I agree that it’s become somewhat of a cult classic. Nowadays I’ve heard quite a few people say that they really like the game. It was pretty universally hated at release though. I think for your average Final Fantasy fan at the release of the game it would be a huge disappointment, because you’re not expecting the game to be so goddamn slow in rolling out its battle mechanics.
I had a friend who was playing the game much later once it was out on PC and was telling me about it and how great the battle system was - as well as how slow the game was to hit its stride. He seemed to like the game so much that I decided to get it myself. I went in being fully aware of how essentially half the game is a really slow intro, and ended up really loving it. It’s by far my favorite Final Fantasy game (and I’ve played over half of the main ones) and just one of my favorite RPGs in general. I really can’t think of a battle system in any RPG that I enjoyed as much. I think pretty much XIII is going to be enjoyable if you’re willing to have patience with it. No doubt the ridiculous amount of time it takes to hit its stride does qualify it as a bad game, but I view it as a game that is essentially really good with just the one huge major flaw of how slow it is to fully introduce all its mechanics.
Then again, I’m extremely biased towards the XIII trilogy because I’m super gay for Lightning. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯