The battle within, is probably an appropriate way to put it.
I figure this is necessary.
Final Fantasy XIII is one of those games that comes along and is a big deal, as far as the gaming community is concerned, because of it's name. For years the series has such an impact with ever iteration, that all everybody wants to expect from it is quality.
Sadly, this game is full of ideas that just don't work all that well.
The game does have ups. The characters are an improvement over the usual bunch. You could argue that this time around the cast is far from one dimensional. Perhaps by themselves they're not really stereotypes, but flawed and gifted with humanism. As each character does have their set goal, ( which could have them suffer from being one dimensional, ) but it feels as if they react and grow on their own instead of whenever the story tells them. Which from this, you'd feel a little impressed, but it's not until you realize these characters are just driven by a theme that is being forced onto them by the villain, and making the story progressively confusing. It's an irony when they keep saying they're going to do one thing, yet they continue to do what they're told regardless.
Everything else about this game I have a problem with.
Sure, the game suffers from being incredibly linear. Final Fantasy X had it's same constant forward momentum, but XIII's theme is that they're fugitives throughout, and aren't really in the right to dilly-dally shilly-shally. It's forgivable, but neurotic. You want to expect a traditional Final Fantasy ( I guess, in the vain of towns. ) even though you know better.
But the safety blanket doesn't hit the fan till the 11th Chapter. When a game gets touted as having a Faster pace, it suffers from taking forever. That's when everything fits better though. The open world, the eco-system, side quests galore! Which for a lot of people is going to be the best part of the game. But it's prevented from full enjoyment because of it's Crystarium.
This is a bit crucial.
It's only means of leveling up is via 3-dimensional Sphere grid. It doesn't seem that bad at the beginning, but quickly becomes demented as the game only lets you level up in little bursts at a time. It has a habit of preventing the natural flow, as level progression is story based. (which is also in contradiction of the faster paced game play) With each upgrade to the Crystarium, results in ridiculous inflation to the grid, making it a far more tedious activity.
The meat of it, being the battle system, is a little lazy. As all you have to do is go to Auto-battle and never do anything. XII had a system kind of like that, called the "Gambit system" were you program actions to characters lightening the load, to your needs. This time it flat out does everything for you. I admit, I like controlling everything manually, and I did so a good 10 hours into this game. But with it's Paradigm shift mechanic, I decided to stop myself from thinking so I could only worry about shifting than battling.
The paradigm shift is the concept of switching between job systems on the fly. So you constantly move from buffing, full on attacking, healing etc. They ease you into the mechanic, but there's a lot of instances where you feel uncomfortably forced to keep shifting. You would look at some one playing and think that theirs a fair amount of strategy to take something down. Since abilities are job specific, all you really do is spam from one thing to the next, and later battles feel less like "I'm trying to defeat something", and more like "I'm constantly worried about dying."
Since you only control the party leader, If the leader dies it's game over. ( That's never been my favorite thing. )
I don't really like to call myself a traditionalist, especially since XII is probably my favorite Final Fantasy since VI, but the game really suffers from wanting to be different, and it thinks it's going for a broader audience.
Maybe It's just because I'm alienated by this game. A lot of people complain that Japanese games suffer from always being the same thing, but ironically I've loved Final Fantasy For trying different things but always keeping the tradition in tact. It's why VIII is overlooked because VII is too popular. Perhaps XIII's "greatest crutch" is that it wants to do something different but it doesn't really know how to do it. It has a good story and the graphics are beautiful enough, but it's lack of coherent game play mechanics really damage the experience for me a tremendous amount.
It would be hard to give this game anything but a fair review, as it holds a high place for a lot of people. My review might not be doing my opinion on the game justice, but story alone can't let me enjoy a lot of unforgivably flawed mechanics.