Fun combat and gorgeous visuals save FF13 from total disaster.
I really tried to give Square-Enix the benefit of the doubt with FF13, knowing full well the complaints that have been lobbed its way. It's hard not to respect the talent and resources that go into colossal games like this, but unfortunately I think there's just a fundamental taste level that's hard to bridge between Japanese and Western RPG designers. Most gamers come to RPGs for great storytelling, exploration, leveling and combat mechanics. FF13 delivers on the combat front, with a thoughtful and fun update on classic turn-based RPG battle mechanics that retains the need for strategic thought but streamlines the tedium of queuing every single action by hand or memorizing resistances and debuffs for dozens of enemy types. Everything else, sadly, is mostly terrible.
FF13 lays on the melodrama early and often, which makes developing any fondness for its characters or storyline difficult. Lushly detailed cutscenes are peppered with only the cheesiest of dialogue as you try to clench your stomach through the game's near-inpenetrable plot concerning magical, technological demons of some sort and society's fear of anyone who goes near them. Given the level of background detail on the world's fiction, it's clear the developers are quite taken with their invention. It's too bad they never noticed how boring this sequence of events would be to anyone outside their office building. As I kept trudging through the 60 hours of gametime, I kept hoping the story would go farther or reach beyond the core conflict between "la cie" (humans tainted by techno god things called "fal cie") and society, but it never does. The conflict that opens the game is essentially all you will be concerned with for the next five dozen hours of your life, and it never gets any more interesting. So your enjoyment of the game's storyline should be quickly apparent. If you're not hooked, strap yourself in for some trauma.
The upside, however, is the "game" part of this package is actually a total blast. Combat itself moves quickly and requires you to constantly shift your party's tactics on the fly between variations of standard MMO roles like tank, DPS, heals, buffs and debuffs. I'd honestly love to see other single-player RPGs try to mix in combat like this, as the options are wide and the variety of chess-like strategic decisions are always fun, even moreso as the game's opponents increase in difficulty about halfway through the plot. The leveling and gear upgrading systems are also deep, unique and fun to experiment with. The game itself poorly explains the gear system, maybe intentionally so to keep the underlying math a bit mysterious, but an FAQ will get you up to speed and it's a lot of fun trying different gear loadouts for your characters.
All in all, it's hard not to feel like your time with FF13 is a little misspent as you reach the game's final chapters. There's never a satisfying payoff for all the hours you have to invest in the storyline. Still, by the time I finished FF13, I'm glad I saw what the game had to offer firsthand, even if it wasn't that memorable.