Possibly the most subtly bad game in the series.
Lets start from the beginning. Months prior to this games release I would hear and read time and time again on review sites, forums, everywhere... the word "linear." "This game is too 'linear'. Linear this and linear that." I got so sick of the word. It has to be some memetic mutation, an exaggeration, I thought. It can't be that bad....
It really is that bad.
All these beautiful scenes CGIs, vistas, environments, all amount to... well, a facade. You get to look at these things but you don't get to explore them. It's like uh, a looking at a pretty picture. In fact you don't get to decide anything at all. This is where the word "linear" comes in. Pretty much every place they drop you in is a just a straight path from A to B. Now I understand that most JRPGs are linear. They all amount to going from point A to point B overall, but they tend to have something in between that makes you forget that. This game, though, it's like they didn't even bother... they might as well just strap you to a bullet train, because it feels like you're just along for the ride.
You see, the majority of the game basically consists of you traveling down a hallway towards the next cutscene. I'm not even exaggerating. Everywhere is a basically a curving hallway, then cutscene, then they drop you in another hallway. At one point there was a forest, and I thought "hmm maybe I'll get to explore this time since, you know, IT'S A FOREST." Nope, just another hallway in the trees. You know, I get the feeling that these developers, deep down, just wanted to make another movie. Well they should have just made another movie and gotten it out of their system.
What is the point of the Crystarium other than to give you something else pretty to look at? This thing tries to trick you into thinking it's going to give you choices; they have a bunch of branchy looking things to that effect. You have to unlock one node to get to the next one, whether you want it or not. You get more paths to fill up later on, but by then, when you have Hope as the most powerful mage for example, what point would there be in filling his Commando path? There are no choices. If they were just going to string us around with this thing, they might as well have just had some normal level up system from 1 to 100. At least it wouldn't have been an insult to my intelligence.
The weapon's system is yet another head-scratcher. You get a weapon and you level it up with some materials you find. Then you find another weapon, but by the time you find it you've already leveled up your weapon so much that it's already better than that new weapon. Well then what's the point? I don't know whether I have to wait for new weapons or level up this one so I can be strong enough for the next boss. Was it really so hard just to have a weapon that's better than the one you have in the next shop or treasure chest? This is just too confusing.
The battle system is somewhat entertaining, when I'm not just pressing Autobattle, but it doesn't make up for the other problems in this game.
The thing it seems they screwed up on most with this game is the storytelling, believe it or not.
These characters are so plastic and stereotypical. Vanille has the most girly little noises and gestiticulations she does that are just so damn irritating. Even Sazh, the most realistic, sensible character in the game has the most ridiculous afro, with a chocobo nesting in it... major facepalm moments here.
Maybe I would care about these characters if they had actually made the story somewhat engaging. Here's why the storytelling fails:
They begin right in the middle of the action, and everyone seems to know everything... everyone except you, the player. Right off the bat, they start throwing all these foreign words at you like "L'Cie", "Fal'Cie", "Focus" as if you're supposed to know what the hell they're talking about. Eighty percent of the time I have no idea what is going on in this game. All of a sudden I have to go to Paloompaloompa or whatever it's called. Why? All of sudden this guy wearing a wedding dress is my enemy. Why?
Everyone has a Focus, and they don't know what their focus is. But it seems that they have to figure out what their focus is or these Gods called the Fal'Cie are gonna turn them into zombies. And if they do complete their focus they get turned to crystal. Okay, so let me get this straight. These all powerful Fal'Cie decided to brand these people on their asses, make them hated by society, all to give them this task that they wanted them to do so badly. And for some reason they decided not to tell them what this task was. Not even a clue or hint, because ooooh they're so mysterious... Nice job guys.
You know how I even know all this? It's not like the characters discussed it in a conversation. You see, in the menu they have this "Data Log" you're supposed to read that tells you everything. It's literally pages and pages of information that updates every so often just so you can know what's going on. So instead of having a little exposition and character interaction to let you know all the background details, they throw a book at you. I understand they wanted to get right into the action real fast, but this is the worst way they could have possibly done it. It's like you go to a movie, and they hand out these 200 page brochures you need to read just so you can understand what's going on in the movie. You know, if I wanted to read a novel, I would have gone to Barnes and Noble and bought one. This is how you alienate your audience. This is really basic stuff. When you tell a story, you have exposition to let the audience know what's going on. I don't get why this was so hard for Square this time around. It's like they didn't even bother, just like with the linearity. In fact I heard they had a bunch of novels on their website just to explain the characters' backgrounds. Come on Square. I have a life, you know.
I can't even sit down to play the game for more than an hour or two because it's just so boring, nonsensical, and thanks to Vanille, irritating. I have to sit down and read paragraphs, when I just wanted to play a videogame. Do you begin to see what happened here? The developers tried so hard to turn a game into a movie, that they failed at making either. Whatever this thing is, I can't bring myself to finish it.
I know people would say "Wait till you get 20-30 hours or so into the game". Get to chapter 11 or whatever, then it opens up and gets good. Now I can understand some games starting off slow. I'm willing to wait like an hour or two, maybe three, for a game to get good. BUT 30 HOURS? You mean to tell me that I have to wait till near the END of the game for it to get any good? Why can't it be good now? Why can't it be good from the start? I just don't get it. I'm no great philosopher or logician, but I'm pretty sure a 6 year-old could tell you that that if only 10% of a game is good, then the game is bad.