One of the most enduring newer genres of games is the Battle Royale, with entries like Fortnite and Apex Legends proving to be endlessly popular. However, the news that Square Enix was going to be throwing their metaphorical hat into the ring with the popular Final Fantasy series came a bit out of left field.
The Final Fantasy series has largely been turn-based or active turn-based with only a few forays into full-on action RPG gameplay with spin-offs like Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core and Final Fantasy Type Zero, or the most recent main entry Final Fantasy XV. A battle royale was not even on the radar, but when Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier was released, I was instantly hooked.
Published by Square Enix and developed by Ateam Inc, Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier serves as a prequel to the Final Fantasy VII universe and the very first entry in the chronology if you don’t go into the FFX timeline. Set in Midgar around 30 years before Cloud wielded the iconic Buster Swords and blew the minds of a generation, the game follows the Shinra Electric Power Company’s attempt to bolster its military might by establishing SOLDIER. It's nice to have some background, but let's face it, a battle royale is all about the gameplay, so the story is barely ever touched on.
Players are put in the shoes of these SOLDIER candidates and are dropped into a virtual recreation of Midgar to battle it out with 74 other players to see who is going to come out on top. The game has two enduring modes; single or team, both having ranked and unranked versions. Teams split the lobby into squads of three, whereas single is, of course, about being the last person standing.
Before you get into any fights, the game asks you to pick a class, which will drastically alter the way you play the game by bestowing various skills and passives to employ. For example, the newly added Machinist grants an air gadget to fly around on and the option of a sub-gadget to heal or attack with you. Meanwhile, the Monk will restore your health when you use a melee attack and gives you the ability to summon a defensive barrier. There is a lot to pick from and they do a great job of adding some extra strategy to just shooting at people.
The main gameplay focuses on the use of guns, with a decent selection to choose from, including pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and snipers. On a mobile title, shooting can occasionally be a bit tricky, having to move, aim and shoot on a small touchscreen, however, The First Soldier has a very helpful autofire option for those of us with more clumsy hands. You run around with the left hand, aim with the right and when the reticule lands on an enemy you can quickly dispatch them. It is a feature that works well with the majority of guns, but if you plan to main snipers, it’s better to stick to one of the manual fire modes seeing as you won’t be running around much when aiming anyway.
When running around the battlefield and looting new guns and potions, players will also come across the familiar-looking green orbs, known as Materia. As they did in Final Fantasy 7, these little balls of fun grant the wielder the ability to use magic of a variety of types. Fire launches an exploding ball of ouch at the poor target, Cure obviously heals any damage, and Comet summons a huge AoE. Most of these spells can be levelled up twice by collecting a few copies and they are all capable of altering the outcome of a skirmish.
Square has kept some RPG elements, though. Throughout each battle, you will level up by knocking out opponents or defeating the various monsters that roam the battlefield, increasing max health and granting access to additional class skills. Creatures such as Hedgehog Pies, Monodrives and the iconic first boss Scorpion Sentinels are available to battle, with the boss monsters having the chance to drop Summon Materia, which can win a fight in a few seconds.