Freedom. It's a difficult thing for any game to achieve; even just the illusion of it. But what some critics forget is whether or not a game actually needs it.
That goes especially for RPGs. And the most misunderstood victim of this confused snobbery is the biggest RPG of them all.
Final Fantasy XIII has been criticised for being linear in some reviews. Yet the grave significance of the game's earlier restrictiveness has been blown out of all proportion by the critics.
Yes, the first 20-or-so hours of FFXIII are mercilessly linear. You're pretty much locked to a single path. The producers have said this is intentional to teach you the game - and they're completely right.
It certainly does the job - even a complete RPG virgin would be bouncing between paradigms and summoning Eidolons like they were born to do so after that amount of repetition.
I admit, however, that it's a little overkill. 20 hours is a long time. You could comfortably finish both Halo 3 and ODST on Heroic in that time. But it's certainly not a waste of effort. Why has it become such a huge focus?
There are plenty of amazing factors that have been glossed over by the critics. To start with, the battle system is incredible. Just fighting your way through these paths and taking on bosses as the ATB system opens itself to you is absolutely thrilling.
Next, the truly stunning backdrops; stunning to the extent that you stop to admire your surroundings and feel excitement to delve into each new area just for its visual splendour.
The story - admittedly, a little hit and miss at times - is nonetheless incredibly deep, well developed and relatively easy to follow (unlike FFVII, which I found to be a tangled mess of different characters whose positions and roles were hard to keep track of).
Besides, isn't this premise - running down linear paths enjoying the battling, gorgeous scenery and plot - the exact same as some of the most revered action games: God of War, Uncharted 2, Killzone...?
Just because FFXIII has an RPG label, why should it be penalised for doing what they all do?
Eventually, of course, the game does open up. It's not the sprawling continent-worth of open land you might want, but reaching the underworld of Pulse gives you more Zelda-like open fields to explore and plenty of side-quests to embark on. A good 50 hours of them should you be so diligent.
Other complaints in reviews that give scores as low as 5/10 (5/10!) are on the lack of towns.
Towns?! Why are they even considered fun? You might say they're staples of the RPG genre.
Apparently, they're a necessity. Why? They're a huge cliché - and, dare we say, FFXIII is better off without them.
In a typical RPG town, you wander around speaking to people who, in most cases, have nothing useful or entertaining to say.
I loved FFVII, but hated the town stages - repetitive trudges to make sure I'd spoken to every last person, flicking through mundane scripts in the fear that I might miss something important.
Which of the previous FF games, or any RPGs for that matter, are truly open anyway? Yes, you have areas wider than corridors, or multiple paths at times, but when are you ever truly free? Like, free in an Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion sense?
In the best Final Fantasy games, the missions you embark on and the areas you encounter are, in 99.9% of cases, dealt to you in the order the story dictates. You can't roam outside of that set path or access any area in the game world from the start - because you don't have the items or abilities to do so.