On the other hand, the battle sequences sport significantly improved models, as do most of the FMV sequences.
The music is, IMHO, excellent fare.
The plot is pretty good, too, although I can see why others don't like it. Nontheless, it spent a fair amount of time on each character -- No Relm or Strago, here. Additionally, unlike most Final Fantasy games, I felt that FF7 warranted a second play through, as much of the plot is better understood the second time.
I think I'll start with the story, which seems to be the most controversial issue regarding this game. Overall, I'd give the game high marks for the story, but I can see where the dissention comes from since the plot is... well... different. Unlike the usual epic quests that RPG's usually have, FinalFantasySeven seemed to be more of a discovery quest. Basically, your characters are trying to find out truths about themselves and the universe. The amount that they physically accomplish through most the game is questionable. The other unusual aspect is the rather complicated and bizzare backstory that is discovered (the whole Cloud/Tiffa?/Jenova?/Sephiroth? story), which, to add to the complexity, continually revises itself and throws out earlier assumptions of the game. Some people seem to be completely mystified by this aspect of the game, but I actually liked this side of the story a lot and I honestly feel I understood it about as much as it was meant to be understood. The mythology/theology seemed a bit unnatural to me, but I suspect that's just my bias as a Westerner (it is a Japanese game, after all). Going back to the game's quest, I guess the main problem I had with the plot was that it seemed that your party didn't have make a very effective team. Their strategy was dubious, and Cait-Sith and Yuffie should really have been ejected from the party for disloyalty, while Cloud should have been locked in a padded room for his own good until the whole thing blew over. They really needed a sturdy leader and people with skills (plot skills, that is).
The setting worked pretty well. It was slightly more modern than previous FinalFantasys?, but it kept the essential elements and mechanics of the series, which I still maintain was not the case with the FinalFantasyMovie. The only thing that bugged me with this respect was the guns, which just looked silly. The lazer/phaser approach to firearms would have worked much better than showing characters take 6 points of damage after getting nailed by a machine gun.
As for the graphics, well... the models are kinda cute (they have a distinct LegoLand? look to them) but a lot of the graphics are definitely very old and blocky. Frankly, this game would have aged MUCH better if they'd used high-res 2D graphics. On that note, aside from luring in casual gamers, there was really no reason for this game to have pushed 3D graphics the way it did. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of new gaming paradigms and 3D graphics, but unlike, say, Mario 64, DevilMayCry, or ZeldaOcarinaOfTime?, the 3D feel of the game adds nothing to the gameplay and in fact detracts from it. I, like Curtis, found the maps difficult to navigate, and I also found the mobile camera in the battle scenes to be both dizzifying and a hinderance to my ability to keep track of the battle (although it has been pointed out to me that there is a "fixed" option on the camera that I just completely missed). On the other hand, the FMV's were very well-done and kept at a reasonable length, which sadly was not the case with the summons. With respect to the graphics, it is worth noting that the PC version (which I did not play) features markedly improved visuals.
The sound is very well done: Music varies in quality from average to toe-tapping to excellent. Not as good as FinalFantasyFour or FinalFantasySix, but definitely the best I've heard from the series outside of those two games. I especially liked the choir at the end.
Maybe I need to sit down with FF4 again; I don't remember any of the music being that good (though I still get all twitchy when I hear the Calbrena music...
Now the gameplay. I agree with Curtis that the characters are more or less interchangeable, which pretty much takes away all issues of trying to balance your party. Until Sephiroth, I really was just choosing my characters based on what animations I felt like seeing, since no matter what I did, I would have a party capable of healing, summons, black magic, and strong physical attacks. The Materia system itself seemed a bit inane at first, but once I understood all the issues of combining and growing materia, the system sorta grew on me. I actually had fun optimizing and arranging my materia. It really is kind of a neat system, but something should have been done about the interchangability issue (like, couldn't they just give each character a skill instead of having yellow materia?). This issue aside, I'd have to say that the battle system is well designed. However, with the exception of the harder weapons, the game never really challenges you to use the battle system especially well. FinalFantasySeven is definitely one of the easiest RPG's I have ever played, and even with my lazy playing-style I managed to cruise straight through most of it.
The non-battle elements of the game I feel were really the most lacking in terms of gameplay. First off, all too often the game was decidedly unclear about what you were trying to do and where you were trying to get to. Second, what was up with all the minigames? The snow-boarding and motorcycle ones were well-done, and some others were fairly clever, but it seemed that mostly we got a lot of inane mini-games. Not only were the games themselves occasionally a bother, but after it starts to occur to you how many there are and how gimicky the implementation is, they start becoming meta-disturbing.
Overall, FinalFantasySeven definitely isn't the god-send that I hear a lot of new gamers making it out to be, or even the best FinalFantasy game, but when all was said and done, I really had a good time with it (although admitedly heckling the sillier bits was part of the fun). I'd definitely recommend it to anyone vaguely interested who doesn't demand the highest quality in RPG's.
Setting, Plot, and Characters: One of my major problems with FinalFantasySeven was the characters. I think the only characters I didn't feel active antipathy for were Red XIII and Vincent, and neither of them got very deep character development. I actively disliked the rest of the characters, particularly Cloud, Tifa, and Barrett, who received the lion's share of the development. The plot started off all right, but after Midgar it became tepid and most of it can be summarized as, "ineffectually chase around after Sephiroth." In FinalFantasySeven, you don't get fetch quests, you're on a permanent chase quest. By the end of the game, I was mainly playing for the power-gaming aspect and to see the end (which sucks, incidentally).
Eye and Ear Candy: I've never been overly impressed with CG in general, and I wish they had spent more attention on the overworld character models given the amount of time I spent staring at them. The battle models were excellent, especially given the time the game was produced. I was never overly fond of the music; while I agree that FinalFantasyEight's was worse, if FinalFantasySeven was above average, it was only just. Having recently listened to some of it again, I must re-evaluate; some of it was actually pretty good, though the more common themes got annoying.
Gameplay: Well . . . I had a lot of problems with FinalFantasySeven's gameplay. The game's pre-rendered backgrounds were often very hard to navigate, because the correspondence between controller direction and character direction in game was very non-intuitive, a problem which was not solved in FinalFantasyEight (one of ChronoCross's few virtues was that I never had this problem). The characters were more or less interchangeable and had few choices for equipment, which mostly eliminated the "futz with equipment/party setup" aspect of the game, which I enjoy in an appropriately limited fashion. The materia system, which was supposed to make up for this, had potential but fell somewhat flat. It contributed to the interchangeability of the characters (something I saw coming in FinalFantasySix but that game's other virtues made up for it), while at the same time not adding enough interest to the game. There weren't enough good combinations, and the materia you developed for most of the the game were useless at the end when you started getting the various uber-materia (Contain eliminated a whole class of materia all by itself). The summons were annoying; I DO NOT want to see a long gratuitous CG sequence tied to the spells I cast. Finally, the game was way too easy (though I never fought the weapons). And did I mention that I loathe mini-games with the WhiteHotPassionOfAThousandSuns?? . . . ?
Main problem I see with a no limit game is the disabling of the "fight" command very early on (I don't believe you can attack without limit breaking when limits are active, although could be wrong...). So you're going to need some way of dealing ranged damage for the various boss fights that need that (fight in the elevator extremely early on in the game, anybody?). The question of how much MP you really need to get through an area will be coming up quite often, I suspect. Although berserk rings and counter materia will definitely help, I'm not sure how far you need to get before you can get them. First impression- you either need to remember to switch a combat materia from Cloud to Barret, or _really_ remember not to attack the first boss when the tail is up. Accidentally pressed a limit attack and so reset, will try again later.
Once you get a second level of limit breaks, whenever you change levels your limit break bar resets, but I don't quite know how you'd get through on no limit breaks before then (especially if you're limiting your spell options at the same time) --NunchuckFrosh Actually, you can even reset your limit breaks without the second level of limit breaks, just by selecting the first limit break and pressing 'ok'. Means no magic or limit breaks _might_ be possible.-- EvilSouthie
Hmm. Ranged damage may also be had in the form of Grenades, which are a little expensive. If you're not using magic, however, you can sell all the Ethers you get early on... but you need a *lot* of Grenades to take down the tank and helicopter. For the first reactor you'd probably have to run from everything down to the boss, although it's not clear that that will help all that much (even with Cloud and Barret in the back row). I also seem to recall that dying will clear out the Limit gauge...
How about running from everything except bosses?