Again, the same issue rears it's head. People are unwilling to accept objective quality. I'm sorry, but there IS objective quality in video games. We all know that Big Rigs: Over The Road Racing is bad, and we also all know that The Last Of Us is good... is it the best game ever? Well, that's a distinction that is hard to measure especially as games aren't all judged on the same criteria. You cannot judge Super Mario 3D World on it's story and you can't judge Minecraft on it's level design... The fact is though, we can judge works of art, in fact it's a recognised field of study. Auteur Theory, (though admittedly this is more recognised when discussing film, though it's still relevent).
Gamers like to think they know their games better than anyone, but just like how you can study film at multiple levels, you can study game design in much the same way. There are mechanical issues, ie. does the physics engine work as intended, do the graphics pop-in or tear, are there glitches etc. as well as design issues. Do the characters convey the meaning they're intended to convey, do they express themselves properly? Does the atmosphere achieve the intended reaction? Does the story succeed in transcribing it's narrative? Is it understood and comprehended, felt and considered in the manner intended? These are important questions to ask, and they have right and wrong answers.
Objective quality exists. It's why I know that Bioshock is a good game despite personally not enjoying it, I'm bias against it but still able to admit it's quality. It's why I know that TV shows like Primeval are rather mediocre but I enjoy them because it plays to my biases so I'm willing to overlook it's flaws. This is something people seem to have trouble doing, seperating their biases from objective quality. Objectively FFXIII is a bad game; functional and playable sure, but bland and unachieving to a fault with no true artistic value. Personally however, I consider it one of the worst game ever made and would put it along side Ride To Hell, Superman 64, and Big Rigs as games that are utterly worthless.
This is were I disagree.
Gameplay-wise, XIII is functional. The OST is awesome. The story isn't for everyone, but I ultimately understand everything without the need of the Codex. So if I can, others can too. The story is functional then. Why then, are you saying XIII is a bad game? It manages to get every point right into what you consider "good" game.
Big Rigs: over the road racing is an unfinished product. So it's not a game. That's why it is bad. Having had it all parts finished, would have been a good experience? Probably not: but it would have been a game itself.
Those games you've mentioned: Ride To Hell, Superman 64 and Big Rigs are bad but not because they're bad games, but rather, unfinished products. XIII is NOT an unfinished product, thereby it is not a Bad game, objectively. Objectively, it is a game. The fact that it doesn't achieve artistic value doesn't mean anything. Art can be commercial, lacking soul, but it would still be art nonetheless, as long as it can manifest human culture; which is what art supposedly does.
Call of Duty effectively manifest human culture. XIII does to. It doesn't have to be at it fullest; it doesn't have to be the perfect blend between storytelling, graphics, gameplay and music. But only to demonstrate in one of these areas. Mainstream critics agreed that this is a good game. But even if we disagree'd with it, it is still a functional one. It is a game that works. So far, that's more of a pros than a con.
Why you keep saying that this game is objectively bad confuses me. It is not. It is a full-finished product that, actually, didn't leave content out to be sold for DLC or later created one to artificially extent the length at the cost of more money, like Bioshock - which you're calling a good game - did. It gave people value, value that doesn't necessarily be up to everyone's taste. It wasn't to you, but it was to me.
Final Fantasy XIII is a game. That's it. Not good, nor bad. That's up to subjective debate.
The difference is, Call Of Duty is good (well some of them at least)... and that's coming from someone who doesn't like First Person Shooters.
If the only judging criteria you use is game length, then sure, FFXIII is a fucking masterpiece. I don't however consider length such a good thing. In fact, I actively consider many games simply too long and think they would be better over-all if they where shorter and more concise. A good example being Metroid Prime, which as a series tends to have excessive backtracking, the games would be better if they where shorter. That's just one example.
The fact is, the judging criteria depends on what aspects of gameplay we're aiming to achieve. What are the core aesthetics and where they achieved...
For example, the core aesthetics of Call Of Duty would be Competition, Fellowship and Fantasy. Does the game achieve these, does it facilitate Competition in an engaging way that feels fair and rewards skill and mastery over luck and random events? Does it allow for Fellowship, do people get to socialise in a way that encourages teamwork and compassion, in which the goals of the group take precedence? Finally Fantasy, does the game adequately allow the person to take on the persona of a soldier, do they get to mimick that experince in a controlled and clinical manner that highlights the parts most wanted, and obfuscates those parts not needed? This is a rather simple example...
So for FFXIII what are the core aesthetics and did it achieve them. Well it's an RPG with a focus on story and an intricate combat system that is designed to provide challenge. The game has a long length and the genre encourages customisation. As such the primary aesthetics are as follows; Narrative, Challenge, Discovery and Expression... in this order. (Interestingly they'd be in reverse order for a Western RPG due to the opposing aesthetical approach to the genre).
Narrative - Does the game tell a coherant narrative, with character delevopment, growth, and advancement of plot? Does it follow a pre-defined or abstract structure, ie. the mono-myth, the three act structure, flowing tension etc. and if so does it succeed in following or subverting it's structure? Does it contain characters that defy stereotypes, consisting of true character traits, both consistant in writing but mutable along with and in relation to the plot and the involvement of other characters? Finally, Is the storyline, and background world in which it's set, internally consistant? Final Fantasy XIII fails on all counts.
Challenge - Does the game offer a tactical obsticle and the tools by which to complete it, in order to test reaction, body, skill, or mind? Is the Challege scaling in such a way that increased skill is met with a steady flow of increased challenge such that the challenge neither becomes trivial or taxing? Again, Final Fantasy XIII fails on all counts.
Discovery - Does the game offer means by which to explore; be that exploring a world, a characters past, or even opinions and ideals? Does the game allow the player to enter in with the intention of finding something new and previously unseen? In this case, the game is inconsistant at best, as the logs at least offer some way to explore the background, but it's ultimately unfullfilling. The part where exploration would be most apparent, and where discovery is expected however, the game flat out fails on.
Lastly, Expression - Does the game offer players a way to insert themselves into the game? Does the game offer a way for the player to influence direction in the game, such as deciding equipment, class, or even appearance in order to make things unique and personalised? This can be achieved in many ways, in Minecraft for example you can mold the entire world to your liking. In most Western RPGs this is a key feature, with text trees and a customisable character to make your own. In JRPGs this is less of an issue, but choosing your materia in FF7, deciding how to junction in FF8, even choosing which way to go on the sphere grid in FFX are all ways of asserting your expression. FFXIII has none of this, with illusions of customisation at best. Failed.
By every criteria that we judge the artistic capablities of a JRPG on this game has failed. It is an OBJECTIVELY bad game! I can't see how anyone can argue against this... hell it doesn't even achieve one of these aesthetics, let alone all four.
Now, technicals it's competent. Like I say, it's graphics are fair, but bland with poor textures, excessive clipping and a framerate that struggles to stay above 20fps. If anything the graphics are sub-par for games of that year and outside of cutscenes the game leaves much to be desired. The music, well, it was fine. Nothng outstanding but no technical faults I can remember. Engine wise, it ran fine with almost no glitches, good boundary detection, I was never falling through the world geometry etc. It's because of these that objectively it's clearly a step up from the likes of Big Rigs... the game is functional. However, if I allow my biases to speak up, I dislike FFXIII even more because it betrayed a legacy and ruined a franchise... but like I say, that's a bias.
If we go a step further and judge it's commercial effects but that's not really a judgement on the peice as an expression of art, but more of it's delivery system as a product; which is different. We don't judge a film based on how salty the popcorn was and how clean the toilets are at the cinema do we? Consumer practices are important, but in this conversation they detract, still I'll indulge. True, it doesn't have any hacked out DLC, multiplayer codes to lock out those buying it used, or aggressive DRM. In short it's a consumer friendly peice of absolute crap... but it's still absolute crap.
You can argue that it's subjective as much as you like. It's not. Taste is subjective sure, we all have our biases; but as I've so clearly shown I can with casual ease see straight through my biases and identify good games I don't personally like, and even admit flaws in games I do like. Final Fantasy XIII is objectively bad. This is surely evident by now.