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Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier is at its best when played with a controller

Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier impressions

The game that nobody asked for isn’t actually all that bad. Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier, the new mobile-only battle royale set in the world of Final Fantasy VII Remake, launched last month on iOS and Android. Within two days, the game was downloaded by more than one million people, including this person, who’d had just about enough of the dullness of PUBG: New State and was ready to move on. 

If you haven’t been following along, Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier will tell the story of the rise of Shinra and its SOLDIER program. Taking place 30 years before the events of Remake, you’re competing against players from around the world in training exercises that’ll determine who will be named the first member of SOLDIER (at which point I assume you’ll be bathed in mako and sent to burn down an orphanage or something). The game plays out below the plates of Midgar, with many locations from Final Fantasy VII Remake waiting to be explored as you duke it out solo or in teams against other players and many classic monsters from the Final Fantasy series that populate the world.

If you’ve played any other battle royale on the market, you should have a good idea of what’s on offer here. There are some changes to the standard battle royale blueprint, such as more control over where you initially drop, dedicated melee weapons, Chocobo, summons, and upgradable Materia. But none of that adds up to anything I’d describe as groundbreaking. Instead, I’d say it’s an intelligent infusion of Final Fantasy staples into the battle royale formula.

Before each match, players will choose their character styles from one of the five currently available: Warrior, Monk, Ranger, Ninja, and Sorcerer. Each style comes equipped with unique traits, abilities, and skills, as well as a melee weapon that has its own predetermined combo chains. For instance, the Sorcerer style gives you a magic boost that recovers MP more quickly, can cast an arcane field ability that increases MP recovery and cool down speeds for a short time, and has a precise casting skill that has a chance of inflicting critical damage when using Materia. Players can customize each style with new abilities and skills they can unlock as they level up each style’s mastery.

Speaking of unlocks, let’s talk about The First Soldier’s marketplace. The central currency of the game is Shinra Credits, which can be purchased with real money starting as low as $2 and going as high as $80. To give you an idea of how far your money will go, a Cloud skin bundle is currently available for 3600 Shinra Credits, which equates to about $27. Shinra Credits are used for most purchases in the marketplace, but you can also spend Gil you earn on stupidly expensive items and Moogle Medals on less-expensive-but-pricey-nonetheless skins. There are also gacha unlocks called Shinra Packs that give you everything from gun skins to gender-specific facial tattoos; and a paid season pass that’ll run you about $8. While you’re free to do with your money what you want, I would advise anybody trying this game out to avoid spending real money right out the gate.

It may be depressing to see all those skins I’ll never earn on display in the marketplace, but I have no intention of deleting The First Soldier off my phone. The big draw for me, or at least why I’m sticking with The First Soldier over New State, is its native controller support. Playing the game with touch controls works just fine and you have a lot of options on how you can set up your touchscreen inputs to your liking. But playing with an Xbox One controller is better. Not only does it allow me to enjoy the game without my big, fat thumbs obscuring parts of the screen, but I’m pretty deadly with a controller in my hand and it didn’t take long for me to start seeing those victory screens. Input delay is nearly non-existent and with the various control options, such as auto-shoot when an enemy is in your crosshairs, I think I have a distinct advantage against people playing with the standard touch controls. The use of a controller is not airtight, however. There have been many instances where I’ve had to press a button more than once to get it to work, but even with that nuisance, it’s still the preferred way to play.

I’ve moved back and forth with the game between my Google Pixel 6 and base-model iPad from 2018. The First Soldier easily looks better on my small Pixel screen and the device can handle the higher-resolution graphics settings with ease compared to my iPad. However, it’s still very much playable on the less powerful tablet. Yes, there is a lot of pop-in, but the bigger screen makes it easier to see my opponents even when they’re hundreds of meters away. Best of all, the framerate is pretty even between both devices.

?Play With a Controller?#FF7FS has controller support!?

Connect your device to a monitor and you'll feel like you're playing on a console!

Enjoy FF7FS with the controls you're most comfortable with?#FinalFantasy #FF7R pic.twitter.com/W5TQ52OMDr

— FINAL FANTASY VII THE FIRST SOLDIER_EN|FF7FS (@FFVII_FS_EN) November 12, 2021

With its native controller support, I do wonder why Square Enix is limiting this to mobile-only, at least for the moment. I know the console and PC market is pretty bloated when it comes to free-to-play shooters, but that’s true of mobile as well. I hate to keep bringing this title up, but PUBG: New State already has at least 40 million downloads to its name, and it launched less than a week before The First Soldier. The Square Enix shooter may be able to catch up in the long run, but with the success of mobile & console titles like Genshin Impact and Pokémon Unite, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to launch this right out the gate on at least one console or PC.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Chocobo farm. As you play, you’ll have a chance to earn Chocobo eggs that can be hatched into rideable birds. There are Chocobo stations throughout the battlefield where you can call your bird into action. At the Chocobo farm, you can feed your ‘bo vegetables to raise its stats. Players are allowed to collect more than one bird and if you have male and female Chocobo, you can breed them together to add more birds to your pen. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to pet your Chocobo, so hopefully, that gets added in an update. I know its addition would be completely unnecessary, but I think people would appreciate it.

That’s really all I can say about this game without going into an in-depth review, which I frankly no longer wish to do for free-to-play, games-as-a-service mobile titles. If the loss of Fortnite on iOS has left you yearning for a new battle royale, I’d say give it a shot. You might find its combination of Final Fantasy staples and tight gunplay refreshing. Just make sure you have a controller at the ready if you want to game to be at its very best.

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