Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Final Fantasy VII was a huge disappointment when I finally got around to playing it. I could easily let pass the ridiculous graphics with the silly Popeye-style characters. Great graphics do not make a great game, after all, and the graphics *were* pretty good for its time. I could even let go the terrible mish-mash game world, with its clumsy mixing of cyberpunk and swords-and-sorcery. It is so over-the-top that it would have given a good game some flavor.
What I could not let go are the unfocused plot, the superfluous characters, and the horrible translation job on the dialogue.
Let's start with the dialogue. Whoever translated FF7's dialogue from the original Japanese into English should have been dragged out into the street and shot. Or at least fired with extreme prejudice. Perhaps they were fired (or shot), because the translation jobs on future FF games were not nearly as bad as this. Improper grammar and typos abound, to the point that the player often can only figure things out by trial and error. For example, in the very first boss battle against a giant scorpion robot, at one point the main hero says, "Attack while its tail is up! It's going to counter-attack!" Well, if you do attack while its tail is up, then it does counter-attack, but you only learn this the hard way by attacking like the game tells you to. Badly translated dialogue like this permeates FF7. Quite literally, half the time it is impossible to figure out what anybody is talking about.
The other half of the time, it is impossible to care for what anybody it talking about because of the lame, unfocused plot. Throughout the game, FF7 just can't decide what it is about. There is an over-arching storyline about saving a world on the brink of an ecological disaster, but the story is muddied by more side-plots, characters, and villains than you can shake a game controller at. Between all the different agendas, plans, betrayals, deaths, and so much more, it would have been difficult to follow the story even with properly translated dialogue. Throw in the bad translation and the storyline turns into a huge mess that is impossible to figure out. Even die-hard fans of this game can't agree on exactly what happens at the end and endlessly debate what the story is about.
The game actually starts out promisingly, with a fairly simple story about a resistance movement fighting the good fight against a diabolical megacorp which is slowly but surely bleeding the planet of its life. When the game takes its first major twist and introduces the second major villain, it begins to falter and get confused. At that point, FF7 basically turns into a running battle to cram in as many thinly related (when related at all) characters and side-plots as possible. Add to that malodorous concoction the occasional boring, pointless minigame which is required to advance the main storyline and you end up with a game that quickly turns into a lifeless slog.
It doesn't help that the gameplay gets bogged down with the standard FF-style random monster battles. To level up your characters and earn money, you have to spend a lot of time fighting monsters. This has always been the biggest weakness of the FF series, because it makes the games very boring very quickly. FF7 does have one advantage here: while the story is terribly unfocused and confusing, it still manages to progress at a perfect pace for your characters' levels. You will never find yourself aimlessly wandering about for the sole purpose of leveling up to tackle the next major dungeon, unless you want to. So, while tedious, at least the random battles do not get excessive.
But they are still tedious. And since the storyline is too confusing to really understand, this turns the entire game into a boring slog that has no point. Yes you're trying to save the world, but from what? And why? The game never adequately explains itself, and without an explanation there is no justification for playing in the first place. At least the music is nice to listen to, even given its midi quality. The music really is good. Too bad it was wasted on such a bad game.
And as if all that's not bad enough, FF7 is just too easy. The materia system is mainly to blame for this, because thanks to it, all the characters are basically just clones of each other. It does not matter which characters you put in your party because all the special abilities are gained by equipping magic orbs called "materia". So just choose whoever you want, equip them with your favorite load of materia, and you're ready to go. Want to change your party? Don't worry about switching out your characters for a more ballanced set, just switch your materia. There is no strategy, no worries about party ballance, no thinking whatsoever. Booooooooooring.
I have tried to play through FF7 at least a dozen times. Every single time, the tedious gameplay, incomprehensible storyline, and extremely low difficulty level have caused me to lose my interest long before I made it to the final boss. This game was a huge disappointment for me and remains on my list as one of the most over-hyped games of all time.
To sum up:
+ Well-paced story + Very nice music
- Incomprehensible story - ...Which is loaded down with too many sub-plots and characters - Horribly translated dialogue - Tedious gameplay - Silly, boring minigames - Easier than breathing
* Wacky-looking graphics that date the game something fierce