This isn’t a particularly difficult game (unless you’re playing on Hard mode), especially if you have good reflexes, even though some enemies (Kaktuares) can be frustrating. Despite actual combat happening in real time, you still have random encounters, but you can avoid these on many maps by hugging one of the area walls.
If you just took the main storyline, this would be a very short game, clocking in at under 20 hours. The bulk of the playtime actually comes from optional missions…of which there are 300. They’re not particularly long individually, and they are your main source of both levels and loot, but did they really have to recycle so many of the maps? Especially since most of them are just corridors. If they were meant to represent the tedium of the everyday grunt-work of a Shinra SOLDIER operative, then it was a resounding success. But surely, it could’ve been better if the developers had made fewer, but longer and more involved missions, and set them in some more unique environments? As things stand, all of the missions just sort of blur into an indistinct haze for me. Even the optional superboss, Minerva, whom you face as part of the very last mission, wasn’t particularly memorable. The strategy is simple: steal Phoenix Downs from her to avoid K.O. (using one automatically revives Zack whenever he dies) and punch her to death *yawn*. Not only that, but introducing a goddess into the FFVII-verse with barely any backstory or justification (Where did she come from? How come no one else has ever mentioned her?) just felt tacked-on and lazy.
Speaking of ‘tacked on’, that’s precisely what Genesis felt like as well. I’ve already mentioned that he was inspired by a real-life rock star (who even played him in the Dirge of Cerberus secret ending), which would be bad enough if it weren’t for his entire personality and storyline revolving around his jealousy of Sephiroth for being more awesome than he is. All the while putting on a ‘misunderstood emo’ act, endlessly quoting from that goddamn poem and eating apples. Did Sephiroth need bad poetry or apples to be iconic? Thought as much. The game tries very hard to trump up Genesis’ significance (c.f. the ending and DoC; he even has his own in-game fan club), but the truth is, he just comes across as pathetic and can’t possibly hope to hold a candle to Sephiroth. And this is coming from someone who isn’t a diehard Sephiroth fan. I also have to admit that I have no recollection of the final boss battle, which just goes to show how difficult it…wasn’t.
Aside from the mind-numbing tedium of the 300 missions, the game also features a bunch of lacklustre minigames, several of which involve making or buying gifts for Aerith. Like mixing perfume, complete with counting how many drops go in. Or building her a flower cart (I wish I was kidding). I guess the intention was to convey something more lighthearted to give context to her burgeoning relationship with Zack, but I would have happily just watched a cutscene about it instead rather than hunting for tyres and cart frames. Apart from that, there’s a minigame where you have to count objects through keyholes. And another one where you need to slice missiles in half with Zack’s sword (…). And a sniping gauntlet which should have taken a cue from the Metal Gear Solid book and given Zack some Pentazemin.