Final Fantasy XIII is not an easy game to like. In fact it takes a lot of effort. 12 hours of effort. But then all of a sudden....
Everyone knows about the problems with FF XIII. And everyone knows they all happen in the first 10-15 hours of the game. The story is confusing. Some of the characters are annoying. It is mind-numbingly linear. However if you get past all of that, if you make an investment in the game you are supremely rewarded.
If this were any other Final Fantasy I think 80% of games wouldn't make it past the beginning of the game. The reason: the combat system. When I think of my favourite FF (VIII) one of the least appealing aspects of it was the combat. Every part of it is a grind. Battles last far too long and generally you're just spamming the same attack over and over. And stocking magic? Boring. Every other FF I've played has similar problems. Battles (especially the meaningless ones) were boring. They were a means to get EXP so you could beat the boss enemies.
Final Fantasy XIII breaks the mold. Battles are exciting again! By using a system of paradigms (strategies) your three characters can alternate between a set of roles. And really that's all you have to control. No more selecting abilities individually. Healing your party members every few seconds. All you as the player has to do is select your paradigm.
I realize that may seem dull in writing but in practice it works wonderfully. By giving us a reward for defeating enemies skillfully, you really get a sense of accomplishment even from the smallest battles. And as an added benefit, battles are FAST! In and out in 20 seconds in many cases.
When you get to boss battles and the more challenging quests, that's when the battle system really shines. Setting up your paradigms properly can make a huge difference in the success of your party. In most cases you can scrape by with most strategies. But if you choose your team members and their roles well, the difficulty of the battle drops significantly and when you win that battle with a 5-star rating...well like I said a sense of accomplishment.
When it comes to the story and the characters it certainly isn't the best Final Fantasy, but like the rest of the game, it really improves after the first 12 hours or so. And when you get to the first (and only) open area, you can easily spend hours exploring it and doing the missions. But all of these things exist only to let you play with the combat system.
And did I mention the game is gorgeous? Wait until you see Titan in the distance on the Archylyte Steppe.
I know a lot of you are turned off by the idea of investing 12 hours in a bad game...to get to a good game. But when you can spend 30 hours with the good part? I'd say it's a worthwhile investment.