Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier Closed Beta – First Impressions From a Game Analyst’s Perspective

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier header

Final Fantasy VII delighted fans of JRPG games in 1997 and has since been described by many as the best Final Fantasy ever. Of course, “the best” game is a very subjective experience, but the game was so beloved by both the developers and the fans that a modern remake of the game was released for PS4 last year, and an enhanced PS5 version with additional DLC was made available last month on June 10th. But today, we are taking a look at a mobile game taking place in that same universe: Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier. Its Closed Beta finished recently, and we managed to try it out, so we wanted to share some impressions about it.

Editor’s Note: All the content in this blog post is based on Closed Beta and is, of course, subject to change in the final release.

What is Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier?

To put it simply, Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier is a Battle Royale game taking place in Midgar, the first city of Final Fantasy VII. The locations are taken directly from Final Fantasy VII Remake and spread out a bit to make a nice and working Battle Royale map. Storywise, the game happens some 30 years before the main game’s events, and the setting is a VR projection of the future used as training grounds for new SOLDIER candidates.

Players that have already experienced Battle Royale on mobile through games like PUBG mobile or Knives Out will find the experience very familiar but with small twists through traditional Final Fantasy elements like the class system, close-range combat, magics, HP, MP, and monsters. It is an unusual mix, but it works surprisingly well — yet another potential example of how hybridization of genres can work wonders in mobile games.

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier PvP
Guns, magics, or close combat. Usually, a well-aimed set of shots is the best solution but magics and close combat have their place.

To understand the new elements in the core gameplay, let’s first take a look at the meta.

Classes

In the game, you have one character to work on. The character has four classes available, and players can freely switch between them from match to match.

Warrior wields a sword and can dash to a target and heal HP based on damage dealt using the sword. Sorcerer specializes in magic by having faster MP recovery and being able to restore HP and MP by defeating other players using magic. Monk fights with fists and has several skills that create barriers or heal HP. Ranger wears daggers and specializes in tracking enemies and hindering their vision.

FF7FS Ranger's Class Mastery screen
Example of a Class Mastery screen for Ranger.

Classes can be leveled up by playing. Gaining levels lets the player unlock new skills that they can use in the matches. Only one active skill and one passive skill can be chosen for a match. Each class also has a permanent trait that enhances the gameplay for the class. For example, Rangers have a scope icon attached to enemies after targeting them for a while to help track their movements.

The class system adds a long-term progression element to the game, giving it RPG elements on the meta side as well. The system is relatively shallow from an RPG fan’s perspective especially considering how long-term progression has already been implemented in popular Battle Royale games like Garena Free Fire and Zooba. Other Battle Royale titles like PUBG Mobile and Knives Out, on the other hand, leave the long-term progression out and focus purely on skin and accessory collecting on the meta. Having classes level up and gain stats can be difficult for balancing purposes, but maybe some stat buffs when fighting against monsters could have been unlocked by leveling up a class to give RPG grinders long-term progression to work on.

Core gameplay

So what are the matches like?

An unedited video of an example match.

At the start of the match, the player actually gets to fly their own helicopter from a random spawn point to wherever they want. It adds nice freedom of choice element to the start. No parachutes are needed as characters fall from the sky, do a perfect superhero landing, and head straight into the action. A character is equipped with their class weapon from the get-go, but most likely, the player will loot a house/box or two to get decent guns and a couple of magics.

FF7FS PvE
Monsters in Battle Royale! The crown next to its name indicates that it is a stronger variant of the monster and can thus drop rare items.

If no other players are on sight, the player can then keep on looting or move on to PvE. There are a variety of monsters to be found on the map ranging from easy Hedgehog Pies and Slug-Rays to trickier Sweepers and Guard Scorpions. If a player uses class weapons instead of guns, they make no sound and can stay hidden from other players longer. Defeating monsters rewards the player with experience points and Gil to spend on vending machines. Players can also level up within a match, which increases their HP and consequently their chances of survival.

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier Casting an AoE spell
Casting an AoE spell, like Bio, can help force enemies to come out from hiding.

The player is not restricted to just using class weapons and guns. They can collect up to three materia orbs from the map that let them use the corresponding spells. Cure can be used to heal, Thunder to deal AoE damage, and Aero to jump to high places, just to name a few. True to the Final Fantasy style, the materia can be leveled up by collecting duplicates of the specific materia. Cure evolves to Cura, which can then become Curaga, with each level up increasing both the radius and the effectiveness of the spell.

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier healing methods
Other healing methods include healing benches from Final Fantasy VII Remake. It is a quick way to fully heal but leaves the player vulnerable.

As a beginner, you will likely end up mostly using guns as you would in any other Battle Royale game, but the more you play, the more likely you will start utilizing magics and close combat in PvP situations as well. If a player can get close enough to start hitting the opponent with a Warrior’s sword, there is very little hope of survival for the target. At least during the week of testing, I managed to escape a close combat situation just once and died over ten times.

Gameplay modes

The Closed Beta included just the Standard Solo and Team modes and Ranked Solo and Team modes. The selection menu also included a Chocobo Farm mode which remained locked for the whole testing period, so we don’t know yet what it contains.

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier Closed Beta game modes
Mode selection screen. At the start of the Closed Beta, only Standard Matches were available but halfway through it changed so that only Ranked Matches were open.

The Solo mode has 75 players fighting to see who can survive the longest. Very simple and straightforward battle royale gameplay. Killing bosses in this mode can be very tricky as players will most likely gather around the boss area to hunt down easy targets focusing on the boss.

FF7FS team playmode
In the Team mode, hunting down bosses becomes more doable but even then there are players ready to hunt you down the moment the boss goes down as evidenced by the footsteps visible in the middle of the screen.

In the Team mode, players are divided into groups of three people. Each player must use a different character class. Should an ally fall in battle, they can be revived if the player is quick enough. In this mode, it is much easier to hunt down trickier monsters. When I got a daily task of hunting down a Tonberry (very cute but also extremely deadly enemy for those who haven’t played Final Fantasy games), I had my teammates help me hunt one down. Tonberries seemed to be always protecting multiple very rare treasure boxes, so it was worth it for the team as well.

In the Team modes, players can communicate using predetermined comments that the character then says, or players can choose to use voice chat themselves. Chatting can also be done with the team in the main menu if players want to do pre-match planning.

It will be interesting to see what kind of game modes the developers will include in the future to diversify the gameplay experience. For example, as the PvE element is already strong, some boss hunting mode could fit the game really well. With collaboration events being a huge element, at least in Japan, the game is already well suited for bigger boss monsters as well, instead of just character and weapon skins. The game is bound to have collaborations coming up as the Closed Beta survey included a question about which brands players would like to see collaborations with.

Monetization

This obviously interests everyone, but as the Closed Beta was strictly about gameplay, there is not much that can be said here that is not pure speculation.

Final Fantasy VII The First Soldier's gameshop
Cosmetic item shop as it was done in Closed Beta. Money was gathered by playing.

The game has various skins, accessories, and emotes to collect, like is the case with Battle Royale games in general. The shop has two skin styles for two days and a daily rotating selection of 4 weapon skins, emotes, or accessories.

FF7FS's skins
The most interesting skins were unlockable by playing. I got fairly close and even though nothing from the Closed Beta carries over to the actual game not being able to unlock any of these still hurts.

The other interesting addition is skins that can be unlocked by playing and collecting shards. Special Secret Box items can occasionally be found in the matches by hunting down crown-marked monsters or opening treasure chests. Only one Secret Box could be obtained during the match, and it can’t be lost except by deliberately throwing it away (which would make no sense since it has its own dedicated item slot). At the end of a match, the Secret Box turns into about two shards for two different skins and some Gil that can be used to buy other skins. This system is quite unique. It motivates players to actually try out different things instead of just pure PvP and rewards skillful, even experimental, playing. Really interesting to see how they expand this system in the actual version.

Features the game could use

In the GameRefinery SaaS service, you can map out the features of a game (or its prototype or concept) using Game Analyzer to get an idea of how the game’s feature sets fit the market. With the monetization features missing, it’s hard to get a complete picture from an outsider’s perspective for this game, but I thought I’d share some insights on what could be beneficial to this game.

With the analysis complete, I went to look at the Feature Ideas section and sorted them by Top 20% Popularity to see which features the top 20% of the contenders in this genre have. At the same time, I was also looking at the overall popularity to see if there would be a feature that top games have but the lower performing games lack.

The first feature on the list is a Guild System which can be a foundational element of the social features of a game. A well-implemented guild drives up retention, and seeing the progress of the people you interact with more frequently can drive up your own motivation to grind. With 66% of the top games in all genres having guilds and only 33% overall popularity, it is safe to say that Guild System is a feature a successful game is expected to have. In Battle Royale games, the split is even more clear as all Top 20% games have Guilds while the overall popularity within the subgenre is 50%

Guild Mechanics feature popularity in mobile games Dec 2015 - June 2021
The popularity of guild mechanics in top-grossing 100 games (all genres) US iOS December 2015 – June 2021

A Battle Pass plan is also very high on the list, with 52% of top 100 performers having it, compared to the 11% overall popularity when taking a look at all the genres. In Battle Royale games the number is even higher as every single Top performer (top 20% of Battle Royale games) has one. Even if looking at all the games in the subgenre 75% of the games have Battle Passes so it would be quite exceptional to not include one. The Battle Pass system originated from the Battle Royale subgenre and expanded to all games regardless of genre, so it is highly probable that a Battle Pass system will find its place here as well. It could really help the game have that extra layer of progression.

Popularity of Battle Pass plan in top-grossing 100 games US iOS August 2018 – June 2021
The popularity of Battle Pass plan in top-grossing 100 games (all genres) US iOS August 2018 – June 2021

These were just a couple of examples from the 40+ feature suggestion list that could benefit the game. It is going to be interesting to see which features they’ll add before the eventual launch of the game.

To wrap it up

All in all, the Closed Beta was a very enjoyable experience. Although the game has a very standard Battle Royale look and feel to it on the surface level, the Final Fantasy elements really enhance the experience. The PvE elements, Classes, and Skin shard collecting were some of the things that really made the game stand out from the rest to us. It remains to be seen how the Battle Royale player base and Final Fantasy fans receive the game, and if the game can find its audience but based on what we saw in the Closed Beta, the game itself is quite a solid one and brings something new to the table.

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