Personally, I myself have my gripes about the Final Fantasy series recent changes on its game engine. I have to agree on the various points that the editorial editor pointed, but at the same time I think he's taking this issue too negatively. Please note that I'm not really all against the author, it's just that I have some points and suggestions that may change his opinion. Maybe you shouldn't call this a counter editorial at all, since this editorial contains my own ramblings as well. Anyway..........
It's true that the characters of Final Fantasy VII and VIII lacked a unique feel. It just feels like you could just choose your party members blindfolded and then just toss in the right set of materia and they're ready to go and wreck serious havoc. In a nutshell, you felt that the materia system killed the special feel of every different characters. I couldn't agree with you more. But this thing won't be so hard to swallow if you just realize that the materia system is just as special as different characters. Sure, you don't have to give a "rat's ass" about balancing the weakness and strength of your team members, but like it or not you'll still have to give a "rat's ass" on balancing the weakness and strength of your materia combination! There are thousands of materia combinations, it's just like having thousands of characters. The best part of this is when you come out with a really insane combination! You know what I did? I combined a set of materia, than if an enemy attacks any
of my characters, he gets clobbered by tons of meteors, get his HP, MP and Item stolen, while the knights of the round have fun with him! And that's just a simple one. If you just invest some time on discovering the materia system it's not really as bad as you think. Having unique characters is great, but there are thousands of RPGs out there with that, Square is trying to give you something different and unique. Whether or not they succeed or failed in the attempt is all entirely up to the different tastes of its supporters. But I really have to disagree with you if you think that this alone makes the FF series something wrong.
You did make an interesting quote about the how the characters are just like "robots of the same design and model". But think, usually what made the characters interesting? Their story (my opinion, it's not neccesarily yours too). You can't debate over which characters to bring along to battle, but why not try to debate over which materia combination is the best? Let's just face it, the very things that make a character unique is their story and their personalities.... I guess their abilities will be a distant third (;P) Let's say if the Lunar characters uses the materia system, will this make them "robots of the same design"? Absolutely not!!
If there's something I need to complain about the recent Final Fantasy VII and VIII is their storyline. Their appeal to their story took a turn to the worse since Final Fantasy VII, and that may be why you felt the characters aren't special anymore, because the characters don't have personality or story that you would remember them as..... It is also the main reasons why I like Final Fantasy VI more than its sequel, because you just "know" the characters there. How Gau forgave the very person that has forsaken him, how Cyan bears with the pain of his lost family for the sake of the future, that's how every character is unique for they each have a story to tell and not an ability to show. I personally think that Final Fantasy might kill itself with its story gettin' worse, but I don't think havin' a game system that shows the difference of each character will.