VII is a standard RPG with an ATB system. It's easy to get the hang of and fast paced. The game does away with learning spells and instead uses materia. Materia lets you perform all sorts of things, from magic to summons to enemy skills (by far the most useful and powerful skills in the game). It also can enhance your HP, MP, let you counterattack enemies, and even slash your enemy up to 4 times in one turn with your sword. The more you use materia, the faster it "grows" and unlocks more powerful skills.
However, the drawback to this system is that it takes away the class system and makes the game entirely too easy. There's no need to strategize about which party member has what type of skills and who to protect while frantically trying to beat the enemy. Instead, everyone is practically a clone from each other, aside from things like Limit Breaks (which will charge when you're damaged enough, can be saved for a later battle if need be, and leveled up). Plus, the skills you learn are ridiculously overpowered. Once you obtain the Big Guard and White Wind enemy skills, you'll practically be invincible and will rarely even need to use your white magic. Still though, the game is incredibly fun to play, an easy difficulty level only makes it go by too quickly.
Ah, VII's story and characters, the most over-hyped elements in the game. You play Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER who now just hires himself out. As the game starts, he's been hired by the terrorist group AVALANCHE, who are trying to take down the electric corporation ShinRa by blowing reactors in sections of Midgar with innocent people. Events lead to him meeting and helping out Aeris, a flower girl with a hugely important past. As it turns out, she's the descendant of a powerful race known as the Ancients, and she's key to saving the world. Saving it from what, you ask? Well, there's this First Class SOLDIER named Sephiroth who's gone renegade and unleashed an alien being called Jenova (who wiped out nearly all the Ancients long ago) that he thinks is his mommy and hopes to take control of the planet with her. He's really quite a good example of the Oedipal complex. The story is fraught with mystery, suspense, scientific and spiritual mumbo jumbo, and can get convoluted at some points.
Various others help Cloud and Aeris on their journey to save the planet: Barret your stereotypical angry nigra; Tifa the melon-chested boxer who's always looking out for Cloud; Red XII, a talking dog and the most intelligent member of your entire party; Yuffie, a kunoichi trying to drive ShinRa out of her town and restore its honor; Cait Sith the horrendously annoying cat riding a stuffed moogle; Vincet, an emo ex-Turk who was experimented on and now feels that he can only atone by living his life in a coffin; and Cid, a redneck obsessed with flying who treats his assistant like crap and cusses more than Barret.
The gameplay may be easy, and the game is only 3 discs long, but it's easy to keep the experience going because VII has a TON of sidequests. Yuffie and Vincent are hidden characters you can recruit; there are mini-games to be played in the Gold Saucer and prizes to be won (including Cloud's strongest Limit Break); you can track down and kill two WEAPONS; there's an abandoned sub at the bottom of the ocean filled with dangerous monsters and great materia/weapons; you can breed and train chocobos in hopes to get a gold chocobo so you can obtain the strongest summon in the game; and there was something else I was going to say but it slipped my mind. The point is that VII is full of things to keep you occupied and you can easily hit 70 hours on it.
VII's greatest aspects are the atmosphere and helping you get a sense of the state of peril the world is in. The OST is hit and miss, but hits alot more often. The storyline is actually pretty decent when not corrupted by the Compilation and fanboys reading too much into things. The characters are pretty lacking, but within the realm of the game they're acceptable. Gameplay is fun, and there's plenty of things to do to extend your play time. All in all, it's a good game. It's definitely not the best in the series, and it's pretty much the Halo of RPGs as far as being overrated goes, but they could have done alot worse with it.
My rating: 7/10