It’s more enjoyable than it should be when ‘Final Fantasy’ meets ‘Fortnite.’

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Final Fantasy 7, features elements from free-to-play mobile games.

Final Fantasy and Fortnite. A disastrous marriage of the most profitable recent gaming phenomenon and one of the most legendary video-game brands with a 30-year history? Mostly, I enjoy Final Fantasy. I’m not a huge fan of Fortnite or the battle royale genre in general. Why am I still captivated to a free-to-play mobile game when I have Metroid Dread, Shin Megami Tensei, Alan Wake Remastered, and Deathloop on my to-do list?

Probably because it’s expanding the already very-expanded Final Fantasy VII universe. The game that got the sequel CGI movie, the remake, multiple mobile games and more. And yet, barring a smart intro movie that cribs from the opening scenes of FF7R, you won’t see the protagonists (or antagonists) of the iconic RPG — though you’ll be able to cosplay as them.

In First Soldier, you play as, well, recruits looking to become the first Soldier — a specific top-class army member. Cloud, from FFVII, is introduced in the original as “Soldier, First Class” and this game takes everything back 30 years to the early formation of Shinra Corp’s military finest.

As a result, the setting is a war royale to observe how upgraded soldiers do against one another (and whatever beasts come their way in the process). The battlefield is a large map on the outskirts of Midgar that includes several of Midgar’s key monuments. The arena, Sector 7’s marketplaces, the abandoned trainyard, and other locations can all be shot at, including Aerith’s childhood home and church. As helicopters swarm into the area, dumping recruits, the Final Fantasy 7 combat theme begins to play. Every time I see it, it still makes me happy.

The grounds are packed with weaponry ranging from handguns to sniper rifles, as well as materia (magic spheres that may be used for both offensive and defensive purposes) and even some quite rare summoning spells. So far, I haven’t been able to conjure anything. You can also pick up potions that will help you survive longer.

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These are the baseline weapons and items. Differentiating itself from Fortnite — if not all BR games; we see you Apex and Warzone — you can also choose a job role, a la most RPGs. This mostly affects your special ability, your melee weapon and how you attack with it. Warrior is a straight-shooting class with a sword and a rush special that closes distance so you can wallop your rivals before they can get a shot in. Monks have the ability to heal themselves when they mete out damage, while Ninjas get an extra jump and the ability to hide in stealth mode for a few seconds.

Square Enix
Image Credit: Square Enix

Sorcerers come with a special ability that supercharges MP recovery for more regular offensive (and healing spells), while the ranger reloads guns faster than the others — and has a very convenient Assess skill that will mark threats around you even when they’re out of sight.

Each feels slightly different to play with, but there’s a pleasant balance to the different roles, though both soldier and monk suffer from having to rely on their melee attack for their advantages.

Let me say this outright; you should play First Soldier with a gamepad. Fortunately, I’m testing out Backbone, a third-party connected controller for iPhone that means I was already in a good place to aim my guns and spells. Magic casting controls are a bit messy — you’ll need to hold down an L-trigger while pressing another collar button to unleash one of three spells you may have picked up. Those melee attacks, which all job classes have, are really hard to land on your enemies, regardless of whether you’re using a gamepad or touch controls. Hopefully, the devs are able to finesse melee attacks as the game progresses.

This implies that you’ll come to rely on your guns for the majority of your kills, which is quite un-Final Fantasy. Getting the sniper headshot kill, on the other hand, is a delight. Killing other players or creatures, opening treasures, and surviving the rounds will all help you level up your character during the game. This enhances your attack damage while simultaneously increasing your HP, allowing you to last longer. It also encourages active play and discovery rather than merely surviving to the end.

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As you might expect from a free-to-play battle royale game, there are season passes available for purchase. These offer up skins, banners, emotes and more cosmetic goodies for wannabe Soldiers. Even without a pass, you can earn a few rewards by fulfilling “rank” criteria during the battles. Gain stars, level up your rank — which is unrelated to leveling up your individual job ranks — and you’ll gain access to a smattering of wardrobe options or chocobo-raising items. I’m currently wearing a moogle hat, please say hi.

Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier
Square Enix

Yes, First Soldier contains a chocobo rearing mini-game, and you can summon your favourite steed to battles as a very handy mode of transportation. However, it isn’t the only technique to get through levels quickly. There are also automobiles and motorcycles available to transport you around the battleground. Anyone outside the decreasing arena takes damage, but you can keep going with potions and healing spells and hopefully make it to safety.

The only disadvantage of levelling up as I play is that it has no effect on my performance in the game – which is true of most battle royale games. The appeal is that each new battle isn’t affected by the round before it, but then chasing these goals (play two rounds as a warrior; make 300 pts of damage with a shotgun; visit Corneo’s mansion) soon tires. What exactly is the point?

For the time being, the point is that First Soldier skirmishes are fun, and the difficulty curve isn’t too steep. Out of 75 players, I’ve won a couple rounds and finished second a few times. One of my colleagues warned me that early battle royale games are typically populated with bots to boost the numbers (and provide some encouraging early wins), but I’m not going to let him take away my small success.

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Square Enix, hopefully, has plans to add new levels, weaponry, and events to spice things up. Throughout the Midgar level, there are a few limited-edition bosses. I’ve defeated two of them, but Tonberry — a very powerful monster from the Final Fantasy series — has felled me far too many times.

Maybe I should try fighting him as a ninja…Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier is out now on Apple App Store and Google Play.

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