It is one of the better FF games in my opinion. I enjoyed the battle system very much. The story is very interesting, but sadly the game desn't explain every detail and you have to read some parts in the menu. Some story contents are only unlocked after voluntary side quests which some people may or may not ever finish. However, these extra parts are mainly for the bigger picture while the main plot is still comprehensive nevertheless.
I was writing wiki articles back then about each character and the overall story, I was pretty invested with this game back then. I always thought that the way the story gets told is pretty clever. The story intentionally groups up characters who have serious issues with one another and so there is always an underlying conflict in each chapter. Also, the fate of the main characters is probably the most depressing and pessimistic story arc a FF game ever told.
Also, the soundtrack is great!
It's true that the first half may feel like one big tutorial, however I felt that necessary, actually. That way you learned every aspect piece by piece without being littered with information. And I am a big fan of the series with years of experience and I still considered this as a good thing. At the end of the day, I always thought the critique was blown way out of proportion.
Gameplay > Graphics
Substance > Style
Art Direction > Realism