Wading through all the praise and admiration of the game, I noticed that what was overwhelmingly noted for its greatness, on a consistent basis, were the graphics and sound. But don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking either. In fact, I believe that the CG full-motion video and backgrounds, as well as the symphonic music are the best on the PlayStation since its very inception. However, as impressive as the visuals are, other companies, namely Namco and Tecmo, were already producing them albeit on a smaller scale. Looking at it critically, the music is spectacular but that's never been enough reason to call a game revolutionary. All of these things have to come together within the game to create a completely new experience and Final Fantasy VII (FF7) doesn't do that.
Make no mistake about it, FF7 is a graphical showcase, first and foremost, and an RPG second. No matter what Square says about trying to add movie-like elements to their games to aid in storytelling, they are obviously in love with their SGI machines and are determined to put them to use at any cost. Graphics took such a precedence over gameplay that playing through any part of the game was akin to being lead by a leash; I was allowed some freedom, but if I really strayed, I was snapped back to path by the designers' invisible, yet heavy hand. It was as if the artists set a mandate that players were only to see all of the levels the artists had worked so hard on and the players would be allowed no deviation from this. The last thing an RPG should do is take the reins out of the hands of players.
Plus, there are still remnants from the old 16-Bit series. Super-Deformed (SD) characters are used here for some reason. With a high-tech look and the sheer complexity of pre-rendered graphics and sophisticated CG movies, this type of character model looks ridiculously out of place. Even more confusing is that more detailed and more realistically-rendered models are available, but only during battle scenes. Back are the paper-thin characters who are not likable, yet are somehow supposed to win us over anyway with their coolness. Cloud is an enigma from beginning to end and I am beyond the years of caring for that cool, brooding hero who's never short on chicks (this hero stereotype is extremely popular in anime, which subsequently inspires their counterparts in videogames). There are also some new changes to the Final Fantasy world that could take some getting used to. There are only 3 characters to use in battle now, instead of the usual four. Magic must now be bought or found (like in the original Final Fantasy) and not just awakened from within the character. And there are now a bunch of mini-games thrown in to break up the monotonous parts of the game. But what I really have to take an issue with is Barret, the only black character in the game. Why is it that the black character is the only person in the game that is an ignoramus? And why is it that his dialogue consists mostly of cursing and is so grammatically incorrect that you'd need an Ebonics handbook to get what he's saying?
Under other circumstances, FF7 would have been an enjoyable game. But after the aforementioned hype and unprecedented media attention, my expectations were raised to a level that FF7 just couldn't reach. With all its deficiencies in basic gameplay compiled with the design issues Chi had mentioned, FF7 is still an excellent example of what wonderful things can be done with the CD-ROM medium. Square wanted to sell the industry on the graphics and the new medium and once they delivered, the mainstream media was satisfied. Hopefully, the next time around, Square will learn from this and release a worthy successor. Until then, FF7 should be regarded as a good game that fell short of greatness.