Any time Final Fantasy XIII comes up in conversation on the internet — and sometimes even in real life — the discussion tends to skew, well, pretty nasty. Let's not mince words here: there are people who hate this game series, whether it's the first game or the whole subseries. They tend to consider it the worst thing Square has ever put out. (I think they're forgetting Dirge of Cerberus, personally, but the point stands.) Look at literally any article on FFXIII or its sequels, load up any Youtube video, and the comments will be filled with people saying what a piece of crap FFXIII is.
And, yes, the games have their flaws. But do they deserve this level of vitriol? No.
So let's examine just why people disliked FFXIII so much — and why, ultimately, this dislike doesn't make much sense.
I mean, I hate to break it to you, but they are. And yet this was the criticism FFXIII received from everyone. The game led you from one point to the next, breaking gameplay for cutscenes and character development, particularly in the first part of the game. Except... that's what every Final Fantasy game does.
Let's take the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII as an example. Yes, there are sidequests; the most notable one is the Wutai sidequest, but you can also decide to ignore that thing in the sky and breed the perfect chocobo, you can go check out the Gelnika, you can even go fight at Fort Condor if you actually like that minigame. (You don't. No one does.)
But none of those sidequests open up until well into the game — the Wutai sidequest doesn't open up until late into Disc 1, and it's the first significant sidequest in the game. Up until that point, FFVII is entirely linear. Furthermore, aside from chocobo breeding and general screwing around at the Gold Saucer, FFVII is pretty light on sidequests. I mean, you can level up all your materia and fight the Weapons, but there simply aren't that many objectives in the game to accomplish. It's a very linear game, and like FFXIII, the entire beginning of the game (the Midgar portion) is largely spent by cutscenes interrupted by brief breaks for gameplay.
Want another example? Easy: Final Fantasy X. I played FFX for the first time when the HD Remaster came out, and was flabbergasted at how similar the game is to FFXIII, right down to the maps that look like hallways with a pointer in the corner telling me where to go. In FFX, Yuna is on a pilgrimage, and doesn't have time to stop and do sidequests, so there aren't any until you reach the Calm Lands... which might as well be a prototype for the Archlyte Steppe.
The difference between FFX and FFXIII is that the l'Cie are hated and despised by everyone in Cocoon, so it doesn't make sense for them to be able to backtrack and visit any of the places they already went. In FFX, this isn't a problem... until the International edition, which includes the Dark Aeons, and makes certain areas off-limits unless you can beat the boss guarding it. By that point of the game, Yuna's party is no more liked by the people than the l'Cie are.
The thing about FFXIII is that it doesn't do a good job of hiding its linearity. FFVII doesn't seem all that linear because you have all these neat areas to explore, and a huge open world to wander around in. FFIX is much the same, despite the plot directing you from one thing to the next and not giving you a chance to pick your own party until a significant way in. And it's clear from the shift in direction in FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns that Square heard this complaint loud and clear. The reality is, though, that linearity is a natural element of this story-driven series.
Another thing people often cite as a reason for their dislike of the game is their characters. Now, you can dislike a game's characters for whatever reason you want, but I do genuinely think people missed the point of some of the characters arcs. Certainly, there are people who got the point just fine and simply didn't like it, and that's valid, but from what I tend to see on internet communities, the majority don't seem to have understood it.
The entire point of the characters in FFXIII is that each one hits their lowest point during the course of the game, largely due to their own actions. That's why the Eidolon fights exist: to symbolize this internal struggle. Lightning starts the game as a cold, harsh woman, and gradually learns (largely through her interactions with Hope) that she needs to open herself up to other people again. Hope sees his mother die in front of his eyes and is consumed by revenge, only to learn that he's just pushing his own sorrow and anger off on someone else so he doesn't have to face it. Vanille hides her guilt and lies behind cheerful smiles, desperately pretending that everything is okay in order to keep anyone from realizing it's just the opposite.
And yet, when I see people talk about these characters, I often see them described as one-dimensional when they're anything but. Lightning is described as "frigid" and "stoic" when the entire point of her arc is that she's not that anymore. Hope is called a whiny kid, ignoring the fact that he's a child in a traumatic situation, and Vanille is just flat-out misunderstood: her smiles are a mask, meant to hide her guilt.
Is it the fault of the developer that these things weren't made more clear to the player, or the player for not seeing it? I think that's the key question here, and the real crux of the issue that surrounds the dislike for FFXIII — and I don't think there's a right answer for this question.
I touched on this above, but it makes perfect sense that there are no towns in FFXIII the way there are in other FF titles: everyone in Cocoon either fears or hates the party members. You cannot go shopping when the shopkeeper wants to kill you. You cannot talk to NPCs if the NPC is going to run away screaming. They have a pathological fear of l'Cie. Your party is made up of l'Cie. Do the math.
I don't know why people don't get this.
There aren't any sidequests until you get to Pulse, because that's where it makes sense. Finally, your characters are in a wide open world where they're not surrounded by fearful people; they're surrounded by monsters they can kill for EXP. It's like getting the airship in any other FF game, because finally it's not all linear: the characters can go anywhere and do anything.
Now, there is one thing here I want to bring up, not necessarily as a criticism, but a discussion point. Levelling up in the game is locked in each chapter; you can only upgrade your Crystarium to a certain point until you beat the boss for the level and continue on. In previous games you could grind as much as you wanted, but you're capped in this game. On the one hand, I respect the developers' decision to decide the difficulty scale for progress throughout the game; on the other hand, I like the freedom of being able to decide how much I want to level up. I think a happy medium would have been to lock each stage of the Crystarium, the way it is in the game, on a first playthrough, but to have free reign on a New Game+. Unfortunately, this option doesn't exist, but I think it would be a good compromise between the developers' vision and the player's freedom. (It's worth noting that FFXIII-2's Crystarium doesn't have this same locking system, probably due to the non-linearity of the game.)
Is FFXIII a perfect game? Absolutely not. I think the length of time it takes to freely control your paradigms, and to get a three-person party, is far too long. It makes sense for the plot, yes, but from a gameplay perspective it's tedious, and I absolutely get where people are coming from when they complain about that. But I've also seen seen people say that the entire Cocoon segment is too long, and that's like saying everything up to the Calm Lands in FFX takes too long.
The reality is that Final Fantasy games are linear. There are very few games in the FF series that aren't linear. You know what the two most notable ones are? FFX-2 and FFXIII-2. Yeah, think about that for a minute: one of the reasons FFX-2 is non-linear is because of complaints about FFX being so linear. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Oh, wait.
And here's the thing: linearity isn't a bad thing. Yes, sidequests are fun, and a key part of the RPG experience. But has anyone ever really played the Final Fantasy series for its sidequests more than its story? There are other games for that — lots of them!
I happen to like FFXIII's plot a lot. You might not. That's fine. It would be boring if we all liked the same things. I like its gameplay, too, I think it's one of the most fun in the series. Again, you might not like it at all. Or maybe you do like it! Awesome.
The purpose of this page isn't to change your opinions, but to invite you to think critically about the subject. As a fan of FFXIII and its sequels, it's very tiring to see it bashed on the internet so constantly. Whether or not you like it, whether you think it's the best game ever or the worst thing Square Enix has ever put out, please remember to be courteous to others when discussing your opinions, and agree to disagree. There's no reason to be nasty and rude to someone just because you don't like the same video game.