Final Fantasy VII is one of the most influential JRPGs of all time. It's credited with being the game that brought JRPGs beyond their original demographic and into a more mainstream audience. It has memorable characters, interesting gameplay, and a very complex plot that has provoked arguments and discussions on the Internet for years after its original release.
Final Fantasy VII remained so popular that even after 5 years there was enough demand for a sequel that Square released a follow-up film, Advent Children, which enjoyed significant financial success. After Advent Children, Square milked the FFVII cow for all it was worth, releasing mobile game Before Crisis, third-person shooter Dirge of Cerberus, and prequel RPG Crisis Core.
I really loved FFVII as a kid, and when it came out in 1997 I played it for at least 3 days straight (with minor breaks for eating). However, it wasn't until a year or two later when people started to really dissect the plot that I really began to appreciate the game's story. I did my own analysis and came to my own conclusions, but I came to find that the popular belief was completely flawed and based on false reasoning. I have never read a plot summary for FFVII that looked at it was written by any sort of qualified literary or film critic.
I'm not the most qualified person, of course. I have a meager two years of literature studies and one year of media studies, but most plot guides for this game are just so bad that I have to put something out there that has some actual thought put into it. So let's get started.
FFVII is a JRPG, and it's impossible to talk about the gameplay without talking about JRPG gameplay in general. JRPGs usually have linear storylines and repetitive battles, with an emphasis on pre-battle strategy instead of during-battle tactics. Early JRPGs had gameplay focused on wearing the player down after a large number of battles rather than making those battles tactically interesting, and that influence is definitely present in Final Fantasy VII.
However, instead of grindy battles, FFVII's battles are fairly quick and honestly don't wear you down much, if at all. The end result is that FFVII is really easy. Many people consider JRPGs a grind, and I'll be grinding minimally (if at all) in order to really bring that point home. FFVII is super easy, and the lack of difficulty and faster battles probably contributed to the success of the game.
FFVII's story is also fairly linear and offers few choices. There's only one really meaningful choice in the whole game. If you're familiar with the game, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about. I'm actually referring to the date sequence, which reveals a fair bit about the character you date. Because I want the full experience for my first time through, I'll be picking my choices carefully to date the girl that will give me the most meaningful plot exposition.
Other than those choices, I'll be playing the game as a thorough first-time player who is familiar with other games in the series. Obviously I've beaten this game at least 20 times before, but I will endeavor in this first run to not jump to conclusions about things I haven't seen yet and let the plot do its work.