Theories state that Final Fantasy XIII was always a hallway, or a series of corridors, throughout most of the game. The idea is that we would feel pressured and forced as they traveled from destination to destination.
Consider that in Gran Pulse, the world “opens up”, so to speak. Instead of going just forward, you’re now free to go in all directions. Our characters can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they’re in a true, free environment, with potential and range. Our characters realize that, like us, they have the choice to explore possibilities and change their fate.
This is the theory. However, I don’t think it’s just a theory, in the colloquial sense that it’s just an idea. I think it’s a plausible enough to explain a set of facts around the game.
The character’s arcs suggest feeling anxiety with nowhere to go, but everything to do.
This wouldn’t have been the first time they’ve done this in a Final Fantasy. In Final Fantasy VII, we could only traverse Midgar. When we couldn’t return, we explored Gaia. Remember how vast and expansive it felt, as opposed to the series of pre-rendered backgrounds? This is what they accomplished with Final Fantasy XIII.
The main criticism cited against this theory is “technical limitations”.
First, the game was original planned as a PlayStation 2 game. Maybe the hallway concept saved space on the PS2’s engine? However, the hallway element might have been a happy accident or a deliberate design on their part. Considered that “elements relating to the lore and story that were created for the PlayStation 2 version were kept as-is, but the team re-designed technical elements—such as graphics, battle system, and game mechanics—to specifically match the next-gen console specs.
Second was the Crystal Tools engine:
The process of making the company’s first PlayStation 3 title proved to be a challenge as the team found it a tricky console to code for. Determined to crack the puzzle, Square opted to create its own development kit, which became known as Crystal Tools. Building the foundation of the engine alone took several years.
With the new engine, “developers and artists were forced to adapt and change, and the team needed to rebuild the workflow and development pipeline from scratch”. But this raises the question: why keep the hallway? In this sense, it seems like the series of corridors was to be a staple of the game.
Other development issues have less to do with how the game was coded, but more so lack of a unified vision and direction with the game. Director Motomu Toriyama wanted to accommodate several different products at once, appeal to Western gamers with their ideal of what Western games look like, and keep the game secret, which stalled development times.
But also consider that, despite the themes and technical limitations, this was its theme:
Toriyama has lamented that Final Fantasy XIII was mainly criticized for its linear game design, and explained there are several reasons for it. With a limited amount of development time and resources, the team made the game linear to maximize players’ gameplay experience and to provide the same type of gameplay experience to all players. The aim was to offer the most entertaining gameplay experience. This approach provided players with time to familiarize with the battle system and the world, but it led to players feeling like the majority of the game was a tutorial. Toriyama believes this was a big flaw in the game.
In this sense, it was always a hallway. Only, it was a flaw. Yet, this is from a gameplay standpoint, not narrative. Since Toriyama is making a game, player experience is everything. The gameplay is the main focus, and it went along with the story as a result. If the players are unsatisfied, it would make sense if Toriyama felt Final Fantasy XIII had a flaw. But I think Toriyama should give himself more credit from the story part. In this sense, the game is pretty consistent.