Not quite Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy 13 is an excellent game, but due to the long standing Final Fantasy brand it is receiving quite a bit of negative feedback. When I pick up a Final Fantasy game I am expecting a great deal of exploration, a somewhat deep story, deep character development, crazy FMV scenes, and tons of content. Final Fantasy 13 only delivers a few of these things, while leaving others out entirely.
The main gripe I have with this game is the complete lack of exploration. The developers took the term linearity to a whole new level when making this game. For the first 10-20 hours you literally walk in a straight line and if the path diverges at all it is just an obvious hiding spot for an item. About half way through the game the exploration opens up somewhat, but even then it's more of a wide open field than a true area to explore.
Since the exploration in Final Fantasy 13 is almost nonexistent the game has to fall back on the story and battle system. The story opens with a stunning FMV sequence, but from that point on continues at a slow pace until about eight to ten hours. At first the characters all seem very dry and the story seems to be going absolutely nowhere. However once the story reaches that turning point where all of the characters become marginally less whiny the story becomes quite a bit more enjoyable. In the end it ends up becoming the average Final Fantasy story about a group of people trying to save the world.
To go along with the story Final Fantasy 13 has an excellent battle system. At first it seems as if you are doing absolutely nothing to influence the battle, because it is so easy to just mash auto-battle every turn. After losing one too many times I realized that the true interaction with battles was through the paradigm system. The paradigm system is a take on the final fantasy job system, where each character is given a specific role. Depending on what paradigm you're using in battle it can make or break you. In each battle you often have to switch paradigms, which adds a fast pace to the battles. Many of the complaints I've seen for this game are people claiming that the battles have no control, or that they're too hard. After mastering the paradigm system I found most battles to be rather easy and action oriented.
Once the story comes to a conclusion there is still much more to be done. There are plenty of side quests left to do, but all of them involve fighting monsters. Even if you don't want to partake in the side missions the story should clock in at about 50 or so hours of play time, which seems to fit right in with all of the other Final Fantasy games i have played.
As an avid Final Fantasy fan I can see why this game was a disappointment for most people. The fact that most references to past final Fantasy games seems like cameos don't help much (Things such as Cactuars and Tonberrys)However, if you can look past your idea of what a Final Fantasy should be, you can find a surprisingly deep game that is tons of fun to play.
4/5 stars because it's a solid RPG, but it doesn't quite feel like a Final Fantasy