Final Fantasy XIII is provoking a lot of controversy. It was released on December 17 in Japan and even before that, people were outraged at certain aspects of it, such as its apparent linearity (examined below). While the game will not be released in the U.S. until March 9th, I thought I'd give a summary of what I see to be the pros and cons of the game after sifting through message boards and websites.
Is the game linear? This is one problem many people have with the game. First, however, we should specify what we mean by "linear". The story could be linear in the sense that there aren't a lot of subplots to the characters. The most recent trailer, which you can see here, seems to easily dispel this possibility. In fact, this trailer gives you an early look at the story, which is argued to be one of the best parts of the game and definitely does not seem linear. Is the actual gameplay linear (in the sense that you don't have a lot of sidequests)? Not from several reviews I've read, one of which can be found here: you have the return of hunts from FF12 along with a chocobo digging game (similar to the excellent one found in FF9?). Or are the actual, physical dungeons linear? One of the message boards linked to this picture. It's an astonishing picture for sure. So, it seems we can safely admit the game is linear but in a very narrow sense of the word.
I would argue that without towns, with linear dungeons, and with little to speak of in terms of a world map, the game is portrayed as being one-dimensional but in a very insignificant area. Furthermore, even if the game is criticized for being linear, we must ask, "relative to what?" In fact, most FFs are linear at their core (story, gameplay, and dungeons). The least linear FF in the series is probably 6, given the branching off you do throughout the game's story and even moreso toward the end. Also, consider the amazing amount of characters you have in that game. In FF7, 8 or 9 (the Playstation FF's), you had your share of minigames and sidequests but there wasn't much opportunity to explore various characters' histories until near the end, when you might wrap things up and get their ultimate weapons or summons. Aside from that, a town in an FF game may be "devoted" to a character, but aside from this, the game didn't explore alternative plots or areas.
Some would argue that through these elements, Square Enix is attempting to revolutionize the Japanese RPG (JRPG) genre. Is that a bad thing? Square has been doing this since the first FF! Consider the controversies around most of the FF's of the last 12 years (starting with FF7): people either loved them or hated them, but all saw extremely high sales and were successful in this regard at least partly because each game was so different from the previous ones and did some really innovative and interesting things. Each was a milestone and influenced many JRPGs that came after it. Especially consider the first games on new consoles: 7, 10, and now 13 all have undergone extreme criticism but sold millions of copies.
Of course, some would argue that the disappearance of towns, and therefore shops, takes the soul of the RPG right out of the game. Perhaps, but until the actual buying and selling of items or weapons upgrades becomes devoid of any strategic element, I'm not going to have any less fun if I can't buy my armor from a mog in some random village.
I'd also like to note a very interesting debate over the game's difficulty: those who have played it through seem to argue for the most part that the game is generally harder than past FF's. I was relieved to hear that because FF's have been notoriously easy; in fact it wasn't until FF4 (for the DS) was released two summers ago that I had ever experienced a "game over" screen repeatedly for some boss or dungeon. Others say the difficulty is too easy so I guess this aspect is still open to debate, but I am doubtful at this point.
Finally (and this is something I can comment on with experience) the music seems really good! Here is the battle theme (not bad but not great). Here is the main character's theme (very good). Lately the FF's have been moving towards non-instrumental main themes and ending themes. I am not a fan of this as most cases it hasn't turned out too well. The latest example of this is FF13's use of a Leona Lewis (???) song for the ending in the American version. Not good, not good at all. The only good main theme with lyrics I've heard is "Sanctuary" by Utada from KH2, found here (and highly recommended).
Overall, based on what I've seen I think the game will be worth getting, although I may wait till the summer to play and review it here, considering how long it is (many people have said it's over 60-70 hours!). Enjoy this hyperlink-ridden summary of fanboy criticism and praise and leave comments!
Material for this post came from a collection of links found on the message boards for Final Fantasy 13 at GameFAQs.com, the best website out there for gamers.