(No real spoilers in the journal. There could be some in the comments.)
Yeah, I'm a little late on this one, especially considering I beat this game about a month ago... Still, I've known for a while that this must be said, so I'm finally going to say it:
I have been a long-time fan of the Final Fantasy game franchise. For years I have always felt that I could depend on these games to consistently raise the bar on gameplay and entertain me with amazing storylines and awesome characters. With this in mind, Final Fantasy XIII receives a failing grade. Here are my top ten reasons why (and I say this having played the game beginning to end):
10. A Ridiculously Complicated-looking Combat System: I could not even begin to explain how the combat system of this game works. I will say, though, that it's complicated, and involves constant battle setting shifts and little-to-no actual selecting of specific attacks. On the plus, the game does do a good job gradually settling the player into this battle system. However, it wasn't until the very end of the game that I discovered I had been neglecting to use a very useful attack because its existence is never actually mentioned. Evidently none of the tutorials thought to mention, "Hey, click here and then scroll down here for a really strong attack."
9. Super-linear Gameplay: Final Fantasy XIII has 13 chapters. Chapters 1-10 consist of leading various groupings of characters (forced by the story, not selected by the player) down narrow pathways and fighting the monsters on the way. This is no exaggeration. Click here for a map of the first 3 chapters of gameplay. Then, yes, Chapter 11 comes along and all hell breaks loose. twobrothersandasister.com/wp-c… But once you get sick of the hoard of sudden mini-quests and decide to continue the story, you'll find yourself right back into the one-direction maps. Sometimes I just felt like turning the camera angle and watching myself scroll right the entire game.
8. Pointless Cutscenes: When I say pointless, I really do mean it. I couldn't count the number of times my running to the other end of the map was interrupted by a sudden interlude where the characters stopped to talk. And this was not important, story-developing talk. This was "So how are we all feeling?" and "Hey, let's state the obvious!" talk. In fact, there are so many and such long cutscenes that sometimes the creators actually had to interrupt these with some gameplay. Literally, there is more than one occasion where you watch a clip, then get to walk down an empty aisle, then watch the next clip. (Sidenote: If you're not going to play the game, here's the one clip worth watching: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx-LTk… No real spoilers, apart from seeing what the characters' summons look like.)
7. A Plot Both Confusing and Utterly Basic: The main characters get marked by a powerful being to complete an unknown task in a limited time or be turned into monsters. Premise explained. Now let's throw in the terminology: The powerful being is called the Pulse fal'Cie (not to be mistaken with the Cocoon fal'Cie). The main characters, in being marked, are now l'Cie, and their task is known as their Focus. If the l'Cie fail to complete the Focus assigned by the fal'Cie, they will turn into monsters known as Cie'th. Get all that? Good. Now let's talk about the trials of the Eidolon, the War of Transgressions between Pulse fal'Cie and Cocoon fal'Cie, and the Sanctum that lives on Cocoon thanks to Eden who is powered by Orphan...
6. Stupid Character Names: Honestly, the only reason this one doesn't rank higher on my list is that for the most part it's easy to ignore. But when I really think about... All the main characters in this game have nouns for names! There are six chief characters (and you meet them all pretty early, so no real spoilers): Lightning, Snow, Hope, Fang, Vanille and Sazh... If I had access to the back of the head of the guy who came up with these names, I would smack it.
5. A Never-Properly-Explained Item Upgrade System: This is remedied by an online search and some note-taking, but holy crow, there is no actual way to know what you're doing here without some form of external guide! I won't get into the whole crazy system of upgrading stuff, but the important thing is that going by simple trial-and-error would lead to such a waste of resources that you'd have to spend hours of extra time in random battles to make up the loss. It's as if the game is trying to force you to buy the player's guide. ("Oh, did we forget to mention? The rest of the gameplay instructions are in our $25 book.")
4. A Combat System Where You Can Only Control One Character: This didn't bug me through most of the game, because honestly, having control over all three characters would've only made the battle system more complicated. But this really started to be a problem nearer to the end, when I began running into monsters that use the ability Death. Picture this: a battle system where the commanding character's death means you lose, regardless of the other characters' ability to revive. Now throw in a monster who once in a while might just cast an ability on your commanding character which instantly kills him/her. Just a little annoying. (And to make this several times worse, the end boss of the game is one such Death-casting monster.)
3. An Irritating Cap on Character Leveling: Remember the good old days when you could spend as much time as you cared to in leveling up your characters before choosing to move on with the story? Well for some reason in this game the creators decided not to let us do that. So they placed caps on how much characters can buff up, and these caps only move upward once the player has reached certain spots in the storyline. Once again, this is okay through most of the game, but the cap before the game ending is low enough to guarantee that the final boss takes a lot of time and effort to beat (and revisit my #4 issue with the game to see just how frustrating that is). And then once you've beaten the game... Congratulations, the cap moves upward! Hurra! How useful!
2. Annoying Characters: Let me reiterate that I played this game start to finish. And not once did I care about a single character. The reason? They're all super-annoying! From whiny-emo Hope to high-pitched voice Vanille to black stereotype Sazh, none of the characters offer any real sense of depth or progression. Sure, they all have plenty of emotional moments (see issue #8), but these moments feel so unnatural to the story that rather than feel for them, all I can think is, "Don't these people have better things to do right now than talk about their feelings?"
1. A Totally Unsatisfying Ending: By far the worst of Final Fantasy XIII's failures. I could deal with all of the game's other problems so long as I believed that the story was heading toward a great and powerful conclusion. And then I came to it. And it kind of sucked. Yes, if all you saw was the ending clip, you'd probably think it looks fairly epic. But epic means nothing if you couldn't care less about the people involved. Not to mention the fact that the characters' final big act after beating the end boss is somewhat (and by somewhat I mean entirely) contrary to what they set out to do. And there's perhaps the real trouble of it; never once did I feel like the characters actually knew what it was they were supposed to be doing. Right up to the end, every action feels like little more than a whim. Even more annoying, the idea is for players to continue playing missions quests after beating the game, yet the events of the ending don't mesh with the concept of everything continuing afterward as-is. It's like a video game continuity error, and it's the reason I haven't played another minute of this game since beating it.
So there's my long-winded opinion. As a Final Fantasy, this game fails.
Now here's the kicker: I still enjoyed playing it.