Horrible game, if only because it looks pretty and has a compelling battle system that give you but the illusion of having something to flesh out : battle depth, interesting background. You'll be getting none of that. Namely, the shine and the pace will let you through it, but appart from that there is nothing.
In FFXIII, you are given a set of characters with a capped level who learn skills one by one through a given array of abilities in the form of shiny spheres arranged in an excrutiatingly linear fashion. It's anyone guess WHY you have to level-up manually when the game holds your hand with a fierce grip all along. For all I now this creep could be playing itself when noone's looking.
But SquareEnix still hold grinding close to their heart (at least they think we do), and while designing a game that blatantly dictates what level you should be at such point in the story, they still let you hit the occasional wall. Hard. Hard and stupid. Like Barthandelus, or one of the transformers eidolons, the summons of FF13. Eidolons have to be defeated to join your party, and as bosses they are special in that you must fill a "respect" meter to please the beasts, not unlike you'd do with your own boss. Or should. Probably.
But screw him! You have mighty powers and your fingers can literally flash fire/electric/ice/ruin(RUIN!)/water/air BALLS from your fingertips! Why would anyone please a boss for leisure? That's deviance! I want to beat the crap out of Bahamut if he so much as growls at me! I want power! Eat ruin balls!
So you die. Once. Twice. Thirty five times if that's what it takes for you to GET IT. An then some more, for the game to let itself be won accidentally. Since the 'scan' function is limited to 5 attempts (that is if your meter is full) and flat-out doesn't work, well you have to lose a few fights just to uncover all requisites. Oh and there's a countdown of doom too. Also, eidolons, while buff bastards whenever they choose to attack you, become pansy wastes of your time when summoned. At least they heal you.
A fair account of the story could run this way: it's spagetthi alla bolognese weaving around turdballs. It wants to wrap itself into a solid knot but never, you know, . it stinks. Square chose to tell the story through flashbacks, perhaps to give us second thoughts about Vanille's inanity and our outspoken wish for her to die like how about now. Ironic, as she ends up being the only one with that exact ability: the death spell.
Unfortunately these flashbacks are mostly devoted to action scenes where nothing happens, except for pieces of machinery flying everywhere and people screaming and shit falling from the ! Otherwise the player will sit and watch people watch fireforks and make a wish they'd be told something they don't already know.
"Fal-Cie focus blah blah l'Cie Cocoon blah blah Pulse fal'Cie blah blah crystal l'Cie fal'Cie focus crystal."
Characters. They can be defined as driven by . Dealt and recieved. Towards themselves, towards one another, from the rest of the world. Apparently the japanese feel about a cute lesbian relationship involves almost beating up your lovely one, while bitchslapping one is also ok and stylish (this is so 1980s), as it is to hit a Snowboard in the groin everytime he tries to do his japanese pep talk thing. So they totally HATE one another, apparently for good reasons. Hey we hate them too! This consensus sinks in somehow because all of a sudden they are all such great pals, suddenly. Yes that's sudden squared.
The story falls flat with a splatter as you learn the terrible truth that what seemed a melodramatic, asinine story turns out to be clichés number 43, 6, 89 and 190 from a long list of JRPG specific plot twists to avoid not to bore your player to death. Even the big baddie's motivations seem to be counter intuitive and moronic till the end when noone is surprised. Were you surprised? Ok I was surprised too.
But only because the game has an irritating habit of going one direction and swiftly backtracking to give you a scope of the "what if"? What if we got to see stuff that's not for laughs and something surprising? breathtaking actually happens? It doesn't.
There is nothing to say about voice acting other that it is GREAT and perhaps the only indisputable highlight of the game. Fang and Vanille have, accordingly, accents from down under (where they used to fancy eachother), while Hope/Mope's wailings are a mature enough tone not to make him realistically insufferable. We get the notion, not the feel. Thanks. Sahz is comic relief but still retains all his decency as a human being, and has a real personality to boast under the cliché.
Lightning is impressively similar to FFVII's Cloud, first because of the stupid name and second in that she poses as a strong character who's too cool to care until her mask falls off to let show a sensitive pep-talking nonentity. Only she doesn't shed a personality inherited from her dead boyfriend (you know that's how it was, poor Aeris), she only lets Hope grow on her. Yes, the boy the concept. It's like, you know, how they say? brainy. It's a mess and you don't really know how something so squishy and wrong can make sense but you'd better let it be or you're in for a HEADACHE.
Snow admits to be a total bore most of the time even to himself and his voice actor sound like he's the essence of manhood and not the japanese dub's stupid oaf, so he's forgiven. You'll notice I forgot Lighting's voice actress... well it's just that she plays the part so well. Bland and flat.
The combat system is ingenuous enough, providing loads of automated fun through mindless morse tapping. Switching jobs works like the spells you're not allowed to cast, appropriately. But you only end up spamming the same hordes of enemies once you found how to shrug them off and it gets boring. The real laugh is that your main character, if defeated, cannot be revived, resulting in a game over screen. Then a Cieth comes along and casts the death spell. And guess who. Problems range from healers not reviving the third character who's down, to one character idling or choosing to “ruin” from a distance instead of “attacking” up close, when it's obvious that they shouldn't.
Crucially, whatever illusion the game gives you as for your controll over the action, you lose when you realize only the computer may buff up or attack separate targets in one single turn, although is still worth it to control a healer at all times so as to have access to “life” and get it done yourself.
The graphics look good mainly thanks to artsy 2D backgrounds and a clever re-using of the same assets again and again. Yet sometime it's not clever. Usually something gets stupid the moment it thinks it's smarter than you are (see paragraph above). For example, I have both short and long term memory and realize when a dungeon consists of the same rooms piled up ad nauseam. It gets ugly when the environments are not pretty. Like that last sentence. In such cases where there is no shine to hide that this is really the same kind of PS2 game Square was delivering eight years ago, with the same cheap techniques of re-using everything only with slightly altered models (not just the dungeons, but monsters themselves!).
You'd think that a corridor-crawler wouldn't compromise on polish, having stripped-down a franchise of all that still made it an enjoyable experience. Yet FFXIII is only “beautiful”, “stunning”. I don't know, but it seems to me FFXIII could use a little less CG and a little more effort on ingame graphics. This is just FFX/X-2/XII with more polygons and HD. I do not know if that will come through, and I wouldn't dare to say FFXIII doesn't look good. It just should look better. Surely on a console that came out three years ago.
ALL IN ALL, this is a crap final fantasy, you know it, I know it, we all know it. It shouldn't be as good as the last one, it should be PERFECT and revolutionary. It's not. It's story is so stupid you'll wish it made half as much sense as FF8's. Its capping of every character's stats is frustrating, the weapon upgrade system is insultingly lazy and austere, and the so called Gran Pulse freedom is more corridors and fool's errands, the plague of any japanese game nowadays. FF13 does fulfill his role as the flagship of a whole industry though, an ageing , uninspired one desperate to please the western crowd. Let's hope they "FOCUS" not on what could make a game enjoyable for the bigger masses but rather on something they can be proud of next time.