It's time for my second article! And recently, I've watched a playthrough of Final Fantasy XIII on YouTube. It was in 95 10-minute parts, not counting the ending credits. That's around 16 hours, without sidequests, and with many of the battles cut. And still, I found myself skipping through running around the ridiculously linear map and going from cutscene to cutscene, only stopping here and there to appreciate the beauty of some of the areas. The crystallized lake, Palumpolum, and Eden's area were all very, very pretty, and Gran Pulse's plains and ghost cities were amazing too.
But the problem is that you can't go back later to check them out unless you keep a save specifically for that purpose. (Which isn't hard, as the save system defaults to creating a new save file instead of overwriting the latest one, and you'll often have a dozen of saves within the first hour of play.) You also can't go check out more of the area if the story says no, because it's linear and often blocks your ability to backtrack. Every section up until Gran Pulse feels like it's a series of Points of No Return.
Final Fantasy XIII is the game equivalent of a bad DM who railroads you through a badly-designed campaign.
The game who comes closest to this linearity is Final Fantasy X, and that one let you backtrack, even if it was more or less pointless. You didn't have to save-scum just to be able to have access to an earlier area to look for treasures you missed! You had an airship that let you travel everywhere and find areas that weren't accessible otherwise! And the story was spurring you forward instead of the DM blocking the way back. Yes, FFX's story wasn't for everyone. The Final Fantasy stories in general aren't for everyone. But FFX made you go forward of your own will, either to see more of the story or to make everyone shut up about reminding you of your current goal.
Another problem with Final Fantasy XIII was that there were no towns. The only two areas you visit that count as towns are the amusement park and Palumpolum, but even then you can only access a very small portion. And Palumpolum is really just a dungeon disguised as town areas. There are enemies, it's labyrinthine, there's no NPCs in those sections, and said segments make up the majority of the town.
Another issue I have is the battle system. It stretches on and on and on, and all you really have to do is hit "auto-battle" and shift paradigms every fifteen seconds. The system is not only automated, it's automated badly, and you have no control at all on the AI beyond assigning roles to your allies and leader, and scanning an enemy for their weakness.
The first Final Fantasy who gave you computer-controlled allies and the option to manually order your character or set him on auto-battle too was Mystic Quest. It had very stupid AI, and most of the time you just opted to manually control your allies too. It was, however, handy when you only needed to attack without paying attention.
The other Final Fantasy everyone thinks of when they think of "auto-battle", however, is Final Fantasy XII, with its Gambit system. And it is automated. Your characters will move according to their weapon's range, and carry out orders their Gambit setup dictates. But you can turn Gambits off, customize the Gambit slots with targets, actions and conditions that you find and buy over the course, and gain up to twelve Gambit slots that you can arrange in any order. You can also issue commands manually (and often will!), regardless of Gambits being active or not, and your manual commands take precedence without interrupting Gambit-issued commands on other characters. FFXII may have had an auto-battle system, but it was a thousand times more flexible than FFXIII's and you didn't need to constantly switch someone's role from attacker to healer or depend on potions.
Last, but not least, I found myself disliking half the cast of player characters, and hating every supporting character except for Dahj (who was right in the middle of the creepy Uncanny Valley anyway). And it takes a lot for me to hate characters. It took Yuffie stealing all my materia in Final Fantasy VII for a bullshit reason for me to want to kick her shin, and it took Rinoa's constant romance cutesy shit to make me happy to push back rescuing her from the Sorceress Memorial until I had no more sidequests to take and card rules to tweak.
People are praising Lightning for punching and trying to ditch everyone at the drop of a hat. She's a bitchy, hot-headed woman who has the worst traits to have been in a military organization, and I was expecting her reveal to be that she'd been kicked out of the Guardian Corps for failure to carry out orders or for putting her team in danger. I took to calling her Bitchtits just because it gave me cheap entertainment value and made her attitude more bearable. She wasn't akin to Cloud and Squall, she was the embodiment of all of Seifer's worst traits.
Snow's constant cheery, hero facade had me groaning every time, and I found his romance with Serah incredibly squicky because she looks like she's 14 at best and the weird pedophillic fanservice between her and 6'5 Snow was really fucking creepy. It's incredibly annoying, especially when I could tolerate Zell from Final Fantasy VIII, with his hyperactivity, and stupidly cheerful demeanor. They managed to make a character so annoying that it took until the halfway point of the game for him to start mellowing out and get a little more likeable.
But the character I hated most was Hope. He looked like Vaan, a character who grates often in his own game and makes you roll your eyes and want to call him a moron. Well, Hope made Vaan palatable by comparison. Hope is whiny, spineless, dragged along half of the time and sticking around just to remind you that he's so bad you wish a Behemoth would just eat him so you could move on without him, all while wishing with all your heart that he'd died and his mother would have been a party member instead, because there's no possible way anyone could have been as whiny and snivelly. And let's not talk about his sudden idea to literally backstab Snow and then being too much of a coward to go through it until half of the game passes, all because Snow "killed" his mother. By dangling off the edge of a collapsing bridge with one hand and trying to keep holding her even after she fainted all the way until she slipped out of his hand. Oh, and then Snow and the bridge section also fell down anyway.
If you disagree with any of this, well, we all have opinions. But I'm tired to hear that raging bitches are strong, likeable women. I'm tired of whiny, emo player characters only worth anything in battle.
But most of all, I'm tired of idiots who think games need to become "more cinematic". There's already a term for cinematic-based games. They're called "interactive movies". Stop sticking bits of game in movies and trying to sell those as videogames. It's come to the point where going back to Final Fantasy, the first of the series with the smallest, flimsiest premise for a story, is more bearable and even a relief.
My only consolation is that I'm not alone in my hate, and that the Final Fantasy XIII hate spreads beyond cultures.