Final Fantasy XIII features six characters in your party: two are okay, and four are awful. That's not a good ratio. Sazh and Fang are the only two characters that are even slightly likeable, although Fang is exceedingly Australian for no discernible reason. The remaining four characters are unfortunately more prominent than Sazh and Fang, and thus their awfulness is only emphasized. Lightning is an enormous bitch to everyone for the first 15-20, even to the point of abandoning children in the fucking wilderness. Snow is a moron, running his mouth about being a hero with absolutely no comprehension of his or others' situations. Vanille -- also oddly Australian (I'm not dissing Australians, it's just weird for two fantasy characters to be randomly Australian) -- is shallow, bubbly, ignorantly joyful, and upsettingly sexualized despite being 14 or something. And then there's Hope -- oh, Hope, shown below, the 13-year-old boy who could give Evangelion's Shinji a run for mopiness. Blaming Snow for the death of his mother (moms aren't that tough, sorry) but absolutely refusing to confront him about it, for no reason other than to pad out the game. Constantly collapsing to the ground to whine and moan. He is irredeemable awful.
How is this different from, say, the sullen Cloud of FFVII or the outright jerk Squall of FFVIII? Without trying to go into a massive nerd diatribe here, I'll say that Cloud starts as more a gruff Han Solo-type , and his emotional breakdown only comes later, and is an integral part of FFVII's examination of heroism. FFVIII's Squall is certainly a jerk, but the game is essentially about him accepting others, so starting as an aloof bastard makes sense. But two points I would raise specially: first, in both FFVII and FFVIII, there are other non-jerk, genuinely likeable characters to take up the slack. If if you can't stand Cloud or Squall, there's Tifa, Aerith, Cid, Barrett, and Rinoa, Seifer, Quistis, etc. Furthermore, Cloud, Squall -- and even the rest of the characters mentioned -- have actual pasts and backstpries that make them interesting. For all intents and purposes, all six FFXIII character's lives begin 13 days before the game starts and a fucking fireworks show, which I know because the game keeps flashing back to it from everyone's point of view, as if it's interesting.
These characters have no depth and, thanks to the horrible (lack of a ) story, no discernable motivation. It's impossible to root for them, like them, or care about them. I hate them. Especially Hope. Oh, and you can't get distracted with other characters, because there are maybe three bad guys who maybe appear for 30 minutes of the game's first 25 hours (most of that being a single boss fight) and maybe three NPCs, two of whom are shown only in flashback and all of which are dead. No one else. Not a single other character in the entire game, not a single other person to talk to. Epic!
8) The Few and Boring Enemy Designs
There are five enemies in FFXIII, not counting bosses. There are soldiers, some kind of robot knight-thing, some blobs, some tiny things, and a giant armadillo thing. They might have some mild variations -- different colors, or the soldiers might have jetpacks -- but they're pretty much repeated almost exclusively throughout the first 25 hours. Again, this is the least epic Final Fantasy game I've ever played.
And the bosses? Well, they're Final Fantasy X's monster designs taken to its extreme -- meaning they're all indecipherable messes. They're practically Bayformers -- they're all needless ornamentation and sharp angles and no ability to tell where they're faces are, except for one boss who has four faces (none of which are his real face). AAAAAAAA.
7) The Needlessly Complicated Equipment System
Since there's virtually no exploration and shops have been relegated to a menu screen at save points, the normal equipment system has been utterly removed. Would you like to find more powerful weapons and armor and items? Too bad. In fact, there's no armor at all, just some accessories that provide extra HP. Each player has 8 weapons -- and only 8 -- which can be "leveled up" by some incredibly arcane process of materials monsters drop. Would you like to level up someone's weapon? I hope to god you have enough of all the totally random materials needed to do so.
Half the fun of playing RPGs is making your characters more powerful, and a large part of that is equipment. FFXIII manages not only to take away more options on how you can actually customize you character, but turned the entire process into massive busywork. Again, none of it is automatic; all equipment leveling must be done by you and only with the proper materials. If that sounds more fun that exploring a cave for the legendary Masamune sword... well, it doesn't. And it isn't.
6) The Insanely Stupid Summons
The Summons have long been a Final Fantasy highlight. Since they're so cool and special, acquiring them is supposed to be something important, something special. So how does this sound -- you have to defeat each Summon to acquire them, but not necessarily by combat. You have to fill up a gauge by healing a partner, or using the Sentinel paradIgm, or pulling off combos, or one of several various conditions... with no clue whatsoever what to do. Other than die, and replay the fight over and over again until you happen to stumble upon the answer. Or pay $20 for the strategy guide. Does that sound fun to you?
5) The Needlessly Shitty Crystarium
Final Fantasy XIII, for no reason whatsoever, decided to do away with the standard RPG experience points-leveling system. Instead, it uses Crystarium points, which are exactly like experience points but stupider. Seriously, it's exactly like experience points -- it's how you gain Strength, Magic, HP, spells, everything -- except you have to physically press a button to make it happen instead of it happening automatically. And don't think it allows for some cool customization thing; each Crystarium path is practically a perfectly straight line, exactly like the world, with only a few tiny branches to make a pretense of customization. Also, it's presented three-dimensionally making it needlessly hard to navigate, forcing players to constantly adjust the camera to even use the damned thing. For what is a straight fucking line.
4) The Childishly Horrible Storytelling
I proudly tell people I play Final Fantasy games for the stories. Obviously, I thought FFVII was brilliant. FFVIII was more intimate in scope, but genuinely moved me. FFX was very bizarre and not particularly deep, but it was entertainment. Final Fantasy XII's story was incredibly, incredibly boring... although it was coherent. But Final Fantasy XIII is a mess. I told you of the awful characters, of the ridiculous names that all include "Cie" in them, that even at 25 hours the players have no idea what their goal is whatsoever. But FFXIII can't even tell this awful story right.
Of FFXIII's first 25 hours, I estimate maybe 8 full hours of it has been cut-scenes -- cut-scenes which don't advance the story ever, because no one fucking knows what is going on. They are clumsily forced into the game at every opportunity; you can't get through a single map without at least three of them popping up to waste your time. They're never short, and they're never meaningful. It's just another chance for Lightning to be a bitch, Snow to be a jackass, Vanille to prance around disconcertingly, and Hope to collapse to the ground, put his head between his legs, and moan. You can't build any momentum as a player as you're constantly getting interrupted, and you're constantly bored as a viewer because all the cut-scenes are horrible.
It boggles my mind how Square Enix could do this. No matter how much you like or dislike their games' individual stories, they've always been wonderfully paced, especially with the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII is like a sad parody of FF games. It's a shitty story told shittily.
3) The Idea It Gets Good After 25 or So Hours
I've had several people tell me that Final Fantasy XIII gets really good once you get past the first 25-30 hours, that the world opens up with plenty of side quests, that you can actually explore some of the world, that the combat finally gels together. Whether I believe them or not is totally irrelevant, because even if they're right, I think that's worse than if the game sucked all the way through.
What the fuck do you mean I have to sit through 25-30 of shit before it gets good? When did this become acceptable? Why can't a game be good from, oh, I don't know, the fucking beginning? I managed to sit through four hours of Roxas bullshit in Kingdom Hearts II for the promise of the Tron world. I gave up on Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess after two hours because the only thing I had done that was even slightly exciting was herd goats. And now, Square Enix wants me to wait 25-30 fucking hours before the game gets fucking decent?! FUCK AND NO. I don't care if it turns into a straight re-make of Final Fantasy VII at hour 30, that is bullshit, and I refuse to play this game on fucking principle.
2) 13 Goddamn Years
Final Fantasy X came out in 2001. It was a good game. Lots of fun. FFX-2 was terrible, but a necessary cashgrab from a studio still reeling from the financial debacle that was The Spirits Within. Final Fantasy XI was an MMORPG, utterly worthless to people who enjoy regular Final Fantasy games, dealing with players, or enjoying an epic story. Final Fantasy XII was made by the crazy Final Fantasy Tactics guy who had a nervous breakdown/got fired somewhere near the end of development; the result was an odd game with its wacky combat and largely forgettable (but coherent) story, and it didn't feel like a proper Final Fantasy game.
Square Enix has announced that Final Fantasy XIV will be yet another MMORPG, potentially due out later this year. So I'm going to have to wait until Final Fantasy XV for even the chance of a decent Final Fantasy game. Assuming it only takes four years to make FFXV (that's the time between 12 and 13, and I still have to hope 14 doesn't delay it) it will be 2014 before I can even potentially play a quality FF. That's 13 years since the last good Final Fantasy game. THIRTEEN FUCKING YEARS. AND THERE'S NO GUARANTEE FINAL FANTASY XV WILL ACTUALLY BE ANY GOOD. AAAAUUURGGGHH.
1) That I Am Ridiculously Easy to Please Regarding Final Fantasy Games, and FFXIII Couldn't Even Manage That
Guys, I am a Final fanboy. I own countless Final Fantasy action figures. I own a massive cardboard Final Fantasy display from a GameStop. I want a Final Fantasy tattoo, really. I've played FFVII three times, doing all the sidequests, I own a dozen FF CD soundtracks, art books, everything. I've taken off work to play Final Fantasy games. I've been to Square Enix's headquarters in Japan, and made a special point of using the bathroom there just so I could say I used the bathroom in Square Enix. Basically, I'm Square Enix's most tolerant, blind, loving, forgiving customer. And even I say FUCK THIS GAME. Let me put it this way -- I actually disliked Final Fantasy XII, and I still played it for 100+ hours. But, at 25 hours into FFXIII, I refuse to play another minute more of this crap. I can't. I won't. And if that's not the most searing indictment of FFXIII I can give, I don't know what is.