First of all, Final Fantasy XIII does not look like a fun time to me. Now, I've been a big, HUGE, fan of Final Fantasy games for about 12 years and for the first time in my life a Final Fantasy game does not entice me. It honestly looks awfully juvenile and quite bland. Of course, I could easily write it off and claim that's because it is the worst RPG ever, is terrible, horribly designed, and so forth, but I want to take a moment to look deeper than simply tossing insults.
Aside from looking abhorrent to me, FFXIII is in many ways absolutely genius.
SE has made a bold and gusty move with this game because they know more than we do. Or at least for the purpose of this article I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The current RPG scene is essentially, JRPG, WRPG, and MMOs, this is more the case now than it ever was. Never before have western RPGs had such a large chunk of the market. These games essentially represent everything that SE is not and they know this or at least I hope they do. These western games are open ended with an emphasis on role playing and classic European inspired medieval settings - Fall Out not withstanding.
Square Enix essentially had to make a choice, chase the WRPG market and strive for something of the same feel or appease the people who really have no interest in WRPGs in the first place. The people who are likely to say, "I only play RPGs for the story." These people don't want to wander around some cave for hours, strike out on their own to save some village that has nothing to do with the main plot, or do anything of that sort. They want an in-depth story hard and fast and sooner rather than later. If there isn't a good bit of story or rambling exposition somewhere in the near future, they're likely to get bored.
So, the choice was obvious for SE. Take the classic FF formula, strip it down to it's bones, make it a strictly story driven RPG, for the people who have been buying their games since FFX came out. I can assure you it is likely these people who love it the most.
This is another point I want to make. SE is absolutely NOT making RPGs for those who played FFVI any longer. It is quite clear by now that they are focusing on a new audience or those who started with FFX and have no inkling of the "good old days". Some companies attempt to grow with their market but I think SE has taken a different road. I think their market is strictly 12-18, give or take a few years, and it is with these ages that their aesthetic and story telling most resonates.
So I suppose the genius is really in understanding their market.
So, to read some particularly scathing reviews, it's hard not to say, "Well this game wasn't made for you anyway," because really, it wasn't, and yes, that sounds horribly elitist, but I don't really mean it that way. I mean that SE gave their core fans what they want in this release, and that core does not consist of people who loved FFVI or people who enjoy WRPGs, or towns, or well designed dungeons, decisions being made by the player, immersion, or battle systems that involve actual strategic think - oh, there I go.