The sadness and uncertainty of a destroyed community: The final days of Final Fantasy 7 The First Soldier
Earlier this week, Final Fantasy 7: The First Soldier was shuttered. This left the last remaining players mourning the loss of their favourite battle royale, lamenting for the small but enraptured community around it, and grieving the friendships formed within it.
The game, first announced at Tokyo Game Show 2021, had an unofficial Reddit now swamped with final posts, screenshots of characters, and a pinned thank you message to the hundreds of fans present there. We reached out to some of them to hear their stories, and get some insight into how they spent their last day with Square Enix’s doomed battle royale.
“I have always been a fan of Final Fantasy, 7 included, but I can’t quite put my finger on why I was attracted to this game,” writes Richard, an American streamer who jumped into The First Soldier when it launched November 17, 2021. “I hadn’t played a battle royale game before this point, either. I couldn’t get any of my friends to play it as they immediately disregarded it for being such a drastically different take for a Final Fantasy.”
Looking back, it was a hard sell for many. Not only did the First Soldier drop right as battle royale saturation was cementing itself into the video game industry, it was one hell of a departure from what Final Fantasy fans are used to. You could even call it ‘cynical’. Even so, the game got itself four full seasons of content, which – when mixed with engaging gameplay and a coating of that FF7 aesthetic – made a cocktail some players just couldn’t get enough of.
And some loved the experiemntal game more than others. For Edenia, from Australia, the title was well worth investing time and money into. “I actually loved the game so much I purchased roughly over $1000 AUS worth of cosmetics and credits. I made many friends and enjoyed being part of the community, form joining private matches to helping a friend make a video about this game. It was fantastic!”
During its short life, there were moments of brilliance in the mind of the community. Richard spoke to me of a Bahamut event during Season 2, where the summon was super-charged and required multiple players teaming up to bring it down, whilst all the while the typical battle royale shenanigans were happening around them. This proved difficult to do naturally (due to those uninterested in taking down Bahamut not co-operating), so a dedicated group of players formed teams to take down the boss, securing kills for those who needed them.
Heidi Van Vuuren, a player from Zimbabwe, has been offering to recreate people’s characters as an act of memorial, with 18 people thus far taking him up on the offer, hoping for a permanent keepsake of their avatar in The First Soldier. Van Vuuren shared similar anecdotes of taking down bosses like Bahumut and Cloud with the help of a dedicated crew, riding around on chocobos in private matches, and reaching prime rank in team playlists. But for Van Vuuren, then highlight was earning their favourite chocobo from the game’s limited time Easter event. As of this week, all of these events – and the rewards for taking part in them – are gone forever.
For a community like this, the news that The First Soldier would be shutting down was devastating when it dropped in October 2022. In an official post written by the developers, the reason for its closure was brief and surgical: “Despite all our efforts to bring you regular updates with fresh and exciting content, we haven’t been able to deliver the experience that we were hoping to, and that you all deserve, so we have made the extremely tough decision to end service.”
“It was a blindside to be sure,” states Richard. “We had just had a livestream a day or two before, talking about the upcoming anniversary event. Just be crushed with the news [of the game’s closure] in a tweet. “I had started to stream the game maybe a month after it launched, so for up to about 10 months I was live every other day with it. Now it felt empty.”
Edenia felt a lack of motivation to keep playing as much upon hearing the news, too. “I felt all the time and investment I put into this game was wasted.” Looking back through posts online, this sentiment was shared with many having to choose between hanging on until the end, or jumping ship before it went away for good.
For those that did stick around up until the end, they were able to experience one final day of fun and games before the curtains closed and the game booted them out unceremoniously. Edenia relished their last moments with The First Soldier: “On the last day I took many screenshots of my favourite cosmetics and recorded myself fighting against other players. It wasn’t about being the strongest in the game, it was about going out with a bang. I kept playing until I couldn’t log in anymore.”
Richard streamed the game as long as he could, chatting with community members about the best parts of the game, while Heidi (unable to get much time in due to work) also shared memories with his friends online while he “moped around at work all day, very sad”.
Now, with the servers down and all their progress in The First Soldier gone, the community is forced to leave it behind. However, there’s a push among those remaining to stay in touch – and move to another game where they can keep the friendships they’ve built alive. “Most wanted me to play Apex Mobile, but that isn’t as fun as designing your own character in FF7:TFS,“ says Edenia. “I heard good things about Warzone Mobile, so that could be my next one to play, but of course I don’t think any battle royale will top FF7:TFS due to its unique play style.“
They continued: “At the moment we really don’t know what to do. FF7:TFS was what brought us together as a family, so I really hope I will find something similar, something that incorporates JRPG elements in a battle royale.”
Heidi feels the same, unsure if any game could capture him like The First Soldier did. “I am waiting for Ever Crisis because a lot of my friends say they will be playing it, but honestly I don’t think any game could be as big a part of my life as this one was. Considering I had never played a battle royal before, I was surprised when I fell in love with the game, so maybe someday it will happen again.”
The death of Final Fantasy 7: The First Soldier is much like the numerous other multiplayer games that have been taken around back and flushed forever: it leaves a nomadic fanbase behind, unsure where to spend its time and money. Here’s to them, and to their journey to find a new gaming home.
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