Are you familiar with the Final Fantasy series? Are you? The original Final Fantasy was the first RPG I ever played and I've played every single little bit of them since, whether they're part of the main series or not. Now then, which one was your absolute worst? If you didn't answer Final Fantasy 13, allow me to tell you why you're wrong.
Now, I've talked about Final Fantasy 13 a few different times, sometimes in video format and sometimes not. Once I got a new 360, I started playing it again and realized it wasn't as bad as I remembered. It's still bad, but it's not blindingly awful. The good news is it's still a really easy target, if for only one reason: the battle system.
Let me be frank: this is one of the worst battle systems in history and only Final Fantasy 13-2 barely amounts to make up for it. I would argue that even Unlimited Saga has a better battle system and it feels like you're playing a goddamn slot machine, not doing battle. What's so bad about it? Well, park it, because I have plenty to say about just this one concept.
When the game first introduces you to the battle system, you're in a state of frenzy and awe. Why? Well, mostly because of the music, but you're also punch drunk on the graphics, scenery, and all the rest that have become typical for Square-Enix (or even just Squaresoft) games. When the action starts, you have 2 ATB segments and even early in the game, you can tell the battles are moving a bit fast.
Normally this would be a plus, but it becomes a minus because it moves too fast. No worries! You can slow it down in the menus to slow speed! Ah, but then you don't get all the rewards you normally would. But wait, I can't pick out my actions that quickly, what's a gamer to do? The solution, and the problem as well: auto-battle.
You can't technically control your allies' movements anyway as they act automatically within their given roles. You CAN control the leader's movements, but the action is so quick that all you'll really be doing is confirming auto-battle again and again and again, only to switch it up every so often to paradigm shift, use items, use techniques, and summon eidolons.
Okay, even I have to admit I liked the eidolons.
Still, sounds straightforward enough, right? Well, not really. In fact, the game is actually made HARD by the fact that you don't have enough control in combat. Final Fantasy 10 had an amazing wait time system, Final Fantasy 12 had a great MMO/RTS-like system similar to Dragon Age, Final Fantasy 13 ruins it forever by being overly simplistic and too much all at once.
Paradigm shifts sound like a good idea at first. They're a way to instantly change everyone's roles to suit a different tactic. Unfortunately, since there are certain roles that ONLY defend or ONLY heal, much like some of the dress spheres in Final Fantasy 10-2, the characters become less like characters and more like tools.
There are verifiable strategies to be used in combat, but there's yet one more aspect to it that eventually ends up just plain pissing you off no matter how you look at it: stagger. The way stagger works is as you wail on an enemy, a meter increases. Eventually they're thrown into stagger mode where a commando (fighter class) can launch the enemy and juggle them in air.
Whilst in stagger mode, the enemy or boss will sustain lots and lots of critical damage, depending on how high you can get the stagger percentage before the bar depletes. To get stagger mode ACTIVE, however, is nothing short of a chore that will eat away at even the most patient of us. Wailing alone should suffice for most low-level enemies, but for tougher enemies and bosses, it requires a co-dependency between commandos and ravagers (mage classes).
Some might call this another layer to the strategy, but I call it a layer to the ever-festering, rotting carcass of would-be game design that should have been chucked the moment it EVER hit the design board, NEVER to be added to what could have been an amazing RPG. See, Commandos don't really add much to the stagger meter, but they DO take full advantage of where the stagger meter lies AND help lock it in place.
This requires further explanation. Ravagers don't cause a lot of damage even when using something the enemy is weak against. Commandos don't start off doing a lot of damage to the enemy, but as the stagger meter goes up, ESPECIALLY once they're actually in stagger mode, they will begin to cause massive damage with each swipe, shot, or what have you.
And if that was all there was to it, the system would work and be wonderful, but no. Ravagers can cause the stagger meter to go up significantly with each casting, but the meter will start to fall rapidly if only ravagers are striking the enemy. If a commando strikes the enemy, the meter will begin to decelerate its decent, allowing ravagers more time to bump it up.
So your default party should ALWAYS be a mix of ravagers and commandos, usually having two ravagers and one commando. Alright fine except...THIS IS ALL TAKING PLACE WHILE YOU'RE BEING PELTED BY ENEMIES LEFT AND RIGHT. So often, it's not actually a viable strategy, but literally the ONLY strategy you're left with, because it's the only one that actually WORKS.
I know people are going to complain that I'm not talking about synergists (buffers), saboteurs (de-buffers), and sentinels (all they fucking do is defend, provoke, and sometimes counter), but seriously, these roles are ONLY useful in select situations, usually WHEN THE GAME TELLS YOU. The game pretends to be insultingly easy, but is hard for all the wrong reasons as a result.
You might be wondering why I'm harping so much on the combat. Well, two reasons. One, this is easily 75% of what you do in the game, so it gets old real quick. Two, later in the game it takes several minutes to finish each engagement (mostly due to reliance on stagger), so it gets to the point that you have to battle to get stronger, but you hate battling because it gets so FUCKING boring.
Honestly, if it were just for this one reason alone, I would say that I really liked the segments OUTSIDE of combat for Final Fantasy 13, but that would be a lie, too. Sure, the graphics and music are wonderful, but when was the last time a Squaresoft, Enix, or Square-Enix game didn't have all that under wraps? I'm no longer impressed by this song and dance.
Let's talk about the crystarium next. I mean, why not? Up until Final Fantasy 10, there was always a fairly conventional method of leveling up (I guess the NES' FF2 and 3 were exceptions). Final Fantasy 10 had the sphere grid, an interesting, but complicated board game of sorts where you spent sphere points you got from actually leveling up in combat to better your characters and it could be branched out, invade other characters' areas in the sphere grid, and so on.
There really was a lot going on there, but honestly I think I kinda like the license point system in FF12 more. I know I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but there really is a lot going on under the hood of FF12. FF10-2 basically had the concepts of FF3's job system, but far improved allowing you to actually select what you would learn next, then going into combat with said sphere equipped so that you would eventually learn it.
Final Fantasy 13 has the crystarium, a system that it would like for you to believe is the sphere grid, but I won't be fooled. If it was even like Diablo 2's skill system, I might have been happy with it, but again, no. The crystarium is an unnecessary exercise in going back into menus and applying crystagen points or whatever (they call it CP and I'm a little leery on what they mean by that) to different roles in order to beef up your characters and learn new skills.
The problem is, and I fully agree with Spoony Experiment on this one, why not have it auto-assign CP if that's the case? Seriously, when the different roles of the crystarium actually branch, they only branch to one or two things you can unlock, then it's back on the main path. It doesn't actually require your input, but you're FORCED to go back in there and apply this anyway, which further detracts from the actual game itself.
Nevermind that there are things you'll unlock in different roles that just don't make sense (unlocking strength +4 in the medic role, unlocking magic +4 in the commando role, etc.). This wasn't well thought out at all, but it gets worse. When you first get your l'Cie powers (yeah don't ask), everyone is assigned one or two roles.
At first, this makes arranging the party interesting (which arranging a party is an "ability" that you don't get until later in the game) because it means that everyone has a verifiable, tactical reason for being there or not being there in combat. Then in the third act, they unlock all roles to all members, thus completely shattering this concept altogether. Why?
Oh, but let's not forget that this is more of a ripoff than paying homage to older FFs. How so? The party is broken up and sewn back together several times, often allowing you to play as other people from time to time. This is Final Fantasy 4 and 6. Now sure, sounds like I'm reaching here, but don't worry, you'll understand why this applies momentarily.
In Final Fantasy 10, one thing it was often praised (?) as well as criticized for was how linear it was to the point that it felt like it was on rails. Final Fantasy 13 is this, but even moreso because there are no true shops, NPC interaction, villages, or anything of the sort. You go from area to area, as if transitioning from dungeon to dungeon, and this is explained with the idea that they're being "chased," which never really happens.
The opening involves two people on a train, one a cold, distant, spiky hair soldier, the other a stereotypical black man wielding guns, as they go about fucking things up in hues of green and all kinds of machinery around them. No, I'm not talking about Final Fantasy 7, but I may as well be. And of course, the main trailer for FF13 was sure as shit to show this part off as much as possible, for obvious reasons.
Oh okay, but that's only 4 of the FFs, so what? Hey, if you give me time, I'll be here all day talking about this, but ain't nobody got time for that, so let's talk about the shitty characters and story. Lightning is Cloud. She is meant to be stoic, but comes off as uninteresting and undeveloped. Sazh is a mix of Robert Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon and Donkey from Shrek, yet he comes off as the best and most fun character, despite being an obvious stereotype.
Hope is an emo goth little bitch. No, I don't feel any sympathy for him and his best moments were when he was being told how much of a little pussy he was being by Lightning. Snow is nothing more than a stereotypical bro...and this is especially unfortunate because he's being voiced by Troy Baker, who has WAY more talent than the role he was given.
Vanille and Fang are undeveloped, ANNOYING twats. And those are the characters. Yep, one of the lowest cast counts ever for a Final Fantasy title and they all manage to be annoying and underdeveloped, probably because they were working too hard on the graphics, cutscenes, and music instead of focusing on MAKING A GODDAMN GAME.
I really wish I could tell you the story itself was told well, but...well, it isn't told well at all. From the very get-go, lots of terminology is thrown at you: l'Cie, fal'Cie, Sanctum, Cocoon, PSICOM, etc. None of this shit is ever explained well. Why? Because they give you an ever-expanding encyclopedia for you to wade through instead.
Okay, time out. Xenosaga - Episode 1 was a hard game to follow, but a DAMN good one and made sure you knew enough about what was going on so the dramatic moments were truly dramatic and not full of you just scratching your head going "why should I give a shit again?" AND they also had an ever-expanding encyclopedia, just in case you don't understand some of what was going on, which you never really will because of all the symbolic shit, but all the same it was still a fun ride.
Why couldn't they have had some dumb character following them around asking questions about everything like Tidus from Final Fantasy 10? See, Tidus, as annoying as he was, was a PIVOTAL character because we, as the audience, are asking the same questions to ourselves silently. There's virtually none of that in Final Fantasy 13, instead opting to have a fucking book for you to look at later at your own leisure.
In summation, FF13 has the worst battle system out of all the FFs, blatantly rips off other FFs for seemingly no reason, prefers flashy bullshit over good design, can't seem to tell a story, has characters that are only SLIGHTLY better than those in FF12 yet somehow worse than those in FF10, has terrible classes whose only role is often only to do one thing over and over, is completely on rails until the third act (at which point it doesn't matter), and has a really fucking stupid and unnecessary level up system.
It is not the WORST RPG I've ever played, but it is easily one of the worst FF titles I've ever played. So why am I playing it? Because despite all of that, I still want to beat it. Then I can get the fuck rid of it and never worry about it ever again. I don't think anything will be explained and I don't care. Stubbornness and nothing more, I guess.