Final Fantasy XIII is a heavily maligned game among the series' fanbase, who criticize it for its restrictively linear layout, poorly-structured story, grating writing, scene staging (or lack thereof) on level with a bad Michael Bay movie, and greatly simplified gameplay. But in an age where hyperbole and groupthink reign, is it really all that bad? After having played it myself, my answer has to be yes. Not only is it exactly as unpleasant a game experience as it's cracked up to be, it might just take the cake for the most dumbed-down entry to a beloved RPG franchise of all time; even moreso than Dragon Age 2, Digital Devil Saga or the oft-maligned-but-honestly-not-that-bad Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I never once believed I'd pine for Final Fantasy X's constricted design over anything, but XIII takes its suffocating linearity to a new extreme, simply having the player walk down a narrow corridor, encountering enemies every few steps, for nearly 75% of the adventure; it's only some thirty hours in before the world finally opens up and allows for some free exploration. Combat in the game is downright braindead as one now only controls a single character (the other two being AI-controlled), picks a pre-made "paradigm" (which they laughably try to sell as a substitute for job classes) and then chooses "Auto Battle" to carry out a series of pre-selected attacks or spells, only having to use a potion here and there to stop their party from dying. It actually resembles Panzer Dragoon Saga's combat in some respects, trying to be both cinematic and strategic, but unlike PDS it's so dumbed down and repetitious that it succeeds at being neither. The game's main selling point was in its animated cutscenes, but even those aren't satisfying to watch, mostly relying on non-interactive action full of ugly, close-in shakycam fights that are repetitious at best and almost incomprehensible at worst. Even boss battles are bland, with slow camera pans, clumsy physics (models gently pushing one another out of the way happening too many times to count) and attack animations that just get tiresome after you've seen them a thousand times, no matter how many shiny particle and aurora effects they sprinkle on them. But moreover, you just don't care who's winning or losing because the narrative gives you no reason to get invested in its characters or events; every scene casually drops loads of dull-as-dirt exposition packed with unexplained terminology (relegated to the much-hated Plot Codex, which you have to stop and read frequently throughout the adventure to catch up on), and the incredibly shallow protagonists and trite slapstick humor and angst throughout only proves that flowery writing is no substitute for giving your characters personalities. The character designs and overblown constant bling effects don't look 'cool' either, despite what fanboys will tell you - they look as good as computers and a complete bankruptcy of animation can make something look. Final Fantasy XIII tries to be more movie than game, but without a well-planned story, a memorable cast, writing that ever captivates, action that's any fun to watch or any art direction beyond "looking pretty", it fundamentally fails on every level. It's blatantly obvious that this is software's algorithmically generated idea of what a "cool" game looks like - completely superficial, with no genuine passion or substance to be found beneath that shiny coat of paint. It doesn't appeal to me as a long time RPG fan, and frankly I can't fathom it appealing to people who like Final Fantasy, or RPGs, or even video games - it's just for those who like to push buttons and see sparkly effects flash across the screen, no matter how vapid and empty the rest of the experience is.
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: XBox 360, Playstation 3, PC, iOS, Android