A noticeable change from the previous Final Fantasy games which risks alienating its core audience.
Everyone very quickly latched onto the word 'linear' to describe FFXIII and it describes the biggest change perfectly. Levels are as narrow and straight-forward as some Mario Kart tracks. There is almost no room for deviation from the set path and relatively few opportunities to 'grind' your character's level and XP up at your leisure.
This change might actually appeal to some gamers. It may no longer be my cup of tea (or by the sounds of other reviews, most other long-term Final Fantasy fans), but perhaps this is an attempt to attract new audiences and try something different.
As much as it makes me sound like a boring fart that loves repetition and playing the same game with subtly differing storylines each time - I'm starting to feel more and more okay with that!
Final Fantasy games used to have this fantastic charm and openness where you could, for the vast majority of the time, explore and progress the story at your own pace. Side-quests and entirely unneccesary but entertaining and delightful interactions with NPCs made the game what it was. If you were prepared to put the time in, you would have a wonderful rich triple-digit hour adventure.
What about the other things that Final Fantasy always does right?
Graphics? Check. They are always some of, if not the most beautiful graphics, to be seen on a game when they are first released.
Storyline? Check. The team always make an engaging, complex and emotional story. Whilst some might prefer a more futuristic storyline (e.g. FFVIII), others will prefer more fantasy worlds (e.g. FFIX), but those preferences aside, I don't think there is ever much to complain about the story.
The disheartening thing here is that the graphics and storyline are something that I always raved about and would be key selling points if I was trying to recommend this franchise to a friend. Unfortunately, because of the gameplay and linearity, I just can't get as excited about them any more.
The shine has been taken off the title. The charm has been lost somewhat. Not enough to make me return the game or promise never to buy another one, but enough to stop me from completing the game. If you could have told me ten years ago that there will be a Final Fantasy game I didn't play until the disc wore out, I wouldn't have believed you - yet it is sadly true in this case.
I don't know what this suggests for the future of the franchise.
Personally, I think Square Enix are spending too much of their time and resources building everything except for good Final Fantasy games nowadays. They'll produce iOS ports of old FF games, spin-off titles, films and online MMORPGs... but not another good Final Fantasy game that will maintain the reputation of the brand.
As much as it pains me to think about it, Final Fantasy is no longer my favourite gaming franchise (that now belongs to Fallout!). I just hope it doesn't descend any further.
You have to admire people that take a successful formula and try to tweak it in ways that they hope will be better - however they haven't managed it this time. I desperately hope they go back to their old ways.