Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier is developed by Ateam Inc. and published by Square Enix. The elevator pitch is simple: a free-to-play mobile battle royale, but make it Final Fantasy. This means stapling on classes, magic, chocobos, monsters, and carefully placed hair onto the standard battle royale formula. There is a lot going on in the game, and after spending a week with the game during its closed beta, I wish I could say that it worked well.
At the start of a match in The First Soldier, players get to pick from four distinct classes, each with their own ability and melee weapon. Firstly, there’s the warrior, which can dash a short distance and has increased range on melee attacks. Then, there’s the sorcerer, which gets more mana and can create an area-of-effect that recharges mana for anyone standing in it. There is also the monk who can create a shield for a limited amount of time and regains some health after almost dying. Finally, there is the Ranger. Rangers put markers on enemies that they zoom in on for long enough and have an ability that scans the area around them and marks enemies and persistent spells.
The classes would bring a lot to The First Soldier if they were less reliant on playing the game in the least effective ways. This is because the classes largely rely on systems in The First Soldier that do not work very well at all.
Melee attacks do not deal enough damage to be worth using and there is no way to build a loadout around melee during a match. Melee is also very hard to aim with and usually sees a player sliding past their target while swinging at nothing but air and getting peppered with shots from behind. This makes the warrior class hardly worth playing at all as it is always better to shoot at an enemy than try to use melee, even if one only has the lowest rarity of guns.
The magic system is also extremely ineffective for combat. There are a variety of spells, known as materia, and some that provide utility rather than damaging enemies are useful, like Cure for healing or aero that places a tornado to launch the player across distances. Materia can be leveled up by finding copies while looting in a match, but there are so many different spells that players are unlikely to level up a spell higher than level 2 because finding copies can be difficult.
Materia that focus on damage, however, are difficult to use as the aiming and placement of them is impractical. To cast a materia, players must press and hold on its icon on the bottom of the screen, which makes an arc and impact location appear on the screen. To adjust where the spell goes, players have to drag that same finger to look around and move the impact location, but moving the camera quickly makes the impact location disappear from view. This, combined with the fact that aiming and casting any materia takes long enough that you’ll likely just get shot and killed by the time you get it off makes using materia an extremely frustrating experience. This also nullifies the sorcerer’s abilities as it is very unlikely one would cast enough materia for the increased mana to have much of an effect.
The ranger’s problems stem from The First Soldier’s shooting mechanics. By default, The First Soldier handles shooting for players. The game detects when a player has their crosshair on an enemy and does the rest of the work, so shooting only requires players to maintain their aim as has become popular amongst mobile shooters. This is good for most guns, as it would be impossible to move, aim, and press a firing button all at once with only two thumbs touching the screen at a time. However, the mechanic does not work well at all for using sniper rifles against players. Since it takes time for bullets to travel far distances in The First Soldier, players have to lead enemies with their shots to land if the enemy is moving at all. This is nearly always the case for snipers, but it is very difficult to do since the gun won’t automatically fire if the reticle is not directly on an enemy, and pressing the fire button while using the same thumb to aim isn’t practical either.
The difficulties with sniping moving targets make the ranger’s kit nearly useless as it requires a playstyle focused on sniping to be effective. Even the ranger’s scan ability that reveals nearby enemies is not as useful as one would think because the game constantly indicates where footsteps and gunshots are around a player with icons in case the player has their sound off. This leaves only the monk being worthwhile playing as its abilities are universal enough to match any playstyle, but if only one class is worth playing, why not just make its kit the default for all players?
The other aspects of Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier feel similarly half-baked. Guns feel too similar to one another for players to form much of a preference. The map of Midgar is a bland landscape void of character or interesting landmarks. Vehicles are bland and offer little variety to the gameplay. Even the cosmetics present in the beta, which was already allowing players to spend real money on currencies, were uninspired timed offerings that were little more than an orange hoodie with black font on it or a poor rendering of Cloud’s iconic Buster Sword.
All in all, I have a hard time imagining why anybody looking for a mobile battle royale would pick this over the currently available offerings. Some Final Fantasy completionists may want to pick it up just because of its inclusion in the series, but there is very little of value here even for those players. Final Fantasy fans are better off playing the series’ other mobile offerings while battle royale fans already have much superior options.
Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier releases on Android and iOS sometime this year.