Thanks to GuiltyCrowns for the inspiration!
X feels more linear than XIII
In Final Fantasy VI, Terra Branford begins as an amnesiac. She slowly gains her memory of who she is, but not of the world. In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife begins with false memories of himself. Yet he knows the world.
Yet both games miss the opportunity of acquainting the player with the world. As a narrative technique, easing characters into their world would help the characters learn about their surroundings.
In Final Fantasy X, however, Tidus is a fish out of the water. He’s completely out of his element to Spira. Wakka, Lulu, and Rikku each help Tidus learn about the world. This has a dual effect of explaining the world to us. This makes the fantasy game more realistic to us; in this situation, we have questions, and a desire to learn the world.
Now take Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII has a rich lore, but the characters already know it. We have a ton of questions and a desire to learn the world. But they never have to explain it. If we want to learn more, we have to read up about it in the datalogs. But of course, this takes us out of the action.
The datalogs also break the fourth wall; even though the datalog might refresh our character’s memory of the world, they rarely refer to them. Sazh knows they’re “enemies of Sanctum”. Fang and Vanille wouldn’t. Why don’t they have questions? Well, the time for them to ask would have been at the beginning of the game, with us. The datalogs serve a purpose solely for explaining the lore of Cocoon, but to who? Us. This makes us realize we’re playing a game, not exploring a world.
This type of immersion is also something that Final Fantasy XV missed. Once again, a seemingly sheltered teenage could have been lead around by survivalist Gladio, and photography enthusiast Prompto. But instead, with the wondrous world of fantastic creatures, Noctis rarely asks questions. Well, sometimes he’ll ask “why?”…
Speaking of unexplored areas, while both Final Fantasy X and XIII are linear, only the former has variety. At some point in Final Fantasy XIII, you explore an open field (Gran Pulse). You can do the same in Final Fantasy X (the Calm Lands). Each of the game opens up at the end of the game. But before then, you can only travel in one direction.
All of the Final Fantasy games are like this. We don’t have much reason to go back. Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII are less subtle about this. Final Fantasy X might just be more linear due to the story and the technical limitations of the PlayStation 2. On the while, we can explore towns and talk with NPCs. Final Fantasy XIII has battles and cutscenes on a straightforward path. This is why it’s called a “hallway simulator”. The route is scenic, but we can’t explore any of it. While this fits the theme of being on the run, it doesn’t do much for immersion.