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 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, Unlimited 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 design over anything, but XIII takes its stifling 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" 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 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 terminology with no explanation (relegated to the much-hated Plot Codex, which you have to stop and read frequently throughout the adventure to catch up on), and its incredibly shallow protagonists, painfully trite slapstick humor and angst throughout only proves that flowery writing is no substitute for giving your characters personalities. Final Fantasy XIII tries to be more movie than game, but without a well-planned story, a memorable cast, writing that ever entertains or action that's any fun to watch, it fundamentally fails on every level. It's blatant that this isn't made for people who like Final Fantasy, or even video games - it's just for those who like to push buttons and see pretty 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