It Doesn't Hold Up
I first played FF7 the summer of 2008, so I didn't have fond memories clouding (HAHAHAHA ) my view of the game. This is a review of FF7 today, not back in 1997.
Gameplay - Standard JRPG formula, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The battles are reasonably fast-paced so as to not wear you down, although the unskippable summons quickly irritate every time you have to watch them for 30 seconds. I've heard people bitch about the Materia deemphasizing individuality in your party members, but I liked it to a point. However, after you amass dozens of Materia, all with varying levels of experience, micromanaging them becomes a huge chore. It felt like I was constantly rifling through my inventory prepping each character only to have a party change force me to repeat the whole process. Aside from battles, you do the typical town exploration bits and wandering the world map bits. The gameplay is fine, although I wished Square included New Game +, a glaring omission upon completion. I also wish enemies were visible in random battle areas, but the game never drowns you in them.
Graphics- I came into FF7 expecting to have my eyes corroded away by ugly textures and razor wire-esque aliasing, and I was half-right. The FMV sequences don't amaze the way they once did, and the inconsistent character models in each FMV (short, blocky Cloud in one, tall, heroin-addicted Cloud in the other) is incredibly sloppy on Square's part. They still look good enough, low-resolution and all. Battles look fine, occasionally stressing the framerate into teens, but that isn't too important in this type of game anyway. The aforementioned summons do look quite nice, even if they take forever. Here's where the graphics completely drop the ball: character models on the pre-rendered maps. I couldn't believe how awful they looked, like something out of Alone in the Dark, except AitD was released in 93. Even in 1997, the character models looked terrible, composed of maybe a dozen polygons all featuring that razor wire aliasing. I read in another review how these graphics blew away even "Ocarina of Time". Maybe that reviewer watched that PS3 render of the intro, but the graphics are mostly awful, since you spend most of the time on the prerendered maps.
Sound- Largely excellent musical score let down only by the grating MIDI in some tracks (the reactor music sounds terrible in particular). The battle theme also gets hella repetitive over the hundreds of battles you fight. There's no way to turn it off either. Other sound effects are servicable, I never really thought about them.
Story- This is the meat-and-potatoes of FF7. People don't remember it for the Materia system, they remember Sepheroth's ridiculous 20-foot long penis compensation. If an RPG lives and dies by its story, FF7 is dead out of the starting gate. Not ten minutes in, the cliches start piling up. Evil corporation, amnesiac protagonist with troubled past, borderline racially insensitive black guy who speaks in laughable imitation of ebonics, Cloud's girl-next-door childhood friend who wants to jump on his meatstaff, but can't quite make the transition to love interest . The sweet innocent flower girl whose sweetness and innocence is so forced and manufactured I hated her more than the villian, who was unintentionally hilarious (see his 20-foot long penis compensation). I'm still shocked people point to this game as an example of mature storytelling in games. It's a completely unfocused disaster of a story, complete with the awful Japanese translation I expected. Not just sloppy typos, although those are present in full effect, but plain awkward dialogue. Any attempts at character development is sabotaged by textbook stilted JRPG dialogue. The story is a trainwreck, the characters are thinner than toilet paper, and the pretentious morals are flat-out disgusting.
Overall- A classic RPG in the same way that Top Gun is a classic 80s movie. Look back it at with contemporary standards and sensiblities, and the game is a servicable RPG with one of the worst "serious stories" I've ever read.