia as an interesting spin on specials that would otherwise be reserved for grenades or abilities in other games. Spells can be incredibly difficult to aim and land but can make the difference between life or death. Using powered up versions of spells, like Firaga, can be really useful in close quarters where the enemy has less options to evade. I found the use of the spells more fun and familiar as opposed to other battle royales, like Spellbreak, that use magic in it’s gameplay. I admit my FFVII fan-boy-ism is a factor here. The game also provides summons, such as Ifrit, that can provide the player aid in combat. The summons are intimidating and serve as a substantial trump card if they can be acquired. Potions and the Cure materia serve as the primary means of recovering lost health and you will likely keep one of your three materia slots available for Cure. The combat, aside from the heavy emphasis on gun play, does feel similar to a Final Fantasy game.
Like the melee weapons of Fortnite, every character is equipped with a sword and can engage in melee combat. It is highly recommended to only do so in a worse case scenario. The swords do relatively little damage even in comparison to low rarity guns. Guns have many of the rarities and varieties of other battle royales and serve as the primary means for surviving against the massive lobbies. There are five distinct classes at launch such as Warriors and Sorcerers that come with abilities like a dash with shield and a magic recovery AOE ability respectively. Bangles and other equipment can be found in chests or on defeated enemies that can provide stat boosts like increased melee damage or increasing the likelihood of rare weapons dropping from chests. I might be too noob to be able to do it but sniping paid off seldomly and when the opponent was stationary. It is incredibly hard to hit a moving target with the control schemes even auto fire on. Playing on my iPad, I can’t imagine the limitations that would come with playing on a smaller screen since so much of the combat is in midrange.
You will likely enjoy a couple of matches of FFVII: First Soldier but it will either shelved on your GG App in time or you will press on the through the mundane multiplayer just because of your FFVII nostalgia and or investment in the cosmetics.