On a Wednesday night back in April or March, I sat down to play FFXIII for the first time. I played for about an hour and 45 minutes. While I was excited about the game when I saw the TV commercials, I quickly found myself becoming rather unhappy with it. The gameplay, while pretty, was quite dull. The music? While it was okay, I have not found any track (so far) to be memorable. (Memorable as in, "I have GOT to get the soundtrack!", the first time I hear it. Examples: FFVIII, Chrono Trigger, Transformers The Movie)
The most annoying feature of the game (for me anyway) was the rating system for every battle.
It automatically rates you on a scale of 0-5 stars after you successfully win each battle. The problem I have with this rating system is that time plays an important role in how good of a rating you get. You take too long to decide what to do, you get a low rating. You decide to speed through the battle using the Auto-Battle command, you not only finish the battle in record time, you get the highest score. It might be a little interesting if the Auto-Battle command wasn't there at all, but it's there, and oh how dull the game is.
High scores are nice, but how does the game force you to keep aiming for a high score?
Answer: The higher the score, the more/better quality loot you get. If you get a low score, well oops! You just lost your chance at getting the best loot possible from that poorly rated battle! BLAH!
So, players are encouraged to keep using the Auto-Battle command instead of actually thinking about what command to use. Choosing your own commands manually is actually slower than using the Auto-Battle command, and you tend to get a lower score. This ends up hurting you in the wallet, which is never a good thing in Final Fantasy games.
The only time the player needs to do anything other than Auto-Battle is use a Potion when a party member's health is low. So the gameplay has been reduced to the following: Auto-Battle, Auto-Battle, Auto-Battle, Auto-Battle, Auto-Battle, Potion, Auto-Battle, etc. Quite boring. Even more boring since I wasn't playing on a HD television, so I can't even stare at the pretty little details!
About the only thing I found interesting with the Auto-Battle command was what the AI (Artificial Intelligence) chose as battle commands.
There's logic in what is chosen that is interesting to note for future battles should I ever decide to make my own battle decisions (loot be damned).
So why would Square-Enix decide to take away something that players actually enjoyed?
My guess is that the Auto-Battle command will become necessary as the full battle system is unlocked. Right now I'm playing a very small portion of it. They could have just removed the rating system so players don't feel pressured to end their battles too soon, but maybe they thought it would make the transition easier if they left the rating system as it was in the very beginning.
In any case, I really don't like the rating system, and thus, I've been very bored with the battles in the game since I've had to finish them as fast as possible rather than taking time to get a good look at the monsters. A tutorial is nice for getting to know the game, but I'm starting to wonder if I should have put the game on hard rather than the default option since all the fighting just requires the Auto-Battle command. What kind of brain power is required for that?
Well, since the gameplay so far is boring, does the story make it all better?
Yes and no. The story starts out cliché, but it gets really interesting... If you bother to read all the logs in your datalog. There's a lot of text to read, but only in the datalog and not in the actual dialog between the characters. Actually, the game feels more like a slightly interactive book rather than an actual video game. I assume the story fleshes out more as you continue with the game, but it is pretty dull since you don't have a lot of background information at first, and then you gradually see the story through a series of flashbacks. I'm not sure I agree with how Square-Enix did this because it's a lot of work just to get to the meat of the story.
Anyway, I haven't played it since. Too busy with Pokémon SoulSilver which is much more entertaining than FFXIII.
In summary, FFXIII = SE fail!
Edit: Also, more proof SE is just trying to milk more money from the fans rather than making quality games: Final Fantasy XIII Comes To iPhone As... An Artbook. Ya know, you could try selling an actual artbook. Like the one you did for FFXI?