Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Final Fantasy XIII is its mixture of very bad design choices with very good ones. The good choices predominate, but the game's flaws never do go away. The plot, for example, is generally well-paced, enjoyable, and avoids the genre's temptation towards verbosity. On the other hand, several interesting plot threads remain unresolved at the game's end and two or three interesting characters disappear far too early. It doesn't seem as if Square-Enix is inserting sequel hooks; it just seems as if they forgot to wrap everything up.
The battle system is a minor triumph for Square-Enix; it's fast-paced, pretty, and fun. It's a shame then that a number of major bosses, particularly those following especially dramatic set pieces, tend to take forever to kill. Once you get into a battle's "rhythm" – you've figured out how much each enemy attack does, when to heal, etc. – you've effectively won. When, five or even ten minutes later your rhythm has become a rut, the game doesn't seem terribly entertaining. Worse, there are a few moments when the game turns truly cheap, as with the penultimate boss, who has a maddening tendency to instant-kill your party leader, thereby sending you to the Game Over screen.
On the other hand, the Game Over screen does give you the option of reconfiguring your party and retrying the fight; dying doesn't necessitate redoing earlier fights or re-traversing completed areas. As a result, I spent far less time cursing in Final Fantasy XIII than I did in many of its predecessors.
When I wrote my last piece on Final Fantasy XIII, I was just about to reach the "open world" part of the game. I very much enjoyed the late-game freedom of exploration, but I wish there were just a little more to explore. Though there are many interesting things to see and do, I was disappointed to see how small the game world was. At one point I completed a sidequest and opened up a sealed optional area. I was very excited to see the new sights and was looking forward to a few challenging boss battles in the newly-unlocked ruined city. Five minutes later I realized that the ruins, ostensibly of a great metropolis, consisted of just a few thousand square feet of real estate. I was even more disappointed when I recollected Final Fantasy XII and its huge and endlessly interconnected world of Ivalice. Final Fantasy XII could overwhelm at times, but I'd rather have its surfeit of levels to explore and creatures to fight than its sequel's relative paucity of choices.
While I may miss some of the features of Final Fantasy XII, the follow-up does fix a number of that game's issues. While Final Fantasy XIII is very hard, it's less frustrating than the twelfth game, which so often withheld save points or killed players at the tail end of an hour-long battle. There's nothing as tedious as XII's one-hundred-floor Pharos dungeon; XIII's closest analogue is actually quite brief. Finally, the battle system in XIII is much more cinematic and interesting to watch than in the rather bland XII.
I may have plenty of criticisms and complaints regarding Final Fantasy XIII, but the fact is that I've spent more than fifty hours playing it. Though I beat Mega Man 10 and played a few multiplayer matches in Uncharted 2, most of my gaming time these past three weeks has belonged to the newest Final Fantasy. Role-playing games as good as this don't come around very often. If you like the genre or want to try it, Final Fantasy XIII would be a fine pick.